Combustible Celluloid
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With: Lee J. Cobb, Jane Wyatt, John Dall, Lisa Howard, Harlan Warde, Tito Vuolo, Charles Arnt, Marjorie Bennett, Alan Wells, Mimi Aguglia, Bud Wolfe, Morgan Farley, Howard Negley, William Gould
Written by: Seton I. Miller, Philip MacDonald, based on a story by Seton I. Miller
Directed by: Felix E. Feist
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 82
Date: 12/26/1950

The Man Who Cheated Himself (1950)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Fort Point Blank

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This thoroughly satisfying film noir, shot in San Francisco, has been given a fresh Blu-ray release thanks to Flicker Alley. Lee J. Cobb plays Lieutenant Ed Cullen, a veteran, hard-bitten police detective who has a way with the ladies. His latest conquest is the socialite Lois Frazer (Jane Wyatt), who is unhappily married to Howard (Harlan Warde). One evening she shoots Howard, and Ed finds himself involved in covering up the murder.

The only problem is that Ed has recently hired on his younger brother, the cool-headed, but insanely persistent Andy (John Dall), as another detective, and Andy just can't let the case go. In the movie's terrific climax, the killers try to hide out at Fort Point, a location that Alfred Hitchcock also famously used in Vertigo eight years later (could he have seen this movie and been inspired by it?).

Director Felix E. Feist (The Devil Thumbs a Ride) was one of the hardest, edgiest of all film noir directors, and he shows no mercy here. The Man Who Cheated Himself is as tight as a coil of wire, as doomed as daylight at sunset. The real-life locations lend it a sense of random, cruel fate, rather than the guiding hand of any kind of malevolent force. It's a great one.

The movie apparently fell into the public domain and is available to watch for free anywhere, but this Flicker Alley Blu-ray is highly recommended (the set also includes a DVD). The black-and-white picture is gloriously crisp, the sound clear. There are optional English subtitles, a behind-the-scenes featurette (featuring my esteemed colleague, film noir expert Eddie Muller), and a delightful guide to the San Francisco locations (and what they look like today). There's also a restored theatrical trailer, and a fine liner notes booklet filled with photos.

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