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Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema, Volume VI: Johnny Stool Pigeon (1949) - Blu-ray Review

Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema, Volume VI: Johnny Stool Pigeon

"Ya wanna dance, Mike Doyle?!"

The hills!  The fog!  The slick city streets!  The atmosphere is on point as Johnny Stool Pigeon opens and that’s thanks to cinematographer Maury Gertsman, who shot Singapore, the first offering in this set from Kino Lorber

"The film’s rather static drama is helped immensely by the commanding presence of Shelley Winters"


 

With a gritty San Francisco as its backdrop, guns start blazing early on as federal agents raid a warehouse in search of illegal narcotics.  Sure, the whole cops and robbers' aspect in this film noir entry is played up but, being directed by future horror film guru William Castle for Universal, Johnny Stool Pigeon holds up incredibly well.

The film’s rather static drama is helped immensely by the commanding presence of Shelley Winters who plays a reformed gun moll working with Johnny Evans (Dan Duryea) to bring down a narcotics ring as they travel up and down the West Coast.  This is the deal that Howard Duff playing George Morton (and then Mike Doyle) cuts with Evans.  And together they bring down the network; from Vancouver to Tucson, Arizona, the hoodlums are cleared out.

It’s pretty bleak and, to his credit, Castle brings little flair to the proceedings, satisfied to let the film play out in its dramatic fashion.  Lots of talking; Lots of heroics from the U.S. Treasury Agents as the film is dedicated to their work; lots of warnings about addiction and so on; but this is the territory of Johnny Stool Pigeon as these two go deep undercover to infiltrate a nasty drug ring.

Things are going to get messy, even a mute thug (Tony Curtis) knows something is up. But that’s part of the charm in this film noir title, which is making its debut on blu-ray thanks to this release.Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema, Volume VI: Johnny Stool Pigeon

Film Noir, as a genre in film, stems from the assault of way too many “Happy Endings” in Hollywood.  It’s a natural response full of pessimism and fatalism and, as a result, it butters this reviewer’s bread.  For about a decade, writers and directors could see that audiences weren’t interested in fairy tales anymore.  There was too much poverty; too much death and destruction; too many wars.  And the push to urban life had created an economic disparity that lingered long after any romantic ending did.  

People needed the darkness to be acknowledged and, from 1944 to 1955, it was cinema’s prime celebrity as highly cinematographic films - cheaply made - fell onto the rain-soaked streets of Home Town, USA.  

Johnny Stool Pigeon, now on blu-ray thanks to Kino Lorber’s Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema, Volume VI, is merely one offering from that defining era of filmmaking.

3/5 stars

 

Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema, Volume VI: Johnny Stool Pigeon

Blu-ray Details

Home Video Distributor: Kino Lorber
Available on Blu-ray
- April 26, 2022
Screen Formats: 1.37:1
Subtitles
: English SDH
Audio:

Discs: Blu-ray Disc; three-disc set
Region Encoding: Locked to Region A

They cracked the back of the world’s blackest racket! A cop! A dame! A killer! Cult filmmaker William Castle, the macabre mastermind behind House on Haunted Hill, The Tingler, 13 Ghosts and Let’s Kill Uncle, delivers a different kind of shadowy suspense story with Johnny Stool Pigeon. Howard Duff (Woman in Hiding) is San Francisco-based Treasury agent George Morton, who goes undercover to break up a narcotics ring. Dan Duryea (Scarlet Street) is Johnny Evans, a convict in Alcatraz who makes a deal with George, becoming the titular “stool pigeon.” Shelley Winters (Larceny) is the ringleader’s feisty moll who gets involved in the sting. It’s cops versus smugglers in Castle’s hardboiled film noir that co-stars John McIntire (An Act of Murder), Leif Erickson (The Lady Gambles) and Tony Curtis (The Midnight Story) in an early role.  

Video:

With a crisp black-and-white 2K transfer, Johnny Stool Pigeon lands on blu-ray thanks to the crackling efforts of Kino Lorber.  Shadows, while not too terribly detailed, are thick and atmospheric throughout. Presented with an aspect ratio of 1.37:1, the film looks marvelous and easily beats the poor appearance on television and on home video DVD that has previously dogged it. The blacks and grays are handled expertly by the transfer.  Beads of sweat are visible, wet city streets, textures in clothing, and even the dirt in the pavement is all visible with fine textures throughout.

Audio:

Bang! Bang! Bang!  Shots are fired on the DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track which accompanies this film noir flick.

Supplements:

Commentary:

  • There is a NEW audio commentary for Johnny Stool Pigeon by Professor and Film Scholar Jason A. Ney which will delight fans of this noir flick.

Special Features:

There is a collection of trailers for future releases, including one for this release.

  • Original Theatrical Trailer

Blu-ray Rating

  Movie 3/5 stars
  Video  3/5 stars
  Audio 3/5 stars
  Extras 2/5 stars

Composite Blu-ray Grade

3/5 stars


Film Details

Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema, Volume VI: Singapore

MPAA Rating: Unrated.
Runtime:
76 mins
Director
: William Castle
Writer:
Robert L. Richards
Cast:
Howard Duff; Shelley Winters; Dan Duryea
Genre
: Noir | Crime | Action
Tagline:
They cracked the back of the world's blackest racket ! A cop ! A dame ! A killer !
Memorable Movie Quote: "What's the matter, copper? Nervous in the service?"
Theatrical Distributor:
Universal Pictures
Official Site:
Release Date:
April 20, 1949
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
April 26, 2022.
Synopsis: In San Francisco, during the 1940s, US Treasury agents interrupt an illicit exchange between a sailor and a drug dealer. During the shootout, the sailor is killed but the drug dealer escapes. Later on,the agents pick up the trail of the fugitive drug dealer but arrive at his apartment too late. The dealer lays dead, permanently silenced by a hired hit-man. The only thing the agents have is an address book found on the dead drug dealer's body. Among the clues there is one that seems to be promising: the address of a shady Canadian trading company based in Vancouver.

Art

Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema, Volume VI: Singapore

 

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