Columbia Noir #5:Humphrey Bogart - Columbia Noir #5(Blu Ray Boxset) [Powerhouse - 2022]
Here we have the welcome return of Powerhouse film’s Columbia noir boxset series- and for this fifth entry in the series, we have a six blu ray boxsets focusing on one of the most known, great and iconic actors of the noir genre Humphrey Bogart. And as we’ve come to expect from Powerhouse, we find a wonderfully curated and put-together set. With new 4K scans for each film, a great host of new & archive extras, and a one-hundred-and-twenty-page inlay book.
First, off we have 1947’s Dead Reckoning (aka John Cromwell's Dead Reckoning), which is a putting together the pieces mystery noir. Bogart plays Rip Murdock, a back-from-service Paratrooper whose buddy Johnny Drake (William Price) bails just as they are due to get a Medal of Honour-so Rip is sent to track him down. The film was directed by Toledo, OH born John Cromwell- who between the late 1920s and early 1960s had forty-nine feature lengths credits to his name. These went from the musical romance of Close Harmony (1929), western The Texan (1930), moral choice-centred noir The Vice Squad (1931), Bett Davis staring romance-drama of Human Bondage (1934), WWII deportation drama So Ends The Night (1941),and Asian-set ex-smuggler trying to go straight noir The Savages. Dead Reckoning is a well-enough made and evenly paced noir, which is entertaining enough- though it does rather follow the typical noir tropes/ cliches.
The film kicks off with a dodging through rainy night Rip (Bogart) making his way to the house of the lord- his face is all rough up, and he’s clearly a desperate man. When inside the shadowy interior of the church, he starts telling the priest his story- so with an often-wise cracking/quip-edged voice over Bogart tells his tale. We start off with Rip and Johnny being flown back from service- not really sure why- the pair get on a train, and find out they are to be given a medal of honour- but suddenly Johnny jumps the train, riding away on another down the line. So, Rip heads back to his buddy's hometown to see if he can find out what’s happened….finding out he’s been run off the road and burnt alive.
The first place Rip heads after finding out what’s happened is to the town's nightclub, which is run by sleek and politely smug Martinelli (Morris Carnovsky). Once inside he meets two key characters Krase (Marvin Miller) Martinelli's henchman, and Coral Chandler(Lizabeth Scott) once club singer who had a thing going with his dead buddy. Rip & Coral soon team up to find out what happened to Johnny- and along the way we find Rip waking up next to a dead barman, a pipe smoke safe breaker & a bag full of dodgy German grenades.
The film runs at maybe a tad too long at the one-hour and forty-minute mark- Bogart is good, if fairly typical in his role as Rip- though we do get some amusing quips. Scott works well enough as a club singer with a past, and switches well between being alluring and tearful blond. But for me, the highlights here are the baddies- Carnovsky shifts between smug and panicked well. And Miller is most effective as the unpredictable and unbalanced henchmen, who likes to rough up folks to music. All in all, Dead Reckoning is an entertaining and involving enough noir- though at times it does rethread the genre tropes in an overly familiar manner.
Extras wise on this disc we have a new commentary track from film scholar and preservationist Alan K Rode. And this is a very pacey, jumping about topics and general fully packed affair. He moves from discussing where the two leads' careers were at this point, to commenting on the gulf coast filming location. He comments on on-screen action, giving bios on supporting actors, and points out that the film uses two noir tropes- flashback and voice-over. He talks about how Lizabeth Scott wasn’t impressed with director Cromwell, and felt he didn’t direct her very well. He discusses Bogart’s character in the film, and how it varied from his more known roles. He talks about the director's career, the history of the Congressional Medal of Honour., and the film's screenwriters' rise to fame. Later on, he discusses the dubbing of the club scene song/ who did it, we get quotes from interviews with actors from the time of the film's release. How Bogart was the biggest paid star in Hollywood at this time, and much, much more. So, a track you could easily play two or three times, and still not pick up everything.
Otherwise, we have A Pretty Good Shot (16.37) here we find writer and film programmer Tony Rayns discussing the film. He begins by informing us that original the film was meant to feature Rita Hayworth as Bogart's joint star- but she turned it down. We find out that both stars were brought in from other studios to make the film, which Bogart wasn’t keen on as he got paid less- but he could choose the film's director. He discusses how this was one of a series of ex-servicemen returning noirs, and points out that the lead villain here is practically tricky. He talks about the work of director Cromwell, who was thought by many as an actor-focused director. We find out that the director like many noir-connected directors was blacklisted, and for eight years made no more films- returning instead to theatre work. He comments on interesting cast members, and more- so well worth a play.
Otherwise, on the archive side, we have Watchtower Over Tomorrow (15.45)- this is a short documentary from 1954 directed by Cromwell- which detailed the forming of the united nations after the end of WWII. And there’s a gallery, featuring promotional and publicity images.
Next, up we have 1949 Knock On Any Door-a courtroom-come-hoodlum drama, which is both eventify paced & wholly compelling. It was directed by Galesville, Wisconsin-born Nicholas Ray who between the late 1940s and early 1980’s had thirty credits to his name. His feature-length output went from escape convict noir They Live By Night (1948), up in the air John Wayne fronted WWII action film Flying Leathernecks (1951), female-fronted western with Joan Crawford Johnny Guitar (1945), rebellious youth classic Rebel Without A Cause (1955), and experimental narrative film meets documentary about the 60’s/70’s student movement We Can’t Go Home Again(1973).
The film kicks off in a rather chaotic manner- as we see a police wagon trawling the night-time streets of the slums- guns are shot and bodies are hauled in the back of the wagon. One of those arrested is Nick ‘pretty boy’ Romano (John Derek), who's accused of shooting a police officer after a robbery. He asks for his call, and that call is to lawyer Andrew Morton (Bogart)- who we find playing chess with his social worker girlfriend Adele (Candy Toxton). It’s clear the pair have a history, and initially, the lawyer is none too keen to help- but when pushed by Adele he heads to the station.
As things unfold the case goes to court with Morton defending Romano, we find out via flashbacks how the pair first met. Nicky's father had been wrongly sent to jail due to the lawyer’s firm making an error. He goes to visit Nicky’s family, and we get some wonderfully and for the time quite daring interaction between the boy's mother who only speaks Italian- and this is also when Adele steps into the story first, as she is the families, social worker- with some bad news, Nicky dad has died in the slammer.
As we move on, we shift back and forth between intriguing, at times tense courtroom drama, and the charting of Nicky’s rise in criminality. The reasons why Morton feels so passionate about the case, is that he himself came from a bad start/ prison time, he feels personally responsible for Nicky's decline, and ultimately, he believes Nicky when he told him he didn’t commit the murder.
Acting wise Bogart is excellent as the gone straight lawyer- and he’s given some both really powerful & at times moving dialogue, as well as a few amusing asides. Derek's portrayal of the hoodlum with morals is very well-rounded and believable. Another worthy mention is Allene Roberts, as Emma Nicky's long-suffering timid girlfriend who keeps giving him just one more chance. Though we also get a good selection of character actors appearing as the witnesses/ slum denizens.
The only slight criticism I did have of the film, is at points some of the sub-characters delivery sounds a little rushed on one or two occasions. But otherwise, this is an extremely engaging noir, which really keeps you held in until it’s over. It runs one hour and forty minutes and flows at a good and eventful pace. So, one of the highlights of this set.
On the extras side on this disc, we get a new commentary track from writer and film historian Pamela Hutchinson, and this for the most part is most worthy/ interesting. She starts off by telling that not only does Bogart star in the film, but he also co-produced it too. We find out the novel was based on the 1950 book of the same name by Willard Motley- which was hugely popular, selling forty thousand copies in its first few weeks of release. She talks about the differences between the book and the film- one of these being that the murdered cop is painted clearly in the book, as it details his brutalization of the people in the neighbourhood. She talks about the film's wonderful and detailed set design. Discusses how the film came into production/ got made- and apparently, right at the beginning of the process, Marlon Brando was going to play the young lead. Moving on she points out that the film is a generational drama, and talks about the lighting in certain scenes. In the tracks later part, she does really home in on commenting on what’s going on screen, and while she makes interesting observations/ points- it would have been nice if she had broken things up a bit with more varied commentary. But criticism aside the track is definitely worth a play.
Otherwise, we have Nobody Knows How Anybody Feels (19.10) this finds critic and film programmer Geoff Andrew talking about the film, and this is excellent as he makes some great observations/ gives us interesting facts. He starts off by informing us that this was the third film Nicholas Ray directed in 1949. He talks about the toning down from the novel/ to screen- though Ray had real passion for the themes/ location of the film, as he was very familiar with the area it was set in Chicago. He talks about how the film connects with the director's other work, He discusses the film's themes, and how the director often paints the skid row characters in a sympathetic manner. He points out the vivid/ claustrophobic feel of many of the scenes, the way certain characters are portrayed and much more.
On the archive side, we have Tuesday in November (17.05) which is a 1945 short doc about the democratic process in America- which had Ray as assistant director. We have an original trailer, and promotional and publicity material gallery.
Next, we have Tokyo Joe- this is from 1949, and is a post-war drama with oriental underworld crime thriller touches. It was directed by LA-born Stuart Heisler- his filmography ran between the mid-1930s and mid-1960s. In total he had twenty-five feature-length credits to his name- these went from the western romantic comedy of The Cowboy & the maid(1938). Onto the romantic musical Blue Skies(1964), through to the Ku Klux Klan melodrama/ noir Storm Warning (1951), washed-up movie actress romance featuring Bett Davis The Star (1952), and biopic Hitler(1962). For the most part, Tokyo Joe is a competently enough-made film, save for some of the early superimposed elements- which don’t look great, but I guess that’s the only drawback of remastered prints.
The credits open with overhead shots of Tokyo- as we get into the film, we find Joseph 'Joe' Barrett (Bogart) landing in the city. He’s back in Tokyo after seven or so years away, after serving time in the military during WWII, and a business deal in the US goes wrong. He used to run a nightclub in the city with his business partner Ito (Teru Shimada) called Tokyo Joe- and hopes to carry on how he left- but finds things are very much changed- and he only has sixty days to iron things out.
As things unfold, he finds out his thought-dead wife/nightclub singer Trina Pechinkov Landis (Florence Marly) is alive- but she is married to influential but not terrible dynamic businessman Mark Ladis (Alexander Knox). Joe decides he’s got to stay longer in the city- so looks at set-up an air freight company, and along the way he gets tied up with the cites criminal underground, finds out Trina has a secret, and general back and forth with the military authorities.
Bogart is entertaining here, through initial looks a little out of place in the orient with his trench coat- which he wears in the first few scenes. He offers up a believable enough character- there are a few smart guy quips, but he largely plays it straight. Marly is effective as the decidedly mysterious and towering brunette. With the supporting cast all been fairly good, and it’s nice to see actual Asians playing the oriental roles. The film's plot moves by well enough, and on the whole, it’s a compelling enough example of post-war drama, come noir.
On the extras side, we have a commentary track from writer and film historian Nora Fiore, and this is really excellent- as she balances perfectly facts, observations, amusing asides, and general great noir talk. She starts off by commenting on the opening shots- and we find out this was the first American film to be made in Japan after WWII ended. She points out from the off that Bogart's character is painted as a man of two cultures. We find out that Bogart didn't travel to Tokyo- but instead he had back-projected footage from the city, and for the shots in the city the used GI stand-ins when his character was filmed from the back. She details the shooting schedule in Japan, and the issues the crew hit against. She comments on supporting actors, and apparently, many of the film's Japanese actors had been in US prison camps during the war. We find out that Bogart had training in judo for the film's playful bar fight, though she points out it’s not him in long shots. We have talk about the portrayal of the Asian characters in the film, which are often portrayed in a sinister manner- though a few were in a more kindly if still manipulated manner. Later on, she comments on some of the film’s gowns, and details the rather tragic/troubled life of the film's child star Lora Lee Michel. And a lot more- really a great example of the perfect commentary track!.
Otherwise, on the new side, we have A Superstar Returns( 14.16) which finds film archivist Tom talking about the career of actor Sessue Hayakawa, the silent-era star who made his return to Hollywood filmmaking with Tokyo Joe.
And on the archive side, we get a fair bit too- there’s Bertrand Tavernier on ‘Tokyo Joe'( 33.23) which is from 2017, and finds the celebrated filmmaker and critic discussing the film. We have The Negro Soldier (41.00 ) which is a 1944 WWII documentary film intended as a recruitment drive for African American enlistees. Jim Pines on ‘The Negro Soldier’ (41.00) a 2010 audio presentation by the author and lecturer, recorded following a screening of the film at London’s BFI Southbank. There are eleven minutes of second unit footage from Tokyo from 1948. And a promotional/ publicity gallery.
On the fourth disc in the set, we have 1951’s Sirocco, and this is a noir set in 1925 during the Franco-Syrian War. And I must say it’s an enthralling and moody mix of dodgy deals, military intrigue, and unrequited romance. The film was helmed by Rhineland-Palatinate Germany-born Curtis Bernhardt-who between the mid-1920s and early 1960s directed an impressive forty-one films. These went from Napoleonic era war drama of The Prince of Rogues (1928), undersea set Sci-fi The Tunnel (1933), Ronald Regan starting comedy romance Million Dollar Baby (1941), catatonic woman trying to get her memory noir Possessed (1947), and election day comedy Kisses For President.
Fairly untypically Mr Bogart doesn’t appear straight away- instead, we get a military debate between two French offices about how to reach a ceasefire between the French and Syrians- we have the stern ‘n’ stuffy but peace hoping Col. Feroud (Lee J Cobb), and his more cantankerous senior Gen. LaSalle (Everett Slone). In time Bogart appears, but it’s in a crowd of other businessmen who are brought to supply food to the French army- he plays can-get-you anything/ wheeler-dealer Harry Smith. As things unfold Mr Smith rather gets besotted by Viollet(Märta Torén) the short raven-haired girlfriend of Col. Feroud- we also have suspected gunrunning going on, and general tension/ bombings going on between the two sides.
The film is played out in sweaty office buildings, smoke-drifting bars & restaurants, and through the town's night-time alleyways, and sinister/ dripping underground passages. The Franco-Syrian war setting is rather interesting, giving a different twist to the noir form. Bogart is on fine, fine form here- balancing nicely charm and shifty mystery. Cobb as the initially focused and stuffy col is perfect, and along the films length he gets quite a rewarding character arch. With Torén portray the bored with her life temptress well also. We get a fine selection of characters actors too. The film runs at the on hour and thirty-eight-minute mark, and I was held from the off- another one of this set’s highlights, which rather finishes in a mix of the tragic/ hopeful- which again was most effective/ unexpected.
Extras-wise on this disc, we have a new commentary track from film historians Alexandra Heller-Nicholas and Josh Nelson- and this is a wonderfully researched, at times thoughtful and entertaining track. They go from discussing Syrian history/ important figures, and how these relate to the film. They talk about how the film would have been seen when it was made, and how contemporary viewers see it now. We get a discussion about how the film's themes are presented. Later on, they discuss the critical comparisons that have been made between Sirocco, and both Casablanca and The Third Man. They talk about the film's jaded/ nihilistic feel and the lack of easy moral ground with any of the characters. We have chats about the crew, the political climate at the time of the films making, and more. Really a very good track, which I can easily see myself going back to down the line.
On the archive side, we have a 1997 episode of the British art programme The Southbank Show, which focuses on Mr Bogart- with an interview with his son Stephen looking back over his career/ life- this runs at fifty-one and a half minutes. Lastly, we have a promotional and publicity gallery.
On disc number five we find 1951’s The Family Secret, which is somewhat of the set’s wildcard- as it doesn’t feature Bogart acting, but it was helmed by Bogart’s production company Santana Pictures. What we have here is a well-acted and rather engaging noir- it was directed by Trenton, New Jersey-born Henry Levin. His career ran between the early ’40s and the early 80’s- with feature lengths taking in the likes of horror crime-drama Cry Of Werewolf (1944), shrunken head-focused crime mystery The Devil’s Mask (1946), musical comedy The Pretty Girl (1950), western The Gambler from Natchez (1954), romantic comedy If A Man Answers (1962), horseracing drama Run for the Roses(1977), and action-adventure The Treasure Seekers(1980).
The film focuses on David Clark (John Derek) a cocky twenty-something playboy- who one night gets in a fight with his best friend, and seemingly kills him by accident. He drives home with him doing the classic noir voice over the top- when home he starts washing down his car, as so not to get connected with the bar his buddy was killed outside of. We find out David is the son of respected town lawyer Howard- played by Lee J Cob, who played the col in Sirocco.
Fairly soon David confesses to his father and hen-pecking mother Ellen (Erin O’Brien-Moore) about what happened- his father insists he has to do the right thing. Though she says they shouldn't say anything, as there was no witness & it was an accident. Things become even more difficult when another man with a shady past Joe Elsner (Whit Bissell) is accused of the murder, worse still lawyer Clark is asked to defend him. So, we get a most enthralling moral crime drama unfolding- with the whole time you wondering will he or won’t he admit his crime.
The acting throughout is spot on, Derek makes a very effective self-centred and spoilt son David, Cob is perfect as the struggling with his conscience lawyer. With notable supporting cast been Jody Lawrence as Lee Pearson, a sectary in the Clark law firm who David keeps trying it on with. And Henry O'Neill as Donald Muir the balding, greased back hair, and bowtie-wearing lawyer who is on the prosecution side in the case.
The film runs a nicely tight one-hour and twenty-five-minute mark- been a good blend of dramatic at-home encounters, law office interaction, and courtroom drama. All in all, a most compelling noir, that’s well acted and rewardingly scripted.
On the extras front, we have a commentary track from professor and film scholar Jason A Ney- and this is an extremely well-researched affair, full of interesting facts and observations. He opens by telling us this was the sixth of seven films produced by Bogart’s Santana Productions- he talks about how the cast relates to both other Bogart’s films, and those made by the production company. He talks about the rather quirky porthole TV set in the film, giving a potted history, and how it illustrates how well to do the family were in the film. He discusses the film's clever use of shot set-up. He gives a history of Bogart’s Santana Productions- which was named after Bogart’s favourite boat- he talks about why the company in the end failed, and that part of the reason may be down to the film at hand- which sadly bombed. Later on, he discusses the career of John Derek- and the initial positive press he got including rather bizarre stories like how he apparently got a rolled-up fan mail letter from 5000 fans, which when unrolled to measured 367 feet! We get in-depth actor bios, discussion on why he doesn't think the film is a complete success, and much more. I've now heard a few of Mr Ney tracks on other noir-related titles, and he really is becoming a name I look for…so a must-play!.
Otherwise, on the archive side, we have the following: The Negro Sailor (26.49) a 1945 WWII doc short, directed by Henry Levin and conceived as a recruitment tool for the United States Navy. The Big Moment ( 25.23 ) a 1954 short film produced by the United Jewish Appeal, starring John Derek. And an image gallery. Again, another good selection of stuff on this disc, though it might have been nice to have a stand-alone featurette regarding Santana Productions- as the snippets of information in the commentary tracks have made me keen to find out more.
Lastly, we have The Harder They Fall- this is from 1956, and is sadly Bogart’s final film- as on the 14th Jan 1957 he passed away after been dialogised with oesophageal cancer due to heavy drinking/ smoking ways. The film finds down-on-his-luck sportswriter Eddie Wills (Bogart) being hired by a gangster boxing promotor to hype up a talentless fighter from Argentina.
The film was helmed by Montréal-born director Mark Robson- who had a respectable thirty-three feature lengths credit to his name. These went from moody sea-bound thriller The Ghost Ship (1943), bleak and pessimistic noir Edge Of Doom (1950), Antarctic whaling ship set action adventure Hell Below Zero (1954), stalking psycho-drama Daddy's Gone A-Hunting (1969), and Charlton Heston fronted disaster movie Earthquake (1974). The Harder They Fall is well captured, latter on quite a brutal/grim film- it’s well cast, and the plot moves by well enough, it just feels maybe ten-fifteen minutes long at just shy of the one-hour fifty mark.
The film opens with zooming towards the screen tabloid-like texts, as we see a backdrop of Manhattan, as a group of men gather at an upstairs boxing gym. From the off, it’s clear the men are of the shady gangster type, and they are waiting for one more person- retired & down on his luck sportswriter Eddie (Bogart). Fairly soon Toro Monroe (Mike Lane) a giant of a man appears, and we are told he’s just in from Argentina- and is joined by carny man-turned-boxing manager Luís (Carlos Montalbán)- Toro can’t fight, and Luis knows little or nothing about managing. The whole thing is been set up/ rail roaded by shifty promotor/ come gangster Nick Benko (Rod Steiger).
At first, Eddie wants none of it- after seeing Toro's failure to fight- but as he and his wife Beth (Jan Sterling) are in a dire financial state he agrees to work for the dodgy promotor. It’s decided they head to LA to launch Toro onto the boxing scene- and this begins with a series of other boxers being paid off to take the fall to the hopeless Toro. As the scam goes on, the team head to more cities in their rather neat tour bus, which features a giant stuck on likeness of Toro on either side of the bus- with some great US city footage along the way including old Vegas and LA.
Acting wise Bogart is once again good as the down-on-his-luck sportswriter, though he does look rather tried/ strained which lucky fits the character. Steiger works as the shifty, twisting ‘n’ turning promotor. Sterling is the voice of reason/ sense in the money-focused story. And we get a good selection of character actors playing the promotor's dodgy team, as well pro boxer-turned actor Max Baer as one of the fighters Toro faces.
Towards the end of the film- things get quite brutal and nasty with the fight footage. Throughout the film highlights both the mental and physical trauma of fighters and their use/ mistreatment by managers/ promotors. All in all, The Harder They Fall is a good boxing-focused noir, though it is rather tinged with sadness as this was Mr Bogart’s final acting stand.
Extra wise on this final disc we have a new commentary track from critics and writers Glenn Kenny and Farran Smith Nehme. This features some interesting facts and observations- with a nice chatty banter between the two, though it’s a rather sporadic track. They start by commenting on that all the settings are genuine and point out certain NYC locations at the start of the film. They talk about Bogart’s ailing health, which he apparently kept to himself. They discuss the authentically grainy feel of the film, and fighters now and then. They talk about supporting cast members- giving bios. We have a discussion about the difference between the book the films is based on, and some of the rather negative press the book got when it first came out. Later on, they talk about the character's motivation, how well the film is made, and the tragic tone of the film- both in its themes, and the moments of clear pain in the star's eyes. They touch on key figures at Columbia behind the film and discuss the career of real fighters in the film.
Otherwise, we have The Final Bout (10.24) which finds critic and writer Christina Newland discussing the film, and how it relates to the novel. And on the archive side we have Bertrand Tavernier on ‘The Harder They Fall’ (30.00) a 2017 appreciation by the celebrated filmmaker and critic Max Baer Super 8s (6.00): footage of two famous bouts from the 1930s, featuring the boxer and, later, actor fighting against Max Schmeling, then Primo Carnera That Justice Be Done (11.000): a 1945 George Stevens’ short on the Nuremberg trials, made by the Office of War Information and written by Budd Schulberg.
The finished set comes with a one-hundred-and-twenty-page book- this features a new essay by Imogen Sara Smith, extensive archival articles and interviews, new writing on the various short films, and film credits. With the boxset having a numbered edition of 6,000 copies.
In conclusion, yet another wonderful realized and presented boxset from the folks at Powerhouse- with splendid new 4k scans for each of the six films, and a great selection of top-notch extras. If you’d like to purchase this direct from Powerhouse, just drop by here….and here’s very much looking for the next box in this series of boxsets!. Roger Batty