From The Warner Archive: Two Never Before On DVD Featuring Gene Kelly

The Warner Archive recently released six Gene Kelly films that had never before been on DVD. I was lucky enough to review two of them: Black Hand and The Devil Makes Three, both of which have been newly remastered.

With the release of these six films, I do believe every film featuring Gene Kelly is now available on DVD. This is quite a feat for any actor, but especially one who made as many films as Kelly did. I always loved him and these two films feature some great non-dance performances.

Released in 1950, Black Hand is also known as The Knife and will be shown on TCM on August 23rd as part of their Summer Under The Stars tribute to Gene Kelly. the film was directed by Richard Thorpe, who directed many a Tarzan and The Thin Man sequel as well as a ton of films with Robert Taylor in the late-50s and many early Elvis films. Thorpe is also notorious for being fired from The Wizard of Oz after just two weeks of filming because he put Judy Garland in  a blonde wig and cutesy baby-doll makeup. Can you even imagine?

Regardless, he did a great job with this film, about an American-born Italian immigrant whose father is killed by the mob – aka the Black Hand – and whose mother moves him back to the old country. When he returns eight years later, he decides to seek vengeance.

Kelly plays Johnny Columbo, who has come back to seek vengeance for the death of his father. In his very first scene Kelly speaks Italian and I’m pretty sure I died a little. While Kelly looks about twenty years older than the kid that played his character as a teen, rather than eight years, he is great in this role. As always, he blends charm with passion and smolders every time he is on screen.

Teresa Celli plays Isabella Gomboli, Columbo’s friend from earlier times, who as the film develops becomes his love interest. I didn’t really care for Celli’s performance, which was a little too overly dramatic for my taste.

J. Carrol Naish was great, as always, as a detective who was friends with Columbo’s parents before their tragedy and who later helps him exact his vengeance on the Black Hand.

While this film is not quite what I would call “noir,” it does utilize noir-ish film techniques and cinematographer Paul C. Vogel (who shot Robert Montgomery’s The Lady in the Lake), was clearly inspired by the era.

Just look at this fabulous shot.

Which brings us to The Devil Makes Three, a film I am really surprised was never before on DVD. Like Carol Reed’s The Third Man, the film takes place in post-WWII Europe; this time it is set in Munich rather than Vienna. The film, directed by Andrew Marton (one of the co-directors of The Longest Day and the second unit director responsible for the chariot race in Ben-Hur), the film deals with a captain who has returned to Germany to spend Christmas with the family who helped him escape the Nazis when he was shot down years earlier; what he discovers is more than he bargained for.

Let’s talk about Gene Kelly’s cheek scar real quick. I can’t go any further without addressing it. JUST LOOK AT IT. Just look. It is featured quite prominently in both these films and I just love it so much. Okay, now let’s talk about his performance as Captain Jeff Elliot, a performance that is equal parts romantic lead and action hero, a task Kelly balances well. His chemistry with heroine Pier Angeli is sizzling hot, even though for most of the film Angeli’s Wilhelmina “Willie” Lehrt is cool as can be.

At the young age of twenty, this was just Angeli’s fifth feature, and I believe her third in English. She more than holds her own against Kelly, who at this time was a well established star. Angeli is an actress whose filmography I always meant to investigate further, but never really manage to do. Anyone who is even mildly interested in her career will love watching her in this film.

Here’s a hot screencap of the two of them. Ow ow ow.

I can’t find much information about cinematographer Václav Vích, but I am in awe of his technique. There are some shots in this film that are just so amazing.

Look at this shot! So good. So so good.

The final chase scene in the film was shot in Berchtesgaden, which is famous for its Nazi connection.

The very last scene with Claus Clausen was actually shot in the ruins of Hitler’s house. This is truly history captured on film and it’s about time it got a proper release.

Disclaimer: This review is based on review discs given to me by the Warner Archive, though the opinions are all my own.


About Marya E. Gates

Cinephile to the max.

Posted on July 27, 2012, in Classic Film, DVDs and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Kelly is superb in “Black Hand,” a precursor of many scenes in “The Godfather 2.” I think that Teresa Celli is very good and appreciate that she’s normal beautiful, not Hollywood beautiful. Thanks for mentioning “The Third Man,” which “The Devil Makes Three,” resembles. If I had my druthers, I’d remove the prologue that features a man talking about “this motion picture…” No, no, no, do not disturb the suspension of disbelief! Also, the ultimate baddie-who was great and creepy, should have had an evil mission statement speech. I love the cinematography in TDM3 and thank you for highlighting it.

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