CRISS CROSS

BLACK ANGEL

THIS GUN FOR HIRE

THE BIG CLOCK      

(UNIVERSAL HOME VIDEO)

Not to be outdone by Warner Home Video's recent and immensely gratifying release of their FILM NOIR COLLECTION Universal Home Video has just come up with four full-screen black-and-white film noir dvd releases of their own  which, while a mixed bag, happens to include one of the greatest noir masterpieces of all time, CRISS CROSS.

No description of the plot of CRISS CROSS (an honest, hardworking armored car driver, Burt Lancaster, still fatally attracted to his duplicitous ex-wife Yvonne DeCarlo, initiates an armored car robbery with her current husband, notorious hoodlum Dan Duryea, in order to cover up their continued affair) can possibly do justice to the exalted level of sheer directorial brilliance that director Robert Siodmak brings to this tawdry tale. The great photography, much of it on actual L.A. locations, wonderfully dark and dense score by Miklos Rozsa, superb editing, and taut and controlled performances (especially Duryea, whose coiled reptilian turn as a really dangerous character virtually steals the show) all combine to make CRISS CROSS one of the undisputed pinnacles of the noir genre. But make no mistake about it: the lion's share of credit should go to Siodmak, whose magic touch turns CRISS CROSS into a bona-fide noir classic the like of which has rarely been equaled, the enjoyment of which is exploited to the fullest by Universal's terrific transfer. 

The remaining three Universal noirs all contain central male performances of such power and nuance that they single-handedly compensate for the pedestrian direction and slip-shod screenplays that mar these films, and transform them into must-see experiences.

BLACK ANGEL is a virtual remake of Universal's earlier and far superior Siodmak classic PHANTOM LADY, but leading lady June Vincent's comparatively languid turn as a devoted wife who tries to save her husband from execution is no match for PHANTOM'S hot and intense Ella Raines, and certainly director Roy William Neill is not nearly in the same league as Siodmak, but this ANGEL is rescued by the sensitive and multi-faceted performance of Dan Duryea, whose versatility becomes immediately apparent when his sympathetic interpretation in ANGEL is compared with his unapologetically venal gangster in CRISS CROSS. Duryea is our boy ------- he makes this BLACK ANGEL well worth
watching.

Anyone interested in how one single performance can turn a bit player into an instant superstar should not fail to see THIS GUN FOR HIRE (originally released by Paramount), for here is that rare example of a performance by Alan Ladd as cold-blooded professional killer Raven that is so forceful and riveting that one almost forgets that the plot is  melodramatically rife with impossible contrivances and absurd coincidences that render the story itself almost laughable, and no help at all is the artificial, limp and by-the-numbers direction of Frank Tuttle. No matter : Ladd is a mesmerizing one man show here ----- and what a man!

THE BIG CLOCK (also originally a Paramount release) was remade as 1987's NO WAY OUT and it's interesting to note how Kevin Costner's deadly dull central performance as a man who inadvertently becomes the subject of a murder investigation after spending an evening with the murderer's mistress sank that misbegotten and ill-advised project, while Oscar-winner (THE LOST WEEKEND) Ray Milland's intense and witty performance in the original is the single driving force that almost makes this slackly directed, heavily padded and overly convoluted suspense tale work. So unerringly convincing and without artifice is Milland's work here that he draws you into his characters' predicament  to the point where you completely forget about the many obvious holes in the story itself. That's what a great actor can accomplish!

The full screen black and white transfers of BLACK ANGEL,  THIS GUN FOR HIRE and THE BIG CLOCK, while not quite equal in quality to the exemplary CRISS CROSS transfer, are far better than average in sharpness and black levels , with minor damage evident very rarely, and the mono sound is comparatively hiss and distortion-free. 

--DICK DINMAN   

 

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