Emeralds, Amnesia, And Murder: ‘Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema VIII’ Reviewed

by Rachel Bellwoar

For their eighth box set Kino Lorber have taken some liberties, in terms of what qualifies as “noir,” but they’ve also dug up a real gem in 1946’s Temptation.

Jack Hively’s Street of Chance

Usually when a character has amnesia in a movie the rest of the film is about their efforts to get their memories back. The movie ends when they remember who they were. Street of Chance completely flips the formula around by beginning at the end – with Frank (Burgess Meredith) getting his memories back but not realizing that he’s been missing for a year. After finding his wife (Louise Platt), who moved away when he didn’t come back, Frank wants to go on with his life like nothing happened. When a stranger (Sheldon Leonard) starts to follow him, though, Frank has no choice but to look into why the cigarette case and hat he was wearing when he came to were monographed with the initials D.N.

Based on a novel by Cornell Woolrich, sometimes there’s a reason a plot twist hasn’t been done before. Street of Chance sets itself apart from other amnesia noirs, but the seams start showing early. That Frank has two women doting on him in this movie doesn’t help. On the one hand there’s his way too understanding wife, Virginia, and on the other there’s the girl (Claire Tucker) he was seeing when he was D.N., who Frank has no problem using to fill in the holes of his missing year. Frank is too self-involved to be sympathetic, but at least the film is ambitious and keeps disrupting the plot. There are also opportunities for viewers to solve the mystery on their own. Film scholar, Jason A. Ney’s, commentary is excellent, too, as he exposes myths about amnesia, shares his fondness for amnesia noirs, and explains why Leonard’s casting serves the plot.

Ford Beebe’s Enter Arsene Lupin

Every thief wants to envision themselves a Robin Hood type, who steals from the rich and gives to the poor. There are thieves who really work at it, though, and thieves who think the occasional good deed makes up for all the jobs they did for their own self-interest. Maybe Arsene Lupin is like Robin Hood in Maurice Leblanc’s books, but that’s not the Arsene Lupin Charles Korvin is playing. Enter Arsene Lupin doesn’t know it, though, which means instead of criticizing him, the film buys him as this debonair scoundrel who wants to be a Charles Boyer-French lover type, but doesn’t have Boyer’s ability to not come across as slimy.

To call Enter Arsene Lupin a noir is stretching it. After changing his mind about stealing an emerald after meeting its owner (Ella Raines‘ Stacie), Arsene catches on that Stacie’s cousins (Gale Sondergaard and Miles Mander) are trying to bump her off and decides to intervene. All the while there are drawn out sequences of Arsene trying to evade Inspector Ganimond (J. Carrol Naish), who’s on the obnoxious side. Raines might be prominent on the poster art but the film is more about Arsene’s rivalry with Ganimond than anything else. At one point there’s a gaslighting subplot that’s teased but then never seriously tackled. In his commentary, film historian, Anthony Slide, argues that Raines is miscast, but what she is is criminally underutilized. George Dolenz is the other bright spot in the film as Arsene’s sidekick, Armand, whose light comedic scenes are the only real effective moments.  Apparently Enter Arsene Lupin was intended to launch a series in the same rein as Basil Rathbone’s Sherlock Holmes movies. That it didn’t is no loss.

Irving Pichel’s Temptation

There’s nothing more dangerous in noir than a bored wife. Having worked hard to secure her second marriage (her first one ended in divorce), Ruby (Merle Oberon) doesn’t want to mess things up, but Egypt isn’t proving very occupying, nor are the stuffy guests her husband, Nigel (George Brent), keeps inviting for dinner.

Since Ruby is recounting this story to Dr. Isaacson (Paul Lukas), it’s already obvious that a murder’s coming, but “how” and “why” are the questions that need resolving. Korvin plays another French scoundrel, but this time the film doesn’t try to defend him, so the performance works.

Temptation isn’t the first film adaptation of Robert HichensBella Donna but, according to film historian, Kelly Robinson‘s, commentary, it is the first one to add noir trappings. What’s great about Robinson’s commentary is she pays equal attention to the people in front of the camera as the people who worked behind the scenes. Apparently, Oberon and Korvin didn’t get along, and Robinson gives Ory-Kelly‘s dresses the praise they deserve, with their saucy, sheer panels.

Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema VIII is available on Blu-Ray now from Kino Lorber.

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