Shadows, Lies, and Private Eyes - The Film Noir Collection, Vol. 1 is a five DVD set of some of the best and most-important films noir. I'm personally excited by the "Vol. 1" in the title since that indicates future similar collections. This set includes new transfers and commentaries on each film, and the selection of titles includes wonderful choices, especially for those people who might not be familiar with this intoxicating style of American filmmaking from the 40s and 50s.
The highlight is obviously Out of the Past, a film many consider the definitive example of film noir. (Personally, my vote goes to the earlier Double Indemnity, but that may just be my Billy Wilder bias showing.) Jacques Tourneur's film (which I was lucky enough to see on the big screen at the Walter Reade a year or so ago during a series honoring the director) only gets better with age and includes some of the best performances ever given by both Robert Mitchum and Kirk Douglas -- and that's saying something -- along with Jane Greer in a role which helped define the notion of the classic femme fatale. There's no Hollywood ending here, but a more exhilirating and exciting film is hard to find.
The set also includes Murder, My Sweet, a fantastic adaptation, although it takes some liberties, of Raymond Chandler's classic novel "Farewell, My Lovely," a benchmark in the evolution of detective fiction. Most people recognize the character of Philip Marlowe from Humphrey Bogart's performance in The Big Sleep. Dick Powell was definitely no Bogie, but his Marlowe includes a different sort of complexity that Bogart's lacks. Powell was mostly known for song-and-dance films before Murder, My Sweet, and his physical appearance is certainly far less ragged and tough-guy than Bogart's. But it works, and throw in Claire Trevor as the wicked Helen Grayle, and you've got a highly entertaining 1940s detective thriller.
The set also includes three other seminal noirs. I've actually never seen Gun-Crazy a/k/a Deadly Is the Female, but I've repeatedly heard it called one of the lesser known gems of the noir period. It fits into a segment of noir films that were more akin to B-Movies, but no less important. It doesn't include any big-name stars, and its director Joseph H. Lewis often made more than one film a year (meaning quickly and cheaply), but if you're a noir fan like me, you should be itching to see it. The Asphalt Jungle, on the other hand, is a famous crime drama from a great director, John Huston. I've never loved this movie -- it just didn't grab me in the same way as so many others from the period -- but it's definitely worth seeing if only to realize the influence it had on future heist films such as Jules Dassin's great Riffifi or, one of my favorites, Jean-Pierre Melville's fantastic Le Cercle Rouge featuring its noted robbery sequence which goes on for well-over 20 minutes ... without sound. And finally, also included is The Set-Up, Robert Wise's treatment of an over-the-hill boxer who won't give-up even when even when everyone else has lost faith in him. Until Raging Bull, The Set-Up was quite possibly the best boxing film ever with a powerful lead performance by Robert Ryan.
These five DVDs present an interesting example of the range of films to which the "film noir" mantle is often applied. They were released yesterday. I'm ordering my set right now.