- Actors: Various
- Directors: Various
- Format: Box set, Black & White, Closed-captioned, DVD-Video, NTSC, Subtitled
- Language: English
- Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
- Region: Region 1 (US and Canada This DVD will probably NOT be viewable in other countries. Read more about DVD formats.)
- Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
- Number of discs: 5
- Canadian Home Video Rating : Parental Guidance (PG)
- MPAA Rating:
- Studio: Warner Bros. Home Video
- Release Date: July 5 2005
- Run Time: 518 minutes
- Average Customer Review: 2 customer reviews
- ASIN: B00097DY20
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #48,749 in Movies & TV Shows (See Top 100 in Movies & TV Shows)
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Film Noir Classic Collection, Vol. 2 (Born to Kill / Clash by Night / Crossfire / Dillinger (1945) / The Narrow Margin (1952))
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Film Noir Classics Collection, The: Volume 2 (DVD) (5-Pack)
Film noir is such a rich cinematic zone that second-tier specimens compel nearly as much fascination as the classics. At a glance, Volume 2 of Warner Bros.' (ever-expanding, we hope) Film Noir Collection is a distinct step down from Volume 1--inevitable when you've launched your series with five landmark titles, including three outright noir masterpieces (The Asphalt Jungle, Gun Crazy, Out of the Past). But linger beyond that first glance, because the second set is a flavorful mix of sleazoid iconography (two vehicles for B-movie bad boy Lawrence Tierney), an offbeat outing for a major director (Fritz Lang in his Howard Hughes RKO period), Poverty Row production circumstances that encourage aggressively peculiar, verging-on-radical filmmaking (the strange mélange that is Monogram's Dillinger), and two pressure-cooker suspense pictures that are landmark films in their own right (Crossfire and The Narrow Margin).
Jean-Luc Godard dedicated Breathless to Monogram Pictures, and Dillinger (1945) was probably the main reason why. With an Oscar-nominated script credited to Philip Yordan (abetted by his friend William Castle, director of Monogram's excellent When Strangers Marry), Max Nosseck's 60some-minute account of the Depression-era outlaw's brashly improvisatory career is a hypnotic mix of bargain-basement filmmaking (lotsa stock footage and minimalist sets), astute ripoff (the rain-and-gas-bomb robbery sequence from Lang's You Only Live Once), and Brechtian bravura. The major Hollywood studios had taken a vow of chastity when it came to glorifying gangsterism; Monogram ignored the embargo and barreled ahead to unaccustomed popular and critical success. The storyline actually scants the ultraviolence (no Bohemia Lodge shootout) and all-star supporting cast (no Pretty Boy Floyd, no Baby Face Nelson) of Dillinger's real life--likely a matter of cost-cutting rather than abstemiousness. Newcomer Lawrence Tierney nails the guy's coldblooded freakiness and animal magnetism, and the supporting cast includes such éminences noirs as Marc Lawrence, Eduardo Ciannelli, and Elisha Cook Jr. Producers Maurice and Frank King would make Gun Crazy four years later.
Born to Kill (1947) is the second helping of Tierney, playing a psychotic drifter who's irresistible to women ("His eyes run up and down ya like a searchlight!" breathes housemaid Ellen Colby, just about the only female he doesn't bother targeting). A number of people end up dead by his hand, but the kicker is that he crosses paths with a woman--socialite-divorcee Claire Trevor--just as heartless as he, and even more treacherous. The script makes less sense with each passing reel, but there are ripe character turns by Walter Slezak, as a philosophical private eye who operates out of a diner; Elisha Cook Jr., as Tierney's more level-headed partner; and Esther Howard, as a hard-bitten old bat who flirts with Cook in a nightmarish nocturnal wasteland outside San Francisco.
Three Roberts--Young, Mitchum, and Ryan--costar in Crossfire (1947), one of only a handful of noirs to be sanctified with Academy Award nominations: best picture, director Edward Dmytryk, screenwriter John Paxton, and supporting players Ryan and Gloria Grahame. The film unreels during a single sweaty, post-WWII night when one among a squad of GIs on leave in Washington, D.C., murders a nice Jewish man (Sam Levene) because he doesn't like "his kind." The audience knows who's guilty before the cops do, and Ryan's portrayal of the bigot will make the hair on your neck rise. Police detective Robert Young plays with his pipe too much and makes one speech too many, but the atmosphere is memorably taut and surreal.
Robert Ryan may be even scarier in Fritz Lang's Clash by Night (1952), a rare noir without any criminal aspect: all its bitterness and savagery is emotional, psychological, and--preeminently--sexual. Barbara Stanwyck, slightly past her stellar peak but in her prime as an actress, plays a married woman in a New England fishing town who knows what a bad idea it is but falls anyway for a vicious, misogynistic movie projectionist. Sample Clifford Odets dialogue, Stanwyck to Ryan: "What do you want to do to me? Put your teeth in me? Hurt me?" Clinching ensues. (All this and Marilyn Monroe, too.)
We've saved the best for last. Narrow Margin (1952) is the kind of trim, beautifully paced movie people have in mind when asking, "Why don't they make 'em like that anymore?" Two cops have to guard a gangster's widow against assassination as she rides the Golden West Limited sleeper train from Chicago to give evidence in L.A. Soon there's only one cop (gravel-voiced Charles McGraw, usually a villain), and he's finding the sharp-tongued widow (Marie Windsor) as obnoxious as she is endangered. Nothing goes quite as you'd expect in this exemplary train thriller, which rattles and rocks toward its destination without a music track or a wasted moment. --Richard T. Jameson
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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.
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First, the good news. Rather than the same big-time films noir that everybody and his brother have seen a million times (Double Indemnity, Kiss Me Deadly, etc.), we get a lot more of the less talked about, but often just as wonderful noir films of the era to enjoy, most of them produced by RKO, notorious for their countless contributions to the genre.
Now for the bad news, which there isn't very much of. One of the films in this set ("Clash By Night") just doesn't belong here. It doesn't feel right, this romantic drama along the lines of "A Streetcar Named Desire" being mixed in with fast-talking, hardboiled PI's and pencil-mustached gangsters. And another film here ("Born to Kill") is just a an obnoxious film to watch, with great direction, but an irritating performance by Claire Trevor, and a cast of characters who seem almost ridiculously shallow.
Still, if you're thinking of getting at least two of these films, you may as well buy the whole set, because the price is incredible and, who knows, you might just like all five films.
As for the remaining three, they're totally awesome and make the whole set exceedingly worthwhile. It's true that the first set was all-gems, and this one has a clunker or two, but the great ones here are so rare and so unbelievably good that to not investigate them would be criminal.
"Dillinger" is phenomenal. Lawrence Tierny plays the real-life bank robber John Dillinger in a role that was absolutely perfect for him. This one reminds me a great deal of "White Heat" in that you see the shifting dynamic of a gang as they form in prison and continue their business partnership on the outside, where a battle of wills to dominate the gang ensues.
"Crossfire" is a huge treat. This is one of those big-time classics that they missed the first time around, but thankfully, brought to us at last in glorious black & white. Robert Ryan is terrifying, and Edward Dmytryk's directorial prowess is evident with every shadow on the wall and every nuance of the lighting.
"The Narrow Margin" is one of those obscure films that, once you see it, you wonder why you never heard of it sooner. The common theme of claustrophobia and nowhere to hide is played to the hilt in this one, with some awesome tricks of the camera and very moody lighting. Charles McGraw and Marie Windsor give two outstanding performances.
Bottom line: If you liked the first box set, you'll probably love this one too! And if you never saw the first one, what on Earth are you waiting for?!?!
Movies: ****1/2 DVD Transfers: ***1/2 Extras: ****
BORN TO KILL
Movie: **** DVD Transfer: ***1/2 Extras: ***
CLASH BY NIGHT
Movie: ***** DVD Transfer: *** Extras: *****
Movie: ***** DVD Transfer: *** Extras: ***1/2
Movie: **** DVD Transfer: **** Extras: ***
THE NARROW MARGIN
Movie: ***** DVD Transfer: ****1/2 Extras: *****
Overall, the five films included in the "Film Noir Classic Collection, Vol. 2" are great films that deserve to be released on DVD and appreciated by a new generation of viewers, as well as existing fans. While aficionados may debate whether specific titles belong in the collection (even Peter Bogdanovich, who contributes the audio commentary for "Clash by Night", believes that the film he is discussing is not a true film noir per se), there is no doubt that each selection features key attributes (morally compromised characters, shadowy night scenes, etc.) that are typically found among the genre's most representative films, and each - at a minimum - is thoroughly entertaining.
Unfortunately, the quality of the film-to-DVD tranfers varies considerably from title to title, with "Crossfire" and "Clash by Night" looking somewhat shoddy in places, and "The Narrow Margin" appearing crisp and clean throughout. Similarly, the bonus features (particularly the audio commentaries) on some titles are thought-provoking and engaging ("The Narrow Margin" and "Clash by Night") while others are less interesting ("Born to Kill" and "Dillinger").
As a collection, I personally recommend the set both for its entertainment value, and for the savings it offers versus purchasing each selection separately. (And for a more in-depth analysis of the virtues and faults of the individual titles, I suggest that you look each one up separately to see the more specific comments that various reviewers - including myself - have made.)