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The Otto Preminger Film Noir Collection

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    Ian Jane
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  • Otto Preminger Film Noir Collection, The



    Released by: BFI
    Released on: September 28th, 2015.
    Director: Otto Preminger
    Cast: Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews, Richard Conte, Alice Faye, Linda Darnell, Karl Malden
    Year: 1945/1950/1950

    The Movies:

    While Otto Preminger dabbled in many different genres throughout his career, he's best remembered for his contributions to the film noir movement of the forties and fifties. The BFI have gathered together three of his best efforts in this area and released them in a limited edition three-disc Blu-ray collection appropriately titled The Otto Preminger Film Noir Collection.

    FALLEN ANGEL (1945):

    First up, we learn the story of a troubled man named Eric Stanton (Dana Andrews). Early in the film, he's kicked off of a city bus by the driver when he doesn't have the money to pay the fare. He winds up hanging out at Pop's Eats, a crummy little diner, where he starts to fall fast and hard for Stella (Linda Darnell), the gorgeous waitress who works there. The problem is, as much as Eric likes Stella, she doesn't really seem to respond in kind. He figures if he had more money she's come around, so he puts into motion a bit of a scheme.

    Before you know it, Eric has married a wealthy woman named June Mills (Alice Faye) but shortly thereafter, Stella turns up dead, the victim of a dastardly murder it would seem. June Learns the truth about Eric's motives for marrying her, but loves him enough to stick by him. Eric, on the other hand, is bound and determined to find out who killed Stella and why.

    If the storyline is a little predictable here, so be it, as Fallen Angel more than makes up for that with some absolutely gorgeous cinematography. Every shot in the film is suitable for framing and there's a lot of wonderfully baroque use of shadow and light used here to build atmosphere and suspense in equal measure. The look of the film is enhanced a lot by the score, courtesy of David Raksin, but even if this were completely silent it would still be worth checking out for the visual style alone.

    The cast help a lot here too. Dana Andrews is really good in the lead, he plays the obsessed drifter character well and while we occasionally have trouble sympathizing with him once he brings chaste June into his world, we can't help but still feel for the guy. Linda Darnell is in full on vamp mode here, a dark haired temptress who uses her feminine wiles with no qualms as to who she might hurt in doing so. She looks the part, she acts the part and she's gorgeous to watch. On the flip side, Alice Faye does just fine in a more understated part. She's not quite as memorable as Darnell is but she still puts in a very solid effort. Supporting work from Charles Bickford, John Carradine and Anne Revere are all worth mentioning as well.

    WHIRLPOOL (1950):

    The second film teams Preminger up once again with the beautiful Gene Tierney, the actress he had used so well a few years earlier in Laura. The story concerns Ann Sutton (Tierney), a wealthy and materialist wife of Doctor William Sutton (Richard Conte), a prominent psychoanalyst well regarded by his peers. Ann has a problem, whoever - she's a kleptomaniac.

    While out shopping one day at a high class department store, she's nabbed for shoplifting when she tries to swipe an expensive broach. A man named Korvo (José Ferrer) intervenes - he's a hypnotist who claims that he has the ability to prevent her kleptomaniacal impulses from taking over, but there's more to it than that, even if she doesn't realize it yet. When a patient of her husband's is found murdered and it looks like Ann might be the killer, Korvo's true nature comes to light.

    Once again, Preminger stays on top of things in terms of the visuals. There are some really memorable shots here, be it Tierney in a cell clad in a black sweater that almost seems to meld with the bars themselves, or a sweaty face made all the more unsettling placed behind a magnifying glass. Again, shadow and light play a huge part in keeping our eyes darting across the screen, and even when the plot starts to slip and slide a little bit here, we're only too happy to keep paying attention.

    Of course, the fact that the stunning Gene Tierney is the female lead here doesn't hurt things either. While it's possible that her character in this one hit a little too close to home (it's been well documented that she battled severe depression and breakdowns brought about by problems in her personal life) she absolutely nails it. She was a stunning woman but she had the acting skills to back it up and was, when given the right material, much more than just a pretty face. Backing her up are strong efforts from Conte as her husband and an impressive turn from Ferrer as the snake-in-the-grass able to fool Ann and take advantage of her. Charles Bickford shows up in this one too, playing a cop and doing a very fine job of it, while another score from David Raskin adds to the film's strong points.

    WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS (1950):

    Last but not least, Where The Sidewalk Ends introduces us to a cop named Detective Mark Dixon (Dana Andrews again) who wants to break the whole 'sins of the father' thing and be a force for good. As far as cops go, however, Dixon is a tough one and he seems to have no problem roughing up anyone and everyone he thinks might have something useful for him. This behavior doesn't go unnoticed and after enough people complain to the top brass, his boss, Inspector Foley (Robert F. Simon), knocks him down a few pegs and takes him off his beat. He knows Dixon is a good guy, but he also knows that these days he's going too far. Meanwhile, Detective Thomas (Karl Malden) seems to be completely on the up and up, and that hasn't gone unnoticed either, something that's proven when he gets a promotion.

    This story intertwines with that of Tommy Scalise (Gary Merrill) who runs an illegal gambling operation and who hopes to take rich wealthy Morrison, brought in by Ken Paine (Craig Stevens) and his beautiful wife Morgan (Gene Tierney), for all he can. Ken has no problem using Morgan as bait and soon after a squabble breaks out that leaves Morrison dead. It looks like Ken might do hard time for this, but is he really the killer? Things get complicated when Dixon accidently kills him. And with Dixon snooping around, falling hard for recently widowed Morgan, will he own up to it or try to pin it on Scalise, a thug he's been after for a long time now?

    Made with the same two leads and the same cinematographer he used in Laura, this one isn't really all that similar to the earlier film outside of those factors. This one takes place in the seedy side of town in the part of New York that Laura's rich, high society characters would stay very far away from. This gives the movie a deliciously low rent atmosphere and its locations suit the twists and the turns of the narrative quite well. This is a fast paced and violent story of love, lies and obsession and where the fickle finger of fate is able to effortlessly wreak havoc in the lives of its inhabitants. It makes for great entertainment and a story that is ripe with tension and danger.

    Gene Tierney is once again the definitive femme fatele and she does great work here, but it's Andrews who impressed more than anyone else in the cast. His cop is a mess - he's got problems with his temper but he can't help but follow his heart, even if he knows he shouldn't. He's subtle when he needs to be but on fire when the script calls for it. Supporting work from Karl Malden, Gary Merrill and Craig Stevens are also strong. This visuals here are just as strong as the other two films in the set, and rarely has the dark side of New York City been so gorgeously shadowy.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Each film is presented in its original 1.33.1 fullframe aspect ratio in AVC encoded 1080p high definition. Fallen Angel is presented on a BD-50 (which makes sense as it contains a lengthy featurette), the other two movies are on BD-25 discs. Detail and texture definitely surpass previous DVD presentations of these movies. Black levels are solid here too, and there's pretty decent depth evident throughout each of the three movies. Minor print damage shows up in the form of small white specks here and there but there's nothing too distracting and there are no instances of noise reduction, edge enhancement or compression artifacting to note here. Fans of Preminger should be quite happy with the BFI's efforts here as all three movies look quite strong in HD.

    Audio for each picture is presented in English language LPCM Mono with optional closed captioning provided in English only. There are no problems here, the single channel tracks sound just fine and perfectly authentic. Dialogue stays clean, clear and easily discernable and there are no problems with hiss or distortion. Depth is about where you'd expect it but the scores for the three respective movies all sound quite nice here.

    Audio commentaries for Fallen Angel, Whirlpool and Where the Sidewalk Ends by film scholar and critic Adrian Martin. Here we get a nice mix of scholarly analysis and trivia sort of all mixed together. Martin does a fine job of putting each of the three films into socio-political context and offering up plenty of interesting details about how these films compare to similar noirs of the period and some of Preminger's own pictures. There's also some interesting discussion about the performances, some keen observations about why certain shots are set up the way they are and a lot more.

    Included on the Fallen Angel disc is a featurette called The Guardian Lecture, an archival piece in which Otto Preminger was interviewed by Joan Bakewell in 1972. This is seventy-six minute long audio recording that plays out over a selection of archival stills. This is an interesting look back at Preminger's career up to this point and Bakewell asks him some interesting questions about his life and work which are answered in a good bit of detail.

    Each of the three discs in the collection also features an original theatrical trailer for its respective feature, menus and chapter selection.

    The Final Word:

    The Otto Preminger Film Noir Collection is classic stuff - three great movies, each a textbook example of how good traditional film noir can be when handled properly - presented in excellent condition, with top notch audio and a few nice supplements to help put it all into the proper social and historical context. A great set - here's hoping the BFI offer up more in this vein sooner rather than later.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!





























































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