Take-Up Productions' "From the Vaults of Universal" series really hits its stride Monday with this double feature chock full of connections: climactic twists and double-crosses, Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake (pictured) as the stars, show-stealing performances by William Bendix, and stories from the minds of some of the most prolific and talented hard-boiled noir writers of their era.
"The Blue Dahlia" (1946) is a clever murder mystery about serviceman Johnny Morrison (Ladd) returning from the war to find his wife a drunk and hanging with some bad guys. When she's murdered, Johnny is the prime suspect. Bendix's character, Buzz, gets all the great lines -- courtesy of a smart-alecky script from Raymond Chandler -- as Johnny's friend and fellow soldier.
Though Dashiell Hammett's novel "Red Harvest" is often cited as the inspiration for the Coen Brothers' best film, "Miller's Crossing," I'd argue 1942's "The Glass Key" (adapted from Hammett's novel by the same name) played a large part in that gem of a gangster tale as well. Fans of 2006's brilliant low-budget high school noir "Brick" will also see the kernel of that film in "Key." Ladd's character gets the crap beat out of him throughout the story, mostly by Bendix in another slightly hammy, but fun-as-hell performance. ($8 for both films; www.take-up.org.)