Although the term ‘film noir’ wasn’t widely used among American filmmakers and critics until the 70s, the genre (which could be loosely described as ‘crime drama’ but can veer from this) was a staple of Hollywood filmmaking in the 40s and 50s. The film noir titles produced back then were often B-movies, so attracted little attention, but have since been reappraised as classics and many of their makers regarded great auteurs.

Columbia Pictures were one of the studios that produced a great many of these dark melodramas, as they were better known back then. Columbia were responsible for classic titles such as In a Lonely Place, Gilda and The Big Heat, but there are countless more film noir examples in their archives. Hoping to bring a few of these lesser-known films to light are Indicator, who are releasing a box set entitled Columbia Noir #1 in the UK. The set includes Escape in the Fog, The Undercover Man, Drive a Crooked Road, 5 Against the House, The Garment Jungle and The Lineup.

Being a fan of film noir, I quickly snapped up a copy of the set to review it. My thoughts on the six films included, as well as the extra features, follow.

Escape in the Fog

Director: Budd Boetticher (as Oscar Boetticher Jr.)
Screenplay: Aubrey Wisberg
Starring: William Wright, Otto Kruger, Nina Foch, Konstantin Shayne, Ivan Triesault
Country: USA
Running Time: 63 min
Year: 1945

Escape in the Fog is a spy thriller that opens with military nurse Eileen Carr (Nina Foch) having a nightmare about a foggy night when she comes across the attempted murder of a man on the Golden Gate Bridge. When she awakens, we find she’s in an inn recovering from a nervous breakdown. Barry Malcolm (William Wright), a special agent, is one of the men that comes to her room after hearing her screams in the night. He takes a shine to Eileen, but she’s troubled by the fact he looks like the man being attacked in her dream.

Her worries are initially fobbed off and the pair grow close. However, Malcolm is sent on a secret mission to Hong Kong with some secret documents and gets abducted along the way, leading Eileen to witness the very situation she saw in her dreams.

Thankfully, Malcolm survives the attack, but he loses the documents over the side of the bridge. So, a race to find them begins between Malcolm (aided by Eileen) and the ‘bad guys’ (led by Otto Kruger).

Budd Boetticher, the director of numerous classic westerns, often starring Randolph Scott, initially began directing under the moniker Oscar Boetticher Jr. after getting fast-tracked into the position following a brief stint assisting on shoots.

Boetticher doesn’t look too fondly on his early films made under that name; “I was really working in the dark. I had no idea where I was going any more, but I couldn’t show people what a mess I was in. I simply didn’t know what I was doing. Those films only took eight, ten, twelve days, and there isn’t a bit of directing in them. None of them is any good, but I did meet a lot of interesting people then who have since become famous in Hollywood.”

Escape in the Fog comes at the end of his ‘Jr.’ phase and I have to take Boetticher’s side in saying it doesn’t have the same qualities of his later work. Though stripped back in terms of plot (and length – it’s only 63 minutes long) it doesn’t quite have the same taut pace and feels rather flat for the most part. I appreciated how the film revels in mechanics though, literally through some gadgets used and figuratively in the sneaky techniques of the bad guys, who are usually one step ahead of our protagonists.

The performances are partly to blame for the flat nature of it all. The dialogue comes across a little stilted, for one, and Wright feels too much like a budget Clark Cable. Foch is pretty good though, helping inject a little chemistry into the central relationship, though the script has them get together a little too quickly and easily. Kruger is decent too but overall there aren’t any massively memorable performances or quirky side characters, as you often get in film noir.

Overall, it’s entertaining while it lasts but is slight and flat when compared to better examples of the genre and Boetticher’s later work. With a few nice touches here and there, it’s perfectly watchable but distinctly average on the whole.

The Undercover Man

Director: Joseph H. Lewis
Screenplay: Jack Rubin, Sydney Boehm, Malvin Wald (additional dialogue)
Based on an Article by: Frank J. Wilson
Starring: Glenn Ford, Nina Foch, James Whitmore, Barry Kelley, David Bauer
Country: USA
Running Time: 84 min
Year: 1949

The Undercover Man is a deceptive title, as our protagonist Frank Warren (Glenn Ford) is not an undercover agent but works for the Treasury Department. A ‘T-Man’, if you will. He’s assigned the case of finding evidence to put away the notorious gangster known only as ‘The Big Fella’ for tax evasion. It’s a long job that takes him away from his devoted wife Judith (Nina Foch again) for several months at a time.

The investigation continues to hit brick walls, as every witness they talk into helping them either ends up dead or clams up after being threatened by the mob. Also continually arriving to knock the agents back a notch is ‘The Big Fella’s’ lawyer, O’Rourke (Barry Kelley).

These obstacles and constant set-backs eventually climax with Warren being threatened by the mob himself. This leads to him questioning whether he wants to continue working on the case or in the department, for that matter.

The Undercover Man is clearly based on the Al Capone case, but they weren’t allowed or didn’t want to reference him by name (partly due to the production code at the time). Nevertheless, with the script based on newspaper articles by Frank J. Wilson, a real ‘T-man’, the film feels pretty authentic. This is largely down to the procedural nature of the film. We see the investigation in quite a lot of detail, showing the daily slog, not just exciting stand-offs and arrests. We don’t delve too deeply into the accountancy side of things but do see Warren and his associates digging through paperwork and taking hundreds of handwriting samples to match it to an incriminating ledger.

The film then isn’t as action-packed as many police thrillers, but it’s certainly not dull. It still has flashes of violence, including a couple of shocking murders that aren’t explicitly shown but pack a punch.

Where the film does excel though, is in fleshing out its characters and adding a little more soul to the police procedural. Warren is well-drawn in particular, buoyed by a fantastic performance by the underrated Glenn Ford. He’s understated but very effective, mixing jaded frustration with dogged determination. His character subtly changes as the film goes on too. Barry Kelley is another standout, as the slimy O’Rourke. He’s not a simple nasty bad guy by the end, with his character showing a more vulnerable side in the final act.

This being a Joseph H. Lewis film, it’s a stylish affair too. Great use is made of light, shadow and movement. There are some impressive tracking and crane shots throughout the film and a couple of standout set-pieces, including an emotionally powerful chase through a busy street and a tense climax on the docks.

So, though it’s not the most thrilling or tough-talking noir, it’s a wonderful procedural crime drama that’s beautifully shot and directed with some fine, relatively understated performances. It’s an underrated gem, if I ever did see one.

Drive a Crooked Road

Director: Richard Quine
Screenplay: Blake Edwards, Richard Quine
Based on a Story by: James Benson Nablo
Starring: Mickey Rooney, Dianne Foster, Kevin McCarthy, Jack Kelly
Country: USA
Running Time: 83 min
Year: 1954

Based on a short story called the Wheel Man by James Benson Nablo, Drive a Crooked Road sees Mickey Rooney play Eddie Shannon, a shy car mechanic and part-time race car driver. Due to his awkward nature, small stature and the large scar across his face, Shannon doesn’t have much luck with the ladies. So, he is thrilled when the beautiful Barbara Mathews (Dianne Foster) shows an interest and they form a relationship. However, all is not as it seems and the audience becomes aware that Barbara is, in fact, stringing Shannon along so that her real partner, Steve Norris (Kevin McCarthy), can strong-arm him into being the getaway driver on the bank job he’s planning with associate Harold Baker (Jack Kelly).

Rooney started acting on screen aged 6. He became hugely popular, peaking in success between 1939 and 1941, when he was the top box office draw in America. Rooney struggled after WWII though, as the world and he himself had changed. There was less of a taste for the cheery comedies he was famous for. Plus, he’d grown and matured physically so couldn’t do his kid roles. He continued to work though and still made a few popular films, as well as his own TV show, but he wasn’t as famous as before the war so started looking for atypical roles like this.

Eddie Shannon certainly is a different role to the those you’d usually associate with Mickey Rooney. Quiet, awkward and with a pent-up tension below the surface, Rooney’s performance reminded me of Ernest Borgnine’s turn in Marty, which came out a year later and would win the actor an Oscar. Drive a Crooked Road wasn’t nearly as successful as that film but deserves just as much acclaim.

On top of Rooney’s excellent performance, we’re treated to a deliciously nasty yet charismatic villain in Kevin McCarthy. His manipulation and control over the characters are totally believable and it’s an uncomfortable pleasure to watch him work them over. I also appreciated how well-drawn Barabara’s character was. She could have easily been a typical femme fatale, seducing our hero into a life of crime, but she soon regrets what she’s done and is desperately ashamed by the end, leading to a devastating climactic confession.

An effective air of mystery is upheld through the first half of the film too, as we’re kept in the dark of exactly the nature of why Barabara is developing her relationship with Shannon. We know she’s up to something, but the full details are held back until the half-way point.

It’s not the most stylish noir I’ve seen but has some nice shots here and there, such as a long tracking crane shot that follows Rooney car as he drives it along the beach, looking for Barbara. There are a couple of great set-pieces too, with the heist itself proving particularly exciting, as well as the violent finale.

Drive a Crooked Road might be a touch more melodramatic than your average noir then, but not in a bad way. It’s touching at times but tense and gripping at others. Anchored by very strong performances and a decent script, it’s another piece of buried noir treasure.

5 Against the House

Director: Phil Karlson
Screenplay: Stirling Silliphant, William Bowers, John Barnwell
Based on a Novel by: Jack Finney
Starring: Guy Madison, Kim Novak, Brian Keith, Alvy Moore, Kerwin Mathews
Country: USA
Running Time: 83 min
Year: 1955

Based on a novel by Jack Finney, 5 Against the House opens with a group of four college students, Brick (Brian Keith), Al (Guy Madison), Ronnie (Kerwin Mathews) and Roy (Alvy Moore), heading to Harold’s Club in Reno for a night of gambling. When there, a couple of them witness an attempted armed robbery and the police mistakenly assume they’re involved in it. The pair get off after a short while but, during the process, one of the officers explains how “there’s no way it [robbing Harold’s Club] can be done.”

This statement is seen as a challenge for the ‘brain’ of the group, Ronnie, and whilst we follow personal stories of the rest of the bunch back on campus, he gets to work devising a clever scheme to prove the police wrong.

Ronnie isn’t interested in the money (his family are rich) but is excited by the challenge and talks Brick and Roy into giving it a shot, with a mind to return the money straight after the heist. They need Al to make his plan work, but they worry he’s too straight-laced and has his head in the clouds whilst trying to convince his girlfriend Kay (Kim Novak) to settle down and marry him.

Brick believes he can trick Al into coming along though, roping him into the heist at the last minute, so the plan goes ahead. However, we soon discover Brick, who has been traumatised during his time fighting in the Korean war, doesn’t see this as a game. He wants the real thrill and danger of holding up the casino, as well as the money. When the group, now including Kay as the fifth member (she’s off to get a quickie marriage to Al in Reno), head to Harold’s Place then, their lives become endangered.

This, alongside Escape in the Fog was one of the weak links in this set for me. It’s supposedly quite an influential film, having a famous fan in Martin Scorsese and being one of the first casino caper films. However, I wasn’t a massive fan of its tone. Though my description might make it sound like another hardboiled crime drama, much of the film rides on the banter between the students. This, admittedly, is quite funny in places but felt a bit phoney to me for the most part. This might be partly because the actors are clearly way too old to be in college (though the G.I. Bill might partly explain veterans Al and Brick’s age) but also the dialogue feels rather scripted and smart.

This isn’t helped by some fairly weak performances. Keith is very good, aided by the fact his character is the only one particularly fleshed out, but elsewhere the cast is pretty underwhelming. Madison is bland, Moore is rather annoying and Mathews is a little too cold and unlikeable (I guess this might be necessary for his character’s actions but it makes him difficult to warm to as one of the ‘good guys’). Novak is underused too. Supposedly her character is a much stronger presence in the book, so it’s strange that her part has been reduced to ‘arm-candy’ for the hero when the film was designed as a star vehicle for the up-and-coming actress (she certainly features heavily on the poster).

It’s not all bad though. The casino sequences, shot largely on location in the real Harold’s Club, are well done (though I found the ‘ingenious’ heist gimmick a little silly). The initial scene efficiently sets up our lead characters and small touches are queued up that will be mirrored in the heist sequence at the end. There’s great use made of a huge, elaborate mechanical car-parking device at the start and end that I appreciated too.

However, on the whole, it didn’t quite gel for me. It feels very much ‘noir-lite’, lacking the usual bite of the genre. There’s only one interesting character and the story has little momentum until the final act. The banter and group dynamics keep things watchable but even these can be grating at times. A disappointing misfire then, but, don’t worry, the set only gets better from here.

The Garment Jungle

Director: Vincent Sherman, Robert Aldrich (uncredited)
Screenplay: Harry Kleiner
Based on Articles by: Lester Velie
Starring: Lee J. Cobb, Kerwin Mathews, Gia Scala, Richard Boone, Valerie French, Robert Loggia, Wesley Addy
Country: USA
Running Time: 88 min
Year: 1957

Based on a Reader’s Digest article by Lester Velie, The Garment Jungle is a tale of corruption and violence in the New York garment industry. Lee J. Cobb plays Walter Mitchell, owner of Roxton Fashions. We open with him arguing with his associate Fred Kenner (Robert Ellenstein) about unionising their workforce. Kenner thinks it needs to be done as gangsters are starting to take over operations, but Walter refuses to have the unions taking a big gouge out of his profits. Kenner storms out and promptly dies, as the freight elevator taking him downstairs malfunctions and hurtles him down several floors.

The following day, Walter’s son Alan (Kerwin Mathews) arrives home from the war, wanting to join his father in the garment business. Walter isn’t sure he wants Alan to follow in his footsteps after recent developments, but reluctantly agrees and sets him to work.

When rumours fly that Walter had Kenner killed, Alan heads to see union leader Tulio (Robert Loggia), who had been bandying the idea around. Originally planning to set Tulio straight on what happened, Alan is instead schooled in the reality of the situation by the union man and his wife, Theresa (Gia Scala). They explain how much the union would help the underpaid workers and how mobster Artie Ravidge (Richard Boone) is on Walter’s payroll and is keeping the staff in their place.

Alan then sets out to clean up his dad’s act whilst Ravidge and his goons continue to fend off the unions from moving in through violence and murder. When Tulio falls victim to this, Alan and Theresa fight to bring Ravidge to justice.

After the relatively light 5 Against the House, the set gets tough again with The Garment Jungle. Right from the opening scene, you’re thrown into an aggressive argument, with a woman’s clothes getting unceremoniously ripped off and a character getting killed in a horrific fashion. Whereas malfunctioning elevator scenes in other films will simply use a sound effect to tell us what happened, here we stay inside the lift through the whole ordeal, witnessing the victim’s realisation of what’s happening and his desperation and shock as it falls. We even witness the impact. It’s a powerful, attention-grabbing opening.

The film never lets up either. There are a few shocking scenes of violence and plenty of fiery confrontations. However, this is also one of my few complaints about the film. It plays things a little too big. Everything is amped up to eleven, so it gets rather melodramatic and blunt.

Having the larger-than-life Lee J. Cobb in the film is always going to ramp up the volume though, and he delivers his usual passionate performance with enough depth to veer away from caricature. The rest of the cast is great too, with Loggia and Scala standing out in particular. I also enjoyed Wesley Addy in his relatively minor but memorable turn as one of Ravidge’s key heavies. A lot of the cast came from the Actors Studio and this standard shows. Mathews is a little bland but he manages to hold his own.

The film is stylishly executed too, with some wonderful compositions and impressive crane shots. This brings up one of the most famous aspects of the film, who directed it.

Robert Aldrich was to originally hired to direct the film but he got in a fight with studio head Harry Cohn. Aldrich wanted to make his equivalent of On the Waterfront, shooting on location and making a very gritty drama about the unions and involvement of gangsters within the workforce.

Aldrich indeed shot a good deal of the film and was reportedly only 4 days from wrapping before he fell ill one day and Vincent Sherman came in to cover. Sherman believed this would just be for a day or two before Aldrich came back but Cohn spoke to him that evening and said he was to take over the film completely.

Accounts vary as to how much of Aldrich’s footage remains (Sherman claims he reshot 70% of what Aldrich had done but Aldrich says he believes two-thirds of the film is still his) but a great deal was certainly taken out of his hands. Aldrich claims Cohn got cold feet and wanted to make a film that focussed on the relationship between Alan and Theresa instead of the gangsters, but Sherman says Cohn wasn’t happy with how the film was turning out, particularly in the lack of clarity surrounding whether or not Walter knew what Ravidge was up to. There’s even a rumour that Aldrich was fired because the film hadn’t been cleared with real-life mobsters, as had become the hushed norm with such films since Al Capone’s henchman visited writer Ben Hecht during the writing of Scarface (1932). So Cohn got apprehensive about the project as it went on and wanted to change the angle of the story.

However’s responsible for the film, it ended up being pretty damn good. Playing everything large from start to finish, it’s rather heavy-handed but packs a punch and remains slickly produced, tough and gripping throughout.

The Lineup

Director: Don Siegel
Screenplay: Stirling Silliphant
Starring: Eli Wallach, Robert Keith, Richard Jaeckel, Warner Anderson, Mary LaRoche
Country: USA
Running Time: 86 min
Year: 1958

The Lineup began as a radio series, cashing in on the success of Dragnet, with its fairly detailed detective work. The series ended in 1953 and became a TV series after Dragnet too made the jump to the small screen. In this new incarnation, Warner Anderson and Tom Tully were the lead actors, playing cops Ben Guthrie and Matt Greb. Unlike the radio show, it had a specific setting, San Francisco. It was very popular and ran for six years.

In 1954, Dragnet spun-off into a film and, you guessed it, The Lineup followed in its footsteps a few years later. However, it didn’t end up being the film fans of the show might have expected to see.

Don Siegel, who directed the show’s pilot episode several years before, was brought on to direct the film. However, he had little interest in merely producing a longer episode of the TV series for the big screen. He and writer Stirling Silliphant instead started work on a script that focussed largely on the criminals and not the detectives. They pleaded with the studio to let them change the title of the film, as they’d diverged from the series so much, but Columbia wouldn’t allow it, believing it was the main selling point and would guarantee an audience, so the film remained The Lineup.

The film didn’t end up doing particularly well at the box office after all, but Siegel and Silliphant managed to make the film they wanted to make, nonetheless.

It opens very much like the original series, following a pair of police officers (Anderson, reprising his TV role, and Emile Meyer replacing Tully as his partner) as they investigate a botched robbery that results in the death of a police officer and a taxi driver. They discover the seemingly worthless artefact being stolen had heroin hidden inside it. This leads them to realise that a number of unknowing tourists have been used to smuggle drugs into the country.

Along the way, however, the film takes a wholly different tact, shifting the focus almost entirely away from the police and on to the criminals hired to collect the goods, by any means necessary. Dancer (Eli Wallach) is the sadistic killer that does the dirty work, his ‘agent’ Julian (Robert Keith) advises him along the way and Sandy (Richard Jaeckel) is their young driver.

As Dancer coldly bumps off each of the innocent parties holding his client’s heroin, the police catch onto their trail in the background, leading to an inevitable showdown.

This is very much a film of two parts then (not quite halves, though the violence doesn’t kick in until almost exactly the mid-point). A couple of the commentators on the disc speak quite poorly of the first portion that follows the police, calling it slow. I actually still enjoyed these segments, appreciating the procedural, no-nonsense style. However, there’s no doubt that the film truly comes alive once Dancer and co enter the scene.

On top of the appearance of the villains ushering in more action and tension, it brings much more interesting characters, as the cops are pretty bland. Dancer and Julian, in contrast, are quite unusual. The former seems to enjoy his work, showing little emotion but giving a cruel smile when things ramp up. Julian is a bizarre character, collecting the last words of Dancer’s victims in his pocketbook and constantly advising him on what to do (even frequently correcting his grammar), like a tutor or father figure. There’s a hint of gay subtext in their relationship too and a similar suggestion is made in a steam room scene between Dancer and a soon-to-be victim.

Wallach is superb as Dancer, unhinged and sadistic but never over-playing it to a pantomime villain degree. He has a certain charisma, whilst remaining disturbingly offbeat and creepy. Keith is great too, with the pair proving particularly frightening in the final act when they abduct a mother and daughter.

This being a Don Siegel film, it’s also packed with fantastic set-pieces. The film opens with an attention-grabbing scene that shocks and disorientates, as you’re not quite sure what’s going on, to begin with. The murder scenes are riveting and powerful too, culminating in one of the most shocking killings I’ve seen from the era. There’s also a fantastic car-chase that follows this, ending the film with a bang. This has some rear-projection that jars from the location-shot footage outside the car, but even this is pretty well handled, edited to ensure the movements match between interiors and exteriors.

Speaking of locations, Siegel makes great use of San Francisco, a city he would return to with equal success in Dirty Harry several years later.

So, what starts off as a tough, intriguing but ultimately straight-forward police procedural turns into a brutally unflinching study of sadistic criminals at work. It feels a decade or so ahead of its time in this sense and grips throughout. A fine close to the set, then.

Columbia Noir #1 is out on 16th November on Region B encoded Blu-ray in the UK, released by Indicator. The picture quality on all of the titles is excellent, with clean, natural images rich in detail and texture. Audio is strong too. I noticed some odd background sound discrepancies in one scene on The Garment Jungle, but I assume that was as originally mixed.

There are plenty of special features included in the package too:

ESCAPE IN THE FOG
– 2K restoration
– Original mono audio
– Audio commentary with film historian Pamela Hutchinson (2020)
– The Fleet That Came to Stay (1945, 22 mins): World War II documentary, compiled by Budd Boetticher from original combat footage captured during the Battle of Okinawa, and released shortly after Escape in the Fog
– You Nazty Spy! (1940, 18 mins): World War II comedy starring the Three Stooges, in which the trio satirise the Third Reich and help publicise the Nazi threat to American audiences
– Image gallery: publicity and promotional material
– New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
– UK premiere on Blu-ray

THE UNDERCOVER MAN
– 2K restoration
– Original mono audio
– Audio commentary with writer and film programmer Tony Rayns (2020)
– Man on a Bus (1945, 29 mins): short film directed by Joseph H Lewis for the United Jewish Appeal, featuring a star-studded cast, including Walter Brennan, Broderick Crawford, Ruth Roman, and Lassie
– Income Tax Sappy (1954, 17 mins): comedy starring the Three Stooges, in which the trio come under the scrutiny of the US Treasury Department when they get creative with their tax returns
– Image gallery: publicity and promotional material
– New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
– World premiere on Blu-ray

DRIVE A CROOKED ROAD
– High Definition presentation
– Original mono audio
– Audio commentary with film critic Nick Pinkerton (2020)
– The Guardian Interview with Mickey Rooney (1988, 83 mins): archival audio recording of the much-loved actor in conversation with Tony Sloman at the National Film Theatre, London
– Introduction by Martin Scorsese (2012, 2 mins)
– Screen Snapshots: ‘Mickey Rooney, Then and Now’ (1953, 10 mins): Columbia Pictures promotional short featuring the famed performer looking back at one of his childhood roles
– Higher Than a Kite (1943, 18 mins): comedy starring the Three Stooges, in which the trio play mechanics who find themselves in a situation that’s way out of their control
– Original theatrical trailer
– Image gallery: publicity and promotional material
– New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
– World premiere on Blu-ray

5 AGAINST THE HOUSE
– High Definition presentation
– Original mono audio
– Audio commentary with film critic David Jenkins (2020)
– The Guardian Interview with Kim Novak (1997, 67 mins): archival video recording of the celebrated actor in conversation with David Robinson at the National Film Theatre, London
– Sweet and Hot (1958, 17 mins): comedy starring the Three Stooges, in which the trio team up with a female singer in the hope of finding fame and fortune in the big city
– Original theatrical trailer
– Image gallery: publicity and promotional material
– New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
– UK premiere on Blu-ray

THE GARMENT JUNGLE
– 2K restoration
– Original mono audio
– Audio commentary with film historian Kevin Lyons (2020)
– It’s a Jungle Out There (2007, 20 mins): archival interview with actor Robert Loggia, conducted by Alan K Rode of the Film Noir Foundation following a screening of The Garment Jungle
– Law of the Jungle (2020, 15 mins): writer and film programmer Tony Rayns discusses Robert Aldrich and The Garment Jungle
– Rip, Sew and Stitch (1953, 17 mins): comedy starring the Three Stooges, in which the trio play tailors who find themselves caught up in criminal activities
– Original theatrical trailer
– Image gallery: publicity and promotional material
– New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
– UK premiere on Blu-ray

THE LINEUP
– High Definition remaster
– Original mono audio
– Audio commentary with author James Ellroy and the Film Noir Foundation’s Eddie Muller (2009)
– Audio commentary with film historian David Del Valle and author and screenwriter C Courtney Joyner (2020)
– The Influence of Noir (2009, 7 mins): appreciation by filmmaker Christopher Nolan
– The Streets of San Francisco (2020, 7 mins): video essay guide to the locations of The Lineup
– Three episodes of The Lineup radio series: ‘The Candy Store Murder’ (1950, 30 mins), written by Blake Edwards; ‘The Case of Frankie and Joyce’ (1951, 31 mins); and ‘The Harrowing Haggada Handball Case’ (1951, 26 mins), written by Edwards and Richard Quine
– Tricky Dicks (1953, 16 mins): comedy starring the Three Stooges, in which the trio send up the police procedural
– Original theatrical trailer
– Trailer commentary: short appreciation by A History of Violence screenwriter Josh Olson
– Image gallery: promotional and publicity materials
– New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
– UK premiere on Blu-ray

Pamela Hutchinson’s commentary on Escape in the Fog is decent. She’s honest about some of the film’s shortcomings, though she admires it more than I did. She provides some interesting background about the cast and crew too.

‘The Fleet That Came to Stay’ is wartime propaganda through and through but contains some spectacular and quite frightening footage from the Battle of Okinawa. It’s a practical barrage of explosive material showing the devastating damage endured and dealt out.

Tony Rayns’ commentary on The Undercover Man is also very good. It’s largely analytical rather than providing any background on the cast and crew, but it provides an interesting dissection of the film.

‘Man on a Bus’ is rather heavy-handed and mired in sentiment, but has an interesting cast (including Lassie!) I particularly liked seeing Walter Brennan in a very different role from his usual bumbling old cowhand or similar. It’s basically an advert for a charity though, so nothing revelatory.

Nick Pinkerton’s commentary on Drive a Crooked Road is excellent. Analytical and historical, jumping between breaking down scenes and discussing who’s who and their background, it provides the best of both worlds and is thoroughly recommended.

The Rooney interview on the same film is entertaining. He regularly goes off on a tangent and has some passionate rants that get a little nasty at times, but it makes for an engaging listen.

Scorsese’s intro to Drive a Crooked Road is very short but affectionate and provides a little background to the film.

‘Mickey Rooney: Then and Now’ – has the adult Mickey Rooney of 1953 watch some clips of the child star Rooney. It’s nice to see but pretty flimsy stuff.

Kim Novak’s interview on 5 Against the House has no mention of that particular film, but she’s a great speaker, telling plenty of entertaining anecdotes from her illustrious career.

David Jenkins’ commentary on the same film is decent too, with a fair amount of background and analysis. He talks a lot about the original novel and how the film diverges from it.

Kevin Lyons’s commentary on The Garment Jungle is interesting, though he spends pretty much all of the time discussing the background and history of most of the cast and crew, so your interest will vary depending on whether you prefer to listen to analysis or not in your critic commentaries.

Robert Loggia’s interview is very good. He’s a charismatic speaker and fills us in on some of what happened with Aldrich on the production, as well as discussing his career in general.

Tony Rayns’ piece on The Garment Jungle is very informative too, once again approaching the Aldrich situation and background of the film itself.

James Ellroy and Eddie Muller’s commentary on The Lineup is very enjoyable. Ellroy has some cracking and generally surprising lines that he regularly comes out with. He can come across as a bit of an *sshole at times and many of his comments are pretty right-wing and/or offensive but it feels like it might be part of his ‘act’, so he just about gets away with it.

David Del Valle and C Courtney Joyner’s alternative commentary on that film is more straight-laced but more effective in terms of providing background on the film and its cast and crew, as well as a little analysis. The pair bounce off each other nicely too, so it doesn’t get dry.

The Christopher Nolan piece has him discuss what he loves about the genre, mentioning The Lineup as a great example. It’s nice to hear him cite his influences, though it’s not a particularly eye-opening interview.

The ‘Trailers from Hell’ commentary on the same film is short but sweet, with a concise description of what makes the film special. I think it’s a bit overly harsh on the first half though.

I really enjoyed the original radio episodes of The Lineup though. They’re taut, engrossing stories that are well worth checking out.

I’m not a massive fan of The Three Stooges, it must be said, but the shorts are a nice inclusion to each disc and I enjoyed them for the most part. Standouts for me were ‘You Nazty Spy!’, which is an amusing satire of Nazism, with plenty of time for the trio’s usual physical gags, and ‘Rip, Sew and Stitch’, which sees the trio working as tailors in their own inimitable fashion and dealing with a gangster who hides out in their shop. ‘Sweet and Hot’ is an odd one as it focuses on a female singer, with the Stooges taking largely supporting roles.

The booklet is superb as usual, being crammed with essays, interviews, period reviews and such.

So, though not every film hit the mark for me, most are great and they’re all worth watching. With a heap of fine supplemental material too, this is an easy recommendation, particularly to noir fans. Bring on Columbia Noir #2!

Columbia Noir #1 - Indicator
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Editor of films and videos as well as of this site. On top of his passion for film, he also has a great love for music and his family.

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