• A Life At Stake (The Film Detective) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: The Film Detective
    Released on: September 7th, 2021.
    Director: Paul Guilfoyle
    Cast: Angela Lansbury, Keith Andes, Claudia Barrett, Douglass Dumbrille
    Year: 1955
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    A Life At Stake – Movie Review:

    Director Paul Guilfoyle’s 1955 film, A Life At Stake, tells the story of a young woman named Doris Hillman (Angela Lansbury). She comes from a very wealthy family and seems to have a history of getting whatever it is that she wants. She's married to Gus (Douglass Dumbrille), an architect. When they meet a handsome, younger architect named Edward Shaw (Keith Andes), Doris offers him a business proposal: they'll buy some land together, he'll design and build the houses and she'll use her previous experience in real estate to sell them. Gus will put up a half a million dollars of their money to get things started and everyone will make a nice little profit in the process. This works out well for Edward as he’s pretty deep in debt thanks to things going south in his last business endeavor.

    It isn't long before Doris and Edward begin having an affair. Once this relationship intensifies, he soon starts to figure out that all is not as it seems with Doris or with their business endeavor, and that if he doesn't play his cards very carefully his very life could be in grave danger, particularly when Doris’ younger sister, Madge (Claudia Barrett), fills him on her past.

    At seventy-five minute, this is a pretty brisk watch, even if it isn’t always edge of your seat suspense. The main draw here, for most viewers, will be the chance to see a young Angela Lansbury vamp it up as a femme fatale type, something that she does quite well in this picture. She has charisma and charm and it’s easy to see how her career would rise above low budget B-pictures like this one in the years to come. She and Keith Andes, who struts about with his shirt off for about a third of the movie, have an interesting chemistry together. He doesn’t have a whole lot of range and isn’t the greatest actor to ever walk across the silver screen, but these two make an interesting pair and it’s fun to watch the cat and mouse game between the two of them play out.

    Douglass Dumbrille is okay as Doris’ sneaky husband. He plays his part well and has some decent screen presence. The beautiful Claudia Barrett steals a few scenes from Lansbury in the picture, the camera loves her and Guilfoyle and company seem to know it.

    This, like so many other noir films of the period, was made fast and cheap. It’s occasionally a little clunky. Overall though, it keeps us interested and engaged, holding our attention easily. The fact that it doesn’t overstay its welcome helps here too, and there’s some nice, shadowy cinematography on hand to ensure that the film is visually interesting throughout.

    A Life At Stake – Blu-ray Review:

    The Film Detective brings A Life At Stake to region free Blu-ray in an MPEG-2 (???) encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 1.37.1 widescreen with the feature taking up 18.1GBs of space on the 25GB disc. Despite the outdated encoding, the picture quality here is good, if not perfect. Detail is pretty strong and contrast looks good but there are scenes where the black levels look to be a darker grey. There’s also some noticeable warping of whatever elements were used for the transfer the presumably couldn’t be corrected. Overall though, this looks good, just not perfect. It’s a more than watchable high definition presentation.

    The 24-bit English language DTS-HD 2.0 Mono soundtrack is a little flat but perfectly serviceable and pretty clean. Dialogue is easy to understand and the levels are properly balanced throughout. The score sounds quite nice. Optional subtitles are provided in English and Spanish language options.

    Extras start off with a commentary by track film scholar Professor Jason A. Ney. It's a nicely researched track that does a great job of filling in the backstory on the film and explaining why it isn't as well-known as it could or should have been. He explores some of the themes that the picture deals with, compares and contrasts it with other noir pictures from the period, details Lansbury's work on the film and her thoughts on the picture and offers up a nice mix of facts and trivia about the cast and crew and insight into what makes the movie work.

    The disc also contains an eleven minute featurette called Hollywood Hitch-Hikers: Inside The Filmakers from Ballyhoo Motion Pictures. This piece goes over the history of The Filmakers (which distributed the film), the production company started by Ida Lupino and Collier Young and detailing the importance of the work that they did together.

    Included inside the case alongside the disc is a twelve-page full color booklet containing an essay entitled 'A Career At Stake: Angela Lansbury And The Last Days Of The B-Noir' also by Jason Ney.

    A Life At Stake – The Final Word:

    A Life At Stake isn’t the definitive noir classic but it’s s more than solid thriller with some good performances and a bit of style. The Blu-ray release from The Film Detective isn’t perfect, but it’s pretty good and presents a heretofore pretty obscure pictures in decent shape with some nice extra features that go over its history.

    Click on the images below for full-sized A Life At Stake screen caps!