Blu-Ray News #355: She-Freak (1967).

Directed by Byron Mabe
Written and produced by David F. Friedman
Starring Claire Brennen, Lee Raymond, Lynn Courtney, Bill McKinney, Claude Smith, Felix Silla

The American Genre Film Archive (AGFA) is bringing She Freak (1967) to Blu-Ray in late August. This remake of Tod Browning’s Freaks (1932) has to be seen to be believed. And with it getting a 4K restoration, you can be certain it’ll look better than ever before — and remember, it’s “all the more appalling in COLOR.”

It’s great to see films like this get the A+ treatment on Blu-Ray.

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Filed under 1967, DVD/Blu-ray News

Screening: Jaws (1975).



Directed by Steven Spielberg
Screenplay by Peter Benchley and Carl Gottlieb
Based on the novel by Peter Benchley
Director of Photography: Bill Butler
Film Editor: Verna Fields
Music by John Williams

Cast: Roy Scheider (Brody), Robert Shaw (Quint), Richard Dreyfuss (Hooper), Lorraine Gary (Ellen Brody), Murray Hamilton (Vaughn)

Always try to see Jaws (1975) in a theater at least once every summer. Tonight’s the night, at the wonderful Graham Cinema in nearby Graham, North Carolina.

Of course, Jaws had one of the greatest ad campaigns ever. I especially like the rarely-used tagline “She was the first…”

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Filed under 1975, Murray Hamilton, Robert Shaw, Roy Scheider, Screenings, Steven Spielberg

February 1975.

While researching something completely unrelated, I came across this ad for a double feature of Hercules (1958) and Hercules Unchained (1959) playing a number of theaters in New York in February 1975, including the UA Rivoli, which was one of the only Dimension 150 houses around.

Seeing those great Steve Reeves peplum films, shot by Mario Bava in ‘Scope, on that deep curved Dimension 150 screen must’ve really been something.

By the way, the Rivoli ran Jaws that summer, which would’ve been cool on that curved screen.

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Filed under 1958, 1959, Avco Embassy, Mario Bava, Peplum, Steve Reeves

Happy Birthday, Sam Katzman.

Sam Katzman
(July 7, 1901 – August 4, 1973)

The great B-movie producer Sam Katzman was born 120 years ago today.

In the photo above, Sam’s on the right with (L-R) Priscilla Presley, Elvis Presley and Colonel Tom Parker). This was taken while Kissin’ Cousins (1964) was in production. Katzman produced two Elvis movies, this one and Harum Scarum (1965).

Incidentally, today is also Fred F. Sears’ birthday. He was one of the directors in Katzman’s unit at Columbia. Just recorded a commentary for the Katzman/Sears crime picture Chicago Syndicate (1955). Watch for it coming from Powerhouse in a few months.

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Filed under 1964, Elvis Presley, Fred F. Sears, Sam Katzman

Blu-Ray Review: It Happened At The World’s Fair (1963).

Directed by Norman Taurog
Produced by Ted Richmond
Written by Si Rose & Seaman Jacobs
Cinematography: Joseph Ruttenberg
Film Editor: Fredric Steinkamp
Music by Leith Stevens

Cast: Elvis Presley (Mike Edwards), Joan O’Brien (Diane Warren), Gary Lockwood (Danny Burke), Vicky Tiu (Sue-Lin), Yvonne Craig (Dorothy Johnson), H. M. Wynant (Vince Bradley), Kam Tong (Walter Ling), Kurt Russell

__________

After Elvis Presley movies like Blue Hawaii (1960) were big hits while more serious stuff such as Flaming Star (1960) underperformed, the King’s move career settled into a pattern. Give Elvis a unique profession — circus performer, race driver, crop-duster (in this one), rodeo cowboy, Navy frogman, etc., throw in a couple of girls, a handful of songs, color and Panavision. The kids’ll love it.

When that routine worked, it really worked. Viva Las Vegas (1964) or Roustabout (1965), for instance. When it didn’t, well, it was Elvis — and for a lot of folks, that was enough. 

Which brings us to It Happened At The World’s Fair (1963). Elvis and Gary Lockwood are crop duster pilots who end up in Seattle. Thanks to a little girl (Vicky Tiu) he’s babysitting, Elvis meets a lovely nurse (Joan O’Brien). As he tries to get involved with the nurse, he ends up involved with some crooks and smuggled furs, too.

What really sets this one off is its location shooting at the 1962 World’s Fair in Seattle, also called the Century 21 Exposition. It was shot in September 1962, a month before the fair ended. The picture’s like a Metrocolor and Panavision time capsule of a pretty amazing time — monorails, the Space Needle, GM’s Firebird III dream car, the Pavilion of Electric Power, computers and some really cool-looking mobile homes. The Fair footage is gorgeous, and the Blu-Ray’s picture incredible quality gives you a chance to really study all that’s going on. It’s surprising you don’t see people gawking at the King as he makes his way from ride to game to food joint to the dispensary.

By this time, the music in Elvis’ movies could be pretty hit or miss. The best tune here is probably “One Broken Heart For Sale,” which with a bit more bite to it, could’ve been a good one. Written by Otis Blackwell and Winfield Scott, it was the first Elvis RCA single to not hit the Top Five (it made it to 11). I’ve always felt the songs hurt Elvis’ movies as much as anything. If every tune was as good as, say, “Mean Woman Blues,” “Viva Las Vegas” or even “A Little Less Conversation,” the pictures would’ve had more life to ’em. Face it, some of that stuff is embarrassing to listen to — imagine having to get up there and sing it like you mean it. Poor Elvis. Plus, not only are some of the songs pretty lacking, but there’s too many of ’em — two or three strong ones is a lot better than 10 forgettable ones. (Remember, when Elvis staged his comeback in ’68, he did it through great music, not another movie.)

Joan O’Brien, Elvis and Norman Taurog.

It’s really easy to slam these movies. There’s not a lot to them. But you can look at them as the last reel of the studio system — Hollywood was a very different place by the time the 70s came along. These pictures were put together by real pros — from director Norman Taurog to cinematographer Joseph Ruttenberg (got an Oscar for ’59’s Gigi). Maybe someone like Ruttenberg was just trying to pay his bills or prepare for retirement (his last picture was Speedway), but he was incapable of making a shabby-looking movie.

Elvis and Yvonne Craig.

And for me, that’s the real benefit of Warner Archive’s Blu-Ray of It Happened At The World’s Fair. The movie just shines. The 1962 World’s Fair was a place of hope and promise for the future, and it comes through perfectly here. This Blu-Ray reminded me how blessed we are to have old movies look this good today. (Do you remember what something like this looked like on your local station’s afternoon movie — or even VHS?) It’s bright and sharp with gorgeous color. The sound rings loud and clear in glorious mono. The DVD looked fine, but this is a whole new level. The only extra is a trailer, which is fun. 

Is It Happened At The World’s Fair Elvis’ best movie? Not even close. I’d put it somewhere in the middle. It’s fun and pretty to look at — and it gives us a great peek at the World’s Fair. And, of course, there’s Elvis. That’s plenty to recommend it.

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Filed under 1963, Elvis Presley, MGM, Warner Archive, Yvonne Craig

Blu-Ray News #354: The Harry Palmer Collection (1965-1967).

Here in the States, the Harry Palmer films are available on Blu-Ray from two different companies (Kino Lorber has two, Warner Archive has one) — each film was originally released through a different studio. The folks at Imprint out of Australia have managed to scoop ’em all up and put them in a single package. But however you pack these things, they’re essential.

The Ipcress File (1965)
Directed by Sidney J. Furie
Starring Michael Caine, Nigel Green, Guy Doleman, Sue Lloyd, Gordon Jackson, Stanley Meadows

Bond co-producer Harry Saltzman gave us an anti-Bond with Harry Palmer, based on Len Deighton’s novels. Michael Caine was perfectly cast as the sarcastic spy — caught up in a scheme to kidnap and brainwash noted scientists.

I was 10 and had just gotten my first pair of eyeglasses when I came across The Ipcress File, and a smartass secret agent with glasses and a machine gun (and Sue Lloyd) gave me hope. Maybe it was going to be OK after all. I love this film. But don’t take it from me, the BFI named it one of the 100 best British films of the 20th century.

Funeral In Berlin (1966)
Directed by Guy Hamilton
Starring Michael Caine, Paul Hubschmid, Oskar Homolka, Eva Renzi, Guy Doleman

Palmer is sent to Germany to arrange the defection of a Russian intelligence officer. Things get weird. This one was directed by Guy Hamilton, who’d just done Goldfinger (1964). Given the different tones of the two films, you’d never know. 

Billion Dollar Brain (1967)
Directed by Ken Russell
Starring Michael Caine, Karl Malden, Ed Begley, Oskar Homolka, Françoise Dorléac, Guy Doleman 

A half-dozen eggs containing a deadly virus are stolen from a British research facility. Palmer, no longer part of MI5, is hired to bring them back. Before long, he’s back in MI5 and trying to bring down a supercomputer while recovering the eggs. The great Andre de Toth worked on this one as an executive producer; he’d later direct Caine in the underrated Play Dirty (1968).

Of course, Imprint is giving these their usual wealth of extras, from commentaries and interviews to trailers, stills and more. Even isolated tracks for the scores. Have all three together, and with all this extra stuff, is a really big deal. Coming in September. Can’t wait!

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Filed under 1965, 1966, 1967, Andre de Toth, DVD/Blu-ray News, Guy Hamilton, Harry Palmer, Imprint Films, Ken Russell, Michael Caine, Sidney J. Furie

Blu-Ray News #353: Cold War Creatures – Four Films From Sam Katzman (1955-57).

Some days, the world seems so rotten and godforsaken, it’s hard to get out of bed. Then along come four Sam Katzman movies on Blu-Ray.

If you look at my blogs with any regularity, you probably know that Sam Katzman is one of my all-time favorite humans. His cheap movies, from The Bowery Boys to Jungle Jim and from Jesse James Vs. The Daltons (1954) to Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers (1956) and from Hootenanny Hoot (1963) to Harum Scarum (1965), are a complete and utter joy. Arrow has gathered up four of his best 50s sci-fi/horror pictures for Blu-Ray, giving us a high-def version of Columbia’s Icons of Horror Collection: Sam Katzman DVD set — now loaded with extras.

Creature With The Atom Brain (1955)
Directed by Edward L. Cahn
Starring Richard Denning, Angela Stevens, S. John Launer, Michael Granger, Gregory Gaye, Linda Bennett

An ex-Nazi scientist has created a gang of radio-controlled zombies. Unfortunately, the experiments were funded by a gangster who wants to use the zombies for his own purposes. Cheesy and a bit creepy at times.

The Werewolf (1956)
Directed by Fred F. Sears
Starring Don Megowan, Joyce Holden, Eleanore Tanin, Kim Charney, Harry Lauter, Steven Ritch 

An interesting rethinking of how the whole werewolf thing works, with solid direction from Fred F. Sears and excellent performances across the board, especially from Steven Ritch as the werewolf. One of the best werewolf movies ever made, if you ask me.

The Giant Claw (1957)
Directed by Fred F. Sears
Starring Jeff Morrow, Mara Corday

A perfectly respectable 50s sci-fi movie is destroyed by maybe the worst monster in cinema history. Katzman’s attempts to save a buck backfired on him with this one. Jeff Morrow and Mara Corday take on what looks like a marionette of a turkey with a skin condition.

Zombies Of Mora Tau (1957)
Directed by Edward L. Cahn
Starring Gregg Palmer, Allison Hayes, Autumn Russel

The best thing Zombies Of Mora Tau has going for it is the lovely Allison Hayes, which for most men with a pulse is more than worth 69 minutes of your precious time. Along with Ms. Hayes, there are diamonds, a sunken ship and — oh, yeah — some zombies.

Arrow’s making the world a better place with this terrific set in September. Absolutely essential!

Thanks to John Knight for the tip.

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Filed under 1955, 1956, 1957, Allison Hayes, Angela Stevens, Arrow Video, Benjamin H. Kline, Edward L. Cahn, Edward Linden, Fred F. Sears, Mara Corday, Richard Denning, Sam Katzman

Blu-Ray News #352: Columbia Noir #4.

Indicator/Powerhouse’s terrific noir series continues with Volume Four, and I’m proud to be playing a tiny part in this one. All six films are coming to Blu-ray for the first time anywhere. Among the extras are commentaries, documentaries, trailers, six Three Stooges shorts and a 120-page book.

Walk A Crooked Mile (1948)
Directed by Gordon Douglas
Starring Dennis O’Keefe, Louis Hayward, Louise Allbritton, Carl Esmond, Onslow Stevens, Raymond Burr, Art Baker. Frank Ferguson 

The Commies have infiltrated an atomic research center in California. It’s up to an FBI agent (Dennis O’Keefe) and a Scotland Yard detective (Louis Hayward) to find ’em. Gordon Douglas directed. Look at that cast. It’s gotta be good.

Walk East On Beacon! (1952)
Directed by Alfred L. Werker
Starring George Murphy, Finlay Currie, Virginia Gilmore

This time the FBI agent is George Murphy, and he’s after Commies in Boston, trying to stop ’em from snagging a top scientist. 

Pushover (1954)
Directed by Richard Quine
Starring Fred MacMurray, Phil Carey, Kim Novak, Dorothy Malone, EG Marshall

Fred MacMurray’s a cop tempted by $200,000 in bank heist loot and one of the robbers’ girlfriend, Kim Novak (in her first movie). Can you really blame him?

A Bullet Is Waiting (1954)
Directed by John Farrow
Starring Jean Simmons, Rory Calhoun, Stephen McNally, Brian Aherne

Rory Calhoun’s a prisoner who gets away from sheriff Stephen McNally after a plane crash. They both end up in a cabin with Jean Simmons. She doesn’t know who to trust, and the tension builds for a solid 90 minutes.

Chicago Syndicate (1955)
Directed by Fred F. Sears
Starring Dennis O’Keefe, Paul Stewart, Abbe Lane, Allison Hayes, Xavier Cugat

An accountant (Dennis O’Keefe) helps the FBI crack the Syndicate in Chicago. A solid crime picture from Sam Katzman and Fred F. Sears, with a terrific performance from Paul Stewart as a mob boss and great location work. The commentary for this one comes from some clod named Toby Roan.

The Brothers Rico
Directed by Phil Karlson
Starring Richard Conte, Dianne Foster, Kathryn Grant, Larry Gates, James Darren, Paul Picerni

Eddie Rico (Richard Conte) is a Mob bookkeeper, and his plan to go straight does not go over well with his brothers (James Darren, Paul Picerni) or his boss (Larry Gates). Another tough, essential movie from the great Phil Karlson.

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Filed under 1954, 1955, Allison Hayes, Columbia, Dennis O'Keefe, DVD/Blu-ray News, Frank Ferguson, Fred F. Sears, Fred MacMurray, Gordon Douglas, Paul Picerni, Rory Calhoun

Blu-Ray News #351: The Amazing Mr. X (1948).

Directed by Bernard Vorhaus
Starring Turhan Bey, Lynn Bari, Cathy O’Donnell, Richard Carlson, Donald Curtis, Virginia Gregg

There’s a lot of good stuff on the way to Blu-Ray these days. Among these riches is The Amazing Mr. X (1948), also known as The Spiritualist, coming from The Film Detective in October.

Turhan Bey plays Alexis, a phony spiritualist who gets in way over his head with his latest con — convincing a widow that he’s in contact with her late husband.

Bey is terrific as the bogus medium. The picture’s got noir regulars Lynn Bari and Cathy O’Donnell, horror/sci-fi favorite Richard Carlson and the great Virginia Gregg (who Jack Webb must’ve had on retainer).

But the real attraction here is the cinematography by John Alton. Alton was a real master, and his book Painting With Light is a classic for both filmmakers and movie geeks. To have Alton’s work in high definition is a real treat. The Amazing Mr. X is a cool little movie and given that The Film Detective is promising a restoration, it’s highly recommended indeed.

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Filed under DVD/Blu-ray News, Eagle Lion, John Alton, Richard Carlson, The Film Detective

Blu-Ray News #350: I Wouldn’t Be In Your Shoes! (1948).

Directed by William Nigh
Starring Don Castle, Elyse Knox, Regis Toomey, Charles D. Brown, Bill Kennedy, John Doucette, Ray Teal

A Monogram picture making its way to Blu-Ray is always a reason to rejoice. This one, a fairly obscure noir picture based on a Cornell Woolrich story, it’s a really big deal indeed. Thank you, Warner Archive!

I Wouldn’t Be In Your Shoes! (1948) is one of those Poverty Row pictures where everything came together just right, from the lack of money to the chintzy sets to the no-name stars to the great character actors, to create something really memorable. Don Castle plays a dancer who’s convicted of murder (that he didn’t do). Elyse Knox is his wife, who’ll do just about anything to get him off Death Row. I’m not gonna spoil things by going any further.

This was one of director William Nigh’s last pictures. He was a prolific Poverty Row man, and he gave us some real favorites — Mutiny In The Big House (1939), Doomed To Die (194o), The Ape (1940) and Black Dragons (1942, one of “the Monogram Nine”). I Wouldn’t Be In Your Shoes! has the usual Monogram feel, stagy and a bit hurried, but it makes quite an impression. I’m a sucker for DP Mack Stengler, who shot everything from Sagebrush Law and Ghosts On The Loose (both 1943) to episodes of The Lone Ranger and Leave It To Beaver.

I Wouldn’t Be In Your Shoes! gets a big fat recommendation.

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Filed under DVD/Blu-ray News, Monogram/Allied Artists, Regis Toomey, William Nigh