This four-disc box set of film noir from the 1940’s displays a rare kind of diversity and depth. Of course we know that noir sprang from the cynicism and uncertainty post WW2 and these films are not only brimming with double crosses and dames you can’t trust, but also a morality, a sense of family that is rare in the genre.
Henry Hathaway’s The Dark Corner, possibly the most conventional noir here, manages to marry many conventions, a private detective caught in a frame, an innocent dame who loves him and mysterious dapper gentleman possibly behind it all. Interestingly the dame is actually Lucille Ball in a rare dramatic role. “I feel all dead in side. I’m backed up in a dark corner and I don’t know who’s hitting me,” mourns the detective as the police and the criminals close in.
Cry of the City, directed imaginatively by Robert Siodmak is so much more than the sum of its parts. In fact it’s hard not to see parallels with Michael Mann’s Heat in it’s portrayal of the complex of the complex relationship between a cop and a criminal in the dark expressionist streets New York’s lower East Side.
House of Strangers is a flashback tale of an immigrant patriarch Edward G Robinson in a breakout performance, who’s success and a banker and standing in the community blinds him to the anger and greed of his sons, forced to endure their fathers old world habits. It’s the tale of a family at war with itself and previously has been labelled as The Godfather in reverse.
The standout though is Nightmare Alley, a dark tale of the rise and fall of a gifted con man who begins as a low life Carney, using his friends as a stepladder on his rise to the top. This is probably the most mean spirited in the collection, grim and harsh, a world way from stylised expressionistic private detectives and crooked cops. This film is dirty and mean and doesn’t hold back.
Bob Baker Fish