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ESSENTIAL FILM NOIR: COLLECTION 5

Written By:

Martin Unsworth
13weststreet

Australian boutique label Imprint’s latest collection of four vintage film noirs is a mixed bag that pushes the definition slightly but is never less than entertaining.

Island of Doomed Men (1940) sounds more horror-tinged than it actually is, although it does star the wonderfully sinister Peter Lorre. He plays the owner of Dead Man’s Island, a place where paroled prisoners can be sent to work. Little do they know they’re just being set up as slaves. An undercover agent is sent there and attempts to bring the corrupt system down.

Surprisingly sadistic, this fantastic film – directed by Charles Barton (Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein) – gives Lorre a chance to shine, doing what he does best: be intensely creepy and cruel. It’s interesting to see the white slave trade being a topic for this largely forgotten B-picture.

The Red Menace (1949) is the most overt and least compelling of the movies on offer here. It paints the communist party as a brainwashed cult, and when an ex-soldier gets no help from the government, he’s easy prey for the commies. Filmed at the height of McCarthyism, in which the US Senate sought to persecute anyone with left leanings, and is ripe propaganda.

Based on a novel of the same name, 1957’s The Burglar is a much more worthy inclusion. Starring Dan Duryea and Jayne Mansfield in her feature debut, it’s an often tense and violent movie that should be better known. Duryea is the head of a group of petty crooks who plan a big heist on the home of a rich spiritualist. Making off with the jewellery, they head to Atlantic City, pursued by others who want the pricey necklace they stole. Both Duryea and Mansfield are fantastic in the lead roles. The film boasts some neat twists, tight direction from Paul Wendkos (The Mephisto Waltz), and is atmospherically photographed.

Rounding out the set is 13 West Street (1962), in which Alan Ladd plays a respectable chap roughed up by a gang of youths. When he finds the law (ably portrayed by Rod Steiger) ineffective in bringing him justice, he buys a gun and sets about finding his assailants. While the story doesn’t go as far as Death Wish, it’s a strong tale of a good guy pushed to extremes.

This fifth set of borderline film noir films may not have any real heavy hitters, but it’s a solid collection of rarely-seen thrillers. It’s let down on the extras front, with the only inclusions on The Red Menace, with a feature-length documentary about the McCarthy persecution of Hollywood being a highlight and arguably better than the main movie.

stars

 

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