Revenge and Redemption Reign in Film Noir Vol. V: The Dark Side of Cinema

Loretta Young, Tony Curtis, and others chase a second chance in this Kino Lorber boxset.

The folks over at Kino Lorber have once again proved their devotion to the film noir genre with the recent release of Film Noir V: The Dark Side of Cinema. While other companies are happy to reissue whatever well-worn noir classic has just had its rights come up for grabs again, Kino has focused on the lesser known titles that bear the brand of noir in ways not always readily apparent. Films which came and went as B-movies and A-list flops are now given new life and renewed interest with every release in this ongoing collection.

Yet Kino isn’t quick to just release a set of movies for the sake of it, especially in a genre as beloved as film noir. As always, there’s a common theme that’s running through each of the titles here, showing the genre is more than just escapist fare. This time around, it’s the idea of redemption and revenge that connects each of the titles, as stars such as Loretta Young and Tony Curtis bring to life characters and stories which perfectly pierce through the noir darkness towards something truly human.

Because of You

In one of the most transformative roles of her career, Loretta Young stars as Christine, a gangster’s moll who is about to marry the bad boy she adores until she’s implicated in one of his money schemes and sent to prison. After being released, Christine becomes a nurse, falls in love with a wealthy attorney-check (Jeff Chandler), gets married, and has a child. However, the past isn’t far behind and eventually comes knocking on Christine’s door, leading to an encounter that has grave consequences.

It was rare to see a lot of female-led noirs, let alone many which focused on a character like Christine. For many, the gangster’s moll was a role that strictly stayed in the peripheral, destined to look attractive and little else. Because of You instead treats the character not as a side piece but as a person whose choices have plagued her for years, resulting in a mindset of never deserving any better than she’s gotten. Young enjoys one of her best roles here as a woman who accepts every piece of bad fate and treads carefully whenever something good comes into her life. Both the actress and the script take Christine on the kind of emotional journey few noir films did when it came to women, and the result is a well-crafted character piece on one of the most ignored archetypes in noir history.

The Midnight Story

Tony Curtis gave his all to this 50s noir as Joe, a San Francisco cop who goes undercover to investigate the death of the priest who mentored him as an orphaned child. The investigation quickly leads him to local shop owner Sylvio (Gilbert Roland), his number one suspect, whom Joe is able to befriend. Soon, Joe is a part of his suspect’s family and eventually finds himself falling for Sylvio’s fiery cousin Anna (Marisa Pavan) as he grows more and more closer to the truth.

The Midnight Story contains a great many elements that prove candy for the film noir buff, especially its working-class urban setting. But it’s the way the film balances emotion and suspense side by side that makes it a deeply compelling watch. Curtis is magnificent in one of the most underrated roles of his career. Joe’s determination to seek justice for the only paternal figure he ever knew is the film’s driving force, causing him to eventually go beyond the line as an officer of the law for the sake of closure and a bit of atonement. Joe’s romance with Anna is a development he did not foresee and cannot deny and plunges him into a moral conflict that threatens what he thought was most important to him. The way The Midnight Story shows its main character’s agony over what he should do as the window of opportunity for catching the killer gets smaller is just gripping. Ultimately, the movie transcends the kind of melodramatic fare that the genre had fallen prey to during the decade and instead emerges as pure film noir.

Outside the Law

When an Army officer (Stuart Wade) stationed in Berlin is killed as a result of his part in a counterfeiting operation, it leaves his former prison mate and army buddy, Johnny (Ray Danton), angry. Years later ,when he’s returned to Los Angeles, Johnny is offered a full pardon if he cooperates with authorities to help bring down his late friend’s partners through his widow (Leigh Snowden). The catch? Johnny must work with his estranged father (Onslow Stevens), who is leading the investigation.

Outside the Law was the kind of B-movie noir that could readily be found on a double bill with more prestige titles. There are no stars here (in fact, the most recognizable face is that of Mr. Drysdale, Raymond Bailey) and the whole affair moves so quickly, you can tell the movie is racing its own budget to the finish line. But what Outside the Law does have is a troubled character who proves to be the most watchable part of the entire film. Johnny is someone whose life has been defined by the choices he’s made. His troubled past with crime and his inability to prevent his friend’s death are, in actuality, what drive him to undertake this dangerous task. Sure, there’s a pardon at stake, but this is really Johnny’s chance to prove to himself and to the father he loathes that he’s more than what society has made him out to be. There’s the usual amount of fisticuffs and gunfire here, but Outside the Law is really a story about a damaged man coming out of the darkness.

Film noir of the 1950s never ceases to amaze me when it comes to how diverse the titles were in terms of story, content, and character. While the genre’s heyday had seemingly come to an end, many of the components from the noir blueprint found their way into countless films throughout the decade as a result of the genre’s influence. The main difference was that in the 1940s, noir was oftentimes a rebuke of traditional values and ways of life. By contrast, noir in the 1950s showed its characters actually striving for the white picket fence sort of existence. Because of You, The Midnight Story, and Outside the Law all in their own way prove this to be true, as each film’s conclusion gives some sense that these people are headed towards that American dream. Even if the ideology has changed, what remains are tales where, in true noir fashion, men and women battle the demons waiting for them in the shadows.

Film Noir Vol. V is now available on Blu-ray and DVD from Kino Lorber.

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