At Home, BluRay/DVD Reviews

THE VELVET TOUCH (Warner Archives)

By • Jun 13th, 2015 •

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I’d never heard of this film, and I was intrigued to give it a look. I’m not a Rosalind Russell fan, but I am a thriller-bordering-on-noir fan. And I love Sydney Greenstreet, whose fourth to last film this was

Now, having seen it, I still don’t like Rosalind Russell. She plays Broadway star Valerie Stanton who, unable to break from her producer-former-lover without things getting messy, inadvertently kills him. The guy was a creep and we’re on her side, but still, murder is murder, and her life is about ready to come crumbling down around her if she’s identified as the culprit. Luck leans her way, as it apparently has throughout her career: circumstances point away from her, and instead to a downbeat, unlucky rival played by Claire Trevor. And so Valerie is free to focus on her career, and to try something career-wise that’s more dramatic for a change…though her conscience is not so lenient with her.

Beautifully lit, smoothly directed by first-timer Jack Gage (who quickly transitioned into TV), and handsomely art directed, I just couldn’t get past Russell, who seemed like she was acting, and wasn’t much fun to watch.

Then, suddenly, at about the halfway point, it all turned around as Captain Danbury (Sydney Greenstreet), the sleuth assigned to the case, comes strolling in. The moment he set foot on those frames, the story became great fun, and it also became his film. Most heavy-duty film-goers are aware that Greenstreet’s celluloid debut occurred when he was 62 years old (and nearly 300 pounds) as Kasper Guttman in THE MALTESE FALCON (1941). He was great in that role, and in most of the remaining parts he essayed until he retired eight years later, battling diabetes and Bright’s disease. He doesn’t look at all well here, but overcomes it with professionalism and panache, and turns in an absolutely delicious performance. It’s reason enough to own the DVD.

The score (and half of the song composed for the front title sequence) by Leigh Harline couldn’t have been more inappropriate for the pervading tone of the film if he’d purposely tried. The film itself is surprisingly downbeat, and maybe they wanted to give the viewer a light moment going in, to take their collective breaths before the dark melodrama struck. It also might have been a feint, setting us up for the shocks to come, but I rarely have found that trick to be worth what follows. In any case I can’t just lay the blame on Harline’s feet; I mean the guy wrote “When You Wish Upon a Star:… Then again he also scored PICKUP ON SOUTH STREET, which had a silly musical composition under the front titles.

The Archive DVD looks generally quite good. Blacks are deep. Nuanced sets are sharply defined, and the lighting does as much to sell the story as the direction of the actors. The negative or the digital master could have used a good cleaning, but the detritus doesn’t spoil the fun.

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