"Essential" is an apt adjective for Imprint's third collection of film noir classics. The Australian company's latest offering includes The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946), No Man of Her Own (1950), The Turning Point (1952), and The Desperate Hours (1955), all packaged individually inside a handsome box. Though both Martha Ivers and The Turning Point are currently available in the U.S. (No Man of Her Own and The Desperate Hours are not), Imprint provides additional supplements that greatly enhance each film. (The Martha Ivers extras package is especially hefty and impressive.) Like a femme fatale, Essential Film Noir Collection 3 is tough to resist and comes Highly Recommended.
Classic movie fans can't get enough film noir, and Imprint feeds that addiction with a new collection that brings together four diverse films that fit into different subsections of the genre. The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, the most traditional noir in the set, explores the cancerous guilt, devious manipulations, abject paranoia, and crippling despair that fester in the years following a horrific murder. No Man of Her Own mixes noir with what used to be called a “woman’s picture,” as it chronicles the struggles of a destitute pregnant woman (Barbara Stanwyck) to build a life for herself and her baby after she assumes the identity of a dead passenger following a tragic train wreck. The Turning Point turns to organized crime as it charts the efforts of a zealous special prosecutor (Edmond O’Brien) and intrepid newspaper reporter (William Holden) to shut down a syndicate and bring the mob kingpin to justice, while The Desperate Hours, an adaptation of a Tony Award-winning play, brings noir to suburbia with a terrifying depiction of a home invasion by a trio of escaped convicts.
The Strange Love of Martha Ivers
[Excerpt from our September 2022 Kino Lorber Studio Classics review]
In the annals of film noir, movies like Double Indemnity, Out of the Past, The Maltese Falcon, and The Postman Always Rings Twice grab all the attention, but dozens of other high-quality noirs deluged theaters during the genre's heyday in the mid-1940s, and the deliciously nasty The Strange Love of Martha Ivers was one of them. Chock full of all the elements that make noir one of the most seductive and intriguing styles in all of cinema, this sordid tale of murder, greed, guilt, unrequited love, redemption, and despair may not possess the notoriety of the aforementioned titles, but remains a solid entry in a cluttered field, thanks to fine direction [by Lewis Milestone] and excellent performances from a stellar cast [led by Barbara Stanwyck, Van Heflin, Lizabeth Scott, and Kirk Douglas in his film debut]. For the full Martha Ivers film review, click here. Rating: 4-1/2 stars
The Turning Point
[Excerpt from our September 2022 Kino Lorber Studio Classics review]
Mention The Turning Point and the 1977 estrogen-fueled drama about the ballet world starring Anne Bancroft and Shirley MacLaine instantly springs to mind, but a quarter century earlier another movie with the same title hit theaters. 1952's The Turning Point runs on testosterone and dances to a far different beat as it chronicles the efforts of a dogged special prosecutor [Edmond O'Brien] and intrepid journalist [William Holden] to nail a mob kingpin [Ed Begley] and shut down his syndicate. Though director William Dieterle's crackling film noir has been overshadowed by flashier genre flicks over the years, its Blu-ray release provides an opportunity to rediscover this expertly crafted, utterly absorbing crime-vs.-justice yarn. For a complete review of The Turning Point, click here. Rating: 4 stars
No Man of Her Own
Director Mitchell Leisen, who made his name with sophisticated comedies like Easy Living and Midnight and such elegant dramas as To Each His Own and Hold Back the Dawn, takes a walk on the wild(er) side with No Man of Her Own, an adaption of I Married a Dead Man, a Cornell Woolrich novel written under a pseudonym. Part romantic sudser and part noir mystery, this preposterous yet deliciously entertaining melodrama bears no relation to the 1932 movie of the same name starring Clark Gable and Carole Lombard, but it allows Leisen to explore a new genre and flex some creative muscle while providing leading lady Barbara Stanwyck with a rigorous emotional workout.
Stanwyck files a raw, real, and riveting performance as Helen Ferguson, a penniless pregnant woman who’s rejected by her hard-as-nails, no-good boyfriend Stephen Morley (Lyle Bettger). On a train trip back to California from New York, the devastated and destitute Helen meets the beautiful and affluent Patrice Harkness (Phyllis Thaxter), another pregnant woman on her way to meet her in-laws for the first time with her husband Hugh (Richard Denning). While the two women chat in the ladies room, Patrice takes off her wedding ring to wash her hands and asks Helen to put it on her finger for safekeeping. Helen demurs, saying it’s “bad luck,” but Patrice insists. Moments later, the train derails and a horrific crash ensues that kills Patrice and Hugh.
Later, in the hospital, the nurses tell Helen she’s delivered a healthy baby boy, but call her Mrs. Harkness, because she’s wearing Patrice’s wedding ring. Helen wants the best care possible for her newborn son, so she doesn’t rectify the mix-up, and because Patrice's in-laws have never met Patrice (and don’t even know what she looks like) and can help Helen’s son forge a comfortable and respectable future, she continues the charade, moving in with them once she arrives in California and meeting her strapping, single brother-in-law Bill (John Lund). Stepping into another woman’s shoes and assuming her identity without the slightest knowledge of her or her husband’s life proves to be a treacherous minefield for Helen, but she manages to gingerly sidestep exposure while falling in love with the sympathetic and supportive Bill. The future seems bright until Stephen pops up and threatens to reveal her sordid past if she doesn’t pay a hefty financial and personal price.
On paper, No Man of Her Own struggles to pass the credulity test, but on screen, thanks to Leisen and Stanwyck and a solid screenplay by Sally Benson of Meet Me in St. Louis and Shadow of a Doubt fame and Catherine Turney, the hard-to-swallow plot somehow works, with the numerous twists and turns and an exciting climax providing a thrilling rollercoaster ride. The heart-stopping train disaster comes out of nowhere and several subjective camera shots and revealing close-ups lend this tightly constructed tale a Hitchcockian flair that helps temper the story’s crazier aspects.
Stanwyck’s bravura turn also lends the tale credence (she’s never one iota less than 100% believable), and strong work from Lund, Bettger, Henry O’Neill, and especially esteemed stage actress Jane Cowl as Helen’s “mother-in-law” add authenticity to the film. Classic movie fans also will enjoy spotting Dooley Wilson, the unforgettable Sam from Casablanca, in a brief bit as a waiter on the fateful train.
No Man of Her Own may not fit the traditional noir mold, but it possesses enough noir elements to fit snugly into this collection and enough entertainment value to make it a fun watch for genre fans, Stanwyck aficionados, and Golden Age mavens. Rating: 4 stars
The Desperate Hours
Home invasion films have been around for decades, but The Desperate Hours was one of the first and remains an effective exercise in tension and suspense. Adapted by screenwriter Joseph Hayes from his own novel and Tony Award-winning play, this taut thriller ushered in a wave of similar-themed movies (including an ill-advised 1990 remake) about thugs and their henchmen terrorizing typical American families.
In his penultimate film, Humphrey Bogart reprises - to a certain degree - the role that shot him to stardom first on stage and then on screen two decades earlier. Duke Mantee, the wild-eyed gangster Bogart memorably played in 1936's The Petrified Forest, is a virtual doppelgänger for The Desperate Hours' Glenn Griffin, who barges into the upper-middle-class home of the Hilliard family in suburban Indianapolis with two fellow convicts after they bust out of prison. Both Duke and Glenn are desperate, ruthless, and sadistic, but at age 54 (and looking a good deal older due to the cancer that already was ravaging his body and would lead to his death less than two years later), Bogart infuses Glenn with more nastiness, cynicism, and resentment, as well as a world-weariness that befits a hardened fugitive at the tail end of his life of crime. (A young Paul Newman originated the role of Glenn in the Broadway production, but Hayes cleverly tweaks the part to better suit the aging Bogart.)
Glenn, his much younger brother Hal (Dewey Martin), and hulking sidekick Sam Kobish (Robert Middleton) hole up in the Hilliard residence while awaiting the arrival of Glenn's girlfriend, who's bringing a stash of cash from Pittsburgh. While their threats, belligerence, and fear tactics intimidate Dan Hilliard (Fredric March), his wife Ellie (Martha Scott), and their two children - 19-year-old Cindy (Mary Murphy) and eight-year-old Ralphy (Richard Eyer) - the family doggedly tries to evict the violent trio without incurring their wrath. Tempers fray and pressures mount as time ticks by, eventually leading to a final, deadly showdown.
The Desperate Hours can't quite shake its stage roots, but Hayes does a nice job opening up the narrative and director William Wyler injects plenty of cinematic style into the material. Wyler brilliantly uses the widescreen canvas to ratchet up suspense and heighten the claustrophobic atmosphere, and sprinkles in an array of marvelous deep focus shots that keep the eye engaged.
Like Wyler's best films, The Desperate Hours bursts with dramatic tension and boasts terrific performances that make any plot holes easier to forgive. Spencer Tracy was originally approached to portray Dan, but dropped out over a billing dispute with Bogart. March replaced him and contributes such good work it's tough to imagine even the impeccable Tracy eclipsing him. March’s scenes with Bogart crackle with intensity and he creates a comfortable chemistry with Scott, an often underrated actress who crafts a believable portrayal of a typical 1950s wife and mother. Gig Young strikes the only sour note; at age 41, he's far too old to play the teenage Cindy's boyfriend, and their relationship takes on a slightly creepy tone as a result.
More than 65 years after its premiere, The Desperate Hours still taps into one of our deepest fears and delivers an exciting, frightening tale filmed by one of Hollywood's most esteemed directors. Other hostage films are certainly scarier, but this one hits home. Rating: 4-1/2 stars
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Essential Film Noir Collection 3 arrives on Blu-ray in a handsome hard box with removable top. All four region-free discs are individually packaged inside in clear standard cases. Video codec is 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 and audio is LPCM 2.0 mono for Martha Ivers and The Turning Point and LPCM 2.0 stereo for No Man of Her Own and The Desperate Hours. Once the discs are inserted into the player, the static menus with music immediately pop up; no previews or promos precede them.
All four titles in this collection feature new transfers from Paramount Pictures, and the transfers for The Strange Love of Martha Ivers and The Turning Point seem to be identical to the ones that appear on the recent Kino Lorber Studio Classics releases of both titles. Like the KLSC edition, the Imprint release of Martha Ivers references a 4K scan, and while the KLSC edition of The Turning Point also denotes a 4K scan, Imprint's release does not, but the two transfers appear to be identical nonetheless. For a full review of the four-star Martha Ivers video transfer, click here. For a full review of the four-and-a-half-star Turning Point transfer, click here.
No Man of Her Own
A sharp image distinguishes the 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 No Man of Her Own transfer, but pervasive print damage significantly dulls its impact. Almost constant speckling that fluctuates in intensity often mars the stylish cinematography of Daniel L. Fapp, who would win an Oscar a decade later for West Side Story. Scratches and blotches frequently crop up as well, but during the (relatively) clean stretches, it's easy to appreciate the excellent clarity and contrast, deep blacks, crisp whites, and nicely varied grays, all of which produce a pleasing picture that exhibits a fair amount of depth. The natural grain structure preserves the feel of celluloid, details in costume fabrics and bits of decor are easy to discern, and an array of lovely close-ups render fine facial features well. It's just a shame Paramount didn't see fit to perform at least a modicum of clean-up on this deserving motion picture. Watching this otherwise very good transfer of No Man of Her Own, it's tough not to rue what might have been. 3/5
The Desperate Hours
Filmed in VistaVision, the enhanced definition widescreen process that Paramount pioneered in the 1950s and reserved for its flagship productions, The Desperate Hours jumps off the screen, even in black-and-white. The wow factor is in full force from the moment the opening credits begin to roll and it never wanes over the course of the film's almost two-hour running time. The 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer flaunts an alluring dimensional quality that enhances depth, heightens the sheen of auto paint, and helps costume patterns and fabrics pop. A natural yet faint grain structure maintains the film-like feel and preserves the integrity of the cinematography of Lee Garmes, who won an Oscar almost 25 years earlier for 1932's Shanghai Express. Terrific clarity and contrast, inky blacks, crisp whites, and beautifully varied grays produce a dazzling, well-balanced picture, though isolated instances of softness occasionally crop up. Excellent shadow delineation keeps crush at bay, reflections in mirrors and glass are well defined, and razor-sharp close-ups showcase all the careworn wrinkles and crow’s feet on March’s face, as well as Bogart’s omnipresent stubble, baggy eyes, and unkempt appearance. Sadly, the transfer isn’t perfect. Once again, print damage rears its ugly head in the form of specks and mild scratches, but the intrusions are much less severe and far less frequent than the deficiencies that consistently assault No Man of Her Own. Without question, this is the best The Desperate Hours has ever looked on home video, and fans of this engrossing thriller will be delighted with this top-notch presentation. 4.5/5
All four titles in this collection include LPCM 2.0 tracks. (The Strange Love of Martha Ivers and The Turning Point feature 2.0 mono tracks; No Man of Her Own and The Desperate Hours feature 2.0 stereo tracks.) Though KLSC's releases of Martha Ivers and The Turning Point employ DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono tracks, the sound quality is the same. For a full review of the four-star Martha Ivers audio track, click here. For a full review of the four-star Turning Point audio track, click here.
No Man of Her Own
Despite the stereo designation, the LPCM 2.0 track sounds like mono, which makes sense, considering films made in 1950 pre-date the stereo era. The front-based presentation remains clear and well modulated throughout, although pops and crackle do plague the track. Sonic accents like rattling train noise, piercing train whistles, shattering glass, and gunshots are distinct, a wide dynamic scale handles all the highs and lows of Hugo Friedhofer's dramatic score without any distortion, and all the dialogue, including Stanwyck's faint whispers, is easy to comprehend. 3.5/5
The Desperate Hours
Like No Man of Her Own, the LPCM 2.0 track for The Desperate Hours doesn’t have any stereo characteristics, but it does supply solid audio that’s distinguished by excellent fidelity and tonal depth. (A slight volume boost above my normal listening level was required to achieve optimal quality.) Atmospherics like crickets, street noise, and a faint siren in the background are distinct, while sonic accents like machine gun fire and revving truck engines make a statement. A wide dynamic scale gives the dramatic music score by Gail Kubik (with an uncredited assist from Daniele Amfitheatrof) plenty of room to breathe, and all the dialogue is easy to comprehend. No distortion creeps into the mix and only a few errant pops dot the track. 4/5
All four discs include interesting supplements, but The Strange Love of Martha Ivers boasts the biggest supplemental package.
The Strange Love of Martha Ivers
Audio Commentary - Author and film historian Alan K. Rode sits down for an essential commentary that proves once again why he's the best in the business. Literate, insightful, funny, and impeccably researched, this track examines every facet of The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, which Rode calls "one of the most significant post-World War II film noirs" and "a de facto indictment of the inherent injustices of capitalism in the mid-20th century." In addition to discussing such provocative themes as abuse of power and the dark side of the American dream, Rode identifies almost every cast member (including future writer-director Blake Edwards, who pops up early in the film in an unbilled bit), examines numerous censorship issues, chronicles a major industry strike that threatened to shut down production, and details the penny-pinching practices of producer Hal Wallis (as well as his professional and personal relationship with actress Lizabeth Scott). He also lauds both Stanwyck and Douglas and shares several entertaining anecdotes. If you're a Martha Ivers or film noir fan or just someone who appreciates classic movies, this commentary is well worth your time.
"Kirk Douglas on The Strange Love of Martha Ivers" (SD, 8 minutes) - In this 2010 interview produced and conducted by film noir expert Alan K. Rode, the legendary Oscar-winning actor recounts how his friend Lauren Bacall got producer Hal Wallis to see him on Broadway, which led to his casting in Martha Ivers, and how he originally thought he was slated for the Van Heflin role. Douglas also recalls Stanwyck's initial frosty reception that soon led to a friendship, a crucial change Stanwyck made to the picture's climax that greatly improved it, and how he learned to smoke on the set (and got sick in the process). Despite a stroke that greatly impaired his speech, the 93-year-old actor is a total delight and sharp as a tack, and it's a treat to hear him reminisce about the production.
Featurette: "Barbara Stanwyck: From Stage to Screen to Legend" (HD, 12 minutes) - Rode returns for this insightful, reverent tribute to Stanwyck, whom he calls "the best of the best" and "the greatest female movie star from the Golden Age of Hollywood." With the aid of rare photos and silent movie and newsreel clips, Rode examines Stanwyck's difficult childhood, rise to fame, dedication to her craft, and beloved stature among film industry professionals. He also looks at her two marriages, lauds her ability to command the screen in any genre, and dissects her magnetism.
Video Essay: "Domestic Terror: Barbara Stanwyck and the Gothic Noir" (HD, 27 minutes) - Film historian Kat Ellinger examines Stanwyck's noir films and the tropes that define them. Clips from and analysis of Double Indemnity, The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, Sorry, Wrong Number, The File on Thelma Jordan, The Two Mrs. Carrolls, Jeopardy, No Man of Her Own, and Crime of Passion dominate this probing, intelligent piece.
Documentary: "Barbara Stanwyck: Straight Down the Line" (SD, 54 minutes) - Robert Wagner, Roddy McDowell, Charlton Heston, Ricardo Montalban, and Robert Stack are among the actors who pay tribute to Stanwyck in this absorbing, well-made 1997 documentary that covers her life, personality, and career. Audio interview excerpts of Stanwyck, a snippet from a rare short film, vintage photos, and clips from such Stanwyck classics as Ladies of Leisure, Annie Oakley, Golden Boy, The Lady Eve, Meet John Doe, Double Indemnity, and Clash by Night distingish this reverent yet honest portrait.
Trailer (HD, 2 minutes) - The preview included here appears to be a more recent fabrication comprised of various clips from the film. It's the same trailer that was included on the 2012 Martha Ivers Blu-ray release from Film Chest.
No Man of Her Own
Audio Commentary - Film historian Drew Casper sits down for an absorbing commentary that covers myriad topics, including the film's production history, the lives of author Cornell Woolrich, director Mitchell Leisen, and actress Barbara Stanwyck, and the movie's recurring motifs. He also discusses the themes pervading Woolrich's works, examines director Mitchell Leisen's distinctive creative traits, dissects several shots, and shares details about his personal friendship with Stanwyck toward the end of her life. Casper's commentaries are always thoughtful, substantive, and enthusiastic, and this one is no exception.
Featurette: "Barry Forshaw on No Man of Her Own" (HD, 13 minutes) - The writer, broadcaster, and journalist talks about the creative forces behind the film, the evolution of Stanwyck's career, and the cross-genre nature of No Man of Her Own in this breezy piece.
Vintage Radio Adaptation (60 minutes) - Stanwyck and Lyle Bettger reprise their roles for this truncated, hour-long radio adaptation of No Man of Her Own that aired in 1950 as part of the Screen Directors Playhouse series. A few interesting script changes and the high-powered performances of Stanwyck and Bettger make this broadcast worth a listen. The audio quality is quite good and it's always fun to hear the stars' scripted banter at the end of the show.
Theatrical Trailer (HD, 2 minutes) - The film's original preview highlights the sensational aspects of the story.
The Turning Point
Audio Commentary - Author and film historian Alan K. Rode provides another stellar commentary for a film noir classic that every fan of the genre should check out. Rode really gets into the weeds of The Turning Point's production, providing information about the shooting schedule, array of uncredited writers who contributed to the script, and censorship issues. He also draws parallels between the story and real-life events, links several of the movie's underworld characters to actual mob counterparts, cites almost every Los Angeles location used in the movie, supplies plenty of cast and crew bios, and shares some interesting anecdotes about William Holden.
Featurette: "Barry Forshaw on The Turning Point" (HD, 19 minutes) - Forshaw talks about the film's socio-political aspects, lauds the naturalistic writing and cinematography, salutes the work of author Horace McCoy, and examines the movies of director William Dieterle, but the bulk of his remarks focus on actor William Holden.
Photo Gallery - (HD, 2 minutes) - Nine black-and-white production stills and one color reproduction of the film's promotional art comprise this brief slideshow.
The Desperate Hours
Audio Commentary - Film historian Kevin Lyons sits down for an affable but somewhat plodding commentary that spends far too much time on cast and crew bios during its initial stages. (Listeners must wait until about the halfway point before learning much of anything about The Desperate Hours itself.) Over the course of his discussion, Lyons addresses such topics as Wyler’s implacable perfectionism, the film’s production history, and the advent of VistaVision. He also talks about the real-life incident upon which the movie is based, reveals how a Life magazine article about the Broadway play spawned a lawsuit by the victimized family, looks at the growth of suburbia during the 1950s, relates The Desperate Hours to other home invasion films, and quotes reviews of the day. Lyons knows his stuff and presents a wealth of information in a literate, elegant manner, but the unfortunate organization of his remarks stems the momentum of this otherwise solid commentary.
Featurette: "Barry Forshaw on The Desperate Hours" (HD, 16 minutes) - Forshaw touches on the film’s themes, the visceral nature of home invasion movies, Wyler’s artistry, Bogart’s timeless appeal, and the reasons why the film didn’t do as well at the box office as expected.
Theatrical Trailer (HD, 2 minutes) - The film's original preview completes the extras package.
Essential Film Noir Collection 3 lives up to its billing with a quartet of expertly crafted motion pictures directed by and starring an array of Golden Age legends. Though The Strange Love of Martha Ivers and The Turning Point are currently available here in the U.S. - No Man of Her Own and The Desperate Hours are not - Imprint's latest bundle of treasures is worth importing for the bountiful and substantive extras, handsome packaging, and vibrant VistaVision transfer of The Desperate Hours. All four films deliver the goods (and then some!) and provide Barbara Stanwyck, William Holden, Humphrey Bogart, Fredric March, and Kirk Douglas with juicy roles that they all play to the hilt. If you haven’t yet picked up Martha Ivers and The Turning Point from Kino, I’d strongly advise springing for this stellar collection. Highly Recommended.