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

4 Stars 3 Noirs from the Paramount vaults debut on Blu-ray
Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema XVIII Review Screenshot

For Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema XVIII, Kino has unearthed three noirs from the Paramount Pictures vaults – each from different studios (Republic Pictures, Filmakers Releasing Organization and Allied Artists) – with two of them making their Blu-ray debuts here. First, Oscar winner Victor McLaglen is a small-time racketeer who finds himself squeezed into a tight spot between his crime partners and his lawyer in City of Shadows. Next, a group of six convicts escape prison and are hunted down by the authorities while trying to recover stolen bank loot in Crashout. Finally, an ex-con goes undercover with the T-men to bust a bootlegger in Finger Man.

City of Shadows (1955)
Released: 02 Jun 1955
Rated: Approved
Runtime: 70 min
Director: William Witney
Genre: Crime, Drama, Film-Noir
Cast: Victor McLaglen, John Baer, Kathleen Crowley
Writer(s): Houston Branch
Plot: Dan Mason, a twelve-year-old newsboy, is an expert at figuring all the angles; so, when Kink, veteran bartender at Billy's Steak House, catches him winning a big jackpot in the battered old slot machines that belong to seedy Tim C...
IMDB rating: 5.3
MetaScore: N/A

Disc Information
Studio: Paramount
Distributed By: Kino Lorber
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 10 Min. (City of Shadows), 1 Hr. 28 Min. (Crashout), 1 Hr. 22 Min. (Finger Man)
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Case Type: Blue keep cases in a cardboard sleeve
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: A
Release Date: 03/26/2024
MSRP: $49.95

The Production: 3.5/5

City of Shadows (1955; 3.75 out of 5)

Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema XVIII City Shadows Screenshot

“When you play with slugs, you get slugged on another day.” – Big Tim Channing (Victor McLaglen)

In an unnamed big city in 1945, small time racketeer Big Tim Channing takes street smart newsboy Dan Mason under his wing after discovering that Dan has found a way to circumvent his clearly rigged slot machines with slugs rather than coins. Flash forward ten years later, Channing is now sitting atop the underworld and Dan (John Baer) is working his way through law school while still finding legal loopholes for his father figure to exploit. But when his future bride Fern Fellows (Kathleen Crowley) discovers his ties to Channing, Dan persuades Big Tim to go legit. However, this sets in motion a chain of events that threatens to not only bring down Big Tim, but Dan as well!

Though he’s better known for the many westerns and serials he made for Republic Pictures, City of Shadows represented one of the few times prolific director William Witney stepped into the shadows of the crime and noir genres for the studio in its twilight years. Under Witney’s assured direction, Houston Branch’s story moves along at a brisk clip while containing a few scenes of action – note the gunfight at the diamond exchange – that the studio had become noted for in their innumerable westerns. Longtime and veteran Republic cinematographer Reggie Lanning manages to pull off the illusion of making the stage bound recreation of a big city’s underworld seemingly realistic – without utilizing expressionistic touches (no easy feat there) – on a limited budget (another notable hallmark of many Republic Pictures movies, with some notable exceptions like The Last Command). However, the main draw here is Victor McLaglen, who commands every scene he appears in and has some solid support from John Baer, Kathleen Crowley, Anthony Caruso, Richard Reeves, Frank Ferguson, Richard Travis, June Vincent (the Black Angel herself), Kay E. Kuter and Gloria Pall. Overall, City of Shadows is one of the hidden gems in the catalog of Republic Pictures as well as its prolific director and Oscar-winning leading man.

Crashout (1955; 4 out of 5)

Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema XVIII Crashout Screenshot

After breaking out of an unnamed prison in the Western U.S., a group of six convicts hold out in an abandoned mine shaft until the heat dies down. When the coast is clear, Van Morgan Duff (William Bendix) informs his fellow convicts about $180,000 in stolen loot from a job he pulled before his incarceration and cuts them all in on the loot once they find it. As the group travels to the location – by foot, car, train and truck – Duff realizes that the authorities are the least of their worries, as one convict (William Talman) is more than a little unhinged and another (Arthur Kennedy) has a conscience and can only go so far before he starts to wonder if the loot is really worth all the chaos they’re causing.

Though best known today for penning the Oscar winning story for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), Lewis R. Foster was also a director and Crashout was one of his better efforts behind the camera. Co-credited with the script with producer Hal E. Chester – since the script’s original author Cy Endfield was blacklisted – Foster brings us right into the action from the opening prison break and keeps the tension at fever pitch right to the finish. The film also has the benefit of having longtime Universal stalwart Russell Metty as cinematographer here in one of his few sojourns outside the studio where he made his career at. Best of all, Foster has the talents of a great ensemble cast, including the likes of William Bendix, Arthur Kennedy, William Talman (“The Hitchhiker” himself), Marshall Thompson, Gene Evans and Gene Evans playing the savage six hoping to stay a step ahead of the long arm of the law and cash in on hidden loot. One of the hidden gems of the Golden Age of Noir, Crashout is a rough-edged thriller that’s worth seeking out.

Finger Man (1955; 3.5 out of 5)

Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema XVIII Finger Man Screenshot

After getting picked up for his role in a truck hijacking, ex-convict Casey Martin (Frank Lovejoy) is given a lifeline by Treasury agents: help them bring down racketeer and bootlegger Dutch Becker (Forrest Tucker) in exchange for immunity from prosecution. When he witnesses the depths that alcoholism and drug addiction has dragged his sister Lucille into from her association with Becker, Casey’s more than eager to take up the offer. While going undercover, Casey finds himself falling for Dutch’s longtime associate Gladys Baker (Peggie Castle), who takes a shine to Casey as well. However, Dutch isn’t about to go down without a fight, especially since he has his sadistic henchman Lou Terpe (Timothy Carey) to eliminate anyone who’s a threat to him and his rackets.

Finger Man is one of the few ventures into film noir territory by film editor turned director Harold D. Schuster and is – overall – one of his most sound efforts behind the camera. Although Warren Douglas’ script – from a story by Norris Lipsius and John Lardner – covers familiar territory here, Schuster does set up and execute the story in an efficient and economical fashion. The film also benefits from the presence of veteran cinematographer William A. Sickner, who brings a slick look to the film. However, the real strength the film has comes from the performances of its cast, with Frank Lovejoy, Forrest Tucker, Peggie Castle and Timothy Carey providing the film’s best performances and its central heart and soul. While it doesn’t break any new ground in the genre, Finger Man is still made-to-order for devotees of the film noir genre and one that’s definitely worth a look.

Video: 4/5

3D Rating: NA

For this set, City of Shadows is presented in a 1:37:1 aspect ratio, while Crashout and Finger Man are presented in their original 1:85:1 aspect ratios; both City of Shadows and Crashout have brand new HD transfers created by Paramount Pictures for this release. Film grain, gray scale and fine details are faithfully represented on each of the three films with only minor cases of scratches, tears and dirt present on each transfer (there’s slightly more instances of this on Finger Man’s transfer). Overall, this release is likely the best all three films will ever look on home video and in the case of Crashout, surpasses the previous Olive Films Blu-ray.

Audio: 5/5

The original mono soundtracks for all three films are presented on DTS-HD Master Audio tracks for this release. Dialogue, sound mix and music scores – a music score comprised of original music by Robert Armbruster and R. Dale Butts and stock music by Nathan Scott, Stanley Wilson and Victor Young for City of Shadows, Leith Stevens for Crashout and Paul Dunlap for Finger Man – are all presented faithfully with only minimal cases of distortion like crackling, popping and hissing present on each track. Overall, this release is likely the best all three films will ever sound on home video and, again for Crashout, surpasses the previous Olive Films Blu-ray.

Special Features: 3.5/5

City of Shadows

Commentary by film historian/screenwriter Gary Gerani – Recorded for this release, Gerani goes into great detail about the film’s production – including some correspondence between Republic and the Breen office for Production Code concerns – and some backstory on the film’s cast and crew.

Bonus KLSC Trailers – Step Down to TerrorAppointment with a Shadow Showdown

Crashout

Commentary by author/film historian Alan K. Rode – Recorded for this release, Rode goes into great detail about the film’s production, issues with the censors of the Production Code office and how this movie fits within the prison film genre and noir as well.

Theatrical Trailer (2:01)

Bonus KLSC Trailers – Behind the High Wall Detective Story

Finger Man

Commentary by professor/film scholar Jason A. Ney – Recorded for this release, Ney brings his usual deep insight into the genre by delving into the film’s production history, themes and background on the cast and crew.

Bonus KLSC Trailers – Singapore Thunder on the Hill

Overall: 4/5

Kino continues to satisfy fans of film noir with the ongoing Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema series of Blu-ray sets, and Volume XVIII is no different, with the usual strong HD transfers and informative commentary tracks on each of the three films included in this one. Very highly recommended and worth upgrading from the previous Blu-ray for Crashout.

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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Jeff Fearnside

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This sounds great, but for someone with increasingly limited space, I'm looking at the number of this set, and my eyes are glazing over a bit: 18. I definitely can't get them all, or even most. For anyone who's been following this series, is there one or two sets recommended well above the others?
 

timk1041

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Timothy
This sounds great, but for someone with increasingly limited space, I'm looking at the number of this set, and my eyes are glazing over a bit: 18. I definitely can't get them all, or even most. For anyone who's been following this series, is there one or two sets recommended well above the others?
I wish I could answer that. For me, it would be more than 1 or 2. I like them all.
 
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