Monday, January 29, 2007

THE DARK CORNER (20th Century Fox 1946) Fox Home Video

How odd to find ex-MGM glamour girl and comedian extraordinaire Lucille Ball starring in a film noir; and how wonderful to discover her talents amply suited for Henry Hathaway’s razor-sharp thriller, The Dark Corner (1946). Lucy is Kathleen, the ‘faithful as a bird dog and can’t be devious’ secretary to private eye, Bradford Galt (Mark Stevens). Galt is working his usual batch of unhappy home wreckers when he decides to take a break from the fray with Kate. But the evening turns mysterious when they are tailed by Stauffer (William Bendix) – a decoy designed to put Brad in all the wrong places, starting with a frame up for the murder of his ex-friend, Anthony Jardine (Kurt Kreuger).

Meanwhile, on the more fashionable end of town, art dealer Hardy Cathcart (Clifton Webb) is entertaining a gala event at his glittering salon. Married to the stunning, and much too young-for-him beauty, Mari (Cathy Downs), Hardy doesn’t suspect that Jardine and his wife are lovers – that is, until the two become stupidly obvious in their love making.

As the chips begin to fall and it looks as though Brad’s going up the river for a crime he didn’t commit, he confesses to Kathleen his deep dark past – that he was framed and took the wrap for Jardine’s criminal activities several years before, a loyalty which doesn’t make much sense but that ironically makes Jardine’s untimely demise look ideally like an act of frustrated revenge.

Hathaway’s direction is rather nimble throughout, moving his characters around like ill fated chess pieces jumping toward their untimely demise. Okay, hiding a body under one’s bed and waiting for the upstairs maid to find it while vacuuming isn’t exactly sound logic or film making – but it gets the prerequisite laugh.

Constance Collier makes a welcome addition to the cast, playing one of her delightfully whacked out society dames – Mrs. Kingsley – for which the character actress was justly famous. Ditto for Clifton Webb’s run-of-the-mill, slightly homoerotic performance as Cathcart – a man who lusts after portraits that resemble his wife.

Running a scant 99 minutes, The Dark Corner gets into more than a few crevices, tipping over rocks and rare collector’s art with equal aplomb and finding the moral decay and grit of low society in some of its highest places.

Fox’s transfer on The Dark Corner isn’t ideal. Although the gray scale is relatively stark and stylized – as it should be – and fairly free of age related artifacts, there’s a considerable amount of edge enhancement and shimmering of fine details that crop up sporadically throughout this DVD presentation. Watch for Kathleen’s V-stripped coat to shimmering uncontrollably, as well as background spectral highlights on telephones, chairs and most any other shiny surface. The audio is presented in original mono and a stereo remix. Both are adequate – the stereo only marginally spread across the three front channels. Extras include trailers for this and other Fox Noir titles, as well as an audio commentary by James Ursini.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)



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