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Currently showing posts tagged Film Noir

  • The Scar (1948) Blu-ray Review

    The Scar (1948)

    Director: Steve Sekely

    Starring: Paul Henreid, Joan Bennett, Eduard Franz, Leslie Brooks, John Qualen, Mabel Paige & Herbert Rudely

    Released by: KL Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    After a casino hit gone wrong, The Scar finds on-the-run gambler John Muller (Paul Henreid, Casablanca) evading mobsters that want him dead.  Bearing a striking resemblance to psychiatrist Dr. Batrok, Muller decides to take control of the good doctor’s life in the perfect scheme to stay alive.  While Bartok’s secretary (Joan Bennett, Dark Shadows) grows suspicious of her employer, Muller slowly begins to inherit Bartok’s own personal troubles.  Steve Sekely (The Day of the Triffids) directs.

    Soaked in juicy thrills and the threat of danger constantly looming, The Scar, initially released as Hollow Triumph, may be the spawn of respected Poverty Row distributor Eagle-Lion Films but, rises above its inherent B-picture DNA to deliver a tense noir unafraid of remaining in the gloomy shadows.  Based on Murray Forbes’ novel, recently released prisoner John Muller seeks to get rich quick and doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty in the process.  A brilliant mind who ditched out on medical school, Muller gathers his old cronies together for a hit on feared mob boss Rocky Stansyck’s casino only for the plot to crumble, leaving some dead and Muller wanted the same way by the mobsters.  Relocating, Muller is mistaken for a local psychologist who, with the exception of a glaring scar upon his cheek, could pass as the doctor’s twin.  Running low on options and using his education to his advantage, Muller, simultaneously wooing Bartok’s beautiful secretary Evelyn Hahn as himself, sets out to impersonate the psychoanalyst.  Fudging up which cheek to scar after disposing of the actual Bartok, Muller’s act surprisingly fools patients and friends alike only to have Evelyn, Bartok’s former mistress, not fully convinced.  Paranoid after several close calls with Stansyck’s henchmen and emotionally conflicted with Evelyn, Muller’s new life may not be quite as innocent as he once assumed.  A crafty potboiler that invites viewers into the mind of a calculated crook, The Scar may not be a game changer but, greatly impresses with its gorgeous monochrome photography and a surprisingly bleak conclusion that outshines any of its more contrived, albeit still entertaining, moments.

    Newly remastered, KL Studio Classics welcomes The Scar to Blu-ray with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.33:1 aspect ratio.  While bouts of scratches and reel change pronunciations are spotted, overall clarity is strong while, black levels, seen in the film’s many suits and coat jackets, are deeply inky.  In addition, facial details are best observed in medium shots with tighter angles, although still pleasing, appear noticeably softer.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is relayed audibly with gunshots and suspenseful music cues registering as defiantly as expected for a film of its age.  A mild layer of static is also present but thankfully never overly intrusive.  Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Film Historian Imogen Sara and Trailers for 99 River Street (2:13), Cry of the City (2:33), Shield for Murder (1:45), Boomerang (2:30) and He Ran All the Way (2:13).

    A well-oiled noir that engages and never bores, The Scar arrives with clichés to spare but, the combined performances of Paul Henreid and Joan Bennett mixed with the film’s striking appearance and daringly somber finale make it a solid getaway car for noir enthusiasts.  Meanwhile, KL Studio Classics’ new remastering of the picture is a welcome upgrade that preserves the thriller for years to come.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from KL Studio Classics, The Scar can be purchased via KinoLorber.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Yakuza (1974) Blu-ray Review

    The Yakuza (1974)

    Director: Sydney Pollack

    Starring: Robert Mitchum, Takakura Ken & Brian Keith

    Released by: Warner Archive

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Bringing the honored and dangerous underbelly of gang war traditions to the screen, The Yakuza finds former private eye Harry Kilmer (Robert Mitchum, The Night of the Hunter) traveling to Tokyo in order to retrieve the kidnapped daughter of a trusted friend whose business ties to a powerful crime boss have soured.  Relying on his Japanese connections and reuniting with an estranged former flame, his post-war lover’s yakuza connected brother Ken (Takakura Ken, The Yellow Handkerchief), cold to Kilmer yet forever indebted to him for saving his sister’s life years previously, aids the American in his journey that embroils them much deeper into the criminal world’s activities than expected.  Gorgeously shot on location predominately in Japan, The Yakuza rewards viewers with a trifecta of powerhouse talent unanimous with the 70s movie revolution including, Screenwriters Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver) & Robert Towne (Chinatown) whose noirish mood gives the film its unique tone and Sydney Pollack’s (Three on the Condor) guided direction that handles the sometimes complex narrative with poise.  As Kilmer and Ken’s investigation puts them directly in the crosshairs of the yakuza organization, guns and blades take precedence over negotiations, testing the very limits of honor and exposing the corruptive truths of those once trusted.  Featuring an evocatively cultural East meets West score by Academy Award winning Composer Dave Grusin (The Goonies, The Milagro Beanfield War), The Yakuza is a decently constructed crime-mystery of hardboiled investigation and katana-wielding mobsters that has appreciatively widened its appeal in later years for its unique setup and handsome photography.

    Warner Archive presents The Yakuza with a pristine 1080p transfer, preserving its 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  Notably filmic-looking throughout, skin tones are natural with details in sweat beads and battle scars well observed.  Furthermore, the beautiful Japanese exteriors are exceptionally captured while, the gaudy coloring of interior rooms and offices pop nicely.  Meanwhile, Mitchum’s earth tone jackets and turtlenecks are impressively textured with black levels found in the darker suits of the male characters appearing solidly with no traces of digital crush.  Joined by an equally satisfying DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that delivers dialogue with no pops standing in its way, Grusin’s excellent score benefits the most with gunfire and the clicking of sword blades making striking effects during fight sequences.  Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director Sydney Pollack, the vintage Promises to Keep (19:26) featurette and the film’s Theatrical Trailer (3:01).  Honor, revenge and tradition all converge in this increasingly appreciated albeit, imperfect neo-noir armed with swords and bullets.  Bowing its head in deserved recognition, Warner Archive awards The Yakuza with a stunning hi-def presentation that will obligate viewers to offer a few fingers in exchange for its exceptional quality.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from Warne Archive, The Yakuza can be purchased via WBShop.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers. 

  • On Dangerous Ground (1952) Blu-ray Review

    On Dangerous Ground (1952)

    Director: Nicholas Ray

    Starring: Ida Lupino, Robert Ryan, Ward Bond & Charles Kemper

    Released by: Warner Archive

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on the novel by Gerald Butler, On Dangerous Ground centers on hard-nosed city cop Jim Wilson (Robert Ryan, The Wild Bunch) who after being disciplined for excessive force on the job is sent upstate to investigate the murder of a young girl.  Ida Lupino (High Sierra), Ward Bond (Wagon Train) and Charles Kemper (Yellow Sky) costar.

    From rainy metropolis streets to the desolate snowy wilderness, On Dangerous Ground exudes a gritty, weathered dynamic common to the most stylish of film noirs and inflicts a depraved loneliness upon its crime stopping leading man.  While his fellow coppers manage to leave their baggage on the beat, years of cleaning up after pimps, hoods and winos have cast a disgruntled shadow upon New York detective Jim Wilson.  Reprimanded for roughing up one too many suspects, Jim is reassigned upstate to assist in locating the murderer of a young girl.  Teamed with the vengeance-fueled father of the deceased (Bond), Jim’s tracking of the culprit leads him to the cabin of Mary Malden (Lupino) whose blindness and relation to the killer crafts a complicated entanglement between the two lonely souls.  Wonderfully encapsulating the visual aura of noir with smoky alleyways, the fedora-wearing fuzz and rarely seen, for its time, usage of hand-held photography that offers effective stabs of realism, On Dangerous Ground thrives on Ryan’s battered performance of a detective overwhelmed by the plague of life in the big city and Lupino’s beautiful turn as his blind host who after enduring personal tragedy, still finds solace in Jim’s company.  Honored with a prized score from Bernard Herrmann (The Wrong Man, Taxi Driver), On Dangerous Ground is only rattled by a saccharine ending that feels forced and lacks the deeper impact of a more downbeat finale originally intended by its director.  Nonetheless after the dust has settled, Nicholas Ray’s (Rebel Without a Cause) moody crime drama appeals to the finer attributes of the genre with its swift direction and visual aesthetic that likeminded cinephiles of RKO’s rich history lovingly celebrate.

    Warner Archive presents On Dangerous Ground with an impeccable 1080p transfer (1.37:1) that brings exceptional detail in its monochrome photography through radiant black levels, excellently textured costumes and sharply handled facial features.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that spares viewers any popping distortion, dialogue is clear and exacting while, Bernard Herrmann’s thrilling musical queues give surprisingly strong passes on the track for a film of its age.  Recycled bonus supplements include, an Audio Commentary with Film Historian Glenn Erickson that is as rich and expertly researched as one could expect with the film’s Theatrical Trailer (2:10) also on hand.

    Haunted by loneliness and criminal delinquents, On Dangerous Ground delivers a praiseworthy performance from Robert Ryan who finally finds redemption in the tortured soul of Ida Lupino’s Mary.  Capturing the gritty style of film noir, Nicholas Ray’s examination of crime-filled streets and unsavory characters matched with the beauty of its rural Colorado filming locations give the feature its true value.  Exquisitely upstaging its previous release culled from subpar elements, Warner Archive’s new 4K remaster is a revelation that gives the film a second picturesque life.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Warner Archive, On Dangerous Ground can be purchased via WBShop.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers. 

  • Massacre Gun (1967) Blu-ray Review

    Massacre Gun (1967)

    Director: Yasuharu Hasebe

    Starring: Jô Shishido, Tatsuya Fuji, Jirô Okazaki, Hidekai Nitani & Takashi Kanda

    Released by: Arrow Video

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Starring genre icon Jô Shishido (Branded to Kill), Massacre Gun focuses on Kuroda (Shishido), a mob hitman who gives up his profession following orders to execute his lover.  Joined by his devoted brothers, hotheaded Eiji (Tatsuya Fuji, In the Realm of the Sense) and aspiring boxer Saburô (Jirô Okazaki, Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter), the trio embark on a deadly retaliation war against the mob that won’t end until one side is defeated.  

    Soaked in monochrome and reminiscent of the moody American film noirs of the 1930s and 40s, Massacre Gun is the embodiment of the “Nikkatsu Noir”, produced by the studio during a booming decade of popularity.  Noticeably more savage and unforgiving than its stateside predecessors, Director Yasuharu Hasebe’s (Retaliation) blood thicker than water tale grooms the viewer with a familiar narrative of turf wars and revenge before shocking the senses with brutal shootouts uncommon for its era.  Jô Shishido stars as the reserved Kuroda, a mobster at odds with his employer after being forced to execute his lover.  Unable to continue his duties, Kuroda respectfully quits his profession only to incense gang boss Akazawa (Takashi Kanda) who won’t take no for an answer.  Simultaneously angered by Akazawa’s overpowering grip, youngest brother and boxing prodigy Saburô (Jirô Okazaki) confronts the crime boss only to have his hands shattered, ending his professional career.  In addition, fellow brother Eiji’s (Tatsuya Fuji) Club Rainbow hotspot and base of their operations is destroyed by Akazawa’s men leaving the brothers shattered and filled with rage.  Determined to take their revenge, the Kuroda brothers slowly begin reclaiming turf from Akazawa as a full on gang war is initiated.  Masterfully directed by Hasebe, Massacre Gun oozes with style as smoke infested bars and back room gambling parties become commonplace in a world where respect is demanded by those most dangerous.  

    With his bed firmly made and pursued by mobsters, Kuroda’s friend and active employee of Akazawa, Shirasaka (Hidekai Nitani), pleads with Kuroda to reconsider his actions to no avail.  With no choices remaining, the two former friends become deadliest of enemies as attempted hits are consistently made on one another’s sides.  With the exception of Kuroda’s lovers murder, Massacre Gun almost fails to live up to its name as the brothers resist the urge to use gun power until a casket housing a dead body and explosives arrives at Club Rainbow.  As the stakes are raised, so is the film’s violence with a firing squad of mobsters going up against a one man army in Kuroda and his rifle.  Over-the-top shootouts and an intense finale on a dormant highway road leave little time to breathe and endless rounds of ammunition and bloodshed on the screen.  Exchanging samurai swords for pistols and honor being substituted for bloodthirsty revenge, Massacre Gun is technically sound with exquisite camerawork from Cinematographer Kazue Nagatsuka (Youth of the Beast) and Shishido’s focused yet, deadly manner making his performance a standout.  Stylistic and wildly violent, Massacre Gun stands as a shining example of the bygone “Nikkatsu Noir” subgenre.

    Marking its Blu-ray debut, Arrow Video presents Massacre Gun with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  Nicely detailed and capturing noirish shadows with clarity, Massacre Gun has minor instances of speckling with black levels generally pleasing in the characters’ dark suits.  Some exterior daytime sequences exhibit overblown whites while, each cut in the film demonstrates an occasionally bothersome framing line at the top of the screen.  Anomalies aside, the transfer greatly succeeds where it counts making the viewing experience a pleasure.  Accompanied with an LPCM 1.0 mix and optional English subtitles, the film’s Japanese dialogue is delivered with excellent clarity, free of any distortion.  Exhibiting a fitting jazz score, Massacre Gun delivers with a blaring horn section and a strong sense of depth.  In addition, gunshots rattle the mix with impressive authority, heightening the onscreen violence.  Special features include, an Interview with Jô Shishido (17:38).  Newly produced for this release and accompanied with subtitles, 80 year-old Shishido discusses his impressive career highlights and involvement in the film.  Furthermore, an Interview with Tony Rayns (36:26) is included as Film Historian and Critic Rayns discusses Nikkatsu’s lengthy and diverse filmmaking history.  In addition, a Trailer (2:25), Promotional Gallery (14 still in total), 22-page booklet comprised of various stills and a newly prepared essay by Japanese cinema expert Jasper Sharp, reversible cover art and DVD edition of the release round out the supplemental offerings.

    Excellently capturing a noirish atmosphere and injecting increased levels of violence, Massacre Gun feels strikingly American in its style but, notably original in its delivery.  Sealed with terrific performances and detailed direction, Massacre Gun tells its tale of revenge with the utmost seriousness and the bullets to back it up.  Limited to 3,000 units, Arrow Video debuts Massacre Gun on Blu-ray for the first time with admirable technical merits and scholarly special features that educate the viewer on the film and Nikkatsu’s enduring legacy.  Fans of stylish film noirs yearning for an adrenaline shot will be impressively blown away by Massacre Gun.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Arrow VideoMassacre Gun can be purchased via ArrowFilms.com.ukAmazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry (1945) Blu-ray Review

    The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry (1945)

    Director: Robert Siodmak

    Starring: George Sanders, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Ella Raines & Monya MacGill

    Released by: Olive Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on a play by Thomas Job, The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry centers on aging bachelor Harry Quincey (George Sanders, All About Eve) who finds love with a New York fashion designer (Ella Raines, Impact).  Unfortunately, Harry’s last chance at marriage is threatened when his neurotic sister Lettie (Geraldine Fitzgerald, Dark Victory) uses her health conditions to take advantage of her brother.  Determined to carve a life out for himself, Lettie goes to depraved measures to keep her brother well within her reach.

    Produced by Joan Harrison (Ride the Pink Horse, Alfred Hitchcock Presents), The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry is a thrilling film noir camouflaged under the quaint serenity of a New England town.  Working tirelessly at a fabric mill to provide for his two sisters, Harry Quincey (Sanders) sees no hope of finding true love until Deborah Brown (Raines), a New York fashion designer visiting Harry’s workplace, enters his life.  Immediately taken by Deborah’s free-spirited personality and charming good looks, Harry may have just found true love until, his sister Lettie (Fitzgerald), bedridden for weeks on end and constantly in need of her brother’s attention, does her best to halt the blooming romance.  Geraldine Fitzgerald plays the role of an overbearing woman with a clearly incestuous obsession for her brother with a magnetic quality that boarders on insanity.  As his promising future with Deborah seems over before it started, Harry slowly uncovers startling information about Lettie that prompts him to reevaluate her control on his life.  

    Increasingly engaging and Hitchcockian in tone, The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry pushes an ordinary man to his limits to cut out the weakness holding him back.  Keeping viewers on the edge of their seat, the film, well on its way to achieving high-profile status, falls prey to a compromised finale to appease the strict censorship code of the 1940s.  A lasting reminder of the damages of censorship, The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry cops out with a predictably happy ending that feels wholly forced in a film that thrives on its deceitful and morbid attributes.  Although, the cast is topnotch in their respective roles and the noirish atmosphere shines through the greater majority of its runtime, The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry nearly jeopardizes itself with an ending that should have never been but, alas is.

    Making its Blu-ray debut, Olive Films presents The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry with a 1080p transfer, bearing a 1.37:1 aspect ratio.  Showing its neglectful age, the film is littered with considerable scratches and speckling throughout the entirety of its runtime.  At times bothersome, detail is luckily strong in facial features and shadows while, inconsistent black levels waver from steadily inky to overrun with flakes.  Considering the decades since its release, The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry makes its first Blu-ray (and DVD) appearance in the best condition possible given the circumstances.  Accompanied with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is clear and offers nice depth with no audio dropouts to note.  A slight level of hiss is detected but, only makes itself noticeable during completely silent moments of no consequence.  Unfortunately, no special features are offered on this release.

    Beautifully shot and boasting a wickedly intriguing story of incestuous infatuation and homicidal tendencies, The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry seemed destined for greatness only to be sabotaged by a painfully forced ending.  While its compromised finale doesn’t doom the entire picture, Director Robert Siodmak’s (The KIllers) film noir still impresses with excellent performances and an unsettling atmosphere.  Arriving on Blu-ray for the first time ever, Olive Films does its best with a respectable transfer that gives film noir buffs the opportunity to experience this worthy effort.  While its presentation may not always be the strongest and lacking any supplemental features, the overall strength of the picture makes this release well recommended.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from Olive Films, The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry can be purchased via OliveFilms.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Cover Up (1949) Blu-ray Review

    Cover Up (1949)

    Director: Alfred E. Green

    Starring: Dennis O’Keefe, Barbara Briton, William Bendix & Art Baker

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set in a charming Midwest town in the wake of a possible suicide, Cover Up stars Dennis O’Keefe (Raw Deal) as insurance investigator Sam Donovan following up on his deceased policyholder.  Convinced murder is at hand but, struggling to receive assistance from fellow citizens, least of all the local sheriff (William Bendix, Detective Story), Sam finds love and answers in local bombshell Anita (Barbara Briton, Mr. & Mrs. North) as the truth slowly unravels.

    Taking a cue from Billy Wilder’s film noir classic Double Indemnity, Dennis O’Keefe stars as ace insurance investigator Sam Donovan arriving in a peaceful, small-town community to uncover the answers surrounding a policyholders supposed suicide.  Before exiting his train, Donovan catches the attention of the strikingly attractive Anita (Briton), beginning a romance that will persist throughout the picture.  Getting right down to business, Donovan finds the suicide’s circumstances questionable after the murder weapon is reported missing and the local sheriff highly uncooperative.  As townspeople grow weary of Donovan’s questions and likely suspects including, the niece of the deceased and her probable husband, coming into focus, Donovan is more than convinced that someone wanted his universally hated policyholder dead.  With the investigation taking longer than expected, Donovan and Anita’s brief encounter escalates to true love until, several clues indicate someone close to her may be responsible for the crime.  With the writing seemingly on the wall, Cover Up descents into a tense final act that throws viewers for a satisfying twist most will not see coming.

    With snappy dialogue and stylish cinematography courtesy of Ernest Laszlo (Ten Seconds to Hell), Cover Up is an intriguing mystery that keeps viewers guessing until the end.  Dennis O’Keefe possesses the looks to woo his leading lady and the tenacity to crack the case while, Barbara Briton turns heads in every frame with her perfect smile and effortless grace.  In addition, William Bendix steals scenes as the secretive sheriff who gives O’Keefe’s Donovan a run for his money.  Filmed in gorgeous black and white photography and guided under the well executed direction of Alfred E. Green (Baby Face), Cover Up is an underrated murder mystery gem, ripe for rediscovery.  

    Newly remastered, Kino Lorber Studio Classics presents Cover Up with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.37:1 aspect ratio.  With the exception of minor speckling and brief instances of softness,Cover Up achieves strong detail in facial features and its small-town setting.  The period photography offers satisfyingly inky black levels with only a later sequence in a dimly lit room bearing signs of noise.  Generally clean looking, Cover Up looks as good as it plays.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, Cover Up relays underwhelming dialogue levels that project on the low side, requiring a vast increase in volume.  With a hint of hiss apparent on its mix, dialogue levels are still audible with no other distracting occurrences to mention.  Unfortunately, no special features are included on this release.

    Well shot and cleverly crafted, Cover Up is a tightly paced mystery thriller with admirable performances and a left field twist ending.  Meanwhile, Kino Lorber Studio Classics’ new high-definition remaster is a valued effort that preserves this lesser discussed picture for a whole new generation to discover.  Although, set during the Christmas season, Cover Up will hardly keep viewers out in the cold with a crime tale this satisfying.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available March 24th from Kino Lorber Studio ClassicsCover Up can be purchased via KinoLorber.comAmazon.com and other fine retailers.