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Classic ‘40s British Thrillers Cast an Entrancing Noir Shadow

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

The British are coming! The British are coming to video with three vintage flicks.

Kino on Video’s “BritNoir” series ($25) features two veddy splendid thrillers from the 1940s.

“Contraband,” directed in 1940 by the great Michael Powell (“The Red Shoes”), is set in the earliest days of World War II England. Conrad Veidt plays a Danish sea captain and Valerie Hobson portrays his beautiful but enigmatic passenger. They are captured by a cell of colorful, deadly Nazi spies operating from a basement in London’s Soho district.

Most of the action in London takes place during the blackout, which gives the metropolis a spooky, mysterious and maze-like quality. The gorgeous black-and-white cinematography was supplied by Freddie Young, who won Oscars for David Lean’s “Lawrence of Arabia,” “Doctor Zhivago” and “Ryan’s Daughter.”

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Powell co-wrote the film with Emeric Pressburger and Brock Williams.

But it’s undeniable chemistry between Veidt and Hobson, who starred together in 1939’s “The Spy in Black,” that makes “Contraband” a joy. The real surprise is Veidt, known for his evil roles as the creature inside “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” and as Maj. Strasser in “Casablanca.” Here the tall, dapper actor oozes sex appeal, charm and wit.

Trevor Howard gives one of his greatest performances in the taut 1947 noir “They Made Me a Fugitive.” The fast-paced gangland thriller, directed by Cavalcanti (“Dead of Night”), is set in the London underworld after World War II.

Howard plays a former serviceman who finds himself drawn to the excitement of the black market. Unfortunately, he gets mixed up with a psychopathic gang boss (Griffith Jones) who betrays Howard after he refuses to deal in drugs. After being sent to prison on a bad murder rap, Howard devises a way to seek revenge.

Penned by Noel Langley (“The Wizard of Oz”), the gritty black-and-white film was shot by Otto Heller (“Alfie”).

To order, call (800) 562-3330.

For the undiscerning, there’s Radley Metzger’s (“Therese & Isabelle”) glossy 1979 remake of the classic silent thriller “The Cat and the Canary” ($30). Honor Blackman, Michael Callan, Edward Fox, Wilfrid Hyde White, Wendy Hiller, Olivia Hussey, Carol Lynley and Daniel Massey seem to be having a good time mugging away in this “dark and stormy night” horror story about the family of an eccentric millionaire gathering at his mansion to hear the reading of his will 20 years after his death. Things turn bizarre when the head of a psychiatric hospital shows up looking for a deranged escapee who may be hiding in the house.

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