Shadows and Fog Aplenty in New Crop of Film Noir Classics


You’d swear after watching this year’s Oscar night tribute montage to film noir that no one in the Academy knows much about the genre that lit a million cigarettes, rolled a million beads of sweat, and filled a million alleys with impenetrable shadow. But the studio libraries, particularly Fox, keep belching up the classics, and the clichéd rules we think we know don’t always apply. Otto Preminger’s Fallen Angel (1945), for instance, is set in a small California town, but it nevertheless feels claustrophobic and menaced by demoralized blight—the implicit message is that the fresh postwar malaise followed noir’s luckless bastards wherever they went. Dana Andrews, as a black-hearted con man, links up with John Carradine’s medium act and begins to court two women—waitress/fellow rotten egg Linda Darnell, whose foul regard for mankind seems to him like coming home, and Alice Faye (in her last film for 17 years) as a blonde spinster with a moldering inheritance. Then, murder and turnabout. Preminger’s grim skill at establishing space and emotionally volatile vectors in every scene was already up to speed a year after Laura, handling in particular the many deep-focus, often crowded scenes in a shabby diner with almost Renoirian panache. Also released this season: Robert Wise’s House on Telegraph Hill (1951), a gothic-noir refugee thriller (Valentina Cortese survives the camps and makes it to San Francisco with a dead friend’s name and child; creepy gaslighting ensues) that is one of Hollywood’s first attempts to deal with the Final Solution, and Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s No Way Out (1950), a prickly-issue noir that has racist hood Richard Widmark start a citywide race riot as revenge for the death of his brother at the hands of inexperienced doctor Sidney Poitier. Comes with commentaries, posters, stills, spare footage, newsreels, trailers, and so on.

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