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Release Date: March 26th, 2024 Movie Release Year: 1955

Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema XVIII

Overview -

Blu-ray Review by David Krauss
The 18th chapter of KLSC's essential film noir series honors a trio of movies from 1955. One of them is a little-known gem, one is a workmanlike genre entry with colorful accents, and one is a bit of a bore. Two boast remastered transfers, but all three celebrate both the twilight of classic noir and the resilience of the minor studios that produced them. If you're a fan of the genre, Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema XVIII deserves a spot on your shelf. Recommended.

Rating Breakdown
Tech Specs & Release Details
Technical Specs:
3 x Blu-ray Discs
Video Resolution/Codec:
1080p AVC/MPEG-4
Aspect Ratio(s):
1.37:1, 1.85:1
Audio Formats:
English: DTS-HD MA 2.0
English SDH
Special Features:
Release Date:
March 26th, 2024

Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take


As film noir began to fall out of favor in the mid-1950s, the major studios veered away from the genre to focus on big-budget spectacles that better suited the burgeoning widescreen format and provided an enticing alternative to television. Independent producers picked up the noir slack and peddled their product to "poverty row" studios like Allied Artists and Republic, which churned out movies quickly and cheaply. These noirs amped up the violence and sex quotients to lure viewers, but by the end of the decade box office returns dwindled and the genre was all but dead.

Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema XVIII  pays tribute to these tail-end noirs, offering up three specimens that capture the period and provide a snapshot of an industry in transition. Even diehard noir aficionados might not be familiar with the titles (I wasn't), but it's their obscurity that makes them interesting and intriguing. Only one of the movies is a diamond in the rough, but the other two are worth watching at least once.


The best of this bunch, Crashout is a rough, ruthless, gritty noir that chronicles the messy aftermath of a prison break. Six convicts bust out of jail and hole up in a dank, hidden cave until it's safe to venture out and try to reclaim $180,000 in cold, hard cash that ringleader Van Morgan Duff (William Bendix) buried at the top of a mountain. Evading the police, finessing personal relationships, and keeping the peace among themselves are some of the challenges the fugitives face in this often riveting film that's flown under the radar for decades.

Crashout often resembles Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None as one by one the convicts meet their demise. Director Lewis R. Foster co-wrote the taut screenplay (he also co-wrote such classics as Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and The More the Merrier) that deftly mixes tough talk with tender exchanges. The film was reportedly shot in just 13 days, but despite its intended rawness, it looks polished, thanks largely to primo cinematographer Russell Metty, who found time between Douglas Sirk pictures to shoot this bargain-basement noir.

The cast alone makes Crashout worth watching and all the actors contribute memorable portrayals. In addition to Bendix, who goes back to his roots as a skulking, take-no-prisoners heavy, the always magnetic Arthur Kennedy shines as his right-hand man. Such recognizable faces as Luther Adler, Gene Evans, William Talman, and the underrated Marshall Thompson round out the outlaws, while Beverly Michaels and Gloria Talbott supply essential softness as two dames who become briefly involved with Kennedy and Thompson, respectively. How producer Hal E. Chester assembled such an esteemed group of thespians for such a down-and-dirty, low-rent project defies logic, but they elevate what otherwise would have been a negligible noir to something special.

I'd never seen Crashout before, but I'll certainly be watching it again. Does it stand alongside the crème-de-la-crème of noir? Of course not. But it hits plenty of sweet spots during its 88 minutes, serves up a couple of surprises, and keeps us invested throughout. You can't ask for much more from this type of film. Rating: 4/5 stars 

Finger Man 

"I come out clean or I come out dead."

Those are the options for career criminal Casey Martin (Frank Lovejoy) in this straightforward noir from director Harold Schuster. After Casey's latest arrest, federal law enforcement makes him an offer he can't refuse: go undercover and take down mob kingpin Dutch Becker (Forrest Tucker) or spend the rest of his life behind bars. With the help of former hooker Gladys Baker (Peggie Castle), Casey infiltrates Dutch's gang, but getting the goods on the syndicate boss is tricky business and puts the lives of Casey and Gladys, who falls for Casey and knows nothing about his alliance with the Feds, at risk.

Tightening the tale, which is based on the real-life exploits of gangster-turned-informant Norris Lipsius, would increase suspense and urgency. Even at 82 minutes, Finger Man feels padded and its no-nonsense, by-the-numbers direction by Schuster, whose most famous feature is the beloved family flick My Friend Flicka, doesn't supply the visual interest that would help sustain the leisurely narrative. The performances keep the film afloat, with Lovejoy filing a tough, square-jawed portrayal as the titular character and Castle supplying warmth and plenty of allure as the jaded, bruised Gladys. Tucker, best known for his role on the 1960s sitcom F Troop, grumbles and snarls as Dutch and twitchy, wild-eyed Timothy Carey tries his best to steal every scene in which he appears as Dutch's chief thug. Rating: 3.5/5 stars

City of Shadows 

The weakest film in the set, City of Shadows is a 70-minute trifle that's most notable for a colorful and ultimately heart-tugging performance by an aging Victor McLaglen, who won a Best Actor Oscar 20 years earlier for John Ford's The Informer. McLaglen plays Big Tim, the proprietor of a steak joint who becomes a successful gambling racketeer after a mouthy orphaned newspaper boy opens his eyes to a slot machine scam. Tim takes the kid under his wing and puts him through school. A decade later, the grown-up Dan Mason (John Baer) becomes a lawyer and convinces Tim to run a legitimate business. That doesn't sit well with Tim's corrupt cronies and the resulting push-pull leads to tension, betrayal, and bloodshed.

City of Shadows plods along throughout much of its running time, often abandoning noir elements to focus on the sugary romance between Dan and his small-town, goody-two-shoes sweetheart Fern Fellows (Kathleen Crowley). The action doesn't really ramp up until the final 15 minutes when director William Witney stages a thrilling chase sequence involving a chair lift on the slopes of a snowy mountain. A touching coda follows that somewhat salvages this flimsy film.

McLaglen's crusty portrayal, somewhat reminiscent of Wallace Beery in The Champ, carries the picture, but Baer makes a fine foil and the strong supporting cast includes a young Nicolas Coster in just his second billed role and such yeoman character actors as Anthony Caruso, Richard Reeves, and Frank Ferguson. (The film also contains one of the most grating performances by a child actor in Hollywood history.) Though City of Shadows is largely forgettable, it represents a type of movie that served a specific purpose during that era and for that reason it remains relevant. Rating: 3/5 stars 

Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema XVIII arrives on Blu-ray with all three movies packaged in individual standard cases inside a slipcase. Video codec is 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 and audio is DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono. Once the discs are inserted into the player, the static menus immediately pop up; no previews or promos precede them.

Video Review


Two of the three movies (Crashout and City of Shadows) were remastered in HD in 2022 by Paramount Pictures, but it's the weakest film in this collection that gets the strongest transfer. City of Shadows looks vibrant and crisp, with excellent clarity and contrast, nicely resolved grain, deep blacks, bright whites, and varied grays producing a pleasing picture. Some speckles dot the image, but never to a distracting degree.

Print damage is an issue with all three 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfers, but that's to be expected when dealing with low-budget films that haven't been properly preserved. Crashout is distinguished by cinematography by the great Russell Metty, who won an Oscar for Spartacus. Metty must have been slumming when he accepted the Crashout gig, but he gives the film his all, often constructing striking images that belie the movie's meager budget. Heavier than normal grain often plagues the picture, as well as scratches and wear-and-tear that vary in intensity, but the underlying image is vivid and balanced and several sharp close-ups highlight the grimy, sweaty, weathered faces of the fugitives. At one time, Crashout was thought to be a lost film, so to have a transfer of this quality is quite something.

Finger Man looks good, too, despite the lack of any remastering. The beautiful close-ups of Peggie Castle are especially arresting, but the overall image boasts lush blacks, good shadow delineation, and a lovely film-like feel. Strong clarity and contrast also boost the appeal of this fine rendering.

3.5/5 average for all three films

Audio Review


All three films are equipped with DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono tracks that supply potent sound. Crashout especially shines with crisp sonic accents like sirens, dripping water, chirping birds, train bells, thunder, and howling wind enhancing the tense atmosphere. Excellent fidelity helps the music score by three-time Oscar nominee Leith Stevens fill the room and all the dialogue is easy to comprehend.

The effects in Finger Man are more subdued, but the sound quality is equally high. Gunfire and fisticuffs are distinct and a wide dynamic scale embraces all the highs and lows of Paul Dunlop's score without any distortion. City of Shadows sounds good, too, with subtleties like crickets and the spray of water on wet urban streets supplying essential atmosphere. Gunfire and fisticuffs punctuate the action with authority, the music score is robust, and all the dialogue is clear. The tracks of all three films have been nicely remastered and no age-related hiss, pops, or crackle mar the mixes.

Special Features


Audio commentaries and trailers are the only extras included on the three discs in this set.

  • Audio Commentary for Crashout - Author and film historian Alan K. Rode, one of the top noir experts, provides a top-notch commentary. Rode's delivery is always entertaining, but it's his attention to detail and knowledge of his subject that make his commentaries so worthwhile. Here he provides background info on the locations, notes when footage from Riot in Cell Block 11 is used, shares several colorful anecdotes and a boatload of trivia, and discusses numerous censorship issues. He also calls Crashout an atypical prison film, supplies a bunch of cast and crew bios, and points out Kurt Russell's dad and Joan Bennett's daughter in one scene. Crashout is a fun ride and Rode helps us appreciate it even more.

  • Audio Commentary for Finger Man - Professor and film scholar Jason A. Ney sits down for a lively commentary that covers a variety of fascinating topics, most of which make Finger Man seem far more interesting than it is. He classifies Finger Man as a "Christmas noir," identifies many L.A. locations, provides a marvelous overview of the life of Norris Lipsius (the mobster upon whom the story is based), defines underworld slang, praises the performances of Lovejoy and Castle, and throws out the idea that writer John Lardner's blacklisted brother Ring Jr. was responsible for devising the movie's story. Ney also discusses the work and serial weirdness of actor Timothy Carey, supplies a brief history of poverty row studios, and in an amusing, non-sequitur aside notes a resemblance between actor Forrest Tucker and Florida governor Ron DeSantis. This is an engrossing and enlightening track that's well worth your time.

  • Audio Commentary for City of Shadows - Film historian/screenwriter Gary Gerani must have drawn the short stick, because he's saddled with talking about City of Shadows. Gerani goes all in, and though he spends a bit too much time recapping the plot, he manages to relay enough pertinent info to fill the 70-minute running time. He supplies cast and crew bios, quotes from censorship documents that address the movie's content and provide taste guidelines, discusses the film's ironic title and full-frame aspect ratio, and identifies locations during his breezy remarks.  

  • Trailers - A low-res preview for Crashout is included, but if trailers still exist for Finger Man and City of Shadows, KLSC wasn't able to secure them for this release. A few trailers for other noir films also appear on the discs.

Final Thoughts

Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema XVIII may not be the finest entry in the long-running series, but it's worth purchasing for Crashout alone. Finger Man also has merit, but despite an exciting finale, the mediocre City of Shadows feels like the odd film out. Solid video transfers, remastered audio, and three quality commentaries add to the appeal of this enticing set that once again celebrates one of Hollywood's most popular genres. Recommended.

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