DVD Odds and Ends and Late Arrivals – Forgotten Noirs and Cult Oddities

There are few no lost masterpieces in Forgotten Noir Vol. 13 (VCI), the latest installment in the DVD series from VCI featuring orphaned crime films from the forties and fifties, and it’s a stretch to even call the films in this double feature “film noir,” but they are intriguing finds. Eye Witness (1950) is a moderately classy and somewhat sluggish murder mystery that has no real film noir credentials. Robert Montgomery directs and stars as a smart-talking American lawyer turned amateur detective in a rural British village, where his Yankee savvy and urban bluntness collides with British restraint and manners. It does have fun with the slang barrier, however, which recalls a classic quote about the American-British relationship: “Two great countries separated by a common language.” Longtime Hitchcock collaborator Joan Harrison produces and you can spot a young Stanley Baker in a bit part as a policeman on the witness stand. The disc is mastered from the “uncut British version” and features the British title on the opening credits: Your Witness.

Breakdown (1952), the sole screen effort by stage director Edmond Angelo, is a low budget and very American quasi-noir boxing drama set against a culture of political corruption and the brutal arena where young boxers are destroyed by greedy managers. The charismatically anemic William Bishop is a hot young boxer sprung from prison by a shady ward boss (Sheldon Leonard, who also narrates) to help out his kid brother, an aspiring boxing manager (Wally Cassell), only to be pressured into fighting the champ in a match he isn’t ready for. Though running a brief 76 minutes and shot on the cheap, it’s more of a low budget indie than an actual B movie. There isn’t much style to this stage adaptation but it moves along at a good clip and leaves more casualties than you might expect. The print quality is unexceptional but fine for both, with a softness to the image, minor print damage and hiss on the soundtracks.

The films in British Film Noir Double Feature (VCI) are indeed British but less noir than lurid social dramas with arch moral lessons. Twilight Women (aka Women of Twilight) (1953) is set in a boarding house that takes in wed mothers and notorious women no “respectable” rooming home will have. It’s like a low-rent Stage Door by way of a prison film with Freda Jackson as the landlady who puts on a show of maternal concern but is little more than a prison warden preying off women who have no other alternative. This mercenary monster even gets away with murder, or at the very least negligent homicide when it comes to taking care of the babies, shorting them on milk and nutrients and refusing to call the doctor when one of them becomes ill from starvation. Lois Maxwell (the future Miss Moneypenny) is an unwed mother awaiting her fiancé to return from Canada and René Ray the most notorious resident who looks out for the utterly defenseless Maxwell while wallowing in self pity while her cheating lover goes to the hangman after murdering one of his conquests. It’s adapted from a stage play and never shakes off its staginess, and the “happy ending” is strange sort of lifeline, though at least heartfelt from the women involved.

The Slasher (aka Cosh Boy) (1953) isn’t about a killer, simply a sneering young thug, a piece of pure juvenile delinquent melodrama set in post-war London where aimless thugs attack little old ladies (the term “cosh” refers to hitting someone over the head with a sap) and hide out in the rubble of bombed-out homes. The bullying leader of the aimless gang, Roy (James Kenney), is an angry, manipulative bully coddled (and essentially enabled) by a war widow who refuses to believe he’s such a bad egg, but the film refuses to extend any blame to her willful ignorance. Joan Collins gets prime billing in a small role as the younger sister of a gang member who falls under Roy’s sway with predictable results. The post-war setting offers a potentially solid framework to explore the loss of parents and siblings and see the damage on those left behind, but it’s trite and tired with a musty morality and dime-store psychology (wouldn’t you know that the film figures all the boy needs a good thrashing from an authority figure). Director Lewis Gilbert went on to much better work: Alfie, Educating Rita and three James Bond movies. The transfers are adequate at best and there are serious audio deficiencies and soundtrack damage in The Slasher.

Not to be confused with Amos Poe’s 1976 documentary of the same name, the 1979 Blank Generation (MVD) by Ulli Lommel also dives into the New York punk rock scene, but the parallels end there. Richard Hell stars as a burned-out singer having a tumultuous affair with an emotionally erratic French journalist (Carole Bouquet) in a film that seems to wanders around the streets of New York looking for a story and never finding one. What it does offer is a great snapshot of the city, grimy New York underground atmosphere and live performances by Richard Hell and the Voidoids, whose iconic punk hit is the film’s titles and theme song. Andy Warhol is an executive producer and makes a cameo as himself. Features a new interview 45-minute with Richard Hell conducted by Luc Sante, and the aging punk star doesn’t mince words about what he thinks is wrong with the film, director Lommel or even his own (non)performance. “There’s not a truthful moment in the film,” he confesses, though he does praise cinematographer Ed Lachman for his cinematic snapshot of 1978 New York. The DVD

And a film I didn’t have a chance to see but have set aside for later viewing is Return To The 36th Chamber (Vivendi), a sequel (of sorts) from The 36th Chamber of Shaolin director Lau Kar-leung and star Gordon Liu (playing, I’m told, a con man who impersonates Liu’s character from the original film). The Vivendi release is from the collection of Celestial Pictures restorations. The previous discs have looked excellent and arrived uncut and with original soundtracks and good subtitles (plus optional English dub track). No reason so suspect this is any different.

More cult titles: Battle Girl: The Living Dead In Tokyo Bay (Synapse) starring Japanese wrestling sensation Cutie Suzuki battling zombies; The Alcove (Severin), another sexploitation from Joe D’Amato offering up the ample charms of Laura Gemser, cult goddess of seventies and eighties Eurotica; and Wong Jing’s gangster drama I Corrupt All Cops (Tai Seng), set in the days before the 1997 handover and starring Tony Leung Kar Fai as an Inspector out to reform a corrupt department and Anthony Wong (who else?) as his nemesis.

Author: seanax

I write the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website (www.streamondemandathome.com). I'm a contributing writer for Turner Classic Movies Online, Keyframe, Independent Lens, and Cinephiled, and the editor of Parallax View (www.parallax-view.org).. I've written for The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Seattle Weekly, GreenCine.com, Senses of Cinema, Asian Cult Cinema, and Psychotronic Video, among other publications, and I am a contributing editor to Parallax View. I currently live and work in Seattle, Washington, with my two cats, Hammet and Chandler.

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