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Category:    Home > Reviews > Documentary > Filmmaking > Best Of Film Noir (Documentary)

The Best of Film Noir (documentary)


Picture: C+     Sound: B-     Extras: B-     Main Program: B-



The new DVD version of the 1999 documentary The Best of Film Noir is updated with improved sound and a layout that DVD makes friendlier than VHS ever could.  The main program lasts about an hour and covers the main Noirs, with narration and clips from trailers.  This is different from All-Day Entertainment’s Pulp Cinema (reviewed elsewhere on this site), which is a trailers-only set.


Some trailers show up here that are not on that DVD, but this one also offers stills, interviews, behind-the-scenes items, and many nice poster shots of these classics.  Like that other DVD, there are a few films here that do not quite qualify as Noirs, but are still fun to see about.  After the program, the main menu offers three other options.


The oddest option is the “condensed versions” of Edgar G. Ulmer’s 1945 classic Detour and the original (if “condensed”) 1950 Rudolph Mate classic D.O.A., remade twice so far.  Though it might cause people to be interested in these orphan films, these shorter versions ultimately do nothing more than offer clips from each.  These are films that need to be saved in their original, full-length versions.  This is also proof of the one bad influence we can all blame Reader’s Digest magazine for!


Critic Jeffrey Wells discusses several Noirs in an on-camera piece that runs about 22 minutes.  At its best, it offers his thoughts that are worth your time, about some of the most important key films.  However, he misses the mark somewhat on Robert Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly (1955), and wastes time on Taylor Hackford’s overrated Against All Odds (1984), when there are so many other films that deserve far more attention that are actual Noirs.  Again, that is an era that runs from 1941 – 1958.


The best of the supplements involves interviews with clips on three subjects.  Rod Steiger discusses Aldrich’s scathing The Big Knife (1955), which offered the late great actor one of his finest moments.  There is also Academy Awards footage of him on stage.  A segment on Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall has legendary Hollywood columnist James Bacon talking about them, then we get Academy Awards footage of them both.  Bogart’s section is a funny moment with host Bob Hope, while Bacall has her own segment where she very amusingly announces the technical awards.  Film fans, especially filmmakers, will love this!


Finally, you get a section on Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil, his brilliant 1958 classic and the final true Film Noir.  Unlike Universal Home Video’s underloaded first DVD of the new cut of the film, meant to conform much more closely to Welles vision of what the film should be before the studio took it away from him, we get a nice interview with female lead Janet Leigh about the picture, as well as a few different interview pieces with Charlton Heston, and an even more obscure black and white videotaped interview with Welles’ producer (and late, great character actor) John Houseman.


The full screen image is not bad for its age, though some of the clips are older looking.  Recent DVDs of Touch of Evil, the 1955 Desperate Hours, Warner’s reissues of their (and old M-G-M from the Turner catalog they now own) Noirs, and even the problematic Paramount clean up of semi-Noir Sunset Boulevard are the biggest reason.  It is nice to see that these important films are finally getting taken care of, though much more work needs to be done.


The Dolby Digital here is actually listed on the package as “Surround Sound”, and is a 5.0 mix!  However, this just nicely spreads the monophonic sound on the film and interview clips across the speakers and through the room without sounding phony or problematic.  This is still much better than the standard 2.0 Mono you get on DVDs like this.


Overall, this is the best of several such documentaries DVDs Passport Video has issued and one very much worth picking up.  You may not see these clips again for a long time, if ever, due to the usual copyright entanglements.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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