• Scar, The



    Released by: Kino Lorber
    Released on: April 18th, 2017.
    Director: Steve Sekely
    Cast: Paul Henreid, Joan Bennett, Eduard Franz, Leslie Brooks, John Qualen
    Year: 1948
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    The Movie:

    One of the great lesser known noirs, 1948's THE SCAR (also known as HOLLOW TRIUMPH), manages to combine stunning visuals with an outlandish but gripping plot and a compelling lead performance.

    Paul Henreid (of CASABLANCA fame), is John Muller, a hood with a twist. Freshly released from stir for the fairly novel crime of practicing medicine without a license, John isn't your usual hood. He's smart and educated but can't resist the criminal life because he's a restless spirit and adrenaline junkie. He's also probably a sociopath considering the raw pleasure he gets from getting one over on "the system". Instead of going straight after his prison exit and parole where he's granted a safe and steady office job, he makes a beeline for his old gang (which also includes his weak-willed brother) of incompetent knock-off artists. This isn't the higher end grouping of something like Stanley Kubrick's later THE KILLING where some members of the respectable professional class were roped into a robbery scheme, this is a bunch of sad sacks, losers who's overriding characteristic is that Muller can dominate them almost completely.

    Muller, though brilliant (how many medical school dropouts were in the criminal class in those days?), is also possessed of an overweening arrogance. He plans - quite poorly it turns out - a casino robbery that goes disastrously pear-shaped. Mistakes are rampant from improper planning to a terrible choice of target. Robbing the biggest and meanest gangster in the city, a man with a vindictive streak a mile long and the means and ability to send a vast network of thugs after anyone crazy enough to cross him isn't exactly a good idea. A guard is killed, one of Muller's stooges corralled (he gives everybody up after one good punch in the gut) and before you know it, our boy is very much on the run. Mob boss Rocky Stansyck isn't going to take this lying down.

    Up until this point in the narrative, THE SCAR has been a thoroughly engaging but straightforward yarn. But once the sneering but urbane Muller hits the road on the run, director Steve Sekeley's potboiler starts to get really interesting. Muller lands in a midsize city and stumbles across a bizarre stroke of luck - he has a doppelganger. The only difference in appearance between the two men is, you guessed it, a scar (in this case a long straight facial one in the Al Capone style). Psychiatrist (!) Dr. Bartok is not only a dead ringer for our intrepid gangster, he's also the kind of highly educated professional that the canny Muller can effectively impersonate and the good doctor even has a sexy dame for a secretary named Evelyn (Joan Bennett) ripe for seduction.

    How will our hero manage to exploit these opportunities? Or better yet, how will he blow it in all sorts of fascinating ways?

    What makes THE SCAR such a treat isn't just its nifty FACE OFF with a twist style plot. Lensed by the legendary cinematographer John Alton, this is an amazing looking film. Smoky, often purposefully utilizing brutally difficult low light conditions and tricky camera angles (watch for what I call the "undershots" where the camera seems to be belly crawling to create the menacing effect of looking at the actors from the floor), this entire production is one of the purest examples of the film noir style. There's also a surprisingly intense level of violence on display at times with an extended fistfight during the casino robbery standing out. Dialog is top notch and cutting with Bennet's cynical but yearning secretary getting some of the top material. This is mostly the Paul Henreid show when it comes to the acting department, but Bennet comes close to stealing the show. She's gorgeous but also tough and often vulnerable. The entire noir worldview is right here in this character. Sexy fatalism?

    This was the era of the 'crime does not pay' ethos in the film industry, so you know going in that the bad guys are going to get what's coming to them, but THE SCAR manages to bring a lot of freshness to the noir game.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Kino's 1.37:1 framed AVC encoded MPEG-4 1080p transfer is sharp business. Because of the tricky lighting and various other issues, fine detail could have gone sour here with a lesser transfer, but Kino's Blu-ray is up to the task at hand. This is a strong Blu with facial and fine detail benefiting nicely. There is some minor print damage visible but it does no real harm and even adds to the authenticity of the presentation as far as I'm concerned. Black levels are good and I didn't spot any digital tinkering.

    Audio is covered by a perfectly serviceable 2.0 DTS-HD MA track that sounds like you'd expect - a little flat with the occasional pop and hiss and crackle but always coherent. I never had a problem with dialog and the soundfield was narrow but well balanced.

    The only extra is an excellent audio commentary by film historian Imogen Sara Smith. Smith's insanely sexy voice may be a minor distraction but somehow seems perfect for a film like this (I swear sometimes she purrs). Smith is a superb fountain of information and analysis from fascinating tidbits about the production to artistic choices. She breaks down the editing and cutting choices and has a great deal of praise for the actors - especially Bennet. Want to know about the production code of the studios back in the day? She's here to help. My new favorite commentator and I'll be hunting down her work shortly.

    The Final Word:

    C'mon. Get real. Buy or die. This is a great film noir rescued from obscurity with a very nice presentation from Kino. Even though it's light on extras, the audio commentary is first rate and adds enormous value. Highly recommended.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!