Cineastes owe Warners big-time for the two noir sets that preceded this one, bringing to DVD such undisputed classics as “Out of the Past,” “The Set-Up,” “Crossfire” and “The Narrow Margin.” This installment offers fewer pleasures, with only “On Dangerous Ground” on par with what’s come before. These pics, originally released by MGM and RKO, are packaged in slim-line cases and not available separately. Yet to the studio’s credit, all five features, each new to DVD and nicely restored, get full commentary tracks, even when the films don’t merit it.
Volume three’s biggest disappointment is the 75-minute docu exclusive to this collection, occupying the bulk of the bonus disc. Lacking both narrator and script, “Film Noir: Bringing Darkness to Light” is a rapid-fire concoction of talking heads spouting soundbites of varying worth, with only interstitial title cards lending coherence. The scenes from various seminal pics — heavily weighted toward WB material, of course — go by so quickly that context is essentially absent.
More valuable, or at least more authentic, are the five MGM “Crime Does Not Pay” shorts that were precursors to TV monuments like “Dragnet” and “The Untouchables.”
As for the movies, Nicolas Ray’s bracingly unsentimental “On Dangerous Ground” remains as watchable as ever. Here is the perpetually underrated Robert Ryan in one of his great roles, as Jim Wilson, the good cop with a bad temper. Ida Lupino plays the blind rustic who humanizes him, with an assist from Bernard Herrmann’s emotive score.
Ryan also appears in “The Racket,” a lugubrious corruption pic with Robert Mitchum, who co-stars — with Jane Russell and Vincent Price — in the noir send-up “His Kind of Woman.”
The least satisfying films are the gimmicky “Lady in the Lake,” directed by and starring the preternaturally creepy Robert Montgomery, miscast as Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, and Anthony Mann’s “Border Incident,” in which Ricardo Montalban and George Murphy play government agents attempting to break an illegal immigration ring. Both these smug pics unintentionally provide camp value, but the latter at least lays claim to the painterly B&W lensing of John Alton, reward enough for some.
Commentaries by the usual suspects — among them Alain Silver, James Ursini and Eddie Muller — are informed and engaging. But save for Glenn Erickson’s insights into “On Dangerous Ground,” there’s only so much to be gleaned from even learned remarks about pictures of less than lasting value.