El Bicho's Hive

A Collection of Reviews Covering the Worlds of Art and Entertainment alongside other Snobbish Ramblings.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Bad Girls of Film Noir, Volumes 1 and 2

Columbia cleans out the vaults to compile a couple of two-disc sets with lesser-known B-movies created mostly by little known talent. However, the studio slightly misleads the consumer because while bad girls abound, most of these films are not film noir.

Volume 1 features:

The Killer That Stalked New York (1950) is Sheila (Evelyn Keyes), who arrives in the Big Apple by train after smuggling diamonds from Cuba. She is unaware a customs agent is on her tail, how close her husband and sister have grown, and that she is carrying small pox. She leaves a wake of sick people wherever she goes. The film was interesting because of the dimension to the story created by the health issue. Jim Backus has a small role as a nightclub owner.

Two Of A Kind (1951) finds attorney Vincent Cook (Alexander Knox) and Brandy (Lisabeth Scott) cooking up a plan where Mike (Edmund O’Brien) poses as the long-lost son of a wealthy couple to swindle them for the inheritance. Their plan involves the couple’s niece (Terry Moore) who is rather annoying. The plot takes a very good turn when the bad guys’ scheme doesn’t go according to plan and they have to change it, although not everyone agrees on the direction.

A special feature contains a modern-day interview with Terry Moore.

Bad For Each Other (1953) is not a film noir but a melodrama with Charlton Heston as Tom Owen, a Korean war vet and doctor returning to his hometown of Coalville, Pennsylvania. He gets caught up with Helen (Lisabeth Scott), a local socialite, and takes a job that finds him making money writing prescriptions for rich women who don't really need them. His new way of life clashes with his former self and is brought to light when he meets a new nurse who is more of a humanitarian like he used to be. It’s rather sappy, predictable, and forgettable.

The Glass Wall (1953) is also not a film noir. Peter Kaban (Vittorio Gassman) is a Hungarian caught sneaking into the country. He says he knows Tom (Jerry Paris), a musician somewhere in New York City, who can vouch that he contributed to the war effort, which entitles Peter entry. He pairs up with Maggie (Gloria Grahame), who he meets when she steals a coat out of a diner. As they search for Tom, he is trying to get into Jack Teagarden’s band. The characters are one-dimensional, the plot boring, and the ending isn’t surprising.

An episode from 1955 of All State Theatre appears as a special feature. Written by Blake Edwards, “The Payoff” finds a woman (Janet Blair) hiring PI Johnny Abel (Howard Duff) to pick up a package. He takes a beating and loses it, which doesn’t make his client happy. The plot has as a good twist.

Volume 2 features:

Night Editor (1946) was adapted from a radio program and was supposed to be the first installment in a series of films with a framing device featuring a newspaperman telling a story. The plot involves Joe (William Gargan), a married cop, seeing Jill Merrill (Janis Carter), married herself. They witness a man kill a woman with a tire iron but can’t come forward. When a vagrant is sentenced to death for the murder, Joe wants to come clean and finds the guy responsible, but Jill has other ideas. The story offers a pretty good twist, but the newspaper material is unnecessary and slightly burdensome.

Cleo Moore appears in the remaining material. In One Girl’s Confession (1953) she plays Mary, a waitress who steals $25,000 from her employer/caretaker, a man she feels cheated her father. She hides the money and turns herself in. Mary is a model prisoner and from its depiction here, jail isn’t a bad place. Once out early for good behavior, she gets another waitress job, meets a fella named Johnny (Glenn Langan), and tries to find her money. It also isn’t a noir and Mary isn’t really that bad as her actions are motivated. Although the plot has very good twists, it should have been shorter or better written.

Another episode of All State Theatre appears here as a special feature. From 1954, “Remember To Live” is a dopey story about a GI home from Korea. He is a struggling artist and starts dating Lana (Moore), a gorgeous blonde that’s trouble and only after his dough. Another woman, Marta, a good-looking brunette, is interested in the GI. There’s also Kathy, an annoying orphan girl that everyone in the neighborhood is helping stay away from the authorities. It’s obvious very quickly where the story is heading and the acting is weak, making the whole program very boring.

Women’s Prison (1955) is a cornball melodrama and also not noir. Ida Lupino plays the tough warden on the women’s side of a coed prison. Plot lines feature a woman who committed manslaughter, terrified by her incarceration, and a husband in the men’s prison trying to sneak over and see his wife. Things come to a head when the women riot. The acting is very over the top and the film is unintentionally funny.

Over-Exposed (1956) tells the story of Lila (Moore) who gets trained to be a photographer. She works nightclubs in the big city taking photos of patrons. She makes friends with a reporter (Richard Crenna) and gets caught up with a gossip columnist. The latter relationship leads to her downfall. More of a crime story than a film noir. Jack Albertson appears in a minor role.

Because most of the films are disappointing, these volumes are best left to fans of Classic Hollywood and even they might be disappointed as most of the films are not worth seeing once let alone revisiting. Columbia would have been wiser to have followed the Warner Brothers Archive model with these titles and made them available on demand.

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