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Bad Girls of Film Noir Vol. 1 (DVD Review)

8 Feb, 2010 By: Mike Clark

Street 2/9/10
Sony Pictures
$29.98 DVD
Not rated.
Stars Lizabeth Scott, Evelyn Keyes, Gloria Grahame.

Echoing Sony’s “Martini Movies” line, which sometimes serves fun selections in the wrong kind of glasses, not everything here is as described. But the lineup shrewdly combines film history with a luridly commercial hook, and deep-sea diving into the archives is always to be encouraged.

In order of preference:

The Glass Wall (1953): If you can overlook its preposterous premise, this one is fairly stylish, and movie lovers will have a ball reading period marquees in the many nighttime shots of Manhattan. All an illegal immigrant (Vittorio Gassman) has to do to remain in the U.S. is to locate a musician he once aided in World War II and whose last name he doesn’t know. The movie opened not quite two weeks after lead actress Gloria Grahame took a supporting Oscar for The Bad and the Beautiful, and it’s one of many that explains why she must be the woman for whom the term “silky” was invented. Her character steals a coat here, but she’s really not “bad,” despite what her crone of a landlady thinks. An odd subplot deals with the musician in question (Jerry Paris) longing to join jazz great Jack Teagarden’s group, though from appearances here, its gigs are mostly in low-grade bars.

The Killer That Stalked New York (1950): This was Columbia’s ‘B’-movie answer to 20th Century-Fox’s own 1950 plague movie Panic in the Streets. Evelyn Keyes, who really does look appropriately pasty throughout, picks up smallpox in Cuba (one of those virulent Batista strains) and begins rotting the Apple via simple human interaction. Given her luck with a crook lover (two-timing her for a while with her sister), it’s obvious that bad luck follows Keyes around. There’s another crabby landlady, and, in the supporting cast, Dorothy Malone and Lola Albright, two actresses of my youth who easily convinced me that there was life beyond Mickey Mantle. It’s effectively shot in black-and-white by Joseph Biroc, who later specialized in photographing the young Ann-Margret in color.

Bad for Each Other (1953): Army surgeon Charlton Heston leaves the service to push pills for Pittsburgh society matrons, giving the actor one of his rare coat-tie-tux-hat roles. Lizabeth Scott is less a bad girl than a bad influence – though anyone can tell she’s no good because she handles 78 records not by the edges but with her fingers. There’s also an unusual scene where “Perry Mason” actor Ray Collins (as her father) implores Chuck not to marry her because she’ll grub his money. Though in black-and-white, the movie is only a little more noir-ish than, say, The Robe, which had gone into wide release only a few weeks earlier. Mildred Dunnock made a career of playing suffering moms from Death of a Salesman on down, and she’s Heston’s – exactly three years before pulling more maternal duties for Elvis Presley in Love Me Tender.
Two of a Kind (1951): The least interesting of the bunch, though its sounds as if it ought to be fun. Edmond O’Brien lets Liz Scott (she’s back) talk him into crushing his pinkie with a car door so that he’ll fit the description of the long-lost son of rich folk prime to be bilked. Into all this is plunked cute-‘n’-perky Terry Moore, who does for the movie’s noir-ish tone about what Roy Rogers would were he to walk in instead.

As far as extras go, the disc has a recent interview with Terry Moore (can it be more than a quarter-century since she was in Playboy at 55?), plus a 1956 half-hour teleplay called The Payoff that Blake Edwards wrote. Howard Duff and Janet Blair are the stars – which means (when you combine Blair’s casting with male lead Charles Korvin’s in Killer) that this set oddly features the actor and actress who sported the movies’ definitive cleft chins.

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