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Alain Silver

Blu-ray: Laird Cregar is ‘The Lodger’

Kino Lorber Studio Classics

Laird Cregar is The Lodger (1944) (Kino Lorber Studio Classics, Blu-ray) in the third screen adaptation of the thriller by Marie Belloc Lowndes (the most famous was the 1926 film directed by Alfred Hitchcock) set in London during the reign of Jack the Ripper.

While the city panics in the wake of another murder of a showgirl by the knife-wielding madman, a man who identifies himself as Mr. Slade (Cregar) takes a room in the middle-class home of an elderly couple with financial difficulties (Sir Cedric Hardwicke and Sara Allgood). Also living there is their niece Kitty Langley (Merle Oberon), an attractive, flirtatious entertainer making the leap from music halls to more respectable theaters, and the Bible-quoting Slade can barely hide his fascination behind his admonitions of sin and temptation. George Sanders co-stars as the Scotland Yard investigator who becomes sweet on Kitty and suspicious of Slade. For good reason.

This is film noir by way of gothic thriller, a shadowy suspense thriller in the Victorian era of gaslight and horse drawn carriages on cobblestone streets, and director John Brahm gives the film a lively energy.

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#Noirvember Blu-ray: The docu-noir of ‘Boomerang’ and ‘The House on 92nd Street’

house92The House on 92nd Street (Kino Lorber Studio Classics, Blu-ray), a 1945 World War II espionage thriller based on a real life FBI case, launched what would become the semi-documentary strain of film noir. It opens with the authoritative narration of Reed Hadley (uncredited but omnipresent in the genre) insisting on that this is an accurate dramatic treatment of a true story shot on locations where it occurred and slips into procedural about a German-American scientist (William Eythe) who is recruited by the Nazis for their bomb project and goes undercover for the FBI to find the mole giving A-bomb research to Germany. It’s produced by Louis de Rochemont (producer of the March of Time newsreel series) and directed by Henry Hathaway with a rather flat style, which isn’t helped by the blandness of Eythe or the archness of Lloyd Nolan as the lead agent. It’s an interesting film for all of its detail and location shooting and use of real FBI agents in minor roles and it launched the docu-noir style that was picked up and developed in films like T-Men (1947),  The Naked City (1948), and Hathaway’s own Call Northside 777 (1948). Signe Hasso, Gene Lockhart, and Leo G. Carroll co-star.

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In Black & White: Vampire Cinema / How To Read a Film

[Originally published in Movietone News 57, February 1978]

THE VAMPIRE FILM. By Alain Silver and James Ursini. A.S. Barnes & Co.; The Tantivy Press. 238 pages. Illustrated. $10.
THE VAMPIRE CINEMA. By David Pirie. Crown Publishers: Crescent Books. 176 pages. Illustrated. $7.98.

Two recent books on vampire movies, both apparently bidding to become the definitive source on the subject, actually emerge as complementary: the inadequacies of one are the strengths of the other.

David Pirie’s The Vampire Cinema demands respect at very first glance. A green-fleshed, imposing figure of a caped vampire from Jean Rollin’s Requiem pour un Vampire glares at us from a tombstone-shaped frame, centered on a background of blood red, threatening us moviegoers and movie-book buyers with the (intended?) ambiguity of the book’s title. Unlike most coffeetable books, this one has a text every bit as good and exciting as its pictures: Pirie’s writing, except for a few grammatical eccentricities, is literate, sharp, economic, and filled with insight. The illustrations, many in color, are selected, arranged, and reproduced with the greatest integrity, reflecting Pirie’s insistence upon the centrality of landscape and milieu to the vampire film, and with a profound respect for the fact that the pictures, and their layout, carry much of the burden of the book. They are there to be looked at, studied, their captions read—not just to dazzle the eye, decorate a page, or fill up space. Alice’s rhetorical “What is the use of a book without pictures?” is particularly relevant in the case of books on film, where recourse to composition, uses of color, light, and landscape are so crucial. Unhappily, Pirie is ultimately more concerned with theme and genre than with the specific cinematic techniques so many of these pictures exemplify, and that is one of the few inadequacies in his book.

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