Movies Till Dawn: A Deeper Shade of Black and White

The Killing” (1956, Kino Lorber) Stanley Kubrick documents the rise and fall of a crew of hardluck thieves who watch their carefully planned robbery of a race track (Bay Meadows in San Mateo) fall to pieces thanks to greed, lust, and plain bad luck. Kubrick’s arthouse photography and a script co-written by hardboiled noir fiction great Jim Thompson that fairly drips with venom and mordant musings are the key selling points of this low-budget crime drama, but it’s the cast that really delivers the doomstruck perspective: comprised of noir vets (Sterling Hayden, Elisha Cook Jr, Marie Windsor), granite-jawed types (Jay C. Flippen, Ted DeCorsia), babyfaces Coleen Gray and Vince Edwards, and assorted weirdoes (Timothy Carey, Kubrick regular Joe Turkel, wrestler Kola Kwariani, and briefly, Rodney Dangerfield), their remarkable faces and presence set the tone for the rogues’ galleries that populated a half-century of noir that followed (see “Reservoir Dogs,” “The Usual Suspects,” etc.). Kino’s Blu-ray offers a new 4K Ultra HD remaster of the film with Dolby Vision and bundles it with a new commentary track by noir historian Alan K. Rode.

High Tide” (1947, Flicker Alley) A car carrying hardnosed newspaper editor Lee Tracy and private eye Don Castle overturns on a Malibu road and tumbles onto the beach, trapping both men; as they wait for the tide to drown them, Tracy recalls the ugly business that led to their current predicament. Convoluted B noir is buoyed by its depiction of systemic corruption – everyone in the picture is dirty as homemade sin or stained by it – and a doom-laden tone summarized by its framing device, which encapsulates the no-exit aesthetic of noir with perversely ironic, EC Comics-style glee. One of several effective indie thrillers from Texas oil tycoon turned TV/movie producer Jack Wrather, who later struck it rich with TV (“The Lone Ranger”) and resorts (The Disneyland Hotel), “High Tide” shares much of its cast (Castle, Regis Toomey) and director (John Reinhardt) with its second feature on Flicker Alley’s Blu-ray, “The Guilty,” but adds snappy patter specialist Lee Tracy, who brings a rancid sort of zest to his final turn as a leading man. “High Tide” – restored by the UCLA Film and Television Archive and Film Noir Foundation – includes typically top-notch extras from Flicker Alley, including an intro from noir historian Eddie Mueller, detailed liner notes from Alan K. Rode, and informative featurettes on Tracy, Reinhardt, Wrather, wife Bonita Granville, and the unfortunate life of Don Castle.

Step By Step” (1946, Warner Archives Collection) Ex-Marine Lawrence Tierney (playing nice for once) spots his “Dillinger” co-star Anne Jeffreys swimming at Leo Carrillo State Beach and engages in meet-cute banter; he later ventures to the mansion where she works for Senator Harry Harvey, only to find a different woman (Myrna Dell) under her name and a different senator (Jason Robards, Sr.) to boot. This leads to convoluted plotting that involves a secret Nazi ring and a murder rap that sends Tierney and Jeffreys on the run. Agreeable B-thriller makes fine use of the Malibu locations (here windswept and untamed, as in “High Tide”) and chemistry between the two leads; scripter Stuart Palmer and director Phil Rosen (both B veterans) keep the pace brisk and lean heavily on the abundant charm of supporting player George Cleveland (later of the “Lassie” series) and Tierney’s dog, Bazooka. Warner Archives’ Blu-ray includes the 1932 short “The Trans-Atlantic Mystery” and a Looney Tunes cartoon, “The Great Piggy Bank Robbery,” which spoofs “Dick Tracy” with admirable abandon.

Ladron de Cadavares” (1957, VCI Entertainment) Stumped by a series of murders involving top athletes, police detective Crox Alvarado teams with his wrestler pal (Jewish-Latvian luchador Wolf Ruvinskis) to uncover the culprit, a certifiably mad doctor (Carlos Riquelme) who transplants animal brains into human bodies. Crude but energetic Mexican genre hybrid set the tone for many of that country’s subsequent fantasy-horror films by freely mixing elements of Universal horror and pulp science fiction, and adventure, shot through with Mexico’s unique lucha libre aesthetic; plot logic is unnecessary to enjoying outré sights like Ruvinskis tearing off his mask mid-match to reveal his new monstrous visage. VCI’s Blu-ray pairs “Ladron” with the supernatural thriller “El Escapulario” (1968) and includes a video essay on the Mexican horror/wrestling axis by historian David Wilt.

A Fugitive from the Past” (1965, Arrow Video) The murder of two thieves by an accomplice has a lingering impact on the lives of a businessman (Rentaro Mikuni) with a secret past, the police detective (Junzaburo Ban) who investigated the case, and a former sex worker (Sachiko Hidari) who crossed paths with one of the criminals. Though ostensibly framed as a crime drama, Tomu Uchida’s three-hour black and white feature – considered to be one of the best Japanese films ever made – ruminates more on the palpable impact of the past; remarkable 16mm photography lends both grit and a dreamlike quality to the proceedings. Arrow’s Blu-ray preserves the longer festival cut of the film and commentary by a host of film experts, as well as informative liner notes and an intro by Jasper Sharp.

And: I wrote about 1933’s “The Secret of the Blue Room” back in 2016 when it was released on DVD via the Universal Vault Series (their MOD program). Kurt Neumann’s suspense-thriller stars Gloria Stuart (“Titanic”) as the object of affection for three suitors (including Paul Lukas and Onslow Stevens) who must prove their worthiness by spending the night locked in the titular location, where three previous guests died under mysterious circumstances. Though made for a staggeringly low budget (even for the time period), “Blue Room” has plenty of spookshow atmosphere thanks to Neumann’s steady hand, sets from Universal’s “The Old Dark House” and even clips from the 1932 German film on which it’s based. Kino’s Blu-ray preserves the B&W photography and adds a commentary track by filmmaker/distributor/restoration expert Michael Schlesinger.

About Paul Gaita

Paul Gaita lives in Sherman Oaks, California with his lovely wife and daughter. He has written for The Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Variety and Merry Jane, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for from 1998 to 2014. He has also interviewed countless entertainment figures, but his favorites remain Elmore Leonard, Ray Bradbury, and George Newall, who created both "Schoolhouse Rock" and the Hai Karate aftershave commercials. He once shared a Thanksgiving dinner with celebrity astrologer Joyce Jillson and regrettably, still owes the late character actor Charles Napier a dollar.
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