Without doubt Humphrey Bogart is an icon of film noir. It is therefore fitting that Indicator conclude their Columbia Noir series with a boxset almost exclusively dedicated to Bogie. As with the previous four volumes, Columbia Noir #5 is a handsome addition loaded with extras.
Dead Reckoning is the first shot. It was an unusual production for Columbia in that its two main stars were loaned from other studios. Lizabeth Scott from Hal Wallis and Bogart from Warner Bros. Bogart plays Captain Rip Murdock whose army buddy disappears only to turn up dead. Rip discovers that his comrade Johnny joined the army under an alias to escape a murder charge. Given leave to investigate the death Rip begins an affair with Coral (Lizabeth Scott), the wife of the man Johnny supposedly murdered.
Like many noirs, Dead Reckoning is told in flashback. Given the convoluted plot, this does help the audience keep track of what’s what and who’s who. There is also a certain amount of pleasure watching a more sympathetic Bogie romance the husky-voiced Scott. Lizabeth was Paramount’s Lauren Bacall and it’s obvious to see that Columbia was hoping to capture the same chemistry that Bogart and Bacall displayed on screen.
Dead Reckoning’s extras include a newly recorded audio commentary with film scholar and preservationist Alan K Rode, A Pretty Good Shot: an appreciation by writer and film programmer Tony Rayns, Watchtower Over Tomorrow, a short film directed by John Cromwell, documenting the formation of the United Nations following World War II.
Knock On Any Door has the distinction of being Nicholas Ray’s first film. It’s a courtroom drama, in which Bogart plays attorney Andrew Morton. Petty criminal Nick Romano (John Derek) is Morton’s client. After his pregnant wife commits suicide, Romano kills a cop when committing a robbery.
Knock On Any Door is another flashback-driven tale. Although somewhat dated it still packs a punch with its depiction of how circumstances and hopelessness can breed crime. Bogart gives a stunning performance as the attorney Morton. His final speech is rivetingly poignant and just as relevant today. It’s all the more remarkable that at nearly twelve minutes long, it was shot in practically one take.
The extras include a new audio commentary with writer and film historian Pamela Hutchinson, Nobody Knows How Anybody Feels: an appreciation by critic and film programmer Geoff Andrew, Tuesday in November, a documentary short about the democratic process in America, made as part of the Office of War’s The American Scene series and boasting Nicholas Ray as assistant director.
In Tokyo Joe, Joe Bogart plays the titular Joe Barrett. When war broke out, Barrett abandoned his wife Trina and young child in Tokyo. Barrett returns to pick up the threads of his life in post-war Japan and discovers that Trina made treasonous radio propaganda broadcasts.
This is very much a film of two halves. Bogart is utterly convincing in communicating his sense of loss and regret over the destruction of war, but then he was a master at playing world-weary characters with complete conviction. Unfortunately, this isn’t a film that has weathered at all well. Whilst America had the best intentions of rebuilding a devastated Japan, what Tokyo Joe shows is that America tried to rebuild Japan in its image, and this is what propels a large part of the narrative. Very much a product of its time.
Extras on this disc include an audio commentary with writer and film historian Nora Fiore, Bertrand Tavernier on ‘Tokyo Joe’, an archival appreciation by the celebrated filmmaker and critic, A Superstar Returns, archivist Tom Vincent assesses the career of actor Sessue Hayakawa, the silent-era star who made his return to Hollywood filmmaking with Tokyo Joe, Second unit photography is rare footage shot by second unit director Art Black and cameramen Joseph Biroc and Emil Oster Jr in Tokyo for use in the main feature, The Negro Soldier, a WWII documentary film intended as a recruitment drive for African American enlistees, and Jim Pines on ‘The Negro Soldier’, an audio presentation by the author and lecturer.
Sirocco has Bogart as gun runner Harry Smith in 1925 Damascus. He provides guns to Emir Hassan’s rebels until he’s arrested by the French that is. Bogart is back as the Bogart most are familiar with, morally ambiguous, trench-coated and tough-talking. Sirocco is often compared unfavourably to Casablanca, and although Casablanca is, without doubt, a stone-cold classic, Sirocco shouldn’t be dismissed entirely. Interestingly the film doesn’t favour the French or Syrians. Smith is nothing more than an opportunist and Lee J. Cobb’s, French commander Col. Feroud, sympathetically portrays a man fighting for a cause he no longer believes in, whilst occasionally enjoying some scenery-chewing.
Extras include audio commentary with film historians Alexandra Heller-Nicholas and Josh Nelson, and The South Bank Show: ‘Bogart: Here’s Looking at You, Kid’: 1997 episode of the long-running British arts television series, featuring Humphrey Bogart’s son, Stephen Bogart, looking back at his father’s life and career.
The Family Secret is the one feature that doesn’t contain Bogie, although it was produced by Santana, his production company.
A lawyer (Lee J. Cobb) faces an unthinkable dilemma when his son David (John Derek) accidentally kills his best friend. As there weren’t any witnesses was the killing accidental, or murder.
The opening is pure noir, but then the film descends into bland melodrama. The main problem is John Derek. David is a complicated role. The audience should be in a constant state of two minds. Is David innocent? Is he guilty? Instead, Derek’s David comes across as petulant and spoiled. Very much a wasted opportunity.
Extras include audio commentary with professor and film scholar Jason A Ney, The Negro Sailor: WWII documentary short film, directed by Henry Levin and conceived as a recruitment tool for the United States Navy, and The Big Moment: short film produced by the United Jewish Appeal, starring John Derek.
Finally, there is Bogart’s final film, the excellent The Harder They Fall. Former sports columnist Eddie Willis (Bogart) is hired by a greedy fight promoter to promote his latest talent, an unknown and exploitable rising star from Argentina.
Boxing does not have to be an interest to enjoy this tough, uncompromising, character-driven drama. Director Mark Robson gives us a ring-side seat to the darker side of boxing. He doesn’t pull his punches when showing the audience, the violence of the ring, the deprivations of the downtrodden or treating individuals as commodities to be pummelled for others’ profits. Bogart gives a career-best performance as a writer that sells out, and Rod Steiger provides a chilling performance as the vicious, unscrupulous fight promoter whose motivation is to simply make a fast buck.
Bogart died having battled cancer not long after the completion of this film, but what a film to bow out with. To go out with a bang, not a whimper.
Extras include audio commentary with critics and writers Glenn Kenny and Farran Smith Nehme, The Final Bout: critic and writer Christina Newland examines the making of the film, and its relationship to the original novel, Bertrand Tavernier on ‘The Harder They Fall’: archival appreciation by the celebrated filmmaker and critic and That Justice Be Done: George Stevens’ short on the Nuremberg trials, made by the Office of War Information.
Columbia Noir #5 is out now