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Category:    Home > Reviews > Mystery > Drama > Murder > Thriller > Criminal > Psychology > Books > Film Noir > Revenge > Spy > Comedy > Seria > Blind Alley (1939/Columbia/Sony DVD)/A Kind Of Murder (2016/Magnolia Blu-ray)/Kiss Of Death (1947/Fox)/Our Man In Havana (1959/Columbia/Sony/both Twilight Time Limited Edition Blu-rays)/Solace (2017/L

Blind Alley (1939/Columbia/Sony DVD)/A Kind Of Murder (2016/Magnolia Blu-ray)/Kiss Of Death (1947/Fox)/Our Man In Havana (1959/Columbia/Sony/both Twilight Time Limited Edition Blu-rays)/Solace (2017/Lionsgate Blu-ray)/A Woman's Face (1941/MGM/Warner Archive DVD)



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



PLEASE NOTE: The Kiss Of Death and Our Man In Havana Blu-rays are now only available from our friends at Twilight Time, are limited to only 3,000 copies and can be ordered while supplies last from the links below, A Woman's Face is exclusively issued by Warner Archive on DVD and can be ordered from the link below and Blind Alley is now only available online and can be ordered from our friends at Movie Zyng via the order button atop this review or on top of our right hand sidebar.



Here's an interesting set of mystery, detective, spy, Noir thrillers you should be aware of....



Charles Vidor's Blind Alley (1939) comes from that fabled year where all the Hollywood studios great and small turned out classics seemingly all the time and this Columbia Pictures release is no exception. Chester Morris (often cast as heroes) plays a troubled criminal, sadistic murderer and escaped convict with a gang in tow. They go into an upper-class neighborhood and invade the house of a psychiatrist (Ralph Bellamy in super cool mode) and make all kinds of demands to hide there. How will these high society types handle the stress and threats?


Well, no always well, which makes this an interesting situation just on contrasts and things get slowly worse, but the doctor's in the house and starts to figure out what is bugging the criminal, with the inevitable help of his gal (Ann Dvorak) who puts up with his carelessness and ignoring her, hoping maybe he'll 'change' despite the fact he keeps killing.


A very suspenseful work and a forerunner of The Desperate Hours (made twice into fine films with Humphrey Bogart and Mickey Rourke respectively) along with being ahead of Suddenly with Frank Sinatra, the film is at least a minor classic of several genres, though Noir had not arrived yet and that is not one of them. Needless to say film addicts should watch all four films in chronological order starting with this one to get the best impact and effects. Glad Sony got this one out in a nice DVD version.



Andy Goddard's A Kind Of Murder (2016) is the latest adaption of a Patricia Highsmith thriller (she's best known for her many Ripley novels) that may be ambitious, but just does not totally work despite the ambitions and bets efforts of the participants. It is just one of those things that movies that try to adapt her books or those of John le Carre always seem to fall short (even Kubrick, who liked le Carre, never found one of his books to adapt) so here, we get Patrick Wilson (in a nice break from his formulaic, tired supernatural films) as a widow who suspects a book store owner (the ever-underrated Eddie Marsan) may have killed his wife (Jessica Biel) or not.


He becomes obsessed over this, but is he onto something or just adding thing up in a very bad state of upset? The film suggests he may or may not be right, evoking at least some of the look of Noir films and Detective genre films (they are two different things, by the way) though this is not a Noir film. It does evoke the late 1950s, early 1960s well enough, if a little too clean for its own good and the cast is not bad down tot he supporting players. Too bad the overall film does not work, but those curious should still give it a look for what does.



Henry Hathaway's Kiss Of Death (1947) is a very hard-hitting, brutal Film Noir that is one of the most important Fox ever made. Victor Mature is a former mobster who has sold out his criminal ex-friends and was hoping that might be the ned of it, but they know what he's done and decide to get a sadistic killer (Richard Widmark in a remarkable, star-making role, his first) to avenge the crooks. Along the way, he leaves a path of destruction that shocked audiences then and still has the power to do so today.


Ben Hecht and Charles Lederer deliver an ace of a screenplay while the film has a great supporting cast including Brian Donlevy, Coleen Gray, Howard Smith, Taylor Holmes, Mildred Dunnock and Karl Malden. In the midst of all this is a film that is highly dense, enveloping, realistic (shot on location in New York City) and you can feel it and its world throughout, never an easy thing to do. However, that is what the best Noirs do, showing us the dark side of the world, criminality and the synergy of all the talent here, fusing together like few Noirs ever did, makes this an inarguable classic that is a must-see for all serious film fans. I am surprised this is a Twilight Time release limited to only 3,000 copies, but I bet they'll go fast.



Sir Carol Reed's Our Man In Havana (1959) is the director's attempt to make another classic out of another Graham Green novel (The Third Man and Fallen Idol remain extremely popular) and does a decent job of pulling off one of the last major spy genre films before the James Bond series changed everything forever. Alec Guinness is the title character (a vacuum cleaner salesman!), called in by a spymaster (legendary Noel Coward, who would soon say no to playing Dr. No) to go to the international hotspot (Castro was just taking over!) to find out about a potentially deadly new weapon.


Along the way, he semi-comically deals with a series of characters who may or may not be who they seem played by Maureen O'Hara, Burl Ives, Ernie Kovacs, Jo Morrow and Ralph Richardson. The humor and wit is pretty consistent and amusing, though some might find this too sly for its own good if they are looking for a more comical spy film (the debate between various Bond films is forever a genre point) without becoming Austin Powers, which this does not, still staying rooted in reality no matter any absurdity. That seems tougher than ever for filmmakers to do today when they even attempt intelligent material.


Sony has released this underrated Columbia hit as a Twilight Time Limited Edition Blu-ray and for genre fans, its long overdue, but then they are still sitting on all four much more comical Matt Helm film with Dean Martin, so why the slow rollout? Who knows. Guinness alone is a perpetual curio of an actor simply by way of his Star Wars films, but the unusually eccentric cast, Britishness of the film and casual pace of the humor make this a one-of-a-kind in the genre all serious spy fans need to see. Others should see it for the fun.



Afonso Poyart's Solace (2017) is an interesting revisiting of the serial killer cycle of a few decades ago with Anthony Hopkins as a man who can see the past and future by touching things (thing the TV series Profiler, et al) called out of retirement by a desperate police officer (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) to help catch a killer (Colin Farrell, holding his own in a really good performance here) who seems to strike sick people and has some of Hopkins' powers. Abby Cornish is the other cop (who also happens to be a psychiatrist) trying to solve the case. This ambitiously tries to revive the serial killer tale, but still runs into walls and a few cliches it still cannot shake, but I bought the cast, like the risks the makers took in editing and multiple-looks in the cinematography.


However, it starts to trip over itself a bit in the end and some of the effects are used too much (including one from TV commercials first used in Hopkins' film of Titus, used too much here) so the script and plot cannot hold up in the end. Still, there are some interesting moments here that keep this from being a formula bore and I can see why so much talent signed up. Worth a look for those interested, but expect some blood and gore.



George Cukor's A Woman's Face (1941) is a crime melodrama that puts Joan Crawford at the very beginning of the Film Noir period she would meld into so well, even if this film is not totally a Noir itself. Crawford is a woman who is on trial for the murder of a child, part of a sick deal to get multiple plastic surgeries to repair the scars on the right-hand side of her face (it was a big deal at the time for Crawford to show up with her face deformed this way) with a sick man with his own agenda to inherit a fortune in cash. Did she do it?


Thus, Cukor juggles courtroom drama, mystery, murder, suspense and melodrama with dark themes that were about to take over the more mature side of filmmaking and the film holds up well today (even TV's Moonlighting referenced this film in one of its best episodes) and influenced the murder/mystery genre enough. A few points have aged a bit, but the script (a remake of a film Ingrid Bergman did before coming to Hollywood) and a cast that includes Melvyn Douglas, Conrad Veidt, Reginald Owen, Marjorie Main, Donald Meek and Osa Massen makes for compelling viewing from still number one movie studio MGM. I doubt most director's could have pulled this off as well as Cukor did.



All four Blu-rays look really good, starting with the 1080p 1.85 X 1 digital High Definition image on Murder, an HD shoot that tries and usually succeeds in capturing a look of the past. Maybe it looks too clean at times, but its fine and mostly accomplished. The 1080p 1.33 X 1 black & white digital High Definition image transfer on Kiss can show the age of the materials used a little as expected, but this is far superior a transfer to all previous releases of the film, especially in its ability to show thick Video Black, depth and detail.


The 1080p 2.35 X 1 black & white digital High Definition image transfer on Havana rarely shows the age of the materials used, is far superior a transfer to all previous releases of the film and was shot on 35mm film in real anamorphic CinemaScope. It is always interesting to see the rare number of monochromatic films shot in real scope and this one does not disappoint, trying to be the widescreen cousin of The Third Man. The result is a look of its own.


The 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Solace is an HD shoot with a fancy mix of stylized shots and editing, but color is pretty good and the makers manage to keep this flowing convincingly enough to their credit versus so many who have tried this approach and fallen on their faces.


The 1.33 X 1 black & white image on the Alley and Face DVDs come from really nice-condition prints that have been transferred about as well as they could be for the format, so no disappointments here either.



The DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mix on Murder and Solace are obviously the sonic champs being the only newly recorded films here, but they are well mixed and presented enough, even when relying on dialogue-based scenes. Murder is the quieter of the two due to the recreation of its period, but it is a smart mix just the same.


Death offer DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 2.0 (faked stereo?) and 1.0 Mono lossless mixes that both sound fine, but the 2.0 has a slight edge, while Havana only offers a DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 1.0 Mono lossless mix. However, both show their age, even with the improved fidelity that adds warmth and some depth at times, so only expect so much. The music tracks sound a bit better though.


The lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono on the two DVDs differ in that Alley is just a little to lite in its transfer and playback, so be careful of volume switching and high playback levels, but both are cleaned up well for their age otherwise and are good listens.



Extras include Trailers on all releases by Murder, which offers three Behind The Scenes/Making Of clips. Death and Havana include nicely illustrated booklets on each film including informative text and yet another excellent, underrated essays by the great film scholar Julie Kirgo and Isolated Music Score with select Sound Effects, then Death also adds two feature length audio commentary tracks: one with Kirgo and fellow film scholar Nick Redman, the other with scholars James Ursini & Alain Silver. Solace adds its own Director's feature length audio commentary track and Visions & Voices making of featurette, while Face adds two radio adaptations of the film (one with Better Davis, the other with Ida Lupino) plus live action Romance of Celluloid short You Can't Fool A Camera that includes a clip of this film and animated MGM Technicolor short Little Cesario.



To order the Kiss Of Death and Our Man In Havana limited edition Blu-rays, buy them while supplies last at these links:


www.screenarchives.com


and


http://www.twilighttimemovies.com/


and to order the A Woman's Face Warner Archive DVD, go to this link for it and many more great web-exclusive releases at:


http://www.wbshop.com/



- Nicholas Sheffo


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