Rediscovered film noir gems
princehal | Vienna Austria | 11/20/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
""Impact" and "The Second Woman" are excellent examples of the kind of quality programmers that Hollywood seemed to churn out effortlessly in its golden age. Both have clever, tight plotting, well-written dialogue and fine acting. Neither director is much remembered these days, but on the evidence here they deserve reassessment. "They Made Me a Criminal" is solid too, but not really a film noir and not as interesting as the other two. The quality of the prints on this triple-feature DVD is surprisingly good, and the whole package is an amazing bargain."
Three Very Different Crime Films Represent 3 Decades.
mirasreviews | McLean, VA USA | 08/24/2005
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Compiled as "Cinema's Dark Side Collection", these three films span from pre-War to post-War Hollywood, each film bearing hallmarks of its time. They have in common a vague connection to film noir that gets a little stronger with each film, and Harry M. Popkin produced 2 of them at United Artists. They're all crime films, but the role that crime plays in the narratives varies. "They Made Me a Criminal" (1939) concerns a man wrongly accused, a theme that would later be associated with film noir, but this film is a low-rent morality tale. "Impact" (1949) was made at the height of the film noir movement and features a femme fatale. "The Second Woman" (1951) is psychological thriller/romance. John Garfield and Helen Walker are memorable in roles that typified their onscreen personas, but otherwise there is nothing special about the films. They are most interesting compared to one another, as characteristic of middle quality Hollywood filmmaking of their eras.
The prints of the films are unrestored. "They Made Me a Criminal" and "The Second Woman" are plagued with small black and white lines and specks. "The Second Woman" also has a couple of momentary interruptions in the picture. And the sound needs cleaning up on both films. But they are still quite watchable. "Impact" is in better shape. The specks are minor, and the sound is ok. There are no bonus features on the disc except chapter selections. No subtitles.
"They Made Me a Criminal" (1939) was John Garfield's follow-up to his Hollywood breakthrough in 1938's "Four Daughters". Garfield plays a boxer and flawed but endearing tough guy, a role which he would play again to great acclaim in 1947's "Body and Soul". Johnnie Bradfield (John Garfield) is brutal in the ring but known for being straight-laced outside of it. He preaches against booze, womanizing and for respecting your mother every chance he gets. But it's all an act, "a line for suckers". Partying in his apartment after winning the World Championship, Johnnie lets his secret slip in the presence of reporter Charles Magee (John Ridgely). His manager (Robert Gleckler) breaks a bottle over Magee's head to prevent him from writing the story and accidentally kills the man. Johnnie is blamed for the death. Realizing that he has lost the life he loved and will lose the one he has if he is caught, Johnnie changes his name and heads west. He takes employment at an Arizona ranch run by elderly woman for reform school boys from New York. But Johnnie is more corrupt than the young delinquents, and they may end up reforming him. The collection of urban criminal youth, the "Dead End" kids, places this film firmly in the Depression era. It's a mediocre morality tale that warns against the consequences of drinking and preaches that all will turn out well for those who place the welfare of others before themselves. But there is no denying John Garfield's charisma. (1 hour 30 minutes) 3 stars.
"The Second Woman" (1951) is unusual in that it includes a brief female voice-over narration. Its heavy, psychoanalytic themes recall the popularity of Freud in the 1940s and presage the criminal psychology of the 1960s. As the film opens, Jeff Cohalan (Robert Young) has attempted suicide while staying at the home of his neighbor and girlfriend Ellen Foster (Betsy Drake). Ellen recalls the events of the past few months in flashback, beginning with how she met Jeff while they were traveling on the same train. Ever since Jeff's fiancée Vivian died in an automobile accident on the night before their wedding a year earlier, strange things have been happening that have caused Jeff to doubt his sanity. Objects in his home break mysteriously. His animals are injured. Files disappear at the architectural firm where he works for Vivian's father Ben Sheppard (Henry O'Neill). Ellen doesn't believe the mishaps are accidental or the result of bad luck, and she is determined to investigate. But Dr. Hartley (Morris Carnovsky) warns her against getting involved with Jeff, whom he believes may be paranoiac and responsible for the accidents himself. "The Second Woman" is a competent mystery, but it suffers for the blandness of the main characters, Ellen and Jeff. (1 hour 30 minutes) 3 ½ stars.
"Impact" (1949) opens with this explanation: "Impact: The force with which two lives come together. Sometimes for good. Sometimes for evil." Walter Williams (Brian Donlevy) is a bold businessman and top production man at Universal Motors. He has wealth, a lovely San Francisco apartment, and a stylish wife whom he adores. His wife Irene (Helen Walker) is supposed to accompany him on a business trip to Denver but excuses herself with a toothache. She asks Walter to give her cousin Jim Torrence (Tony Barrett) a lift to Denver instead. Walter obliges, and Torrence tries to kill him with a lug wrench and rolls him down a cliff. Hurt and angry when he figures out that his wife set him up for murder, Walter settles in a small town in Idaho and takes a job working for a pretty young widow, Marsha Peters (Ella Raines). Meanwhile, a clever but unassuming police Lieutenant Quincy (Charles Coburn) suspects that Irene may not be innocent in the matter of her husband's apparent death. "Impact" starts out film noir, turns to small town idyll, and ends up courtroom drama. It's strength is Helen Walker's vicious performance and the film's unpredictability. It is thematically confused -which could be a good thing- touting the virtues of small town wisdom, and especially women, over city slickers, but then almost taking it back. It looks like Walter's cynicism and disillusionment with doing the right thing will lose out to Marsha's naïve morality -but maybe not. I was amused by some obvious product placements, which I haven't noticed before in films of the 1940s: "Bekin Van & Storage Co." and "Pabst Blue Ribbon". Maybe it worked. They're both still in business. (1 hour 50 minutes) 4 stars."