Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Kino Lorber - 99 RIVER STREET and THE CHASE on Blu-ray ""

Friday, June 10, 2016

Kino Lorber - 99 RIVER STREET and THE CHASE on Blu-ray

99 RIVER STREET (1953; Phil Karlson)
This is one of those fantastic Noirs that seems to be known mostly to hard core fans of the genre. This is a shame because it's so sharp and clever that it has real mass appeal. It's actually one of my favorite Noirs out there. Until this Blu-ray, it had probably been at least ten years since I'd seen it and the shimmer of  that initial viewing has dulled a bit. I can't remember if this was the first John Payne film I saw, but it sold me on him in a big way. I know I saw a bunch of his films around the same period, but this was the standout. I had really forgotten how much I liked it. It's the kind of flick you watch and half the way through you find yourself saying, "Damn this is a good movie". Like you almost actually say that out loud. A lot of films Noir have stock characters and plot lines that become relatively familiar. The down on his luck boxer, the diamond thief, and accidental murder crop up again and again. It's all part of the dark tapestry. What they don't often have is surprises. Sure, they have twists, but it's often pretty common stuff. I'm getting a little ahead of myself here though. I'm already building this movie up a bit too much and I'll try to cut the expectation building short. Suffice it to say that the movie is solid Noir and even though it's got some situations you've seen a few times, they way it presents them and the way the story unfolds is where 99 RIVER STREET shines. John Payne and Evelyn Keyes are great. Director Phil Karlson is a journeyman who  worked regularly in this territory and quite often managed to make his movies dynamic, stylish and memorable. You'll likely want to check out more of his movies after this one. If you are one of those Noir junkies like me, or even if you're just a casual fan of this kind of thing, this Blu-ray is worth picking up. It makes for a great Film Discovery if you haven't seen it.

Special Features:
Having the movie itself on Blu-ray in a good-looking transfer is pretty great and having a commentary on the disc is even greater. This Blu-ray takes it up a notch though by having a commentary from none other than the "Czar of Noir" himself - Eddie Muller. Now I've heard a lot of commentaries in my day and I've heard a lot of people who regularly show up in them. There are plenty of good ones out there, but Eddie Muller is one of the best and a commentator that I always look forward to hearing. He's obviously incredibly thoughtful on the subject of Noir (he's got that nickname for a reason), but there's more than that. To me, there's just something about his manner of speech that reminds me of one of the characters in the very films he holds dear. You can feel the affection that he has for these movies and that it's almost become part of his DNA at some point. He's just flat out one of the most enjoyable and knowledgable personalities you could want on a track like this. He knows every actor, their previous roles and even who they were romantically involved with. In the case of this commentary, he also brings in a breakdown of Phil Karlson's filmmaking style and techniques. It's all very educational stuff and not in. A dry way either. Highly recommended.
You can buy 99 RIVER STREET on Blu-ray here:

THE CHASE (1946; Arthur D. Ripley)
THE CHASE is adapted from a book (THE BLACK PATH OF FEAR) by Cornell Woolrich. If you’re unfamiliar with that name, you really aren’t but let me fill you in. Most famously, it was Woolrich’s short story that was made into Hitchcock’s REAR WINDOW. Beyond that, he’s the source material for other great noirish films like PHANTOM LADY, BLACK ANGEL and THE LEOPARD MAN. Basically, Woolrich is good noir people and his writings are perfectly suited for the genre. When I see he’s credited on some movie, it immediately has a shot with me.
The story opens with a very hungry Chuck Scott (Robert Cummings) pressing his face against the glass of a diner and nearly frothing at the mouth at the site of a chef prepping some flapjacks and bacon on a large griddle. He clearly can’t afford what’s cooking, but can’t help but be drawn to the site of it. As he’s just about to move on down the line, he notices a wallet on the ground near his foot and eagerly scoops it up. He flips through its contents and finds a decent load of cash and we cut to a bunch of empty plates inside the diner a short time later. As he goes to pay for his meal (plus a cigar), he notices the wallet-owner’s address and decides to return it. The owner is one Eddie Roman (Steve Cochran) and he has a lush and expensive house with extra “help” from a guy named Gino (Peter Lorre). Roman proves to be an unstable nut job right out of the gate, but sees Chuck Scott’s gesture of returning the wallet as a sign that he’s a good guy and hires him to be his new chauffeur. It’s unclear what Mr. Roman does early on, but it’s clearly shady business. Chuck continues to drive for him and has no real idea what his deal is (though we realize that Roman is not to be trifled with). Roman also has a wife - Lorna (Michele Morgan) - and she’s not a particularly happy lady. She dreams of escaping her psycho husband and ropes Chuck into that plan and he goes for it. Roman is suspicious his wife might be thinking of bailing on him, but Chuck and Lorna make their escape nonetheless. And thus begins the chase (as the film’s title implies) begins. It’s solid noir stuff for me. A schmoe that we like gets in way over his head and there’s a dame involved of course. Robert Cummings is just the right fit for this kind of naive gent who gets caught up in bad stuff. I have been a fan of him prior to this, but haven’t seen him in enough noir (though now I want to see him in more of them). Steve Cochran is a familiar actor to me, but I found him quite effective as this kind of heavy. And Peter Lorre as an evil stooge is a part I’m always pleased to enjoy. The movie as a whole takes a departure from OUT OF THE PAST territory in the second half and becomes much more nightmarish and a little strange (in a good way). There’s a quote on the back of the Blu-ray from the great Eddie Muller that I like a lot. Eddie says, “The closest thing to a David Lynch film made during the classical Hollywood era”. That should give you some semblance of an idea of the kind of narrative this turns out to be and it's pretty fascinating. 
I've seen this film in a few public domain DVD prints and it looked pretty rough. This Blu-ray is sourced from 35mm elements preserved by UCLA Film and Television Archive and though it is scratchy in spots, it looks considerably better than I've ever seen it look.
Special Features include an really cool audio commentary from Filmmaker Guy Maddin as well as two radio adaptations of Cornell Woolrich's novel The Black Path of Fear; starring Brian Donlevey and Cary Grant.

You can purchase THE CHASE on Blu-ray here:


Robert M. Lindsey said...

I love 99 River Street. It was Netflix awhile back, wish they still had it.

highwayknees said...

And I love The Chase and Steve Cochran looks hot in it!