Making a welcome return to shelves recently after a far too long absence is Fox’s Film Noir DVD line in the form of Black Widow (1954), Daisy Kenyon (1947) and Dangerous Crossing (1953). While I don’t claim to know what has kept new installments in this series from coming our way, I certainly hope that whatever the reasons, they have been resolved. Though the three are perhaps not the strongest noirs Fox still has in their library, each of these films make for a good evening’s entertainment.
As one of Fox’s first handful of films to be produced in CinemaScope, Black Widow may seem like an odd choice for inclusion in a noir series, but that doesn’t stop it from being a pretty engaging mystery nonetheless. (Richard Fleischer’s Violent Saturday (1955) with Victor Mature, a young Lee Marvin and Ernest Borgnine as an Amish farmer (!) might be a better choice if they were looking for a CinemaScope noir.) Set in the catty world of Broadway’s backstages, Peter Denver (Van Heflin) is a married Broadway producer who takes young writer Nanny Ordway (Peggy Ann Garner) under his wing, loaning her his apartment during the day as a quiet haven from which to work. Needless to say, Peter’s friends in the theater world read far more into the arrangement than is there and aren’t shy about mentioning their suspicions to Peter’s wife Iris (Gene Tierney). When Nanny is found dead Peter’s bathroom, an apparent suicide, gossip soon spreads resulting in the arrival of a grizzled homicide detective in the form of George Raft.
The widescreen and color of Black Widow’s photography may not automatically suggest noir, but it is a good-looking movie nevertheless. The plot could be described as “All About Eve with a corpse,” though that would be selling the film short. The relationships between the characters are well-defined by the script and well-played by the cast. The mystery itself is well constructed and contains some good twists, turns and surprises for viewers.
A strange mix of noir and melodrama, Daisey Kenyon manages to keep from becoming a complete mixed up mess through the strength of its director Otto Preminger. There’s no crime and betrayal (outside of a little marital infidelity) as expected in a noir film, but the characters are definitely psychologically damaged enough to qualify as noir-ish.
Joan Crawford stars in the title role as a woman torn between two loves- the married Dana Andrews and war veteran Henry Fonda. Andrews won’t leave his wife and Crawford finds that she can not return Fonda’s affections for her. She decides to marry Fonda for the security, but then discovers that Andrews has indeed left his wife.
Dangerous Crossing presents an interesting twist on a locked room mystery, by transposing the location of the story to a trans-Atlantic ocean liner. (It’s also a movie I have wanted to see ever since I picked up a complete lobby card set for the film inexpensively off of eBay a few years back.) Jeanne Craine is a newly married woman setting of an ocean voyage Honeymoon with husband Carl Betz. No sooner than the boat gets underway does she realize that he has disappeared. When she tries to report this to the captain, she is informed that he was never on the passenger list. With the crew starting to question her sanity, Craine goes about to prove that he was on the boat and that he does exist, with the help of the ship’s doctor, Michael Rennie.
The film’s screenplay sets out plenty of red herrings that manage to keep the audience guessing what will happen next most of the time. Craine gives a sterling performance and Rennie provides some solid work as well, keeping the film from spiraling down into hammy melodrama. Fox’s habit of reusing sets serves the production well, as this film reuses what the studio built for 1953‘s Titanic. (And if you want to see how the sets look in color, check out their appearance in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.)
The film only stumbles about midway through when Craine starts narrating in voiceover. It’s a device that comes from out of the blue. It feels like a sloppy way of trying to convey some important information to the audience about Craine’s state of mind and the scriptwriter couldn’t find a way to have another character be around for her to talk to.
All three discs come loaded with the extras one comes to expect from Fox’s Noir line. There are knowledgeable commentary tracks on all three films and Black Widow and Dangerous Crossing both have isolated scores. Interactive press books, original trailers and some behind the scenes featurettes round out each package. The transfers are all pretty good, with the worst of the three, Daisy Kenyon, suffering only slightly.
(And now that you’ve revived your Fox Noir line, how about finally releasing Boomerang (1947), which you guys pulled from release at the last second back in June 2006?)