Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema XIII (Blu-ray Review)

REVIEW OVERVIEW

The Film (Spy Hunt)
The Film (The Night Runner)
The Film (Step Down to Terror)
The Video (Spy Hunt)
The Video (The Night Runner)
The Video (Step Down to Terror)
The Audio
The Supplements
Overall

SUMMARY

A collection of three lesser-known Film Noirs from the vaults of Universal Pictures, including Step Down to Terror, a remake of the Hitchcock classic Shadow of Doubt.

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema XIII is the latest collection from Kino Lorber bringing together new restorations of some of the lesser-known films from the heyday of the Film Noir era. Film Noir is one of my favorite genres and here we get three tasty films that, while not perfect, are all entertaining.

Things start off with the least successful of the three films in the collection, 1950’s Spy Hunt starring Howard Duff and Marta Toren. While transporting two black panthers to a zoo on a train in Europe, trainer Roger Quain (Duff) is approached by a beautiful secret agent Catherine Ulven (Toren) who decides to smuggle a top-secret microfilm inside one of the big cats’ collars. Quain, Toren, and the cats now find themselves the target of counteragents Denson (Philip Friend), Paradou (Robert Douglas), and Kopel (Philip Dorn). The film veers away from the cloak and dagger chiaroscuro of the traditional spy thriller noir to an inn and a full-on hunt for the panthers and Quain. The two halves of the film feel a bit wedged together clumsily but still contain good performances and a reasonable amount of suspense.

Second in the set is The Night Runner (1957). Infused with a heavy dose of psychosis and suspense, this film follows schizophrenic Roy Turner (Ray Danton) who is released from his psychiatric hospital despite concerns he may still be violent. Hoping not to fall back into his violent tendencies, Roy leaves the city for a small seaside town in Northern California where he stays in a little out of the way motel, where he starts up a romance with the motel owner’s daughter. But when the suspicious owner finds out about Roy’s past and threatens to expose him unless he stops seeing his daughter, Roy snaps again and things turn awfully bad. Night Runner could almost be a horror film given the level of terror and eventual violence that erupts. Danton portrays the disturbed antihero of the film with excellent nuance that could rival Anthony Perkins in Psycho.

And speaking of Psycho, the classic horror/proto-slasher film from Alfred Hitchcock, the final film in this collection, Step Down to Terror (1958), is a remake of Hitchcock’s film Shadow of a Doubt (1943). Terror is the best film in the collection but is still only a shadow of the original Hitchcock film, no pun intended. The story is nearly identical to the original with few changes and weaker direction from Harry Keller. It follows Johnny Walters (Charles Drake) who has been traveling around the country and may be a serial killer the authorities are looking for who has been targeting, romancing, and killing rich women. Johnny goes to his hometown and stays at his childhood home where his mother and widowed sister-in-law have no idea that he may be the killer. This film is set almost in an Ozzy & Harriet visual setting with mostly bright settings and only a few moments of the traditional, dark, shadowy, high contrast look film noir is associated with. One could call this a “Daytime Noir” or “Noir Blanc.”

  • The Night Runner (1957)
  • Step Down to Terror (1958)
  • Spy Hunt (1950)
  • Spy Hunt (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
  • The Night Runner (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
  • Step Down to Terror (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
  • Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema XIII (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)

The Video

Kino Lorber has provided all three films in the Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema XIII collection in 1080p AVC encodements on Blu-ray from new 2K scans.  

Spy Hunt comes framed in 1.37:1 and is the weakest looking of the three with more visible source issues and wavering black levels. That said, it still presents a satisfying overall image and good detail.

The Night Runner steps up the quality over Spy Hunt with a cleaner image, framed at 1.85:1 in an AVC 1080p encodement, and better contrast. It is still somewhat soft overall, however, and has a coarse layer of grain. The black levels are not as inky as the next and final film in the collection, Step up to Terror.

Step up to Terror is the best-looking film in the collection. The granularity is a little tighter and detail just a bit crisper. The black levels in the few dark scenes are very inky while maintaining good shadow detail.

The Audio

Each film in the Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema XIII collection comes with its original mono mix in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. There is trivial difference between the three films as far as audio quality is concerned. They all sound low in overall volume but are reasonably clean.

The Supplements

Each of the films in the collection is supplied with an audio commentary and all three are very much worth listening to given the detail and easy listenability.

Spy Hunt

  • Audio Commentary by Entertainment Journalists/Authors Bryan Reesman and Max Evry
  • The Sleeping City – Trailer
  • The Raging Tide – Trailer
  • The Secret Ways — Trailer


The Night Runner

  • Audio Commentary by Author/Film Historian Lee Gambin and Dr. Eloise Ross
  • The Night Runner – Trailer (1080p; 00:02:09)
  • The Price of Fear – Double Feature Teaser
  • Behind the High Wall – Trailer

Step Down to Terror

  • Audio Commentary by Entertainment Journalists/Authors Bryan Reesman and Max Evry
  • Step Down to Terror – Trailer (1080p; 00:01:56)
  • Man in the Shadow – Trailer
  • The Female Animal — Trailer

The Final Assessment

Anyone who has a love for the classic film noir genre should love these forgotten gems, all from the vaults of Universal. Kino Lorber’s Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema series is an exceptional way to explore these entertaining films with satisfying HD restorations. This volume XIII collection is no exception and is another solid entry.


Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema XIII is out on Blu-ray May 2, 2023, from Kino Lorber Studio Classics.


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A collection of three lesser-known Film Noirs from the vaults of Universal Pictures, including Step Down to Terror, a remake of the Hitchcock classic Shadow of Doubt.Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema XIII (Blu-ray Review)