It’s still Noirvember with Kino Lorber [JOY HOUSE & 2 DAYS IN THE VALLEY]

“You have one minute to decide the rest of your life.”

The end of November is once again here and while some may rejoice in the start of the holiday shopping season, as far as I’m concerned, it’s still noirvember. Yes, noirvember, the one month of the year where film noir is celebrated from start to finish. It’s an entire month where noirphiles can hang out in the favorite dusty gin joints and find themselves beguiled by one lethal beautiful woman after another.

It feels appropriate that I’m writing about film noir on a rainy day since so many noir tales begin in such a setting. Throughout the 30s and 40s, film noir offered up rain-soaked thrillers, tales of double-crossing capers, and an endless string of dangerous romances. Although the genre is largely considered to have been put to bed in the early 1950s (most cite Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing as the last true entry), noir did find a home in other areas of film afterwards. 

Recently, Kino Lorber released two titles new to Blu-ray, 1964’s Joy House and 1996’s 2 Days in the Valley, which show that although the genre’s heyday had ended, noir itself was still very much alive. 

Joy House

In Joy House, French playboy/conman Marc (Alain Delon) finds himself on the run from a group of thugs sent to kill him by the husband of the woman with whom he’s been having an affair with. Growing tired and desperate, Marc finds refuge in the home of Barbara (Lola Albright), a wealthy American woman and her niece Melinda (Jane Fonda). Barbara agrees to take Marc on as her chauffer, giving him plenty of time to lay low. But between Barbara’s demands and Melinda’s games, he soon finds himself in even graver danger than before.

After fizzling out in America, film noir traveled back overseas, and found a home in France just as the new wave was taking over the scene. Director Rene Clement directed this underrated French noir to spellbinding effect, skillfully navigating its various twists and turns. Joy House juggles two stories operating on their own before eventually weaving together seamlessly. The first is the story of a man on the run trying to stay alive that comes complete with an initial chase scene that serves as a thrilling introductory set piece. The second concerns a pair of women with a co-dependent and slightly perverse relationship who spell for doom for any man that comes their way. Watching how these two sides of Joy House influence each other and work together is a tribute to classic noir and the talents of Clement as a filmmaker.

There’s a slight weirdness from the minute Fonda and Albright enter the film that only grows stronger, pulsating with a level of risk and desire Marc is unable to resist. The eventual reveal of motives for taking Marc in is tantalizing from a noir perspective and is perhaps the strongest homage to the genre here. A former lover hiding in secret parts of the manor and a niece posing as a maid are just some of the elements that make Joy House the perfect blend of European sensibilities and noir storytelling. The movie enjoys an impressive second chase scene throughout the house in its second half before adding a couple more clever turns and culminating with a dose of full circle irony that only adds to the twistiness and perversion.

2 Days in the Valley

Writer/director John Herzfeld made his return to feature filmmaking with this dark comic thriller starring a host of recognizable names such as James Spader, Charlize Theron, Eric Stoltz, Marsha Mason, and Danny Aiello. Over the course of 48 hours in the San Fernando Valley, a series of events will force a number of people to intersect, including a suicidal filmmaker (Paul Mazursky), a volatile cop (Jeff Daniels), a nurse (Mason), a harried assistant (Glenne Headley), a hitman (Spader), and his beautiful girlfriend (Theron).

By the time the 80s came around, film noir had already ventured back to America and been given a new moniker: neo-noir. These stylish new entries contained many of the genre’s original tropes with a new 80s/90s edge. One undeniable example of this remains Herzfeld’s 2 Days in the Valley. The director’s first feature in more than a decade, the movie exists as one of the most earnest and admirable tributes to noir of the 90s. Moreover, the movie maintains a strong sense of fun throughout, taking time from the shifting alliances and gunplay for some healthy dark comedy. Aiello’s fear and hatred of dogs is a joke that never grows old and the overall sendup of the San Fernando Valley image is more humorous than one would expect. 

As I mentioned before, most of the noir tropes are played, and played pretty well. Each storyline functions as its own noir tale with femme fatales and anti-heroes showing up in virtually every scene as well as a handful of lost souls who are just struggling to exist in a landscape that has done little for them. If the film suffers at all, it’s more due to the habits of 90s moviegoing audiences which looked for deeper meaning and softer characters than were typically found in the world of noir. Not all of the loose ends are tied up by the movie’s finale, but fans of noir know why that makes sense and see how such a minimal wrap up works for the genre that’s being emulated. With a beautiful Jerry Goldsmith score, a maze of colorful characters, dialogue and plot turns, Herzfeld’s film is a bona fide neo-noir gem. 

Every time I write about anything noir, I can’t help but bring up the Film Noir Foundation, the non-profit organization based in San Francisco that remains the genre’s biggest champion. Through painstaking restoration efforts and Noir City, their ongoing retrospective film festival, the FNF’s continuous efforts in preserving a wide array of noir titles have done more for the genre than anyone can imagine. Thanks to the work of the foundation’s president, Eddie Muller, as well as his dedicated team, the world of noir shows no signs of fading away.

Joy House and 2 Days in the Valley are both available of Blu-Ray and DVD from Kino Lorber. For more information on how to contribute to the Film Noir Foundation, please visit

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