Arrow Video and MVD Entertainment Group will resurrect Universal Pictures’ little-known 1946 film noir flick Black Angel later this month. The movie, starring Peter Lorre (20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, The Maltese Falcon, Arsenic & Old Lace), June Vincent (The Creeper, Shed No Tears, Can’t Help Singing) and Dan Duryea (The Flight of the Phoenix, Scarlet Street, Too Late For Tears) is scheduled for release January 28 on Blu-ray. The movie’s central story proves that while it might not have been among the genre’s most well-known features in its initial debut, is still a work that every noir fan will appreciate. The bonus content featured with the movie’s home release adds even more appeal to its presentation. That combined primary and secondary content makes the movie’s average price point money well-spent by any classic movie buff and film noir aficionado. Keeping all of this in mind, Arrow Video’s forthcoming reissue of Black Angel proves itself a presentation that is a must have for all of the noted viewers.
Movies today just are not what they were during Hollywood’s golden era. Hollywood (and even so many independent studios) rely entirely too much on sex, violence and special effects than on anything with any real substantive content. Thankfully, Arrow Video and MVD Entertainment Group are going to give audiences another alternative to all of that excess later this month when they reissue Universal Pictures’ 1948 noir flick Black Angel. This movie is a work that classic film buffs and noir aficionados alike will welcome openly. That is due in part to its story, which abounds in content. The story, based on the novel by author Cornell Woolrich, centers on the murder of the fictional singer Mavis Marlowe and the search for her killer. The man accused of her murder Kirk Bennett (John Phillips – 7 Men From Now, Heldorado, John Paul Jones) is accused of taking her life and is sentenced to death for the crime. However, Kirk’s wife Catherine (played by Vincent) doesn’t believe her cheating husband is guilty, so she works with Marlowe’s estranged husband Martin Blair (Duryea) to prove Kirk’s innocence and save him from the gas chamber. Female viewers especially will appreciate the story because as Martin and Catherine work to prove Kirk’s innocence, Kirk finds himself falling for Catherine, but she never gives into his charms, staying loyal (ironically) to her husband who himself had cheated on her with Mavis. In the end, Kirk is proven innocent. How he is saved will not be revealed here. That will be saved for audiences to discover on their own. During the course of the story, Roy Chanslor, who adapted Woolrich’s story for the screen, manages to keep viewers engaged and entertained as Catherine and Martin go undercover at a night club to investigate the crime. He [Chanslor] does a good job with the use of his red herring in the investigation. Viewers will agree that element adds even more enjoyment to the story since it does throw a bit of a proverbial wrench in the works. As a matter of fact, it will leave eagle-eyed viewers to go back and recall a certain subtle element from earlier in the story that helps determine the identity of the true killer. By the story’s end, audiences will know that they have taken in a story that even despite its changes from its literary source material (which is discussed in the movie’s bonus content), is still an enjoyable story in itself.
The story at the center of Black Angel does a lot to make it an enjoyable presentation for classic movie buffs and film noir aficionados. It is just one part of what makes the movie’s forthcoming home release so appealing. The bonus content included with the story builds on the foundation formed by the story to make the movie’s presentation even more appealing. One of the bonuses featured with the movie’s reissue is a retrospective on the movie by film historian Neil Sinyard. Sinyard has provided commentary for other reissues from Arrow Films and Arrow Academy. He points out in this presentation’s commentary, Woolrich actually was not fond of Chanslor’s adaptation of his novel. Maybe that is because of the changes that Chanslor made as he wrote the story’s screenplay. This will be discussed a little more in-depth shortly. Sinyard also makes note of the fact that Woolrich’s biographer ironically did like the movie. Sinyard points out the reason for this was that it ‘caught something essentially about Woolrich’s personality both personal and artistic.” The discussion on Black Angel as a possible reflection on Woolrich’s personality is just one of the interesting notes that Sinyard brings up in his roughly 20-minute retrospective. He also goes into a discussion on the movie’s casting, noting that by the time that the movie came along, Duryea was already a very well-known actor, having played villains (or heavies as they are also known) in a number of films prior to this work. Sinyard points out that Duryea is actually a presentation of Woorich himself, and that added to the reason for Woolrich’s biographer appreciating the adaptation. Along with the note of Duryea and his possible connection to Woolrich, Sinyard also shares a funny anecdote about supporting actor Broderick Crawford (All The King’s Men, A Night Before Christmas, Born Yesterday), who portrays in this movie, Police Captain Flood. He tells the story of an alleged run-in between Crawford, who also had a history of playing bad guys in cinema prior to this flick, and the late, great Frank Sinatra. The story that Sinyard shares involves Crawford allegedly getting into an altercation with Sinatra and doing something peculiar with Sinatra’s toupee. Lorre is also addressed by Sinyard, albeit briefly. He jokes about not knowing how Lorre could deliver his lines while having a cigarette “dangling from his bottom lip.” That in itself will bring its own share of laughs from viewiers. Sinyard also addresses the movie’s soundtrack and its role in the story as well as director Roy William Neill, stressing Black Angel was actually Neill’s final film before his death. He applauds (and rightfully so) Neill’s work behind the lens, citing specific examples for his praise of Neill in the process.
Writer and film scholar Alan K. Rode (pronounced roadie) adds even more enjoyment to the movie with his feature-length commentary. Right off the bat, Rode does actually get one fact wrong, noting that Catherine is trying to save her husband from the electric chair. It is clearly pointed out during the story that he faces the gas chamber, not the electric chair, but he [Rode] can be forgiven for this misstep. It is the only item that is misspoken through the course of the movie. Rode expands on Sinyard’s commentary, noting that Duryea was paid as an outsider for his part in this movie since she was not a contract actor for Universal Pictures. At another point, Rode points out that Vincent was not the first choice for the role of Catherine. In fact, Ava Gardner was the initial choice for the role, he points out. Rode also points out that Duryea actually played the piano in this movie, rather than just playing against a tape. He points out that Duryea learned five songs so that he could actually perform them here. This is important in that it added to the story’s believability. Along the same line, the song ‘Heartbreak’ was sung by Vincent. This adds even more to the story, both for its irony and the realism. An extensive background history of Neill is also presented by Rode during his commentary, including his earliest days. Rode points out that Woolrich’s original book was told from a first-hand perspective from Catherine and that there were four characters included in the book that were omitted in the screenplay adaptation. Maybe that played into Woolrich’s dislike of how his book was translated to the screen. Rode also points out the fact that Duryea was completely different off screen than his characters. He notes that some women were such fans of Duryea’s characters that despite those characters’ despicable nature, his female fans liked that aspect. He states that Duryea was so concerned by the fan letters that he took them to a psychiatrist friend of his and asked what to do. Rode adds in, he was so concerned about the reaction of his fans to his characters that he and his wife went over the top in every day life to make sure people knew the characters he played were just that. This shows that crazy fans today are nothing new. Everything noted here is discussed within the first half hour of Black Angel’s 80-minute run time. The rest of the movie offers audience just as much, if not more, commentary to appreciate. That includes a funny recollection of an off-screen interaction between Lorre and another actor in a movie and how it led to a bit of a scuffle in the movie in question. When all of this is considered alongside Sinyard’s retrospective, the whole of the bonus content proves to be more than worth the watch. It adds so much to the movie’s overall presentation and makes the movie’s average price point that much more worth paying.
The average price point of Black Angel is $32.20. That price was reached by averaging listings at Amazon, Walmart, Target, Best Buy, Barnes & Noble Booksellers, Books-A-A-Million and MVD Entertainment Group’s store. Considering that the movie’s reissue this time out is being handled by a British company, that makes it an import. So to that end, that price is right about on par with most imports. Amazon, Target, Best Buy and Barnes & Noble Booksellers each have listings below that average point. Their listings do not even break the $30 mark as a matter of fact. Walmart ($33.09), Books-A-Million $39.95) and MVD Entertainment Group (also $39.95) all break that average. Again, audiences should keep in mind that this reissue is an import, so all of the prices are in line with most DVD and BD import prices. Regardless of which retailer one chooses, the money paid is worth it considering everything that this presentation offers audiences. Add in the general rarity of the movie’s release, it makes the price, which will not break anyone’s bank, that much more appealing. Keeping this in mind along with the content, the whole of Black Angel becomes a presentation that lovers of classic film and especially film noir will enjoy. It is also another example of why Arrow Films/Arrow Academy and MVD Entertainment Group are quickly becoming some of the leading names in home entertainment.
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