BY SEAN AXMAKER
The Columbia Noir Collection that headlined the launch of The Criterion Channel is now gone, along with a few other choice noir classics spotlighted a few months back, but a new selection has arrived in the past couple of months.
Did you miss On Dangerous Ground (1951) on TCM's Noir Alley last month? Criterion has a beautiful edition of the film directed by Nicholas Ray and starring Ida Lupino and Robert Ryan. It's part of Criterion's "Director: Ida Lupino" spotlight (Lupino directed one scene, as Eddie Muller noted in his presentation), and starting July 24 the service will offer a new video introduction by NOIR CITY contributor Imogen Sara Smith.
The spotlight also features a terrific print of Lupino's gritty The Hitch-Hiker (1953), a desert noir that makes the most of its desolate settings, plus two dramas with a touch of noir: her directorial debut Not Wanted (1949), the unsentimentalized drama of an unwed teen mother, and The Bigamist (1953) with Lupino drawing a vulnerable performance from Edmond O'Brien as a businessman leading an "insane double life" married to both Joan Fontaine and Lupino.
Anthony Mann's T-Men (1947) and Raw Deal (1948), both starring Dennis O'Keefe and photographed by John Alton, make a brilliant one-two punch of B-movie noir. The former is an undercover thriller that combines documentary realism with shadowy, claustrophobic images; the latter a revenge noir with O'Keefe as an escaped convict travelling by night through the misty Pacific Coast highway.
Something Wild (1961), starring Carroll Baker as a middle-class New York girl traumatized by a sexual assault and Ralph Meeker as a gruff-but-lonely mechanic who both saves her and makes her a prisoner, is a sensitive drama directed the influential Actor's Studio teacher Jack Garfein. It's presented with the bonus interviews featured on the Criterion disc.
Charles Laughton's great American gothic noir The Night of the Hunter (1955), starring Robert Mitchum in a fire-and-brimstone performance as a demonic con man in a preacher man's robes, is one of the most beautiful pastoral nightmares the cinema has seen. Criterion presents a rich collection of supplements including over 2½ hours of rushes and raw footage.
Plus, there's George Cukor's Hitchcockian Gaslight (1944) with Ingrid Bergman and Joseph Cotten, Frank Borzage's dreamy Moonrise (1948) with Dane Clark, and Raoul Walsh's explosive crime classic White Heat (1949) with James Cagney.
Martin Scorsese is a true noir aficionado who brought a touch noir to many of his great films. Mean Streets (1973) is more character piece than crime thriller, but it's a beautiful tribute to the volatile culture of Scorsese's Italian-American New York neighborhood (recreated in part in Los Angeles) and his first collaboration with Robert De Niro. Taxi Driver (1976), written by Paul Schrader, is Scorsese's incendiary masterpiece of alienation, anger, and urban anxiety –– a true modern noir and perhaps the most maverick vision of seventies American cinema. Both are new to Netflix this month.
Michael Caine is the London gangster who returns home to Newcastle to avenge his brother's death in Get Carter (1971), a hard-edged crime thriller directed by Mike Hodges that kicked off a wave of gritty British gangster dramas.
Cities of Last Things (2019, Taiwan, with subtitles), a crime story set in a dystopian near-future Taiwan and told in a jumbled timeline, comes to Netflix direct from the film festival circuit (currently reviewed on Noir Now Playing by Vince Keenan). And though not exactly noir, Everybody Knows (2018, Spain, 2018, with subtitles) from Asghar Farhadi (director of the Oscar-winning A Separation) is a mix of crime drama and family melodrama starring Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem.
Let Us Live (1939), John Brahm's proto-noir with Henry Fonda as a taxi driver sentenced to death for a crime he didn't commit and Maureen O'Sullivan as the supportive girlfriend turned plucky investigator, anticipates Hitchcock's The Wrong Man in a low key. What Brahm brings to the film is a terror born of official indifference and a "happy ending" that refuses to ignore the damage done.
Also in the proto-noir category is Marcel Carne's Le Jour se lève (France, 1939), a classic of French poetic realism dripping with doom and romantic tragedy. Jean Gabin is the fallen angel of a tragic hero flashing back on the dashed dreams and romantic trials that turned him into a murderer.
Ben Affleck adapted Dennis Lehane's mystery novel for his directorial debut Gone Baby Gone (2007) starring Casey Affleck and Michelle Monaghan as private detectives searching for the missing daughter of a junkie mother (Amy Ryan). I don't think Affleck has directed a better film. Streaming on Amazon Prime Video and Hulu starting July 12.
Henri-Georges Clouzot's quirky little murder mystery Quai des Orfèvres (1947, France, with subtitles) features crisp images and a busy visual design that foregrounds the winding streets and cluttered apartments of the tiny-but-lively little neighborhood. The noir attitude comes in the atmosphere of suspicion and ambiguity.
The other free streaming service provided by public libraries is much lighter on classics and foreign films than Kanopy. Along with a sizable collection of recent films and a catalog of dramas and comedies that you might find channel hopping through cable TV, it tends to focus its catalog on family-friendly shows, educational programming, and British and international mysteries and historical dramas.
A Most Violent Year (2015) is a smart crime drama set in 1981 New York City with Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain as a couple battling crime families and corruption to expand their business.
Be warned that the few classic noirs in the catalog — Detour (1945), The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946), Smash-Up, the Story of a Woman (1947) and few others—are presented in poor editions that are hardly worth your time. Kanopy does a better job of quality control for its public domain titles.
Sean Axmaker lives in Seattle with his cats, Hammett and Chandler, and writes the syndicated newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website.
On Dangerous Ground - The Criterion Channel
The Hitch-Hiker - The Criterion Channel
T-Men - The Criterion Channel
White Heat - The Criterion Channel
Cities of Last Things - Netflix
Let Us Live - Amazon Prime
Le Jour se lève - The Criterion Channel
Gone Baby Gone - Amazon Prime and Hulu
Quai des orfèvres - Kanopyl
A Most Violent Year - Hoopla