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Loosely translated, film noir means "dark cinema," and coming from a literal interpretation, the phase would seem to indicate a lack of lighting. Now, while this particular breed of motion picture does tend to feature shadowy, atmospheric cinematography, the darkness within this particular genre of film is really more indicative of a moral and emotional darkness of the characters and the world they occupy. This dark world of film noir is generally teeming with detectives and criminals, as well as being tinged by an element of corruption that usually touches a morally ambiguous hero/antihero, who can be lead down the wrong path by a gorgeous femme fatale. Of course, the entire film noir genre is impossible to pigeonhole with a couple of sentences, since noir tends to be more of a mood than something wholly tangible within a film. In fact, over the decades, the qualities of film noir have been infused into other movie genres, sometimes with remarkable results. For those of you who enjoy your noir unadulterated, Warner offers THE FILM NOIR CLASSIC COLLECTION ($50) the following five examples of dark cinema: THE ASPHALT JUNGLE, MURDER, MY SWEET, THE SET-UP, GUN CRAZY and OUT OF THE PAST.

Directed by John Huston, THE ASPHALT JUNGLE is indeed one of the best caper movies out there, and certainly one that has influence similarly themed films in the fifty-plus years since it was made. THE ASPHALT JUNGLE tells the story of ex-con, who, upon his release from prison, puts together an elaborate plan to steal a large sum of jewelry. The top notch cast of THE ASPHALT JUNGLE features Sterling Hayden, Louis Calhern, Jean Hagen, James Whitmore, Sam Jaffe, John McIntire and Marilyn Monroe. Adapted from Raymond Chandlerís Farewell My Lovely, MURDER, MY SWEET is one heck of a gritty and hard-boiled detective drama. Featuring a career changing performance by Dick Powell as private eye Philip Marlowe, MURDER, MY SWEET finds Marlow getting a whole lot more than he bargained for, when he agrees to locate a slow witted ex-conís missing former girlfriend. The cast of MURDER, MY SWEET also includes Claire Trevor, Anne Shirley, Otto Kruger and Mike Mazurki.

Directed by Robert Wise, THE SET-UP is certainly one of the tightest most straightforward films in this collection. At a scant seventy two minutes, the movie unfolds in real time and moves quickly to tell the story of an over-the-hill boxer Stoker (Robert Ryan), who thinks he still has a shot at the title. However, unbeknownst to Stoker, some underworld figures have put "a fix" on for his upcoming bout, and that he is scheduled to take a dive at sometime during the fight. The cast of THE SET-UP also includes Audrey Totter, George Tobias, Alan Baxter, Wallace Ford, Percy Helton and Darryl Hickman. GUN CRAZY (AKA DEADLY IS THE FEMALE) is a compelling noir, with a decidedly Bonnie and Clyde influenced storyline. The storyline of GUN CRAZY follows returning veteran Bart Tare (John Dall), whose obsession with firearms leads to his involvement with carnival sharpshooter Annie Laurie Starr (Peggy Cummins). After hooking up, the coupleís financial prospects take a downturn, which results in a gun toting cross country crime spree, as the twosome make the most of their innate talents. The cast of GUN CRAZY also includes Berry Kroeger, Morris Carnovsky, Anabel Shaw and a very young Russ Tamblyn.

While all the other titles in are great classic noir movies, OUT OF THE PAST could be considered the definitive motion picture in this collection. Directed Jacques Tourneur and starring Robert Mitchum, OUT OF THE PAST is an out and out masterpiece of the film noir genre. OUT OF THE PAST is based upon the story Build My Gallows High by Daniel Mainwaring, which tells the story of a man who must face the consequences when his past catches up with him. In OUT OF THE PAST Robert Mitchum portrays Jeff Markham, a former private detective running a gas station in a small town under an assumed name. When someone finally recognizes Jeff, he his forced to come clean about his involvement with a beautiful woman named Kathie Moffat (Jane Greer), not to mention a shady character named Whit Sterling (Kirk Douglas), who hired Jeff to find Kathie and a missing $40,000.00. The cast of OUT OF THE PAST also features Rhonda Fleming, Richard Webb, Steve Brodie, Virginia Huston, Paul Valentine and Dickie Moore.

Warner Home Video has made all the films that comprise THE FILM NOIR CLASSIC COLLECTION available on DVD in their proper 1.37:1 full screen aspect ratios. Of course, there is some variation in the appearance of each of these black and white films, but for the most part, they all look very good. Sharpness and detail is excellent for THE ASPHALT JUNGLE. THE SET-UP also stands out in that regard; while OUT OF THE PAST, MURDER, MY SWEET and GUN CRAZY have mild inconsistencies and rate as merely "very good." All of the films produce deep inky, blacks, although MURDER, MY SWEET isnít quite as deep as the rest. Whites are generally accurate and each film produces a rich, varied grayscale, although OUT OF THE PAST and MURDER, MY SWEET is a little shy of the punch produced by the other three. Each film exhibits a noticeable grain structure (as they should), which helps to produce very film-like presentations. As for the film elements from which these motion pictures are transferred, minor blemishes and mild scratches turn up in each instance, but they arenít particularly bothersome. With each film being relegated to its own disc, digital compression artifacts are nicely concealed across the entire collection.

All of the films contained in THE FILM NOIR CLASSIC COLLECTION come with solid Dolby Digital monaural soundtracks. Most signs of background hiss and noise have been cleaned up during the mastering process, so all of the films tend to have a relatively smooth sonic quality. While there are the expected limitations in fidelity across the entire set, with the music and sound effects sounding a little thin, but fortunately, never coming across in a harsh or distorted manner. Voices are usually well rendered and dialogue is always completely understandable. No other language tracks are provided on the majority of the films, although a French language track is included on THE ASPHALT JUNGLE. The entire collection sports English, French and Spanish subtitles.

Music underscores the basic interactive menus, which allow one access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as the extra features that have been spread across the five discs in the collection. THE ASPHALT JUNGLE includes an introduction by John Huston, an informative audio commentary with film noir aficionado Drew Casper and actor James Whitmore, plus a theatrical trailer. MURDER, MY SWEET features an interesting audio commentary with film noir historian Alain Silver, as well as a theatrical trailer. THE SET-UP offers a reasonably enjoyable audio commentary with director Robert Wise and Martin Scorsese. GUN CRAZY features a highly detailed audio commentary by DVD Savant and all around movie junkie Glenn Erickson. OUT OF THE PAST contains a scholarly audio commentary film noir movie expert James Ursini.

THE ASPHALT JUNGLE, MURDER, MY SWEET, THE SET-UP, GUN CRAZY and OUT OF THE PAST are indeed marvelous film noir classics that are making their long overdue DVD debuts. Warner has done a great job with each, providing a solid presentation and some thoughtful extras. If you are a film noir fan or a movie buff in general, you will definitely want to add THE FILM NOIR CLASSIC COLLECTION to your DVD library. Recommended.



The Film Noir Collection, Vol. 1 (The Asphalt Jungle / Gun Crazy / Murder My Sweet / Out of the Past / The Set-Up)


DVD reviews are Copyright © 2004 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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