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Visual Wonders: Small Hobos and Murder

Two recent releases from Warner Archive made their way to my desk. If you’re unaware, Warner Archive is a branch of Warner Home Video that is dedicated to web only sales of the deepest of the deep in the Warner Brothers vault. Largely comprised of classic films, Warner Archive issues long out of print (and sometimes never ever in print) films and TV series on new masters to made on demand DVD, and they’ve even added Blu-Ray to their line up as well. It’s a film lover’s dream come true. This week, I’ll be talking about a DVD and a Blu-Ray. A funky little family picture dug up from their vaults, along with a cornerstone of Film Noir brought forth to Blu-Ray for the very first time. 1958’s “The Littlest Hobo” & 1945’s “Murder, My Sweet.” 

There’s a lot of strange elements to “The Littlest Hobo.” While watching the film it felt at times like a strange mix of Lassie, Homeward Bound, and an episode of Dragnet. It’s a film whose lead actor is a dog, and there’s no overdubbing of dialog on top of this. It’s really impressive just how skilled this dog is. If dogs doing heartwarming things are your go to, you need this movie in your life. The dog, who isn’t named in the film but the credits say is named London, hops off a train in a California town—hence he is the littlest hobo of them all. 

During his adventures the dog: saves a lamb from a slaughterhouse, teaches a wheelchair bound girl to walk, avoids hungry bums out to get the lamb, avoids the cops—after being called by the dock man at the slaughterhouse, the cops literally go on a 36 hour manhunt for the dog— and teaches an orphan boy about love and hope. All of this set to a jazz score that you wouldn’t expect for a film of this nature. It really is an odd duck of a family film. If you have kids who aren’t adverse to black and white, I could see it being a hit with them. If this has you curious, “The Littlest Hobo” is worth you time. 

On Blu-Ray for the first time comes “Murder, My Sweet.” One of the seminal film noir films, “Murder, My Sweet” is based off a novel by Noir stalwart Raymond Chandler. It features Dick Powell in the lead as Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe—Chandler himself would later cite Powell has his favorite screen Marlowe. “Murder, My Sweet” marked a chance of pace for Dick Powell, one he had been lobbying for. 

Powell was largely known to movie audiences for staring in musicals and light comedy films, casting him as hard boiled detective Marlowe was a complete 180—something Powell and the studio wanted to emphasize. The novel the film is based on is actually titled “Farewell, My Lovely” but RKO—who released the film—worried that it would sound too much like a title of one of Powell’s musicals. The posters and lobby cards for the film all had “Meet the NEW Dick Powell” stamped along the top of them. It worked, the movie was a critical and commercial success.

Everything that makes Film Noir what it is can be found here. Dark Shadows, stubble on faces, femme fatals, a mystery within a mystery at the center of it, hard boiled detective narration with lines like “Only reason I took the job was because my bank account was trying to crawl under a duck.” It’d be the perfect film to show anyone who has never seen a Noir before. In the film, Marlowe is hired by a thug to find his ex-girlfriend who hasn’t been seen in a few years. That simple job leads Marlow into a web of lies and all kinds tasty darkness that should only be seen in black and white. 

I’m sure some of you out there maybe wondering “How on earth can a 70 year old film be issued on Blu-Ray?” Well friends, kind hearts, and lovers—let me tell you how. I’ve been asked before how it’s possible that films made before the HD era—yet alone classics—can exist in Blu-Ray. Simple. Film captures everything it photographs (and is beyond 4K naturally)—we’ve only lately had the technology to extract all that visual goodness from the film. Warner Archive’s blu-ray of “Murder, My Sweet” is a textbook example of why classic films can and should be released on Blu-Ray. 

In a brand new 2K master made from new 35mm restoration elements created directly from the original nitrate negative, the rich and black and white photography simple dazzles and shines with a depth and clarity that can put films even 60 years its junior to shame. If there is one film I would say should be added to your library—even if you doubt my claims of a film of this era looking stellar in HD—it’s “Murder, My Sweet.” Frankly, if you haven’t figured it out yet, I simply can not recommend this one enough. 

Friends, theses dispatches of visual treats I sampled lately is all I have for you this week, I hope it has at least triggered enough curiosity to check one of the films out. Whichever speaks most to you, I think you will not be disappointed. 


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