BR: Man in the Dark (1953)

April 2, 2014 | By

 ManInTheDark_BRFilm: Very Good

Transfer: Excellent

Extras: Very Good

Label: Twilight Time

Region: All

Released:  January, 2014

Genre:  Film Noir / Crime / 3D

Synopsis: After undergoing experimental brain surgery to remove his ‘criminal tendencies’ Steve’s old cohorts show up and demand their cut of a robbery’s loot – but the location is buried deep somewhere in Steve’s rehabilitated mind!

Special Features:  Contains 3D and ‘flat’ versions of film on one disc / Isolated Mono Music Track / 4-page colour booklet with liner notes by film historian Julie Kirgo / Theatrical Teaser Trailer / Limited to 3000 copies / Available exclusively from Screen Archives Entertainment and www,twilighttimemovies.com.

 

 


 

Review:

Known as the first studio-produced 3D production, Columbia’s largely unknown Man in the Dark followed in the heels of Arch Oboler’s 3D indie hit Bwana Devil (1952), a film that made plenty of money running against widescreen processes Cinerama and CinemaScope (both of which also offered early surround sound mixes). 3D also became the latest weapon to lure moviegoers away from their TV sets and its free programming, but as Julie Kirgo writes in the liner notes to Twilight Time’s new Blu-ray edition, the first wave of 3D movies was short-lived: about 50 films were produced within a 2-year period, and near the end some weren’t even shown widely in 3D, if barely at all.

Not unlike filming in a wider aspect ratio, not all directors and cinematographers would grasp 3D technology and make it work dramatically for their assigned project, and one gets the feeling that based on the ad campaign for Bwana Devil – in which a lion leaps out from the screen towards audiences – some directors may have felt tossing and poking and waving objects outward constituted good value for cinema thrill-seekers, if not plot.

A remake of Columbia’s The Man Who Lived Twice, a 1936 Ralph Bellamy crime thriller blending plastic surgery with memory loss, the new version is told partly in flashback mode, and begins with a tough guy who undergoes an operation that’ll change his life for the better, but only after the procedure is complete does the script detail the strange case of forced surgery: Steve Rawley (Edmond O’Brien) agrees to the experimental noodle-clipping in which the criminal part of his brain is strategically excised, leaving him with a positive form of amnesia that still retains a perfectly fine vocabulary and solid motor skills.

It’s a ridiculous plot worthy of a B-movie serial or a tongue-in-cheek graphic novel, but somehow the sincerity of the cast pulls it off, with the multiple writers and prolific B-director Lew Landers holding back on details to keep audiences puzzled and hungry for a few staggered morsels of plot twists. Most of the new information comes from flashbacks and forced questioning between Rawley and the three men with whom he robbed an armored car, but there’s also a haze of doubt in which the goons think he’s lying, and his wounded fling Peg (Audrey Totter) starts to fall for the nicer guy in Rawley, until his memory begins to fade up in surreal blotches, bringing out his old aggressive self.

Totter (The Set-Up) is solid as long-suffering moll Peg, and prolific TV & film character actor Ted de Corsia is great as Lefty, the blank-faced leader of the trio, which also includes Arnie (The Detective‘s Horace McMahon) and reliable Nick Dennis playing Cookie, a calmer, nicer character than his cocaine-fueled Nick Va Va Voom in Kiss Me Deadly (1955).

Amid banal tough guy dialogue are some really choice morsels – Lefty threatens Rawley with ‘dotting his eye’ with a cigar – and the script features some very risqué dialogue: when Peg comforts Rawley in a spare bedroom, a curious Lefty snaps ‘Maybe you’re trying to hug the inside rail’ that lies between Rawley’s thighs.

Landers’ background was mostly in directing B-movies, followed by a massive string of TV series – whole chunks of Harbor Command (1957-1958), Highway Patrol (1955-1959), and The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin (1956-1959), to name a few – and although the film is essentially a quickie B-noir (reportedly shot over 11 days!), it’s extremely well-built, with solid coverage in the action and nightmare sequences.

With no time to erect big sets, most of the film features strong location work, especially a rooftop chase (making use of what’s possibly the curved tops of interconnected Columbia sound stages), and a stellar chase on a tall and narrow wooden rollercoaster. Rear projection is used whenever O’Brien is seen seated in the ‘coaster, but Landers integrates some great location material in the finale where multiple actions are choreographed in single shots (like Lefty’s demise). Landers clearly got more than enough coverage, because editor Viola Lawrence (The Lady from Shanghai, In a Lonely Place, Pal Joey) did a bang-up job cutting taut action whenever the chase is on, and the engaged stuntmen provided some decent hair-raising jaunts across the aforementioned rooftops and rollercoaster.

There’s only one bad cut resulting from a bad angle in an opening fisticuff, but a real surprise for film history connoisseurs is the use of jump cuts during the operation scene – quite rare for a pre-Godard film where a lack of continuity is used to impart a sense of Rawley’s loopy mental state during surgery, compress time, and avoid gory details.

Landers also had fun with the 3D format, exploiting the need to toss, poke, and jab things at the audience using Rawley’s own eyes as proxies, but these aren’t shots or sequences that stop the film cold for a few unnecessary beats.

Filmed in stark B&W by Floyd Crosby (Tabu, The River, House of Usher), Man looks great – Sony’s HD transfer is beautiful and preserves the film’s original grain – but there are some very odd shots which sometimes feel tight, or cropped. The film was reportedly shot using a homemade 3D rig designed by Columbia technicians for 1.33:1 exhibition, but every once in a while there are shots where peripheral objects are cut off, like a cropped 1.85 image. One shot in the apartment with Rawley and his old cohorts has a character clipped but his voice is heard off-screen, and shots in the office of Rawley’s surgeon look tight, if not a little clumsy. The bank heist is also clumsily shot with the cars drifting out of frame instead of being neatly tracked by the camera.

The 3D effects are initially subtle, but Landers does allow for guns to point at and fire directly at audiences, and the amusement park features some great nighttime, deep focus shots, especially the wide alley where Rawley pushes through a massive crowd. A nightmare sequence with tethered amusement cars whipping at the camera is also punchy, and the rollercoaster’s covered in some tense close shots and a few sprawling wide shots that show the actor’s and stuntmen’s tough climb and sudden swerves over the track edge as the next coaster rumbles up a loop.

Twilight Time’s Blu-ray features both flat and 3D versions of the film, and an isolated score featuring the film’s effective pastiche of stock music written by several composers, including George Antheil, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, George Duning, Herman Hand, Paul Mertz, Ben Oakland, Hans J. Salter, and Marlin Skiles.

The mono music track seems to have been just slightly enhanced for improved spatial depth, and sounds great in uncompressed DTS. A teaser trailer has O’Brien (looking more slender and fit than in the film) addressing the audience when he catches them (us) sneaking up to the sound stage door, and essentially saying ‘You’ll have to wait until we’re done filming and experience the magic of three dimensions only in cinemas!’

Julie Kirgo’s notes provide a compact overview of the film’s production and the 3D rage of the era, and those wanting more specific production info are urged to check out DVD Savant’s interview with the 3-D Film Archive’s Greg Kintz over at World Cinema Paradise.

Apparently Columbia’s tight production schedule managed to beat Warner Bros.’ House of Wax as the first studio 3D production by 48 hours (!) and yet this small gem has been utterly forgotten. Twilight Time’s Blu-ray may reach only 3000 buyers (all their titles are limited to this amount), but this release ensures this 3D ‘first’ finally gets its due, with perhaps a 3D HD master now available to cinemas to screen for their own mini-3D film festivals on a local level.

Twilight Time’s other 3D releases include Miss Sadie Thompson, Gun Fury and Inferno (all 1953), The Mad Magician (1954), and Harlock Space Pirate 3D / Space Captain Harlock / Kyaputen Hârokku (2013).

 

 

© 2014; revised 2017 Mark R. Hasan

 


 

External References:
IMDB
 
Vendor Search Links:
Amazon.ca —  Amazon.com —  Amazon.co.uk

Tags: , , , ,

Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

Comments are closed.

banner ad
banner ad