Money, power, and sex. Those are the three reasons that people commit crimes. Whether it be in real life, in any crime novel or movie, the premise is pretty much the same. Cohen Media Group’s recently released British noir double feature of Cast a Dark Shadow and Wanted for Murder is more proof of the noted statements. The two-movie presentation will appeal to fans of the genre on either side of the Atlantic. That is due in no small part to each movie’s central story. They will be discussed shortly. While the stories serve as solid starting points for the movies, their execution (pardon the pun there) does pose a slight problem for their overall presentation. This will be discussed a little later. While the manner in which the stories are told is somewhat problematic for their overall presentation, it is not enough to make the movies fail. Staying on that note, the work done to restore the footage and present it in this recently released Blu-ray package is also of note. It will be discussed later, too. Each item noted here is important in its own way to the whole of the presentation. All things considered, the presentation in whole proves to be such that any noir fan will find it worth watching occasionally.
Cohen Media Group’s recent Blu-ray re-issue of Cast a Dark Shadow and Wanted for Murder is a presentation in which most noir fans will find some enjoyment. That is due in part to the story featured in each movie presented in the double feature. Cast a Dark Shadow (1955) centers on a playboy named Edward Bare (Dirk Bogarde – Death in Venice, The Servant, Darling) who has a history of using women and then disposing of them so as to take their money and live a lavish life. Of course his evil ways do come to an end in an unlikely way. That revelation will not be spoiled here for those who have yet to see the movie. This is actually a believable premise. Anyone who has ever watched TV news magazine shows, such as 48 Hours, Dateline, and 20/20 will attest to the fact that such a story is more based in reality than fiction, even though the story is fiction.
Wanted for Murder (1946) features another serial killer. This time the serial killer is a crazed strangler named Victor (Eric Portman – 49th Parallel, A Canterbury Tale, Whisperers) that no one ever would have suspected. Allegedly Victor became a serial killer because his father was a hangman, and somehow that affected him mentally and emotionally. This will be discussed shortly because it does become a little bit of a plot hole that detracts from the story’s execution. Getting back on topic, Victor finds unsuspecting women to become his victims until his own guilt and a hard-working Scotland Yard Detective bring about his (rather anticlimactic) end. If the concept of a psychotic strangler sounds familiar, it should. The real life case of the BTK Killer is ironically very similar. Interestingly, before meeting his own unlikely end, Victor sends letters to law enforcement, teasing them about his crimes. So again, here audiences get a story that ironically is more akin to real crime than any fiction. One can’t help but wonder if the Zodiac Killer (whoever he or she is/was) was influenced by this story. This is yet another way in which the movies’ real life comparisons prove so important in their role in their presentations. That the stories featured here are so close to real crime stories means audiences will largely be able to suspend their disbelief and in turn take in each story more easily. This makes for a good starting point for the overall presentation. As much as the stories’ bases do for their enjoyment, the execution thereof detracts from that enjoyment to a point.
The execution of the movies’ stories detracts from their presentations because it leaves out so much important content. In the case of Cast a Dark Shadow, the story opens abruptly with Edward his latest victim, who happens to be an elderly woman named Monica (Mona Washbourne – My Fair Lady, Billy Liar, Stevie). Viewers learn quickly that Monica is Victor’s latest wife. The couple is on a ride through what is assumed to be a haunted house ride at a fair. It has to be assumed at that immediate point that viewers are in fact seeing Edward and a victim since there is no real setup or back story here to identify them. What’s more, taking into consideration the noted assumptions, viewers are also left to assume that Edward’s intent here was to scare Monica to the point of a fatal heart attack. This is problematic for the story because again, audiences are forced to make so much assumption rather than just have it certified. As things progress, it is revealed that Monica has named Edward in her will, leading him to, yes, dispose of her. It is here that the story becomes even problematic. Monica’s lawyer reveals that Edward cannot get Monica’s money until certain circumstances arise. That aside, Edward goes on to romance yet another woman while living in Monica’s house (his house now). Enter Monica’s sister Charlotte Young (Kay Walsh – Oliver Twist, Stage Fright, The Horse’s Mouth) in rather unlikely fashion. Charlotte sets out to uncover Edward’s crime. Even here, things get somewhat contrived in the whole investigation and even Edward’s eventual confession. That moment is one of the most confusing times simply because of how it is presented. Between that moment and so many others throughout this 80-minute (one hour, 20-minute) movie, the story just suffers in its execution. The dialogue proves problematic. The abrupt opening, and the general execution right to the equally abrupt ending ultimately makes this movie’s story the lesser of the pair.
The story featured in Wanted for Murder is not without its own fault in terms of its execution. As noted earlier, Victor is the story’s antagonist. The only real back story that viewers get on him comes as he make a visit to a museum of infamous historical figures, one of which apparently is his father, who was an infamous hangman. Here is the problem with this moment. It is not pointed out directly that the man in question was Victor’s father. Rather, viewers are left to figure that out for themselves. This is problematic in that without the direct knowledge that the hangman was Victor’s father, Victor yelling at the mannequin just seems random. Adding to the problems, the story never really explains how Victor’s father being a hangman led him to become a serial killer. Again, there is no back story here to really explain away this aspect. To that end, it makes Victor’s declarations late in the story that his father was the one committing the crimes just as random as his heinous acts. Had the story’s writer(s) taken more time to explain Victor’s back story it would have made the story more gripping. That is not to say that it is not gripping. Though that one aspect really cannot be ignored, nor can the story’s equally random closing moments. All things considered, the story featured in Wanted for Murder is better than that of Cast a Dark Shadow. As a matter of fact, there is a certain Hitchcock style sense about the story. That aside, it is still only slightly better than that featured in Cast a Dark Shadow. Keeping all of this in mind, the execution of each story featured here detracts considerably from their presentations. Luckily, this concern is not enough to completely doom the overall presentation. The restoration of the footage works with the stories to make them worth watching at least occasionally.
The restoration work in CMG’s presentation of Cast a Dark Shadow and Wanted for Murder is worth noting because as old as the movies are, one would think the footage would not look and sound as good as it does. Thankfully, painstaking efforts were clearly taken to bring the footage back to quality. It paid off, too. The sound of the static from the original soundtracks is there in each movie. The grainy quality is there in the footage, too. At the same time, it is clear that some re-mastering was done to clean up the footage to a point. The result is a visual aspect that maintains the footage’s vintage look without that aspect being overpowering. That and the clear audio collectively show the efforts to restore the footage fully paid off. To that end, it will encourage viewers to remain engaged and entertained through both movies, even with the concerns raised through the execution of their stories. All things considered, this noir double proves a work that most noir fans will find worth watching at least occasionally.
Cohen Media Group’s recently release noir double feature of Cast a Dark Shadow and Wanted for Murder is an interesting offering from the company, which is known for releasing vintage cinema. It proves itself worth watching in part through its stories. The stories are fiction. However, a comparison to crimes that have been committed throughout history shows that they are not as fictitious as one might think. While the stories are believable, considering the real crimes that have been committed around the world through the ages. While the stories make suspension of disbelief relatively easy for viewers, the execution of each story proves somewhat problematic. There are some clear concerns raised by plot holes and other general writing problems in each story. It detracts from the Blu-ray’s overall presentation, but not enough to make the presentation a failure. The efforts put in to restore the footage rounds out the Blu-ray’s most important elements. That is because of how well those efforts paid off. The footage looks and sounds great in each movie thanks to those efforts. When the result of that work is considered along with the stories, the two elements are enough to make these vintage noir flicks worth watching at least once even despite the concerns raised through the stories’ execution. All in all, CMG’s presentation of Cast a Dark Shadow and Wanted for Murder is imperfect but still a presentation that most noir fans will find worth watching occasionally. The double feature is available now.
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