Escape in the Fog
Six tough, no-nonsense noirs from six of the genre’s toughest, no-nonsense directors: Budd Boetticher’s Escape in the Fog, in which a nurse and a war veteran take on Nazi spies in San Francisco; Joseph H Lewis’ The Undercover Man, inspired by the real-life case against Al Capone; Richard Quine’s Drive a Crooked Road, which finds Mickey Rooney moving away from comedies and musicals to a tougher persona; Phil Karlson’s 5 Against the House, starring Kim Novak as a nightclub singer embroiled in a casino heist; Vincent Sherman’s The Garment Jungle, from which Kiss Me Deadly director Robert Aldrich was famously fired; and Don Siegel’s police procedural The Lineup, based on the radio and television series, and as brutal a film as he ever made.
All six films are presented for the first time on Blu-ray in the UK, with The Undercover Man and Drive a Crooked Road making their world Blu-ray premieres. This stunning collection also boasts a 120-page book, and is strictly limited to 6,000 numbered units.
For the first title in their first Columbia Noir box set, Indicator presents Budd Boetticher’s Escape in the Fog on Blu-ray, delivering it on a single-layer disc in its original aspect ratio of about 1.33:1. The 1080p/24hz high-definition encode comes from a 2K restoration.
There are a handful of issues but overall this managed to still be far better than I was expecting. It’s clear a lot of work went into the restoration and damage has been cleaned up significantly, delivering a picture that can be spotless a good majority of the time. There are still some marks, though, ranging from minor blemishes to mold, to other scratches, but they’re infrequent.
The digital presentation is, for the most part, solid, but not without its own shortcomings. In general the image has been nicely encoded and it provides a wonderful film-like look, rendering grain incredibly well and turning out the finer details with no problem. Unfortunately it does have some issues with the opening foggy (very foggy) sequence—which then (kinda) repeats halfway through—making the grain look blocky and noisy, less natural than the rest of the presentation. Thankfully these are isloated not true of the whole presentation. In every other aspect the digital presentation is solid, delivering a sharp looking image that has no problem with the finer details. The black and white photography also looks pretty sharp with excellent contrast and blending.
Outside of the issues the presentation has with the foggier sequences in the film—along with the damage that remains—it’s an impressive restoration for a film that I figured would have fallen to the wayside.
The film comes with a lossless PCM 1.0 monaural soundtrack. It’s “fine” in the end, just nothing special: it sounds clean enough with no serious signs of damage, and dialogue is clear and easy to hear. It’s just fairly flat with limited fidelity.
Each title in this six-title set gets an interesting assortment of supplements, all starting with an audio commentary. For this one, film historian Pamela Hutchinson talks about the film during its 63-minute runtime. To be honest this isn’t a film that I feel would inspire a lot of conversation and I get the feeling Hutchinson, because of this, is reaching for topics to address. The film has an interesting supernatural element to it that ultimately goes nowhere, and Hutchinson addresses this, while also talking about certain shots and plot elements she likes (along with elements that haven’t aged particularly well, like how our heroes manage to escape from one situation near the end), and devotes a whole section to the director that I confess I’m entirely unfamiliar with. But she kind of gets trapped in just talking about what’s going on in the film and the various performers that show up. For what she has to work with, though, she still packs in some good topics and keeps things going.
Indicator then includes a couple of short films. The first is a 22-minute World War II documentary, The Fleet That Came to Stay, made for the U.S. Navy and compiled by Boetticher (Fog’s director), covering the Battle of Okinawa. Comprised primarily of combat footage, it explains the importance of the battle and then offers a quick account through the provided footage. I’m not a good judge of these things but it’s an interesting inclusion. A bit out-of-left-field, though very fun and welcome, is a 3 Stooges short, You Nazty Spy! The set includes a short on each disc and they, to a degree, are usually related to the film on the disc. The villains in the main feature are Nazis (though I don’t think that name ever gets used in the film) and this short has the Stooges satirize Hitler in their sledgehammer kinda way. Basically, in a country called Moronica, a group of business people decide they’d be more profitable if their leaders got their country into a war, so they convince Larry, Moe, and Curly to take over, with Moe going full-Hitler, even briefly dawning the moustache. At one point a spy manages to work their way in and eventually, as one would guess, things don’t go to plan and chaos erupts. I haven’t seen a Stooges short in probably two decades, so there was something kind of comforting with this inclusion (and the inclusion of the others across the discs) and I confess I got a big kick out of it being here. I was also thrilled to see that Indicator is using a stunning looking restoration.
The disc then closes with a small image gallery featuring production photos and a poster.
One of the weaker titles in the set in regards to supplementary material, but getting a 3 Stooges short (and then more on the other discs) is a nice surprise.
Indicator’s set is an excellent one overall, but this ends up being one of the weaker titles in it.