5 Against the House
Six tough, no-nonsense noirs from six of the genre’s toughest, no-nonsense directors: Budd Boetticher’s Escape in the Fog, in which a nurse and a war veteran take on Nazi spies in San Francisco; Joseph H Lewis’ The Undercover Man, inspired by the real-life case against Al Capone; Richard Quine’s Drive a Crooked Road, which finds Mickey Rooney moving away from comedies and musicals to a tougher persona; Phil Karlson’s 5 Against the House, starring Kim Novak as a nightclub singer embroiled in a casino heist; Vincent Sherman’s The Garment Jungle, from which Kiss Me Deadly director Robert Aldrich was famously fired; and Don Siegel’s police procedural The Lineup, based on the radio and television series, and as brutal a film as he ever made.
All six films are presented for the first time on Blu-ray in the UK, with The Undercover Man and Drive a Crooked Road making their world Blu-ray premieres. This stunning collection also boasts a 120-page book, and is strictly limited to 6,000 numbered units.
Indicator presents Phil Karlson’s 5 Against the House on Blu-ray as part of their Columbia Noir #1 box set. The film is presented on its own single-layer disc in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1.
Indicator is using a master provided by Sony and not only is it obviously an old one it’s the weakest looking one in the set. Grain is really heavy and it looks a bit blocky and noisy at times. Detail levels are decent enough but could be better, only really shining on close-ups. Surprisingly, damage is heavier here in comparison to the other films in the set, with a number of small blotches and bits of dirt popping up. Contrast and gray scale both look fine, though, and black levels look solid, elevating the shadowy photgraphy during the film's closing moments.
Despite the source issues and the weakness of the original master, there are no other severe issues with the digital presentation, the image ultimately being serviceable enough.
The monaural soundtrack, presented in lossless PCM, sounds fine enough itself. Dialogue is clear and the music has decent range. The soundtrack is also clean and there are no severe signs of damage.
Similar to the other titles in the set, Indicator includes an audio commentary to accompany the film, this one by film critic David Jenkins. Jenkins appears to be a fan and he does a pretty solid job going over the stronger aspects of the film and talking about its construction in relation to plotting and foreshadowing. He also talks about the unlikely influences the film has had, like how it probably inspired Casino in at least one small way since Scorsese is a fan of the film (interestingly Scorsese did a little piece on the film for TCM but it, rather shockingly, doesn’t appear on this disc). Jenkins also talks about the book on which the film is based, making comparisons, even explaining how the narrative was cleaned up to make certain parts of the film less convoluted. He also fills in some gaps that the book explains, like why a trailer was so necessary to use for the “road trip.” It’s another track I didn’t expect much from but it ended up being a rewarding listen.
Indicator next includes a great 67-minute video interview with actor Kim Novak, conducted by The Guardian in 1997 at the National Film Theatre, London. The conversation ends up being a journey through her career, form her early days at Columbia (where she would meet her future fiancé, Richard Quine) through her various works, commenting on some of the roles (she hated her role in Pal Joey). She also talks quite a bit about Vertigo, particularly her famous gray suit in the film, which she loathed. She also takes questions from the audience (which have been subtitled by Indicator since they are hard to hear). It's a wonderful interview, Novak being especially funny, and I wholly recommend watching it.
The disc then packs on the film’s trailer (promising a “most unusual picture”) and a gallery featuring publicity photos, posters, and lobby cards. As with the other discs in the set Indicator also includes a Three Stooges short, this one entitled Sweet and Hot, running about 16-minutes and featuring Larry, Moe, and Joe. The shorts usually tie in with the main feature in some loose way and in this case it revolves around lounge singing (like Novak’s character in the main feature). Larry and Joe try to convince a farm girl to move to New York to sing in the clubs because of her natural singing voice. Unfortunately, she suffers from stage fright and they take her to a psychiatrist played by Moe in the hopes she will get over it and start making them money. I realize now that I have actually never seen a short with Joe prior to this, and though there’s nothing wrong with Joe Besser, the other two, thanks to their age by this point, really seem to be going through the motions by this point, and the whole skit (though fairly unconventional in structure in relation to every other short of theirs I’ve seen) manages to get tiresome rather quick. Like the other films this one has been meticulously restored and it does look great here.
Like the other titles in the set, it’s not jam packed with material, but the content is strong, the commentary being surprisingly good and Novak’s interview being especially entertaining. Only the Stooges short ends up disappointing.
The presentation is probably the weakest one in the set thanks to an especially dated master, but the commentary and Novak interview are superb additions.