« The Silver Screen - Color Me Lavender | Main | Time Out of Mind »

July 20, 2022

Film Noir - The Dark Side of Cinema VIII

street of chance.jpg
Street of Chance
Jack Hively - 1942

Enter Arsene Lupin
Ford Beebe - 1944

Irving Pichel - 1946
KL Studio Classics BD Region A three-disc set

Anybody who has looked at any of the previous Film Noir sets should know by now that not all of the films included may pass the purity test. Of the three film here, only Street of Chance can really be considered film noir, while Temptation has some noir elements. Enter Arsene Lupin is in no way film noir, but it is also the most entertaining of the three here. The directors can be best described as journeymen, with Irving Pichel occasionally having been assigned a few minor A films. The casts here are a mostly assemblage of lower tier leads and some beloved character actors. Perhaps not so coincidentally, all three films have actors whose careers were disrupted by the Hollywood blacklist that began in the late 1940s.

Street of Chance begins in a fictionalized New York City where no one is given notice that there is work being done on the exterior of an otherwise vacant apartment building. Burgess Meredith gets knocked on the head by a very large piece of debris and wakes up with amnesia. Not only is he not sure who he is, but he has no idea why why the intimidating Sheldon Leonard is chasing after him. Even worse is when he finds out he is involved with a murder though he is certain he never killed anyone. The story is from Cornell Woolrich, whose characters usually stumble into situations they can not always get out of. Jack Hively has brief career as a director of modestly budgeted theatrical films before doing some second unit work and assignments on various television series. Stylization comes in the form of several overhead crane shots. Jerome Cowan is on hand to provide some villainy as the heir to a family fortune.

Jason Ney's commentary track includes discussion on the use of amnesia as a film noir plot device, and how the film differs from the novel by Woolrich. Also of interest is the history of how the film was distributed, as a second feature in urban areas, but as a stand alone feature in rural areas where many of the theaters were independently owned and operated and play dates were often two or three days.

Enter Arsene Lupin is hardly film noir but it is a lot of fun. So many versions of the gentleman thief. The most recent version is a French mini-series with the charismatic Omar Sy. In this film, the title role is taken by Charles Korvin, a Hungarian actor who appears to have been Universal's answer to Paul Henreid, the romantic European lover. Ella Raines is the Greek heiress with the emerald coveted by both Lupin and her bankrupt relatives. And my expectations were low coming in on this one because all I knew of director Ford Beebe was his work on a couple of "Flash Gordon" serials. The screenplay was by Bertram Milhauser who wrote several of the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes films, with cinematography by Hal Mohr. So we have solid craftsmanship and some witty banter, aided in no small way by J. Carrol Naish as the flustered French cop chasing Lupin, Gale Sondergaard as Raines' aunt, and George Dolenz (father of a Monkee) as Lupin's partner in crime.

Historian Anthony Slide is engaging in covering the literary and cinematic history of Lupin. An amusing part of his commentary track is pointing out the non-English locations and bad accents of some of the supporting cast. Enter Arsene Lupin reportedly was only seen as a second feature at the time of its release, which got dismissive reviews. Slide briefly digresses into his research on the correct pronunciation of Ford Beebe's last name. Conspicuously, there is no clear identification about when the film takes place, although World War II is neither seen nor heard.

Temptation was the fourth film version of a 1909 novel about romantic intrigue in Egypt in 1900. Unlike the other two films in this collection, it was an A film, albeit produced with a smaller budget by the independent studio, International, just prior to their merger with Universal. This version has noir elements that were not part of the earlier films. Merle Oberon plays a widow of a certain age who decides Egyptologist George Brent will be able to support her in the style to which she is accustomed. While Brent is off on an archaeological expedition, Oberon, bored in her palatial Cairo villa, begins an affair with Egyptian playboy Charles Korvin. There is a plot to murder Brent, and concerns of a curse when a pharaoh's tomb is uncovered. Along for the ride is Paul Lukas as Brent's best friend, a doctor named Meyer Isaacson who makes a joke about his ancestors having built the pyramids, part of the Hollywood tradition of being Jewish without actually stating you are Jewish. Oberon's husband, Lucien Ballard, was the cinematographer, notable as he created special lighting for Oberon to disguise some post-accident facial flaws.

Kelly Robinson's commentary track reviews the history of the source novel as well as the four film versions.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at July 20, 2022 06:31 AM