WALK A CROOKED MILE
B&W, 1948, 91 mins. 16 secs.
Directed by Gordon Douglas
Starring Louis Hayward, Dennis O'Keefe, Louise Allbritton, Carl Esmond, Raymond Burr, Philip Van Zandt
Indicator (Blu-ray) (UK RB HD), Turner Classic Movies (DVD) (US R0 NTSC)
WALK EAST ON BEACON!
B&W, 1952, 97 mins. 42 secs.
Directed by Alfred Werker
Starring George Murphy, Finlay Currie, Virginia Gilmore, Karel Stepanek
Indicator (Blu-ray) (UK RB HD), Turner Classic Movies (DVD) (US R0 NTSC)
B&W, 1954, 87 mins. 44 secs.
Directed by Richard Quine
Starring Fred MacMurray, Kim Novak, Phil Carey, E.G. Marshall, Dorothy Malone, Paul Richards
Indicator (Blu-ray) (UK RB HD), Sony (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
A BULLET IS WAITING
Color, 1954, 81 mins. 55 secs.
Directed by John Farrow
Starring Jean Simmons, Rory Calhoun, Stephen McNally, Brian Aherne
Indicator (Blu-ray) (UK RB HD), Sony (DVD) (US R0 NTSC)
B&W, 1955, 84 mins. 20 secs.
Directed by Fred F. Sears
Starring Dennis O'Keefe, Abbe Lane, Paul Stewart, Xavier Cugat, Allison Hayes
Indicator (Blu-ray) (UK RB HD) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
THE BROTHERS RICO
B&W, 1957, 91 mins. 34 secs.
Directed by Phil Karlson
Starring Richard Conte, Dianne Foster, Kathryn Grant, Larry Gates, James Darren, Argentina Brunetti, Lamont Johnson, Paul Picerni
Indicator (Blu-ray) (UK RB HD), Sony (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
Continuing the outpouring of postwar film noir (in all its many much-disputed permutations) that started with Columbia Noir #1 and continued with Columbia Noir #2 and Columbia Noir #3, Indicator delivers again with another limited 6,000-unit U.K. set entirely comprised of global Blu-ray premieres. Perhaps more than past sets, this one will cause some debate about what exactly constitutes noir in the first place with some undisputed heavy hitters here mixing with a handful of left-field choices that definitely fall under other genre umbrellas as well.
Up first is Walk a Crooked Mile, whose title refers to, in the words of the text opener, the path taken by enemies of the United States "along the highways and byways of free America" with federal agents working around the clock to protect national secrets. Made in 1948 before Cold War paranoia would set in and change this kind of film forever, our story takes place in Lakeview, California, a newly developed postwar town that houses a major nuclear physics facility. Special agent Daniel F. O'Hara (O'Keefe), who's in charge of security detail, gets an after-hours phone call about a hot tip that leads to a surprisingly violent murder in a phone booth. The shady Krebs (Burr, sporting a goatee!) lurks at the scene of the crime snapping covert photos, a link in a chain of security leaks that lead to the involvement of Scotland Yard inspector Scotty Grayson (Hayward). All of it ties in with Anton Radchek (Van Zandt), whose trail since he illegally slipped into the country is at the heart of a plot that could pose a major threat to the country. Tied together with frequent, stern narration by Reed Hadley (Brain of Blood) and a score by Paul Sawtell (The Fly), this is a solid early-ish outing for director Gordon Douglas, who had cut his teeth earlier with Zombies on Broadway and woud really flourish for about a decade starting in the mid-'60s with films like The Detective and the bizarre Skullduggery. It's also quite enjoyable as a look at California culture at the time, including that alternate pronunciation of Los Angeles (with a hard "g") that soon went out of vogue. How much this qualifies as a noir is debatable since it feels like more of a straight-up espionage thriller, but the shadowy photography lends enough atmosphere to make it feel at home here anyway.
Initially released on DVD by TCM in 2014 as part of the Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics, Vol. 4 set (along with So Dark the Night, Johnny o'Clock, Before Midnight and Dawn, and Walk East on Beacon!) with an intro by Martin Scorsese, Walk a Crooked Mile looks great here with a typically stellar Sony-provided HD scan with very natural fine film grain, crisp detail, and gorgeous inky blacks. The LPCM 1.0 mono track is also in perfect shape and comes with improved English SDH subtitles. The extras start with a 24-image gallery of stills and posters, followed by 1946's Routine Job: A Story of Scotland Yard (22m12s), a British Council production showing a snapshot of the "plain, hard work" that goes into 24 hours with a typical detective on the job. This one also comes from an excellent scan and looks terrific here. "Policeman's Holiday" (19m19s) is a 1949 installment from the perennial short subject theatrical series The March of Time, essentially riffing on the same conceit of the main feature with a U.S. cop (sporting a great New Yawk accent) joining up with a Scotland Yard Chief Inspector to see how things work across the pond including a stop to see some jujitsu at the Metropolitan Police Training School. Of course, it wouldn't be an Indicator noir set without the Three Stooges, and that's exactly what you get with 1949's Dunked in the Deep (1949, 16m54s) as Shemp, Larry, and Moe get wrapped up in a spy organization using watermelons to smuggle secrets out of the country via an ill-fated boat ride.
And so we promenade onward a few years to 1952 with Walk East on Beacon! (exclamation point optional), "a drama of real life" inspired by a Reader's Digest story by J. Edgar Hoover called "The Crime of the Century." Also driven heavily by narration and focused on threats to U.S. secrets, it's the tale of classified info being passed around all around D.C. and the surrounding areas. It's all structured as a procedural focused around the efforts of agent Jim Belden (Murphy) to trace the leaks, which involve scientist Professor Kafer (Currie) being coerced into spilling weapons info to the Soviets. Hi-tech surveillance methods mingle with old-fashioned detective ground work here with the FBI all over New England involved in bringing the perpetrators to justice, with not everyone being quite whom they appear to be. The location shooting here is a big plus with looks at early '50s burger joints and business attire, plus a fine cast of character actors including a bit part for future Oscar-winning director George Roy Hill (The Sting) in his only credited role for the big screen. There's also a bit of pre-De Palma meta playfulness going on here thanks to the gadgetry that turns footage we've seen into a movie right before our eyes, with the agents turned into audience surrogates puzzling it all out with us.
As mentioned above, this one first appeared on DVD from TCM and makes its Blu-ray bow here in a fine transfer up to par with the rest of its peers. Frank Krutnik, author of In a Lonely Street: Film Noir, Genre, Masculinity, provides a new partial audio commentary about the "semi-documentary" approach to became a noir fixture after World War II that went hand in hand with a rise in Cold War narratives and anti-Communist attitudes in America. It's a fine 69-minute overview of the subject, not scene specific at all but rather running through the films that are tied together by this aesthetic and thematic approach. After a 24-image poster and still gallery, you get a double dose of The March of Time here with 1941's "G-Men Combat Saboteurs" (20m49s), a look by Beacon producer Louis De Rochement at FBI tactics to combat enemy infiltration, and 1942's "G-Men at War" (20m1s), which feels like a sequel with the FBI shown at work uncovering spies at work within the nation's borders. The Stooges contribution here is 1956's appropriate Commotion on the Ocean (16m37s), a remake of Dunked in the Deep on an ocean liner again but this time with an atomic twist. It's also part of the strange "Fake Shemp" handful of shorts made after the actor's death, with a stand-in and stock footage pulling off his postmortem performance.
The slickest film in the set by far arrives with 1954's Pushover from one of Columbia's most interesting postwar directors, Richard Quine, hot off of the Mickey Rooney noir, Drive a Crooked Road. Kim Novak gets to strut her femme fatale stuff here as Lona, who ends up spending time with cop Paul Wheeler (MacMurray, back to noir after Double Indemnity) when her car stalls. As it turns out, Paul is shadowing her to get the goods on her ex-boyfriend, bank robber Harry Wheeler (Richards), including discovery of the location of the stolen look and identifying his partners. Paul and Lona soon fall for each other, or so it seems, which leads to the hatching of a plot to kill Harry and make off with the stolen cash. Meanwhile innocent nurse Ann (Convicted's Malone, still in her brunette phase) becomes ensnared in the plan while Paul's partner, Rick (Carey), also tries to figure out where the loot is. Getting an "introducing" credit in her first leading role, Novak is really the big attraction her in some fantastic Jean Louis outfits (one of which clearly anticipates Vertigo) and already showing the star power that would make her a Columbia fixture for the next decade (including 5 Against the House).
Pushover first hit DVD back in 2010 from Sony as part of its Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics, Vol. 2 set (along with Human Desire, The Brothers Rico, City of Fear, and Nightfall), but it's obviously better served here with a nicely appointed Blu-ray that replicates the original photography quite well. Take note that this is a very grainy film for the most part, so anyone averse to the swarming mosquito effect should be aware going in that this is how it's supposed to look. Film historians Alexandra Heller-Nicholas and Josh Nelson provide a new academic audio commentary noting the film's ties to other noirs, the themes of gender relations and spectatorship woven into the story, the use of framing to create a feeling of confinement, and the ambivalence about some of the major characters (especially Rick). In "Partners in Crime and Comedy" (18m19s), critic Glenn Kenny covers the lives and careers of the star and director which including four films together (most famously 1958's Bell Book and Candle) and quite a few odd (and sometimes tragic) developments outside of the studio. Also included are a 30-image gallery, the theatrical trailer (in SD), and the 1955 Three Stooges short Blunder Boys (15m58s), appropriately centered around a bank robbery with the trio as war vets who end up becoming policemen with very iffy professional results.
The definition of noir easily gets stretched the most here with disc four's A Bullet Is Waiting, the lone color entry and a very unusual crime-western-melodrama hybrid (a la Inferno) from director John Farrow (Night Has a Thousand Eyes, The Big Clock). The action starts off right away as we see the aftermath of a plane crash in the desert with footprints being left by the two survivors, convict Ed (Motel Hell's Calhoun) and Frank (McNally), seen tussling together and handcuffed at the wrist. Ed manages to knock out Frank and free himself, stumbling through the dust and finally arriving at a ranch owned by David (Aherne) and his daughter, Cally (Simmons). Cally and Ed start to fall for each other, while Frank explains that he's a lawman who's been on the criminal's trail for two years. Unsure whom she can trust, Cally has to make a difficult decision to determine who's actually telling the truth. Featuring a cast of only four speaking roles (plus a resourceful Collie), this is a lean and effective chamber piece with strong performances and effective use of Technicolor including some blazingly blue skies throughout. The plot is also fun as the audience is left guessing for a good chunk of the running time, with (kind of spoiler, perhaps) its most interesting twist being repurposed later verbatim in 2003's horror film Identity of all places.
Released as a standalone DVD-R in 2010 by Sony, A Bullet Is Waiting looks stunning here with a gorgeous presentation that will be pure catnip for lovers of classic Technicolor. It also comes with a lively new audio commentary by Barry Forshaw and Kim Newman, who dig into the noir-or-not question, Simmons' career, the big "acting workout" she gets to show off here, and the general state of '50s Hollywood. In "From Cricklewood to Hollywood" (20m35a), film historian Josephine Botting covers the early stretch of Simmons' life and career in England that led from pivotal work with David Lean to her move to L.A. and worldwide stardom. After the 35-image gallery, the disc also features the theatrical trailer and 1944's The Yoke's on Me (16m14s), a Stooges short with Larry, Curly, and Moe that now plays very, very strangely as the boys become farmers who engage in slapstick with pumpkins and an ostrich before they end up fending off escapees from a Japanese internment camp. To put it mildly, the final minute is horrifying.
Probably the least seen title in this set comes on disc five with 1955's Chicago Syndicate, featuring the return of O'Keefe as part of a string of Columbia films (many from producer Sam Katzman) about the criminal underbelly of major American (and Mexican) cities. Now an accountant after serving in WWII, Barry Amsterdam (O'Keefe) is enlisted by a local paper to bluff his way into the graces of criminal insurance scammer and possible murderer Arnold Valent (Stewart) and his associates. Valent takes on Barry, who becomes close to the crook's girlfriend, Connie (Lane), against the backdrop of a swinging nightclub where the performer is none other than the legendary Xavier Cugat and his band. Fairly twisty and fun, this is a lively one from director Fred F. Sears (The Giant Claw) with a compact depiction of how syndicates use legitimate fronts to pull in cash, all set against extensive location footage of the titular city alternating with the usual Hollywood studio material. Cult movie fans will also enjoy a very substantial supporting role here for Allison Hayes, who earned cinematic immortality as the star of Attack of the 50-Foot Woman.
Though it popped up on TV from time to time along with a few gray market video releases, Chicago Syndicate hasn't had a legit release until this Blu-ray edition. This is really the first opportunity in several decades to see it in pristine condition, and it's a real treat here to put it mildly. Film historian Toby Roan contributes a packed audio commentary with plenty of info about the personnel in front of and behind the camera, focusing on the many B-movie connections here and putting this in context with the later noir phase when its conventions were being diffused each year over the course of the decade. Also included are a 29-image gallery and 1940's From Nurse to Worse (16m47s), with the troublesome trio being approached by an insurance scammer to make some easy money ("$500 a month!) if Curly pretends to be a dog. You can imagine how well that goes.
Finally with disc six we reach 1957's The Brothers Rico, a long-requested title on Blu-ray and one of the biggest discoveries (along with The Sniper and Murder by Contract) when Sony and Martin Scorsese were rolling these out on DVD and limited repertory theatrical play back in the '00s. One of the all-time great hardboiled directors, Phil Karlson, helms this gritty family drama about a onetime mob bookkeeper, Eddie Rico (Conte), who's now happily married to Alice (Foster) in Florida and running a laundry business. Apart from unsuccessful attempts to have children, they seem to have it all together until he's called on to give a temporary roof to an old associate. Things get worse when his two connected brothers, Johnny (Darren) and Gino (Picerni), go AWOL, only for Gino to turn up with a staged fender bender to reveal that the life has finally caught up to him so badly he plans to flee to Cuba. Needless to say, it isn't long before Eddie has to find out for sure whether blood is really thicker than water as it turns out Johnny is on the mob's current hit list and all of their options could be limited.
Based on one of the few American-set novels by legendary mystery writer Georges Simenon, this is a very solid gangster film with noir trappings that uses its sweaty, palm tree-laden Florida setting as a nice change of pace from the usual Manhattan or L.A. backdrops. Conte manages to anchor it well in a role that could seem hopelessly stupid in lesser hands, and it moves along at a nice clip with enough dramatic turns to keep you on your toes. The tidy ending smacks a bit of Code interference (or test audience response), but otherwise this is a real high point in the '50s Columbia noir cycle and a justifiably popular cult title now. The 2010 DVD release has been out of circulation for a very long time, so it's very gratifying to have it back here in tip-top shape to win over new viewers. A new audio commentary by film scholar Jason A. Ney is a great accompaniment as he balances production info with some excellent insights into the story's themes, including an early personal connection to one plot point. Ported over from the original DVD is a short video intro by Scorsese (3m31s) praising the film's willingness to tread into uncomfortable emotional territory, followed by an in-depth look at Karlson in "A Bracing Brutality" (29m54s) with film critic Nick Pinkerton analyzing the filmmaker's life and career, both of which have been relatively neglected by film scholars over the years despite a number of major hits (including Walking Tall). A 36-image gallery compiles the usual assortment of promotional photos and other ephemera, while the theatrical trailer plays up the Simenon connection to the hilt. Finally, 1957's A Merry Mix-Up (15m55s) features the Stooges (Moe, Larry, and Joe in this case) as nine brothers -- three sets of triplets! -- whose lives suddenly collide with numerous romantic complications. How Indicator has managed to find thematically relevant Stooges shorts for every single one of these films to this point is truly a miraculous feat by this point! As usual, the limited edition box (6,000) units comes with a hefty 120-book featuring new essays by Beth Ann Gallagher, Bob Herzberg, Sophie Monks Kaufman, Omar Ahmed, Jen Johans, Monica Castillo, and Jeff Billington, plus archival articles and interviews.
Reviewed on October 3, 2021