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John Farrow Calcutta

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Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema – Volume IV | Blu-ray Review

Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema – Volume IV | Blu-ray Review

Kino Lorber presents its fourth volume of forgotten or obscured film noir remnants with a trio of three titles from noted directors. With this set spanning 1946 to 1955, once again there’s an evident trajectory of diluted elements and attitudes as the cynicism and misanthropy was eroded or folded over into more palatable narrative aesthetics by the end of the 1950s Although none of these three titles represents the best work of either their directors or notable leading stars, each features its own little noteworthy kernels worthy of admiration.

Calcutta (1946)

John Farrow directed a wide variety of features in a career spanning four decades, but he contributed one of noir’s most enduring specimens with his 1948 classic The Big Clock (remade in 1987 as No Way Out). Two years prior, he would helm Calcutta, an exotically primed adventure/mystery which belongs to the string of films inspired by Casablanca (1942), later including the Von Sternberg/Ray title Macao (1952), and of course, Spielberg’s Indiana Jones series.

The purest example of noir in this particular set, Farrow’s title is headlined by Alan Ladd, an important film noir alum thanks to several popular titles he co-starred in with Veronica Lake (namely 1942’s This Gun for Hire). Ladd plays Neale, a freight pilot who flies between Chungking and Calcutta, and who along with his colleague Pedro (William Bendix) takes it upon himself to investigate the mysterious death of their friend Bill (John Whitney), a fellow pilot. Shortly after Bill announces his surprise engagement to Virginia (Gail Russell) he’s suddenly strangled. Neale seeks out Virginia only to uncover his friend had been involved with a group of smugglers, revealed through an expensive gift given to Virginia. Filled with misogynistic bits (“I know you think you’re too beautiful to hit,” Ladd sneers during a bout of slapping Russell around), the film’s highlights are a crafty Edith King as the storeowner who sold Bill the prized scarab diamond and June Duprez as a sympathetic and underutilized nightclub singer.


An Act of Murder (1948)

The best title in the collection is An Act of Murder, more of a social issue drama which stars Frederic March and his wife, esteemed stage star Florence Eldridge. Directed by Michael Gordon, best known for his 1959 Doris Day-Rock Hudson classic Pillow Talk (and who would later cast Day as a damsel in distress in 1960’s Portrait in Black), March is a no-nonsense, conservative judge, Calvin Cooke, currently upset about his daughter’s (Geraldine Brooks) plans to marry a liberal minded attorney (Edmond O’Brien). But his life is turned upside down when he learns of his wife Cathy’s (Eldridge) terminal illness, which their physician (Stanley Ridges) divulges to Calvin but not Cathy. “You don’t have to tell her, Calvin!” their doctor declares, in an effort to make her life as comfortable as possible in her final days (think Lulu Wang’s The Farewell, 2019). But when Cathy’s episodes worsen, Calvin can’t stand being a silent witness so he purposefully crashes their car, which kills Cathy. He then turns himself into the authorities demanding to be charged with murder because he was “morally guilty.” But the coroner’s report reveals Cathy died of complications due to her illness prior to the crash, allowing for March to wax poetic in a courtroom monologue.

Six Bridges to Cross (1955)

Joseph Pevney is an interesting, wholly underrated ‘everyman’ director whose heyday was the 1950s. Perhaps best remembered for his 1957 Lon Chaney biopic Man of a Thousand Faces, 1955 saw him direct three titles. Along with Six Bridges to Cross he would release two delicious potboilers, the Jane Russell led Foxfire and the Joan Crawford starrer Female on the Beach, both which saw Pevney’s leading ladies opposite Jeff Chandler. But the most interesting element of this title also happens to be a Chandler connection, who wrote the lyrics for the title theme song, recorded by Sammy Davis Jr., who lost his eye in a car accident on the way to record the tune.

The film’s notable elements end here in this early Tony Curtis headliner which happens to be another social issue film. Curtis stars as Jerry Florea, a Boston miscreant who, as a youth (played by Sal Mineo) is made sterile thanks to a gunshot wound in a shoplifting incident by neighborhood cop Edward Gallagher (George Nader). Curtis is gregarious and Nader is obnoxiously stiff, descending from his moral high ground through his attempts to mentor the child he feels he has robbed of a future. Pevney’s title has 1950s cultural mores and attitudes deeply embedded and ingrained throughout, and the title plays like a brainwashing mechanism on the consequences of crime.

Nader is reminiscent of a Dylan Baker caricature as Gallagher, and some stylized omniscient narration makes the film more of a procedural to excuse police violence. Based on a story by Joseph F. Dinneen, Sydney Boehm’s (The Big Heat, 1953) script does have some flourish if one reads between the lines of Gallagher’s trenchant contempt for ‘street urchins’ like Florea, who turns on a dime several times, accusing Curtis of ‘tracking dirt’ in his house.

Calcutta (1946)
Film Rating: ★★½/☆☆☆☆☆
Disc Rating: ★★★/☆☆☆☆☆

An Act of Murder (1948)
Film Rating: ★★★/☆☆☆☆☆
Disc Rating: ★★★/☆☆☆☆☆

Six Bridges to Cross (1955)
Film Rating: ★★/☆☆☆☆☆
Disc Rating: ★★★/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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