Sunday, November 28, 2021

THE WINDOW (1949)

RKO Radio Pictures, 73m 27s

An underappreciated cult classic, THE WINDOW effectively merges film noir, fantasy and horror elements. Such a collision of genres was not unexplored territory at RKO, where Val Lewton left his indelible mark with CAT PEOPLE (1942), I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE (1943), THE LEOPARD MAN (1943), THE SEVENTH VICTIM (1943), THE GHOST SHIP (1943), THE CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE (1944), THE BODY SNATCHER (1945), ISLE OF THE DEAD (1945) and BEDLAM (1946). Not sure if Mr. Lewton was familiar with the title under review, but it is probably safe to assume he would have approved. Rooted in one of Aesop's Fables ("The Boy Who Cried Wolf"), the considerable amount of suspense offered by THE WINDOW is as palpable as the Manhattan summer heat that accents the proceedings.

Amidst abandoned tenements of New York City, Tommy (Bobby Driscoll) passes the time with other area kids. The boy has an active imagination and a bad habit of making up stories that travel, which leads to the mistaken notion his family is leaving the neighborhood. Embarrassed by an unexpected visit from their building manager, Mary and Ed Woodry (Barbara Hale, Arthur Kennedy) scold their son for his long history of untruths. That evening Tommy ventures outside to sleep on the fire escape due to the uncomfortable seasonal temperature. He climbs to his apartment building's next level in search of a comforting breeze, but instead of rest he finds a struggle between a sailor (Richard Benedict) and the upstairs apartment's tenants, Joe and Jean Kellerson (Paul Stewart, Ruth Roman). The scuffle culminates with what appears to be a fatal scissors stabbing. Tommy reports the evening's shocking brutality to his mother, who of course does not believe one word of it. She writes it off as a bad dream, but Tommy knows better. As the boy sticks to his rendition of what took place, it costs him his lunch and dinner, and potentially a lot more after Mary marches her boy upstairs to apologize to the Kellersons for the supposedly malicious lies he has told about them. Tommy rightly fears he might end up squashed like a bug under a shoe now that the Kellersons are aware he knows far too much to be ignored.



From an analytical standpoint, Mary Woodry might be onto something with her interpretation of her son's disturbing account of nighttime at the Kellersons, especially since the film's introduction of Tommy captures him awakening from an apparent nightmare. Indeed there is an element of the fantastic woven into the narrative, a uniquely urban nightmare that only could transpire in a sprawling, impersonal city. NYC is comprised of an incredibly intricate network of structures, from which rooftops, fire escapes and clotheslines interconnect. Among the living areas are deserted buildings that function as playgrounds for children. Fire trucks, squad vehicles and streetcars punctuate the atmosphere each day. It is the type of setting where the family patriarch might work the night shift, building managers have endless tenancy concerns and police detectives are handed information about killers but are unable to capitalize on it. The hectic urban environment is an ideal place for a vile criminal couple like the Kellersons to call home. No doubt they have fooled Mr. and Mrs. Woodry for some time; neither Mary nor Ed can imagine anything earth-shattering connected with Joe or Jean, a supposedly unassuming pair. But Tommy is more right about the Kellersons than he probably realizes; the man who dies at the Kellersons likely was lured there by the sexuality of Jean, one of the genre's alluring, exceptionally dangerous spider women. The nocturnal sequence in which she makes her way toward Tommy's bedroom via the fire escape is nothing short of chilling. Also frightening is the scene in which Joe punches out Tommy in the back of a taxi cab. With such activity playing out from a child's perspective, THE WINDOW could be excused were it to wrap up with one of those "it was only a dream" conclusions.




Other noir elements command the viewer's attention, though not in quite the same context as the noir fan has been trained to expect. Grade-schooler Tommy is this story's lead protagonist forced to contend with endless adversity, in this case through some fault of his own. As he grapples with his place in an uncompromising urban jungle, Tommy is guided by an unbreakable moral compass, the same sort of inner strength that drives numerous noir leading men who emerged after Samuel Spade (Humphrey Bogart) in THE MALTESE FALCON (1941). Tommy's fanciful storytelling tendencies aside, his parents have ingrained a strong sense of right and wrong in their son. The boy's potentially fatal flaw is his track record of not being truthful, which cannot be undone. Expressed in noir terms, his tall tales have fueled a dark past that rises to threaten his very existence. The flawed individual immersed in textbook noir terrain (the sweltering heat of the big city), Tommy is fatalistically pushed in the direction of the Kellerson dwelling. After the murder he so fatefully observes, Tommy discovers his road to redemption will be tortuous to navigate.



After industrialist Howard Hughes purchased RKO in 1948, THE WINDOW was among the completed products Hughes considered unworthy of theatrical release. It sat on the shelf for almost two years. Once released it proved to be a popular item that earned several times its production cost. The development of THE WINDOW was overseen by Dore Schary, who served in a production capacity for noir heavy hitters that include THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE (1946), THEY LIVE BY NIGHT (1948), THE SET-UP (1949) and WALK SOFTLY, STRANGER (1950), a personal favorite. Director Ted Tetzlaff is best remembered for his long career as a cinematographer, with the Alfred Hitchcock noir masterpiece NOTORIOUS (1946) among his many credits. Screenwriter Mel Dinelli was a veteran of the noir narrative, with his first seven assignments all falling under the noir umbrella:  THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE, THE WINDOW, THE RECKLESS MOMENT (1949), HOUSE BY THE RIVER (1950), CAUSE FOR ALARM! (1951), BEWARE, MY LOVELY (1952) and JEOPARDY (1953). Here Dinelli adapts the Cornell Woolrich story "The Boy Cried Murder" (MYSTERY BOOK MAGAZINE, March 1947). The writing of Woolrich provided the backbone for well regarded noir exercises such as THE LEOPARD MAN, PHANTOM LADY (1944), BLACK ANGEL (1946), THE CHASE (1946) and NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES (1948). The expressive black & white cinematography by William O. Steiner combines studio work with location footage in New York's Lower East Side for a convincing noir experience. Without question THE WINDOW would be a lesser achievement had it been filmed in color. The highlight of the final act is a suspenseful chase sequence through an abandon tenement complex that could hold its ground in comparison to any of the genre's many similar finales.

A familiar sighting in the film noir, NYC native Paul Stewart portrayed unrepentant lowlifes with brazen assurance in JOHNNY EAGER (1941), APPOINTMENT WITH DANGER (1950), WALK SOFTLY, STRANGER and KISS ME DEADLY (1955). His brand of evil is especially boundless in this film; his character coldly attempts to murder little Tommy and make it look like an accident. Another of the more capable actors in the film noir firmament, Ruth Roman blended well into noir narratives such as CHAMPION (1949), LIGHTNING STRIKES TWICE (1951), STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (1951), TOMORROW IS ANOTHER DAY (1951) and DOWN THREE DARK STREETS (1954). Here she radiates her usual amount of sex appeal (a lot). Stewart and Roman combine to form a noir couple best avoided by anyone who wants to keep living. Bobby Driscoll was awarded an Academy Juvenile Award for his work in THE WINDOW and SO DEAR TO MY HEART (1948). The child actor best known for live-action productions from Walt Disney Studios would struggle in adulthood with substance abuse. Sadly, and ironically for those familiar with THE WINDOW, he died at the age of 31, his body discovered in an abandoned building in the East Village of Manhattan. Thought to be homeless, Driscoll was buried in an unmarked grave in NYC's Potter's Field on Hart Island. His identity was discovered after the fact.

The Blu-ray edition of THE WINDOW recently made available from Warner Archive looks sharp framed at 1.37:1 but disappointingly offers no supplemental material. Film grain is apparent but minimal. Compared to the 1.35:1 Warner Archive DVD, this Blu-ray presentation reveals more information on all sides of the frame and strikingly superior detail:

Warner Blu-ray

Warner DVD

THE WINDOW would make a nice double feature with director Charles Laughton's THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (1955), another film noir that puts childhood innocence at odds with ruthless adult criminality. Another potential match I have yet to check out is THE BOY CRIED MURDER (1966), a British suspense film based on the same Cornell Woolrich story that inspired THE WINDOW.




Sunday, October 24, 2021

HELL BOUND (1957)

United Artists, 71m 37s

The noir heist film of the 1950s has its origins in THE ASPHALT JUNGLE (1950), a superb effort from director John Huston. Though not a huge commercial success at the time of its release, the Huston film was followed by a number of quality noir heist pics including ARMORED CAR ROBBERY (1950), ROADBLOCK (1951), KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL (1952), 5 AGAINST THE HOUSE (1955), I DIED A THOUSAND TIMES (1955), THE KILLING (1956) and ODDS AGAINST TOMORROW (1959), one of my personal favorites. HELL BOUND may owe a spiritual debt to all of the great heist films that came before it, but director William J. Hole Jr. ensures his contribution to the durable noir subgenre has more than enough grit to stand apart. A potent distillation of the heist film, this turbulent thriller from Bel-Air Productions anticipates the unfiltered violence of the American crime film that would crest in the 1970s, with muscular neo-noirs directed by the likes of Robert Altman, William Friedkin, Arthur Penn, Roman Polanski, Martin Scorsese and Don Siegel.

Confidently armed with a well-researched international drug smuggling scheme, Jordan (the familiar face of John Russell) stands before businessman Harry Quantro (Frank Fenton) with vigor. The operation involves infiltrating a freighter from the Far East bound for the Port of Los Angeles. The plan is green-lighted with one addition in the tantalizing form of Paula (June Blair), a woman who instantly spells trouble. Jordan agrees to inject Paula into the cast of characters necessary to perform the heist. But as the trained noir eye should suspect, the plan of military precision does not translate to perfect execution, thanks mostly to a destabilizing noir atmosphere rich with ironies and irresolvable problems. As the curtain falls on the major protagonist Jordan, prevailing noir forces allow no time for reckoning over what went wrong.



Characters of the heist film tend to be assembled based upon the unique skill set each individual brings to the table. In HELL BOUND, Jordan deliberately brings together people who are flawed, and that speaks to his own flaw as a planner. Herbert Fay Jr. (Stanley Adams) is a health officer who is a diabetic, and that irony is not lost on Herbie. His physician happily informs him he no longer requires insulin shots, that to take one could cause catastrophic heart failure, but Herbert's agreement with Jordan calls for a potentially fatal injection. In the film noir, sometimes what should be good news is really bad news. The viewer is granted a subjective shot from Herbert's disoriented view before he gets a patented noir send off (carted out feet-first). Another flawed recruit is Stanley Thomas (George E. Mather), the "butcher boy" who killed his significant other on the operating table. After he takes a vicious beating from Jordan, Stanley is on board. The unwanted assignment leads Stanley to a strip club to visit the blind dope dealer "Daddy" (Dehl Berti), a memorable noir peripheral character to say the least. Why would a blind man be so excited to be in the presence of a topless dancer? Since "Daddy" cannot see the leggy burlesque performer in front of him, the viewer might assume there will be some touching going on off camera.

The accomplice Jordan didn't ask for is the first to default on her commitment to the heist. Early in the film, it is said Paula has "two heads on her shoulders." One is the beauty, one is the pragmatic thinker. This observation, though not 100% accurate, nicely anticipates her conversion from femme fatale into conscientious maternal figure. Paula undergoes this metamorphosis suddenly, when she witnesses a young boy's death en route to the hospital (a truly chilling moment). It is made clear that under her carapace of sexual confidence is a sensitive, unselfish creature. The duality of woman is referenced again when Paula feels compelled to remind Eddie Mason (Stuart Whitman) she is both a nurse and a woman. In a genre that tends to emphasize woman as strictly one thing or the other, HELL BOUND suggests such categorization is troublesome.


Jordan is a man with an existential belief system, though in fact he does not see himself as a man, at least not in the same sense most of us probably do. "I've got no blood," he tells Paula as he rebuffs her considerable sex appeal. The narcotics acquisition plan comes first; not even a looker like Paula can distract him. The accuracy of his odd self-description is confirmed when he callously runs down an international connection who no longer is of any use to him. Later Jordan victimizes Paula with a vicious knife attack. Jan (Margo Woode), Jordan's original choice for Paula's role in the heist, recognizes that something is amiss when she tells Jordan, "suddenly your whistle is off-key." Though at the time of that quote Jan is not quite in the know about what exactly happened with Paula, her comment tellingly reflects the huge difference between Jordan's planned version of the heist and the actual event. HELL BOUND's concluding sequence is simultaneously predictable and fascinating as criminal activity leads to logical consequences (though the manner in which that certainty reaches its apex scores mega originality points!).

Executive producer Aubrey Schenck, producer Howard W. Koch and Edwin F. Zabel founded Bel-Air Productions, a film factory for low budget fare during the mid-1950s. Koch's meritorious career includes executive producer credit on THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (1962) and producer credit on THE ODD COUPLE (1968). His first films as director both happened to be noirs:  SHIELD FOR MURDER (1954) and BIG HOUSE, U.S.A. (1955). Schenck's debut as producer was the film noir SHOCK (1946). Schenck and Koch also combined talents for T-MEN (1947), an incontestable noir must-see, with Schenck as producer and Koch as assistant director. Cinematographer Carl E. Guthrie had extensive experience capturing noir productions, including his work on BACKFIRE (1950), CAGED (1950), HIGHWAY 301 (1950) and HOLLYWOOD STORY (1951). Location footage is crucial to HELL BOUND's tone, particularly the industrial landscapes that compose the waterfront of Terminal Island between the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, where overhead shots minimize a man in relation to his surroundings. The byzantine complexity of a cargo ship gives shape to the film's final act, even more impactful is the footage of Jordan on the run within the streetcar cemetery near Southern Pacific Railyard, an inspired choice of scenery for this film noir's resolution. A familiar face to fans of the Western, John Russell appeared in a number of film noirs of interest, such as SOMEWHERE IN THE NIGHT (1946), UNDERTOW (1949) and HOODLUM EMPIRE (1952). June Blair was PLAYBOY magazine's Playmate of the Month within the January 1957 issue.



Like the best examples of the genre always seem to offer, HELL BOUND has its share of moments that are sure to stick with you, and it withstands repeat viewings without issue. Hopefully a Blu-ray release of this top-shelf B noir will become available at some point in the future. The print shown on TCM is less than ideal but perhaps the best available source material out there. The option available via Amazon Prime appears to be derived from the same print.


Sunday, September 26, 2021

I WOULDN'T BE IN YOUR SHOES (1948)

Monogram Pictures, 70m 44s

Film noir builds many rooms atop consistent pillars, its support structure provided by post-WWII malaise, fatalistic themes, atmospheric cinematography and, perhaps most important, attention devoted to ordinary people (this could happen to you!). That last pillar is tested in I WOULDN'T BE IN YOUR SHOES, a serviceable noir programmer from Monogram Pictures.

After an introductory segment that emphasizes the time-sensitive nature of what we are about to witness, the story gets underway in New York City within a tiny studio apartment where the beds are one step from the entrance. It is a hot July night, and Tom Quinn (Don Castle) is upset his wife Ann (Elyse Knox) has yet to return home from work. He imagines she is being pursued by any number of men who have taken notice of the attractive instructor at Ortiz Dancing Academy. When Ann arrives home safe and sound, the two discuss their stagnant act as a tap dance team. Ann believes if they could get established in California there is still time for them to make it, though Tom feels they would spend more time working in the food service sector than dancing.

The narrative drifts deeper into its noir orbit when Tom tires of nocturnal alley cat noise. He hurls both of his shoes at the screeching felines, but is unable to retrieve his footwear in the darkness. Weirdly, his shoes materialize the next morning. Stranger still, sufficient funds for the husband-wife dance act to relocate in California wind up in Tom's hands, but he recognizes the lost $2000 must be missed by someone. After Ann adopts a "finders keepers" mentality, the couple compromises by watching the lost and found section of local newspapers for a week. They agree to keep the cash in the event no one places an ad in search of it. Nobody raises a flag in search of missing money, but before there is much opportunity for celebration two cops arrest Tom on a murder charge! Circumstantial evidence is sufficient to produce a guilty verdict.




Despite its brief runtime, I WOULDN'T BE IN YOUR SHOES is hardly deficient in necessary noir ingredients. It begins at the end, with a doomed man's narration guiding the viewer through his flashback. A crucial segment of the film underscores Tom's complicity in his dire situation; though his instincts instruct him to turn in the found money, he allows his wife's persuasive influence to prevent that action. As Tom makes his case for doing the right thing, Ann pressures him to keep the money, as if it fell from heaven specifically for their wants and needs (in fact the money is planted to destroy their marriage). Indeed the narrative blames Ann for her husband's death sentence. She even offers herself to the man smitten with her, Police Inspector Clint Judd (Regis Toomey), should he be able to prove Tom's innocence. Interestingly, the sexual control wielded by Ann is both the cause of and solution to Tom's fast-approaching date with the electric chair.

The element of psychological torture that so frequently attaches itself to the noir protagonist erupts at the trial, where Tom cannot hide ("Shoes!" "Shoes!" "Shoes!"). The mental torment continues when the judge sentences Tom to die just after Christmas! Now that is a noir execution. The indifference of the noir universe seems particularly cruel when one considers all the events that stack up against Tom. As always, the many unlikely plot details are best thought of not as coincidence, but fate (not to suggest the story is all that plausible). Another theme consistent with film noir concerns involves the incredible lengths men will go to for the sake of securing a hot-looking woman in the bedroom. Tom's suspicions in the early going prove completely accurate; the "creeps" who gravitate to his wife for dance lessons envision closeness to her beyond the dance floor. On an even more pessimistic note is the film's distrust of law enforcement officials. The system is driven by convictions, not justice. Either downright dirty or disappointingly indifferent, the most disconcerting example of lawman is more interested in economic prosperity with the woman of his dreams than public duty. In marked contrast is the connection the viewer is encouraged to feel for Tom and the other death row inmates. That opening pan from right to left lets us know in no uncertain terms how the filmmakers feel about the death penalty. I WOULDN'T BE IN YOUR SHOES supports the human rights of these condemned men, though animal lovers are sure to note that Tom's spoken wish to kill feral cats coincides with his downward spiral.




Director William Nigh began his career as an actor in 1911 before turning to directing. Like so many others of his time, his career did not benefit from the industry's transition to sound. He would spend his last twenty years in the industry churning out B product for Poverty Row studios like PRC and Monogram. Screenwriter Steve Fisher's vast film noir credits include JOHNNY ANGEL (1945), LADY IN THE LAKE (1946), DEAD RECKONING (1947), ROADBLOCK (1951), CITY THAT NEVER SLEEPS (1953) and HELL'S HALF ACRE (1954). For I WOULDN'T BE IN YOUR SHOES, Fisher adapted the work of noted crime writer Cornell Woolrich (published under the pseudonym "William Irish" in 1943). Fiction authored by Woolrich anchored noir heavyweights such as THE LEOPARD MAN (1943), PHANTOM LADY (1944), THE CHASE (1946) and THE WINDOW (1949). Cinematographer Mack Stengler also worked on FALL GUY (1947), another Woolrich adaptation released the prior year, produced by I WOULDN'T BE IN YOUR SHOES producer Walter Mirisch, who will turn 100 on November 8th, 2021. Don Castle also starred in HIGH TIDE (1947) and THE GUILTY (1947), quality B noirs distributed by Monogram Pictures.




The single-layered Blu-ray recently made available from Warner Archive was derived from excellent source material, especially considering the obscurity of this title. Framing looks appropriate at 1.37:1. Bonus material includes the modestly entertaining short film THE SYMPHONY MURDER MYSTERY (21m 27s, 1932) along with the clever Merrie Melodies cartoon HOLIDAY FOR SHOESTRINGS (7m 22s, 1946). Like I WOULDN'T BE IN YOUR SHOES, the animated feature samples Frederic Chopin.


Sunday, August 29, 2021

THE WEB (1947)

Universal Pictures, 87m 21s

The indispensable Edmond O'Brien was a film noir powerhouse whenever so deployed, tailor-made for a variety of genre characters and settings. With his everyman looks and headstrong attitude, his leading men are sufficiently self-assured to go after what they want, but smart enough to question everything along the way. He could be the sympathetic noir protagonist (D.O.A. [1950], THE HITCH-HIKER [1953]), the less likable lead (711 OCEAN DRIVE [1950]) as well as the outright noir heel (SHIELD FOR MURDER [1954]). In director Michael Gordon's unheralded but supremely competent noir thriller THE WEB, a Universal International Pictures production, O'Brien offers a terrific turn as Bob Regan, the basically good man with a public school education who takes a high-dive plunge into choppy noir waters.

As the opening credits unspool over city streets that lead to Grand Central Station, it is apparent this noir film will be of the urban variety. As Leopold Kroner (Fritz Leiber) returns to New York City after serving a five-year prison stretch for embezzlement, the story begins properly at Andrew Colby Enterprises, where the doggedly determined attorney Regan impresses the international industrialist Colby (Vincent Price at his most threateningly soft-spoken and effeminate) with his unbridled gumption. Not focused on business alone, Regan displays an everlasting supply of self-confidence in his gravitation toward Noel Faraday (Ella Raines, top-billed), Colby's personal secretary of six years. As the "brash" Regan seeks the favor of Faraday, sexual suggestion is sky high.

Regan's earnest professional efforts get him an invitation to Colby's home, where the lawyer is offered $5,000 to serve as Colby's bodyguard for a few weeks. Colby has his concerns about the return of Kroner, his one-time business associate who allegedly sold counterfeit bonds for the sum of $1 million. Though he is hesitant at first to accept the offer, the top-paying temp job allows Regan to be in the presence of Faraday frequently, an obvious plus for any man with a pulse. His attraction to her immediately looks like a serious problem in the making; from the moment he lays eyes on the fair-skinned brunette he makes it perfectly clear he would do just about anything to get her out of her clothes.




Soon enough, Regan must earn that big $5K salary when he guns down Kroner, who inexplicably materializes in Colby's home brandishing a gun. Naturally there is more to the shooting than it at first would seem; Regan suddenly comes to terms with that notion when he is greeted unexpectedly by Kroner's upset daughter Martha (Maria Palmer). Now the noir protagonist epitomized, Regan must ascertain the truth about the shooting with nothing evidentiary to support his position. Considering the amount of money that traded hands around the time of Kroner's death, Lieutenant Damico (William Bendix) will be a tough man to convince that Regan was not a willing hit man.



With an unambiguous title treatment like THE WEB, the viewer should expect to encounter plenty of film noir signifiers and director Michael Gordon does not disappoint. The most noir elements of the film would be the inner workings of Andrew Colby, who shows zero loyalty for the man who did five years for him. Ultimately Colby's feelings for Charles Murdock (John Abbott), another employee, are identical. The murder of Murdock is a wicked noir moment, a man in the wrong place at the worst possible time. With the abrupt expiration of Murdock comes one of the genre's great jump cuts to a construction sign that reads "DANGER:  MEN AT WORK." Indeed the darkest dealings in the noir universe tend to revolve around distinctly masculine concerns. Noel Faraday exudes certain femme fatale traits, mostly in terms of her appearance and employment, and Universal's marketing department played her up as a heartless spider woman. Although not the betrayer the noir viewer is trained to suspect, she delivers a deliciously vampish quote, "...my dangerous beauty depends upon eight hours of sleep." Ella Raines possessed the rare ability to appear both deadly and delicate. A peripheral character who seems well suited to the noir film is James Timothy Nolan (Howland Chamberlain), the obviously gay author and erstwhile contributor to the New York Star who makes a pass at Regan. For that sequence to have evaded censorship is a credit to the subtlety of the studio system, which injected numerous gay characters into noir films from THE MALTESE FALCON (1941) to THE BIG COMBO (1955). Gun control advocates will note Lieutenant Damico is skeptical from the get go that Regan wants a permit to carry a firearm. Those suspicions are confirmed when Regan kills someone with that gun within a mere 24 hours. The film concludes on an upbeat note with Regan and Faraday as the happy couple with their lives in front of them, but one wonders if there is a dark story embedded in that noir fabric, with Regan unable to cope with his complicity in the planned death of Leopold Kroner.



Director Michael Gordon also helmed AN ACT OF MURDER (1948), THE LADY GAMBLES (1949) and WOMAN IN HIDING (1950), all film noirs of merit. Co-screenwriter William Bowers made uncredited contributions to two of my favorite film noirs:  PITFALL (1948) and CRISS CROSS (1949). He also wrote the screenplays for CRY DANGER (1951) and THE MOB (1951). Co-screenwriter Bertram Millhauser was the screenwriter behind THE SUSPECT (1944) and received story credit for WALK A CROOKED MILE (1948). THE WEB was Irving Glassberg's first credit as director of photography. His career was noted mostly for Westerns cranked out at Universal Pictures, though he did handle the camera for a couple of other noir products:  UNDERTOW (1949) and THE PRICE OF FEAR (1956). His work in THE WEB is in step with a genre that comprises low camera angles, wet streets, shadows and staircases.






Brand new to domestic home video is this dual-layered Blu-ray disc from Kino Lorber Studio Classics. For film noir fans like me who always wanted to own a copy, this release comes as a pleasant surprise. Though the source material is somewhat bespeckled, the contrast level and film grain both strike acceptable notes. Framed at 1.37:1, the presentation looks quite nice in motion, which is always what counts.

The significant extra is a new audio commentary track courtesy of Dr. Jason A. Ney, Director of the Writing Center and Assistant Professor of English at Colorado Christian University, as well as a staff writer for the Film Noir Foundation's NOIR CITY e-magazine. Ney extensively reviews the careers of Ella Raines, Edmond O'Brien, William Bendix and Vincent Price, all of whom appeared in at least one genuine film noir classic and many other well-regarded noir features. In fact O'Brien alone was cast in 17 noir vehicles if one includes WHITE HEAT (1949), which straddles genre boundaries of the film noir and the gangster film. Ney clarifies Raines was not exactly discovered by filmmaker Howard Hawks as legend has it; producer Charles K. Feldman saw Raines on Broadway and brought her to the attention of Hawks. Given her movie star looks, it is hard to believe she endured severe burns to her face and scalp before her acting career was set in motion. Ney credits cinematographer Irving Glassberg for his masterful use of lighting to reflect the tone of conversations. Glassberg also effectively locates his camera to accent shifts in character power. One of Ney's most insightful observations involves the film's transcendence of Italian American stereotypes. The policeman portrayed by Bendix is elevated to hero, the immigrant's American dream realized.

The only other supplemental material arrives in the form of an 8-film trailer collection of Kino Lorber titles, including a theatrical trailer for THE WEB (2m 17s).