Cool and Classic: Crime and Punishment in 'Private Hell 36'
Plus 'Captain Carey,' 'My Son John,' 'Black Magic' and more
Ida Lupino gets top billing in "Private Hell 36" (Olive), and for good reason. In addition to starring in this low-budget film noir as a nightclub singer drafted into the police search for a counterfeiter, she co-wrote the script and co-produced through her company The Filmmakers, with partner Collier Young. The story revolves around the loyalties and temptations in a police partnership between the impulsive, younger cop Steve Cochran and family man Howard Duff, stretched thin on his salary. Temptation comes when Cochran pockets a portion of the recovered counterfeit stash after the crook is killed in a high-speed car chase and Duff's conscience eats away as he keeps quiet and accepts his share (to come when they sell the phony bills in Mexico). The title refers to the address of their stash house.
Lupino had directed her share of films as well, many of them exploring similar moral quandaries, but she passed directorial reigns over to Don Siegel, who at the time was making his name with a series of tight, stylish little low-budget pictures. This is more about tension than action, with plenty of surveillance and scenes of police procedural detail, but he opens with a quiet street scene of a realist crime drama with an ominous sense of anticipation that explodes in a crime scene shoot-out and bookends it with a gut-punch of an ambush that ricochets with some dynamic twists. In between, greed and guilt divide the once devoted partners. Dean Jagger and Dorothy Malone co-star.
Blu-ray and DVD, mastered from a fine print 35mm print and formatted for 16x9 widescreen, which looks far more accurate than the old full-screen TV print presentations.
It's part of the third wave of Olive's release of the Republic library, along with two other titles. "Captain Carey U.S.A." (Olive), starring Alan Ladd as a former American intelligence operative in World War II who returns to Italy to find a traitor, also has a noir flavor with an added continental lilt. His stay in the Italian lakeside village is fraught with danger, as they blame him for the reprisals that followed the betrayal of the partisans and resist his efforts to find the real traitor. Wanda Hendrix co-stars as his wartime sweetheart Giulia (he just Americanizes it to "Julie"), now married to a very suspicious Baron (Francis Lederer), and Joseph Calleia is the jovial town doctor. Mitchell Leisen directs the 1950 drama. The intensity of the B&W image fluctuates throughout the film.
"My Son John" (Olive) is one of the oddest American answers to the Cold War, a 1952 drama about a conservative couple (Helen Hayes and Dean Jagger) informed by FBI agent Van Heflin that their left-leaning intellectual son (Robert Walker), who opening criticizes capitalism and religion, may in fact be a commie spy! It's an anti-communist propaganda film in its own right, but with weird undercurrents and anxieties under the message.
Both available on Blu-ray and DVD, mastered from archival 35mm prints, with no supplements.
"Black Magic Rites" (Redemption/Kino), previously released on DVD as "The Reincarnation of Isabel," is a largely incoherent 1973 Italian horror starring bodybuilder Mickey Hargitay as an American businessman who buys a castle conveniently located near a girls school. Naturally plenty of nubile young women come to his housewarming party, who are systematically abducted by a quartet devil worshippers dressed in capes and matching red tights, looking like superhero wannabes at a cheap masquerade party. Full of torture, crucifixation, vampirism, impalings, whippings, and the sick gothic sadism that makes Italian shockers so great, writer / director Renato Polselli doesn’t disappoint on the excess, only the execution. No bosom is left unexposed, no young maiden left unmolested. The gore effects are sometimes amusingly slapdash, the acting is often appallingly bad, and the music a wild mix of conflicting styles, all of which gives it a surprisingly fascinating texture. The new Blu-ray and DVD editions are newly remastered from the 35mm negative.
The MOD Movies spotlight this week swings to a pair of collections from the TCM Archive focused on pre-code fun from Columbia and fifties thrillers from Universal: "Columbia Pictures Pre-Code Collection" (TCM Archive) and "Women in Danger: 1950s Thrillers" (TCM Archive). Videodrone's review is here.
- "Fidel" (Cinema Libre), the 1969 documentary by Saul Landau, is restored by the National Film Preservation Foundation. The DVD features filmmaker commentary and the 1974 short "Cuba and Fidel."
- "Sweet Kill" (Shout! Factory), a 1973 psycho-killer thriller starring Tab Hunter as a sexually repressed gym teacher who gets aroused by murdering women, is more notable as the directorial debut of Oscar-winner Curtis Hanson. DVD only.
- "Naked Angels" (Shout! Factory) is another of Roger Corman's biker gang dramas, this 1969 variation from director Bruce Clark (who went on to direct "Galaxy of Terror" for Corman in 1981). DVD only.
- "Thinner" (Olive), the 1996 Stephen King horror about a man cursed to wither away unless he gorges himself, stars Robert John Burke and Joe Mantegna. Blu-ray and DVD.