• Franco Noir (Severin Films) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Severin Films
    Released on: October 26th, 2021.
    Director: Jess Franco
    Cast: Conrado San Martín, Danik Patisson, Perla Cristal, Fernando Fernán Gómez, Jean Servais, Laura Granados
    Year: 1964/1963
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    Franco Noir – Movie Review:

    Severin Films presents two early films from the massive filmography of the late, great Jess Franco that stand as a pretty far cry from the sex and horror films he remains best remembered for. Here’s how it all shakes out…

    Death Whistles The Blues:

    First up is Death Whistles The Blues from 1964. The film opens, not surprisingly given Franco's obsessions, in a nightclub. Here a woman named Lina (Perla Cristal) recognizes the trumpet player at the club as Julius Smith (Manuel Alexandre). It turns out he was close with her late husband, a musician named Frederico Castro, who was killed when his gun running operation went south (we see this happen in the film’s opening pre-credits sequence). Lina has since remarried a man named Paul Vogel (Georges Rollin) and mentions to him how she can into Julius at the club, and Paul, in turn, has Julius murdered.

    It turns out that Paul is the one responsible for Frederico two years back and he aims to keep that as quiet as he can. However, the cops, led by Fenton (Fortunio Bonanova), figure there's more to Paul than meets the eye and so they recruit a sexy singer named Maria Santos (Danik Patisson) to get close to and keep tabs on him. Complicating matters further is the arrival of a man named Joao (Conrado San Martin) who has plans of his own for Paul.

    A fairly straight forward picture by Franco Standards, Death Whistles The Blues wears its American noir influence on its sleeve but proves to be a Franco picture through and through, even if it doesn’t amp up the sex and violence the way that he would in the coming decades. The obvious love of night club settings and jazz music are on display in large stretches of the film, and the occasional scenes that emphasize visuals over plot development have his marks on them as well. While he may have very much been trying to find his style here, this is a solid picture with a good plot that will keep you guessing how things are going to turn out right up until its well-placed finale.

    Likely made on a modest budget as most of his films were, the production values here don’t suffer for it. The location shooting may not effectively convince viewers that we’re anywhere but Spain but the seaside setting is nicely photographed and adds to the look of the film. The cast all do fine work in the picture as well, with Danik Patisson really standing out here with some great screen presence. Interestingly enough, Franco would remake this in 1977 as Kiss Me Killer!

    Rififi In The City:

    The second feature, which was actually made a year earlier in 1963, doesn’t really have much to do with Jules Dassin’s 1955 French crime classic, Rififi, aside from putting the name of that movie into its own title, presumably to cash in on its success and the casting of Jean Servais. Don’t go into this one expecting a sequel or anything like that!

    Either way, the story this time around begins when a Mexican bartender who had secretly been working as a police informant is killed, his murdered corpse thrown through the window of Miguel Mora (Fernando Fernán Gómez), a high ranking local police detective. Mora has been working a case involving Maurice Leprince (Jean Servais, who did appear in Dassin's picture), a powerful local politician with connections to the local criminal populace. Getting close to Leprince is dangerous work, something that Mora learns all too quickly as he gets closer to putting the pieces of this puzzle together.

    When some of Leprince's start turning up dead, Mora realizes that in order to bring this all to a close he might have to resort to unorthodox tactics, the kind that a cop doesn't typically resort to, and his boss, Comisario Vargas (Antonio Prieto), isn’t likely to make things any easier for him.

    Based on a novel by Charles Exbrayat, this one also features a lot of nightclub scenes and frequent use of jazz on the soundtrack. Again, we get some nice, evocative cinematography here to ensure that the visuals stay interesting throughout the duration of the film, and we see Franco make excellent use of some interesting locations to give things a fancier look than his budget would probably have allowed for had sets needed to be constructed for this film.

    The pacing isn’t as quick in this second film but it still moves along quite nicely and does a fine job telling its story. The soundtrack is pretty solid and the performances are quite good, with Servais in particular doing a very good job as the heavy. It’s a very entertaining mix of style and substance with plenty of atmosphere and a compelling plot.

    Franco Noir – Blu-ray Review:

    Franco Noir arrives on Blu-ray from Severin Films on a 50GB region free disc with both black and white features presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition and framed at 1.78.1 widescreen. Death Whistles The Blues gets 20Gbs of space and Rififi In The City gets 24GBs of space. Taken from ‘HD scans from the original negatives for the first time ever,’ the picture quality here is pretty solid. Some scenes are softer than others but this looks to be the way that the movie was were shot. Generally speaking, the contract is pretty good but it does waver a bit here and there. Detail is typically really nice, though it does, obviously, drop a little bit in the aforementioned softer scenes. Overall though, these look solid, showing no noticeable issues with compression artifacts or edge enhancement although it does look like some digital noise reduction has been applied here as there isn’t much in the way of noticeable grain and skin looks unusually smooth at times.

    24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Mono tracks are provided in Spanish for both films with optional yellow subtitles provided in English only. No problems here, the audio is properly balanced, clean, clear and free of any hiss or distortion.

    There’s only one extra on the disc but it’s a good one and it’s Franco Noir ― An Interview With Stephen Thrower. Here the author of Murderous Passions: The Delirious Cinema Of Jesús Franco speaks for sixty-seven minutes about how Franco is best remembered for his horror and erotic films but how he did work in quite a few other genres, and in the early sixties worked on more mainstream pictures such as the two films included on this disc. He then goes into detail about the careers of many of the people that Franco worked with during this part of his career, details the distribution of some of these earlier Franco pictures, the influence of American film noir pictures on many European productions that came later, the influence of Franju, some of the more unique moments that populate these films, the quality of the performances in the pictures, variants that may or may not exist for these movies, the obvious influence of the original Rififi film despite the lack of narrative continuation or character crossovers, Franco's own acting, the use of music in the films, some of the themes that are explored here and quite a bit more.

    Menus and chapter selection options are also provided.

    Franco Noir – The Final Word:

    Severin Film’s Blu-ray release of Franco Noir offers up two of the late filmmaker’s lesser known and lesser seen early pictures in very nice presentations with an excellent featurette from the endlessly knowledgeable Stephen Thrower as its main extra feature. While these films don’t over the eroticism or exploitative elements that his work is so often associated with, they’re well-made and as entertaining as they are interesting.

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