This review by Robert Loerzel originally appeared in Pioneer Press.
The 12 black-and-white crime movies in this set from Warner are fairly obscure, other than Nicholas Ray’s stirring 1948 classic, “They Live By Night,” starring Farley Granger and Cathy O’Donnell as doomed lovers on the run. Also starring Granger, 1950’s “Side Street” is a confusing yet compelling story of a poor man whose act of thievery leads him into a web of bad guys. One overlooked treasure, 1948’s “Act of Violence,” begins as a tense stalking scenario and ends up as a dark meditation World War II’s aftermath, with a hero who turns out to be more of a tragic anti-hero. (The movie feels similar to David Cronenberg’s recent “A History of Violence.”) The entertaining “Mystery Street,” from 1950, features Ricardo Montalban as a Cape Cod cop who cavalierly arrests the wrong guy and spends the rest of the film fixing his error. The 1954 police procedural “Crime Wave” shows a high level of sophistication, though its conclusion is somewhat pat. Starring Robert Mitchum, 1949’s “Where Danger Lives” is a soapy melodrama at first, but it becomes an excellent variation on the theme of an innocent guy caught in a situation that makes him look guilty. In 1949’s “The Big Steal,” a highly enjoyable caper on noir’s lighter side, Mitchum and Jane Greer make a great couple, sarcastically bickering as they fall in love while chasing stolen money through Mexico. “Decoy,” a twisty 1946 tale about a faked execution and assorted double-crossings, is intriguing if a bit too outlandish. There are a couple of clunkers in the bunch — 1950’s “Tension” is little more than mediocre cop show, marred by “Dragnet”-style voiceovers, and the 1955 Edward G. Robinson vehicle “Illegal” loses its verdict with hackneyed melodrama and ludicrous courtroom antics — but most of these noirs make for addictive watching. They also make you wonder what other gems are left in the archives.