A fifth foray into the film noir output of Columbia Pictures, but, this time, with a twist. Not only does this volume bring together six more gems from the studio’s archives, but it also serves as a showcase for the great Humphrey Bogart.
Having established his stardom in the gangster pictures of the 1930s, Bogart fit easily into the world of film noir, where he was equally at home playing troubled servicemen, slick-talking lawyers, black marketeers, gambling den owners, or hard-up journalists.
Columbia Noir #5: Humphrey Bogart brings together five of the iconic actor’s starring vehicles: John Cromwell’s Dead Reckoning, Nicholas Ray’s Knock on Any Door, Stuart Heisler’s Tokyo Joe, Curtis Bernhardt’s Sirocco, and Mark Robson’s The Harder They Fall, plus Henry Levin’s The Family Secret, a rarity starring Lee J Cobb and John Derek that was produced by Bogart’s Santana Pictures, an outfit that regularly delved into the seedy, shadowy world of noir.
Featuring a stunning 4K restoration of The Harder They Fall, and with Sirocco and The Family Secret appearing on Blu-ray for the first time anywhere in the world, this stunning collection includes newly recorded commentaries and critical appreciations, archival documentaries and short films, and a 120-page book. Strictly limited to 6,000 numbered units.
The third disc in Indicator’s Humphrey Bogart focused Columbia Noir #5 box set presents Stuart Heisler’s Tokyo Joe on a dual-layer Blu-ray in the aspect ratio of about 1.37:1. It has been encoded at 1080p/24hz. The set is a UK release and this disc, like the others, is locked to region B.
There are no details around the source materials or restoration, Indicator’s notes simply stating they were supplied with a high-def master by Sony, but it does look as though, at the very least, the original negative was used: there is an exceptional level of detail present throughout the film and the range found within the grayscale is impressive. In the case of the latter attribute, I was particularly thrilled with contrast and range in the sky during an exterior evening sequence, which carries on into the shadows present in the sequence. The film’s very fine grain is also rendered cleanly and I don’t recall any digital artifacts of note.
The restoration work has cleaned up a lot of things and very little damage remains, just some small scratches and specs, mostly between cuts. Since Bogart never went to Japan to do any filming, a second unit filming on location and using a stand-in to fill in where needed, a lot of rear projection has been employed. This of course leads to contrast looking off, but that's just the nature of the beast.
The film isn't one of Bogart's more highly regarded ones so I can't say I was expecting all that much, but Indicator does deliver an exceptional looking digital presentation and the end results were better than what I would have ever expected.
The lossless PCM 1.0 monaural soundtrack is about the same quality as the rest of the titles in the set: dialogue is clear, range is decent, and it doesn’t sound as though any filtering has been applied. Music also sounds nicely balanced, rarely coming off harsh or edgy.
Interestingly, despite the film maybe being one of the more lackluster ones in the set, it ends up featuring the most extensive collection of supplements, if not the best. Things start out with a brand-new audio commentary by Nora Fiore, and for anyone who has listened to any of her prior commentaries you are probably very aware of what you’re in for. She again just dives into things, admitting that the film isn’t particularly great and laced with issues that she is more than happy to dive into (like some of the film’s editing choices) but she still finds a lot to like about it, particularly the second unit film work, which beautifully documents post-war Japan. Her criticisms and defenses are all exceptionally delivered but one of the aspects I most like about the commentary is how she throws in historical context to pinpoint where the film and some of its plot points probably resonated with viewers at the time. One example of this is around the divorce rate going up during and following the war, Fiore offering up statistics on this rise along with an explanation on why this was more than likely the case. It’s a small detail in the film (Bogey’s character discovers his now ex-wife had divorced him without his knowledge), but I liked how she stresses this small detail's reflection of the period. She does this in other areas, like in how one would have to travel to Japan at the time, and then she also throws in other historical details, like that of “Tokyo Rose,” an American (or multiple Americans) who broadcast demoralizing propaganda targeted at American troops in service of Japan. The track is incredibly thorough and brilliantly structured, entertaining and funny. Of the tracks I’ve listened to in the set so far, it’s easily the best one.
This disc's supplements don't follow the typical format most of the other titles in the set do, typically made up of a commentary, a new interview, and a short film (along with a gallery and maybe a trailer). For this title Indicator also scrounges up a 33-minute archival interview with filmmaker Bertrand Tavernier, here to talk about Tokyo Joe’s director Stuart Heisler (of whom Claude Chabrol was a big fan) and the film. Amusingly, though Tavernier does talk about the film, he’s not a big fan of it, finding it a disappointment that lacks tension and is sloppily done. He ends up spending most of the interview talking about Heisler’s other films with a special focus on the short film The Negro Soldier, which is also included on the disc. As to Tokyo Joe, it sounds as though Tavernier suspects Heisler knew he had a dud, explaining that Heisler did extensively cut it down (it’s less than 90-minutes) and added in elements, like the Judo scene, to add some excitement. It’s a fair assessment of the film and a solid overview of Heisler himself and his other work.
For the new interview Tom Vincent discusses actor Sessue Hayakawa, who plays the villain in the film. Vincent delves into the actor’s silent film work and how anti-Japanese furor in the States led to him getting fewer roles. Apparently, Bogart tracked him down specifically for this film, and this role gave his career a boost, eventually leading to an Oscar nomination for his performance in The Bridge on the River Kwai. The discussion runs 14-minutes.
On top of their usual image gallery Indicator also includes 10-minutes’ worth of footage from the film’s second unit photography, scanned in 4K and in excellent condition. The footage captures street life in Tokyo at the time, with Bogart’s stand-in wandering through.
For the short film Indicator includes Heisler’s The Negro Soldier, running 44-minutes and warning of the Nazi threat and what that will mean for Black Americans. As mentioned, Tavernier talks about the film in his interview, admiring it and calling it incredibly “progressive.” For the time it certainly is, depicting Black Americans’ contributions throughout history in a positive manner that was missing from Hollywood productions of the time, but to say it sugarcoats aspects would be an understatement since the film chooses to leave out certain things, like, for example, when briefly covering the service of soldiers during the Civil War, the film just happens to leave out slavery. It also just happens to leave out everything around Jim Crow laws.
The film is purely propaganda, hoping to inspire enlistment, so the lack of anything around the oppression already faced in the country, past and present, isn’t at all a surprise, but even its depiction of training and military life through the last half of the film, as pointed out on an alternate track featuring author Jim Pines talking about the film at a 2010 screening at London’s BFI Southbank, is far from fact. The film presents the army as open and inclusive, treating all soldiers equally, when the reality was segregation was still very much a thing. Pines talks about all of this in that alternate audio track, even bringing up Norman Jewison’s A Soldier’s Story and its depiction of the Black experience in the military at the time. Pines also talks about the film’s strengths, whether through its positive depiction or as propaganda, the latter of which leads to discussion around German propaganda films like Olympia, which then segues off into a discussion around how that film depicts—or rather, fetishizes—Jesse Owens.
Despite its obvious dated aspects, the film on its own is still an interesting document from the period, but the inclusion of Pines’ lecture (and subsequent Q&A session) makes it a far more engrossing and thoughtful inclusion, beautifully closing off the best set of features to be found in the box set.
Featuring a strong presentation and an engrossing set of features, <I>Tokyo Joe</I> is the best edition in Indicator's latest <I>Columbia Noir</I> box set.