Only Noirs and Horses: Four Flicks from the Warner Archive

From classic psychological thrillers to obscure westerns, these WAC releases are worth betting money on.
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In keeping with their tradition of debuting and re-issuing timeless and forgotten classics alike, the Warner Archive Collection has recently brought forth four titles from its vaults. Among this quartet is the classic psychological thriller Undercurrent, and three new-to-DVD rarities: Full Confession, which may very well be the darkest "religious" film I have ever seen; the fascinating western noir Cow Country; and ‒ branching out from the cowboy motif ‒ the long lost '50s family-friendly adventure, The Lion and the Horse.

Undercurrent (1946)

By and far the most recognized title in the mix, Vincente Minnelli's Undercurrent (also known as You Were There) returns to DVD via the Warner Archive Collection, having been out of print for several years. A 1946 hit, this psychological noir drama/mystery finds the great Katharine Hepburn as the book-smart, middle-aged daughter of a chemist who falls for famous industrialist Robert Taylor. But after the pair tie the knot, our heroine begins to see a different side of her beloved emerge ‒ one who may have murdered his own missing brother, and who may plan to do the same to her!

The one and only Robert Mitchum (whose screen time may be limited, but is nevertheless a sight to behold) co-stars in this captivating thriller from MGM. Edmund Gwenn, Marjorie Main, and fatale Jayne Meadows (in her first screen role) also star. This WAC DVD-R re-release is identical to the previously issued disc from the Katharine Hepburn Collection (2007), and includes a vintage driver safety short (Traffic with the Devil) and Tex Avery cartoon (Lonesome Lenny) from the same year. English & French subtitles accompany the feature, and the original theatrical trailer (a very dark one at that) wraps up this re-pressing of a classic.

Full Confession (1939)

Released the same year as John (The Sea Chase) Farrow's excellent precursor to the disaster genre, Five Came Back, RKO's Full Confession reunites the director with one of Hollywood's most underrated B-list performers, Joseph Calleia (After the Thin Man). And it is perhaps Calleia's casting in this dark crime drama about seeing the light which makes it worth taking a look at above anything else. For here, the late actor usually cast as a bad guy plays a good-natured priest. But of course, when a character actor like Calleia becomes a man of God, you can bet your bottom collection plate dollar he still has a bit of the Devil in him.

Here, frequent John Wayne co-star Victor McLaglen is a down-on-his-luck sod who attempts to steal a fur coat on Christmas Eve for his gal (Sally Eiers). Instead, though, he knocks out security guard Barry Fitzgerald and shoots a cop dead with the his gun. 18 months later, the guard is arrested for being drunk (shocker) and is then accused of McLaglen's crime. An accident enables the guilty party to confess to Father Calleia, who urges him to confess. But Victor won't have any of that, and soon, Calleia is smashing tea cups and threatening to do everything in his power to save an innocent man ‒ even if it means dying in the attempt!

Cow Country (1953)

What's that, you say? "We can't stop here, this is Cow Country?" Au contraire, mon amie, you can stop for this nifty little western noir from Allied Artists, which makes its home video debut here from the Warner Archive Collection. Crafted by veteran oater and mystery director Lesley Selander, Cow Country finds film noir icon Edmond O'Brien himself in a rare western role as Texan freight line owner Ben Anthony. Leaving the ranch life behind him, Ben discovers the beef business isn't exactly booming in the area as of late. Naturally, as is the case in just about any B-western story, there's a reason for it: greed.

But there are several things that set Cow Country apart from the rest. First off, we have the incomparable O'Brien starring as a former cowpoke, and he is just as believable defending his land and honor in dude clothes as he is when fighting for his life in such classics as D.O.A. and Detour. Cow Country also features the sight of Peggie Castle bullwhipping Robert Lowery (the second screen actor to portray the Caped Crusader in Columbia's 1949 serial Batman and Robin). The casting of Helen Westcott as O'Brien's lost love and Barton MacLane as the villain only add to the charm.

The Lion and the Horse (1952)

Whilst writer Crane Wilbur may be best remembered in the history books for penning three Vincent Price horror vehicles ‒ House of Wax, The Mad Magician, and The Bat ‒ he also dabbled in the occasional family-friendly western/adventure yarn such as this one. One of the final theatrical films from director Louis King (Charlie Chan in Egypt), this equestrian fantasy focuses on a cowboy with a (perfectly legal) obsession for a wild horse. Steve Cochran (White Heat) wrangles and break-in horses for Bob Steele. But when the stud sets his orbs on a black stallion named Wildfire (playing himself), he decides to keep him for himself.

It doesn't go over well, naturally, and soon the animal is sold to brutal carnival barker Ray Teal, who suckers men out of their money (and probably mobility) by wagering they can't ride the infernal beast. Things only get complicated when Cochran frees Wildfire from his situation, shortly before Teal's killer lion breaks free from the show. Yes, it's one of those movies, kids. Sherry Jackson, William Fawcett, House Peters Jr., Lane Chandler, and Tom Tyler are among the familiar faces cast in this slow-moving flick, which makes its long-awaited debut to DVD-R from the Warner Archive via a (sadly) well-worn and faded print. But at least it's finally available.

All four titles are available to own now from the Warner Archive Collection. Enjoy.

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