The Blue Dahlia (1945) | Raymond Chandler’s only original screenplay is a hard-boiled film noir classic must-see
The classic 1940s noir thriller, The Blue Dahlia, stars Alan Ladd as discharged naval flier Johnny Morrison who returns home to Los Angeles to discover his wife Helen (Doris Dowling) has been unfaithful. When she is found murdered, Johnny becomes the prime suspect and promptly goes on the run.
The always gorgeous Veronica Lake then turns up as Joyce, the wife of nightclub owner Eddie Harwood (Howard Da Silva) – who was Helen’s lover – and with the help of Johnny’s army pals, Buzz (William Bendix) and George (Hugh Beaumont), tries to clear his name…
Crime writer Raymond Chandler scored an Oscar nomination for his lean and mean original screenplay. It was the only one he ever wrote specifically for a movie and one in which he completed while ‘drunk’ when production was speeded up on the film because Paramount studio bosses feared Ladd would be re-inducted into the real-life US army.
The film, which was directed by George Marshall (of Destry Rides Again fame), also marked the third pairing of Ladd and Veronica Lake following 1942’s This Gun for Hire (which made Ladd a star) and The Glass Key (also available from Arrow Academy). It was released to great acclaim and has since become a must-see film noir classic.
William Bendix is a standout as Ladd’s shell-shocked war buddy who keeps complaining of ‘monkey-music’ in his head and the complicated story – all set in Hollywood’s decadent night club strip – keeps twisting brilliantly until the final cop-out ending (that was also done to placate the US war office).
A radio play version of the film was broadcast on 21 April 1949 as part of the The Screen Guild Theater, starring Ladd and Lake in their original film roles.
The Blue Dahlia is out now on Blu-ray from Arrow Academy in the UK. The extras include selected scene commentary and an introduction from author Frank Krutnik, the 1949 radio play, original trailer, gallery and promotional materials. Plus, a collector’s booklet (first pressing only).
At the height of the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, four German exiles in Hollywood – director Fritz Lang, playwright Bertolt Brecht (earning his only US credit here as Bert Brecht), composer Hanns Eisler and actor Hans Heinrich von Twardowski – pooled their efforts into Hangmen Also Die!, an important historical film from 1943 about the Czech resistance, which gets a 2k restoration release from Arrow in the UK from 29 August.
Taking as its starting point, the assassination of the real-life Nazi ‘Reich-Protector’ of Czechoslovakia, Reinhard Heydrich (Twardowski), Lang’s studio-bound suspenser sees an act of kindness by the courageous Marsha (Anna Lee) – hiding the culprit (a deadpan Brian Donlevy) from the Gestapo – result in her professor father (Walter Brennan) and 400 Czech compatriots facing execution unless Donlevy’s resistance fighter is turned over…
Shot in atmospheric black and white by the legendary James Wong Howe, and featuring a Oscar-nominated score from Eisler, Lang’s anti-Nazi gift to wartime American cinemagoers is a masterful blend of war picture, film noir and political thriller. It may loose points for its overly melodramatic Hollywood treatment of the story (all the non-Nazi’s have American accents and Twardowski’s Heydrich comes off like Colonel Klink in Hogan’s Heroes), but its revolutionary spirit shines through.
Eagle-eyed cinephiles can watch out for Dracula‘s Dwight Frye as one of the hostages (it was his last film role before a heart attack cut short his life aged 44 in 1943), and hear the unmistakable growl of Cul-de-sac‘s Lionel Stander as the getaway driver.
The Arrow release features a 2012 2k restored print by Pinewood from the Cohen Film Collection, and includes an audio commentary by film historian Richard Peña, along with an interview with author Robert Gerwarth on Reinhard Heydrich, plus newsreel footage, restoration comparison anda trailer. The first pressing of this release comes with a collector’s booklet.
A must-have for fans of Fritz Lang fans and lovers of wartime cinema.
When it comes to my favourite Dario Argento films, in my cinematic eye, two stand out as supreme masterpieces: Suspiria, a bewitching blend of the surreal and the fantastique, and Deep Red, which must be THE quintessential giallo. But what makes the thriller so gripping to revisit time and time again – aside from the fact that it keeps getting re-released?
Murder, mayhem and black-gloved killers were central to Argento’s early gialli, and it was with Bird, Cat and Flies, (aka the Animal Trilogy) that he brought stark terror to the genre and introduced the killer’s PoV stylistic device (which Carpenter copied in Halloween). But in Deep Red (aka Profondo Rosso), he did so much more. He fused his thriller with an arthouse kink and a surreal theatricality, with the highlight being an inspired homage to film noir in the recreation of Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks diner in a neon-lit Rome street where the first murder takes place (actually Turin’s Piazza CLN).
David Hemmings (who got the part because of his role in Antonioni’s Blow-Up) is Marcus Daly, an English jazz pianist based in Rome who witnesses the brutal slaying of a visiting European psychic. After he becomes front-page news thanks to Daria Nicolodi’s over-eager reporter Gianna, Daly starts his own investigation. But when incriminating evidence is left at the scene of another murder, Daly realises the killer is hot on his trail. It’s then a race against time to solve the mystery, which has links to a children’s lullaby and a deserted old mansion, before the killer strikes again…
Deep Red also saw Argento embracing elements horror and the supernatural for the first time, with the film’s most evocative scenes taking place inside a crumbling grand art nouveau mansion (actually the 1902 Villa Scott in Turin), set to the pulsating beats of Goblin’s landmark prog rock soundtrack, which became the benchmark for many of Argento’s subsequent film scores. Topping it all were the imaginatively staged murder set pieces, involving stabbing, scalding and being and bashed to a pulp, all domestic terrors that set the nerves on edge and made your skin crawl.
Now, while Argento certainly must be praised for the film’s visual style (and style is certainly the substance of Deep Red, which was the whole point), it’s the film’s script that brings it all together. And that’s down to Bernardino Zapponi, who was hired on the back of his work on Federico Fellini’s phantasmal Toby Dammit segment in Spirits of the Dead. One can only wonder what kind of film Deep Red would have been without Zapponi’s involvement as he is key to Argento’s ‘truly terrifying magnum opus’ (to borrow a quote from Argento expert Alan Jones).
THE ARROW 4K RELEASE
It was only back in 2011 that Arrow brought out a bloody gorgeous 2k restoration on Blu-ray and DVD, which blew my mind with its sharp picture and excellent sound. Now comes the 4k restoration, which totally trumps that release, ironing out much of the grain that I never knew was apparent in the earlier version until I did a comparison.
The 2011 release came with two uncut versions of the film; interviews with Argento, Nicolodi and Goblin composer Claudio Simonetti; and a commentary from Argento expert Thomas Rostock. These have all been replicated here, but with brand-new transfers of the directors cut and the export version. Another bonus is the inclusion of the film’s soundtrack featuring all 28 tracks that originally appeared on the 1996 Cinevox CD. Newly commissioned artwork has also been for the packaging, this time from Belgium artist Gilles Vranckx.
THE DIRECTOR’S CUT AUDIO
There’s a choice of Italian with English subtitles or a hybrid English/Italian audio track on the director’s cut, but my preference is for the hybrid version, as you get to hear David Hemmings and Daria Nicolodi in English. But the reinserted scenes that were originally left out of the export cut only have Italian audio. While this might make for a disconcerting experience, you do get more battle of the sexes interplay between Marcus and Gianna.
This must be one of Arrow’s fastest-selling releases ever, as it’s already sold out on their website and is currently changing hands for up to £90 online. So, if you are lucky to bag yourself a copy, then turn down the lights, turn up the volume, and let the screaming begin.
Once voted the ‘Best British film ever made’ in a poll by the BFI, 1949’s The Third Man has been given a stunning 4k restoration and is now available to own on DVD and Blu-ray in a collector’s edition that includes a host of brand new extras, from Studiocanal.
HUNTED…By a thousand men! Haunted…By a lovely girl!
Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten), a writer of pulp Westerns, arrives in post-war Vienna on the invitation of his childhood friend Harry Lime (Orson Welles). But on arrival he finds that Harry has recently been killed by a car whilst crossing the street, leaving a grief-stricken lover, Anna (Alida Valli).
When local British investigating office Calloway (Trevor Howard) claims that Lime was an unsavoury criminal, Martins accepts an offer from a local book club to stay in Vienna in order to clear his friend’s name. As he investigates his friend’s last hours, he grows closer to the doomed Anna, and learns of an unidentified ‘third man’ at the scene of the accident, who may hold the key to the deepening mystery surrounding Harry’s death.
He’ll have you in a dither with his zither!
Upon its release in 1949, director Carol Reed’s atmospheric thriller The Third Man instantly became a classic, winning the Grand Prix at Cannes, a BAFTA for Best British Film, and the Oscar for Best Cinematography for Robert Krasker. Featuring some of cinema’s most memorable set pieces and quotable lines, the film’s Viennese locations quickly etch themselves in the memory. The city may have been bombed out and strewn with rubble, divided into four sectors by the Allies, but it still stood tall in all its faded grandeur.
The film was also the masterwork of it’s key players – Carol Reed, Joseph Cotten and Orson Welles, as well as Graham Greene, who wrote the script while holed up in the now legendary Hotel Sacher, where Cotten’s Martins stays in the film, and composer Anton Karas, who was then a musician for hire playing in the wine gardens of Vienna when Carol Reed first encountered him. His six week work on the soundtrack resulted in a unique and melancholy zither score that has since become iconic.
The 4-disc Blu-ray collector’s edition includes the Deluxe 4k restored print of the feature, the full soundtrack by Anton Karas, with zither music performed by Gertrud Huber, a set of postcards, and the following extras:
• Audio Commentary with Guy Hamilton, Simon Callow & Angela Allen
• Shadowing The Third Man featurette
• Interview & Zither Performance by Cornelia Mayer
• The Third Man Interactive Vienna Tour
• Guardian NFT Interview – Joseph Cotten & Graham Greene (Audio Only)
• Joseph Cotten’s Alternate Opening Voiceover Narration
• The Third Man: A Filmmaker’s Influence featurette
• Restoring The Third Man featurette
• Dangerous Edge: Graham Greene Documentary
This essential collection brings together three of acclaimed director Otto Preminger’s greatest films for the first time on Blu-ray, delivering a unique combination of intrigue, moral ambiguity and stylish black and white photography, which truly defines this much loved film noir genre.
In Fallen Angel (1945), Dana Andrews stars as a down-on-his-luck press agent turned amateur sleuth, investigating the murder of the sultry waitress, Stella (Linda Darnell).
Whirlpool (1950) is a fascinating blend of noir and woman’s picture starring the beautiful Gene Tierney as a troubled socialite who falls prey to the machinations of a sinister hypnotist (José Ferrer).
Whilst in the down beat Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950) Dana Andrews again stars, as a tough cop whose brutal methods leave a trail of murder, deceit and cover-ups.
Special features include audio commentaries by film scholar and critic Adrian Martin and The Guardian Lecture: Otto Preminger interviewed by Joan Bakewell (1972, 80 mins, audio with stills), plus an illustrated booklet.
Otto Preminger Film Noir Collection released on Monday 28 September from BFI
Did you that that on 28 August 1946, Robert Siodmak’s The Killers had its New York premiere ahead of its general US release on 30 August?
With its marvellously intricate plot, thundering drama throughout and a mighty punch in the final scene this first film version of Ernest Hemingway’s laconic short story (remade 18 years later with Lee Marvin) is an all-time film noir classic.
One Moment with Her…And He Gambled His LUCK…LOVE…and His LIFE!
As washed-up boxer turned hitman victim Ole Swede Andreson, Burt Lancaster made his screen debut, and was catapulted to stardom, not least for the screen chemistry that he showed opposite sultry Ava Gardner, whose Kitty Collins is the very personification of the femme fatale. In the pivotal role, Edmond O’Brien gives an excellent performance, while Jack Lambert plays it menacingly. Two then newish actors, William Conrad (later to find TV fame as Cannon) and Charles McGraw, register solidly as the killers of the title.
Still TENSE! TAUT! TERRIFIC!
German émigré Robert Siodmak then at the peak of his Hollywood career, ensures that the nervous tension never lets up from the first moment that the killers move onto the scene, while Elwood Bredell’s shadowy cinematography elevates the film into the realms of pure cinematic art.
In 2014, the film noir classic was given a stunning HD restoration and is now available on Blu-ray and DVD from Arrow in the UK. Here’s what’s in the box.
• The 2014 Arrow Blu-ray/DVD release features a restored High Definition (1080p) presentation of the film, transferred from original film elements by Universal, with original uncompressed PCM mono 1.0 audio
• Isolated music and effects soundtrack
• Frank Krutnik on The Killers: video piece by the author of In a Lonely Street
• Heroic Fatalism: video essay about the multiple versions of The Killers
• Three archive radio pieces inspired by The Killers: the 1949 Screen Director’s Playhouse adaptation with Burt Lancaster and Shelley Winters, a 1946 Jack Benny spoof, and the 1958 Suspense episode Two for the Road, which reunited William Conrad and Charles McGraw
• Stills and posters gallery
• Artwork by Jay Shaw
• Collector’s booklet containing new writing and archive interviews
After accidentally causing his friend’s death while playing in a bombed out building on a Chelsea London estate, distraught 12-year-old Frankie Palmer (Andrew Ray) is blackmailed by unscrupulous crook Len Turner (William Sylvester) into helping him with a robbery.
But when Frankie runs away after the job goes sour, the cold-hearted Len plots to do away with the lad…
The 1953 British noir, The Yellow Balloon, was one of the first X-rated films (you had to be 16 or over to see it at the cinema). 13-year-old Andrew Ray, who had made his screen debut in 1950’s The Mudlark, is very convincing as the poor lad torn by telling the truth and living in fear that he might be sent to prison; while William Sylvester’s predatory petty thief is a nasty piece of work, especially in the film’s genuinely frightening, film-noir drenched climax in which he chases Frankie around the darkened tunnels of a closed Queensway Tube Station. It was these scenes that caused the censor to slap on an ‘Adults Only’ certificate, which was only later re-classified when cinemas complained they were losing their much-needed family audience. After all the story was a stranger danger warning and a morality tale best seen by youngsters themselves.
A host well-known names provide some great support, including Kenneth More as Ray’s rarely at home sailor dad, Sidney James as a street trader who gets a prized pineapple pinched by Ray, and Bernard Lee as a kindly copper – the type that can only exist in fiction like Dixon of Dock Green. There’s also an uncredited Richard O’Sullivan as one of the kids singing in the Sunday School scene.
Director J Lee-Thompson, making his second feature, adapts his own screenplay with an assured hand (although the Hitchcockian elements are evident), while cinematographer Gilbert Taylor (who’d go on to work on Dr Strangelove, Repulsion, The Omen and Star Wars) gives the post-war London locations a gritty neo-realistic air (mainly around Sutton Estate in Chelsea – which today is at the centre of a social cleansing scandal). Lee-Thompson went onto master those Hitchcockian elements in his 1962 psychological thriller, Cape Fear.
If there’s one thing that nags watching his vintage fare is how much British society (and indeed society as a whole) has radically changed in the past 60-odd years; especially in regards to helping a distressed youngster wandering the streets alone. Today, most people would keep walking past, either because they don’t care or fear that they’d be labelled a paedophile if they attempted being a Good Samaritan. Although taking a youngster home for a warm meal and a heart-to-heart is really not the done thing today – which happens to poor Frankie in this must-see British noir.
The Yellow Balloon is released on DVD in the UK from StudioCanal, and includes as extras an introduction by film historian Charles Barr and a stills gallery
His Kind of Woman (1951) | Robert Mitchum, Jane Russell and Vincent Price serve up a film noir like no other
THIS PLACE IS DANGEROUS. THE TIME RIGHT DEADLY. THE DRINKS ARE ON ME!
Professional gambler Dan Milner (Robert Mitchum) gets embroiled in an elaborate scheme to get deported gangland boss Nick Ferraro (Raymond Burr) back into the US. After receiving an offer of $50,000 from a mysterious benefactor to head to an exclusive resort south of the border, Milner encounters nightclub singer Lenore Brent (Jane Russell) and her narcissist Hollywood actor lover Mark Cardigan (Vincent Price). But as he settles into the rich playground of the Morro’s Lodge and starts falling for Lenore, Milner discovers he is being used as a patsy. With his life is placed in danger, Milner gets an unlikely rescuer – ham actor Cardigan…
WELL, WHAT DID YOU THINK OF THE PICTURE?
When it comes to film noir, RKO’s His Kind of Woman (which had its US premiere on August 29 1951) is definitely one of a kind. While the first third of this Howard Hughes-produced movie sticks closely to classic noir tropes, complete with archetypal noir characterisation, dialogue and atmospheric cinematography, the film becomes increasingly comedic as it veers between satire, a battle of the sexes comedy and hard-boiled thriller. There’s even some slapstick thrown amongst the action, courtesy of the mock-heroics of Vincent Price’s flamboyant Cardigan (the scene where he sinks a boat load of local Mexican volunteers being one of film’s comic highlights). But it’s this crazy mixed-up brew that makes the film stand out from more faithful, now long forgotten, noirs of the era.
The film was originally shot under the title Smiler With a Gun in May 1950 under the direction of John Farrow. But on viewing the rushes, Hughes brought in Richard Fleischer to add in some new scenes, many featuring Vincent Price’s Cardigan (Hughes favourite character), and to re-shoot all of the Ferraro scenes with Raymond Burr taking over the role from Lee Van Cleef. The end result was a coup for Price, who ends up getting almost as much screen time as Mitchum, while also showing off his innate comic skills. There’s also a hint of the campy persona he’d go on to become known for. Interestingly, he also gets to quote Shakespeare, something he’d do on a much grander scale in his 1973 magnum opus, Theatre of Blood.
The films ‘stars’, however, fared less well than Price. As Milner, the laconic anti-hero loner, Mitchum is typical noir and certainly plays up to his hard man image, but his scenes alongside Russell’s heart of gold chanteuse lack the frisson that Louella Parsons called ‘the hottest combination to ever hit the screen’. And apart from some clever quips, singing two songs (excellently, I might add) and showing off her ample assets (again most excellently), Russell is practically left in the closet (Cardigan locks her up during the film’s crucial scenes). And speaking of closets, what’s with Burr’s frightening Ferraro? That look of suppressed ecstasy on his face as a sweaty, shirtless Milner is whipped is a very ‘telling’ sight, and makes you wonder if he wants a lot more from Milner than just his face (which is the reason, we learn in the climax, why he engaged Milner in the first place).
WHAT THE REVIEWERS SAID
‘Both Mitchum and Russell score strongly. Russell’s full charms are fetchingly displayed in smart costumes that offer the minimum of protection’ Variety, 1951
‘…the best part of the picture, as far as we are concerned is Vincent Price. He is deliciously funny…’ Los Angeles Daily News, 1951
His Kind of Woman was released on DVD in the UK in 2011 from Odeon Entertainment, as part of the Hollywood Studio Collection, featuring an unrestored print in its 1.33:1 aspect ratio and Dolby Digital mono audio. Region Free. You can purchase a copy here from Play.com
DID YOU KNOW?
Clips from His Kind of Woman featuring Vincent Price were used in A Time For Hyacinths, an episode of the popular US TV series Mod Squad, and played a crucial role in the story which guest starred Price as a Hollywood film star who stages his death after witnessing a murder.