Film Noir Classic Collection Vol. 2

Sometimes you want to curl up with old favourites, as with Warner's first volume of noir classics. But for those adventurers looking for new thrills, there is Volume Two, with five low-profile gems sure to surprise with their overlooked but no less original visions. Granted, you'll have to sit through the humdrum Dillinger (1945), with Lawrence Tierney's debut as the famed depression-era criminal who went from sticking up grocery stores to knocking over banks. Tierney is electrifying, but the rest is an average poverty-row B movie unimproved by John Milius's sparse and uninformative commentary. There is also the better but not overly worthy Crossfire (1947), in which cop Robert Young must solve the hate-killing of a Jew by persons unknown. Though it's cleverly structured with some lying flashbacks, there's no getting around its inability to identify Jews as anything other than vehicles for liberal hand-wringing. Still, Robert Ryan is great as an anti-Semitic soldier, and the James Ursini/Alain Silver commentary is credible thorough. But all is forgiven after Born to Kill (1947), a tale of a divorced socialite (Claire Trevor) falling for a sociopath scumbag (Tierney again) with disastrous results. The irredeemable characters and seedy situations make it astonishing for a) 1947, and b) future The Sound of Music director Robert Wise. It's compulsive viewing for every tainted frame, with a commentary by noir expert Eddie Muller that makes it even more piquant. The most pedigreed of the collection is Clash by Night, directed by Fritz Lang from a Clifford Odets play; it features Barbara Stanwyck as a restless woman torn between her dependably boring fisherman husband (Paul Douglas) and the misogynist projectionist (Robert Ryan) who excites her. Technically, it's a melodrama with noir inflections, but it's so sharp and intelligent that you're not likely to ask questions. (Peter Bogdanovich's vague commentary will do that for you.) The cream of the set is The Narrow Margin, Richard Fleischer's tale of a cop (Charles McGraw) assigned to escort a witness (Marie Windsor) on a train from Chicago to L.A. It's a triumph of art over budget, with every clever turn and stylistic flourish thumbing its nose at big, pompous movies with a tenth of this one's limitless ingenuity. If only William Friedkin showed more of that in his obvious and repetitive commentary. Director interviews are excerpted during the commentaries (writer Philip Yordan fills in on Dillinger), and a short featurette graces the Crossfire disc. (Warner)