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collector's set

films that fell through the cracks...
see Man Bait and more....

Hammer Film Noir Double Feature Collector's Set cover art from VCI Entertainment

Cover art for VCI Entertainment's 2006 release of Hammer Film Noir Collection


dvd review
Long before Hammer made a name for themselves as purveyors of horror and fantasy films, they had been successful with their low-budget adaptations of BBC radio dramas, comedies and thrillers. As the company grew they made a distribution deal with American producer Robert Lippert, which ensured US sales and theatrical releases. In return Lippert provided the US talent - more often than not an aging former Hollywood star, the sort of deal which is the norm in the film industry today, but at the time was fairly revolutionary.

Whilst Hammer's horror films have been fairly well exploited by now on the domestic video formats, their pre-Curse of Frankenstein (1957) material has been elusive, forgotten, and available only through the fan circuit and the bootlegs. I was delighted to learn that VCI had reached an agreement with Kit Parker Films (the current owners of the Lippert catalogue) and have set about releasing the Hammer/Lippert films. This first wave of dvds hit the shelves in August 2006, after a few delays, presenting us with six films across three discs, available either as a collector's edition box set or as three separate volumes.

Hammer prove themselves efficient and economic storytellers, bringing Americans into sleepy English towns and country houses - a bit of the gangster in Britain. There's one or two genuine classics on the set alongside several workmanlike efforts. The dvds utilise the US prints of the films, which often vary substantially from the UK prints, and can only be a good thing, as it leaves open the prospect of the UK versions being released on R2. Of the six films, only the proto-Frankenstein tale of face-transplants Stolen Face has been released before (by DD in the UK). The set and individual discs are so economically priced, its hard to resist purchasing a set, and I'd recommend the set to film fans. Another important slice of Hammer history finally legitimately available.

the films

volume 1 :Bad Blonde/Man Bait
Bad Blonde (aka. The Flanaghan Boy in the UK) showcases the talents of Barbara Payton as the slutty seductress and wife to the overweight fight promoter. Flanaghan is the plucky fighter who will be ensnared into killing his boss by the femme fatale. Competently directed, and with an appearance by Sidney James as the trainer (more of him later)....

I have a soft spot for Man Bait (known as The Last Page in the UK). In his comments on the disc Richard M Roberts talks rather laughingly at Hammer's decision to make a bookstore the front for a bit of noir action, and yet its part of the charm of these early Hammer pictures. They bring the Hollywood ideas to English mansions and sleepy villages - its almost like a prototype for the Avengers formula a decade later, and for this reviewer at least it works. Diana Dors makes a debut as the English answer to Marilyn Monroe and Jane Mansfield, and imbues her character with an earthy sexiness and stark naivety. Those were the days, when you could stick a middle aged man with a barely legal starlet and get away with it - even James Bond struggles to get away with that these days.
    Its probably my lengthy stint as a librarian that allows me to get excited by the drama, petty blackmail and murder. A Hitcockian wrong man thread runs through this and many of the other films on the set too, this one building up to an exciting climax.

volume 2: Stolen Face/Blackout
Stolen Face shows some of the earliest signs of the obsession with human tinkering that would be come de rigour during the 60s and 70s. Before Frankenstein was even a consideration with Hammer, they played with the transplanting of human faces, and issues of identity, the struggle of the soul and sexual titillation. A dangerous criminal (a facially disfigured woman incidentally... make of that what you will) is given an opportunity for a new life when a brilliant surgeon, offers her a new  face, that of the woman who has spurned him. Its a simple morality tale, something about giving a leopard new spots methinks.... And maybe I'm being unfair, but I've always found it very slow and somewhat tedious.

On the other hand, Stolen Face is paired on this volume with the (in my humble opinion) outstanding Blackout, a real pacy and fun thriller which delighted me from start to finish. Dane Clark (one actor who really grew on me over the course of the set, its such a shame Hammer didn't employ him as regularly as the likes of Cushing and Lee) is a depressed individual, who wakes up to find himself in a stranger's apartment, a new wife and a throbbing headache, staring at a painting of the woman he remembers marrying the night before. There follows a great twisting plot taking in a spoilt rich girl, her untrustworthy partner, with Dane struggling to play catch up and make sense of it all. Possibly the finest film on the set actually.

volume 3: The Gambler and the Lady/Heat Wave
Dane Clark is back for The Gambler and the Lady, this time as an American who has made himself through a gambling racket.  In England he has a stately home and is trying to make himself a gentleman, complete with butler, and lessons in dining etiquette. Some good humour, and another love story as Dane falls for an aristocrat - and comes under the fire of the new gamblers in town. A fairly decent yarn...

Heat Wave (aka. The House Across the Lake) is a delight with its guest appearance from Sid James, better known to contemporary audiences for the Carry On series of comedies. James was something of a Hammer regular in the 1950s, appearing in a number of their early films, and also being part of Val Guest's regular castings. No doubt the film will be an eye-opener to some, and he does well as the dying man with a homicidal wife. Guest American is Alex Nicol, a neighbour struggling to finish the novel he's come to the country to write. Brought into their debauched world, his growing friendship with James is put into difficulty after an affair starts with his wife. Its a familiar plot line from the area, but well executed.

Transfers are all stunningly good - much better than I could ever have anticipated. Images are clear, with plenty of detail, tonal levels are fine, and what little dirt and splices that are in evidence, are limited and hardly anything to complain about. Aspect ratios are all fixed at a fullscreen format, completely in keeping with the original negatives. Sound is also generally good, I look forward to seeing the rest of the films.

A modest set of extras have been provided on the set, with varying degrees of success. Each film receives a perfectly fine gallery of on-set photography and promotional material, to an accompanying commentary - but I'll get to that in a minute. The amount of material presented varies widely from film to film, but is an impressive archival snapshot.

The discs are without full-length feature commentaries.

The World of Hammer Noir documentary, is a very short photo-montage piece, accompanied by a commentary with film historian and collector Richard M. Roberts(and not as some might have thought, a previously unseen episode from the Oliver Reed-narrated 1990 tv compilation series). The same voice which appears over the gallery montages. Several others have commented to me on this subject largely in agreement, so I won't restrain my criticism. The documentary and commentaries are the weakest part of the whole package. Historian and collector he may be, but the contextualisation of Hammer films in the period is lax and at times one could be forgiven for thinking the narrator really doesn't care for the films and is falling asleep. The Bad Blonde gallery gives it away completely, when the narrator actually stops during his comments and can be heard giving instructions to cut and go back, proceeding to repeat a couple of sentences. It gives a poor impression to buyers, but thankfully was the only such instance on the discs.  Whilst I welcome new opinions and voices on the discs other than the usual suspects (Marcus Hearn, Stephen Jones, Kim Newman etc), this particular choice just doesn't work.

Unfortunately there aren't trailers on the disc for each of the films presented. There's also a handful of trailers for other VCI material which isn't Hammer. Aspect ratios and quality varies. The Man Bait trailer looks like a partial reconstruction - there's warping in evidence on both sides of the image initially, before new pristine material and captions. Presumably the damage was so bad, they remade it using the new full-length print.

When all is said and done The Hammer Noir Collection is a superb set, competitively priced, and full of underappreciated features from an early Hammer film company. VCI deserve congratulations for retrieving the films from the chasm of obscurity, and I eagerly await the rest of the series.


© Robert J.E. Simpson 2006
screen grabs used are for illustrative and comparative purposes, and are used in the spirit of publicity. No attempt it made to infringe copyright - which remains with Network DVD and Hammer Film Productions Ltd.
page posted 25 October 2006


Purchase Links

Hammer Film Noir Collector's Set vol 1-3:
Bad Blonde / Man Bait / Stolen Face / Blackout / The Gambler and the Lady / Heat Wave
Kit Packer Films/ VCI Entertainment
SRP: $29.99
25 July 2006

Hammer Noir Vol 1:
Bad Blonde / Man Bait

Kit Packer Films/ VCI Entertainment
SRP: $14.99
25 July 2006

Hammer Noir Vol 2:
Stolen Face / Blackout

Kit Packer Films/ VCI Entertainment
SRP: $14.99
25 July 2006

Hammer Noir Vol 3:
The Gambler and the Lady / Heat Wave

Kit Packer Films/ VCI Entertainment
SRP: $14.99
25 July 2006

Release Date: August 2006 (US)

Feature length:  457 mins
Year of theatrical release: 1952, '53, '54
Aspect Ratio: 4x3 fullscreen
English mono (Dolby Digital)
No of Discs: 3
Region code:
Colour Format: NTSC B&W
Catalogue no: KPF-554
Distributor: VCI Entertainment
$ 29.99(RRP) (or $14.99 for individual volumes)
Diana Dors, Barbara Payton, George Brent, Dane Clark, Paul Henreid, Lizabeth Scott, Alex Nicol, Sid James
Terence Fisher, Richard LeBorg, Patrick Jenkins, Sam Newfield and Ken Hughes

* Scene Selection
* Bios
* Trailers
* Photo Gallery
* Bonus Comments: The World of Hammer Noir by Richard M. Roberts


House of Horror: The Unofficial Hammer Films Site © RJE Simpson 1999 - 2006
Site launched Sunday 8th August 1999