Yesterday was Raleigh’s hottest day of the year so far. Today, it’s 94 degrees, and I swear the humidity has to be 413%. Anyway, this movie came to mind.
Directed by Wolf Rilla
Starring George Sanders, Barbara Shelley, Michael Gwynn
Warner Archive is bringing one the creepiest movies ever made to Blu-Ray — Village Of The Damned (1960). I’m not gonna go into any detail on this — there might be someone out there who hasn’t seen it, its 1964 sequel (Children Of The Damned) or its (why?) remake.
One quick thing: MGM was gonna shoot this in the States with Ronald Colman, but due to complaints from religious groups, it was shelved. Eventually, the studio brought it back to life as a British picture starring George Sanders (who’s perfect). So glad they made it in the UK.
Warner Archive has scheduled this trip to Creepsville for release later this summer. Can’t wait to see how good this thing’ll look in high-def. Essential.
Fred Olen Ray’s Retromedia has been putting some good stuff out on Blu-Ray —from Lugosi Monograms to early AIP stuff and beyond. But it’s really hard to sort out what’s available. Here’s a couple things I’ve tracked down. They’re currently available from Amazon.
Wasp Woman/Beast From Haunted Cave (both 1959)
This one I covered over a year ago. The Wasp Woman was produced and directed by Roger Corman and stars Susan Cabot. It was written by character actor Leo Gordon. The budget was around $50,000. Beast From Haunted Cave was directed by Monte Hellman and written by Charles Griffith. It’s a remake of Naked Paradise (1957) with a monster dropped in the middle of it. These actually played as a double feature back in ’59.
Teenagers From Outer Space/Attack Of The Giant Leeches (both 1959)
Teenagers From Outer Space was an independent picture directed by Tom Graeff and released by Warner Bros., who paired it with the second Godzilla movie. Attack Of The Giant Leeches was from AIP. Leo Gordon wrote it and Bernard L. Kowalski directed. It stars Ken Clark, Yvette Vickers and Jan Shepard.
Next up: Lugosi and Karloff on Poverty Row.
We should get this out of the way right up front — it’s absolutely impossible for me to be objective about The Rockford Files. My mom and I used to watch it on a little TV in the kitchen, and those remain some of my favorite times we spent together. And when you have an emotional attachment like that to something, does it really matter if it’s any good?
Well, luckily, The Rockford Files is very good indeed. It’s pretty easy to say it’s one of the greatest television shows ever. At its best, a TV series reflects the personality of its star — or what we perceive is that personality. Think of The Andy Griffith Show or The Mary Tyler Moore Show. You feel you really get to know those people. I think the same goes for James Garner and The Rockford Files. Jim Rockford fits Garner like a glove.
Another thing Andy, Mary and Rockford have in common is that the star serves as a hub, with some wonderful characters spinning around that hub from episode to episode. Sometimes those characters are regulars, sometimes they’re only in a single episode. With Rockford/Garner, a lot of the joy comes from his reactions to folks like Angel (Stuart Margolin), Rocky (Noah Beery, Jr.) and Gandy Fitch (Isaac Hayes). Oftentimes, the plot or case seems to serve mainly as a way to connect Rockford to those characters.
Of course, a character-driven show like this puts a lot of pressure on the writers, casting people, directors and actors. And with The Rockford Files, in all these departments, what you get here is about as good as it gets.
It’s all pretty simple. Jim Rockford is an ex-con (wrongfully convicted and pardoned) private detective living in a trailer on the beach in Malibu. He’s close to his dad, Rocky, a retired truck driver. And he’s got a couple friends who often get involved with his cases: Becker (Joe Santos), a sergeant in the LAPD, and Angel, a con man Rockford met in prison. In the earlier seasons, there’s Beth Davenport (Gretchen Corbett), an attorney Jim’s sweet on.
And, of course, there’s the Firebird. And Rocky’s truck. Garner was a car guy, and he made sure the vehicles were cast as well as the actors. The trailer (up top) is also perfectly propped out to reflect Rockford’s status and personality (he keeps his pistol in a cookie jar). The Firebird and trailer suffer all sorts of abuse of the course of the series.
Mill Creek has released The Rockford Files, all six seasons, in a Blu-Ray set that I’ve been returning to time and time again. It gives me an all new reason (not that I need one) to revisit these 122 episodes yet again.
The Rockford Files has the typical 70s cop show look, maybe a bit seedier than usual. LA locations seem to have been chosen for how glitzy or grungy they are, fitting the big wigs and lowlives Garner locks horns with from week to week.
Doesn’t exactly sound like the best use of the Blu-Ray format, does it? Well, not so fast. The DVD sets from Universal were terrific, but this high-def upswing really serves the series well. It’s a blast to find new details in episodes I’ve seen countless times. (Rockford’s beat up 1959 Nashua trailer is especially fun to study.) The color’s nice — and thankfully still looks like 1970s film stock. The sound’s a major improvement, with plenty of added depth in the music.
As with a lot of these TV sets, one episode might look better or worse than another, but overall Rockford in high definition is a revelation. And the package takes up a fraction of the shelf space the DVDs did (which around my place is a blessing). Highly recommended.
Universal has announced that their Creature From The Black Lagoon – Complete Legacy Collection set is coming to Blu-Ray. It includes Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954), Revenge Of The Creature (1955) and The Creature Walks Among Us (1956). The first two were in 3-D and directed by the great Jack Arnold (and feature Nestor Paiva).
Revenge is finally making its way to Blu-Ray in 3-D. For me, the great benefit of this set will be having all three pictures in their original 1.85 aspect ratio. While the first two are among my all-time favorite films — and I’ve got a pile of Creature toys to prove it, Walks Among Us is a mess. But I’m looking forward to revisiting it in high definition. This stuff is essential, folks.
Dominic Joseph “D.J.” Fontana
(March 15, 1931 – June 13, 2018)
Elvis’ drummer D.J. Fontana has passed away at 87. He was the last of the Blue Moon Boys.
Here’s (above, L-R) Scotty Moore, D.J., Elvis and Bill Black in Loving You (1957), Elvis’ second movie — and certainly one of his best.
To see these guys tearing it up in Technicolor and VistaVision (shot by the great Charles Lang, Jr.) is really something to behold. Elvis even drives a really cool 1929 Ford hot rod (mounted on a ’32 frame). This movie’s got everything.
Directed by Edmond O’Brien and Howard W. Koch
Screenplay by Richard Alan Simmons and John C. Higgins
Adaptation by Richard Alan Simmons
From a book by William P. McGivern
Music by Paul Dunlap
Photography by Gordon Avil
Film Editor: John F. Schreyer
Cast: Edmond O’Brien (Barney Nolan), Marla English (Patty Winters), John Agar (Mark Brewster), Emile Meyer (Capt. Gunnarson), Carolyn Jones (Girl at bar), Claude Akins (Fat Michaels), Larry Ryle (Laddie O’Neil), Hugh Sanders, William Schallert, Richard Deacon, Vito Scotti
One the best things for any old-movie nut is to come across something new — not new as in released last week, but new in that you’ve never seen it. Well, Shield For Murder (1954) was a new one for me. And I loved every frame of it.
“If ever a picture was crammed with guts — this is it!” Even the ad copy for this movie is great.
Barney Nolan (Edmond O’Brien) is a good cop gone really, really bad. Before the main title even appears, he’s killed a bookie for the $25,000 he’s got on him. Barney does it because he wants to buy a Castle Heights tract home and marry his girlfriend Patty (Marla English). The cops get the idea that Barney might’ve done it, but his best friend on the force (John Agar) refuses to believe. As the evidence mounts (and bodies stack up), we watch Barney get more desperate, more bitter, more violent as things spin out of control. Eventually, of course, Barney’s on the run and there’s nothing left of his hopes for a nice, quiet life in the suburbs with his girl.
O’Brien co-directed Shield For Murder with producer Howard W. Koch. The division of labor worked like this — O’Brien rehearsed the actors, and once the cameras rolled, Koch was at the helm. They gave the picture a sparse, bare-bones, almost documentary feel — with perfectly gritty camerawork from Gordon Avil (who shot the 1930 Billy The Kid in 70mm).
The performances are good across the board. Carolyn Jones really knocked me out here as a girl O’Brien meets in a bar. Claude Akins is great as a thug trying the retrieve the missing $25,000. Here and there, folks like Hugh Sanders, William Schallert, Richard Deacon and Vito Scotti turn up. You can’t go wrong with those guys.
But Shield For Murder is Edmond O’Brien’s picture all the way. He’s terrific. Watching Barney slide into the gutter is downright uncomfortable, as his American Dream turns to crap. You cringe with every wrong turn he takes, knowing Fate’s gonna kick in at any minute.
Researching the commentary for Kino Lorber’s Blu-Ray of A Strange Adventure (1956) a couple months ago, I got to focus on Marla English and her brief, very interesting career. (Wish I’d been able to do a commentary for this one!) Marla was a teenage beauty queen and swimsuit model from San Diego who signed to Paramount in 1952. They put her in a few little parts — she’s one of the partygoers in Rear Window (1954). But when she turned down a role in The Mountain with Spencer Tracy, Paramount dumped her. She was soon doing independent pictures for Bel-Air, Republic, AIP and the like. And as we all know, that’s when things usually get interesting. Marla’s in stuff like Runaway Daughters, The She Creature — she’s the She Creature, Flesh And The Spur with John Agar (all 1956) and Voodoo Woman (1957) with Mike Connors. She gave up on acting after Voodoo Woman. Though she was in a few pictures before Shield For Murder (she was only 19 when it was released), she gets an “introducing” credit in it.
Shield For Murder was a first for both of our co-directors. O’Brien would only direct a few more things, but Koch kept at it. His next picture, Big House, USA (1955), is a B Movie masterpiece. And he gave us jewels like Untamed Youth (1957), Violent Road (1958) and Frankenstein 1970 (1958). Koch also produced a string of very successful A pictures — things like The Manchurian Candidate (1962), The Odd Couple (1968) and Airplane! (1980).
From a Castle Heights subdivision to West Hollywood alleys to a great public pool, Shield For Murder makes excellent use of LA locations. It’s perfectly rough around the edges and captured by Gordon Avil in all its gritty, appropriately grainy glory. And all of that’s perfectly preserved on the Blu-Ray from Kino Lorber. Highly, highly recommended.