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TCM Greatest Classic Films Collection: Murder Mysteries [2 Discs] [DVD]

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Overview

Special Features

  • Closed Captioned

Synopsis

Dial M for Murder
Based on the popular mystery play by Frederick Knott, Dial M For Murder is more talky and stagebound than most Hitchcock films, but no less enjoyable. British tennis pro Ray Milland suspects that his wealthy wife Grace Kelly is fooling around with handsome American Robert Cummings. Milland blackmails a disgraced former army comrade (Anthony Dawson) into murdering Kelly and making it look like the work of a burglar. But Milland's carefully mapped-out scheme does not take into account the notion that Kelly might fight back and kill her assailant. When the police (represented by John Williams) investigate, Milland improvises quickly, subtly planting the suggestion that his wife has committed first-degree murder. He almost gets away with it; to tell you more would spoil the fun of the film's final thirty minutes. Hitchcock claimed that he chose this single-set play because he was worn out from several earlier, more ambitious projects, and wanted to "recharge his batteries." Compelled by Warner Bros. to film Dial M For Murder in 3-D, Hitchcock perversely refused to throw in the standard in-your-face gimmickry of most stereoscopic films of the era--though watch how he visually emphasizes an important piece of evidence towards the end of the film. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The Postman Always Rings Twice
James M. Cain's novel received its first authorized screen treatment in this MGM production. Drifter Frank Chambers (John Garfield) takes a job at a roadhouse run by slovenly but likeable Nick Smith (Cecil Kellaway). Nick's sexy young wife Cora (Lana Turner) takes an immediate liking to Frank, but he senses that she's trouble and he keeps his distance--for a while, anyway. Inevitably succumbing to Cora's tawdry charms, Frank enters into her scheme to murder Nick and claim the old boy's insurance money. Not long after committing the foul deed, Frank and Cora are arrested. Thanks to the conniving of slimy attorney Arthur Keats (Hume Cronyn), the illicit lovers are able to beat the murder rap--but, as the film's title symbolically indicates, they eventually pay for their misdeeds in an unexpected manner. Fans of the James M. Cain original--not to mention Cain himself--were aghast at the changes made in the novel by screenwriters Harry Ruskin and Niven Busch; many of the alterations were made to conform with censorship standards of the era, while others simply existed to massage the egos of the stars. Even so, the 1946 version of The Postman Always Rings Twice is infinitely more satisfying than the no-holds-barred 1981 remake, directed by Bob Rafelson with Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The Big Sleep
The definitive Humphrey Bogart/Lauren Bacall vehicle, The Big Sleep casts Bogart as Raymond Chandler's cynical private eye Philip Marlowe. Summoned to the home of the fabulously wealthy General Sternwood (Charles Waldron), Marlowe is hired to deal with a blackmailer shaking down the General's sensuous, thumb-sucking daughter Carmen (Martha Vickers). This earns Marlowe the displeasure of Carmen's sloe-eyed, seemingly straight-laced older sister Vivian (Bacall), who is fiercely protective of her somewhat addled sibling. As he pursues the case at hand, Marlowe gets mixed up in the murder of Arthur Geiger (Theodore von Eltz), a dealer in pornography. He also runs afoul of gambling-house proprietor Eddie Mars (John Ridgely), who seems to have some sort of hold over the enigmatic Vivian. Any further attempts to outline the plot would be futile: the storyline becomes so complicated and convoluted that even screenwriters William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett, and Jules Furthmann were forced to consult Raymond Chandler for advice (he was as confused by the plot as the screenwriters). When originally prepared for release in 1945, The Big Sleep featured a long exposition scene featuring police detective Bernie Ohls (Regis Toomey) explaining the more obscure plot details. This expository scene was ultimately sacrificed, along with several others, in favor of building up Bacall's part; for instance, a climactic sequence was reshot to emphasize sexual electricity between Bogart and Bacall, obliging Warners to replace a supporting player who'd gone on to another project. The end result was one of the most famously baffling film noirs but also one of the most successful in sheer star power. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The Gay Parisian
The Gay Parisian constitutes one of two colorful musical shorts (alongside Spanish Fiesta) helmed by the legendary Jean Negulesco during the early '40s, as part of the Warners "Technicolor Special" series. This film, like its sister work, centers around a performance of one of Offenbach's works by Léonide Massine's Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. As such, Parisian represents one of the first Hollywood studio films to exclusively concern itself with a ballet performance. ~ Nathan Southern, Rovi

Hiawatha's Rabbit Hunt
The Maltese Falcon
After two previous film versions of Dashiell Hammett's detective classic The Maltese Falcon, Warner Bros. finally got it right in 1941--or, rather, John Huston, a long-established screenwriter making his directorial debut, got it right, simply by adhering as closely as possible to the original. Taking over from a recalcitrant George Raft, Humphrey Bogart achieved true stardom as Sam Spade, a hard-boiled San Francisco private eye who can be as unscrupulous as the next guy but also adheres to his own personal code of honor. Into the offices of the Spade & Archer detective agency sweeps a Miss Wonderly (Mary Astor), who offers a large retainer to Sam and his partner Miles Archer (Jerome Cowan) if they'll protect her from someone named Floyd Thursby. The detectives believe neither Miss Wonderly nor her story, but they believe her money. Since Archer saw her first, he takes the case -- and later that evening he is shot to death, as is the mysterious Thursby. Miss Wonderly's real name turns out to be Brigid O'Shaughnessey, and, as the story continues, Sam is also introduced to the effeminate Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre) and the fat, erudite Kasper Gutman (Sydney Greenstreet, in his film debut). It turns out that Brigid, Cairo and Gutman are all international scoundrels, all involved in the search for a foot-high, jewel-encrusted statuette in the shape of a falcon. Though both Cairo and Gutman offer Spade small fortunes to find the "black bird," they are obviously willing to commit mayhem and murder towards that goal: Gutman, for example, drugs Spade and allows his "gunsel" Wilmer (Elisha Cook Jr.) to kick and beat the unconscious detective. This classic film noir detective yarn gets better with each viewing, which is more than can be said for the first two Maltese Falcons and the ill-advised 1975 "sequel" The Black Bird. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Meet John Doughboy
In this dated but amusing pre-WW2 cartoon, newly drafted Porky Pig narrates a newsreel (replete with an RKO-Radio about America's defense efforts. In preparation against enemy attacks, Uncle Sam has sanctioned the building of tanks and planes, while the Army has stepped up its war games and training maneuvers. Some surprisingly potent political propaganda (from both the Left and the Right) is interwoven with typically hilarious Warner Bros. cartoon sight gags and verbal humor. Jack Benny, Eddie "Rochester" Anderson, the emperor Napoleon and even Citizen Kane ("Sugar" Kane, that is) make cameo appearances. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

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