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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Mystery > Murder > Noir > Crime > Love Triangle > Argentina > Thriller > Law > Court > Journalism > Come > The Beast Must Die (1952*/**)/Bitter Stems (1956/*both Blu-ray/DVD Sets**)/Franco Noir: Death Whistles The Blues (1962) + Rififi In The City (1963/MVD/Severin Blu-ray)/In The Shadow Of Hollywood - Hig

The Beast Must Die (1952*/**)/Bitter Stems (1956/*both Blu-ray/DVD Sets**)/Franco Noir: Death Whistles The Blues (1962) + Rififi In The City (1963/MVD/Severin Blu-ray)/In The Shadow Of Hollywood - Highlights From Poverty Row: Midnight (Call It Murder) (1954) / Back Page (1934) / Woman In The Dark (1934) & The Crime Of Dr. Crespi (1935/Blu-ray Set/**all Flicker Alley)/The Last Of Sheila (1972/Warner Archive Blu-ray)

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

PLEASE NOTE: The Last Of Sheila Blu-ray is now only available from Warner Bros. through their Warner Archive series and can be ordered from the link below.

Up next are some Film Noirs, including imports, nearly lost films, Neo-Noirs and a few other low budget films for good measure...

We start with Roman Vinoly Barreto sometimes creepy mystery Noir based on a book by 'Nicholas Blake (aka Cecil Day Lewis, Daniel Day Lewis' highly successful writer/father) from Argentina, The Beast Must Die (1952, not to be confused with the British monster classic) has a mystery writer (Narciso Ibanez Menta) whose nine-year-old son is killed in a hit and run incident. This follows a poisoning death that the son might have known something about. Even forgoing the local authorities, he decides to do what he has to do to find out the truth and this leads to some unexpected inroads.

Though some parts of the film did not work for me, the general arc is pretty decent and when you add the look of the film, the cast, its darkness and how well it is directed, it turns out to be a pleasant enough surprise to check out and a saved gem from the Argentine Cinema, many films of which have disappeared due to neglect, no preservation program and the like. The first of two such saved films here, it is worth a strong look and is often well done.

Extras include yet another high quality booklet on the films by Flicker Alley featuring rare original photographs, posters, lobby cards, and advertisements, along with an essay by Guido Segal, while the discs add an introduction by author, historian, and "noirchaeologist" Eddie Muller, newly recorded conversation on camera between Argentine film archivist and historian Fernando Martin Pena and Daniel Vinnoly, son of visionary director Roman Vinoly Barreto, Profile of Actor Narciso Ibanez Menta by film historian Fernando Martin Pena and a solid feature length audio Commentary Track by author and film historian Guido Segal.

Fernando Ayala's The Bitter Stems (1956) is an even more advanced, creepier Noir also out of Argentina that is rightly considered one of the best-lensed films of all time and if you disagree with that somehow, the visual ambition is undeniable. However, I like it approach and as hard as it is to believe, this was a lost film for a very long time despite its big reputation. The resulting restoration is stunning and it is a must see for serious film fans.

A refugee (Vassili Lambrinos) and a journalist (Carlos Cores) sick and tired of the state of journalism team up to set up a fake school for future journalists to exploit them and much more, but this starts to backfire when a woman the refugees past turns up unexpectedly and at the worst time, causing unexpected friction between the new partners and the situation will only get more twisted as the scheme goes on and there is no turning back.

Even more complex than Beast, it has an amazing score, multi-layered plot, another great cast, a great look that makes it a real Noir and lands up being as special and important as we have heard. Like the belatedly released I Am Cuba (1963, reviewed elsewhere on this site,) I expect fans and filmmakers to catch up to this one belatedly and it to land up being influential as I am sure it was back in the day for the early years it could actually be seen. Very impressive and another reason to hope more film from Argentina get found and saved.

Extras include yet another high quality booklet on the films by Flicker Alley featuring rare original photographs, posters, lobby cards, and advertisements, along with an essay by film historian and lecturer Maria Elena de las Carreras, while the discs add an introduction by author, historian, and "noirchaeologist" Eddie Muller, Newly Recorded Conversation with Argentine film archivist and historian Fernando Martin Pena, an excellent feature-length audio commentary track by author and film historian Imogen Sara Smith and a Profile of Legendary Composer Astor Piazolla by film historian Steven Smith.

Franco Noir: Death Whistles The Blues (1962) and Rififi In The City (1963) are two early post-Noir mysteries by Jesus Franco that offer a more mature and less genre-reliant view of the director's talents, albeit earlier in his career. Franco actually did the score for Blues, with its basic revenge tale that may not always be great, but has more than enough moments to give it a look, but City (which includes actual original Rififi actor Jean Sevaris) ups the form, the complexity of the script, pace, editing, energy and may be Franco's best film ever.

Being a Post-Noir, more elements that are more like a Horror film (giallo included) are added to City and its rawness and suspense will remind you of the first two James Bond films (Dr. No (1962) and From Russia with Love (1963)) as well as Hitchcock's Psycho and Michael Powell's Peeping Tom (both 1960) in the palpable feel of danger and that anything bad is possible. This is exciting filmmaking in both cases, but City is the reason to get this set and you'll see why even Orson Welles was impressed.

A 67-minutes-long featurette entitled Franco Noir is the only extra.

In The Shadow Of Hollywood: Highlights From Poverty Row continues Flicker Alley's stunning rollout of important, great and interesting films that were almost lost and now have been saved and given thorough, deluxe restorations and scholarly treatments. This time, we get four gems that should have never been lost and have been remarkably saved.

Chester Erskein's Midnight (Call It Murder) (1934, originally distributed by Universal) is a tale about a strict jury foreman (O.P. Heggie) who believes in the law, but goes into shock when his morality is challenged as his daughter (Sidney Fox) admits to being a murderer! This is not bad on its own, but it is also a big curio since it is an early supporting role for the legendary Humphrey Bogart, which makes sense as he would soon become an icon in mostly crime and (starting in 1941) Noir films. A solid indie production everyone should see.

Anton Lorenze's Back Page (1934) might be my favorite film of the four as a young woman (Peggy Shannon) wants to be a big reporter in the big city, but lands up getting fired for going too far and lands up in a small town as a new editor, especially at a time when women were not thought of as being able to handle such things. However, it will not be a smooth, easy job as she discovers a set of scandals locally which also involves a plot to get d=rid of the newspaper itself!

I love the cast (including the great Sterling Holloway in another scene-stealing roll) but you can see Shannon was the climbing star here and it is sad she did not make it all the way due to personal issues. However, this film is absolute proof of her amazing talent, star power, energy and appeal and she alone would be reason enough to recommend this. Fortunately, the script, directing and rest of the cast is up to her high level and it is a great reason to see this one.

Legendary journeyman Director Phil Rosen's Woman In The Dark (1934) proves how talented he was off the bat, has Ralph Bellamy as an ex-con with a new murder accusation and a new woman in his life, who happens to be played by no less than Fay Wray. This is at the point that she was one of the most critically and commercially successful actresses, stars and female stars in the world thank to The Most Dangerous Game, Doctor X, Mystery At The Wax Museum and of course, the original King Kong. All Bellamy in his early prime and still a fan favorite with hit films into the 1980s and this is another strong curio definitely worth your time and another amazing film saved. Based on the Dashiell Hammett book, RKO originally distributed the film, but it became a lost, orphan film just the same until now.

Rounding out the fine films here is John H. Auer's The Crime Of Dr. Crespi (1935) has legendary director Erich Von Stroheim in another one of his solid acting turns, as the title surgeon who abuses his talents to put a rival in a catatonic state via a love triangle, so this is possibly his most explicit work in the Horror genre and is based on Poe's The Premature Burial. It is also part of a cycle of 'lone madmen on the kill' films that started in the silent era and continued well into the 1940s. Hard to believe this is another important film that could have been lost. Melvyn Douglas also stars!

Of course, that all four turned out so incredibly well with such low budgets is as miraculous and the freedom the makers had (especially before the infamous Hollywood Code kicked in) is a master class (that more than ever) new filmmakers (and a few older ones) ought to take note about. This is a great set and I hope we get several sequel sets, because these are not the only Poverty Row and indie films that deserve this attention.

Extras include yet another high quality booklet on the films by Flicker Alley with an essay By Jan-Christopher Horak and tech information with illustrations, while the discs add four Feature-Length Audio Commentaries: Midnight (aka Call It Murder, by author and film scholar Leah Aldridge,) Back Page (by author, professor, and expert on women in the Hollywood studio system, Emily Carman,) Woman in the Dark (by crime author and film studies instructor Jake Hinkson) and The Crime of Dr. Crespi (by film historian and scholar Jan-Christopher Horak.)

Last but not least is Herbert Ross' all-time great mystery film The Last Of Sheila (1972) with what we could term at least some Neo-Noir elements, but much more, written by Stephen Sondheim and Anthony Perkins, we first looked at this underrated-but-beloved gem on DVD at this link:


The film has only become better with age and continues to hold up as one of the most complex of all mystery films, yet its clues are very well laid-out and the film is one fo the best journeyman Ross ever made. The cast is incredibly good, one of the best ensemble films of its time, it was a big deal when it came out (including the irony of Bette Midler's song ''
Friends'') and it deserves to be rediscovered all over again. Even today, many films think they are smart and clever, but this one actually delivers!

Extras repeat from the DVD and include an Original Theatrical Trailer and feature-length audio commentary track by Richard Benjamin, Dyan Cannon and Rachel Welch.

Now for playback performance. All the Blu-rays look great and the often extensive restoration work to save and preserve each film has paid off incredibly well. The 1080p 1.33 X 1 black & white digital High Definition image transfer can sometimes show the age of the materials used on all six films released by Flicker Alley, but they look great and the PCM 2.0 Mono sound on each is as good as these films will ever sound.

The 1.33 X 1 DVD versions of the films offer lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono and they are good for the older format, but play about as well as they can for the older format.

The same high marks go for the 1080p Blu-rays (1.85 X 1 black & white digital High Definition image transfer on Death and 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image on City) also can show their age, but have been scanned and cleaned up very well with solid grey scale and video black. Both also feature Spanish DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 2.0 Mono lossless mixes that sound as good as they ever will with some especially hard restoration work involved.

That leaves the
1080p 1.85 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Sheila, a fine upgrade from the now dated DVD and it is the best I have seen anything from this film since its original release and all the best articles on it. Issued at the time in 35mm dye-transfer, three-strip Technicolor copies, the film has consistent color and the original monophonic sound upgraded here to a DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 2.0 Mono lossless mix makes hearing the dialogue (and potential clues) easier than ever. The result is a very welcome upgrade.

To order The Last Of Sheila Warner Archive Blu-ray, go to this link for them and many more great web-exclusive releases at:


- Nicholas Sheffo


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