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Category:    Home > Reviews > Mystery > British > Detective > Murder > Drama > Exploitation > Crime > The Arsenal Stadium Mystery (1938)/Highly Dangerous (1950)/The Long Memory (1953/VCI DVDs)/Weird-Noir: Six B-Movies (1953 – 1963/Image DVD)

The Arsenal Stadium Mystery (1938)/Highly Dangerous (1950)/The Long Memory (1953/VCI DVDs)/Weird-Noir: Six B-Movies (1953 – 1963/Image DVD)


Picture: C+/C+/C+/C     Sound: C+/C+/C+/C     Extras: D/D/C-/D     Films: C/C/C+/C



What is a Film Noir and how does it differ from a simple crime or detective film?  We recently received two different kinds of films to cover that will help us demonstrate that complex question, though answers will be limited because it is very complex to explain what Noir really is.



First we have three mystery films from England, then six short low-budget B-films from the U.S. and we’ll start with Thorold Dickinson’s The Arsenal Stadium Mystery (1938) which is just before Noir began in the U.S. and is not only a mystery film, but focuses more on the sport of soccer being played here.  Even very popular then, British films of the time sometimes would not do a genre straight out and include additional footage, details and even a sense of living for its audience that was a hallmark of the country in its late years as the most powerful in the world before WWII began.


Leslie Banks (The Most Dangerous Game, the original Man Who Knew Too Much) is the star and detective trying to find out how a player suddenly died when he was in perfect health and why.  Unfortunately, the game footage goes on too long affecting the mystery side of things and though this is average, but has some good moments just the same.  It is also not visually or thematically dark.



Roy Ward Baker’s Highly Dangerous (1950) has Margaret Lockwood as an expert on plants and bugs asked by the British Government to go on a mission to finds out how an East Block Cold War enemy nation is getting a deadly disease through wherever they want in a germ warfare ploy.  Reluctant at first, she goes and is accompanied by a man (Dane Clark) who tries to help.


This one is also not very thematically dark and visually is limited as such, in part because it is trying to be like a Hitchcock film, but the results are uneven despite the stars (also including Marius Goring and Wilfred Hyde White) being sop good.  Baker can direct, but this has not aged well either.  There is enough fun for serious mystery fans to give it a good look, but others might not be as entertained.



John Mills plays a former convict who wants revenge in Robert Hamer’s The Long Memory (1953) which actually has some Noir themes and some Noir shots, but it also is not totally a Noir, is not dark enough and its ending rings false as compared to how good the film gets.  Davidson (Mills) is out of jail and that means out for revenge, so this is more brutal and realistic than the prior films, but also reminds us that Noir only made it into so many British films because it is mostly a U.S. phenomenon and not one Hollywood invented, but happened though some complex and even political circumstances.


This is the best of the three British entries here and also has a fine supporting cats including Elizabeth Sellars and Geoffrey Keen, but it also comes up short and this in part is from what we could consider British cinema’s attempt to do Hollywood-safe storytelling, even when some things get dark.



SO that brings us to the Weird-Noir: Six B-Movies DVD set which has some much lower-budget, lower quality and very short films from 1953 to 1963.  So why are these films weird?  Besides being bad, they are late in trying to do what so many better films did before them.  They are also more exploitive than grade-A films would be and rougher, which sometimes means showing the ugly side of life as real Noirs did.


Arthur J. Beckhard’s Girl On The Run (1953) takes place at a carnival and the title lady is actually the girlfriend of a boyfriend/criminal who is hiding there, so she stupidly joins the chorus girls there (!) and it is not long before police and other criminals alike show up.  It can be eerie and interesting (a then-unknown Steve McQueen shows up as an extra) and it is seedy, but it is not great storytelling.  Still, I liked how dark it could get.


William Martin’s The Naked Road (1959) has a woman held by a judge in jail until the man she is with pays for a speeding ticket, but it is really an arrangement to push her into prostitution!  This is creepy and can be disturbing, but plays more like an outright crime film than a Noir.  Still, it has some moments worth seeing and is disturbing.


Irving Berwick’s The Seventh Commandment (1961) is about a successful preacher with a dark secret past that catches up with him when a former female friend wants to extort money from him, among other things.  It has some Noir elements, but is more of a drama with crime in it and some phony religious context that holds it back.


Bernard Wiesen’s Fear No More (1961) is the best film here as a nice young woman is running an errand while on a train when a dead woman shows up and she is framed for the murder.  She is on the run when she befriends a nice Hispanic man (racy for the time) who is interested in her intimately and is a good guy.  She has some dark secrets of her own, but something very ugly is going on.  Will she be able to figure it out against the odds?  Not bad and a pleasant surprise.


Donn Harling’s Fallguy (1962) has a teenaged man help in an auto accident only to find himself entangled in corruption, murder and gangsters.  More a gangster genre thriller than a Noir, it is not as good as Fear No More and in the end, is mixed at best, but it is mixed enough to qualify as weird.


Finally we have Ned Hockman’s Stark Fear (1963) has Beverly Garland as a mentally tormented housewife whose husband (Skip Homeier) disappears, but she is so much a woman who loves too much that she goes looking for him, yet he is actually planning to murder her.  That might work until another man (Kenneth Tobey) gets involved.  This is not a Noir either, though it could have been and that is the problem.  With the best cast of the six films here, this is one of the more watchable films in the set, but it is not dark enough and along with script issues, holds it back form being better.  However, its flaws also make it weird…



The 1.33 X 1 black and white image on all the films shows their age, but the British films are comparatively more expensive productions from the Rank catalog while the six American B-Movies are lucky to survive, so they are not going to look as good as the British releases.  Still, Video Black is decent in all cases.  The lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono on all the films show their age, but the B-Movies again show their budget limits despite being newer productions.  For some reason, Long Memory is here in better PCM 2.0 Mono, but it is not cleaned up enough to be the “sonic champion: on the list, but it has some of the best audio moments of all the DVDs.  Just as well, Long Memory has a Photo Gallery.  Otherwise, there are no extras on any of the releases here.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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