Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics II

Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics II
Much has been written about the shadows of film noir ― how in movies like Double Indemnity and Out of the Past, the darkness threatens to swallow the characters in a murky void of moral ambiguity and despair. Not so in the late period noir potboilers gathered in Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics II, which gain a strange atmosphere from their very lack of atmosphere. Look no further than the suburban residential neighbourhoods in City of Fear (1959), where the sky is so blindingly bright it bleaches the trees and pavement. Or the office from where Chief Inspector Lyle Talbot oversees his investigation of escaped convict Vince Edwards, with its stark, white walls, two tiny filing cabinets and single, glum, little framed diploma. Or Edwards' motel room, blandly spotless, save for a crooked picture on the wall ― titled, of course, at a 45-degree angle. Sets like these look like they were thrown together a day before production, suggesting the characters exist in some kind of dreary purgatory. "Many of the pictures shot in the late '50s had this flatness to them," says Martin Scorsese in his introduction to The Brothers Rico (1957). "Maybe it was the influence of fast-shooting television production and the idea that a lot of these films would go to television." Of The Brothers Rico, Scorsese notes, "It's present in this picture, which takes place in the bright sunshine, and where the mob run their business in a button-down, corporate manner. And somehow it allows the tragedy of the story to cut even deeper than it would have if the film had been more beautifully photographed." The films on this collection are adequate, but unspectacular examples of their genre. Human Desire (1954), which finds Broderick Crawford killing his boss for sleeping with his wife, is generally entertaining, but melodramatic and flabby in the midsection, with disappointingly anonymous direction by Lang. Phil Karlson's The Brothers Rico, about an ex-mob accountant trying to save his brother from gangsters, is competent, but predictable, and the cheap-looking City of Fear is very run-of-the-mill. Nightfall (1957), the best film of the bunch, benefits from Jacques Tourneur's eye for black and white cinematography and Aldo Ray's rough-edged screen persona. For film noir buffs and completists, the opportunity to own these rarely screened films will be a no-brainer. Newbies would be better off starting elsewhere. DVD extras include introductions by Christopher Nolan and Emily Mortimer. (Sony)