November is a special month for cinephiles. For movie collectors, it’s time for the sale of the year, a chance to purchase special editions of some of the world’s best titles. It’s also a time when fans of films with dark themes and dramatic crime stories engage in their favorite genre. When these two happenings collide, well, let’s just say some of us will be low on dough by Dec. 1.
The Criterion Collection sale is underway at Barnes & Noble, in store and online. All titles and box sets are 50 percent off, a sale that only happens twice a year. This one is closer to Christmas, so if there’s a movie fan on your holiday shopping list, you can find a DVD or Blu-Ray that is perfect for them.
November symbolizes many observances, from Movember to American Diabetes Month, and for #FilmTwitter it is time for #Noirvember. The hashtag celebrates film noir, a genre that was in its heyday in the 1940s and 1950s when a man was a man and dame was a femme fatale. Illegal activity places center stage with the leading man playing the arm of the law. He is a little rough around the edges and he doesn’t always play by the rules. Or it could be a criminal mastermind at the forefront. The perfect crime goes horribly wrong when greed and jealousy get in the way. And the women are just as tough. They can be the lady beside the ringleader or the double-crosser. She can be an angel or a wrecking ball.
Combine the Criterion sale with #Noirvember and you have a happy crowd. Here are some of the film noir titles included in the sale:
The cover alone calls for attention. Rita Hayworth is playing with her hair with gloved hands with typography evoking the old Hollywood style used in this classic’s trailer. This may be a title that I will purchased because I have terrible luck trying to catch it on television. Hayworth plays the flamboyant and beautiful wife of a gangster (George Macready) and has a past with his associated (Glenn Ford). Hayworth’s role is the prototype of the femme fatale – independent, dangerous and seductive. Martin Scorsese and Baz Luhrmann discuss the impact of “Gilda” as part of the title’s extra features.
“They Lived By Night” (1949)
Director Nicholas Ray, best known for helming “Rebel Without a Case,” made his debut with this outlaws-on-the-run thriller. With Farley Granger and Cathy O’Donnell, it’s the classic case of man breaks out of jail, hops into a young woman’s car, and the two fall madly in love. Their bond is tested as they run from the authorities and hoodlums. The title includes a 2K restoration and videos analyzing the film.
“In a Lonely Place” (1950)
Back in college, I was introduced to this film starring Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame in an art history class. It was paired with another Bogart noir flick “The Big Sleep.” I preferred the film Bogart starred with in Laura Bacall. It was fun to watch, but “In a Lonely Place” is a more artful, dark movie. This is another Ray entry, with Bogart as a Hollywood screenwriter framed for murder. Grahame is his neighbor who gets tangled up in his situation by serving as his alibi. A documentary on Ray and a radio adaptation of the novel from which the film is based are included with the title.
Film noir was a term coined by French critics describing the gritty American films of that time. American director Julius “Jules” Dassin fled to France after he was blacklisted during the McCarthy era. Having already made tides in the genre with “The Naked City,” inspired by and working with famed photographer Weegee, Dassin released this French title about a group of criminals who pull off a jewel, but the aftermath becomes their downfall. The two-disc set includes an English-dubbed version and set design drawings.
“The Killing” (1956)
This is my favorite Stanley Kubrick film. Starring Sterling Hayden, Elisha Cook Jr. and a cast of crazies, a squad of thugs of various talents try to take the winnings at a race track. Loose lips, hidden agendas and bad timing get in the way. Included in the title is a restoration of “Killer’s Kiss,” a riveting thriller that clocks in at an hour. You get two movies for the half-price of one.
“High and Low” (1963)
Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa is best known for directing epics like “Seven Samuri,” “Rashomon” and “Throne of Blood,” but the auteur takes what seems like a detour with “High and Low.” Toshiro Mifune, a frequent star in Kurosawa’s films, plays a wealthy executive at a shoe company whose son is the target of a ruthless kidnapper. The police procedural shows how film noir is borderless and not limited to only Western filmmakers. The title includes a behind-the-scenes documentary and a rare interview with Mifune.
Nearly anything that has film noir elements that is not set in the times of Orson Welles and fictional character Philip Marlowe and was made after 1960 is considered neo-noir. Movies like Erik Skjoldbjærg’s “Insomnia” and Michael Mann’s “Thief” come to mind. Christopher Nolan made his directing debut with “Following” about a young writer (who is only credited as Young Man) who follows random people in London in hopes of finding inspiration for his first novel. He becomes intrigued by a man named Cobb and gets too deep into trouble. At 70 minutes long, it packs in so many twists that it will leave you had spinning. When I first watched it, I immediately had to see it again. Alternative edits and a short film are included with the title.
For more film noir titles, see this list at the Criterion website.