Monday, April 5, 2010

Film Noir Classic Collection Vol. 5

Raymond Burr in Desperate, one of eight films on Warner Bros. new Film Noir Classic Collection Volume 5

On July 13, Warner Brothers will release the fifth volume of its teriffic series of film noir classics. The series kicked off with a bang back in 2004: volume one contained Out of the Past, Gun Crazy, The Asphalt Jungle, The Set-Up and Murder, My Sweet. By my reckoning, the first four are masterpieces and the fifth is damn good.

The series never quite managed that kind of ratio again. Volume 2 had The Narrow Margin, Crossfire, and Born to Kill, but it padded out the set with Clash by Night and Dillinger--not bad movies but not exactly film noirs either. Volume three was the thinnest of the series. His Kind of Woman is an inessential comedy, and while On Dangerous Ground has a lot of good stuff in it, it doesn't hang together particualrly well. The Racket is a dud, and The Lady in the Lake is a disaster. The best film in the set is Mann's tough Border Incident, mainly notable for John Alton's exquisite cinematography.

The series came roaring back with volume four though. Ten films, including masterpieces Crime Wave and Act of Violence; superior noirs Tension, Side Street, Mystery Street, and Where Dager Lives; the overrated They Live By Night; and padding like The Big Steal, Illegal, and Decoy.

Volumes one and four are essential for any noir geek--and they're also an excellent place to start if you're a virgin to Noirville. Netflix the other two sets. I should mention that most of these films feature short documetaries and engaging commentaries by scholars and fans.

Alas, the forthcoming volume five looks a tad underwelming. It'll have eight films: Armored Car Robbery, a great little cops and robbers flick starring Charles McGraw and William Talman; Desperate, a highly entertaining Anthony Mann flick featuring Raymond Burr at his craziest; The Phenix City Story, a superior Phil Karlson picture about coruption in Alabama; and Cornered, a somewhat disappointing Dick Powell revenge film. It also features Deadline at Dawn, a dull Cornell Woolrich thriller directed by none other than Harold Clurman, the co-founder of the Group Theater. It's a real disappointment. The set also features three films I haven't yet seen: Crime in the Streets, Backfire, and Dial 1119.

Even if volume five doesn't achive instant must-have status, it's still worth checking out. Cheers to Warner Brothers.

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