The Undercover Man
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.
The second disc in Indicator’s Columbia Noir #1 box set presents Joseph H. Lewis’ The Undercover Man, presenting the film in its original aspect ratio of about 1.33:1 on a single-layer disc. The 1080p/24hz high-definition presentation comes from a new 2K restoration.
Though I’m not 100% sure I’m venturing a guess this has been scanned from the original negative. It’s an incredibly crisp image, loaded with detail (right down to the threads of the suits worn by the many characters) in just about every shot. A handful of scenes can look a bit fuzzy, but I’ll put that down to source and/or photography. Grain is rendered finely and wonderfully, never looking noisy or digital.
Some marks show up here and there but on the whole the restoration has really cleaned this up. Again, despite the film appearing to have been mostly forgotten (I was hard pressed to ever find another DVD edition for this film), Sony has done a remarkable job on this restoration and it has been encoded wonderfully here.
The film’s 1.0 PCM monaural soundtrack is like most others in this set: serviceable, with no severe signs of damage (like cracks, pops, or drops) but also very little in the way of fidelity and range. Dialogue is clean and easy to hear, and the music does what it can.
Every disc in the set gets its own set of supplements, and each disc, surprisingly, starts things off with an audio commentary. For The Undercover Man Indicator has enlisted Tony Rayns, and though, and I was pleasantly surprised by his contribution. Like the previous film in this set, Escape in the Fog, I couldn't imagine this film warranting a lot of discussion. I think Hutchinson did a fine enough job for the film and managed to dig out some interesting topics, but I sometimes got the feeling she wasn't all that invested in the film. Rayns, on the other hand, seems to just love this one, and admires the film's director. The film is loosely based on the investigation that brought down Al Capone, and Rayns gets into that a little bit, but he seems much more interested in using this time to defend the film’s director, Joseph H. Lewis, who can get kicked around a little bit. A few of his films are held up in high esteem (like Gun Crazy), but a lot have been dismissed through the years, with Arrow’s edition for Lewis’ Terror in a Texas Town presenting features that really did nothing but accuse the director of being a hack. But Rayns goes all out defending the film and the director, using this film’s narrative structure (even defending what I found to be a clunky opening narration) along with how it’s edited and framed, as his evidence. The track even goes on longer than the film, so the last little bit runs over black space. His passion for the film and Lewis makes this one of the stronger tracks in the set.
Indicator also includes an image gallery (featuring production photos, lobby cards, and various posters) along with two short films. The first is the Lewis’ 1955 short, Man on a Bus. The film centers around a bus journey through the desert and six passengers who are immigrants to the country. The bus becomes stranded in the desert overnight and the characters share their stories about how and/or why they are there. The film has a very different, almost educational feel to it compared to the other Lewis films I've seen, and I assume it's because it was made for the United Jewish Appeal Fund, so that might explain it. I didn’t find the film to be particularly special but it’s an interesting inclusion. The second film is a 3 Stooges short, this one called Income Tax Sappy, and with me being a man of culture, I was of coure thrilled Indicator included another film in the se. The other discs in the set also sport Stooges shorts, and they all relate to the main feature in a fairly loose way (at the very least), with “taxes” being the connection here: similar to the Capone stand-in in The Undercover Man, the Stooges (Larry, Moe, and Shemp) are brought down when they decide to cheat on their taxes in order to improve their status. Obviously nothing goes to plan and hijinks follow. The film is presented in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and has been impressively restored. The inclusion of these Stooges shorts feels a little random, but they’re a most welcome addition all the same.
A stronger disc than the previous one in terms of picture and supplements, the latter thanks to Rayns’ surprisingly passionate commentary track.