Film Noir Releases in June 2016

Just a quick word or two about these new releases. I hope you find these monthly lists helpful. If you’ve been following these posts for awhile, you know that some months are pretty slim and others are exploding (like this month). Although I could include releases from many other countries, I’m going to limit myself primarily to those released in the U.S., UK, and France. I know the European discs will (usually) only work for those with a region-free player, but I hope some of these releases will cause you to consider a region-free device. If you know of any releases of interest outside of these three countries, please feel free to add them in the comments section. Thanks, and thanks for reading.

Now, gear yourself up for an amazing June:

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The Maltese Falcon (1941) 75th Anniversary


I figure I’ve seen The Maltese Falcon (1941) at least 10 times, but last night was the first time I’d seen it on the big screen (at the Annapolis Harbour 9 as part of TCM’s 75th anniversary of the film, delighted to be joined by my friends Dana, Patrick, and Karen). You’d think the screen size wouldn’t make that much of a difference after having seen the movie so many times, but the revelations were stunning.

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The Phenix City Story (1955) Phil Karlson


The Phenix City Story (1955) Phil Karlson
Film Noir Collection Vol. 5 (Warner Home Video)

The Phenix City Story is one of those odd films you’re not exactly sure how to handle. Is it film noir, crime drama, true crime expose, or something else? Some writers of works dealing with film noir include it while others ignore it. It’s a question best settled by each individual viewer.

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Running on Empty (1988) Sidney Lumet


Running on Empty (1988) Sidney Lumet
Lorimar/Warner Brothers
Warner Archive DVD


The first time we see 17-year-old Danny (River Phoenix) he’s swinging a bat at high school baseball practice. He easily strikes out, then announces to one of his teammates, “Baseball is my life.” He’s either the most cynical kid on the team or he’s trying to hide something. Maybe Danny actually is good at baseball, but he can’t let anyone know it. That would draw too much attention to himself and that would draw too much attention to his parents, Arthur and Annie Pope (Judd Hirsch and Christine Lahti), and that must never happen. It’s not that Arthur and Annie are shy people; they’re wanted by the FBI for bombing a napalm lab in 1971.

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Possessed (1947) Curtis Bernhardt


Possessed (1947) Curtis Bernhardt
Warner Brothers
Warner Archive Blu-ray


A strange, frightened, forlorn woman (Joan Crawford) wanders the streets of Los Angeles, asking everyone she meets if they’ve seen “David.” Eventually she awakens in a hospital, where doctors learn that her name is Louise Howell, a disturbed woman who slowly, reluctantly tells her story in flashback.

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The Locket (1946) John Brahm


The Locket (1946) John Brahm
RKO Pictures
Warner Archive DVD

John Willis (Gene Raymond) is all set to marry Nancy (Laraine Day), the woman of his dreams, until he’s approached by a man named Harry Blair (Brian Aherne). Blair, claiming to be Nancy’s former husband, warns Willis that he’s about to marry a thief, a liar, and quite possibly a murderer, all in one. Thus begins one of the most complicated uses of flashback in all of film noir – a flashback within a flashback within a flashback.

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Dark Passage (1947) Delmer Daves


Dark Passage (1947) Delmer Daves

Warner Brothers
B/W 1:46
Warner Archive Instant

Dark Passage has a lot going for it, so much so that you might think it would be included in discussions of great noir films. It’s not, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad picture, not by a long shot.

The film stars Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, in their third and penultimate film, coming after To Have and Have Not (1944) and The Big Sleep (1946) and before Key Largo (1948). With Bogart and Bacall, you’ve certainly got two big positives. Add to the mix a story based on a novel by David Goodis, and Delmer Daves, already a veteran director and screenwriter. Plus it doesn’t hurt having great supporting performances by Agnes Moorehead and Clifton Young.


But while Dark Passage is good, it never really emerges as great. The first and perhaps biggest problem is in the film’s initial set-up. We see everything from the point of view of Vincent Parry (Bogart), a man falsely convicted of killing his wife. As the film opens, Parry escapes from prison with the hopes of clearing his name and finding his wife’s real killer. He evades capture until he’s picked up by a young woman named Irene (Bacall), who sneaks him to her San Francisco apartment. The Parry point-of-view is awkward, but we’re not supposed to see his face, at least not until after he’s had identity-changing plastic surgery. Bacall carries the first half of the film and while she’s effective in the role, I never really embraced the credibility of Irene’s story or motivation.


Other elements of the film are equally hard to swallow, such as how Parry finds a plastic surgeon and the death of one of the characters near the end of the film. And while Bogart seems a bit tentative throughout much of the film, Clifford Young is excellent as the driver who initially picks up Parry, not knowing he’s given a ride to an escaped convict. You can see in Young’s eyes that he’s processing everything, thinking just short of one step ahead at all times.


As good as Young is, Agnes Moorehead, as Irene’s friend Madge, is even better. We quickly learn that Madge is a person used to getting her own way and could create some real trouble for both Irene and Parry. Moorehead is remembered mostly for her role as Endora from the TV show Bewitched, although she was one of Orson Welles’s principal actors in his Mercury Players. She made her film debut in Citizen Kane (not a bad place to start, but where do you go from there?) and frequently gave impressive performances. Moorehead’s portrayal of Madge is full of fire, venom and just plain evil. She flat-out tells you what she thinks and doesn’t give a rip what you think of it.


Although it has problems, Dark Passage is still an enjoyable film noir, mostly due to its performances and a good use of the San Francisco setting by Daves (who was born there). It’s definitely worth a look. 


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