Mill Creek and Kit Parker have raided the Columbia vault once again in search of Noir Gold from the ‘fifties. Their selection this time around has a couple of prime gems, several straight crime thrillers and domestic jeopardy tales, and also a couple of interesting Brit imports. They aren’t really ‘Noir’ either, but they’re still unexpected and different. The top title is Don Siegel’s incomparable The Lineup, but also on board is a snappy anti-commie epic by André De Toth. Get set for a lineup of impressive leading ladies: Diana Dors, Arlene Dahl, Anita Ekberg — and the great Colleen Dewhurst as a card-carrying Red!
Noir Archive 9-Film Collection Volume 3
The Shadow on the Window, The Long Haul, Pickup Alley, The Tijuana Story, She Played with Fire, The Case Against Brooklyn, The Lineup, The Crimson Kimono, Man on a String
Mill Creek / Kit Parker
1957 -1960 / B&W / 8 x 1:85 Academy; 1 x 2:35 widescreen / 734 min. / Street Date April 23, 2019 / 49.95
Starring: Philip Carey, Betty Garrett, John Drew Barrymore, Corey Allen, Jerry Mathers; Victor Mature, Diana Dors, Patrick Allen, Liam Redmond; Victor Mature,Anita Ekberg, Trevor Howard, Bonar Colleano; Rodolfo Acosta, James Darren, Jean Wiles, Robert Blake; Jack Hawkins, Arlene Dahl, Dennis Price, Christopher Lee; Darren McGavin, Margaret Hayes, Warren Stevens; Eli Wallach, Robert Keith, Richard Jaeckel; Victoria Shaw, Glenn Corbett, James Shigeta; Ernest Borgnine, Kerwin Mathews, Colleen Dewhurst.
Cinematography: Kit Carson; Basil Emmott, Ted Moore; Benjamin Kline; Gerald Gibbs; Fred Jackman Jr.; Hal Mohr; Sam Leavitt; Albert Benitz, Charles Lawton Jr., Pierre Poincarde, Gayne Rescher.
Music: George Duning; Trevor Duncan; Richard Rodney Bennett; Mischa Bakaleinikoff; William Alwyn; Mischa Bakaleinikoff; Mischa Bakaleinikoff; Harry Sukman; George Duning.
Screenplays by David P. Harmon & Leo Townsend; Ken Hughes; Lou Morheim; Sidney Gilliat & Frank Launder; Bernard Gordon & Julian Zimet; Stirling Silliphant; Samuel Fuller; John H. Kafka, Virginia Shaler.
Produced by Jonie Taps; Maxwell Setton; Irving Allen & Albert R. Broccoli; Sam Katzman; Sidney Gilliat & Frank Launder; Charles H. Schneer; Jaime Del Valle; Samuel Fuller; Louis De Rochemont.
Directed by William Asher; Ken Hughes; John Gilling; Leslie Kardos; Sidney Gilliat; Paul Wendkos; Don Siegel; Samuel Fuller; André De Toth.
Third time’s charm, for this collection will have plenty of interest for fans of crime thrillers, some of which carry a Noir taint. CineSavant didn’t review the ‘Volume 2’ disc of this series, which for me had a couple of good pictures but no must-gets; I recommend Volume 2 for viewers that want a dose of the odd filmmaker Hugo Haas, and perhaps those willing to set through some frustrating dramatics to see what John Cassavetes did in one of his earliest pictures. I guess the nod extends to Kim Novak fans, although she’s mostly window dressing in her chosen feature.
But the Noir Archive 9-Film Collection Volume 3 rings the bell with more variety and more movies that click for this particular viewer. Some of the weaker entries have big compensations. As these are all late-’50s releases, some interesting English co-productions sneak in. Top directors are on board: Sam Fuller, André De Toth, and Don Siegel, whose The Lineup is worth the price of admission all on its own.
Except for showings on TCM, most of the movies have been scarce for decades, which means that the scans on view all look pristine. Each naturally begins with a handsome widescreen Columbia logo.
First up is The Shadow on the Window (1957), a police procedural mixed with a so-so one-act play about hoodlums terrorizing a young mother. Director William Asher arrays his cast well, all except for John Drew Barrymore, who somehow always sticks out — did he ever give a convincing performance? Yes, the 1950s saw plenty of former stars looking for decent parts to play. Betty Garrett of On the Town is excellent as a mother threatened with death in a house surrounded by orange groves.
The talented Corey Allen (Private Property) should have gotten the ‘#1 punk’ part, and does okay as a sniveling henchman. Top-billed Philip Carey, the future spokesman for Granny Goose potato chips, has to play macho-unsentimental as a cop whose wife has been kidnapped, but he’s unusually sensitive in the scenes with the film’s real star, Jerry Mathers of Leave it to Beaver. Mather’s shell-shocked kid hooks us instantly. Ms. Garrett can only do so much with the flat kidnapping ordeal, and the police search is mostly standard coverage of cops not learning what they want to know, from witnesses trying to hide other guilty activities. I found myself too curious to hit the fast-forward button.
Most of these lower-tier Columbia movies of this time were real cheapies, but the studio’s English imports were ‘A’ productions: the Brit Curse of the Demon, for instance, totally blows away the studio’s horror films with which it was co-billed. The Long Haul is the ‘other’ English trucking picture from 1957, after Cy Endfield’s Hell Drivers, which is recommended for its phenomenal list of soon-to-be stars: Stanley Baker, Patrick McGoohan, Sean Connery, David McCallum, etc.. Written and directed by Ken Hughes, the show imports U.S. star Victor Mature to play an ex- G.I. given a bum deal and reduced to pickup work doing long-haul trucking work. He soon tangles with a mob run by the reckless Patrick Allen (who is more well-known to us as a narrator of U.K. trailers). Finding himself on the road with a load of liquor that Allen wants hijacked, Mature ends up racing to Scotland with the mobster’s girlfriend (Diana Dors) and a pack of killers on his tail.
Mature is excellent, Allen is arrogant in an interesting way, and Ms. Dors is her attractive but moody self — no matter what the situation, we wonder where her mind is at. Basically on hand for the glamour factor, she affects sub-Monroe facial expressions (mouth open, eyes half-shut) that make her forever seem on the verge of a sneeze.
But the look of Long Haul is nothing to sneeze at (what a segue), what with high-contrast noir lighting that by 1957 had mostly disappeared from U.S. productions. The beautiful Northern locations are a good arena for the life & death struggle on the road. This almost seems a Cy Endfield story, with the criticism of business corruption and an extended odyssey-ordeal through the Scottish countryside. But it hasn’t quite got Endfield’s dangerous edge.
A couple of these noir-adjacent thrillers relate to the spy craze that would arrive in about five years. The future James Bond producers Albert R. Broccoli & Irving Allen were at this time busy with variable-quality Columbia releases, like the oddball sci-fi The Gamma People and the more upscale but laughably misjudged Fire Down Below. Filmed in CinemaScope, 1957’s Pickup Alley aka Interpol gives us Victor Mature again, as a wild-card international cop chasing down heroin smugglers. He has an extra motivation, seeing as how the nasty Trevor Howard strangled his sister! The poster’s tagline “This is A Picture About DOPE!” sits right next to an image of star Anita Ekberg. Everybody in this picture comes off as a bit of a dope, except perhaps for Trevor Howard, whose fiendishly manipulative villain forces the drop-dead gorgeous Ekberg to serve as his mule. She shuttles cash between New York, London, Lisbon, Rome and Athens, giving us the full travelogue treatment.
We’re not sure that Ekberg went to all those locations, but an impressive list of supporting actors did — the show’s a regular Hammer pre- reunion: André Morell, Martin Benson, Danny Green, Alec Mango, Sidney James, Marne Maitland, Eric Pohlmann, Charles Lloyd Pack, Al Mulock (!), Paul Stassino and even Yvonne Romain.
Despite the good acting and the chance to observe Ms. Ekberg on the move, Pickup Alley is stuck in a police procedural groove, and tends to plod. The double-crosses and betrayals aren’t much of a surprise, so we must content ourselves with the interesting performances and the exclusively beautiful female drug addicts that buzz like flies around Trevor Howard.
The one groaner in the pack is the Sam Katzman production The Tijuana Story (1957), a threadbare loser with a snooze-script about a crusading Tijuana newspaperman who exposes the corruption around him, inviting retaliation by the Mexican mob. Struggling against Katzman’s no-budget production, director Leslie Kardos must merge a few minutes of establishing shots in Tijuana, with pathetic inserts of ‘sordid’ activities, clearly filmed in corners of the Columbia lot, against the walls of sound stages, or on the same generic ‘nowheres’ seen in Katzman pictures like Earth vs. the Flying Saucers. Fifty feet of fake storefronts, ‘dressed’ with cardboard signs in Spanish, serve as the main set.
In short, Rodolfo Acosta’s publisher pushes the mob around, until he finally becomes a martyr for law ‘n’ order. D’ya think he shoulda seen it coming? It all seems quaint after conservative scare pictures like Sicario, in which the drug cartels publicly hang mutilated corpses like slabs of beef. The phony stentorian narration, telling us Mexico will have a bright future thanks to Rodolfo’s efforts, is not reassuring. Columbia ‘find’ James Darren suffers through his role as an American punk who learns to respect Rodolfo’s secretary; Robert Blake looks unhappy as the publisher’s son. The filmmakers can’t afford the minimum feeling of credibility, which leaves the accomplished actor Acosta somewhat marooned. We’re eager to see him play something other than Indians and Mexican bandits (Bullfighter and the Lady, Bandido!) but in this show he seems almost relieved to exit in a hail of bad-guy bullets.
The third British entry She Played with Fire aka Fortune is a Woman (1958) is a more staid thriller with only a slight connection to the noir genre about losers that become ensnared by avaricious women. But even after a score of suspects are trotted out, including two or three conniving blackmailers, nobody ends up on a streetcar ride to the cemetery. Insurance man Jack Hawkins becomes suspicious of his old flame Arlene Dahl, now married to the asthmatic aristocrat Dennis Price, a snob who complains how difficult it is to keep his Manor House in black ink. Hawkins soon suspects Arlene of complicity in art forgery and insurance fraud, and eventually, murder. The red herring characterizations come out of the woodwork — John Phillips, Greta Gynt, Bernard Miles, Ian Hunter and even fan favorite Christopher Lee, who has one scene as a pompous philandering actor.
The talky and convoluted Gilliat-Launder production keeps to a staid pace common in ‘quality’ Brit filmmaking. A visual motif up front directly compares a metronome to windshield wipers, a couple of years before Psycho. Although all the elements are present and Hawkins’ agent is clever and resourceful, we don’t quite connect with his predicament: we don’t really care what Dahl is up to. It’s really rare for a Jack Hawkins film not to generate full interest.
I’ve already offended Paul Wendkos fans with my lack of appreciation for his David Goodis noir potboiler The Burglar. His second directed picture The Case Against Brooklyn (1958) isn’t as personal, but he shows good judgment dealing with the paltry resources provided by Charles H. Schneer, the Sam Katzman protégé who escaped the Columbia swamp via his collaboration with special effects genius Ray Harryhausen. Wendkos meets the same trouble that Robert Aldrich found at Columbia — they had to film complex, hard-hitting true crime scripts for next to nothing, mostly in small windowless sets. Wendkos’s cameras went nowhere near Brooklyn. The show even must rely on ten-year-old stock shots for some of its violent action.
The script by blacklistees Bernard Gordon and Julian Zimet builds well on the theme of rooting out police corruption (somebody please some to L.A. to help with this). Realizing that he can’t trust normal channels, D.A. Tol Avery sends two rookies (Darren McGavin & future director Brian Hutton) undercover. McGavin even leaves his wife to do his job. They find out that various businesses are mob fronts; a wiretap to identify bad cops backfires, and Hutton is killed. McGavin must ‘get involved’ with businesswoman Maggie Hayes as part of his work. Unforeseen difficulties eventually lead him to strike back at the mob on his own, without the D.A.’s approval.
A good cross-section of actors fleshes out the story: Nestor Paiva, Joe Turkel, Robert Osterloh and the great Emile Meyer are among the hoods and slippery officers of the law. McGavin and Wendkos struggle against the cheap production — we see the same row of storefronts from The Tijuana Story, but without the Spanish-language signs. The show is basically a template for future crime tales in which various Dirty Harrys and Buford Pussers get fed up with the rules and then go it alone. Except in this case McGavin needs the NYPD to back him up.
The classic in the set is Don Siegel’s superb The Lineup from (1958). It was spun off from a TV show, and roughly the first half hour is a dull procedural along the lines of a TV production. (You can skip minutes 6 through 21 — it’s all expendable Sgt. Friday stuff.) When we finally meet the troubleshooting hit men Julian and Dancer (Robert Keith & Eli Wallach), the show becomes one of Siegel’s best. We suspect that the Production Code wouldn’t have allowed these Happy Hit Men without the side message about the sacrifice of noble cops, but the fact is that the lawmen are 95% irrelevant. The functioning psychos Dancer and Julian have personal rituals and superstitions, and they’re equally frustrated by Richard Jaeckel’s less-than-reliable getaway driver.
Our killers’ task is to retrieve packages of heroin smuggled into San Francisco through several unknowing passengers. They have to murder any that detect what’s going on. The narrative breaks down into several caper episodes, each more frustrating for the eccentric freelancers. Dancer’s precarious professional balance eventually becomes unglued — prompting one of Eli Wallach’s best performances.
Filmed on glorious San Francisco locations, The Lineup is a happy vacation from the Columbia backlot. Siegel exploits the beautiful city for maximum atmosphere… it’s almost as iconic as the same year’s Vertigo. The two productions even use the same hotel, where the same movie is playing in the Nob Hill Theater across the street. The climactic car chase zooms by the Palace of the Legion of Honor, on the way from the Cliff House and Sutro’s Baths, around the top of Presidio Park, past the Golden Gate Bridge and into downtown San Francisco. The finish is atop an uncompleted section of the Embarcadero Freeway, itself a symbol of grand plans gone awry.
It’s a classic, unprecedented chase. Rear projection is used for car interior shots, but we can see that real, heavily traveled streets are being used, and the geography makes sense. The cameras don’t appear to be under-cranked, and the cars really bank during the the high-speed turns. The finish is appropriately spectacular-bleak. Siegel really has a handle on this one.
The Crimson Kimono (1959) is the progressive Samuel Fuller cop show that brought national and ethnic identity into the genre. Hollywood made a lot of movies about American men bedding women of ‘other’ races or ethnic identity, even if the Production Code sometimes insisted that the women involved had to die before the fade out. Fuller thumbs his nose at racist conventions by having the blonde American woman (Victoria Shaw) fall in love with the Japanese-American cop, James Shigeta. Believe it or not, that was daring even for 1959, when a number of states still had anti-miscegenation laws on the books.
The Crimson Kimono has been out on Blu before, from Twilight Time; I refer the reader to that review for more detail. The transfer seems the same, and doesn’t suffer from what we presume is a lower bit rate.
We were a little surprised when our fave juvenile hero Kerwin Mathews became an international spy hero in the OSS-177 series of espionage films, but 1960’s Man on a String connects the dots. Ian Fleming confected pulpish super-criminals to keep 007’s adventures from being direct battles between the Forces of Freedom and those lousy commies in Russia. Although very loosely based on the experience of the real-life double agent Boris Morros, this energetic thriller has more in common with the Red-baiting films from a decade earlier.
Just as in Columbia’s I Aim at the Stars, the message here is to “Stop Worrying about Nazis and Love West Germany, ’cause those rotten Reds are at it again.” Forget about a few powerless Hollywood writers trying to express pacifist One-World sentiments: commie agents have seized Ernest Borgnine’s film studio, and are intent on making him into a conduit to flood Soviet power and influence into defenseless America. Colleen Dewhurst has the ‘Gail Sondergaard’ role, as half of the commie takeover team. The Central Bureau of Intelligence successfully steers Borgnine to the side of good, and counterspy Kerwin Mathews accompanies him to Berlin to acquire a list of commie agents already working in the U.S.A.. The narration cheerfully reports that the C.B.I. can do whatever it wants in its investigations, unlike our civil police. Borgnine is even given a cigarette lighter that shoots a cyanide projectile. I could really use one of those, myself.
The film insists that a real Commie takeover of tinsel-town could have taken place, that Red-leaning Hollywoodites ever had a shot at power or influence. We know we’re back in the The Red Menace mindset when the head K.G.B agent is dubbed by none other than Paul Frees.
The movie has at least some money behind it. Parts were filmed in New York and Berlin. Some excellent Moscow scenes were apparently provided by a French cameraman, working on the sly. Ace director André De Toth obtains better-than average performances all around. The charismatic Ernest Borgnine keeps it all real, and the interesting cast includes Alexander Scourby, Glenn Corbett, Vladimir Sokoloff, Eva Pflug (of Raumschiff Raumpatrouille), Lisa Golm and even Seymour Cassel and Ted Knight.
Mill Creek & Kit Parker’s Blu-ray of Noir Archive 9-Film Collection Volume 3 is yet another plain-wrap but good quality nine-stack of B&W Columbia features from 1957 to 1960. All appear to be formatted at 1:85, except The Long Haul which might be 1:75 and Pickup Alley which is a full 2:35 CinemaScope.
Three full titles to a disc? Somebody with a bit-rate meter may see flaws, but the shows play perfectly to me, on a large monitor. The titles are all B&W, which cuts down on the bits needed to display each frame. Everything looks good, although the foreign pictures are much more attractively filmed than some of the Columbia cheapies.
Mill Creek’s keep case contains three discs on two spindles. My copy arrived with one disc floating free but unscratched. I didn’t think the Columbia vault contained enough films like this to fill even two Volumes, but now I’m ready for more … they still have Good titles from the older Columbia Film Noir Classics Collections to recycle in HD. This is also a good format to reissue Columbia’s sci-fi and horror pictures — fans would favor the collection format over the pricey single releases by Kino and Scream Factory.
Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Noir Archive 9-Film Collection Volume 3
Movies: The Lineup, The Crimson Kimono Excellent; The Long Haul, Man on a String Very Good; Pickup Alley, The Shadow on the Window, She Played with Fire, The Case Against Brooklyn, Good; The Tijuana Story Fair
Video: Very Good -Excellent
Sound: Very Good
Deaf and Hearing-impaired Friendly? YES; Subtitles: English
Packaging: Three Blu-rays in Keep case
Reviewed: September 7, 2019
Text © Copyright 2019 Glenn Erickson