Film Noir Classics Collection Vol. 4w

The year’s must-have collection has arrived: ten largely unheralded but mostly fantastic entries into the genre/style/movement that made a thousand cynical hearts swoon. Each of the five discs features two titles with expert commentary and brief featurettes that will intensify your interest in the films. The most notable of the titles come on the first disc, featuring the talents of Farley Granger and Cathy O’Donnell. They Live By Night is Nicholas Ray’s celebrated directorial debut about an escaped prisoner and his embittered girlfriend who can’t seem to escape the bank robbing life. Though a shade overrated, there’s plenty to like, as the two doomed innocents have their dreams cruelly dashed. This is paired with Side Street, in which letter carrier Granger swipes what he thinks is $200 but turns out to be thousands in stolen loot; he earns the ire of both the criminals and the cops in his attempts to return it. Director Anthony Mann turns in a star performance, with an imposing cityscape that swallows up the hero. Disc two features a couple of femme fatales. Where Danger Lives has doctor Robert Mitchum smitten with the clearly insane Faith Domergue, going on the lam after a violent altercation with her husband Claude Rains. The suspense never lets up as they sink into a criminal morass and the heroine’s madness becomes apparent. Meanwhile, Tension gives us Audrey Totter cuckolding the milquetoast-y Richard Baseheart; he starts a double life in order to kill his rival, only to find that she’s beat him to the punch. It’s a little self-satisfied but still highly satisfactory. Disc three gives us ambiguous injustice. Act of Violence has sterling citizen Van Heflin pursued by war buddy Robert Ryan. It turns out Heflin ratted out Ryan’s compatriots in a Nazi war camp and now Ryan’s come to settle the score. The ambiguous hero/villain dynamic is sensational, as is Heflin’s descent into the sad, seamy underworld. Mystery Street, billed as "CSI Noir,” has cop Ricardo Montalban teaming up with Harvard scientist Bruce Bennett to solve a murder case. The only problem is the cop fingers the wrong man and then has to figure out how to make things right. Unassuming at first, the film gets going in earnest once the moral crisis is established and rides it in style right to the finish line. Disc four offers a couple of grimy rarities. Crime Wave features cop Sterling Hayden gunning for ex-con Gene Nelson, the latter of whom has been roped into committing new crime by bad old associates. The noose tightens so tight around poor Nelson that certain doom appears inevitable, while Hayden seems unutterably cruel. This is coupled with Decoy, a Poverty Row cheapie that makes up for in sociopathic nastiness what it lacks in cinematic flair. The ultimate bad girl revives her executed boyfriend in order to learn where he stashed some bank loot, destroying many lives along the way and earning our begrudging respect in her single-minded pursuit of greed and avarice. Finally there’s an odd-couple mismatch of the sublime and the merely adequate. The Big Steal gives us Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer trading quips as they pursue a con man with a suitcase full of stolen cash. Eastwood mentor Don Siegel gives the film a great breezy feeling, while the script never falters with some very snappy dialogue. Compared to this, Illegal seems slightly lacking and was made late enough in the cycle to question its noir qualifications. Edward G. Robinson plays a disgraced DA who starts shilling for criminals, with many government figures implicated in the crimes; but the style isn’t really there and the moral complexities are all on the surface. Still, don’t let that stop you from giving the other nine titles a place on your DVD shelf. (Warner)