One thing that I have come to truly appreciate about the ongoing Manufacture on demand series; (MOD) from MGM/UA is how it makes it possible to obtain a copy of exceptionally difficult to find cinematic treasures. Okay, some in this line are more in demand than others but generally the percentage of winners probably watches the offerings of the mainstream DVD releases. After having the opportunity to review a sizable number of these releases my opinion of this set of films is overwhelmingly positive. Even when the movie at hand is not great it generally tends to be a strong representative of its genre that is capable of providing a very good time. Case in point is the flick under consideration here; ‘No Escape’. Its theatrical release was way back in 1953, the year of my birth or as my daughter considers it, the dawn of time. Like many of these discs from MGM spark a recollection of previous viewings. With this particular movie I do remember in on an old airing of ‘Million Dollar Movie’ on channel nine. That was a great concept local movie series on TV that was great for an odd sick day off from school. ‘No Escape’ was part of my introduction at an early age of a genre that would become a favorite in later years, film noir. Of course my appreciation for the tenants of that type of film had not be fully understood as I watched this movie as a boy but now, thanks to MOD, I was able to revisit it an gain a renewed interest in this particular movie.
Now with that said it bears noting this flick resides on the shallow leg of the genre’s bell curve of quality. Not every film can be a masterpiece and a difficult genre like film noir produces far more ‘No Escapes’ than ‘Maltese Falcons’. This is exactly the kind of movie that served as the work horse of entertainment sixty years ago before entertainment was so readily available in such a plethora of formats right from your very own home. Today film buffs can be fussy. With the price of a night out at the movies a budget worthy expense many save their movie house dollars for a special film of considerable buzz. Lesser films can wait for DVD, streaming video of cable. Back then a relatively minor movie like this was seen because of the lack of alternatives. Getting a crime story fix now means turning on TNT to watch a fairly inevitable rerun of ‘Law & Order’ but before you come down too hard on this flick try to consider what that era was like.
‘No Escape’ is a basic example of the required elements of film noir. It has the femme fatale, Olga Valerie Lewis (Gertrude Michael) who is the prime suspect in a recent murder. Not wanting to see her tried for the crime her boyfriend, Det. Simon Shayne (Sonny Tufts) in order to redirect the suspicion to a young wannabe song writer, John Howard Tracy (Lew Ayres). His only actual association with the crime was the fact that he had been playing the piano at the bar the night it all went down. Olga is stricken with a usual bout of regret and assists the hapless piano player escape custody. That places him on the city’s most wanted list as the police force is mobilized to track him down and bring him in at any cost.
The one name you might recognize, at least if you are a fairly adept aficionado of cinema is Lew Ayres. He was a very successful character actor that had his share of roles in the long running medical franchise, ‘Dr, Kildare’. He then rounded out his career that spanned an incredible 65 years by near constant appearances on virtually every major television series from ‘Hawaii Five-0’ to ‘Little House on the Prairie’. Most of us grew up watching this fine actor ply his craft and it is a lot of fun to see him in even a relatively minor project as this one. Keep in mind that this was the era of the studio system in Hollywood where actors were under contract to a specific studio. A young rising star, like Ayres was in 1953 would be responsible to fulfill his contractual obligation by taking pretty much any role given by the studio. This created a generation of great actors who learned as much from an ill prepared flick as they could from a big hit. Notice in this film the command that Ayres holds during his time on the screen. He truly sells the part he is playing; the innocent dup caught in a mess not of his making but one that offers no escape, as it were. The way he handles his character in light of a poorly executed script is what acting is about. He takes what little the screenplay has to offer and make the best he can out of it.
The technical qualities of this particular release are on the higher end of the MOD spectrum. The video has a few specks now and again but in the final equation not noticeable to turn off any but the most intense cinephiles. The black and white film held up very well with a nearly fresh contrast suitable for a film noir offering. The original mono sound track was admittedly on the thin side which was common place for a ‘B’ flick of the era. The best way to enjoy this film is to rely on the audio enhancement capabilities of your receiver. Most 7.1 units are preprogrammed to emulate several different auditory environments. I tried several and found that for my tastes it worked best simulating the acoustics of a vintage neighborhood movie theater. This would typically provide a moderate reverberation through the rear speakers, minimal sub woofer and a rather broad front channel emulated separation. With this sound program set in I felt like I was transported back decades to where my love of film began.