DVD Review: Private Hell 36

STUDIO: Olive Films | DIRECTOR: Don Siegel | CAST: Steve Cochran, Ida Lupino,  Howard Duff, Dean Jagger, Dorothy Malone
BLU-RAY & DVD RELEASE DATE: 8/21/2012 | Price: DVD $24.95, Blu-ray $29.95
SPECS: NR | 82 min. | Crime drama | 1.85:1 widescreen | mono

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

Don Siegel’s (Invasion of the Body Snatchers) 1954 film noir drama Private Hell 36 follows a pair of cops—Bruner (Steve Cochran, White Heat) and Farnham (Howard Duff, While the City Sleeps) who run head-on into temptation and danger while investigating a robbery and discovering a stash of $300,000. Meeting slinky singer Lilli Marlowe (High Sierra’s Ida Lupino, who also co-wrote the screenplay) doesn’t help matters, at least as far as Bruner is concerned, and the three set out on a path that can only lead to betrayal and violence.

Private Hell 36 movie scene

Ida Lupino and Steve Cochran fall for each other in Private Hell 36.

More tight than taught, Siegel’s lean drama (it clocks in 81 minutes) offers a relatively routine, chronological narrative. The characters, however, are a bit trickier than usual for a film noir, with detective Bruner remaining relatively honest for the first part of the film until he quickly grows covetous and desperate when presented with an illegal (and immoral!) opportunity for financial and personal gain. And Lupino’s Lilli is not your usual noir femme fatale—we sense she’s capable of nefarious conduct, yes, but she values her own moral code and personal safety above any potential dirty doing. It’s the ambiguous nature of the pair and their plans that holds our interest.

Though there’s a lively opening gunfight and a car chase a little later on, Private Hell 36 is a relatively staid piece and doesn’t offer the visual action of such later Siegel films as The Lineup (1958), Madigan (1968) or Dirty Harry (1971). But as an example of solid, economical noir-era filmmaking, it’ll do just fine.

Olive’s DVD edition of the film, which was remastered in high definition from an archival 35mm print for its DVD and Blu-ray premiere, looks and sounds very nice.


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About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.