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Fox Film Noir

Nightmare Alley (July 23/05)

Based on the novel by William Lindsay Gresham, Nightmare Alley casts Tyrone Power as Stanton Carlisle - a low-level carny who eventually learns enough tricks of the trade to go out on his own. It's not long before he's calling himself The Great Stanton and pulling in high-profile audiences - but things begin to get out of hand once Stanton begins seeing an unscrupulous psychiatrist named Lilith Ritter (Helen Walker), leading to an expectedly grim finale (this is a film noir, after all). Despite a meandering opening half hour, Nightmare Alley eventually becomes entertaining enough; this is particularly true of a fascinating sequence about midway through the film, in which Stanton - using the various tricks he's picked up - convinces a police officer not to arrest him. Unfortunately, the movie's dramatically uneven storyline becomes more and more pronounced as it progresses - something that's exacerbated by the increasingly heavy-handed, overly talky tone. Still, Nightmare Alley is worth a look, if only for Power's engaging, electrifying performance.

out of

Shock (September 24/06)

Though it boasts an utterly compelling opening ten minutes, Shock ultimately comes off as an unusually tedious piece of work. Anabel Shaw stars as Janet Stewart, a nervous young woman who checks into a hotel and waits patiently for the return of her husband (previously thought killed in action, he was actually a prisoner-of-war for a couple of years). That night, Janet watches helplessly from her window as a woman is murdered by her husband; when her husband arrives the next morning, he discovers her in a catatonic state of shock. Naturally, the psychiatrist assigned to her case is the very same man that Janet spied through her window, so it comes as no surprise that he insists upon transferring the woman to his private facility for treatment. Featuring a predictably smarmy performance from Vincent Price as the shrink/killer and the presence of a bonafide femme fatale within the cast of characters, Shock certainly possesses all the ingredients for what should've been a tight little film noir. But the 70-minute running time often feels a whole lot longer thanks to Eugene Ling's egregiously talky screenplay and the distinctly low-rent atmosphere, with the end result a film that's not even remotely as effective as its premise might've indicated.

out of

The Street with No Name (July 22/05)

In The Street with No Name, Mark Stevens stars as Gene Cordell - an up-and-coming FBI agent who is ordered to go undercover and infiltrate a gang of criminals, led by the ruthless Alec Stiles (Richard Widmark). Cordell, now called George Manly, buddies up to Stiles, eventually gaining his trust - though it's clear that some of Stiles' men have their suspicions about the new guy. Though The Street with No Name features a few conspicuously dated elements (particularly the gruff, overly emphatic narrator), the film remains engaging thanks to some expectedly hard-bitten dialogue and Widmark's charismatic, sinister performance. Widmark is so effective, in fact, that Stevens - though he's far from terrible - can't help but come off as bland in comparison. It's interesting to note that just a few years after its release, The Street with No Name would be remade by Sam Fuller as House of Bamboo (see above). While both films share key story details - including a violent showdown between the two central characters - Fuller's addition of an entirely needless romantic subplot ensures that The Street with No Name will generally be remembered as the better film.

out of

Vicki (September 26/06)

A remake of the 1942 film I Wake Up Screaming, Vicki primarily revolves around the investigation that ensues after the titular character - an up-and-coming starlet - is murdered. The specifics of Vicki's short life play out via flashbacks, and we watch as an obsessive cop (Richard Boone) interrogates various suspects (including the chatty publicity man who orchestrated Vicki's transformation from waitress to bonafide celebrity). Directed by Harry Horner and featuring an appearance by prolific television producer Aaron Spelling (there's a reason he's not known for his acting, it turns out), Vicki generally has the feel of a contemporary crime show - though screenwriter Dwight Taylor offsets that vibe by including several unexpectedly and distinctly dark bits of comedy and an overall emphasis on the more hard-boiled aspects of the genre (ie the aforementioned obsessive cop is so determined that he sneaks into the apartment of a suspect and watches him sleep, in the hopes that the guy might unknowingly confess!) And although the whole thing never quite adds up to much - that the killer's identity is painfully obvious probably doesn't help matters - the movie remains a passable entry in Fox's Film Noir series.

out of

About the DVDs: All four of these films arrive on DVD as part of 20th Century Fox's "Fox Film Noir" series, armed with impressive transfers and various bonus features.
© David Nusair