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

REVIEW OVERVIEW

The Film (Vice Squad)
The Film (Black Tuesday)
The Film (Nightmare)
The Video (Vice Squad)
The Video (Black Tuesday)
The Video (Nightmare)
The Audio
The Supplements
Overall

SUMMARY

A collection of three film noirs starring Edward G. Robinson.

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema XVII from KL Studio Classics keeps the label’s ongoing film noir series going with this collection of three 1950s films from the once independent studio United Artists starring Edward G. Robinson.

Edward G. Robinson was at a low point in his career when he was filming Vice Squad alongside Paulette Goddard. The material shows – it not up to either of their standards, but both actors put in top notch performances with weak screenplays. Robinson plays Captain Barnaby, head of the titular squad. He has to take over a case involving the killing of a police patrolman. He Jack Hartrampf (Porter Hall), a witness to the murder, in protective custody, and leans on him to give details, but Hartrampf will not talk lest his wife discover he was at his mistress’ place. Barnaby has to involve his ‘friend’ Mona (Goddard), head of a licensed “escort service” to help him uncover the details, which lead him back to a group of bank robbers, one of them tied to one of Mona’s girls. At every turn, Vice Squad fails to get as gritty as it could be or be as cleverly contrived as it should have been. In the catalogue of crime dramas or film noir, it never reaches the level of something like Double Indemnity, just as an example.

Second up is Black Tuesday in which Robinson plays a prisoner on death row who breaks out of prison on his execution day with the help of his girlfriend (Jean Parker) and a crony posing as a reporter (Warren Stevens). Hostages are taken, including the daughter (Sylvia Findley) of a prison guard killed during the breakout, a reporter (Jack Kelly), and a priest (Milburn Stone). The intensity is heightened by a murderous bank robber (Peter Graves) who escapes with them and leads the authorities back to their hideout after trying to get his loot from a safety deposit box. This creates an intense stand-off with the police officers. This film anchors the trio of films and has the best story arch and screenplay, with all around good performances from the cast. Robinson is excellent as always.

Last up is Nightmare, wherein New Orleans jazz musician Stan Grayson (Kevin McCarthy) awakens from a nightmare in which he has killed someone in a bizarre hall of mirrors. Evidence such as thumbprints on his neck lead him to believe it was more than a dream. He turns to his friend and brother-in-law, New Orleans homicide detective René Bressard (Robinson), who convinces Grayson that his problem is he has been working and drinking too hard. He needs a rest, but he is compelled to investigate the crime and return to the scene. A film filled with heady dream sequences, cool jazz performances, and very noir edits of the streets of New Orleans. Robinson turns in his usual top-notch performance, in one of the two films in this collection finding him playing one of the good guys, an oddity in a career of roles as misfits, thugs, and gangsters. Nightmare is the highest concept film in the collection and the most visually compelling.

Purchase Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema XVII on Amazon.com

  • Mary Ellen Kay in Vice Squad (1953)
  • Vice Squad (1953)
  • Edward G. Robinson and Percy Helton in Vice Squad (1953)
  • Edward G. Robinson and K.T. Stevens in Vice Squad (1953)
  • Vice Squad (1953)
  • Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema XVII -- Vice Squad (KL Studio Classics)
  • Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema XVII -- Black Tuesday (KL Studio Classics)
  • Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema XVII -- Nightmare (KL Studio Classics)
  • Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema XVII (KL Studio Classics)

The Video

Each of the films in this new Film Noir collection from Kino Lorber is taken from new HD masters from 2K scans of the 35mm fine grains. Not being from the original camera negatives, none of these films have the kind of clarity and crispness one would expect from a new scan, but they are still reasonably enjoyable. The first film in the collection, Vice Squad, framed at 1.37:1, is the roughest looking of the three, with more speckling and softness. The picture quality picks up with the 1.85:1 framed Black Tuesday, but there is still a little more instability in the shadows and hints of scratches and varying levels of detail. The cleanest and crispest looking is the final film in the collection, Nightmare. It is also framed at 1.85:1, has good shadows and contrast and a natural if not extremely tight layer of grain.

The Audio

Each film in Film Noir Vol. XVII comes with its original monaural audio mix in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono. There are no major warts with any of the tracks, but they are limited by their age and the equipment of the time.

The Supplements

Each film in Film Noir Vol. XVII comes with an intelligent, listenable, and informative audio commentary from either Gary Gerani or Jason A. Ney, respectively. We also get the original trailer for each film, except for Nightmare, which does not have its trailer included. Trailers for other films are also included.

Vice Squad

Bonus Features:

  • Audio Commentary by Film Historian/Screenwriter Gary Gerani (NEW)
  • Vice Squad – Trailer (1080p; 00:01:55)

Black Tuesday

Bonus Features:

  • Audio Commentary by Film Historian/Screenwriter Gary Gerani (NEW)
  • Black Tuesday – Trailer (1080p; 00:01:51)

Nightmare

Bonus Features:

  • Audio Commentary Professor and Film Scholar Jason A. Ney (NEW)

The Final Assessment

Kino Lorber give another round of lesser-known film noir films some respect and a chance for rediscovery in this collection. This time out the focus is on the legendary Edward G. Robinson who elevates each of these films. Recommended for noir fans.


Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema XVII is out on Blu-ray February 27, 2024 from KL Studio Classics.

Purchase Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema XVII on Amazon.com


  • Rating Certificate: Approved
  • Studios & Distributors: Gramercy Pictures (II) | Sequoia Pictures | Sol Lesser Productions | Leonard Goldstein Productions | Pine-Thomas Productions | United Artists | Kino Lorber
  • Directors: Arnold Laven (Vice Squad) | Hugo Fregonese (Black Tuesday) | Maxwell Shane (Nightmare)
  • Written By: Vice Squad (Lawrence Roman, Leslie T. White) | Black Tuesday (Sydney Boehm) | Nightmare (Cornell Woolrich, Maxwell Shane)
  • Run Time: 257 Mins.
  • Street Date: 27 February 2024
  • Aspect Ratio: Vice Squad (1.37:1) | Black Tuesday & Nightmare (1.85:1)
  • Video Format: AVC 1080p
  • Primary Audio: English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono
  • Subtitles: English SDH
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A collection of three film noirs starring Edward G. Robinson.Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema XVII (Blu-ray Review)