Four Film Noir Classics (Arrow Academy Blu-ray/DVD set)

Four Film Noir Classics (Arrow Academy Blu-ray/DVD set)
Rating: 5/5
Reviewed by Dave Lancaster
Summary: Shining a glimmer of light across four forgotten classics from a dark genre, Arrow's excellent Blu-ray set is a must for classic crime lovers.
Arrow Academy continue their streak of beautiful presentations of under-appreciated masterworks with this - a lavish box set housing a quartet of classics from America's premiere genre: film noir. Spread across Blu-ray and DVD are the following:
  • The Dark Mirror (directed by Robert Siodmak, 1946)
  • Secret Beyond the Door (directed by Fritz Lang, 1947)
  • Force of Evil (directed by Abraham Polonsky, 1948)
  • The Big Combo (directed by Joseph H. Lewis, 1955)
Of these, it's perhaps The Big Combo that has maintained its reputation as one of the go-to classics of the genre with its beautifully expressive monochrome photography, angst-driven performances and undercurrent of simmering resentment. Indeed, these are three of the key traits of the genre itself and evident in everything from The Maltese Falcon to Touch of Evil.
The riveting and breezily paced thriller sees Lieutenant Diamond (Cornel Wilde hinting at the primal performance he'd later direct himself in with The Naked Prey) on a mission bordering on obsession to see that an all-encompassing mob boss (an electric Richard Conte) is brought to pay for his actions. It's a rivalry and battle that displays both sides as brutal and perhaps sociopathic - a precursor to Michael Mann's Heat.
Perhaps the most delightfully nostalgic quarter of this collection comes in the form of The Dark Mirror - one of those films that came about as the psychology movement was influencing the arts resulting in a pop culture take on a complex subject. Despite the odd snap diagnosis (being declared insane for giving some dodgy answers to a Rorschach inkblot test), this is a fascinating film that stars Olivia de Havilland in a dual performance as duplicitous identical twins - one of which is possibly covering the other for murder with a concrete alibi. Consider this Mildred Pierce meets Dead Ringers.
Adding a touch of German expressionism (to which the genre owes much of its stylistic cues) is a solid Fritz Lang psychological thriller that nods towards du Maurier's Rebecca In Secret Beyond the Door, newly-wed Celia (Joan Bennett, Suspiria) begins to suspect her architect husband Mark (Michael Redgrave, Dead of Night) of having a sordid past especially given his secrecy over a permanently locked room in their bespoke home.
But perhaps the most powerful film of the quartet is Abraham Polonsky's Force of Evil. The Postman Always Rings Twice tough guy John Garfield sleazily snakes his way through a New York numbers racket all the while falling from grace. Contorting between lawyer and glorified hood, Garfield's greed sees him concoct a scheme to form an unbreakable union of crooks - one which drags his weaker brother under with him. Blistering dialogue abounds between them: "All that Cain did to Abel was murder him."
Needless to say, this is a must-have collection for noir lovers. It not only avoids including the obvious cuts you probably already have but also supplements them with a host of thoughtful bonus features. Better still, Arrow have done an admirable job at granting these four under-the-radar classics their best picture and sound quality since they were projected onto the big screen to those lucky cinemagoers well over half a century ago.
• Limited Edition Dual Format Collection [2000 copies]
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentation of four film noir classics: The Dark Mirror (Robert Siodmak, 1946), Secret Beyond the Door (Fritz Lang, 1947), Force of Evil (Abraham Polonsky, 1948), and The Big Combo (Joseph H. Lewis, 1955)
• Commentaries on all films by leading scholars and critics Adrian Martin (on The Dark Mirror), Alan K. Rode (on Secret Beyond the Door), Glenn Kenny and Farran Smith Nehme (on Force of Evil), and Eddie Muller (on The Big Combo) • Noah Isenberg on The Dark Mirror, the author and scholar provides a detailed analysis of the film
• Noah Isenberg on The Dark Mirror, the author and scholar provides a detailed analysis of the film
• Barry Keith Grant on Secret Beyond the Door, the author and scholar introduces the film
• The House of Lang: A visual essay on Fritz Lang's style by filmmaker David Cairns with a focus on his noir work
• Introduction to Force of Evil by Martin Scorsese
• An Autopsy on Capitalism: A visual essay on the production and reception of Force of Evil by Frank Krutnik, author of In a Lonely Street: Film noir, genre, masculinity
• Commentary on selected Force of Evil themes by Krutnik
• Geoff Andrew on The Big Combo, the critic and programmer offers an introduction to and analysis of the film
• Wagon Wheel Joe: A visual essay on director Joseph H. Lewis by filmmaker David Cairns
• The Big Combo original screenplay (BD/DVD-ROM content)
• Four radio plays, starring Olivia de Havilland and John Garfield among others
• Trailers
• Reversible sleeves featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Scott Saslow for all films
• Hardback book featuring new writing on all the films by noir experts and critics including Michael Brooke, Andrew Spicer, David Cairns and Tony Rayns, production stories, re-prints featuring Fritz Lang, Abraham Polonsky, Cornel Wilde, The Dark Mirror consultant Dr Mary Romm, contemporary reviews, and credits for all films, illustrated with original stills [Limited Edition Exclusive]

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