Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Movies: Noir On Demand

Netflix has been bulking up its Instant Viewing service for some time now. But a recent post on the Film Noir Foundation forum brought home just how many once obscure, still unavailable on video titles are now a mouse click away.

Among the movies currently streaming on Netflix: the personal favorite Cry Danger, Ed McBain’s Cop Hater, the haunting Moonrise, John Payne in Phil Karlson’s 99 River Street, the Gold Medal adaptation Johnny Cool, Down Three Dark Streets and The Killer is Loose.

My first dip into this treasure trove was 1956’s Crime Against Joe, a film I’d never heard of before. Joe is a battle-fatigued veteran struggling to make it as a painter while being “subsidized by (his) hardworking mother.” He chooses a bad night to get hammered while seeking out a nice girl to bring home to meet Mom; a nightclub singer he flirted with is murdered, and Joe doesn’t have an alibi. At a trim 69 minutes the film is more like an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, but a good one. John Bromfield’s beefy bafflement works well in the title role, and Julie London is a fetching carhop named Slacks. There’s a strong feel for small town life in the supporting characters like the local businessman with an outsized sense of propriety and Frances Morris as Joe’s mother, who dotes on her boy but still thinks him capable of dark deeds.

Next up, a chance to revisit Private Hell 36 (1954). Like most of director Don Siegel’s films, it offers extreme pressure in close quarters. Cal and Jack (Steve Cochran, the slightly-better-off man’s John Bromfield, and Howard Duff) are L.A. cops chasing down three hundred grand in cash. Their only lead is faded chanteuse Lilli Marlowe (Ida Lupino, who co-wrote the script). Cal gets the hots for Lilli and pockets some of the stolen loot, assuming no questions will be asked. Except, of course, by the partner he drags into his crime. The result is a tense, sweaty affair with recriminations galore. For added frisson seek out James Ellroy’s 1997 novella “Hollywood Shakedown,” which reimagines the film’s production in sin-sational style.

And there’s more crime coming. Next year VCI Entertainment will bring The Prowler, restored in part by the FNF, to DVD. And as of yesterday the remastered Richard Stark adaptation The Outfit, starring Robert Duvall as Parker (renamed Macklin), is available from the DVD-on-demand Warner Archive. Special thanks to John Hall for giving me the tip-off before the Archive did.