Chris Willman
July 09, 2004 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Shadows, Lies, and Private Eyes: The Film Noir Collection, Volume 1

Current Status
In Season

We gave it an A

Noir fans like their crime pictures sunny side down, but the five DVD debuts in Shadows, Lies, and Private Eyes: The Film Noir Collection, Vol. 1 will throw some bright rays into any filmic fatalist’s dark life. ”Build my gallows high, baby!” Robert Mitchum tells mantis-like femme Jane Greer in ”Out of the Past,” noir’s crowning achievement — Shakespearean-level tragedy garnished with hard-boiled plotting and Raymond Chandler-worthy wisecracks. A Chandler novel is the basis for ”Murder, My Sweet,” which might’ve benefited from Mitchum as Marlowe instead of chipper Dick Powell, but its streets are scarcely less mean with a slumming crooner serving up the bitter bons mots. ”Gun Crazy” has Bonnie and Clyde-style leads so trigger-happy (and palpably carnal) that it may rival ”Bowling for Columbine” as the pic least likely to appear on an NRA recommended-viewing list. John Huston’s ensemble caper ”The Asphalt Jungle” unblinkingly details the unraveling of a heist, while helping ravel the burgeoning career of bit player Marilyn Monroe. The only disc sans film-historian commentary is boxing melodrama ”The Set-Up,” since director Robert Wise is around to talk. But he doesn’t remember much, so Martin Scorsese fills the gaps, calling ”Set-Up”’s central match ”the most visceral fight scene in cinema” and admitting he shot ”Raging Bull”’s battles differently because he couldn’t top this one. For nasty determinism and sheer, shadowy fun, none of these perennials are easily bested.

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