Film Noir Collection Vol 3 – Review
By Sarah Morgan
Be still my beating heart! A new four-disc set of classic film noirs (or should that be films noir?) I’ve never seen before. It’s like Christmas has come early.
This is the third such collection from Arrow, and it’s arguably the best yet, packed full of tough guys, femme fatales, stark photography and hard-bitten tales.
Getting the action going is 1947’s Calcutta, directed by John Farrow and starring Alan Ladd as a US pilot flying a route from the titular city to China. Following a friend’s suspicious death, he uncovers a jewel-smuggling ring that may or may not involve his dead pal’s fiancee – who also happens to be the woman he’s falling in love with. Gail Russell is as sultry as you’d expect as the love interest, with a great supporting performance from one of Ladd’s regular collaborators, William Bendix.
Robert Montgomery both stars in and directs Ride the Pink Horse, made during the same year. As with Calcutta, it has an unusual setting for a film noir, in this case, a town in New Mexico, where surly, unlikeable ex-GI Gagin arrives, intent on blackmailing the gangster who murdered his friend.
Next comes 1956’s Outside the Law, perhaps the most obscure of all the movies in the set due to its lack of A-list stars. It was, however, directed by Jack Arnold, who’s best known for making a series of memorable 1950s sci-fi movies, including It Came From Outer Space, Creature from the Black Lagoon and The Incredible Shrinking Man.
Here, Ray Danton plays Johnny, an ex-juvenile delinquent paroled into the US Army. When one of his comrades is murdered, Johnny is given the chance to earn a reprieve if he helps his FBI agent father catch the counterfeiters responsible. The main problem is, he and his father have been estranged for years.
“A real treat”
The best has been saved until last with The Female Animal, originally released in 1958. Like Billy Wilder’s far more famous Sunset Boulevard, it’s set within Hollywood and has at its centre the relationship between a fading female star and a younger man. In this case it’s Hedy Lamarr as Vanessa Windsor, a glamorous actress at the tail-end of her once illustrious career. She seduces and then falls for hunky extra Chris (George Nader) who, on realising he’s becoming a kept man, turns his back on her, transferring his attentions to Vanessa’s troubled young daughter (Jane Powell).
At the age of 44, Lamar wasn’t really old enough to play the lead; either that or Nader (38) and Powell (29) were too old for their roles. But if you can push those facts to the back of your mind, you’re in for a real treat.
Each film is accompanied by illuminating audio commentaries and visual essays that offer revealing facts and cultural insights. A must for fans of the genre, and for others just beginning their cinematic education. Here’s hoping Arrow have a fourth volume in the pipeline.
‘Film Noir Volume 3’ is available from Arrow