No surprise that the Film Noir Classic Collections are so good, since they are choosing the best of the best, and this collection is no exception. In fact, in respect to the quality of each film, volume II of these film noir collections is probably the most outstanding. The film noirs in this collection are not just good, they are very good. To find a favourite film in this collection is truly a subjective exercise.
Born to Kill is my personal favourite in this collection. Directed by Robert Wise, this film gives us a frightening psychopathic killer, played with ominous menace by Lawrence Tierney, one of the truly great film noir actors of the 1940's. Tierney is fantastic in this film in playing the epitome of a cruel and cold hearted womanizer who meets up with an equally scary woman, played with icy sexiness by Claire Trevor. This film is one of those film noirs that you must see if you want to learn why these films can be so fascinating and entertaining.
The Narrow Margin is another classic film noir made in gritty black and white realism. The film has great suspense and pace, with very good performances by the players, particularly by the film noir icon Marie Windsor, who leaves a powerful impression on the viewer. In fact, her role in this film could be the very best of her many solid film noir performances. The criminal elements in this film are really well presented in their menacing evil, and Charles McGraw is good in one of his rare "good guy" appearances in a film noir.
Clash by Night is an atypical film noir that frankly could be debated if it really qualifies as one. Directed by Fritz Lang, this film is a love triangle of adultery and betrayal with such dramatic intensity that you could easily and more accurately describe this film as good drama. What gives it the film noir feel is the black and white lighting, the double dealing and amoral lust of Robert Ryan, and the easily seduced Barbara Stanwyck.
However, again I cannot say this is a real film noir. The pain of Paul Douglas, the cuckolded husband who is betrayed by both his best friend and his wife, is palpable in its anguish and anger, but also very human. Barbara Stanwyck is anything but a femme fatale, but simply a confused woman unsure as to what it means to love a man, and what her responsibility should be to her newborn baby. Finally, as intimidating as Robert Ryan is in this film, he is not as much an evil man as much as a morally corrupt man without principle. Not exactly archetype characters you would find in a film noir.
Clash by Night is a good film for its dramatic intensity, not as a film noir. The film is also notable for a small supporting role by Marilyn Monroe in one of her earliest film appearances.
Crossfire stars two great film noir icons in Robert Mitchum and Robert Ryan. The film is basically dominated by the exceptional performance of Robert Ryan, who plays a resentful bigot (anti-Semite) who goes too far in his hate to the point where he ends up murdering a Jew he meets in a bar, and doing his very best to escape capture and pinning the murder on someone else.
A post WWII film, it is one of the first films in Hollywood to address the evil of bigotry, in this case anti-Semitism and just beneath the surface, the Holocaust perpetrated by the Nazis. The film garnered some academy award attention, getting five nominations including Best Picture.
Finally, Dillinger is a ground breaking film noir starring again the menacing Lawrence Tierney. This film, obviously is about the outlaw Dillinger, has a raw intensity toward violence that was unheard of for the time. The film was actually banned in some parts of the USA, and it was a star making performance for Lawrence Tierney, who probably would have gone on to become another Robert Mitchum or Robert Ryan in the film noir annals except for the personal demons that would inevitably hijack and cripple his film career.