Sunday, March 11, 2018

THE KILLER IS LOOSE (1956)

United Artists, 73m 8s


By the mid-1950s, film noir was 10 years removed from the stylized compositions that marked the ominous tone of the classic years. Exaggerated shadows and oblique camera angles had given way to a more naturalistic approach to the crime film. The 1950s would become noted for police procedurals in the vein of the popular television series DRAGNET. THE KILLER IS LOOSE fits that category to be sure, though it is far more fascinating as a character study of its hopelessly unbalanced criminal Leon Poole (Wendell Corey). Though not an exercise in noir style, THE KILLER IS LOOSE treads noir water through the anatomization of its escaped killer Leon, with an emphasis on the mental anguish that motivates his behavior. Leon is one of film noir's walking dead, a man with nothing to lose driven mad by a traumatic past.

Though Leon plays the role of meek bank teller, it is quickly ascertained he is a heist team member also. As local law enforcement officials converge on Leon's modest dwelling, his wife Doris (Martha Crawford, uncredited) is shot dead mistakenly by Detective Sam Wagner (Joseph Cotten). For his crucial part in an inside job, Leon receives multiple ten-year sentences to brood in prison, where he will think only of vengeance. If he lost his wife, why should the man behind her death get to keep his? By any means necessary, Leon is determined to do away with Sam's pregnant wife Lila (Rhonda Fleming, some 18 years the junior of Joseph Cotten, and it is painfully evident).




After three years of good behavior brings Leon to low-security farm labor, his revenge mission reveals a callous attitude toward his fellow man. First prisoner number 791181 violently commandeers a cargo truck by way of a detached hoe blade, next he opportunistically employs a sickle to eliminate (off-screen, thankfully) the world’s most unfortunate farmer. As Leon prepares to deal with the unseen farmer, an approaching thunderstorm accompanies his dark thoughts. It is a tense scene that strongly suggests meal-oriented police officers like Denny (Alan Hale Jr.) will struggle to contain the wrath of Leon.

Like THE BLUE DAHLIA (1946), HIGH WALL (1947), THE CROOKED WAY (1949) and ACT OF VIOLENCE (1949), THE KILLER IS LOOSE is another noir narrative that features a veteran with some type of deficiency. Vision is Leon's major physical limitation. Dependent on bifocals, his nearsightedness is put on display at regular intervals. When we first meet Leon, he is stuck waiting on Otto Flanders (John Larch), who served as Leon's sergeant in the military. "Otto used to make my life miserable," Leon bitterly admits. Otto condescendingly tagged the clumsy, vision-impaired Leon with the nickname "Foggy" and still refers to him by that name (not knowing when to stop ensures Otto’s demise). Leon discloses he was treated similarly by insensitive schoolmates, so in truth the origin of his malaise lies not in war, but childhood trauma. Leon's wife was the lone person in his life who never laughed at him, who never made him feel unimportant. None of this should let Leon off the hook entirely though, since he is indeed a murderer of innocents. He even kills a man whose wife stands nearby! Nonetheless, THE KILLER IS LOOSE forces one to consider the psychology of its killer in a Freudian sense. The obvious message is a timeless one:  the most thoughtless among us ostracize people who are harmlessly different and thus help manufacture mentally challenged cases like Leon.




Director Budd Boetticher builds suspense admirably in this fast-moving revenge story, adapted for the screen by Harold Medford from a story by John Hawkins and Ward Hawkins (THE SATURDAY EVENING POST, June 13th, 1953). Best remembered for his Westerns that starred Randolph Scott, Boetticher is not known for his contributions to the film noir genre, though he did direct BEHIND LOCKED DOORS (1948), a notable entry. THE KILLER IS LOOSE is precisely the type of B production noir fans crave. Though it lacks the classic look of '40s noir, it is not without prevailing noir themes and motifs, as when heavy rainfall accents the final act. But more than anything else, this movie's noir credentials are established by its quirky villain.

Wendell Corey, so effective as the lead protagonist in HELL'S HALF ACRE (1954), offers a well-controlled performance as Leon, a dangerously disturbed man who is not entirely unsympathetic. Corey is chilling when he stares at Fleming after his character’s sentence is declared. The Leon character has a definite antecedent in Eddie Miller (Arthur Franz), the unhinged veteran and killer of Edward Dmytryk's outstanding film noir THE SNIPER (1952). The strong suggested violence of THE KILLER IS LOOSE may have its origin in WITHOUT WARNING! (1952), in which Carl Martin (Adam Williams) disposes of his victims with garden shears. In terms of influence on films that would come later, the basic template of THE KILLER IS LOOSE anticipates CAPE FEAR (1962), the more famous film about a man after the family of the man he believes wronged him. And when a stalking Leon impersonates a woman near the end of THE KILLER IS LOOSE, he may have been the inspiration for one of the more strikingly violent sequences built around Max Cady (Robert De Niro) in the neonoir CAPE FEAR (1991), the Martin Scorsese-helmed remake of the 1962 version. The docile looking, borderline feminine Leon also predates two of the most famous movie killers who would change the face of horror forever:  Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) from PSYCHO (1960) and Mark Lewis (Karlheinz Böhm) from PEEPING TOM (1960).

The single-layered Blu-ray disc available from ClassicFlix may be the only credible version of THE KILLER IS LOOSE available for purchase. The feature presentation looks to have been scanned from stellar source material, framed at the intended theatrical scope of 1.85:1. Though void of supplementary material, the inexpensive disc is a worthy add.

The theatrical poster tagline that reads, “The story of a cop who used his wife as bait for a killer!” does not reflect the plot mechanics accurately.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

RAW DEAL (1948)

Eagle-Lion Films, 78m 35s


Faced with the annoying prospect of another three years behind bars before a parole hearing, Joe Sullivan (Dennis O'Keefe in an impressive turn) narrowly escapes from the state penitentiary with the support of his girlfriend Pat Regan (Claire Trevor). After their getaway vehicle is slowed by prison guard gunfire, the two seek shelter at the residence of Joe's caseworker Ann Martin (Marsha Hunt). Familiar film noir visual treatments symbolically entrap Joe in Ann's home, where imprisoning shadows cast by venetian blinds cause one to question whether Joe has found freedom. That same sense of enclosure will travel with him in this compelling noir road movie.

RAW DEAL challenges film noir character types in its tightly-drawn story of an escaped convict and two females. Somewhat surprisingly to the first-time viewer, the film is as concerned about its female characters as it is its male lead, perhaps even more so. It transcends the reinforcement of female archetypes routinely associated with a genre well known for its vampish women and their good girl opposites. RAW DEAL evinces the complexity of fragmented human personalities, as well as the profound impact one person may have on another, especially when least expected.

Claire Trevor is a strikingly beautiful woman who looks like nobody else, but there is nothing ornamental about her role in this Eagle-Lion Films production. In fact it is implied Pat is the lead protagonist, not the male character Joe. She is the first person we meet, and we even briefly see from her perspective after the opening credits roll. The rivalry between the two major females is annunciated during the opening prison visitation segment, when Pat is shifted to the darkness after she is told her man Joe already has a visitor. The composition that suddenly converts Pat into a silhouette sets the stage for the remainder of a film noir that shows an unusual degree of partisanship toward its bad girl. Pat's narration both opens and closes the film, and the persistence of that narration consistently informs the tone. The argument that Pat is the lead protagonist is validated best by her increasing noir sense of paranoia that she has lost Joe to Ann. Even in the early going, the presence of Ann causes Pat to question Joe's feelings for her. Like the fugitive portrayed by Whit Bissell, who destroyed the person he loved, Pat essentially does the same thing when she sends Joe to Ann's rescue in the final act. More than anything else, RAW DEAL emphasizes how the events of the story impact Pat, and that it is her sensibilities that decide the film's conclusion. RAW DEAL adopts her viewpoint via not only her narration but sustained reaction shots that stress her feeling of unease and encourage the audience to feel for her.




Ann is an idealistic brunette whose perfume bewitches Joe. She is set up as a more positive influence on Joe than Pat, the blonde from the mean streets cloaked in black. Ann researched Joe's past enough to discover he was commended for his moral character as a youth. She still sees his potential to be a good man. Not long after Joe's escape from incarceration, Ann sits in the front seat of a vehicle conspicuously between Pat and Joe as the three try to evade a police dragnet. An emotional turning point occurs for Ann when she recognizes Joe was prepared to kill a park ranger rather than be discovered. Thoroughly disgusted, Ann predicts Joe's inevitable demise after witnessing his telling look of self preservation. But an even more crucial defining moment transpires when Ann shoots Joe's would-be attacker, and thus authenticates her capacity to kill. She may not have eliminated her target, but she is forced to wrestle with the idea she is not as different from Joe and his kind as she would like to have believed. As she endeavors to distance herself from the criminal lifestyle embodied by Joe and Pat, Ann delivers a speech that amounts to a declaration of old-fashioned working class principles. Despite such posturing, in the very next scene she confirms her affiliation with Joe is legit.




If RAW DEAL sees Joe and his female admirers in shades of gray, San Francisco-based villain Rick Coyle (Raymond Burr) is outlined in pure black and white. The uncompromising boss character may as well be known as "Big Rick" given the many low camera angles that accentuate his stout frame. Joe wound up in prison after taking the rap for Rick, who owes Joe fifty grand. Rick unsurprisingly has no intention of coughing up that kind of cash; instead he helps facilitate Joe's prison exit under the mathematically solid assumption that Joe would be shot dead. When that does not play out, Rick puts pressure on his in-house thugs Fantail (John Ireland) and Spider (Curt Conway) to assist in bringing down Joe. Rick is introduced properly when he uses his cigarette lighter to playfully inflame Spider's ear. For the remainder of the narrative the neurotic personality Rick will be associated with fire. In the most disturbing example of that connection, he pitches a flaming cherries jubilee at fun-loving blonde Marcy (Chili Williams). The viewer is treated to her perspective. This scene predates the similar but far more famous hot coffee sequence from THE BIG HEAT (1953). In another instance of Rick's use of fire to keep women under control, a stone-faced Rick threatens Ann with his cigarette lighter (the ensuing torture sequence occurs off camera). In a brief moment of assumed triumph, Rick lights candles when he believes Joe has been executed. That celebration is short-lived, as a room engulfed in flames mocks Rick's decisively downward trajectory. As for Joe, in contrast to the "poor slob" of a murderer who by all counts deserved his fate, Joe earns our sympathy after his confrontation with the irredeemable man who betrayed him. As both men lie physically defeated, the women survive a little wiser, both having acknowledged sides of themselves they had not accessed prior to Joe's prison break.

As was typical of the genre in the late 1940s, this noir film combines the influence of German Expressionism with the documentary realism movement of the time. Director of photography John Alton’s location footage in California includes San Quentin State Prison, Chatsworth, Pacific Coast Highway and Westward Beach, but as usual, his most evocative coverage involves dimly lit interior settings. Alton's work darkly shines within the rural home of Oscar (Harry Tyler), where the great potential of black & white cinematography cannot be disputed. The sequence in the taxidermy shop is equally well conceived. RAW DEAL belongs on any list of film noirs that do not depend on a primarily urban setting.




The culmination of 400 hours of restorative work, this ClassicFlix release marks the Blu-ray debut of RAW DEAL, and the third ClassicFlix restoration to celebrate the team of producer Edward Small, director Anthony Mann and ace cinematographer John Alton. This film was not quite the box office triumph of their prior effort T-MEN (1947), but profitable nonetheless. A 2K resolution transfer of a 35mm nitrate fine grain element, RAW DEAL now looks better than a B film of its vintage probably has a right. Framing is at 1.33:1 (the original theatrical aspect ratio was 1.37:1 according to IMDb.com). There are no issues with the uncompressed mono soundtrack.






Supplemental material includes an audio commentary track by film historian Jeremy Arnold, who posits Anthony Mann made choices as a filmmaker that subtly work on the viewer, without that person necessarily being aware of it. Arnold reveals the original story "Corkscrew Alley" by Audrey Ashley and Arnold B. Armstrong differed considerably from the screen treatment ultimately devised by screenwriters Leopold Atlas and John C. Higgins. Changes to their screenplay were recommended by Hays Code enforcer Joseph Breen, who observed little redeeming moral value in the concept. The scenes that featured policemen were requested by Breen, and those scenes seem to be of less importance to Mann. Arnold also identifies the use of the theremin by composer Paul Sawtell to highlight tense moments. Sawtell scored an immense list of gritty film noirs, including THE DEVIL THUMBS A RIDE (1947), BORN TO KILL (1947), DESPERATE (1947), T-MEN (1947), WALK A CROOKED MILE (1948), BODYGUARD (1948), THE THREAT (1949), ROADBLOCK (1951) and KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL (1952).

A couple of worthy little featurettes cover a lot of ground in short order. "Deadly is the Male:  The Making of Raw Deal" (9m 6s) gathers estimable film historians Julie Kirgo, Courtney Joyner and Alan K. Rode for an instructive discussion of the film's production history and the contributors who made it possible. "Dennis O’Keefe:  An Extraordinary Ordinary Guy" (5m 39s) features Jim O’Keefe, who reviews his father's career in the entertainment business. There is an image gallery loaded with an assortment of publicity stills and posters, and a split-screen comparison (5m 30s) that highlights the tremendous restorative work that went into this now definitive version of RAW DEAL. The expected assortment of trailers is available, and the Blu-ray case holds a 24-page booklet essay by author Max Alvarez (THE CRIME FILMS OF ANTHONY MANN [2013]) complete with stills, posters and assorted production material.


According to their website, ClassicFlix produced only 5,000 copies of this collectible Blu-ray. Film noir enthusiasts should consider this a mandatory purchase.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

ACT OF VIOLENCE (1949)

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 82m 5s


This airtight film noir develops an unsettling premise that pits an obsessed loner against a devoted family man. As the showdown begins, a man with a persistent limp grabs a handgun and a small handbag before he boards a Greyhound bus bound for Los Angeles. That man is Joe Parkson (Robert Ryan), and most certainly he is a determined man with a singular purpose. When he disembarks the bus out West, his progress is slowed by a Memorial Day parade of marching veterans. That interruption nicely sets up the story of a disenfranchised soldier whose life has stalled since WWII. Cut to Frank R. Enley (Van Heflin), flanked by his wife Edith (Janet Leigh) and young son Georgie. Enley is positioned as the polar opposite of Parkson. A commanding officer during the war, today Enley is a beloved man, honored for his involvement in the recent completion of a housing project. He then heads out of town for a fishing excursion, but abruptly returns home when he learns a fella with a limp is on his trail. Edith wants some simple answers as to what is going on, but her husband offers nothing of the sort:

"Edith, a lot of things happened in the war that you wouldn't understand. Why should you? I don't understand them myself."

After Enley returns from his aborted fishing trip, never again is he shown in the high-key lighting that characterizes his introductory sequence. Darkness will follow him relentlessly throughout the remainder of the narrative.




Like many other film noirs of the 1940s, ACT OF VIOLENCE questions the status of the war hero in post-war America. More specifically, can a man who experienced the horrors of military conflict ever return to a civilian existence? From the time Enley realizes his past is closing in on him, he becomes an edgy, paranoid mess that has obvious parallels to a film industry under HUAC scrutiny. His dark past concerns his role in an emotionally stirring event that involved atrocities committed against POWs in Nazi Germany. Enley and Parkson were confined to the same prison camp during the war, and Enley made a decision that precipitated US soldier casualties. Despite a loving family and an upstanding reputation in the community, Enley is as cornered as any noir protagonist to be condemned by a past transgression. There are things from which we cannot move on, there are broken things that cannot be fixed.

ACT OF VIOLENCE is among the most haunting film noirs that sprout from a tragic past that cannot be undone. Van Heflin is outstanding as Enley, a selfish heel masquerading as a selfless hero. A versatile actor, Van Heflin portrayed other noir heels convincingly in POSSESSED (1947) and THE PROWLER (1951). Robert Ryan is equally well cast in the role of the trenchcoat stalker Parkson, who is curt with everyone he encounters as he concentrates fully on his mission of vengeance. I love the way Parkson laughs at the idea of backing off in return for Enley's net business worth. Unlike Enley, Parkson cannot be bought. The Parkson character anticipates the volatile Max Cady (Robert Mitchum) from CAPE FEAR (1962).

Director Fred Zinnemann displays a tremendous eye for details that enhance the drama, as when Parkson, so anxious to confront Enley, opens the taxi door before the vehicle stops in front of the Enley home. Later it is Enley who cannot wait for his taxi to stop completely. Such behavior reflects the pervasiveness of the noir atmosphere, which is not limited to urban locales. Here the (fictitious) small town of Santa Lisa meets sudden disruption that will have a lasting impact on one of its key families. The suburban setting aside, the most distinctly noir visual schemes transpire with Enley facing alienation in a massive environment of alleys, stairways and city streets. It is one of the best "on the run" sequences of the noir canon, lensed by director of photography Robert Surtees in the Bunker Hill section of LA. That sequence brings Enley to Pat (Mary Astor), a prostitute in semi-retirement who factors in Enley's redemption.




The filmmakers are not content to stop with strong imagery, either. Various sound effects heighten Enley's feeling of entrapment, especially at his own home, where the sound of Parkson limping outside the place is creepy indeed. Also at the homestead, an alarm clock impersonates a ticking time bomb, while a swinging pendulum fulfills a similar function. Wind whips ominously through the city streets, and inside a large road tunnel, Enley succumbs to inescapable guilt as he cries out in desperation. The road tunnel sequence alludes to the unseen tunnel debacle in which American soldiers were slaughtered by Nazis. In both instances, cries go without an answer. After an appropriate buildup, the film delivers the type of conclusion best reserved for the film noir. The screenplay was written by Robert L. Richards (THE LAST CROOKED MILE [1946]), who adapted the story by Collier Young (THE HITCH-HIKER [1953], PRIVATE HELL 36 [1954]).


A must-see film noir, ACT OF VIOLENCE is readily available on DVD through Warner Archive. I presume it is the identical disc included with FILM NOIR CLASSIC COLLECTION VOL. 4, released by Warner in 2007, which was the basis for this review. The DVD includes the groundbreaking MYSTERY STREET (1950), another unique and fascinating film noir, along with multiple commentary tracks, featurettes and theatrical trailers.


Tuesday, December 26, 2017

SHIELD FOR MURDER (1954)

United Artists, 82m 6s


"Dame-hungry killer-cop runs berserk!" promises this film noir's theatrical poster. That tagline says a lot about this one. SHIELD FOR MURDER is a watchable entry in the noir genre, though disappointingly devoid of the style and technical craft of the category's best entries.

The apparent cheapness of the production leaps from the screen early, when the unmistakable shadow of a boom mic delivers a black eye to the film's opening segment. Opportunistic 36-year-old cop Barney Nolan (Edmond O'Brien) guns down a bookie in possession of a hefty $25K while deaf mute Ernst Sternmueller (David Hughes) witnesses the killing. Nolan attempts to cover his murderous tracks, but his stable mates are suspicious, and with excellent reason. Nolan has a dark history of abusing his authority. "Court maybe he'd have got 30 days," laments Nolan's protégé Mark Brewster (John Agar). Police reporter Cabot (Herbert Butterfield) has had it with Nolan's tactics and seems determined to reveal the truth about him.




Without surprise, Nolan's actions are motivated by an attractive woman who looks a whole lot younger than him. Patty Winters (Marla English) gets a classic film noir intro for a hot dame (legs first). She has just accepted a new position as a sexy cigarette girl, which seriously angers Nolan. Like most men, Nolan wants a good-looking woman on his arm, but no other man should notice her. He plans to relocate her from the decadent urban jungle to a new suburban home equipped with all the modern conveniences of the day. That is where that $25K stash is intended to become useful for Nolan, though its rightful owner Packy Reed (Hugh Sanders) understandably would like his funds returned. All too aware of what really happened the night of the shooting, Reed gives Nolan the opportunity to return the money, but Nolan resists in the doomed hope of an easy life with Winters. As he feels his world combusting around him, Nolan delivers one of those speeches emblematic of the embattled noir protagonist:

"For 16 years I've been a cop, Patty. For 16 years I've been living in dirt, and take it from me, some of it's bound to rub off on you. You get to hate people; everyone you meet. I'm sick of them..."

By 1954, SHIELD FOR MURDER must have felt overly derivative to its audience. The screenplay co-authored by Richard Alan Simmons (FEMALE ON THE BEACH [1955]) and John C. Higgins (T-MEN [1947], RAW DEAL [1948]) draws from numerous "bad cop" noir films, including THE PROWLER (1951) and especially WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS (1950), both of which developed more textured protagonists. An assortment of other film noirs are referenced as well, i.e. the infamous stairway scene from KISS OF DEATH (1947), the sequence at a public pool from HE RAN ALL THE WAY (1951) and the accidental killing of someone who knows too much in SCANDAL SHEET (1952). Other noir films released in 1954 that focused on tarnished cops included PUSHOVER (1954), PRIVATE HELL 36 (1954) and ROGUE COP (1954).




The utilitarian nature of the compositions captured by Gordon Avil makes one wonder what ace cinematographers like John Alton or Nicholas Musuraca could have brought to the material. As directed by Howard W. Koch and Edmond O'Brien, there is little visual style to observe in SHIELD FOR MURDER other than the frequent use of low camera angles so typical of the film noir style. Under their tutelage performances range from satisfactory to perfunctory, although I love the presence of a spunky blonde barfly (Carolyn Jones) who does not even know who bruised her arm. The sequence that features Nolan and the blonde leads to a terrific beatdown when Nolan flattens goons Fat Michaels (Claude Akins) and Laddie O'Neil (Lawrence Ryle). There is also a fair amount of intense gunfire, especially during the pool sequence, the film's definite highlight. As an actor, O'Brien is at his paranoid best in the film's final act, even if the end result of the concluding "on the run" sequence is entirely predictable.




The single-layered Blu-ray disc available from Kino Lorber is consistent with their usual high standards for re-mastered HD presentations, framed at 1.78:1 (the packaging indicates 1.75:1, the same aspect ratio indicated as the original theatrical scope on IMDb.com). A batch of trailers is it as far as the extras go.

Friday, November 17, 2017

T-MEN (1947)

Eagle-Lion Films, 92m 17s


On a budget of $434 thousand, T-MEN raked in $2 million at the box office to become the most commercially successful release from Eagle-Lion Films, one of the finest of Hollywood's "Poverty Row" studios. The B film also was received well critically, and was the subject of a feature by LIFE. With the persistent narration that was typical of the noir docudrama approach, T-MEN covers the Shanghai Paper Case, a fictitious investigation based on an amalgam of actual cases.

The story involves a complex counterfeiting web pursued by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, a federal arm created in 1789, as confirmed in an introductory segment built around Elmer Lincoln Irey. As Chief of the Treasury Department's Internal Revenue Service Enforcement Branch, Irey led the charge against Al Capone's Chicago Outfit. According to Irey, whose presence is intended to lend authenticity to the action about to unfold, various divisions of the U.S. Department of the Treasury have gathered the evidence necessary to convict roughly 2/3 of the prison population. With the government department's credibility firmly established, the men assigned to the counterfeiting case are Dennis O'Brien (Dennis O'Keefe) and Tony Genaro (Alfred Ryder). The investigation has been frustrating, and has hit numerous dead ends along the way. Working under the aliases of Vannie Harrigan (O'Brien) and Tony Galvani (Genaro), the tandem heads to Detroit with plans of being recruited by known racketeer Vantucci (Anton Kosta), who may be connected with the counterfeiting operation.



Like most police procedurals, T-MEN depicts an unrelenting law enforcement agency that is organized, well-staffed and incredibly efficient. As written by John C. Higgins, based on the original story by Virginia Kellogg, leadership is determined, agents are resourceful and crime laboratory technicians unearth a vast assortment of information from seemingly trivial clues. The agent's job is one of selfless duty and family sacrifice for a modest salary. Dedicated undercover agents spend countless hours on tedious research and dutiful follow-up on any and all leads ("Every angle, however slight, must be carefully checked."). Both O'Brien and Genaro endure plenty of stress and rough abuse in the line of duty. An agent even is willing to offer his life if necessary in the interest of dismantling a sophisticated organized crime network. The obvious takeaway is that even the slickest of criminals stands no chance versus the meticulous prep work and tenacious determination of the federal law enforcement system.





Director of photography John Alton, a name film noir fans should recognize, expertly utilizes high-contrast lighting to accent the danger of dark alleys, crummy apartments and assorted locales where illegal activities take place. He honors the textbook noir visual style of the 1940s in the early going, when an informant named Shorty (Curt Conway) is gunned down before he can provide any information. Other telltale noir settings well captured by Alton include the Club Trinidad, precipitous staircases and those hazy steam rooms, especially when The Schemer (Wallace Ford) dies a painful death while doing something he loved, a noir death if ever there were one. Director Anthony Mann proves his acumen for staging tough-guy sequences, though he forgets where to place his camera when O'Brien obviously pulls his punch at Moxie (Charles McGraw). This was the first official pairing of Mann and Alton, who would team up again for RAW DEAL (1948) and BORDER INCIDENT (1949), both outstanding examples of the noir form. They also worked together on the influential HE WALKED BY NIGHT (1948), though directorial credit was assigned to Alfred L. Werker. Narrator Reed Hadley lent his vocal talents to a considerable sample of noir entries, such as THE HOUSE ON 92ND STREET (1945), 13 RUE MADELEINE (1946), BOOMERANG! (1947), WALK A CROOKED MILE (1948) and HE WALKED BY NIGHT. And though neither has a large role, appearances by Jane Randolph (CAT PEOPLE [1942]) and Art Smith (IN A LONELY PLACE [1950]) always are appreciated.




The stunning Blu-ray version of T-MEN now available through boutique label ClassicFlix puts my old Roan Group Archival Entertainment DVD to shame. I did not notice a flaw of any sort in this restored 1080P single-layered Blu-ray edition, faithfully framed at the original theatrical scope of 1.37:1 and complimented by the uncompressed mono soundtrack. Supplemental material starts with a new audio commentary track from film noir historian Alan K. Rode, who notes that T-MEN made its Hollywood premier on Christmas Day(!) in 1947. Rode confirms that director Anthony Mann considered T-MEN his first film, despite his dozen prior directorial credits. T-MEN was the first film over which the director felt he maintained creative responsibility and control. Rode points out some of the various locations that serve as the backdrop, including Ocean Park Pier, Farmers Market (still thriving!) and Sheraton Town House. Rode takes advantage of the many opportunities the film provides to identify noir visual tropes, i.e. low camera angles, the arrangement of actors within the frame, and above all else the magnificent interplay between light and shadow. Each screening of T-MEN creates a deeper impression of just how little light is utilized to create many of the film's most iconic images. My favorite observation from Rode really captures the essence of this film, and the noir movement in general:  "With Alton and Mann in this movie, everyone emerges from the dark into the light."



The genre-defining technical achievements of the Alton/Mann combination are examined further in the featurette "Into the Darkness: Mann, Alton and T-MEN" (10m 38s). Testimonials from Rode, THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER film critic Todd McCarthy, film historian Julie Kirgo, cinematographer Richard Crudo and screenwriter C. Courtney Joyner describe how Alton and Mann set the noir tone with minimalist setups. Their approach was not conventional at the time T-MEN was in production. Alton preferred simple light bulbs to the large overhead light fixtures that illuminated most studio soundstages. Mann was similar-minded when it came to camera positioning; his camera seldom moved other than for the occasional tracking shot of a character.



In the interview segment "A Director's Daughter: Nina Mann Remembers" (9m 18s), Mann discusses her father's fascinating filmmaking career in the context of how recurring themes and motifs reflect his background. For her, to watch his films is to explore his life. She claims her father merely thought of himself as a journeyman, not the great artist he is considered today.

Contained within the Blu-ray case is a well-illustrated 24-page booklet with an essay by Max Alvarez, author of THE CRIME FILMS OF ANTHONY MANN (2013). Without question, this ClassicFlix edition of T-MEN is likely to remain the definitive version of the film for a long time.