Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema XVI Blu-ray Review: I’m Thrilled They Keep Releasing Them

Kino Lorber continues their long tradition of releasing relatively obscure film noir. This collection features three very different films ranging from 1942 to 1951.

Buy Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema XVI

First up is The Mystery of Marie Roget (1942), a loose adaptation of the Edgar Allan Poe story of the same name. Clearly cashing in on the more famous Poe story, The Murders in the Rue Morgue (which itself was a successful adaptation in 1932, also from Universal Studios) this film name-drops the previous one several times.

It stars Patrick Knowles as Paul Dupin, the famous medical officer (and star of Rue Morgue). It begins with Marie Roget (Maria Montez), a musical-comedy star having gone missing some ten days prior. Dupin and Police Inspector Gobelin (Lloyd Corrigan) are on the case. Soon enough, a dead woman is found in the river, her face mutilated beyond recognition. Assuming the corpse is that of Roget, the case is now a murder. But wait, Marie Roget then shows up, perfectly alive. When the body of another faceless woman shows up, things get complicated.

A little too complicated, honestly. There are so many twists and turns, red herrings, and misdirection in this film I found it difficult to follow. With only a 60-minute runtime, one has to assume some vital scenes were either cut in the editing room or simply not shot due to budgetary reasons. It is shot well, the actors do a fine job, and it moves along so briskly I found myself still captivated, but confused as to what exactly was happening.

Next up is Chicago Deadline (1949), the best film in the bunch. Alan Ladd stars as newspaper reporter Ed Adams, who just happens to be in a run-down boarding house on another story when the body of Rosita Jean d’Ur (Donna Reed) is discovered. Curious as to how such a beautiful and well-kept woman found herself dead in such a desolate place, he begins asking questions around town.

At first, nearly everyone he asks (including gangsters and prominent businessmen) about the woman denies even knowing her, even though their names and addresses are listed in her diary. The more questions he asks the more people tell him to lay off. All of which makes him dig deeper, exposing more mysteries.

Slowly, a picture forms about who Rosita was, how she got mixed up with so many different shady men, and ultimately, how she dies. Director Lewis Allen keeps things moving briskly while creating some classic noir images.

Despite being second-billed, Donna Reed doesn’t even show up until the 20-minute mark, and then only in flashbacks. As Adams asks people who knew Rosita about her life, the film flashes back to when she was alive. I never quite bought her as a woman involved with so many shady people. But Ladd is good as the reporter and the plot keeps you guessing.

Last and probably least is Iron Man (1951), which has nothing to do with the Marvel character and everything to do with a tough boxer. Jeff Chandler stars as Coke Mason, a Pennsylvania coal miner who wants nothing more than to earn enough money to own a little store, to get married, and to start a family. When one of the other miners starts something, the boys tell them to have their fight in the boxing ring. Coke is unskilled but burns with an unrelenting anger. Watching him tear into the other man, Coke’s brother, George (Stephen McNally), who is a bit of a schemer, figures he can turn Coke’s fury into a money-making fighter.

A little coaxing from his wife (Evelyn Keyes) gets him inside the ring on the regular, but his heart isn’t in it. He doesn’t like training and he doesn’t learn the ropes. He’s completely unskilled but when he gets inside the ring and hears the audience laughing (or later outright booing him), he sees red and turns into an animal. He’s not really a dirty fighter, but he’s not a clean one either. When he’s in a state of fury, he just keeps punching until he’s pulled away, regardless of what the ref says or if the fighter is still standing.

A big-time newspaper sports reporter (Jim Backus) writes some nasty things about the way Coke fights and the crowds love to hate him (but they show up in droves). Fearing he’ll eventually kill someone, Coke eventually wants out of the game, but some back alley shenanigans with a gangster keep him punching.

I’m not much for boxing pictures and this one doesn’t do anything particularly interesting with it. Stephen McNally is great as the always scheming brother and a young Rock Hudson shows up as Coke’s super-clean boxing friend, but mostly this is a snore.

I think I say it every time I review one of these sets from Kino Lorber but I’m thrilled they keep releasing them. They are a fantastic resource for discovering relatively obscure film noirs, and that’s a fantastic thing. Each film comes with at least one audio commentary and a plethora of trailers for other Kino Lorber releases.

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Mat Brewster

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