Dames on the brain

Pub date March 2, 2010
WriterBen Terrall

DVD REVIEW Columbia’s new two-volume, eight-film set "Bad Girls of Film Noir" is a delightful addition to any shelf of B-movies, and a damn good excuse to insist on using a friend’s DVD projector.

Two of the films in this package, Women’s Prison (1955) and One Girl’s Confession (1953), had pre-DVD release screenings at this year’s Noir City Film Festival at the Castro Theatre. Though he was not the most charismatic guest speaker in the history of that sublime annual SF movie ritual, Grover Crips, Sony’s vice president of asset management and film preservation, certainly deserved the tribute he received at Noir City. The transfers to DVD from new vault prints that make up this fine package are truly impressive. And while some of the titles included don’t exactly fit snugly in the noir canon, there’s so much here worth watching that for any fan of the array of delirious thrills that constitute "golden age" Hollywood filmmaking, such quibbles are strictly in killjoy territory.

Women’s Prison is a veritable treasure trove of guilty cinematic pleasures, and one of three flicks in the set featuring blonde bombshell Cleo Moore. The rest of the cast includes noir mainstays Audrey Totter (the versatile Swede who was so, so good in 1949’s The Set-Up, Tension, and Alias Nick Beal) and Jan Sterling (the scorching, jaded, less-than-faithful wife in 1951’s Ace in the Hole). Howard Duff and Ida Lupino, married in real life, seem to be having a blast as the good-guy prison doctor and his nemesis, the psycho warden obsessed with escalating levels of discipline.

For their glimpses of mid-20th century New York City, the two on-location thrillers The Killer That Stalked New York (1950, check out Jim Backus as a sleazy club owner) and The Glass Wall (1953) are hard to beat and show that John Huston wasn’t the only Hollywood director influenced by neorealism. These two feature, respectively, Evelyn Keyes and Gloria Grahame. The latter film especially, whose trailer brags that it was "shot secretly by hidden cameras in teeming Times Square and all over exciting New York City," really captures the flavor of midtown Manhattan street life.

And as inept as the story’s framing device is, I praise the gods of Tinsel Town for giving me Night Editor (1946), mostly because of the statuesque, scheming femme fatale played by Janis Carter. It’s a bit of stretch pairing her with the, shall we say, less than charismatic William Gargan, but I can’t imagine any actress putting more sexually-charged zest into a request to gaze at a murder victim.