Overall this is a highly recommended set of five different movies. All are digitally remastered, but some could have used some restoration and that's why I'm giving the box set four stars instead of five. It's still a must have package for the classic noir fan. If you have even the slightest interest in buying any two of the five movies offered, then it well worth buying the box set and not the individual DVDs. Here are my reviews of the five DVDs included in this package:
BORN TO KILL
The story starts in Reno, Nevada where Helen Brent (Claire Trevor) receives a divorce. She goes home to a boarding house and overhears a young woman named Laury discussing her love life with an older, drunken woman named Mrs Kraft. At one point, Laury tells Mrs. Kraft that she is going out with a different man tonight simply to make her steady boyfriend Sam Wilde (Lawrence Tierney) jealous. Sam runs into the dating couple later that evening at a casino. Later that night Sam confronts Laury's date in the boardinghouse kitchen and a violent fight insues and Sam, in impressive fashion, kills the other man. Laury then comes in the kitchen and discovers the body and then Sam kills her. Shortly thereafter Helen returns home and finds the dead couple but for some reasons decides not to call the police and instead takes a train to San Francisco. Just by coincidence, Sam takes the same train and sits with her and this sets up a turbulent, yet fascinating relationship between the two for the rest of the movie.
I really enjoyed this movie for a number of reasons. First, the beautiful Claire Trevor plays a morally bankrupt golddigger, but does it with such superficial charm and grace. Second, there are some other memorable performances by Walter Slezak who plays an articulate, but morally depraved detective and Elisha Cook Jr. does a fine job as Sam's pint-sized sidekick. But most of all, Lawrence Tierney does a great job as the quintessential tough guy who knows what he wants and brazenly goes after it. He clearly displays raw acting talent, but his dead cold stares and his overtly blunt directness, is what makes him so perfect for this role.
For those of you who are not familiar with Lawrence Tierney, in the early '90s he played the leader of a crime gang in the movie Reservoir Dogs. But another memorable role worth mentioning was that he once played Elaine's tough, no-nonsense father on an episode of Seinfeld. According the commentary on the Seinfield DVD, Tierney scared the cast so badly that they never had him back on. Apparently Tierney stole a butcher knife from Jerry's TV kitchen and hid it under his jacket. When Seinfeld asked him about it, Tierney pulled out the knife and started making the Psycho slashing-violins sound. On the Born to Kill commentary, director Robert Wise mentions that Tierney was an intimidating tough guy in real life and was repeatedly arrested for getting in fights in bars. In fact, Wise mentions that they used a stunt double for Tierney in the fight scene, not because they were afraid that Tierney would get hurt - far from it; they were afraid that he couldn't restrain himself once the fight scene started.
The picture quality is near-immaculate. Negative wear is virtually nonexistent. The sound is satisfactory. The DVD bonus features include commentary from noir expert and author Eddie Muller plus some audio sound bites from director Robert Wise.
DVD Quality: A
The story is about a widow of a gangster who is living in Chicago and needs to appear in Los Angeles to testify against men who conducted illegal activities in connection with her late husband. Two cops are assigned to bring her to Los Angeles on a train and suspect that a crime syndicate will try to prevent her from testifying. As a result, there's lots of action and adventure soon to follow.
Charles McGraw stars as Detective Walter Brown and gives one of the best performances I've seen in a long time as a tough, no-nonsense cop. With his rough, baritone voice and large muscular frame, he takes on some very formidable adversaries, yet holds his profession in high esteem. The rest of the main characters in this film also play their roles convincingly. This is an entertaining story from start to finish with lots of action and twists in the plot. The script is smart and original. There is also some great photography work inside the train. This film is a must see for any movie fan, even those not familiar with post-WWII crime noir films.
The picture quality is near pristine. Very little negative wear or damage can be observed. The sound is excellent, especially considering all of the sound effects one would expect from a train ride.
DVD Quality: A-
The story opens with a man who was beaten to death in a fistfight in his apartment. The police show up headed by Captain Finley (Robert Young) and begin to unravel the mystery of who killed this person. A small group of military men, including Robert Mitchum and Robert Ryan, are linked directly or indirectly to the crime scene and now Finley has to sort out who are the suspects and who is innocent. After interviewing the suspects, Finley believes he's found the motive and the murderer.
I would classify this movie as a mystery, and it slowly meanders in several different directions with very little drama until the very end. The story has one major merit because it confronts a serious social problem, but the execution of the plot, including the knowing exactly what happened as the murder unfolded, plus the weak, flawed and even disturbing police work raises more questions than answers. Without revealing too much more, the police did get the right man, but how they went about it was very unconvincing for me. I'll give this film a qualified recommendation simply because it is decades ahead of its time in social awareness of a serious problem, but if you are looking for an action packed, well-written noir crime movie, you'll probably be disappointed.
The DVD quality is decent. The film was not restored, but did show short segments of negative wear once in a while, but nothing too distracting from the overall presentation. The sound is fine too.
DVD Quality: B
This film is about a real life bank robber John Dillinger who is arguably the most notorious robber in the history of American and earned the nickname "Public Enemy #1". From my brief research on the internet, the movie appears to be relatively true to form. From the early `30s until his death in 1934, Dillinger wreaked havoc across America with his brutal bank robberies and daring prison escapes.
The film itself moves fast, but is only 70 minutes long. There is little character development and the action is continuous and rarely dull. Lawrence Tierney stars as John Dillinger. This was his screen acting debut and he does little to set the acting world on fire. Even in scenes of major confrontation, Tierney seems expressionless and lacks emotional body language. Perhaps this was by design by the director. But if you are fan of vintage gangster films, I'm confident that you will be entertained and pleased with action and drama.
The DVD was remastered but not restored and unfortunately there was a significant amount of film damage. There were five or six scenes with at least 3 or 4 seconds of severely damaged footage. The remastering helped make the picture look sharp but tiny specs of deterioration were still prevalent throughout the film, but that wasn't a major deal compared to the noticeably larger scratches. Warner has historically been one of the better studios for film restoration and they obviously decided to not fix up this film. Due to the limited market of a DVD like this, I'm sure the payoff wasn't there to restore an entire movie, but if they would have at least fixed the severely damaged frames, that would have been sufficient for me.
DVD Quality: C
CLASH BY NIGHT
The storyline revolves around Mae Doyle (Barbara Stanwick) who returns to a Northern California fishing community after a ten-year hiatus. She left that town hoping to find a wealthy or prestigious man to marry, but her dreams never materialized. Upon returning she runs into an old acquaintance, Jerry D'Amato (Paul Douglas), at a bar and they later start dating even though they have very little in common. Jerry is hardworking and stable, yet a boring simpleton. Mae is fickle and shallow. Jerry introduces Mae to his best friend Earl (Robert Ryan) who is cantankerous yet very extroverted - pretty much the exact opposite of Jerry. From this point on in the movie, the human dynamics these three people go all over the map and develop into an enthralling plot for the viewer.
I was initially taken off guard with the way the film ended, but I couldn't get it out of my head for the rest of the day and realized it took a very brave direction with the issues it confronted. Furthermore, the movie is probably more representative of today's social landscape than it was when the film was made and has some hard-hitting commentary for the consequences of people's actions. There is however, one scene that is clearly politically incorrect by today's standards where Earl imitates a Chinese person. The movie also contained some refreshing scenes of a young Marilyn Monroe who plays the girlfriend of Mae's brother. Overall I give the film a solid recommendation for viewing.
The DVD is remastered but not restored and as a result, the black and white transfer is sharp but occasionally tiny spots of film deterioration can be observed. The sound is fine. The DVD comes with commentary by Peter Bogdanovich, with audio interview excerpts of director Fritz Lang.
DVD Quality: B