Blu-ray 3D Review: Man in the Dark - Twilight Time Limited Edition

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One of the oddest additions to the ever-growing Twilight Time Limited Edition Series, the 1953 Man in the Dark is a pulpy film noir “thriller” that has the distinction of being the first major-studio 3D release (it beat Warner Bros.’ House of Wax to theaters by a few days). Twilight Time’s Blu-ray offers the 70-minute crime caper in both two and three dimensions, looking stellar in both. But despite a sturdy lead performance by Edmond O’Brien (who would win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor the following year for The Barefoot Contessa), the main treat here is, predictably, the 3D presentation.

In terms of the writing, acting, and directing (the latter by by Lew Landers), Man in the Dark is basically just a typical B-movie programmer. O’Brien plays Steve Rawley, a tough gang member convicted for the theft of an unrecovered $130,000. Steve informed no one, not even his closest associates, of the money’s whereabouts. As a way to reduce his time in the big house, Steve reluctantly consents to a controversial new brain surgery intended to remove his criminal impulses. The surgery ends up wiping his memory completely (he still remembers how to talk and retains full motor skills, it’s just his past experiences that are gone). He’s rechristened James Blake and takes up gardening. A polygraph exam shows he recalls nothing of the missing 130K.

Man in the Dark cover.jpgThe trailer for Man in the Dark, included on this disc, pushes the film as “terrifying” and calls it a “chiller.” While the trailer itself is quite clever (with O’Brien, as himself, stepping out from a closed set and warning viewers they’re not allowed to see any footage), the end results are could’ve been a lot more exciting. Steve’s old partners catch up to him, understandably befuddled when confronted with his new identity. Even Steve’s girl Peg (Audrey Totter, who passed away December 12, 2013 at age 95) is a stranger to “Jake.” A series of surreal nightmares set in an amusement park point Steve towards the mysterious missing loot.

As for the 1080p transfer, Oscar-winner (for 1931’s Tabu) Floyd Crosby’s black-and-white cinematography couldn’t look any spiffier than it does here. The 2D, in particular, allows for a tremendous amount of detail (foliage in outdoor shots looks like it was filmed yesterday). Only the obvious rear-screen projection (especially during the roller coaster finale) inevitably betray the film’s age. Lots of 3D effects fly toward the viewer, quite convincingly too. Whether we see punches being thrown, a very fake bird on a wire, an equally fake spider, or men falling from great heights, the format is fully exploited.

Man in the Dark poster.jpgAudio is offered in a simple but clean DTS-HD Master Audio mono mix. No distortion, hissing, or any discernible issues are present. Aside from the aforementioned theatrical trailer, the only extra is Twilight Time’s customary isolated score track. Apparently compiled from stock music by a variety of composers, the credited “musical director” is Ross DiMaggio. As usual, an informative essay by film historian Julie Kirgo graces the booklet.

Fans of ‘50s 3D will undoubtedly appreciate the release of this obscurity. Man in the Dark is limited to Twilight Time’s standard 3,000 copy pressing. Visit Screen Archives for ordering information.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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