If you’re new to my monthly Film Noir Releases posts, welcome! My goal is to cover all the first-time releases to Blu-ray and DVD, usually passing over reissues unless there’s a good reason to include them. (I also tend to leave out “newer” films from the last several years.) Unless otherwise noted, the following are all North American Region A Blu-ray discs. I often use the terms “film noir” and “neo-noir” rather loosely, so while you may quibble with some of my choices, I hope these are films you’ll at least consider. As always, if you know of any film noir or neo-noir films I’ve left out, please let me know in the comments below. And thanks for reading.
February is a pretty light month, yet it contains at least one must-own film right off the bat. If you own it on DVD, it’s probably time for an upgrade. If you’ve been waiting for a Blu-ray (like me), wait no longer. Plus I’ll have a few other temptations for you. Let’s get started:
Elevator to the Gallows (1958) Criterion
It’s staggering to dwell on the fact that Elevator to the Gallows (Ascenseur pour l’échafaud) comes from first-time director Louis Malle at the age of 24. It’s a film entrenched in noir featuring a spellbinding improvised score by Miles Davis and amazing performances. Julien Tavernier (Maurice Ronet) kills a man (Jean Wall) who’s both his boss and the husband of Tavernier’s mistress (Jeanne Moreau), but afterwards finds himself trapped in the building’s elevator. Meanwhile Julien’s car is stolen by a pair of young lovers and his mistress wanders the streets of Paris, awaiting his return. The plot may seem comedic, but it’s totally noir. The extras are impressive, including separate archival interviews with Malle, Moreau, and Ronet, as well as a conversation between Malle and Moreau at the Cannes Film Festival in 1993. The Miles Davis score gets a loving treatment with over 40 minutes of featurettes. If that’s not enough, how about Crazeologie, an early short student film from Malle. There’s no denying it: this release is absolutely essential for noir fans. In French with English subtitles.
Criss Cross (1949) Elysees; BD + DVD (France, Region B)
If you’re reading this, you already know that Robert Siodmak’s Criss Cross is one of the true classics of film noir and don’t need me to tell you anything more about it. (But if you don’t know about it, may I refer you to this review by Film Noir Blonde.
Criss Cross is available on DVD in the U.S. and Canada, but so far there’s no domestic release of the film on Blu-ray. I suspect this French Blu-ray is sourced from the same source material as the Australian Blu-ray I purchased last year from Cinema Cult. That disc looks great and sounds quite good, but contains no special features. If you must have it now and don’t care about extras, I can vouch for the Australian disc. But if you pick up the Elysees edition, please let me know what you think.
The Thomas Crown Affair (1968) Kino Lorber
Although The Thomas Crown Affair is clearly a heist film, it’s far too glossy to stand alongside other heist films like the aforementioned Criss Cross or The Asphalt Jungle as far as having a gritty noir style. An insurance investigator (Faye Dunaway) is convinced that ladies man Thomas Crown (Steve McQueen) is behind an elaborate heist, but she can’t prove it. The film has been released previously from MGM, but this new 50th Anniversary edition includes a new 4K restoration and a new interview with director Norman Jewison, as well as an interview with title designer Pablo Ferro, the featurette “Three’s A Company,” and two audio commentaries: one with Jewison, and one with film historians Lem Dobbs and Nick Redman.
Fans of Raymond Chandler, Robert Mitchum and film noir in general have very different reactions to these two films. Many claim that Mitchum was simply too old in the 1970s to portray Chandler’s most famous creation, detective Philip Marlowe. Others argue that’s the whole point, to show an aging detective who should’ve packed it in long ago. Most fans agree, however, that Farewell, My Lovely is the better of the two films (by a long shot), and while no one is going to argue that the 1978 version of The Big Sleep can even breathe the same air as the 1946 Howard Hawks version, it’s worth a look. I’m going to pick it up.
Warner Archive wraps up February with two movies based on Ross Macdonald’s Lew Archer (here renamed Lew Harper) novels, Harper (1966) and The Drowning Pool (1975), both starring Paul Newman as an Los Angeles PI.
Harper (1966) Warner Archive
This William Goldman script introduces us to Harper (Paul Newman), a cool sleuth in the style of Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe. Harper’s been hired by a woman (Lauren Bacall) to find her kidnapped millionaire husband. Harper’s list of suspects consists of a parade of LA oddballs played by Robert Wagner, Shelley Winters, Julie Harris, Strother Martin and others. Directed by Jack Smight, Harper (aka The Moving Target) was a hit with audiences and critics and many thought the film might lead to a series. There’s no guarantee they’ll be ported over, but the previous DVD release included an audio commentary by Goldman, an introduction by Robert Osborne (who explains why the movie was called Harper and not Archer), and a theatrical trailer, all of which will hopefully appear on the new Blu-ray.
The Drowning Pool (1975) Warner Archive
A series didn’t quite materialize, but Warner Bros. did produce one more Harper film starring Paul Newman. Directed by Stuart Rosenberg, The Drowning Pool finds the PI traveling to Louisiana to help his ex-girlfriend Iris Devereux (Joanne Woodward), now married to a wealthy oil man who’s being blackmailed. To get to the bottom of the case, Harper must overcome hostile local cops (Anthony Franciosa, Richard Jaeckel), Iris’s nymphomaniac daughter (Melanie Griffith), and a plethora of Louisiana corruption. Harper is widely considered the better of the two films, but The Drowning Pool is also a worthy addition to your collection. The previous DVD release includes the featurette “Harper Days are Here Again” and a theatrical trailer.
That’s it for February. Again, if you know of any other noir or neo-noir releases for February, please let me know in the comments section below.