Dark urban locales, sultry femme fatales, doomed protagonists and a brooding atmosphere of danger, cynicism and anxiety. These quintessential aspects of film noir are strikingly demonstrated by the four consummate examples of the genre presented in this collection.
In The Dark Mirror (1946), directed by Robert Siodmak (The Killers), a man is murdered and there’s an obvious suspect, but she has an identical twin sister (both played by Olivia de Havilland, Gone with the Wind), and one of them has a cast-iron alibi. The perfect crime? A psychologist with a specialist interest in twin psychology delves into the heart of the mystery, at considerable risk to himself.
In Secret Beyond the Door (1947), Fritz Lang (The Big Heat) adapts the Bluebeard legend with a dash of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. Shortly after their marriage, Celia (Joan Bennett, Suspiria) begins to suspect her architect husband Mark (Michael Redgrave, Dead of Night) of having a secret past, and wonders about the reason behind multiple rooms in his self-designed home, one of which is kept permanently locked.
In Abraham Polonsky’s Force of Evil (1948), an unscrupulous lawyer (John Garfield, The Postman Always Rings Twice) scents a personal fortune when he concocts a plan to merge New York City’s numbers rackets into a single powerful and unbreakable operation, but reckons without his brother, who’d rather stay independent.
And in Joseph H. Lewis’s ultra-stylish The Big Combo (1955), Lieutenant Diamond (Cornel Wilde, The Naked Prey) is determined to bring down mob boss Mr Brown (Richard Conte, Thieves’ Highway), even if it means jeopardising his own career. But the feeling is mutual and the unscrupulous gangster is more than willing to operate outside the law to get his man, leading to some wince-inducing set-pieces (some involving a pre-stardom Lee Van Cleef).
This collection showcases many of the genre’s major names on both sides of the camera. In addition to the directing and acting talent there are cinematographers Stanley Cortez (The Night of the Hunter) and John Alton (An American in Paris), composers Dimitri Tiomkin (High Noon) and Miklós Rósza (The Killers), and writers Nunnally Johnson (The Woman in the Window) and Philip Yordan (Johnny Guitar). It’s little wonder that directors such as Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino were so struck by them.
|Director||Joseph H. Lewis|
|Cast||Olivia de Havviland|
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