I usually wait until the end of the month to tell you about the next month’s film noir releases on Blu-ray, but I thought I’d get this out a couple of weeks early to better prepare you financially. Hang on: there’s a lot to cover. (All releases are Blu-ray and U.S. Region A discs unless otherwise noted.)
The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young (doc. 2014)
Directed by Annika Iltis, Timothy James Kane
Netflix streaming (1:29)
The Barkley Marathons may be the oddest documentary I’ve ever seen. While watching it, I struggled with how much of the film was possibly being manipulated by the filmmakers, then at a certain point, I – like many of the runners in the film – quit thinking and just plowed ahead. Unlike the marathons themselves, this is a film that’s nearly impossible to stop watching once you’ve started it. It may also teach you things about yourself you’d rather not know.
August is off to a good start! Let’s see what there is to talk about so far this month…
Deadline U.S.A. (1952) (2x)
Written and directed by Richard Brooks
Produced by Sol. C. Siegel
Cinematography by Milton R. Krasner
Edited by William B. Murphy
Music by Cyril Mockridge (Sol Kaplan, uncredited)
20th Century Fox
Kino Lorber Blu-ray (1:27)
To my great shame, I have never been much of a newspaper reader, but I’ve always loved stories about newspaper life. I first saw Deadline U.S.A. many years ago when I was a teenager and like many other kids of my era, thought it would be adventurous, daring and maybe even dangerous to work for a newspaper. Even back then, though, it seemed Humphrey Bogart wasn’t the type of guy you’d associate with being a newspaper editor. What would Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe be doing sitting behind a desk? I was about to find out.
Scarlet Street (1945)
Directed by Fritz Lang
Screenplay by Dudley Nichols, based upon La Chienne, a novel by Georges de La Fouchardière and a play by André Mouézy-Éon
Produced by Fritz Lang and Walter Wanger
Cinematography by Milton Krasner
Edited by Arthur Hilton
Music by Hans J. Salter
Mill Creek Crime Wave box set DVD (1:43)
The most powerful moment in Scarlet Street occurs near the end of the film when the meek, clueless Christopher Cross (Edward G. Robinson) realizes he’s been duped by the woman he thinks is in love with him, Kitty Marsh (Joan Bennett). That scene is also one of the greatest in film noir because it shows us the essence of noir in microcosm: the dumb, disillusioned everyman who’s been played for a sucker, realizing too late that everything he’s done in pursuit of his dream amounts to absolutely nothing.
My co-worker Julia and I were a little concerned. Last night we were showing our first non-English language film in our Great Movies series, it was a mild summer night when most people would be outside enjoying the weather, and a lot of people are still on vacation. Yet we were delighted to have an audience of 28 in attendance for Bicycle Thieves (1948).
Julia asked how many people had never seen the film before last night and almost every hand went up. She led a great discussion about how the film was perceived among Italian audiences compared to American audiences, De Sica’s neorealism, the use of untrained non-actors, and more. Audience members brought up the differences between characters and their dialects, the rebuilding of post WWII Italy, the relationship between Antonio and his son Bruno, any many other topics.
I think I can speak for Julia in saying that we’re both very pleased that so many people came out to take a chance, so to speak, on an international film with subtitles that on one level is easy to grasp, but on another is challenging in its realism and worldview. We’ll have another movie for you next month on Thursday, September 1 at 6:30pm. I can’t tell you the title, but it involves umbrellas and vocals.
If you know absolutely nothing about film noir, Detour and Scarlet Street are prime examples of what noir is all about. Both films were released in 1945, both are in the public domain (which means you can find them on-the-cheap), and both films are devastating in their treatment of the human condition.
Yet in some respects, the two films are miles apart. Detour was an extremely low-budget affair, costing by some estimates as little as $20,000 (David J. Hogan in his book Film Noir FAQ cites $80,000 as a more reasonable guess) and directed by one of the all-time masters of the low-budget B picture, Edgar G. Ulmer. Scarlet Street, on the other hand, was directed by one of the true masters, Fritz Lang, and cost over $1,000,000 to make. Lang’s film starred Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett, and Dan Duryea, all of whom were bankable stars. Detour starred Tom Neal, who people remember as much for his off-screen behavior (Neal was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in 1961 and served six years in prison) as for his acting, and Ann Savage, who delivers one of the finest, nastiest roles in the entire noir canon. Let’s take a closer look at Detour today and Scarlet Street next time.