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Paul Guilfoyle
Angela Lansbury, Keith Andes, Douglas Dumbrilles
Writing Credits:
Russ Bender

An out-of-work architect meets a married woman who has a business proposition for him, but he begins to suspect the woman's interest in him is not just financial and may actually be deadly.

Rated NR.

Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
English DTS-HD MA Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 76 min.
Price: $24.95
Release Date: 9/7/2021

• Audio Commentary with Film Scholar Jason A. Ney
• “Hollywood Hitch-Hikers” Featurette
• Booklet


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A Life At Stake [Blu-Ray] (1955)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 1, 2021)

Now 95 years old, Angela Lansbury continues to work. Her career started with 1944’s Gaslight, a fact that means 1955’s A Life At Stake doesn’t even count as an “early” Lansbury effort despite the fact it came out 66 years ago.

Edward Shaw (Keith Andes) struggles to get by as an architect. When Doris Hillman (Lansbury) offers him a deal to partner with her via her wealthy husband’s (Douglas Dumbrille) money on a real estate transaction, he embraces this lifeline.

Matters take a steamy twist when Doris and Edward enter into an affair. Doris came into the situation with ulterior motives that may prove problematic for Edward.

Well, of course – what kind of film noir would Stake be without the duplicitous femme fatale? Not much of one, I suspect.

Of course, the simple presence of noir tropes doesn’t ensure Stake will offer a quality effort. Given how much genre competition the film enjoys, it does need to find something to stand out from the crowd.

Which it doesn’t. While Stake becomes a competent thriller, it never manages to turn into anything memorable,

As talented as Lansbury is, she seems miscast as our lead actress. Face it: the role demands a gorgeous woman to seduce Edward, and that wasn’t Lansbury.

Not that Lansbury was unattractive, but she simply didn’t have the beauty of a femme fatale. I guess if similarly average-looking Barbara Stanwyck could take on such a role in Double Indemnity, then so can Lansbury, but I didn’t buy Stanwyck as a seductress either.

Perhaps coincidentally, both movies involve insurance schemes. When I say “coincidentally”, that refers to the presence of less-than-gorgeous leading ladies in both, not to the semi-similar plots, as I expect those behind Stake intentionally “echoed” Indemnity.

Not that Stake overtly rips off the 1944 Billy Wilder classic, but the similarities seem undeniable, even beyond the looks of the lead actresses. It seems likely those behind Stake used the earlier film as inspiration.

While I never cottoned to Indemnity, it offers more appeal than the fairly mediocre Stake. Nothing about this movie flops, but it also can’t find a twist of its own to prosper.

This makes Stake a fairly ordinary noir. It gives us just enough intrigue across its brief 76-minute running time to keep us with it, but it fails to elevate above the level of mediocrity.

The Disc Grades: Picture C/ Audio C-/ Bonus B-

A Life At Stake appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.37:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Though the film came with some appealing elements, various problems occurred along the way.

Sharpness usually worked well. Only a little softness crept into the presentation, so it usually looked pretty accurate.

No issues with jagged edges or moiré effects occurred, and I saw no edge haloes. Grain seemed natural, so I didn’t suspect concerns with noise reduction.

Blacks appeared deep and dense, while shadows looked smooth. The image gave off a nice silvery sheen to match the black and white photography.

Stake lost points due to a mix of odd anomalies. Print flaws weren’t a major problem, as I noticed only occasional small marks.

However, the movie suffered from a weird pulsing/warping that occurred through much of the flick. This remained mild enough that it didn’t become a huge distraction, but it added a strange impression to the proceedings.

Also, footage sometimes seemed to go missing. The movie started abruptly and seemed to cut off the score mid-note.

In addition, I saw a frame jump at 9:50, and the score cuts out suddenly at 22:10, a skip that left the impression a shot went absent. A lot of the film offered nice visuals, but these strange issues prompted me to give it a “C”.

The movie’s DTS-HD MA monaural soundtrack also came with flaws and inconsistencies. Dialogue remained intelligible, though the lines could be metallic and sibilant at times.

Music sounded somewhat screechy, though it could also appear a little dull on occasions. Effects failed to bring much oomph, but they seemed reasonably accurate given the movie’s vintage.

Background noise didn’t become a persistent factor, but I heard occasional pops. Even for its era, this felt like a subpar soundtrack.

A few extras appear, and we find an audio commentary from film scholar Jason A. Ney. He offers a running, screen-specific look at story/characters and noir domains, cast and crew, some production notes and other reflections on film in this one's era.

If you want a lot of specifics about Stake itself, you won't get a ton of insights from Ney. Perhaps because Stake exists as such an obscure "forgotten" film, he doesn't tell us a whole lot about the shoot itself.

Nonetheless, Ney makes this an engaging track, as he gives us good thoughts about the film in other ways, with an emphasis on genre areas and other information. We get a pretty likable chat.

Hollywood Hitch-Hikers runs 10 minutes, 59 seconds and offers remarks from author/film historian C. Courtney Joyner. He covers the production company behind Stake, with an emphasis on producer Ida Lupino. It becomes an interesting piece.

Finally, the package includes a booklet with photos and an essay from Ney. It provides a nice bonus.

As film noirs go, A Life At Stake seems neither outstanding nor terrible. Wholly mediocre, it creates a watchable 76-minute thriller and not much more. The Blu-ray brings erratic picture and audio along with a few supplements. Even with an ill-cast Angela Lansbury, this doesn’t turn into an especially engaging experience.

Viewer Film Ratings: 2 Stars Number of Votes: 1
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