“The Set-Up” (1949, Warner Archives Collection) Hoping for a comeback, worn-out fighter Robert Ryan accepts a match against a younger, tougher opponent (pro boxer Hal Fieberling), unaware that his manager (George Tobias) has assured local hood Alan Baxter that Ryan will take a dive. Boxing nightmare from Robert Wise, who demonstrates with Barry Gifford called a “realistic evocation of the sweet science and what it does to you” via Milton Krasner‘s shadow-steeped photography and some brutal and complex fight choreography. Filmed, reportedly, at the Hollywood Legion Arena on El Centro; that’s famed crime photographer WeeGee as the timekeeper. Warner’s Blu-ray includes commentary by Wise and Martin Scorsese, who details the film’s influence on “Raging Bull.”
“The Big Clock” (1946, Arrow Films) Crime magazine editor Ray Milland is tasked by his imperious martinet of a publisher (Charles Laughton) to track down the man seen leaving the apartment of Laughton’s lover (Rita Johnson) before her murder. The catch? Milland was the man on the lam, and Laughton the guilty party. Labyrinthine-plotted thriller benefits from director John Farrow (Mia’s dad; her mom, Maureen O’Sullivan, plays Milliand’s frustrated wife) and cinematographer John Seitz, who employ fluid camerawork to emphasize the urgency of Milland’s task (and there’s the titular timepiece, a virtual idol of fleeting time that plays an important role in the denouement) and the script by crime novelist turned screenwriter John Latimer, who leavens the tension with a layer of comedy; the latter is best embodied by Elsa Lanchester (Mrs. Laughton in real life) as an eccentric abstract painter. The Arrow Academy Blu-ray includes commentary by Adrian Martin, a short appreciation of Laughton by actor Simon Callow, and a 1948 radio version with Milland reprising his role.
“Double Face” (1969, Arrow Video) Having lost his wife (Margaret Lee) in a car crash – and reaped a windfall from her will – industrialist Klaus Kinski sees a woman that resembles her in a film taken after her death, and sets out to determine if she is still alive. German-Italian psycho-thriller by director Riccardo Freda (working from a story co-written by Lucio Fulci), who shows little interest in plot cohesiveness, but still evokes a potent mix of hot-blooded obsession and psychedelic atmospherics; Arrow’s Blu-ray offers English and Italian versions of the film along with appreciations of the funereal grooves in Nora Orlandi‘s score (Ms. Orlandi is also featured in an interview) and commentary by Tim Lucas, who sorts out the film’s connection to gialli and its German relation, the krimi.
“The Alienist” (2018, TNT/Warner Bros.) The murder of young male prostitutes in 19th-century New York City prompts then-police commissioner Theodore Roosevelt (Brian Geraghty) to call in proto-psychologist Daniel Bruhl, who teams with smarmy cartoonist Luke Evans and Roosevelt’s secretary (Dakota Fanning) to solve the case. Limited series adaptation of Caleb Carr’s 1994 novel gets its darker elements – the murders and the grimy setting – down pat, and employs a host of talented people (including John Sayles and Hossein Amini) to translate Carr’s mix of history and thriller to screen; one wishes that they gave as much attention to the script, which tips towards pulp territory. The two-disc set includes a making-of doc.
“The Ear” (1970, Second Run DVD A Communist apparatchik and his wife return from an event to find their home unlocked and the electricity cut, which leads them to believe that the same party that employs him is now spying on them; the resulting frenzied search for listening devices combusts their already volatile relationship. Paranoia strikes deep, as the saying goes, and while this Czech-made drama-thriller by Karel Kachyna isn’t noir per se, it does make clearer the political undertones in the genre; there isn’t much distance between the couple’s mounting fears over intervention by a shadowy deep state and the Fears (see: the Great Whatsit, “The Big Heat“) at tbe heart of most postwar noir. Second Run’s all-region Blu-ray includes commentary, the 1969 short “The Uninvited Guest,” which operates in waters similar to “The Ear” and liner notes by “Paranormal Activity” producer Steven Schneider, among others.
“Yesterday Was a Lie” (2008, IndiePix Films) In a vaguely defined but highly stylized world that sits somewhere between the present and a pulp take on the 1940s, a private eye (Kipleigh Brown) in a existential funk seeks out a mystery man who may or may not be able to warp time and reality. Ambitious indie offers stellar cinematography on a paltry budget and a script (by director James Kerwim) that attempts to fold philosophy and physics into the already murky psychological landscape of noir; that notion and most of the performances really don’t work, but Chase Masterson strikes the right balance between femme and fatale as a lounge singer, and Peter Mayhew, of all people, is a not-so-deceased corpse. The IndiePix Blu-ray has commentary by Newton and his cast.
“Deadline” (1959-1960, Film Chest) Long before Dick Wolf mined a TV franchise by ripping plotlines from the headlines, this syndicated series drew its stories from real crime coverage in newspapers from across the country. Created by TV and theater vet Arnold Perl and hosted by gravel-voiced Paul Stewart, the 38-episode anthology series’ chief appeal is its catalog of misdeeds, from mob corruption to gang violence and mad bombers, which are depicted with as much malevolence as TV of the period would allow; among the victims, perpetrators and crusading journalists are Peter Falk, Diane Ladd, Leo Penn and Eileen Ryan (Sean Penn’s parents) and a young, blonde Christopher Walken, who’s billed as “Ronnie.” Film Chest’s three-disc set includes plot synopses and episode trivia, although a lengthy essay on the state of journalism tips into retrospective glorification of the reporter as the voice of truth and reason.
Special thanks to Warner Archives Collection for providing their Blu-ray free for review.