Appellate Judge James A. Stewart always rings twice.
Our reviews of The Big Sleep (published February 28th, 2000), Dial M For Murder (published October 18th, 2004), Dial M for Murder 3D (Blu-ray) (published October 16th, 2012), Humphrey Bogart: The Signature Collection, Volume 2 (published October 30th, 2006), Humphrey Bogart: The Essential Collection (published November 15th, 2010), The Maltese Falcon (published February 22nd, 2000), and The Maltese Falcon (Blu-Ray) (published October 11th, 2010) are also available.
"Amorous attractions never proved so fatal as in this steamy classic."
That DVD cover description of the original The Postman Always Rings Twice could apply to all four movies in Turner Classic Movies: Greatest Classic Films Collection: Murder Mysteries. In addition to Postman, it includes two more noir greats—The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep—and a slightly more recent mystery, Dial M For Murder. It's even got a "Warner Night at the Movies" package of shorts to go with it.
Facts of the Case
Greatest Classic Films Collection: Murder Mysteries has four movies on two double-sided discs:
"Well, when one of your organization gets killed, it's bad business to
let the killer get away with it."—Sam Spade.
The Big Sleep
"So you're a private detective? I didn't know they existed, except in
"I'd like to see him get plastered like that some night and drive off a
Dial M For Murder
The Maltese Falcon is one of those movies that you really should see because you already have. By now, such elements as Humphrey Bogart's tough-guy delivery, the mysterious, beautiful client, and Sam Spade's moral code have become trademarks of the detective genre. While the movie stays fairly close to Dashiell Hammett's classic novel, what made the movie memorable is casting. Think about it: The Thin Man is a great movie that came from Hammett's writing, but it just didn't have Bogie. His craggy face, his reputation for playing shady characters, and his delivery stand out. Bogart isn't always tough—most of the time he's soft-spoken, even gentle—but when he is barking angrily at a villain or passionately embracing Mary Astor, it's memorable. He's backed by Peter Lorre, who embodies weirdness with equal soft-spokenness, and Sydney Greenstreet, who brings an elegant, above-it-all touch to nastiness. That's a trio that dream movies are made of.
As you watch The Big Sleep, you might be able to tell that Bogie and Lauren Bacall loved each other in real life, at least if you knew to look for it. Whether kissing or verbally sparring, the couple's rapport is strong. His mix of wisecracks and self-deprecation seems just right. Again, Bogie's nuanced performance isn't quite as tough as you'd recall; he gets scared before a final confrontation, and he looks it when he gets beat up. There's a lot of action, with gunplay or fisticuffs every few minutes. There's also a running gag with women falling at Bogie's feet, particularly a bookstore clerk who sheds her glasses and undoes her hair to get to know him better.
Under the Hays Code, the first half of The Postman Always Rings Twice, with its hints of a developing passion between Frank and Cora, must have drawn crowds. Lana Turner can talk about painting chairs and make it steamy. When she gets up to accepting a light for her cigarette and going swimming with Frank at night, it's hot—and dangerous, since the hint of murder behind her sweet pout is always present. The second half of the movie, with a conniving defense lawyer (Hume Cronyn, Cocoon), a watchful district attorney, and a building paranoia between the two lovers is equally worth seeing, though.
There's not too much to say about the stagy Dial M For Murder. Ray Milland plays a cool plotter who matches wits with John Williams as a clever police inspector. In the feature, "Hitchcock and Dial M," it's said that even Alfred Hitchcock called this one of his lesser pictures. From the guy who created Rear Window out of an equally simple setting, it is; but you'll still want to see it, even if the resolution hangs on some incredible hunches and bits of luck.
The "Warner Night at the Movies" extras are included with The Maltese Falcon. "The Gay Parisian," 25 minutes of excerpts from a ballet with Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in Technicolor, will give you a peek at the famous Can-Can. Theatrical trailers feature Sergeant York and The Maltese Falcon. Cartoons include "Hiawatha's Rabbit Hunt," in which Bugs Bunny's reading of Little Hiawatha is interrupted by his realization that he's in the story and on the menu, and "Meet John Doughboy," a black-and-white cartoon which unfolds as a mock newsreel on war mobilization. The surreal "Meet John Doughboy," which features images such as a "machine gun nest" in which the mama machine gun feeds her baby chick machine guns, is a visual treat, while "Rabbit Hunt" is pretty much just a typical Bugs Bunny cartoon. A newsreel clip shows Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Winston Churchill meeting, but it's only a brief clip. Too bad they didn't include an entire newsreel, showing the complete mix of headlines from the important to the frivolous.
Each movie has features directly related to it as well. There's only one commentary, with The Maltese Falcon. Author Eric Lax is enthusiastic as he talks about the people involved with the movie, revealing that Bogart wasn't the first choice for the iconic role of Sam Spade. Most of his stories are interesting, although a couple go on too long. The Big Sleep has a text feature on the behind-the-scenes aspects and a comparison that looks at the scenes that were reshot. Postman has an intro by USC film historian Richard Jewell, a photo gallery with production photos and posters, and The John Garfield Story, narrated by daughter Julie Garfield, which tells how he became the first movie rebel, but was felled by the Communist blacklist. Each has the original theatrical trailer; the trailer for 1981's remake of Postman is also included. I doubt Warner is aiming for a definitive Criterion treatment, but it's still a good package of features with insights about the included movies. "Hitchcock and Dial M" has experts, including Peter Bogdanovich and M. Night Shyamalan, covering the movie from all angles. Another short, "3D: A Brief History," talks about the 3-D process that the movie was originally released in.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
While I don't mind saving space or resources, I've never particularly cared for double-sided discs; I always feel like I should treat them gingerly.
While I like Dial M For Murder, it's a popular movie in its own right that doesn't quite fit in with the 1940s noir films in this collection. Couldn't Warner have dredged up some long-lost noir movie to round out this set?
If you've picked up other versions of these movies, a quick look at Amazon.com suggests that these features are roughly what you've seen before. However, if you don't mind the double-sided discs and don't own these already, it's worth a purchase.
If you haven't seen any of these, you really need to get this disc. It's a good introduction to film noir, including one movie everybody should see (The Maltese Falcon), two noir classics (The Big Sleep and The Postman Always Rings Twice), and an odd choice that's still good (Dial M For Murder).
Not guilty. When Warner rings four times, answer if you haven't already.
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Review content copyright © 2009 James A. Stewart; Site design and review layout copyright © 2013 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.