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Classic Film Noir Double Feature Vol 3: Amazing Mr. X aka: The Spiritualist & Reign of Terror aka: Black Book [Import]


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Amazon.com: 7 reviews
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Mann & Alton: two films now watchable April 23 2009
By J. Clark - Published on Amazon.com
Anthony Mann's "Reign of Terror" (aka "The Black Book") is a delicious period noir I've been dying to see in a version that doesn't disgrace cinematographer John Alton's black-and-white eye for light and darkness. Mann never made an uninteresting film to watch, and neither did his frequent collaborator Alton. The other film, "Amazing Mr. X" (aka "The Spritualist") is one I was unfamiliar with. More minor in its craft and story (directed by Bernard Vorhaus)--but once again, there's that gorgeous Alton cinematography.

Films from a minor studio like Eagle-Lion are unlikely to be rescued and elevated to demo material, but VCI has done these two justice. They're more than watchable--the versions to beat. Thank you, VCI. And keep up the great job!
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
There's a revolution going on. Don't stay out late! April 17 2009
By S. Jones - Published on Amazon.com
Verified Purchase
This double bill of "B" Noir classics from VCI are well worth a look. While available on DVD elsewhere, VCI has pieced together some fairly decent prints and done a passable job of restoring these two minor classics. (The fly-by-night prints from the other publishers are terrible, get this VCI version).

Tops is Anthony Mann's wonderful retelling of the French Revolution as film noir, with stars Cummings and Dahl doing a wonderful job onscreen.

In the Amazing Dr. X a gothic thriller by director Bernard Vorhes, the real star is cinematographer John Alton who struts his pioneering and moody mastery of shadow and light to the fullest extent.

The extras, including an interview with Arlend Dahl make this a great package for Noir fans from VCI.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
A tribute to film noir's master cinematographer, John Alton Sept. 18 2010
By Muzzlehatch - Published on Amazon.com
John Alton (1901-1996) was one of the all-time great directors of photography, and it's on his work in the black-and-white, shadowy worlds of film noir that a good bit of his reputation rests. This double feature from VCI shows him at his best, unfortunately not in spectacularly great transfers - though they may well be from the best prints available - but nonetheless they do give a decent idea of what he was capable - and they're darned fine films regardless. Other than his shared credit, and a filming date just months apart, the two have little in common, though both are fascinating examples of the style that really push the limits of what we might want to call "film noir".

THE AMAZING MR. X was directed by the fairly obscure Bernard Vorhaus, an American filmmaker who made just about 3 dozen low-budget features over a 20 year span starting in 1933, before being blacklisted and moving to Wales, where he had secondary behind-the-scenes credits for a few more years, apparently retiring in 1960 though he lived another 40 years after that. The only other film he made that seems to have any following whatsoever is a 1940 John Wayne quickie, THREE FACES WEST, one of Wayne's last b-movies made just as stardom arrived. So I can't say I had any real expectations going into this, which is probably a good thing. Basically we start with Christine (Lynn Bari), a lonely widow being courted by Martin (Richard Carlson), who meets a strange man, Alexis (Turhan Bey), who is apparently a psychic who knows much of her past, on a deserted moonlit California beach. Alexis is accompanied by a huge raven - we know we're in for something weird and spooky here, and this scene is expertly shot and put together, building a sense of unease both about Christine's past - and about the mysterious stranger.

Turns out Christine isn't really over the death of Paul, her husband, and she goes to meet the psychic after a terrifying ghostly apparation in her house which scares her and her sister Janet (Cathy O'Donnell). Janet though is a bit more blasé about the whole thing and wonders if the psychic is too good to be true, even after he tells Christine all kinds of things that he "couldn't possibly know". She enlists the aid of Martin and a PI and former magician (Harry Mendoza) but eventually falls under the spell of the mysterious Alexis, who shows himself before long to in fact be the unscrupulous con artist and crook that Martin and the cop think he is. But soon it turns out that an even greater scam is being perpetrated, and a ghost of the past comes back as the true villain of the piece...

Outstanding, deeply shadowed chiaroscuro photography as always from Mr. Alton, flavorful performances from Bey and Donald Curtis as - well, as the guy who spoilers are made for who shows up late in this 78-minute quickie, and nice stormswept California locations make up for a certain inevitability of the plot; the rather overwrought but fitting music is by Alexander Laszlo. And the raven is very very cool. This is what I think of when I hear the term "California gothic".

The 20th film I've seen from director Anthony Mann, 1949's BLACK BOOK aka REIGN OF TERROR might at first seem rather atypical in the director's ouevre, which consisted of three main areas of interest: film noir, westerns, and Biblical-ancient historical epics. But the first few minutes of this film, stunningly photographed by John Alton, should be enough to convince anyone that, whatever the setting, this is a film that belongs firmly in the deterministic, dark world of noir. Even if we're introduced to horses and churches and men dressed in 18th century robes, we're also introduced to a dark, shadowy, chaotic and terrifying world that puts us at immediate unease, dumping us into the labyrinth.

Basically we're in the Terror of the French Revolution, as Robespierre (a magnetic Richard Basehart) attempts to quell all opposition and get himself made dictator of France - and only d'Aubigny (Robert Cummings), masquerading as the public prosecutor Duvall who he has killed, seems to have much hope of keeping him from this goal. On d'Aubigny's side, the beautiful Madelon (Arlene Dahl); with Robespierre, the implacable and merciless Saint-Just (Jess Barker); playing his own game in between, the wonderfully sly and amoral Fouché (Arnold Moss). It's a film of intrigues, spies, double-crosses, secret passages and narrow escapes, through richly textured monochromatic cityscapes that are as impressive and wholly unreal as anything I've seen from the 40s.

It's rather useless to go through the plot, which of course has only a vague connection to real events, but suffice it to say that there's a "black book" that the would-be dictator keeps with names of all of his to-be-decapitated enemies (which would be practically everyone), and everyone wants to get his hands on it. There are horse-and-carriage chases, bar brawls, daring escapes and brazen lies aplenty throughout this baroque film, which more than most films of this era really betrays the early influence of Orson Welles in it's dynamic use of screen space, it's easy movements between extreme closeups and medium shots, and the terrific deep-focus work. Ultimately, I'm not quite sure that it hits a level of "masterwork", due for the most part to a fairly "Hollywood"-type quick and easy happy ending, but on the whole it's extremely impressive and it achieves what even most contemporary noir doesn't necessarily accomplish: the creation of an almost unearthly and hermetic world that's not entirely the French Revolutionary world of 1789, nor the world of Hollywood in 1949 but something...different. This really is the entrance to a dream, a fantasia, a nightmare. Right up there among Mann's best films and among the more intriguing and wild entries in the noir cycle.

As I mentioned, the DVD transfers aren't perfection here, but they are good. Extras consist of a photo gallery and commentaries on both films - by Jay Fenton on THE AMAZING MR. X and by Alan Rode and Arlene Dahl on REIGN OF TERROR. All in all, a top recommendation for any noir fans, and the best way currently to get both of these films.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
"Classic Film Noir (1948/1949) ... Vol. 3 ... VCI Ent (2009)" May 25 2009
By J. Lovins - Published on Amazon.com
VCI Entertainment presents "CLASSIC FILM NOIR DOUBLE FEATURE VOL.3" --- (1948/1949) (165 min) --- (Dolby digitally remastered) --- Amazing Mr. X and Reign of Terror both titles were originally released by the long-gone British-American outfit Eagle-Lion Films, both were photographed by the brilliant and eccentric John Alton (Cinematographer), one of the seminal stylists of film noir. "It's not what you light," Alton once observed. "It's what you don't light." --- These two films are powerful studies in darkness and shadow, punctured by bright beams of light -- Alton's trademark -- projected from unseen sources somewhere in the background of the deep focus frames --- Alton was a one of a kind cinematographer and it shows.

Our first double feature is "AMAZING MR. X" (29 July 1948) (78 mins/B&W) -- Is a gothic thriller starring the Austrian actor Turhan Bey, who brings all his exotic charm (Turkish father, Czech mother) to the role of a fraudulent psychic consultant attempting to draw a wealthy young widow Christine Faber (Lynn Bari) into his clutches --- On the beach one night, Christine, two years a widow, thinks she hears her late husband Paul (Donald Curtis) calling out of the surf...then meets a tall dark man, Alexis, who seems to know all about such things --- After more ghostly manifestations, Christine and younger sister Janet (Cathy O'Donnell) become enmeshed in the eerie artifices of Alexis (Turham Bey), but he in turn finds himself manipulated into deeper deviltry than he had in mind --- The plot line allows plenty of opportunities for John Alton (Cinematographer) to strut his stuff: a nocturnal walk along a lonely, wind-swept beach; the halls of a cliff-top mansion, echoing with ghostly music; a memorable séance on a sunny California afternoon, during which ectoplasmic forms emerge thanks to some ingenious work with an optical printer.

Under the production staff of:
Bernard Vorhaus (Director)
Benjamin Stoloff (Producer)
Muriel Roy Bolton (Screenwriter)
Ian McLellan Hunter (Screenwriter)
Crane Wilbur (Screenwriter)
Alexander Laszlo (Original Score)
John Alton (Cinematographer)
Norman Colbert (Film Editor)

the cast includes:
Turhan Bey ... Alexis
Lynn Bari ... Christine Faber
Cathy O'Donnell ... Janet Burke
Richard Carlson ... Martin Abbott
Donald Curtis ... Paul Faber

Second and final film noir is "REIGN OF TERROR" (15 October 1949) (89 mins/B&W) -- The plot starts in France in the year 1794. Robespierre is sowing panic among his opponents with the only reason to take over the power of the state --- a tale of derring-do during the French Revolution --- Robert Cummings and Arlene Dahl are the ostensible leads, former lovers reunited in an attempt to steal a secret notebook containing a list of candidates for the guillotine from Maximilian Robespierre, played with sniffy self-righteousness by Richard Basehart. ("Don't call me Max!") But the scene stealer is the sly supporting actor Arnold Moss, who brings his cultivated baritone and epicene manner to the role of Fouché, the head of Robespierre's secret police --- Standing at the top of a shadowy Menzies staircase, illuminated from behind by the ray of an Alton arc light, he looks down at the lovers and offers some dryly pragmatic, Anthony Mann advice: "There's a revolution going on. Don't stay out late!"

Special footnote -- This film unites John Alton with two other formidable visual stylists, the director Anthony Mann (soon to move on to his famous series of James Stewart westerns) and the production designer William Cameron Menzies. (Menzies, the designer of "Gone with the Wind," is credited here only as a producer, but his hand is unmistakable in the low ceilings and bold geometry of the sets.) --- The collaboration yields an almost unbroken procession of complex, compelling images, which somehow remain largely in the service of the tongue-in-cheek screenplay credited to Aeneas MacKenzie and Philip Yordan --- A real gem for it's time with some great characters that will get under your skin and stay there, wonderful cast with some outstanding direction.

Under the production staff of:
Anthony Mann (Director)
Æneas MacKenzie (Screenwriter)
Philip Yordan (Screenwriter)
Edward Lasker (Associate Producer)
William Cameron Menzies (Producer)
Sol Kaplan (Original Score)
John Alton (Cinematographer)
Fred Allen (Film Editor)
David Sharpe (stunt double: Robert Cummings)

the cast includes:
Robert Cummings ... Charles D'Aubigny
Richard Basehart ... Maximilian Robespierre
Richard Hart ... François Barras
Arlene Dahl ... Madelon
Arnold Moss ... Fouché
Norman Lloyd ... Tallien
Charles McGraw ... Sergeant
Beulah Bondi ... Grandma Blanchard
Jess Barker ... Saint Just
John Doucette ... Pierre Blanchard (farmer)

SPECIAL FEATURES:
1. Episode selection
2. Trailers
3. Amazing Mr. X - (Commentary by Jay Fenton)
4. Reign of Terror - (Commentary by Alan Rode)
5. Photo Poster Gallery

Hats off and thanks to Robert Blair and his staff at VCI Entertainment --- VCI was named in Variety and Hollywood Reporter as the first company to produce and release motion pictures directly to the home marketplace --- order your copy now from Amazon or VCI Entertainment where there are plenty of copies available on DVD, stay tuned once again for top notch releases --- VCI are experts in releasing long forgotten films and treasures to the collector -- looking forward to more Nostalgic Collections.

Total Time: 165 mins on DVD ~ VCI Home Video 8554 ~ (03/31/2009)
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
GOOD RESTORATION OF MR. X!!!!! Dec 22 2010
By larryj1 - Published on Amazon.com
I have nothing but praise for the restoration of The Amazing Mr. X. This is "the" version to have and is accompanied by a very good commentary. However, The Black Book is quite disappointing. The overall picture quality is the best I've seen, but the print used is full of splices during dialogue. They claim to have used multiple sources. I have seen other DVD's which look worse and have other problems, but most of these spliced-up scenes have intact dialogue. This film most definitely still needs a proper restoration.


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