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Posts Tagged ‘Victor Mature’

Kiss Of Death (1947) Blu-Ray Review

Saturday, March 11th, 2017

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Stars – Victor Mature, Brian Donlevy, Karl Malden, Richard Widmark, Coleen Gray
Director – Henry Hathaway

Released by Twilight Time
Limited edition of 3,000 Units
Available at Screenarchives.com and Twilighttimemovies.com

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

Kiss of Death is a good Film Noir that gets catapulted into greatness by way of Richard Widmark’s stand out performance as sadistic hit man Tommy Udo. The nature of the lead character played by Victor Mature also represents a departure for the kind of heroes that would be acceptable. The film starts off with the robbery of a jewelry store. Mature is one of the guys knocking the place over. One of the robbers kills someone. So he is a crook, right? No doubt about it. Now he did not kill the guy but he was part of the crew that did. Later on when he is forced to choose between being sent off on a lengthy prison term or become a snitch and rat out his friends he sings like a canary. There are extenuating circumstances. His wife became involved in a tawdry affair while he was away. Things got so tough for her that she stuck her head in an over and committed suicide. Mature’s little boy is left all alone. However the kid’s old babysitter has eyes for his dad. Forget that he is too old for her, and that he is in jail. So this is the hero of the picture. This is the guy we are rooting for. When he has to testify in court against one of his old crew word gets around and Tommy Udo is called in to take care of him. Now Mature is still definitely a bad guy but when you compare him to Udo, maybe he’s not so bad.

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That kind of character is one of the things that is so compelling about a good Noir. People can have shades to them. The gray scale of human morality gets as much attention as the fascinating photography by Nobert Brodine. Brodine shot over 100 films starting in the silent era. In this one we frequently see a reflection of Mature in a nearby window or on a highly polished piece of furniture or door. That gleam in the reflections is so strong that you suspect they had a guy in the crew whose sole job was to take a shammy cloth to any shiny surface the camera pointed at. But it works. There are two sides to this guy and maybe he’s leaning more toward the good side of life now. Meanwhile Richard Widmark makes a film debut that just rocks the house. He has a maniacal high pitched laugh. You can trace that laugh from the Batman comics by way of Widmark being a fan to Frank Gorshin’s laugh as The Riddler in the Batman TV show. Widmark also sports a world class smirk throughout most of the picture. His dialogue is full of these hipster put downs. He calls squealers and people not up to his liking, squirts. He says it like squints at times, too. He oozes evil and looks ready to pop at any moment. The costumer did a great job with his look. He dresses like a stylish gangster with just a touch of a comic book villain.

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The intense scene that starts with Udo asking an old lady in a wheelchair where her son is has become legendary. Everything about it just builds beautifully. The old lady lies about her son not being there. Udo sees an open window that the squirt had make his escape through. Who would tie an elderly mother into her wheelchair with an electric cord he just rips off of a lamp. Udo takes her out on the landing and heaves her down the stairway. His laughter over the scene seals the deal. You could line up the people offended by that scene several times around the city of Philadelphia. After seeing this guy at work rooting for Mature’s bad guy who now may be more of a good guy just got a whole lot easier.

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Coleen Gray, the baby sitter who marries Victor Mature has a voice over that opens and closes the picture. With so many hardnosed guys doing voice overs in Noirs this has a very different and gentle quality to it. Much of the film was shot on the streets of the city which lends it an air of toughness . There is a bordello hidden in a town house in a nice neighborhood that Udo takes Mature to. The incongruity of the house of ill repute carrying on in such a nice part of town fits with Mature’s duality nicely. Kiss of Death has some melodrama to it that gets balanced well with the brutality of Widmark‘s role of Tommy Udo. The darkness of the location shoot also levels the scales. The shots inside the Chrysler building are terrific. Kiss Of Death is a stand out Film Noir that gets a great looking treatment here.

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Video – 1.33:1
This is a very satisfying presentation. Black levels are strong. There is no distortion at all. There is plenty of detail to be found in clothing, faces and backgrounds. The gleam in the frequent reflections is easily seen.

Audio – DTS HD MA 2.0 and 1.0 in English with subtitles offered in English SDH
All dialogue is easily understandable. Music and effects fit well in the track.

Extras – Twilight Time’s signature isolated score track, Commentary by film historians  Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman, Commentary with film historians James Ursini and Alain Silver, Original theatrical trailer, Essay by Julie Kirgo

Ursini and Silver are well know for their books on Film Noir. They bring in a great deal of information in their commentary. The other new commentary is more fun and gives another take on the film.

On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic:

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Movie – Excellent

Cry Of The City (1948) Blu-Ray Review

Sunday, November 20th, 2016

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Stars – Victor Mature, Richard Conte, Shelley Winters, Fred Clark, Debra Paget
Director – Robert Siodmak

Released by Kino Lorber Studio Classics

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

Films Noirs are often credited with creating characters that broke away from being simply classed as good guys or bad guys. There were people that were introduced as upstanding law abiding types who were later revealed to have obvious bad streaks. At times a dyed in the wool criminal would come through in the clutch with an act of unselfish heroism. The days of the good guys in the white hats and the bad guys in the bad hats were giving way to a new realism. In Cry of the City director Curt Siodmak takes full advantage of this new grey scale. Richard Conte plays a crook who we first meet in a hospital . He has been shot. It looks like he’s not going to make it. A corrupt attorney keeps asking him to confess to another crime so his client can get away from a murder charge. What difference is it to you? What’s another murder rap? You’ll either die or be fried in the chair for the cop killing. Conte says he had to shoot. It was him or me. The sleazy lawyer says that cop had shot a lot of people. A good case could be made. You might even walk. Conte sends this guy packing. Then his sweet and innocent girlfriend played by Debra Paget in her first role nestles up to him in his bed. She puts her head on his chest and cries. He’ll do anything to keep his girl from getting mixed up in a jewel robbery the cops are trying to pin on him. A dame was involved but it wasn’t his dame.

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Victor Mature and Paul Ford are the detectives who dog Conte for the truth. Conte charms his nurse into going to his girlfriend’s apartment and convincing her to hide out at her house so the cops can’t find her. If they grill her he knows she wouldn’t hold up. She’d confess to anything. We genuinely like this guy. He cares. He is charming. But as the film goes on we see how he uses people. Once he sneaks out of the hospital he gets a very young Shelley Winters to drive him around. With bullet holes in his leg bleeding over the back seat she is afraid he is going to die in the back seat of her car. He doesn’t care – drive on. In another unusual turn when we see Victor Mature check on Conte‘s parent’s house looking for him he call his mother Mama. Clearly he knows her well and they both care for him. Much is made of her incredible soup and cooking.  The blood ties of the old Italian neighborhood run deep. Director Siodmak pulls off these character swings smoothly.

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Sidomak who is known for other Noirs including The Killers and Criss Cross shows off some good style here. When Conte’s little punk brother is buzzing across the city he checks and double checks to make sure he is not being followed by the cops. He stops outside a brownstone building. He gives the streets another good look to assure himself he is in the clear. With some real swagger he pulls out a cigarette, lights up and takes in a nice inhale. Siodmak cuts to this big detective in the shadows of a building across the street slowly exhaling from his own cigarette. They were always onto him and they were that close. What a clever way to shows us that. This is a solid crime story from the streets. Mature and Conte excel in their roles. Fred Clark is great as his hulking partner who always seems a half beat behind in everything. He gives the role a nice comic shading. Fans of genre films will be glad to spot Hoper Emerson as a masseuse who turns a friendly massage for Conte into a strangling session. She looks like she could break your neck, too. The film is strong on character and style with a good compelling story of two guys from the same streets. Cry of The City is one of the better Noirs from the late forties.

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Video – 1.31:1
This is a very satisfying presentation from Kino. There is a nice looking level of grain. Black levels are strong. The Noir style lighting on these sets looks fabulous.

Audio – Mono Track
All dialogue is easily understandable. The orchestral score sounds good, too.  You’ll recognize the melody of the bluesy Street Scene as Alfred Newman uses it in the intro and a few other times in his score for this film.  This is one of several Noirs that feature that great melody.  It fits so well.

Extras – Commentary by film noir historian Eddie Muller, Trailers

Eddie Mulller gives another fun commentary loaded with information. He lets us know that this was Debra Paget’s first film. She was touted as being a newly discovered eighteen year old but in truth she was fourteen when she played Richard Conte’s girlfriend. Muller is so clearly an unabashed lover of these films. He chomps at the bit to let us in on all the good stuff.

On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic :

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Movie – Excellent

I Wake Up Screaming (1941) Blu-Ray Review

Sunday, October 30th, 2016

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Stars – Betty Grable, Victor Mature, Carole Landis, Laird Cregar, Elisha Cook Jr.
Director – H. Bruce Humberstone

Released by Kino Lorber Studio Classics

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

I Wake Up Screaming is a first class Film Noir that comes highly recommended. There is a lot to like in this one. Victor Mature plays Frankie Christopher a New York City hustler who promotes prize fighters and anything else he can make a buck out of. We first meet him while several detectives crowd around him in a dimly lit room. They are grilling him with all the gas turned on but he stays cool. He did not kill the gorgeous dame Vicky Lynn played by Carole Landis. The band plays a stinger while we flashback to see that he picks her up in a cheap diner. He buys her nice dresses and takes her out to all the right nightclubs and introduces her to all the right people. He gets her name in the papers. Before long she’s got all kinds of advertising contracts and a job singing. But no he did not kill her. He only wanted to make a buck off of her. The girl that really sent him was her roommate and sister, Jill Lynn. Betty Grable plays her as a practical girl who has her head screwed on right. She is bright and cheerful. Betty Grable was a WWII pin up girl, the one all the wolves whistled at in the Buggs Bunny Cartoons. Her image in a bathing suit was painted on more than a few fighter planes during the war.

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Director H. Bruce Humberstone made four Charlie Chan films. He worked with The Ritz Brothers and Danny Kaye. A legitimate jack of all trades, he does a splendid job with this one. So many compositions have that signature Noir use of shadow. He’s not afraid to let sequences get dark. We also get plenty of close ups that use these classic movie star faces to full avail. We get the story from a series of flashbacks till we are all caught up. There is a lovely bit where Frankie takes Jill out on the town. Somewhere well after midnight he takes her to his favorite spot – a private indoor swimming pool. it’s a lovely way to cap off their date. As they lounge on one of the fountains in the middle of the pool he tells her that she is the first girl he ever brought there. Without missing a beat a blonder strokes by and gives him the eye and a hearty, “Hey Frankie.” It‘s a charming moment.

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Some say that a Noir is only as good as the trouble it causes. Trouble in this one comes in the form of the large hulking detective Ed Comell. Laird Cregar is kept in the shadows for the first part of the picture. When he comes out he is menacing and he has it in for Frankie. He follows him around. He brings him into the squad room for questioning. At one point he just appears in Frankie’s apartment to confront him when he comes home. He’d been sitting silently in a chair in the dark for hours. Laird Cregar never raises his voice. It is almost silky smooth. He just insinuates, prods and pushes at Frankie ever so politely. In one of the best scenes in the film he catches a ride with him. While they drive through rear screen projections of New York City he plays with a bit of string as he throws more accusations at Frankie. When he gets out he hands the string to Frankie. It is a perfectly detailed hangman’s noose, right down the knots above the noose. It reminded me of that tiny toy guillotine we see if the 1935 version of A Tale of Two Cities.

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Laird Cregar was an immensely talent actor. Anything he is in, especially his starring vehicles like Hangover Square (1944) or any other supporting work is absolutely worth seeing. Elisha Coook, Jr. is on hand as a sleepy sleazy doorman at the sisters’ building. He has a way of delivering every line as if he means to say whadya accusing me for, I didn’t do nothing ! Throughout the film the main theme is this lovely blues riff that has been beautifully adapted for strings. It impossible to get it out of your head. Alfred Newman originally wrote it for Street Scene in 1931. Apparently it was so well liked by directors and producers that it wound up in several others films including Cry of the City, Kiss of Death, Where the Sidewalk Ends, and The Dark Corner. You hear it and it transports you to The City at night. The other theme that weaves in and out of the more romantic scenes is the unmistakable strains of Somewhere Over The Rainbow. Wizard of Oz had just come out two years earlier.

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There are some good action scenes, too. We get to see Betty Grable smash some cop over the head so she and Mature can get away to prove his innocence. She has a neatly shot at night chase across the rooftops. The cityscape looks so magical with her throwing down a board to dash from one building to the next. Mystery and romance blend with this force of nature cop that is always closing in. Cregar seems to be lurking inside every shadow, hiding in the darkness of every dimly lit empty room. The film has a very satisfying conclusion with the unhinged killer identified and justice served. I first saw this film years ago when Joe Franklin hosted a week of his picks for great films you may not have seen on WOR TV in New York City. I remember that he showed The Mighty Barnum with Wallace Beery which remains an obscure treasure and this one which just gets better with every viewing. You need to see I Wake Up Screaming. If you have seen it, see it again. Laird Cregar and his noose await you.

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Video – 1.33:1
The transfer has a pleasing amount of grain. This is definitely a film drenched in shadows and darkness. There is contrast yet it all feels very natural and proper. It’s worth noting that the beauty close ups of Betty Grable and Carole Landis are fully lit letting them look as stunning as they should be.

Audio – DTA Mono
All dialogue is clear. I could listen to that blues riff that drives Alfred Neman’s classic Street Scenes song all night long. It is one of the most fitting Noir themes, right up there with Laura. You hear it and suddenly you are in the shadows, collar turned up and looking over your shoulder for trouble.

Extras – Commentary by Film Noir Historian Eddie Muller, Trailers                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   Eddie Muller, The Czar of Noir provides another entertaining fact filled commentary. His Noir tracks are always fun and informative.

On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic :

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Movie – Excellent

Violent Saturday (1955) Blu-Ray Review

Sunday, July 20th, 2014

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Stars – Victor Mature, Richard Egan, Stephen McNally, Virginia Leith, Tommy Noonan, Lee Marvin, Margaret Hayes, J. Carrol Naish, Sylvia Sidney, Ernest Borgnine
Director – Richard Fleischer.

Released by Twilight Time
Limited edition of 3,000 units
Available at screen archives.com

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

Film Noir has combined with other genres, most notably westerns to produce some terrific pictures. When you watch a lot of Noirs you have to be careful that you don’t unwittingly get led down a dark alley to be left with some sappy melodrama masquerading as a noir. Normally too much melodrama in the mix can be the kiss of death. The fact that this is a color movie and a tremendous looking one done in Cinemascope may be enough to put classic Noir fans off the scent. But please don’t let that dissuade you; this one gets it right.

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This film is set in a bucolic Arizona mining town that exudes the kind of Americana charm found in Normal Rockwell magazine covers. The landscaping with mountain ranges in the distance behind the stately homes is gorgeous. When we first see Victor Mature (After The Fox) he looks like his tan was painted on. He wears it well and with him running a cooper mine forged of the rugged mountains it works. The colors are bright and painterly with a slightly bolder than life quality. A trio of hardened bank robbers come into town pretending to be traveling salesmen. As they case the local bank with its poorly guarded vaults and plot their heist we get a peek behind the town’s veneer.

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Victor Mature’s son gets into a fight with a school mate. He thinks his father is a coward because he did not fight in the war. No matter what dad says it doesn’t wash. The man who manages the mines is an alcoholic with a philandering wife. The bank manager delights in sending a foreclosure notice to the librarian. But not as much as he delights in following the beautiful nurse in town. He even takes his dog for late night walks so he can peep at her window as she undresses for bed. The librarian steels a pocket book at the library and pockets the cash. When she sneaks out at night to dispose of the empty pocketbook in the trash she sees the perverted manager spying on the nurse. He sees her but before he can make good on his threat of turning her in she blackmails him with exposure. During this tour of small town dirty laundry the three robbers are getting ready to make their move on a Saturday afternoon. Their plan is to come in when the vault opens for the last time before the bank, and the vault close up for the weekend.

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There are some great actors in this one. Ernest Borgnine (The Wild Bunch) sports a beard to play an Amish farmer. He is very polite and says “I thank thee” a lot. Syliva Sydney (Dead End) brings a sense of pathos to her role as the librarian driven to blackmail. Of the three robbers one stands out. He is mostly quiet pacing around and fiddling with his Benzedrine inhaler until his first revealing scene on a sunny street. Lee Marvin drops his nose inhaler and when this kid who looks like Opie from The Andy Griffith Show bends down to pick it up for him, Marvin pins the kid’s hand to the pavement with his shoe. He lets go after a moment, wipes the inhaler off with his handkerchief and then takes a quick snort. Later he worries that one of the other guys in the crew is mean. Marvin could play impending doom so well. He’s often referred to as a force of nature and that description fits well here.

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Is this a tough crime film supported by a very tawdry look at the people in the town that will be robbed? Or is this a melodrama centered around neurotic people whose lives get thrown from the frying pan into the fire by the brazen act of robbery on that one day There is a moment when the Film Noir elements run head on into the melodrama and it smacks like a fist. The librarian is at the bank teller’s window to deposit the money she stole. This is right when the bank robbery starts. Lee Marvin goes to grab it and she resists. She is indignant. She clamps her hand tight around the dollar bills. Her whole face screams, this is my money! Not only did she steal it but she had to blackmail the snide little bank manager that caught her ditching the pocketbook. This sordid tale of events put that cold hard cash in her hand and she is not letting go. Marvin slams her hard and grabs the money. He doesn’t give a rat’s ass about her troubles. He is working and that is his. Done. The professional crook meets the sneaky librarian pocketbook thief and the librarian is down for the count.

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The film starts with Victor Mature as the dad looking too small in his son‘s eyes and then finishes with him earning his respect by becoming the hero, although a reluctant one. One of the most iconic images from the film is of the non violent Amish farmer Borgnine rising to action with a pitchfork his hand. Director Richard Fleisher had done many different kinds of films from Noirs like Armored Car Robbery (1950) and Narrow Margin (1952) to the Disney adventure 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954) when he came to this one. He handles the hybrid mix very well giving each genre its due. The last half hour when the robbery gets going is full of solid action and thrills. When I first saw this picture as a kid I had to wade through the melodrama to get to the action, now years later I can fully appreciate how well the combination of the two works. Plus the rich colorful Cinemascope landscape looks tremendous.

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Video – 2.55:1
This is the first double dip for Twilight Time. One of their first releases was a DVD of this title made from materials that were lacking. Many were not pleased with the non-anamorphic formatting. At the time a statement was issued saying that was better than not releasing it at all. Now it gets the full-on Blu-Ray treatment delivered in the original 2.55:1 and it looks fabulous. The colors have that stand out quality that is at once impressive and later feels more like a painter’s work than any kind of realistic photography. This redresses that initial release and goes more than the extra mile in terms of presentation. The Cinemascope compositions and color palate are gorgeous here. If there are any moments that get a bit too bogged down with the townspeople you can just enjoy the photography till Lee Marvin comes back.

Audio – 5.1 DTS HD
The 5.1 sound has some unexpected stereo imaging. There is a scene with Lee Marvin paces back and forth from left to right during a hotel room conversation. The sound follows him from stage left to stage right. The music and dialogue all sound fine here.

Extras – Twilight Time’s signature isolated music track, Commentary with Film Historians Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman, Trailer, Liner notes by Julie Kirgo

On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic:

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Movie – Excellent