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Case Number 04715: Supreme Court

Buy Shadows, Lies, And Private Eyes: The Film Noir Collection at Amazon

Shadows, Lies, And Private Eyes: The Film Noir Collection

Murder, My Sweet
1944 // 95 Minutes // Not Rated
Out Of The Past
1947 // 97 Minutes // Not Rated
Gun Crazy
1949 // 86 Minutes // Not Rated
The Set-Up
1949 // 72 Minutes // Not Rated
The Asphalt Jungle
1950 // 112 Minutes // Not Rated
Released by Warner Bros.
Reviewed by Judge George Hatch, Chief Counsel Rob Lineberger, and Judge Mark Van Hook // July 5th, 2004

• Buy the Box Set at Amazon
• Buy the Asphalt Jungle DVD at Amazon
• Buy the Murder, My Sweet DVD at Amazon
• Buy the Out of the Past DVD at Amazon
• Buy the Gun Crazy DVD at Amazon
• Buy the Set-Up DVD at Amazon


All Rise...

Three of our judges—Judge George Hatch, Appellate Judge Rob Lineberger, and Judge Mark Van Hook—team up to review Warner Brothers's five-volume noir collection, doll.

Editor's Note

Our reviews of Gun Crazy (published October 11th, 2004), Murder, My Sweet (published October 11th, 2004), and Out Of The Past (published November 15th, 2005) are also available.

The Charge

"People are being cheated, robbed, murdered, raped. And that goes on 24 hours a day, every day in the year. And that's not exceptional, that's usual. It's the same in every city in the modern world. But suppose we had no police force, good or bad. Suppose we had…just silence. Nobody to listen, nobody to answer. The battle's finished. The jungle wins. The predatory beasts take over."—Police Commissioner Hardy, The Asphalt Jungle

Opening Statement

It's the butt of a cigarette as it dangles from the corner of the private eye's mouth. It's the exasperated look on the hero's face as he realizes he's been duped by the woman he trusted. It's gangsters getting away with it. It's the shadows. It's the lies. It's film noir.

But what, really, is "film noir"?

Conventional wisdom holds that the term "film noir" (literally "black film"), coined by French film critics in the 1950s and 1960s, was first used to describe the gritty black-and-white American films to come out of the postwar period in the 1940s and early 1950s. Brought about by such great directors as John Huston (The Maltese Falcon) and Billy Wilder (Double Indemnity), film noir was a fresh breed of crime drama infused with a decidedly cynical worldview. That's where the agreement about the specifics of the term ends.

For years, critics have argued about film noir's space in the canon of American movies. It is too easily identifiable to be dismissed as a purely stylistic conceit. Yet the specific elements—morally compromised hero, gritty urban setting, femme fatale, et cetera—contained within the typical noir boundaries tend to differ from film to film, so much so that it's a stretch to deem it a genre unto itself. In fact, it may be said that all "films noir" are like snowflakes, in that no two are the same.

Enter Warner Brothers' Shadows, Lies, and Private Eyes: The Film Noir Collection, a set that is sure to fuel the film noir argument. At first glance, the five films contained herein—all of which fill in essential gaps on the "why-isn't-this-on-DVD?" list—rightfully earn the "noir" label. But once you get past this obvious designation, you'll find that the films couldn't be more different from each other. John Huston's The Asphalt Jungle is a heist picture through and through. Edward Dmytryk's Murder, My Sweet, on the other hand, is the archetypal private eye film (taken from a source novel by the man who practically invented the private dick story, Raymond Chandler). Jacques Tourner's Out of the Past takes that same private eye formula and turns it on its ear. Each film in this collection expresses noir in a radically different way.

So get ready to take a walk down the dark alleys of Shadows, Lies, and Private Eyes: The Film Noir Collection, and decide for yourself what "film noir" really means.

Facts of the Case: Murder, My Sweet—Reviewed by Appellate Judge Rob Lineberger

Private Investigator Philip Marlowe (Dick Powell) doesn't have it all figured out, but he knows that when a dumb ox like Moose Malloy (Mike Mazurki) shows up in your office there's going to be trouble. When a high-class broad with a two-bit attitude like Helen Grayle (Claire Trevor) follows, there's going to be more. But nobody ever got anywhere by sitting on a stool watching the action go by.

It was rotten from the start. A jade necklace worth more cash than you'd see in a lifetime goes missing, and people start dying over it. Moose is too dumb to put it together, so who is the brains? Is it Jules Amthor (Otto Kruger), the quack doctor with a nasty attitude? It couldn't be Grayle's stepdaughter Ann (Anne Shirley)…that sweet kid is up to her neck in trouble. Philip knows something, though: someone wants him out of the picture, and quick. Which is reason enough to see it through.

The Evidence: Murder, My Sweet

If you stick around film circles long enough, you'll hear several titles touted as the definitive film noir: The Maltese Falcon or The Big Sleep, Double Indemnity, or The Killers, perhaps. Sooner or later, you'll hear Murder, My Sweet hailed as the "definitive noir."

It isn't much of a stretch to place the noir crown on Murder, My Sweet's oft-bludgeoned head. Only one adjective adequately describes this film and its characters: hard-boiled. The fatigue of living oozes from the characters; the grime of corruption blackens their nails. Rumpled detective Philip Marlowe may be the iconic film noir hero. He is never too far from a woman, a whiskey, or a weapon.

He's never too far from a wisecrack either. The dialogue in Murder, My Sweet is dense and electrifying. It should be: it comes from the pen of Raymond Chandler, a cornerstone of the private eye genre. Chandler's words crackle and dance, amusing us while instilling a sense of impending doom:

Marlowe: Have you got a key to the beach house?
Ann Grayle: But you said…
Marlowe: I bowed out. I stopped. He thinks it's over. That doesn't stop anything. These things don't work out like that. Okay, so I go hide under the covers. Do the police stop? Does Helen stop? Do you stop?
Ann Grayle (frowns): What do you mean, "Does Helen stop?"
Marlowe: Oh, I don't know…if I always knew what I meant, I'd be a genius. But I know this. A cancer doesn't stop growing just because you ask it to.

Marlowe hardly pauses during the course of the film, throwing out jibes, inquiries, and come-ons with equal sharpness. As you listen to the patter, you are enveloped in a linguistic blanket, soothed and entertained. Though not as piercing or driving as Polonsky and Wolfert's dialogue in Force of Evil, the conversations have the same compelling vibe.

How you feel about Powell's Marlowe dictates how you feel about Murder, My Sweet, because there's a lot of Marlowe. As a character, Marlowe's shoulders are broad enough and chipped enough to carry the film. Does Powell have the cynicism, the careworn patina, to carry off one of pulp fiction's most loved characters?

Before I answer that question, ponder Dick Powell's pre-Murder, My Sweet career. He'd firmly established himself as a sunny crooner in musicals and romps like The Singing Marine, Broadway Gondolier, and Sirens. As Alain Silver points out in his commentary, Powell's casting was dramatically against type, so much so that they had to change the name of the picture so people wouldn't confuse it with a musical. Singing marine to hard-boiled detective is quite a leap, and many people simply can't get past their strong association of Powell with musicals.

I have the advantage of complete unfamiliarity with Powell's singing days, and I say he nailed it. Powell is often mentioned as Chandler's favorite incarnation of Marlowe, praise that is rightfully earned. Powell's Marlowe is both jaded and optimistic, world-weary yet open to life. He delivers certain lines with cutting self-deprecation, others with calculated softness. His Marlowe is always pushing buttons, probing people for weakness, wresting control of the situation. Although he isn't physically imposing (something about his face is too gentle to completely intimidate) his confident delivery and compromised sense of values establish his dangerous side.

Powell's subtlety sufficiently sells the character. At one point, femme fatale Helen "confesses" to Marlowe about her role in the caper. Her face is buried in his shoulder, and her features are in shadow. Though she is speaking, Marlowe is in the spotlight. His flashes of annoyance and the slight roll of his eyes say that he isn't buying a word of it. Nonetheless, he falls easily enough into her arms, for amusement or to keep up appearances. Helen Gayle may be one of the weakest femmes fatales on record, because she never fully ensnares Marlowe. It is Powell's incorrigible surety that prevents Marlowe from being fully swallowed into the depths of this noir.

Powell is solid, but the cinematography makes him all the better. Dmytryk and veteran cinematographer Harry J. Wild create a brooding environment where shadow threatens to overwhelm the characters. In the commentary, Silver reminds us that Wild and other crew members were RKO regulars who created the stunning visuals for Citizen Kane. Here we see the same deep focus, the same dramatic shading and composition. Dmytryk even throws in a drug trip, which is oddly convincing. In terms of pure cinematography, Murder, My Sweet is unmistakably noir—superbly handled noir, at that. My favorite scene in that regard is one of the earliest, when Marlowe is "relaxing" in his office under the repetitive glare of a flashing neon sign. This bit has been parodied since, but it works well here.

The music fits equally well. Composer Roy Webb has an absolutely staggering body of work: he had a career's worth of films both before and after Murder, My Sweet (including Out of the Past, another film in this boxed set). Much of his work inhabits the shadows of film noir. On one hand, some of his compositions are effective but not entirely groundbreaking. Webb produces tension in the opening interrogation scene by repeating a toneless bass riff with tinkling counterpoints. It has been done time and again, but it works. Recent soundtracks I've heard that use the same trick somehow lack Webb's panache. Other moments of music truly set the tone, putting us on edge almost imperceptibly.

With a great lead performance, snappy dialogue, a decently complex plot, great music, and captivating visuals, it is easy to see why Murder, My Sweet ranks so highly on people's list of top film noirs. When you throw in the cachet of pulp literature's greatest P.I., Murder, My Sweet cements its reputation.

The Rebuttal Witnesses: Murder, My Sweet

On the other hand, how many times have you felt like cheering in film noir? Giddy enthusiasm is a rare bird indeed in the oppressive noir canon. When Marlowe triumphs, when the pieces all fit together and his flirtatious cleverness pays off, we want to cheer for his success. Film noir is not about cheering, my friend. It is serious business.

That's just it. In spite of its brooding tone and dark dealings, Murder, My Sweet never takes itself too seriously. You may get wrapped up in the tale, but you never fear for your own emotional well-being. This isn't the kind of story where you hide your eyes behind your hands to keep from viewing traumatic carnage, nor is it the sort of tale where you cover your ears to protect yourself from scathing and hurtful words. Murder, My Sweet has violence, and it has scornful exchanges, but they are handled with a measure of abstract decorum that allows us to relax. We open ourselves to the words and the actions, straining to catch every nuance.

Murder, My Sweet is thereby one of the most accessible film noirs ever made. If you love film noir you will probably like Murder, My Sweet; if you don't like film noir you might like it anyway. But is film noir supposed to be that accessible? If you embrace film noir because it is one of the few genres that don't shy away from brutal themes of human darkness, if you appreciate the pain, sorrow, and futility inherent in the genre, then Murder, My Sweet may edge too far into camp to please you. If so, can we in good conscience call it "definitive" film noir? On these grounds, you could practically make a case for booting Murder, My Sweet out of the noir canon altogether.

Simple characterizations don't help the cause. The men, Marlowe excepted of course, are rather one-dimensional. Moose is a brute, Lindsay Marriott a fop. In fact, I created some extra tension for myself by failing to take the characters at face value. "Sure, Lindsay appears helpless," I told myself, "but what angle is he really playing?" Eventually I realized that people in Murder, My Sweet are pretty much who they appear to be. Oh, there are twists and turns in the plot and shifting alliances, but frogs don't turn into princes.

The women are particularly underwritten. Anne Shirley is the biggest victim, because Ann Grayle isn't given much to do. She is there to hand out keys and information, to cushion Philip's brow with her soft shoulder. Otherwise, she has no sense of past or future. To her credit, Shirley infuses Anne with warmth and grace, causing us to instinctively like her and root for her, but the script had nothing to do with it.

On paper, Helen Grayle is a more complex character. She undergoes more twists and has multidimensional involvement with the other characters. Unfortunately, it isn't difficult to size Helen up from the get-go. It isn't that later surprises are ruined, it's that her scenes feel like they go through the motions of giving us information we already know. This should not be construed as a poor reflection of Claire Trevor's abilities. She had a firmly established career before Murder, My Sweet and a healthy body of work afterward. In each scene she has just the right look, the right slink in her walk and deceitful glint in her eye. It is the see-through plot and uncertain direction that sell her character short. In fact, most of the actors in Murder, My Sweet deliver B-movie goodness. Mike Mazurki is a moose, no stretch there. He is menacing, dumb, and completely unconvincing in a delicious way. The other men in this film also fall prey to melodrama, tweaking up the camp factor while retaining a sense of gloom and malice.

Like every film in this collection, Murder, My Sweet is influenced by the HUAC witch hunts. Director Edward Dmytryk is one of the Hollywood Ten, filmmakers who went to jail rather than discuss their activities with the committee. Something about film noir seems to go hand in hand with this dark period of America's history. When Dmytryk got out of the joint, Silver tells us, his work on Murder, My Sweet propelled him to the A-list. Murder, My Sweet undoubtedly benefits from sound directorial choices, particularly in the technical aspects. Where Dmytryk falls short is in creating a sense of taboo in his alluring female leads. Marlowe's interactions with the ladies have some spark, but not nearly enough to make their scenes catch fire.

I mentioned previously that Murder, My Sweet allows us to relax. A major contributing factor to this sense of calm is the film's convoluted flashback structure. We open with Marlowe retelling his tale to the police. This immediately informs us that Marlowe makes it out alive and relatively whole. Since his is the only character we really live with, and we don't fear for his safety, the rest of the film takes on an undercurrent of unconcern. It may not have been intentional, however; modern audiences are well versed in the flashback structure, and the clear evidence of Marlowe's well-being might not have been as clear to 1944 audiences.

One thing that was definitely clearer to 1944 audiences is the picture quality. Where Gun Crazy's restoration blew me away, this one is less impressive. The film is riddled with dirt, nicks, scratches, and cloudiness. The quality is not low enough to make you leap out of your seat in disgust, but it isn't going to make you ooh and ahh either. It feels like an old school day at the movies, flaws and all. I actually prefer letting the film look like film over the soullessness of digital manipulation, but transfer purists should be aware that the cleanup of Murder, My Sweet is not overly detailed.

I've mentioned Alain Silver's commentary a few times. He truly grasps the details of film noir…after all, he has written several books on the subject. His insights are worthwhile and authoritative. Yet Silver falls into the same trap that snares many noir analysts. Why is it that such a colorful, exciting, and subversive genre/style gets such coldly analytical treatment? The dialogue is so rich, and the characters so engrossing, that when Silver was speaking I strained to hear Marlowe's wisecracks in the background. Silver is not alone in this approach. In fact, most of the essays I have read on the subject are so clinical that I wonder whether the authors understand that noir is supposed to be exciting. Perhaps this is an unfair criticism; after all, Raymond Chandler is a difficult act to follow.

Facts of the Case: Out of the Past—Reviewed by Judge Mark Van Hook

Jeff Markham (Robert Mitchum) is a simple gas jockey with a mysterious, violent past. Years ago, Markham was a private eye hired by gangster Whit (a deliciously malevolent Kirk Douglas) to find his girl, Kathie (Jane Greer), who had shot him and run off with $40,000. But instead of taking Kathie back to Whit, Markham ended up falling in love with her and running away from both his partner and his profession. Now his past has finally caught up with him.

That past takes the form of Stephanos (Paul Valentine), one of Whit's henchmen, who tells Jeff that Whit would like him to pay a visit. Jeff agrees, and soon he finds himself caught up in a web of blackmail, corruption, and multiple murders, which start piling up in rapid succession. At this point, Jeff can't be sure whether Whit is unaware of Jeff's previous betrayal and is merely hiring a private dick for another case, or if he is perfectly aware of the affair and is out to frame Jeff for revenge. The only thing Jeff is sure of is that Kathie isn't nearly as innocent as she seems.

The Evidence: Out of the Past

Kathie: I didn't know what I was doing. I didn't know anything except how much I hated him. But I didn't take anything. I didn't, Jeff. Won't you believe me?

Jeff: Baby, I don't care.

It may be the quintessential line in what may be seen as the purest noir of them all. The hero, fully aware of what this woman is capable of, willingly allows himself to be seduced by her charm and ostensible innocence. It matters little that she shot a man and may have taken his money. She's gorgeous and seductive, and he wants her badly, regardless of what it may cost him.

Of all the films we typically classify as noir, Jacques Tourneur's Out of the Past (along with Billy Wilder's Double Indemnity) is the one that contains virtually every element that we identify with the term. It's not quite the masterpiece that Wilder's classic is, if only because it doesn't get the blood pumping in the same way. But it's fair to say that for someone just getting into noir and wanting to learn exactly what it is, you won't find a much better place to start.

It's all here: the fatalistic, morally compromised private dick, seduced by a woman into a trap that he may not be able to claw his way out of; the femme fatale, rarely exemplified as well as Jane Greer's Kathie, but given more sympathy than the character is usually afforded; the complex plot, which soon spins so far out of control that it takes multiple viewings to grasp just who's double-crossing who—and even then, it may not add up; the shadowy urban setting, here contrasted with the idyllic backwoods town of Bridgeport, Connecticut, where Mitchum has gone to hide from Douglas's gangster. Those who argue over the minutiae of what actually makes a noir film will be hard pressed to pinpoint any element in Out of the Past that suggests anything but noir.

One of these elements that makes the film really stand out from the rest is the dialogue, which absolutely crackles with glib one-liners and snappy double entendres. Conversations are filled with "dames" and "baby's," and there's rarely a line of exposition that isn't countered by a snappy comeback. In his commentary, noir expert James Ursini relates this kind of dialogue to the recent revival of noir and credits it with introducing the idea to an entirely new generation of filmmakers who keep referring back to it as the textbook on cool. For instance, when Kathie cries out to Jeff that she "[doesn't] wanna die," his response is "neither do I, baby, but if I have to I'm gonna be the one that dies last." Nobody talks like that, and perhaps nobody ever did, but when delivered with Mitchum's flippant swagger, it sure makes us wish we could.

In reality, Out of the Past is something of a structural oddity. It essentially picks up halfway through the story, as Jeff is living in hiding as a gas station owner, trying to escape his situation with Whit, spurring the audience to wonder exactly why he's there and what it is in his past that would force him into such a position. The re-emergence of Stefanos then catapults us into a flashback that fills us in on the story thus far, which allows Mitchum to deliver the kind of patented voice-over narration so many people associate with noir. This lasts for a half hour, so that when we finally get back to the present, we're almost halfway through the film. It's a strange stylistic choice, but it works, mainly because Mitchum's voice-over is so fiendishly entertaining and coolly laconic, and because the mystery surrounding his past is so expertly devised. We want to understand what happened, and we're thrilled to have Jeff talking us through it.

As Jeff, Mitchum created what would soon become the archetypal noir hero—fatalistic, cynical, easily seduced but with a moral code that forces him to make choices late in the film that draw him back to the side of good. Here, it's surprising to find out what a bastard Markham really is, and how small a part that morality plays in his daily existence. Even taking into account Kathie's seductive nature, Markham is duped surprisingly easily early in the film; one can't imagine Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe ever being so eagerly gullible. Markham is almost too trusting of Kathie, and too willing to abandon his morals for the quick thrill. It's only at the very end of the film that his sense of morality returns to his consciousness, and by then it's too late.

Then there's Jane Greer's Kathie, second only to Barbara Stanwyck's Phyllis Dietrichson in Double Indemnity as the greatest of all femme fatales. Unlike Phyllis, Kathie has good intentions, no matter how morally corrupt she is. In the end, all she really wants is Jeff, who wants her in return but isn't willing to bend his own code in order to get her. Kathie is cold, calculating, sadistic, and brutal, but to her the ends (Jeff, Acapulco) justify the means (murder, blackmail, betrayal, etc.). This moral divide creates a fascinating interplay between the two, and constantly leaves the viewer guessing as to whose nature will win out.

By the end of the film, both characters have gone through internal hells of their own, only to come back to each other. Their final exchange makes us realize that there's really no other way for them to end up. "Jeff, we've been wrong a lot, and unlucky a long time," she says matter-of-factly. "We deserve a break." "We deserve each other," is his response.

And thankfully, we've got both of them too, whether we deserve them or not.

Warner's digital presentation of Out of the Past isn't perfect, but considering its age, it's a wonder that it looks as good as it does. Contrast is strong, with deep blacks and bright whites, and the black-and-white source print is generally very good. The image looks slightly soft at times, and there's a moderate amount of grain and dirt speckled throughout the print, especially in the nighttime scenes, but it's never a distraction. The disc faithfully reproduces what is easily one of the best-looking noirs ever, with its rich, detailed shadows and gorgeous lighting from great director of photography Nick Musuraca. In a way, the image quality matches the film—it's gritty and a bit rough around the edges, but it always delivers where it counts.

Like the other films in the collection, audio is presented in mono, and as expected, it sounds terrific, with no noticeable hissing, so that the viewer can savor every delicious line of Daniel Manwaring's script. Subtitles are presented in English, French, and Spanish.

The extra of note here is the aforementioned full-length commentary track from noir expert James Ursini, who possesses both a fan's love for the film and a scholar's expertise on the elements of noir. The track is breezy and likable, with Ursini contributing a lengthy discourse on noir itself, the film's production history, and its place within the body of noir.

Thanks to Warner's DVD, Out of the Past is likely to hold that place for a long, long time.

Facts of the Case: The Set-Up—Reviewed by Judge Mark Van Hook

Stoker Thompson (Robert Ryan) is a washed-up prizefighter in desperate need of a win. Now a has-been in Paradise City's boxing world, he fights on the card after the main event when most of the crowd has left for the night. Even his devoted wife Julie (Audrey Totter) refuses to watch his fights, always fearful that the next time he steps into the ring will be his last.

Stoker's last chance for redemption comes in the form of Tiger Nelson, a promising young fighter and his latest, and possibly last, opponent. Stoker believes if he can beat Nelson, he may be able to retire from the ring. What he doesn't know is that his manager and trainer have made a deal with local gangster Little Boy (Alan Baxter) for him to take a dive, without cutting him in. They believe Stoker is so washed up that he'll be destroyed regardless, and it's better to save the money than let him in on the deal.

Does Stoker have enough strength left to take Nelson down? If he does learn the truth about the set-up, will he have the guts to do what's best for himself, even if it means accepting the consequences?

The Evidence: The Set-Up

What a thrilling, deeply penetrating movie this is, and what a magnificent surprise it comes as. I had never seen The Set-Up prior to its DVD release, and even as a self-proclaimed film noir junkie (but not a boxing fan), I was wary of seeing what would invariably be a dated boxing picture from a time when the sport was still remotely popular. What I found was a sucker-punch of a film; a brutal, riveting, pugilist epic that packs more emotion and raw physicality into its 72-minute running time than most three-hour historical dramas can hope to muster. Directed by the great Robert Wise and featuring a gimmick that actually adds to the narrative momentum instead of choking the life out of it, The Set-Up is nothing less than a masterpiece.

The aforementioned gimmick is one that would seldom be attempted in American cinema (High Noon comes to mind). The action is placed in real time, such that the film's story takes place over the course of 72 minutes, its approximate running time (occasional camera zoom-ins on various clocks remind us of the real-time element). We pick up the story right before Stoker Thompson heads to the arena for his fight with Tiger Nelson. We follow him into the locker room for his preparation, up until the fight itself, which lasts for roughly the last half hour of the film, until finally we're witness to its brutal aftermath.

This is a risky proposition. Handled the wrong way, it could be seen as a major drag on the forward thrust of the film. But in the hands of editor Roland Gross (The Thing From Another World) and director Wise (a onetime editor himself, he cut a little movie called Citizen Kane), The Set-Up is like a great fighter—lean, muscular, and without a single ounce of fat. Rather than using the pre-fight buildup to simply tread water, Wise gets maximum emotional wattage out of every scene. The locker room scene, for instance, becomes absolutely vital to building the character of Stoker, while at the same time making the allegorical link between the boxing world and the sport of life. As we watch Stoker's response to the various younger fighters waiting to head into the ring and meet their destiny, we realize that this is a man who truly has seen it all, and just doesn't belong in this world anymore. Like these fighters, he once had hopes and aspirations for where this career would take him, but these have all been stripped away by age. Now he simply wants to get out in one piece and make a new life. It's an example of a scene that could easily have seemed like mere stalling, but instead packs in layer upon layer of character and emotional weight.

Then comes the boxing scene, which lasts roughly a half hour, and which I was particularly wary of, as I have no interest in boxing whatsoever. But again, directed by Wise and edited by Gross, this is one of the most primal, realistic scenes of its kind ever to be captured on film, relentlessly building suspense until its thrilling, cathartic conclusion. Shot mostly from outside the ring to maintain objectivity, the scene is played without music, with cutaways only to the reactions shots of the various bloodthirsty fans and the principal characters (e.g. Little Boy). The fight is choreographed so that the viewer can practically feel every punch, and because of the real-time element, there's no cutting to later points in the fight, a la Rocky. We see and feel the whole fight, and it is as painful and exciting for us as it is for the participants and spectators.

Robert Ryan was perhaps the perfect actor to play Stoker, both for his tall, muscular stature and his previous experience in the ring (he was a onetime fighter at Dartmouth). But Ryan brings more to the role than mere physicality. His delivery of lines like "That's the way it is. You're a fighter, you gotta fight" is fraught with genuine emotion and fatalism. He sincerely believes this fight will be the last, wanting desperately to make a better life for Julie and himself. Audrey Totter, as Julie, has more of a thankless position. As the dutiful wife who doesn't want to see her husband hurt, she invests the part with real humanity. There's as much a battle going on internally with Julie as there is externally with Stoker—stay with her husband, who she hopelessly loves, or leave him, saving herself the trouble of seeing him hurt or possibly worse.

The last thing that needs to be mentioned is just how masterfully Wise creates the world that Stoker and Julie inhabit. Every detail of Paradise City's boxing atmosphere is pitch perfect; the sweltering haze of the smoke-filled arena, the jazzy nightclubs and cheap motels that litter the city, and the bloodthirsty fans (many of whom we come to know personally in the film's virtuoso opening shot) that don't care who wins, as long as one guy beats the other to a pulp. The atmosphere is so believable that, like the best productions, we forget that we're watching a fictional place and instead feel like we're in this world.

Warner's release of The Set-Up offers up a terrific looking full-frame (its original aspect ratio) print that is clean and mostly free of debris, with striking contrast (essential for any noir) that highlights the inky shadows of Paradise City's seedy dives and dark alleys. The audio is presented in mono and sounds as it should, with virtually no background hiss of any kind. Subtitles are included in English, French, and Spanish.

The Rebuttal Witnesses: The Set-Up

The commentary track by director Robert Wise and Martin Scorsese is perhaps the one bonus feature I was most looking forward to on Warner's Shadows, Lies, and Private Eyes noir collection, and for this reason it comes as a major disappointment. The two men were recorded separately, which is perfectly acceptable, but as the director of the film, it comes as a huge surprise Wise has virtually nothing of interest to contribute. He pops in here and there to describe what is readily apparent onscreen, and only rarely mentions anything having to do with the production. Scorsese is his usual enthusiastic, chatty self, but even with his contribution, there are major dead patches in the track, so much so that at one point I almost had to check the remote to make sure I hadn't inadvertently switched it off. This should have been the crown jewel of the set, and the fact that it's so lacking is a major drag.

Which brings us to the fundamental question about The Set-Up's inclusion in this collection. It's a great film, no doubt, and can go toe to toe with any film in the package for quality. But I'm still left wondering—is it really "noir"? The only elements of the film that truly give it this distinction are the shadowy lighting and gangster villain, neither of which are quite enough to call it a pure noir. There's no femme fatale (Totter is with Ryan all the way), and for a hero, Stoker is essentially an upstanding, non-cynical guy. Certainly most people's definitions of what "noir" is will vary, as mentioned above, but of all the titles in the set, this is the one whose inclusion merits the most confusion.

Regardless, it's a solid disc of a brilliant, riveting film.

Facts of the Case: Gun Crazy—Reviewed by Appellate Judge Rob Lineberger

Bart Tare (John Dall, Spartacus, Rope) is a man obsessed with guns but not violence. Though not precisely a rebel, Bart fails to fit in with society. He does four-year stints in reform school and the Army before getting down to the business of having no clue what he wants to do with his life.

His life springs into immediate focus the moment he sets sight on Annie Laurie Starr (Peggy Cummins, Night of the Demon), a British trick shot with nice gams and animal magnetism. Laurie is what we would call a bad girl, but Bart is too guileless and too lovestruck to notice. After a friendly shooting competition, the two set off toward an uncertain but ferociously symbiotic future. Laurie wants things, "big things," and she will get them any way she can. Bart already has what he wants: a chick who digs guns as much as he does.

Nothing good can come of this.

The Evidence: Gun Crazy

In the song "Female of the Species," Space vocalist Tommy Scott wails, "How can heaven hold a place for me when a girl like you has cast her spell on me?" Replace Tommy Scott with Bart Tare, change the format from '90s single to '40s noir, and you get Gun Crazy. Originally titled Deadly Is the Female, the basic plot of Gun Crazy involves Annie Laurie Starr hooking her intoxicating claws into Bart and holding on for dear life. And if you are at all familiar with film noir, you know that the embrace of the femme fatale is rarely good for the hapless protagonist. Fortunately, Gun Crazy offers us much beyond this basic premise, making it not only one of the top few noirs of all time but, according to Gary Johnson, also "one of the greatest B movies ever made." (See the "10 Shades of Noir" link in the sidebar.)

If you examine the Scales of Justice, you'll note that my overall judgment is slightly greater than the acting or story scores would suggest. Gun Crazy has "it," an indefinable element of cohesive momentum. As I watched the events unfold, I had a tight knot in the pit of my stomach. My hands were clammy (and I'm not typically a moist person). Watching Gun Crazy is a visceral, even primal, experience.

There are many intriguing angles to Gun Crazy. For example, it is not a typical film noir, yet it is unmistakably film noir. The cinematography isn't filled with oppressive shadows, but it is rife with expressionistic angles and intense compositions. The characters are not particularly eloquent or complex, but they radiate noirish angst and overzealous malice nonetheless. Bart is not trapped in a maze with no exit; he is not tirelessly hounded by shadowy criminals or mysterious forces beyond his control. Yet Bart is hopelessly trapped, and he is incessantly hounded by the law. The streets are not riddled with corruption; Bart and Laurie are the corruption. Gun Crazy eschews most of film noir's trademark elements. In spite of that, no other genre describes it so perfectly. This is what makes Gun Crazy such a standout film noir: it breaks the "rules" and gives us something exemplary in return.

Bart is an unusual noir victim/hero. He has the ability and the opportunity to get out at any time. How many noir protagonists have been given that chance? It is a rare, agonizingly rare, chance in a million for most noir characters: a ray of light, one unblocked exit from the maze that would let the poor sap out of his nightmare. Bart is practically walking in sunshine, and he's never in a maze. He runs in a straight line down one long corridor he carved for himself. Why does Bart choose to live in the nightmare that so many noir antiheroes fight to escape?

The answer to that question forms Gun Crazy's emotional and thematic core; the answer is love. Bart and Laurie's feral attraction is one of the best depictions of love in the history of cinema. You can sense their love…hell, you can practically smell it radiating from their aroused bodies. One of Gun Crazy's most lauded scenes is the first meeting between Bart and Laurie. Both the movie and its critics use primal metaphors for the attraction between the two: animals sniffing each other out, two wild animals crazed with lust, hot hot monkey love…you get the idea. The carnality of the shooting competition is unmistakable and nearly indescribable. Bart is rigid with lust, yet he marshals hidden resources of suaveness and machismo to impress his nubile would-be mate. For her part, Laurie flashes eyes brimming with thinly veiled lust, maintaining calm yet constantly breaking character to taunt Bart with her body. This carnality is not explicit; audiences raised on today's menu of oiled, writhing bodies might not pay close enough attention and miss the erotic subtext altogether. But if you place yourself into Bart or Laurie's shoes, the vicarious flirtation is thrilling.

So much for lust, but I'm talking about love: two characters drinking from each other, living only to be two. One of Gun Crazy's most lauded scenes (there are a lot of those) comes later in the film. Bart's urgent need to be with Laurie has not subsided. Somewhere along the line, Laurie's manipulative sexual blackmail coalesced into genuine love. Granted, their love is neither typical nor healthy, and they both know it. So they decide to split up to throw off the cops. What they are really telling themselves is "now's my chance to ditch this crazy broad/square chump." So they literally go their separate ways…for ten seconds or so. A cleverly composed take shows the cars driving away, then swerving back toward each other in a magnetic spiral. The two collide and kiss in a triumphant orgy of bliss. Laurie's face and body tell us that she has Bart cold, but that makes him all the more attractive to her. Finally, Laurie knows for certain that she loves Bart. The audience knows it too.

This level of emotional complexity is unusual in film noir. Rarely do we experience firsthand the hero's entanglement. Robert Siodmak's The Killers contains one of film noir's most notorious femme fatales in Ava Gardner's Kitty Collins, and one of its poorest saps in Burt Lancaster's "Swede." Swede's introduction to Kitty is the functional equivalent of the shooting contest in Gun Crazy, but it lacks Gun Crazy's firsthand sizzle. We watch Swede become stricken, we know he is doomed, and we have to guess forthwith whether Kitty spares any emotion at all for Swede. Peggy Cummins's Laurie isn't as aloof or inscrutable, at least not to the audience. She's constantly shooting us looks of glee, triumph, or lust that reveal her attachment to Bart. Has the femme fatale ever been so right for a man as Laurie is for Bart?

I've alluded to the acting that sells us on their relationship, but let's now discuss the acting explicitly. Both Peggy Cummins and John Dall give the performances of their careers. (Lest you think I've seen most of their work and have pinned two blue ribbons on Gun Crazy, be aware that this evaluation is from Glenn Erickson's commentary track. But you hardly have to watch their other performances to buy his assertion.) Acting is about responding, and they respond in full. Cummins sells us on Laurie's sensation-seeking, thrill-crazy, ambitious, thoroughly rotten soul. Dall is likably damaged, aimless until Laurie gives his life meaning. His big stupid grin somehow doesn't look fake. His tension, anxiety, and sense of unchecked descent are believable. As individuals and as partners they pour life into Gun Crazy.

The rest of the cast shines as well, even bit parts like Stanley Prager's streetwise clown Bluey-Bluey or Berry Kroeger's seedy carnival boss Packett. Gun Crazy is often praised for its realism, and the acting goes a long way toward establishing an environment of verisimilitude.

The other element that contributes to this environment is daring and kinetic cinematography. Gun Crazy is full of one-take scenes, which is a complex trick that makes directors seem really, really cool. Neither director Joseph H. Lewis nor cinematographer Russell Harlan has artifice on his mind. (In fact, there are precious few directorial decisions that seem out of place; Lewis seems to have absolute control of the picture.) The extended takes during the robberies allow us to live with the characters for a few minutes and see into their tension, precision, and euphoria. The extended take is a natural fit for these scenes, something that we can say in retrospect was groundbreaking at the time.

In fact, each shot is carefully composed to give the deepest impact. As I watched Gun Crazy, I was continually stimulated by arresting compositions and creative camera work. When young Bart is being sentenced to reform school, the camera slowly homes in on his ear. We see nothing of his facial expression or posture, but that ear tells us all we need to know. Bart's first glimpse of Laurie is a worm's-eye view from the audience to the stage. High contrast gives her a dramatic radiance, as though Bart's senses had suddenly sprung into heightened sensitivity. Because of our viewpoint, Laurie physically dominates Bart (and, by association, us). She fires her pistols, and the light flashing in her eyes says it all: she loves guns, she is trouble, and she digs Bart. These are some of the most obvious and memorable shots, but Gun Crazy is a continuous, driving surge of creative camera work that gives us the sensation of a haphazard forward plunge.

How did Warner Brothers handle this masterpiece of B cinema? They gave it due respect but did not lose sight of its cult status. We are given a conscientious restoration, a commentary, and a pat on the back, which is enough for me.

The transfer quality is outstanding. Warner Brothers grasps the idea that this film will appeal to film connoisseurs more than to the general public. Appropriately, they poured the dollars into the restoration instead of the extras. The opening scenes absolutely dazzled me with their clarity, warmth, crisp contrast, and lack of artifacts. I strained to find it, but I detected no edge enhancement or digital noise reduction. Instead, I found startling detail. The opening scene contains two dramatic close-ups, and I could see every pore, raindrop, and eyelash clearly. Later scenes contained white vertical scratches and other blemishes, and the contrast suffered in at least one interior scene, but these are minor and expected annoyances. The transfer is clean while retaining life.

The Special Features menu could stand to drop an "s." The lone feature is a commentary by Glenn Erickson, a.k.a. The DVD Savant. (On a personal note, it is inspiring to see a fellow online critic granted such a high-profile opportunity. Congrats!) In general, there are two types of commentary: spontaneous dialogue and carefully planned notes. Erickson's commentary is the latter type, which makes it more formal. He discusses the film in chunks, with a pause between each section. This allows him to make very specific points about each scene while preventing rambling discourse, but it does feel a little staged. I didn't mind this approach at all, but some people are picky about commentaries. Erickson revisits the same general themes continually, such as the differences between Gun Crazy and its source short story, or the pedigree of each actor. On the other hand, he makes some daring analyses about censor interference with Gun Crazy that were fascinating grist for rumination.

Gun Crazy is intoxicating, intense, and emotionally draining. Its basic noir premise is infused with vitality through immediate camera work, expressionistic angles, excellent performances, and a racy central theme. Gun Crazy is considered a cult film, but its themes and aesthetic are precursors to much of modern crime cinema. It is undeniably a great film.

The Rebuttal Witnesses: Gun Crazy

The sound quality is not as captivating as the visuals. The original volume levels fluctuate, particularly when the single takes are employed. The technology of the time simply did not support what Lewis wanted to accomplish. There aren't major problems with the soundtrack, just periods of less clean dialogue. Time has had its impact as well: there is one major dropout in the soundtrack and a few pops and hisses.

Gun Crazy may be the greatest B film in history, but it is still a B film. The production values are not extremely high. If you look for continuity errors, you will find a few, and they might make you laugh.

Speaking of laughs, I laughed near the end for the wrong reason. Gun Crazy is a madcap dash; neither the characters nor the audience is given much of a breather. Bart and Laurie do have one extended sequence of leisure, which is a welcome relief from their fight-or-flight existence. Yet we are tipped off that the pair is in peril, so their time of relaxation only makes us more and more tense. The film does a fantastic job of building tension, until we feel we might burst with anxiety. The pair escaped the local police. Then they escaped the feds. They kept escaping. Then they arrived in Bart's old hometown, got discovered, and fled once again. At that moment, I realized that Gun Crazy had no idea what to do with the delicious tension it had created. The story suddenly seemed a bit shallow: run, run, run some more, sit awhile, then keep running. Gun Crazy desperately needed a hook, a twist…a red herring, at least, to break up the linearity. Off the top of my head, I can think of five different endings that would better suit this film. But it is what it is, and the ending is at least true to the characters. I can't help but contrast this ending with another recent film noir release, Force of Evil, which builds similar tension. When Force of Evil's end comes, it is concise and poignant; the director gave the film the dignity of a brief and sudden ending that did justice to the preceding events.

However, nothing in these Rebuttal Witnesses should be construed as "don't see Gun Crazy."

Facts of the Case: The Asphalt Jungle—Reviewed by Judge George Hatch

In a short clip of archival footage, director John Houston describes The Asphalt Jungle as "revolving around the commission of a million dollar burglary, but it's chiefly concerned with human relationships. That is to say the story is told from the inside out. Although it's melodramatic in form, it isn't melodramatic in content. You may not admire these people but I think they'll fascinate you."

And just who are these people? The original trailer introduces them with spiffy and sensational one-liners ripped from the inside cover of a pulp fiction paperback:

• Dix—A hooligan with a twisted dream
• Doll—The dime-a-dance dame who wants to share that shabby dream
• Doc—He's got a million dollars…and a jitterbug will cost him every nickel
• Gus—A right guy in the wrong place
• Emmerich—The big-time mouthpiece with big-time crime on his mind.

The Evidence: The Asphalt Jungle

Dix's dream is neither twisted nor shabby but, as befits film noir, it's despairingly futile. Dix Handley (Sterling Hayden) wants only to score enough money to "wash the city's dirt off" and buy back his father's Kentucky horse farm that was lost during the Depression. The few bucks he snatches in small-time hold-ups are blown at the racetrack so Dix is always losing that dream by just a pony's nose.

Now he's in debt for some long money to bookie Cobby (Marc Lawrence), but Cobby has connections that could get Dix out of his fix. Criminal mastermind Doc Riedenschneider (Sam Jaffe), just released from prison, has spent seven years perfecting the details of a jewel heist that could rake in over half a million dollars. Doc wants Cobby's help recruiting a small team of reliable professionals: a box-man to blow the safe, a driver who knows his way around town, and a hooligan for some back-up muscle. He also needs $50,000 to stake the caper. Cobby contacts ace attorney Alonzo Emmerich (Louis Calhern), a man willing to dirty his fingers because "crime is only a left-handed form of human endeavor." His champagne tastes, however, have left him bankrupt with barely enough beer money to hire sleazy P.I. Bob Brannom (Brad Dexter) to strong-arm a double-cross.

Doc contracts the talents of Louis Ciavelli (Anthony Caruso) to blast-and-tumble, Gus Minissi (James Whitmore) to wheel them in and out, and Dix to gunsel their way through any unforeseen problems. Meanwhile, Brannom has coaxed Cobby into fronting the fifty grand for Emmerich who also offers to fence the loot. Doc becomes suspicious and takes Dix into his confidence for a tentative change of plans. The heist goes down but "burglar alarms start going off for no sensible reason. A gun fires of its own accord and a man is shot. And a broken-down old bull no good for anything but chasing kids trips over us." Blind accidents thwart their best-laid plans.

The meticulously-detailed burglary only runs about 10 minutes but the "human relationships" John Huston cited in his introduction develop and disintegrate throughout the rest of the film's near two-hour running time. Although Louis "never met a hooligan he liked," he bonds with Dix because of their mutual respect for Gus "who can take all the heat and won't flap his lip." All three hold Doc's underworld reputation in high esteem. There's an obvious group dynamic at work here, but the individual criminal skills of these men come with intrinsic psychological flaws. Dix is so obsessed with the scent of that Kentucky bluegrass he can't smell Doll's perfume. Doll Conovan (Jean Hagen) reliably slips backs into Dix's life every time he's released from jail, but he barely acknowledges her existence even when she shares his apartment and caters to his every whim obsequiously truckling, "Yeah! Sure, Dix! Anything you say!" Louis takes far too many risks ("thrashing" his own explosives) because he's tired of two-room tenement life and wants something better for his wife and colicky kid. Gus is self-consciously aware of his hunchback and tries to stand taller than everyone else, with tough-as-nails determination and on-demand availability. Doc harbors a lecherous predilection for teenage girls and he's the only one to make a clean getaway. But a brief juke-joint stop lasts three minutes too long, "the time it took for a single record to play" while a bobbysoxer jitterbugged her way into his lust.

In film noir, it's no surprise the police patrolling this jungle are often as corrupt as the criminals they're tracking down. Lt. Ditrich (Barry Kelly) is on the take, alerting bookies like Cobby about scheduled raids while offering up lame excuses to Commissioner Hardy (John McIntire). Trying to eradicate the department's bad cops, the overly zealous Hardy rules with an iron hand but concedes that, "The worst police force is better than no police force. People are being cheated, robbed, murdered and raped, and that goes on 24 hours a day, every day in the year. But suppose we had no police force, good or bad. The battle's finished. The jungle wins. The predatory beasts take over."

The Rebuttal Witnesses: The Asphalt Jungle

During the opening credit sequence, Dix cunningly eludes a patrol car while traversing the strikingly funereal and impoverished sectors of The Asphalt Jungle. The long-shots by cinematographer Harold Rosson capture some of the most squalid and desolate urban images you're likely to find in a film from this period, surpassing even those of William Daniels who won an Academy Award for his work on The Naked City two years earlier. The vacant warehouses, shabby industrial districts, and alleyways strewn with the rubble of decaying buildings appropriately conjure up Dante's Eighth Circle of Hell to which the tainted and corrupt souls of thieves, grafters, hypocrites, the violent, and other "predatory beasts" have been condemned.

Shortly after the opening sequence, Dix sneaks into Gus' diner and asks him to stash his gun. Gus is feeding a stray cat that "never does a lick of work, stays out all night and sleeps all day." A cabbie walks in and asks, "What's a dirty cat doin' in an eatin' joint? People feedin' cats and some kids ain't got enough to eat." A few minutes later, Gus calls Louis who tells him, "I got mouths to feed and rent to pay," and a baby cries in the background. With scenes like these, references to the Depression, and dreams of a better life—be it Dix's Kentucky, Doc's Mexico, or Louis' fresh-air suburban home—Huston was making a subtly subversive political statement about the deteriorating morale in this post-war United States. He was outraged by Senator McCarthy's HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee) investigations of Hollywood and frustrated with the pseudo-morality he felt was destroying the country as a whole. Those opening scenes, and others throughout the film, expressed Huston's doubt that the country would ever surmount the economic turmoil of the Depression. He'd lost faith in The American Dream, something that would ultimately be unattainable, just out of reach for most people and his characters in The Asphalt Jungle. As a member of the Hollywood Committee for the First Amendment, Huston was considered an outsider, along with other directors such as Joseph Losey, Edward Dmytryk and Orson Welles. In his book, More than Night: Film Noir in Its Contexts, John Naremore points out, "In 1947, many leftist filmmakers were treated as outlaws, and it's not surprising that they made some of their best films from the point of view of criminals."

The criminals in The Asphalt Jungle, however, differ from previous screen incarnations of thugs and hoodlums because they are presented as a unified goal-oriented group with a code of honor. Using tight close-ups and fractured frames with balanced compositions, Huston emphasizes the psychological power plays between Doc's crew, their adversaries, and the women in their lives. Dix and Doll, for instance, are in the same scene but seldom near enough to touch, with Dix always the figure closest to the camera. Toward the end of the film, as Dix's strength diminishes, Doll takes control in a dominant close-up, refusing to tell him where she parked their getaway car. When he passes out at the wheel, she physically carries him into a doctor's office. Sadly, that's the closest they'll ever get. As they speed toward his Kentucky farm, Dix "doesn't have enough blood left to keep a chicken alive" and begins to hallucinate, deliriously recalling conversations with his father about a prized black colt. They may share the front seat but Huston shows them separately in intensely emotional close-ups because she's lost him for good to the uncorrupted boyhood he's longed for. From there it's just Dix and the road ahead until he crawls out of the car and staggers across the bluegrass corral. Doll chases after him but, when he collapses, she runs for help instead. Three horses cautiously approach and begin to nuzzle him as the camera pulls back for a long-shot, the surrounding country and a morning sky ablaze with sunlight, starkly contrasting the cold and forbidding pre-dawn urban landscape that opened the film.

Moving from one morning to the next while darkening in mood and tone throughout, The Asphalt Jungle effectively condenses Dix Handley's entire life into one grim and fatalistic day. He finally catches up with the dream that has eluded him and buys the farm—but at a price much higher than expected for a paradise he won't live to enjoy.

The Asphalt Jungle confounded The Production Code Administration whose underlying principles restricted films from "teaching the methods of crime" (which the film does in great detail), or "making criminals seems heroic and justified." Huston acquiesced to the latter by having Commissioner Hardy conclude his final tirade by fingering Dix as "a hardened killer…with no human feeling or mercy." By the end of the film, though, Dix has such an emotional stranglehold on the audience's sympathies he has assumed a stature of heroic proportions.

In his commentary Drew Casper quotes Huston as saying, "Most of my directing is in the casting," and he couldn't have selected a better group of actors for his ensemble cast. Sterling Hayden (The Killing, Dr. Strangelove) has his best role as Dix, a tough guy with a melancholy dream that makes this most sympathetic and tragic character. Louis Calhern (Notorious) as Emmerich does a surprising, almost shocking about-face from his role as Buffalo Bill in Annie Get Your Gun made the same year. Jean Hagen (Singin' in the Rain) is heartbreaking (especially in the final scenes) as Doll whose love for Dix is never recognized. James Whitmore (Battleground, Them!), Anthony Caruso (The Threat), and Marc Lawrence (Key Largo, The Ox-Bow Incident) provide colorful support. Barry Kelley (Force of Evil, Elmer Gantry) as Lt. Ditrich and John McIntire (Winchester '73, The Far Country) as Commissioner Hardy nicely counterpoint the two sides of the law. Sam Jaffe (Lost Horizon, The Day the Earth Stood Still) almost steals the show as Doc, the film's most intelligent and refined character (He even clicks his heels in true German fashion!), earning an Oscar nod for Best Supporting Actor. The film received three additional nominations for Huston's direction, Harold Rosson's (The Wizard of Oz, Singin' in the Rain) cinematography, and Huston and Ben Maddow's adapted screenplay from W.R. Burnett's novel.

I matched Warner's new DVD of The Asphalt Jungle with my MGM/Turner VHS that was released in 1992 and it appears to be drawn from the same source. Except for some occasional light speckling, the transfer looks spectacular with sharp contrast emphasizing Rosson's cinematography from solid nighttime blacks to the shimmering white edges of the droplets of sweat on Dix's face as he races home. Subtitles are provided but the Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono makes the dialogue and Rozsa's magnificent score resonate.

In addition to the original theatrical trailer, there's a commentary by Dr. Drew Casper who holds the Alma and Alfred Hitchcock Chair at the University School of Film and Television in Los Angeles, and has authored a book entitledPost-War Hollywood: 1946-1962. I was hoping Dr. Casper would have been more scene specific, instead during the first half-hour he opts for details about the changes in the studio system then segues into a biography of Huston. He eventually works his way into Huston's directing style, citing his penchant for giving actors bits of "physical business" to enhance their role—as when Jean Hagen peels off her eyelashes in an early scene. He also notes how Huston used Marilyn Monroe to "open the female parameters of screen sensuality and eroticism by keeping her sexuality under wraps thus keeping it mysterious and dynamic." A few archival quotes from supporting actor James Whitmore are spliced in and he relates a few anecdotes about working with Huston and the cast.

The Asphalt Jungle redefined the "gangster" film and inspired what is known as the "caper film," but after decades of imitators—from Rififi (1955) and The Killing (1956) through the recent remakes of The Italian Job and Ocean's Eleven—it remains an indisputable film noir classic.

Closing Statement

Often, when a studio releases a classic film package on DVD, it includes a couple of gems rounded out with a few lesser titles (see Warner's recent Cary Grant Signature Collection or Marx Brothers Collection for evidence of this). Not so here. Although the extras may be ever-so-slightly lacking, every single title in Shadows, Lies, and Private Eyes is a gem, with nary a weak link in the package. In a year that has seen dozens of essential classic films finally brought to DVD, Warner Brothers' Film Noir Collection stands out as one of the most vital. Missing this release would be criminal.

The Verdict

I looked at all the angles, and there was only one conclusion. Sure, this world throws you punches until you don't know if you're coming or going. If you don't watch your neck, it'll get so twisted that right and wrong sort of spin together. But any sap who gets sucked up in that racket is signing his own soul away. Me, I gotta take a stand. Not guilty, baby. Not guilty.

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• Classic
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• Film Noir

Scales of Justice, Murder, My Sweet

Video: 78
Audio: 88
Extras: 80
Acting: 87
Story: 94
Judgment: 94

Perp Profile, Murder, My Sweet

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
• English
• French
• Spanish
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Release Year: 1944
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Murder, My Sweet

• Commentary by Author/Film Noir Specialist Alain Silver
• Theatrical Trailer

Scales of Justice, Out Of The Past

Video: 79
Audio: 85
Extras: 80
Acting: 95
Story: 95
Judgment: 98

Perp Profile, Out Of The Past

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
• English
• French
• Spanish
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Release Year: 1947
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Out Of The Past

• Commentary by Author/Film Noir Specialist James Ursini

Scales of Justice, Gun Crazy

Video: 95
Audio: 83
Extras: 80
Acting: 93
Story: 86
Judgment: 95

Perp Profile, Gun Crazy

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
• English
• French
• Spanish
Running Time: 86 Minutes
Release Year: 1949
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Gun Crazy

• Commentary by Glenn Erickson

Scales of Justice, The Set-Up

Video: 93
Audio: 85
Extras: 65
Acting: 95
Story: 98
Judgment: 98

Perp Profile, The Set-Up

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
• English
• French
• Spanish
Running Time: 72 Minutes
Release Year: 1949
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, The Set-Up

• None

Scales of Justice, The Asphalt Jungle

Video: 95
Audio: 90
Extras: 60
Acting: 95
Story: 100
Judgment: 95

Perp Profile, The Asphalt Jungle

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (French)
• English
• French
• Spanish
Running Time: 112 Minutes
Release Year: 1950
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, The Asphalt Jungle

• Introduction by Director John Huston from an Archival Interview
• Commentary by Author Drew Casper with Archival Recordings from Co-Star James Whitmore

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