A few days ago Warner Brothers released a 5-DVD set called Film Noir Classic Collection. Chris Orr wrote this article (subscription-only) for The New Republic about the film Out of the Past, one of the five titles in the set.
If you don't know the movie, then I highly recommend it. It's one of the greatest examples of film noir. It's based on a novel called Build My Gallows High, written by Daniel Mainwaring (under the pseudonym Geoffrey Homes). Published in 1946, it was quickly adapted into an RKO film scripted by Mainwaring himself and directed by Jacques Tourneur. The film came out in 1947.
The sharpest dialogue in the film is not to be found in the book, and the film's plot is more suspenseful and dramatic than the book's plot. Mainwaring took a good book and somehow transformed it into an exemplary script. If you compare the book and the film, you'll immediately see the improvements. (Mainwaring, by the way, became an important screenwriter. The original Invasion of the Body Snatchers is one of his many screen credits.)
I purchased the Warners Brothers box set a few days ago, and I've been watching the films as time has allowed. Here are the five titles: Out of the Past, The Set-Up, Gun Crazy, The Asphalt Jungle, and Murder, My Sweet. We could argue about the definition of film noir all night long, I suppose, but I wouldn't include The Set-Up or The Asphalt Jungle in the genre. Nonetheless, it's nice to have them in the set. If you recognize Audrey Totter in The Set-Up, you might have seen her play Adrienne Fromsett in Robert Montgomery's rather odd 1946 adaptation of Raymond Chandler's The Lady in the Lake.
I already owned videotapes of Out of the Past and Murder, My Sweet. (The latter, by the way, is a loose adaptation of Raymond Chandler's Farewell, My Lovely.) The DVD picture is brighter and less muddy, and the images are obviously sharper. I guess that the transfer to DVD might have involved some restoration work, but I don't really know anything about all of that. I'm just grateful to have them on DVD.
Murder, My Sweet was directed by Edward Dmytryk, whereas Out of the Past was directed by Jacques Tourneur. As far as I'm concerned, Tourneur was a greatly superior director, which is one reason his film is better than Dmytryk's. It also helps that Tourneur's cast included Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer (who made another movie together called The Big Steal, also scripted by Mainwaring, but not yet on DVD), whereas Dmytryk's cast included Dick Powell and Claire Trevor. For the purposes of film noir, if you ask me, Mitchum and Greer worked together better than Powell and Trevor, which isn't to slight Powell or Trevor.
Powell actually plays Philip Marlowe closer to Chandler's depiction than Bogart does in The Big Sleep. Bogart's Marlowe is too masterful and too confident, whereas Powell's captures Marlowe's uncertainty and occasional self-pity. This is mostly because Murder, My Sweet retains the first-person narration of Farewell, My Lovely. The Bogart film drops the first-person narration of Chandler's novel and happily dispenses with the plot of the book whenever Howard Hawks decides to insert some fun business between Bogart's and Bacall's characters that has no basis whatsoever in the novel. Trevor was better, I think, in Robert Wise's Born to Kill and Anthony Mann's Raw Deal. But Murder, My Sweet is still a pretty good film.
My fondness for Tourneur's films includes his horror films: Cat People, I Walked with a Zombie, The Leopard Man, and Curse of the Demon (aka Night of the Demon in the U.K.). Only the last of the four is currently available on DVD (and as a bonus, the DVD includes both the U.S. and U.K. versions of the film, which are of different lengths). I wrote an essay on Tourneur's horror films entitled "Heidegger, the Uncanny, and Jacques Tourneur's Horror Films" that you can find in a book called Dark Thoughts: Philosophic Reflections on Cinematic Horror. If you'd like to read my essay, let me know. I can send it to you as a PDF.