Film noir has always embraced the eccentric, but Warner Bros. pushes the envelope with the third volume of its Film Noir Classic Collection. There are, to be sure, several certified classics among the five films in this box set (which also includes the documentary Film Noir: Bringing Darkness to Light). Nicholas Ray’s masterful On Dangerous Ground (1952), written by A.I. Bezzerides (Kiss Me Deadly), turns the urban convention of noir on its head in a powerhouse story of a sadistic big-city cop (Robert Ryan) who pursues a killer to the countryside, where he finds blind Ida Lupino and a shot at redemption. Equally charged is Border Incident (1949), a savage thriller (think death by rototiller) about immigrant smuggling made by ultranoir stylists director Anthony Mann and cinematographer John Alton (who previously collaborated on T-Men and Raw Deal). Things get shaky, however, with Lady in the Lake (1947). Based on Raymond Chandler’s novel and directed by Robert Montgomery, who also stars, the film bears impeccable noir credentials but comes marred by a gimmick as stiff as a corpse: Shot almost entirely with a subjective camera, the film announces that “You’ll meet people. You’ll find the clues” while looking through the “eyes” of Montgomery’s Phillip Marlowe. The most oddball entry here, however, is His Kind of Woman (1951). Fascinating like a train wreck, the film stars Robert Mitchum as a gambler hired by the mob to do a job that, for most of the film, seems to entail meandering around a Baja California resort and swapping one-liners with pampered guests Jane Russell, Vincent Price and Jim Backus. Between waiting to find out why Mitchum was really sent south and admiring the resort’s tropical lounge décor, you’ll hardly notice when the whole thing slides into farce. A commentary track by UCLA professor Vivian Sobchack helps fill in the details about how the obsessive meddling of producer Howard Hughes ran the film into the ground. But the most burning question remains: Is His Kind of Woman a noir or just a disaster?
— Paul Malcolm
Also released this week: DVD: Animaniacs: Volume 1; Ask The Dust; Asphalt Wars; The Benchwarmers; Blackballed: The Bobby Dukes Story; The Boondocks: The Complete First Season; Cello; Halloween: 25 Years Of Terror; Hudson Hawk; The Iris Effect; Zizek!; Joe Dirt; Open Letter To The Evening News; Pinky And The Brain: Volume 1; Rawhide: The Complete First Season; Robert Ludlum’s Covert One: The Hades Factor; Roma Citta’ Libera (Rome Free City); Scorpius Gigantus.
Scores provided by Rotten Tomatoes