Arrow Video brings a new collection of noir films which are not necessarily well known. but which have plenty to engage the viewer – particularly those with an interest in mid-century movies.
Arrow Video’s upcoming second volume of Four Film Noir Classics offers an intriguing look at some lesser-known films by or featuring names which will be familiar to classic film lovers. The four titles – The Suspect (1944), The Sleeping City (1950), Thunder on the Hill (1951), and Six Bridges to Cross (1955) – span a decade of Universal Studios’ filmmaking and share certain atmospheric and stylistic traits of classic film noir while retaining their own individuality.
The earliest, 1944’s The Suspect, is directed by Robert Siodmak and stars Charles Laughton as an affable businessman with a nagging wife and a crush on a younger woman. Police become suspicious when the wife dies suddenly, and Laughton’s character marries his young lady friend not long after. Laughton is extremely good as the besotted gentleman, but what’s unusual about The Suspect is that it is set in London in 1902, and has a different feeling from a more traditional mid-century American urban noir setting.
The Sleeping City on the other hand fills this brief more closely, focussing on a New York police detective (Richard Conte) who goes undercover in a hospital to uncover information on the murder of one of the doctors. It’s a film in which each of the main characters is duplicitous in their own way, and keeps the intrigue going throughout.
The opening credits of Thunder on the Hill threw me at first, as the two main billed stars are both female – Claudette Colbert and Ann Blyth. The male stars are in supporting roles, but then taking into account the fact that the film was directed by none other than Douglas Sirk, then perhaps it’s not so unusual. The second of the collection to be set in England (this time a rainy Norfolk), Colbert plays Sister Mary, head of a convent hospital, whose establishment is receiving people seeking refuge from local flooding in the area. This includes convicted killer Valerie (Blyth) who is on her way to the gallows. Sister Mary’s own past convinces her that there is more to Valerie than others are seeing, and she turns detective to investigate.
The most recent of the collections, Six Bridges to Cross, features a theme tune sung by Sammy Davis Jr (which immediately gives a more modern feel to the film) and some inspired character casting, with Sal Mineo playing juvenile delinquent Jerry as a teenager, who (during a screen dissolve) grows up to be Tony Curtis. Jerry is taken under the wing of detective Edward Gallagher (George Nader) and becomes an informant. The relationship becomes compromised and the men have to take tough decisions.
I’m not sure that these films are truly ‘film noir classics’ as the title of the boxset suggests, but they are each definitely worth visiting in their own right, and the collection showcases lesser-known works from well-known names, very enticing for aficionados of 1940s and 50s cinema.
The limited edition blue-ray also comes with the following special features:
- High Definition (1080p) Blu-ray presentations of all four films
- Original lossless mono audio on all films
- Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing on all films
- Audio commentaries by leading scholars and critics Farran Smith-Nehme (The Suspect), Imogen Sara Smith (The Sleeping City), Josh Nelson (Thunder on the Hill), and Samm Deighan (Six Bridges to Cross)
- It Had to be Done, author and scholar Alan K. Rode takes a detailed look at the life and work of Robert Siodmak director of The Suspect and other classic noirs
- The Real Deal, a visual essay by author and critic Alexandra Heller-Nicholas looking at realism and reality in The Sleeping City
- José Arroyo on Thunder on the Hill, a new appreciation by the esteemed film scholar and critic
- Style and Place, a new visual essay by film critic Jon Towlson examining the work of celebrated cinematographer William H. Daniels
- Vintage radio play versions of The Suspect and Thunder on the Hill starring Charles Laughton, Ella Raines, Claudette Colbert, and Barbara Rush
- Theatrical Trailers
- Poster and stills galleries
- Reversible sleeves featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Scott Saslow
- Double-sided fold-out posters for each film featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Scott Saslow
- Hardback collector’s book featuring new writing on the films by film critics Kat Ellinger, Philip Kemp, and Jon Towlson [Limited Edition Exclusive]