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    Monday, July 27, 2009

    DVD: Golden Age Noir

    The role of television is an under-reported chapter in the evolution of film noir. The small screen supplemented and eventually supplanted the B movie, attracting talent from both sides of the camera. Many of these shows, episodes of various anthology series of the 1950s, no longer exist.

    Cultural impresario and freelance wild man Johnny Legend is doing his best to rectify the situation. His Raunchy Tonk Video label has released Golden Age Noir, a DVD containing seven blasts from the past. They’re from a variety of series, with an emphasis on name actors.

    Sound Off, My Love (Four Star Playhouse, 1953). Merle Oberon stars as a woman too vain to admit she requires a hearing aid. She relents only to discover that she hasn’t been fooling anyone – but several people have been fooling her. Starts slow but picks up thanks to direction by old noir hand Robert Florey (Danger Signal).

    Dark Stranger (the premiere of The Star and The Story, 1955). Edmond O’Brien is a pulp writer who falls in love with a woman (Joanne Woodward) who may be his own creation. It bears a resemblance to Stranger Than Fiction.

    The Squeeze (Four Star Playhouse, 1953). Gambling house owner Willie Dante (Dick Powell, who played the role several times) gets pressured by the ne’er-do-well son of a crusading D.A. Sharp script by Blake Edwards – have I mentioned I’m still on a Peter Gunn kick? – and direction by Robert Aldrich.

    F.O.B. Vienna (Suspense, 1953). Hooey about an American engineer caught up in European espionage. Director Robert Mulligan strains against the limitations of live TV. It’s a dud, but it stars Walter Matthau, so what are you gonna do?

    House For Sale (Four Star Playhouse, 1953). A house-hunting Ida Lupino encounters escaped lunatic George Macready. Minor fun.

    Counterpoint: The Witness (1952). A true rarity, the sole episode of a cop series starring Lee Marvin several years before M Squad. It’s about a botched robbery and the resulting murder of a burlesque clown. With some great gritty locations and a few odd David Lynch-style moments, but it’s easily the worst of the bunch. The show is set over three city blocks but features more walking than the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

    A Place of His Own (Four Star Playhouse, 1953). A mentally damaged WWII veteran is coerced by his family into taking the blame for a murder he didn’t commit. The winner, hands down, with a fine performance by Charles Boyer.

    The disc is a fascinating peak into a neglected era of film noir. Johnny’s already got a second volume set for release next month, along with a sex-and-drugs Dragnet compilation that I should order right now.

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