The Best of Film Noir (documentary)
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
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