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Trouble is their business, always

An unusually shot Chandler mystery and two Mitchum pictures lead this collection of film noir classics.

July 23, 2006|Susan King

The Film Noir Classic Collection Volume Three

(Warner Home Video, $50)

Lady in the Lake

One of the most unusual film noirs produced by a major Hollywood studio -- MGM. Robert Montgomery stars in this 1947 adaptation of the Raymond Chandler mystery; he directed it too. But viewers don't see much of him because he filmed "Lady" in subjective camera -- the audience sees the case through the eyes of his character, shamus Philip Marlowe. The only time you "see" Montgomery is when his reflection is caught in the mirror and, occasionally, when he addresses the audience about plot points. The experiment isn't entirely successful, but it's worth watching.

This was the first time subjective camera had been used throughout a film, and to make it work, John Arnold, the head of MGM's camera department, developed a mobile dolly that would allow for a variety of camera movements. For fight sequences, Arnold came up with a shoulder bracket and brace so the camera could be secured on the cameraman's shoulders.

Audrey Totter, a former radio actress who had minor roles in films, played the female lead, Adrienne Fromsett.

Extras: The trailer and decent commentary from film noir historians Alain Silver and James Ursini, who discuss the origins of the project, the unique nature of the production and how the Hollywood production code led to significant changes in the movie from the book -- all references to drug motives were removed, and the romantic interest between Marlowe and Fromsett (a minor character in the novel) was beefed up for the film.

Border Incident

With its theme of workers from Mexico entering the United States illegally, this gritty 1949 thriller still resonates. Ricardo Montalban plays a top undercover agent from Mexico who disguises himself as an undocumented worker. George Murphy plays a stellar FBI agent working with Montalban who also goes undercover as an opportunist with worker permits for sale. Anthony Mann directed.

Extras: The trailer and persuasive commentary from film professor Dana Polan on why "Border Incident" really doesn't fit the genre's mold.

His Kind of Woman

Although the quality of RKO's films basically suffered when Howard Hughes took over the studio in the late 1940s, a few of his productions managed to be noteworthy. This 1951 film noir/comedy isn't really a classic, but it's still quirky fun.

Robert Mitchum, one of Hughes' two favorite actors under contract at RKO -- the other was Robert Ryan -- plays a sleepy-eyed gambler who is offered $50,000 if he'll go to Mexico and stay out of America for a year. He takes the $20,000 initial payment and travels to a fancy resort in Baja. Jane Russell, the buxom singer-actress whom Hughes had launched nearly a decade before in the "The Outlaw," plays a self-described heiress who's at the resort with her lover, a goofy ham actor (Vincent Price) who loves to hunt. And Raymond Burr plays a notorious gangster in exile in Italy who plans to assume Mitchum's identity.

Extras: The trailer and historical commentary from UCLA film professor Vivian Sobchack, who talks about the picture's unusual and rocky production -- Burr's first scene, for example, was shot after principal photography had been completed to clarify some of the movie's more confusing plot points.

The Racket

The same year he starred in "His Kind of Woman," Mitchum also appeared in this hard-hitting remake of the 1928 crime drama of the same name, which Hughes also had produced. Mitchum plays an old-fashioned policeman who is above suspicion. But living in a metropolis dominated by the mob, his stalwart Capt. Tom McQuigg gets demoted every time he tries to take on the bad guys. The baddest of them all is a childhood friend, Nick Scanlon (a terrific Robert Ryan), who is as sadistic as they come. William Talman, Ray Collins and Robert Hutton also star in the film, which was directed by John Cromwell, father of actor James Cromwell. Nicholas Ray directed additional scenes, including the opening sequence.

Extras: The trailer and colorful commentary from film noir expert Eddie Mueller, who discusses censorship problems the movie ran into, the original version and how the remake was a direct response to Tennessee Sen. Estes Kefauver's Senate Crime Investigating Committee, which in 1950-51 examined organized crime in America and proved its existence. (Kefauver went so far as to pledge his cooperation in the production and presentation of the film.)

On Dangerous Ground

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