The film noir universe isn’t pretty, with its antiheroes who have chips on their shoulders and scores to settle and those beautiful but duplicitous women who wrap the men around their little fingers. It’s a world of crime, lust, love and murder.
And it’s an addictive universe. Hollywood kept returning to the noir well in the 1940s and 1950s — audiences, it seemed, couldn’t get enough of these tawdry, atmospheric crime thrillers.
Warner Home Video has come up with eight mouthwatering examples for its Film Noir Classic Collection Vol. 5, released this month on DVD. Here are highlights:
Dick Powell was best known in the 1930s as the jovial musical comedy star of such films as “42nd Street” and “Flirtation Walk.” But by the mid-1940s, he was a bit too long in the tooth for such roles and his career was on the skids. Then he changed his image with 1944’s “Murder, My Sweet,” in which he played gumshoe Philip Marlowe. The following year, he teamed with “Sweet” director Edward Dmytryk for this scrumptious noir. Powell plays a Canadian pilot released from a German POW camp after World War II who is looking for the Nazi who killed his French wife. Though the villain is supposedly dead, Powell discovers he could be very much alive and in Argentina.
Anthony Mann is best known for the gritty Westerns he made in the 1950s with James Stewart, but as a young director, he cut his teeth on taut film noirs such as this superlative 1947 programmer, the first of seven he made between 1947 and 1949.
Steve Brodie plays a struggling independent truck driver who is hired by a former friend (an oily Raymond Burr) to haul freight. But when he gets to the destination, Brody discovers that they want him to carry stolen goods. Burr’s younger brother kills a cop during the heist and is arrested. Burr tells Brodie that unless he confesses to the murder, they will make mincemeat out of his pretty young wife (Audrey Long). So the couple go on the lam, with Burr and his cronies and the cops hot on their trail.
‘Armored Car Robbery’
In 1952, director Richard Fleischer and actor Charles McGraw scored a big hit with the noir classic “The Narrow Margin.” Two years earlier, they had collaborated on “Armored Car Robbery,” which was shot on location in Los Angeles and was one of the first heist movies made. McGraw plays a no-nonsense L.A. detective doggedly pursuing the homicidal mastermind (William Talman, who would later play prosecuting attorney Hamilton Burger on “Perry Mason) behind a daring daytime armored car robbery.
‘Deadline at Dawn’
Noted theater director Harold Clurman — he was a founder of the legendary Group Theatre — directed this underrated, compelling film noir penned by Group Theatre scribe Clifford Odets, based on the novella by William Irish.
Bill Williams plays a naïve young Navy sailor on leave in New York City who wakes up with a lot of money after a drunken night on the town. Susan Hayward and Paul Lukas also star.
He knows he got the money from a floozy (Lola Lane) whose apartment he visited that night. Hayward plays a tough-but-tender dancehall girl who goes with him to return the money, only to discover that the woman is dead. This thriller was beautifully shot by noir master Nicholas Muscuraca.
‘Crime in the Streets’
It’s really a stretch to call this 1956 youth drama a film noir, because it’s more in the vein of “Blackboard Jungle” and “Rebel Without a Cause.” The picture was adapted by Reginald Rose from his live TV drama, and it marked John Cassavetes’ film debut. At 26, he was too old for the role, but you can’t keep your eyes off him as the intense leader of a street gang. Mark Rydell and Sal Mineo are his cohorts. It was directed by the legendary Don Siegel, who later worked with and influenced Clint Eastwood.