Tuesday, July 27, 2010

DVD Boxed Set Review: Film Noir Classic Collection Volume 5

The tagline should read:
Scraping the bottom of the film noir barrel: the worst of the worst all in one boxed set.

This boxed set came out on July 13th. It's part of the Warner Home Video collection of Film Noir sets of which I have Vol. 1. These are all new to DVD and it's available on Blu-Ray for those of you who have such a device.

I'm going to be brutally honest because I believe in the necessity of honest product reviews. This boxed set sucked. BIG TIME. As I went through all 8 of the movies the same phrase came popping into my head: "scraping the bottom of the film noir barrel".  Now film noirs are very popular and so many of them are now available on DVD. Considering there were already 4 other volumes in this set and that the noir genre was not exclusive to one movie studio, I'm sure Warner Bros. really did have to scrape the bottom of the barrel to come up with 8 new-to-DVD noirs to put in this set. I'm not blaming them especially since Warner Bros. does so much to put out a lot of great quality classic films on the market for hungry classic film fanatics like myself.

It's just the films weren't all that great. In fact, they were pretty bad. Now I love low-budget B films. I eat them up like candy. Especially Noirs. Anyone who knows me knows I love Noirs. Heck, I even named this blog after my favorite Noir Out of the Past (1947). But these films were not interesting. In fact, I found them so boring that I easily forgot the titles and the plots while watching the films! I know I'm scatter-brained on a good day, but that is a sign of my brain rejecting these crappy noirs.

I do recommend this boxed set to enthusiasts who must own every film noir known to man. For everyone else I highly suggest these alternatives:

Cornered (1945) - Starring Dick Powell - Good grief this was horrible. Some convoluted drama involving Nazis and a wild goose chase around Europe for some dude named Marcel Jarnac. It was crap. That's all I have to say about it. The Professor over at Where Danger Lives thinks it's of some worth. Go check out his post about it.

Desperate (1947) - Starring Audrey Long and Raymond Burr. Not too bad. (Help me here I'm trying!). Raymond Burr's brother got caught and he wants to frame another man for the crime. The man and his pregnant wife go on the lam trying to escape Burr, find a safe place to hide and to tell the police the details. Burr doesn't want that to happen. Burr makes this film pretty decent. I wanted to smack Audrey Long's character for being so silly and stupid. There is a minor Czechoslovakian theme to the story that makes it interesting.

The Phenix City Story (1955) - You have to work through about 12 minutes of blatant propaganda (with the documentary opening featuring a journalist asking leading questions) and about 30-40 minutes of a slow moving start until you get to real meat of this story. By the end it gets really good and really interesting. The bad start puts a damper on the whole experience though. It is a very gritty noir about Phenix City, Alabama which was a hotbed of sin, crime and violence.

Dial 1119 (1950) - This one was pretty interesting. A crazy man, who just escaped a mental institution, randomly kills a bus driver and the cops are after him. He barricades himself in a bar with some hostages and threatens to kill people (his hostages and any cops that try to nab him) unless he can speak to the shrink who treated him. Probably the most watchable of the bunch.

Armored Car Robbery (1950) - Skip this one. If you want a heist noir, watch The Asphalt Jungle (1950) or The Killing (1956) instead.

Crime in the Streets (1956) - Starring John Cassavates, Sal Mineo and James Whitmore - This may be the film that saves the boxed set. Great cast. John Cassavates plays an 18-year old thug who finds pleasure in crime. With two goons under his wing, he plots to murder a meddling neighbor. Whitmore (and his outrageous eyebrows) stars as the social worker who tries to get Cassavates to go straight.

Deadline At Dawn (1946) Starring Susan Hayward and Paul Lukas - One of two Susan Hayward films I've seen recently. She's starting to grow on me. The stars make this film watchable and the plot is pretty decent. It does tug on the heartstrings a bit. It's comparable in plot to The Glass Wall (1953) which I think is a far better film.

Backfire (1950) - Starring Edmond O'Brien - Had promise but just didn't deliver. Plus I was terribly distracted by Virginia Mayo's sensual softness (don't you find that distracting?). Plot: Two friends. One has a smashed spine, was hospitalized and released only to find out his friend had HIS spine smashed and is now being framed for murder. Oy vey.

Before you take my word as Gospel, make sure you take a moment and check out the boxed set and watch the clips below. Who knows. This set might pique your interest.

Full Disclosure: Thank you to Warner Bros. for sending me this DVD boxed set to review.


  1. Cornered and Desperate are on one disc via Netflix. I agree, Desperate is really bad ... bad acting, bad script, bad continuity - just bad.

    Cornered, on the other hand, while dark and dour does have something to it. Powell is obsessive, almost a force of nature, attempting to settle a score. Maybe there's not enough classic characterizations, but its style (made in 1945) sets a tone for film noir for the subsequent ten years or so.

    I suspect the political views and references to the intrigues, chaos and destruction of World War II rang true with vets and other viewers who had survived the just ended war.

  2. Will - That's because Desperate & Cornered are on one DVD in the boxed set. It's 8 movies on 4 DVDs, 2 movies to each DVD.

    I think Cornered was far worse than Desperate. Desperate was at least enjoyable, especially with Burr.

    I see your point RE Cornered. It would have definitely been relevant to audiences during that time.

  3. They ARE scrapping the bottom of the barrel. Of course, I have to say the Film Noir Classics Collection has done this before. I seem to remember one of the volumes (I can't remember which one) featured Detour. I know the film has plenty of defenders, but I think it could just be worse than any of the movies on Volume 5!

  4. You are so right about forgetting the plots of these movies--at least Backfire. I just saw that a couple of days ago and I'd already entirely forgotten it. When I read your description I thought--oh yeah, that's what happened.

    I like Deadline at Dawn though. That Odets script is so goofy.

  5. You know, I'm SURE I've seen Cornered but I really don't remember. Haha. Haven't seen any of the others but I'll watch any film noir, just out of completion's sake, I guess.
    -Andi x

  6. Mercurie - I haven't seen Detour. It was really that bad? Didn't they remake that?

    KC - Deadline at Dawn was enjoyable. It tugged at my heartstrings, especially the ending. I find I have a hard time keeping some of the B-Noirs straight. I have found myself re-watching a few by accident! So I am *trying* to keep a better record of them so I don't keep doing that.

    Andi - Same here. I'll watch any noir even if it ends up being really bad. Even most of the bad noirs are still watchable and enjoyable!

  7. I've arrived too late to the party but like to hear myself theorize, so here goes: Warners has decided to truly screw their fans. As you artfully mentioned, Col. 5 was a virtual grab-bag of average-at-best nitrate, good to have but definitely not essential nor worthy of what the Film Noir box set had been in past incarnations.
    However, have you seen what they are dumping via that rattrap archive? They've put out some very valuable noir titles that, had they even cobbled together with these to make 2 different box sets, would have been a great addition. Instead, they see suckers for what they are, spend nothing on cleaning up some of their more interesting remaining titles, hawk it at an overpriced cost, then box up some claptrap that's in better condition that wouldn't have sold much in the MOD vein... What do they think of you and me? Suckers. Fortunately, i'm in Canada so buying the archives isn't a real option. I can just dream and hold on to hope that stranger on the third floor, bribe, johnny eager, out of the fog, the unfaithful etc, are given a decent release overseas...
    and that's my rant to a near-dead thread. sorry.

  8. @Raquelle I've been interested to see Deadline at Dawn for years.

    I didn't even realize it was a noir.

    @Mercurie yeah, I've always found Detour unwatchable...


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