Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema XVII – Blu-ray Review

4 Stars 3 Edward G. Robinson noirs debut on Blu-ray
Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema XVII review screenshot

The legendary Edward G. Robinson headlines three noirs from the MGM/UA vaults in Volume 17 of Kino’s Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema series. First, Robinson plays a hard-nosed captain of detectives chasing after cop killers and bank robbers in Vice Squad. Next, Robinson is a violent killer who escapes on the eve of his execution and takes hostages in Black Tuesday. Finally, Robinson plays a New Orleans detective trying to get to the bottom of his clarinetist brother-in-law’s strange predicament in Nightmare. All three films are making their Blu-ray debuts in this set, with Vice Squad previously being released on MOD DVD by MGM.

Black Tuesday (1954)
Released: 06 May 1955
Rated: Approved
Runtime: 80 min
Director: Hugo Fregonese
Genre: Crime, Drama, Film-Noir
Cast: Edward G. Robinson, Jean Parker, Peter Graves
Writer(s): Sydney Boehm
Plot: Gangster Vincent Canelli and bank robber Peter Manning escape from Death Row minutes before their execution by electric chair.
IMDB rating: 6.6
MetaScore: N/A

Disc Information
Studio: MGM
Distributed By: Kino Lorber
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 28 Min. (Vice Squad), 1 Hr. 20 Min. (Black Tuesday), 1 Hr. 29 Min. (Nightmare)
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Case Type: Blue keep cases in a cardboard sleeve
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: A
Release Date: 02/27/2024
MSRP: $49.95

The Production: 4/5

Vice Squad (1953; 3.5 out of 5)

An undertaker witnesses the shooting of a Los Angeles police officer when members of a criminal gang led by Alan Barkis (Edward Binns) attempts to steal a car. The witness, Jack Hartrampf (Porter Hall), is reluctant to tell police what they need to know – because it would not just risk exposure to Barkis, but also reveal he’s cheating on his wife – but captain of detectives Barney Barnaby (Edward G. Robinson) is determined to see Barkis and his crew behind bars. As another officer is shot and a bank teller is taken captive by the Barkis gang, Barnaby enlists the help of escort madam Mona Ross (Paulette Goddard) for a small fee. The stakes are high, as Barnaby needs to stop Barkis and his gang before more cops and innocent civilians become targets in the crime wave.

Vice Squad is among the several police procedurals that cropped up in the noir genre in the 1940’s and 1950’s that dealt with crime and everyday problems that officers faced on the job. Here, Arnold Laven directs from Lawrence Roman’s adaptation of Leslie T. White’s The Harness Bull with a steady hand and a keen eye for detail. The big plus here is Joseph F. Biroc’s shadowy cinematography, capturing the dark alleys of Los Angeles in all their seedy glory. The cherry on top is Edward G. Robinson, who brings his usual dynamically tough presence to the part of Capt. Barnaby; he’s backed up by a solid ensemble cast including Paulette Goddard, K.T. Stevens, Porter Hall, Adam Williams, Lee Van Cleef, Barry Kelley, Jay Adler, Lewis Martin and a surprising turn by Edward Binns as the bad guy here. The only downside here is that the plot itself does cover familiar territory already covered by past police procedural noirs. However, Vice Squad does benefit from its legendary leading man, who proved that he was just as capable of playing tough policemen as he was playing tough gangsters.

Black Tuesday (1954; 4 out of 5)

On the eve of his scheduled execution, Vincent Canelli (Edward G. Robinson) escapes from a New Jersey prison with the help of his girlfriend Hatti (Jean Parker) and a close associate posing as a journalist, but they’re not alone. Canelli has taken five hostages along with fellow death row inmate Peter Manning (Peter Graves), who’s taken along so that Canelli can get his hands on the stolen money Manning hid from a bank robbery prior to his incarceration. When Manning is badly wounded during the escape, the trail of blood leads authorities to Canelli’s hideout and the hostages. Canelli isn’t about to go down without a fight and threatens to kill his hostages unless a safe passage for him is secured, but Manning might just turn the tables on his fellow convict…

A throwback to his star making Warner Bros. gangster pictures of the 1930’s, Black Tuesday allowed Edward G. Robinson to return to the type of role that made him famous with audiences. Under the direction of Hugo Fregonese – who had established some noir bona fides with One Way Street (1950) and My Six Convicts (1952) – Sydney Boehm’s story moves along at a brisk pace; once Canelli turns the tables on his captors, the tension never lets up. The film also boasts some solid and shadowy cinematography by Stanley Cortez and an effective music score by the prolific Paul Dunlap. Best of all, the film features Robinson at his swaggering best – rivaling only James Cagney’s similar performance in Raoul Walsh’s White Heat (1949) – and has solid support from the likes of Peter Graves, Jean Parker, Russell Johnson, Milburn Stone, Jack Kelly, Warren Stevens, James Bell, Frank Ferguson and an uncredited William Schallert. Overall, Black Tuesday is a decent noir showcasing a vintage Edward G. Robinson and a reminder that he had lost none of the potent energy that drove his long and distinguished career.

Nightmare (1956; 4 out of 5)

When New Orleans big band clarinetist Stan Grayson (Kevin McCarthy) awakens from a nightmare – in which he kills a man in a mirrored room while eerie music plays in the background – he finds blood on him as well as marks on his neck and a key in his hand. His brother-in-law, detective Rene Bressard (Edward G. Robinson), is dismissive of Stan’s concerns at first, but when they find a house – during a picnic the two men take in the country with Stan’s girlfriend and sister – that contains a record player and a mirrored room like the one in Stan’s dream, Bressard decides to investigate. He first suspects Stan of murder, but soon starts to realize that Stan may be the pawn in a plot by a hypnotist living in the same apartment building as Stan. Can Bressard prove that the hypnotist is responsible, and that Stan was acting against his own will during the commission of the crime?

The second film version of Cornell Woolrich’s 1941 story And So to DeathNightmare reunites the trio behind that previous adaptation – Fear in the Night for Paramount Pictures in 1947 by the “Dollar Bills” (producers William H. Pine & William C. Thomas) and writer-director Maxwell Shane – while changing some aspects of the original. This time, Shane – who would be working with Pine’s son Howard, since his father died prior to production – has Edward G. Robinson headlining the affair as a crafty New Orleans police detective and Kevin McCarthy playing the DeForest Kelley part, but the part here is switched from a bank teller to a clarinetist for a big band. The great asset here is the location cinematography in New Orleans, courtesy of Joseph F. Biroc and some jazzy and suspenseful music by Herschel Burke Gilbert (guess who happens to sing the film’s two songs with Billy May and His Orchestra? None other than “Red Hot Riding Hood” herself, Connie Russell). Best of all, Robinson and McCarthy anchor the twisty plot with solid performances and capably backed up by the aforementioned Russell, Virginia Christine, Rhys Williams, Barry Atwater and Gage Clarke. In the end, Nightmare is a nicely done remake of an earlier noir that can hold its own with the original, thanks to the presence of its two leading men and a director who clearly has a handle on the material.

Video: 4.5/5

3D Rating: NA

Vice Squad is presented in its original 1:37:1 aspect ratio while Black Tuesday and Nightmare are presented in their original 1:85:1 aspect ratios; both Vice Squad and Nightmare have brand new HD transfers created from 2K scans of 35mm fine grain prints. All three films exhibit faithful presentations in film grain structure, fine details and gray scale with minimal cases of scratches, tears, dirt and – in the case of one brief instance of a scene in Black Tuesday – fringing present; also, the transfer for Nightmare opens with the original hexagonal United Artists logo. Overall, this Blu-ray release is likely the best all three movies will ever look on home video.

Audio: 5/5

All three films’ original mono soundtracks are presented on DTS-HD Master Audio tracks for this release. Dialogue, sound mix and music scores (Herschel Burke Gilbert for both Vice Squad and Nightmare and Paul Dunlap for Black Tuesday) are all presented faithfully with minimal cases of distortion like crackling, popping and hissing present on each track. Overall, this release is likely the best each film will ever sound on home video.

Special Features: 3.5/5

Vice Squad

Commentary by film historian/screenwriter Gary Gerani – Recorded for this release, Gerani goes over the background of the film and its production and cast and crew.

Theatrical Trailer (1:55) – In English with French title cards

Bonus KLSC Trailers – The Stranger The Ghost Breakers

Black Tuesday

Commentary by film historian/screenwriter Gary Gerani – In his second commentary track for this release, Gerani goes into great detail on the film, including the use of a type of black and white film stock that would be used in Charles Laughton’s The Night of the Hunter.

Theatrical Trailer (1:52)

Bonus KLSC Trailers – The Woman in the Window One Way Street

Nightmare

Commentary by professor/film scholar Jason A. Ney – Recorded for this release, Ney goes into details about the film, differences between this screen version of And So to Death and its previous screen incarnation Fear in the Night, and some of the themes buried in this screen adaptation.

Bonus KLSC Trailers – Night Has a Thousand EyesA Bullet for Joey Grand Slam

Overall: 4/5

Kino continues its impressive run in the Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema Blu-ray series, with three more noirs getting solid HD treatments and informative commentary tracks to accompany each of the films in this set. Very highly recommended, especially for fans of Edward G. Robinson.

Mychal has been on the Home Theater Forum’s reviewing staff since 2018, with reviews numbering close to 300. During this time, he has also been working as an assistant manager at The Cotton Patch – his family’s fabric and quilting supplies business in Keizer, Oregon. When not working at reviewing movies or working at the family business, he enjoys exploring the Oregon Coast, playing video games and watching baseball in addition to his expansive collection of movies on DVD, Blu-ray and UHD, totalling over 3,000 movies.

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ahollis

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Thanks for a great review. I just watched Nightmare the other night and very entertained with it. It kept my interest through the whole feature with its twists and turns. Vice Squad is up next.
 

Robin9

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Thanks for this review. I've been waiting for Black Tuesday forever and a day so I'm delighted it's included in this set. Many thanks Kino, many thanks.
 
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