Fritz Lang’s Clash by Night (1952) is a tempest in a tea storm – a uniquely understated melodrama that is not quite a full fledged film noir. The story concerns the return of Mae Doyle D’Amatto (Barbra Stanwyck), a one time party girl who, desperate to escape the dead end town she’s come crawling back to.
Unfortunately for Mae, she’s now all used up and on the skids. Her brother Joe (Keith Andes) isn’t eager to help her out, but Joe’s naïve sweetheart, Peggy (Marilyn Monroe) is. At first it appears as though Mae has given up on her reckless lifestyle. She reunites with congenial all around good guy, Jerry (Paul Douglas) who courts and eventually marries Mae. She even goes one step further towards domesticity by having Jerry’s baby.
But before long, the ol’ Mae starts to seep back into their lives; one inexplicably drawn to Jerry’s best friend, the boorish and brutish womanizer, Earl Pfeiffer (Robert Ryan). Lang’s direction is swift, sharp and hard-edged. The cast, particularly Stanwyck, move with feline stealth and virility through this often pensive jungle of dead end turns. The film is a sublime – if underrated – suspense melodrama and it deserves a second glance.
Warner Home Video’s DVD is fairly good. The B&W image suffers from slight fading. Blacks often fluctuate in the tonal gray register rather than being true black. Whites are occasionally dull but, for the most part, clean and bright. Several of the night scenes are marred by a considerable amount of pixelization and edge enhancement. Age related artifacts are present throughout but do not distract. The audio is mono. An audio commentary with inserts provided from archival Fritz Lang interviews is the only extra worth noting.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)