Monthly Archives: May 2021

Something For You To Watch Over Several Days… Indicator’s COLUMBIA NOIR #3 & SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME Reviewed.

COLUMBIA NOIR #3. BD. Indicator. Region B. 15. International BD Premiere
SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME. BD. Indicator. Region B. 15. UK BD Premiere

Indicator continue to dish up the Film Noir goodies with a third selection of Columbia’s finest hours in that field. The box kicks off with Robert Rossen’s directorial debut Johnny O’Clock (1947). Dick Powell in the title role demonstrates how far he had come since his juvenile lead days in Busby Berkeley musicals and his versatility serves him well in the role of a cynical gambling house operator, staying on just about the right side of The Law. The murder of hat check girl Harriet Hobson (Nina Foch) sparks in him a crisis of conscience / moral awakening comparable to that undergone by Bogart’s Rick in Casablanca (1942). It’s a nicely nuanced performance, in which Powell is solidly supported by an able cast… special mention for sexy Ellen Drew (below) as spurned gangster’s moll Nelle Marchettis. Hell hath no fury…

Nina Foch gets her turn as bad girl in Rudolph Maté’s The Dark Past (1948), a “home invasion” effort which anticipates the plot of William Wyler’s more celebrated The Desperate Hours (another Bogart vehicle), released seven years later. Psychotic prison escapee Al Walker (William Holden), his girl Betty (Foch) and criminal entourage billet themselves on unwilling hosts the Collins family. Unfortunately for Al (and anyone in the audience with an aversion to simplistic, would-be Freudian insights) Doctor Collins (Lee J. Cobb) is a pipe-sucking Professor of Psychiatry who adeptly diagnoses Walker’s personal problems and dilutes his threat by treating them… just like that! Similarly pat psychoanalytical conceits played a significant and regrettable part in the plot of Hitchcock’s Spellbound three years earlier, so we can’t lay all the blame at the door of erstwhile cinematographer Maté, who made his most impactful contribution to the Noir canon with the superior D.O.A. in ’49. Foch, who also appeared in Budd Boetticher’s Escape In The Fog (1945) among others, is the subject of an informative career appraisal by Pamela Hutchinson on this disc.

If you start experiencing a pronounced sense of deja vu while watching Henry Levin’s Convicted (1950), that’s because this is yet another Columbia screen adaptation of Martin Flavin’s stage play The Criminal Code, perhaps most notably filmed under that title by Howard Hawks in 1930 (from which Levin has recycled budget-saving footage of discontent among the yardbirds). A useful featurette deploys split screen techniques to point up the similarities and discrepancies between several film renderings of the Flavin yarn. This time out Glenn Ford takes the role of the inadvertent Homicide bunged up in jail, trying to keep his nose clean and win the heart of Dorothy Malone, daughter of warden Broderick Crawford, before his dreams of rehabilitation are clouded by the murder of a snitch and his unwillingness to break the criminals’ code of silence. The strength of Flavin’s source material and sheer calibre of the cast assembled here make for a pretty compelling picture, though it suffers in comparison with the Hawks version from 20 years earlier, for which Phillips Holmes, Constance Cummings and Walter Huston just seem like better casting choices… Jeez, Hawks even had Boris Karloff in a scene stealing supporting role!

The term Film Noir only caught on widely, of course, after the style had largely run its course. These films were categorised in their day as “Crime Melodramas”, a description which certainly fits Between Midnight And Dawn, directed by Gordon Douglas in 1950. During a bonus appreciation of Douglas’s variable career on this disc, Kim Newman claims that his James Cagney vehicle Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye from the same year is only marginally inferior to Raoul Walsh’s White Heat (1949)… high praise indeed! BM&D certainly can’t be bracketed with those but it’s solid, entertaining stuff. Wisecracking patrol car duo Dan Purvis (Edmond O’Brien) and Rocky Barnes (Mark Stevens) compete for the affections of radio operative Kate Mallory (Gale Storm) but Kate, remembering how her Mom was widowed, doesn’t fancy a relationship with either of them or any other cop. When she does finally fall for Rocky, her darkest misgivings turn out to be all too well founded. Thereafter she and Dan are on the trail of his killer, the unhinged hood Ritchie Garris (Donald Buka)…

Director Edward Dmytryk was one of the Hollywood Ten, threatened with jail on account of their non co-operation with Joe McCarthy’s Senate Committee on Un-American Activities. He subsequently flip-flopped and fingered several former Lefty associates, ultimately queering his pitch on both sides of the argument. Nevertheless his The Sniper (1952) is highly regarded in certain quarters, not least by Martin Scorsese who gives it an enthusiastic introduction here. Aside from a few oblique hints, neither Dmytryk nor co-writers Harry Brown and Edna and Edward Anhalt waste much time on explaining the misogyny of title character Edward Miller (Arthur Franz), sidesztepping the kind of wannabe psychological profunidty that hamstrings e.g. The Dark Past. Franz gives a strong central performance as a serial killer who desperately wants the police to stop him from further venting his irrational obsessions and Dmytryk handles the film’s suspenseful set pieces with aplomb. This is yet another Noir that makes the most of San Francisco’s unique cityscape… and you might well think that Hitchcock saw it and took note of its extraordinary closing shots before discussing the title sequence for Vertigo (1958) with Saul Bass.

Snipers and spree shooters provoke urban anxieties to this day, though dwarfed now by existential threats such as the one at the centre of Irving Lerner’s City Of Fear (1959), which closes the box with a bang. Psychotic San Quentin escapee Vince Ryker (Vince Edwards from Lerner’s Murder By Contract, 1958 and Kubrick’s The Killing, 1956) thinks he’s made off with a pound of “snow” (here signifying heroin) but is frustrated by his inability to open the canister that contains it… a lucky break for everybody else in LA because, as a freaked out nuclear scientist explains, that canister is actually stuff to the brim with “Cobalt 60 in granular form… the deadliest thing in existence!” As Ryker physically degenerates under the accelerating effects of radiation poisoning, the authorities desperately attempt to track him down before he can unleash the contents of Pandora’s box on The City of Angels. No doubt you’re thinking that this one would make a great double bill with Robert Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly (1955) and you’d be right. As an extra treat, Jerry Goldsmith racked up one of his earliest OST credits here.

All of the films have been restored / remastered in Hi-Def and in addition to the extras we’ve already mentioned there are audio commentaries from the likes of Jim Hemphill, Eloise Ross, Bryan Reesman, Eddie Muller, Adrian Martin and the dynamic duo of Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson. Complimenting these are shorts made by the core crew of many a Columbia Noir, a radio adaptation of the James Warwick play upon which The Dark Past is based and Christopher Nolan on the abiding influence of Noir plus the mandatory trailers and image galleries. A limited edition, exclusive 120-page collectors’ book comprises new essays by Peter Stanfield, David Cairns, Michał Oleszczyk, Adam Scovell, Fintan McDonagh, Andrew Nette, Jeff Billington and Ramsey Campbell, plus archival articles / interviews and full film credits…

… all this plus the Stooges shorts we’ve come to expect with these sets: Curly, Larry and Moe in Whoops, I’m An Indian (1936), So Long Mr. Chumps (1941), Dizzy Detectives (1943) and Three Pests In A Mess (1945); 1948’s Shivering Sherlocks (with Shemp replacing Curly) and Oil’s Well That Ends Well, a 1958 effort featuring Joe Besser as third man. N’yuk, n’yuk, n’yuk!

Larry, Moe and co get a most unexpected mention in Ridley Scott’s Someone To Watch Over Me (1987), the film where that director reacted against the FX-heavy orientation of Alien (1979), Legend (1985) and indeed the most neon infused (and biggest money losing) Neo Noir of them all, Blade Runner (1982). His stated intention was for the actors rather than the technicians to be vying for Oscars. Said thesps include Tom Berenger as the Queens cop detailed to protect Manhattan socialite Mimi Rogers (the only witness to a murder) and Lorraine Bracco as his wife, who’s not too impressed by the developing relationship between the uptown, uptempo woman and her downtown, down beat guy. Scott’s faith in his cast is repaid in spades with some fine ensemble playing but inevitably it’s once again the technical stuff that lingers in the mind as, between them, Scott, DP Steven Poster and production designer Jim Bissell contrive a 106 minute Chanel commercial vision of Noir (looking fine here in a 2K restoration) for the same studio celebrated in the above mentioned box set, making a fascinating exercise in compare and contrast with the classic Noir look so often rendered by Burnett Guffey.


Poster discusses how closely he collaborated with Scott in a bonus featurette disc and there’s another one in which we hear from screen writer Howard Franklin. Jim Hemphill kicks in with an audio commentary, you get the original theatrical trailer plus an image gallery of promotional and publicity materials, plus a limited edition exclusive 32-page booklet comprising new essay by Jamie Graham, archival interviews with Steven Poster and actor Mimi Rogers, an overview of contemporary critical responses and film credits.


One of the things I most enjoyed about STWOM is that Scott managed to coax a cameo appearance out of the legendary Nina Simone. Elsewhere the Gershwin standard that gave this film its name is performed by Sting. Talk about “from the sublime to the ridiculous”…

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