Blu-Ray News #84: Lifeboat (1944).


Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Screenplay by Jo Swerling, from a story by John Steinbeck
Starring Tallulah Bankhead, William Bendix, Walter Slezak, Mary Anderson, John Hodiak, Henry Hull, Heather Angel, Hume Cronyn, Canada Lee

They say constraints can greatly influence creativity. (Working advertising, I hear all it all time.) You can see evidence of this idea in movies that overcome obstacles ranging from limited budgets and schedules (the Randolph Scott/Budd Boetticher Westerns) to a mechanical shark that doesn’t work (Jaws).

No one understood this better than Alfred Hitchcock, who seemed to choose projects because of the challenges they’d toss at him. Lifeboat (1944) might be the ultimate example of this, an entire picture on a lifeboat.


Lifeboat puts a handful of people in a lifeboat after their ship’s torpedoed by a Nazi submarine. That’s it. The movie never leaves the boat. What’s more, once the titles are out of the way, there’s not even a score.

Of course, this being Hitchcock, it all comes together perfectly. It helps that his cast turns in one flawless performance after another. Tallulah Bankhead makes a huge impression here, but everybody else is just as good.

Kino Lorber has announced an upcoming Blu-Ray of Lifeboat to set sail sometime in 2017. I can’t wait.

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Filed under 20th Century-Fox, Alfred Hitchcock, DVD/Blu-ray News, Kino Lorber

Blu-Ray Review: The Return Of Dracula (1958).


Directed by Paul Landres
Story and Screenplay by Pat Fielder
Music by Gerald Fried
Director Of Photography: Jack MacKenzie, ASC
Film Editor: Sherman A. Rose, ACE

Cast: Francis Lederer (Count Dracula/Bellac Gordal), Norma Eberhardt (Rachel Mayberry), Greta Granstedt (Cora Mayberry), Gage Clark (Doctor/Reverend Whitfield), Ray Stricklyn (Tim Hansen), John Wengraf (Merriman), Virginia Vincent (Jenny Blake), Jimmie Baird (Mickey Mayberry), John McNamara (Sheriff Bicknell)


The late 50s were a good time for movie vampires, thanks largely to the first of Hammer’s Dracula films, Horror Of Dracula (US title, 1958). But there was also The Vampire and Blood Of Dracula in 1957 and Blood Of The Vampire and The Return Of Dracula in 1958. Oh, and let’s not forget the vampire Western, Curse Of The Undead (1959).

What’s interesting about all these blood-guzzling movies is how each took a different approach to the traditional vampire lore. Hammer, with Christopher Lee in Dracula (1958), dialed up the sex and blood — all of it in alluring Technicolor. The Vampire made vampirism a medical condition. Blood Of Dracula fits right in with AIP’s I Was A Teenage Werewolf (1957), with a teenage vampire created by hypnotism, not a bite on the neck. The Return Of Dracula, which Olive Films has just released on DVD and Blu-Ray, goes in a different direction entirely — following in the steps of many of the Dracula movies that came before it, while moving the Lugosi-ish proceedings to modern-day California.

The Return Of Dracula comes from director Paul Landres and writer Pat Fielder. So did The Vampire. Landres worked mostly in TV, but his low-budget features from the 50s (Westerns and monster movies) are well worth seeking out. Pat Fielder also wrote the excellent The Monster That Challenged The World (1957) — and a number of episodes of The Rifleman.


Fleeing Transylvania, Count Dracula (Francis Lederer) kills an artist and assumes his identity. Arriving in California, he moves in with the victim’s family, who only know him from letters. They eventually notice that their guest sleeps all day, goes out at night and doesn’t like mirrors or the local priest. Teenage Rachel (Norma Eberhardt) also becomes concerned when her friend Jenny (Virginia Vincent) starts wasting away.

Lederer makes a pretty good Dracula, aided by his Hungarian accent. Norma Eberhardt tries hard to convince us she’s a teenager, and almost pulls it off. And Jenny Blake has a great part as Rachel’s friend turned Dracula’s minion.


But it’s the assured, creative direction of Paul Landres that keeps things interesting, and the cinematography of Jack MacKenzie that adds the atmosphere these movies rely on — both to create the right mood and conceal how cheap the sets are. MacKenzie shot Isle Of The Dead (1945) for producer Val Lewton, which should tell you something.

Olive Films has The Return Of Dracula polished up and shining like a brand new chrome-covered 1958 Impala. It’s a beautiful Blu-Ray, with contrast levels and aspect ratio (1.85) right where they need to be — and a cool color effect toward the end. Revisiting films like this, in this kind of quality, has been a real joy the last few years, and a number of them have come from Olive.

For fans of these things, or of the people who made them (I’m a big admirer of Landres’ work from this period), The Return Of Dracula comes highly recommended. And I’m hoping Olive gives The Vampire the same treatment.


Filed under 1957, 1958, AIP, Christopher Lee, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Hammer Films, Olive Films, Paul Landres, United Artists

Blu-Ray News #83: Doc Savage – The Man Of Bronze (1975).


Directed by Michael Anderson
Produced by George Pal
Starring Ron Ely, Paul Gleason, Bill Lucking, Michael Miller, Eldon Q, Eldon Quick, Darrell Zwerling, Carlos Rivas, Paul Wexler, Janice Heiden, Robyn Hilton, Pamela Hensley

I saw Doc Savage: The Man Of Bronze (1975) during its brief theatrical run, and at 11 years old, I loved it. Of course, it bombed (it was competing with Jaws that summer) and the proposed sequel (Doc Savage: The Arch Enemy of Evil) was never made.


Fans of the original pulp novels have lots of problems with the film. But it sent me straight to the Bantam paperbacks with the great James Bama cover paintings (above is a particular favorite).

Like a lot of folks, I have a soft spot for this movie. So I was really stoked to hear that Warner Archive’s giving it a Blu-Ray release in November. Have no fear — Doc Savage is here!


Filed under 1975, DVD/Blu-ray News, George Pal, Warner Archive

CD News: Jonny Quest Soundtrack.


La-La Land Records and Warner Bros. is about to release the original television score to the Hanna-Barbera adventure series Jonny Quest (1964-65). This deluxe 2-CD tribute to the musical genius of Hoyt Curtin is something a certain demographic has been waiting for for years.

La-La Land has brought out a lot of really great stuff — their complete score to It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World is terrific, but this might be the best yet.

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Filed under 1965, Television, 1964, Hanna-Barbera

DVD Review: The Mask Of Fu Manchu (1932).


Directed by Charles Brabin and Charles Vidor (uncredited)
Produced by Irving Thalberg
Screenplay: Irene Kuhn, Edgar Allan Woolf and John Willard
Based on the novel The Mask of Fu Manchu by Sax Rohmer
Cinematography: Tony Gaudio
Film Editor: Ben Lewis

Cast: Boris Karloff (Dr. Fu Manchu), Lewis Stone (Nayland Smith), Karen Morley (Sheila Barton), Charles Starrett (Terrence Granville), Myrna Loy (Fah Lo See); Jean Hersholt (Von Berg), Lawrence Grant (Sir Lionel Barton), David Torrence (McLeod).


If someone tells you they don’t see what the big deal is about pre-Code movies, show ’em The Mask Of Fu Manchu (1932). If its script has been floating around just a couple years later, it wouldn’t have been made.

The Mask Of Fu Manchu is a fever dream of an adventure story — or maybe a Chinese-food-stomach-ache adventure story, the kind of movie you get when writers and directors are fired, production is halted for a while, rewrites arrive minutes before scenes are shot, etc.

Boris Karloff: “It was a shambles, it really was — it was simply ridiculous.”

This chaos is evident on the screen. Characters come and go. There is little, if anything, in the way of character development. The plot simply doesn’t make sense. There’s no real flow from one scene to the next. And if you’re easily offended, well you’ll be easily offended.

But it’s absolutely fascinating from the MGM lion to the final fadeout. The evil Dr. Fu Manchu has kidnapped a noted archaeologist who claims to have found the tomb of Genghis Khan. Fu Manchu seeks the power contained in the Mongol emperor’s mask and sword. Torture, death and all sorts of mayhem ensue.


Fu Manchu (Karloff): “This serum, distilled from dragon’s blood, my own blood, the organs of different reptiles, and mixed with the magic brew of the sacred seven herbs, will temporarily change you into the living instrument of my will. You will do as I command!”


The entire cast is terrific, with Karloff and Myrna Loy (as Fu Manchu’s freaky daughter) giving it their all. Lewis Stone makes a great Nayland Smith, while Sheila Barton and Charles Starrett are fine as the damsel in distress and her rescuer. The set design is incredible, combining over-the-top Chinese influence with 30s art deco and a bit of Frankenstein’s lab (Kenneth Strickfaden, who made the equipment for Frankenstein, decked out Fu Manchu’s laboratory). It’s as lavish as it is crazy.

The Mask Of Fu Manchu is one of six Pre-Code horror pictures in Warner Archive’s Hollywood Legends Of Horror Collection. It’s a MOD re-issue of the 2006 collection, and it’s great to have it available again. The Mask Of Fu Manchu is my favorite of the bunch, and it looks great — and it’s completely uncut (it was softened a bit a few decades ago). The other films — Doctor X (1932), The Return of Doctor X (1939), Mark Of The Vampire (1935), Mad Love (AKA The Hands Of Orlac, 1935) and The Devil-Doll (1936) — look just as good. All the commentaries and trailers from the original release have been retained. For monsters nuts or fans of Pre-Code Hollywood, this is essential stuff — and a steal at $29.95.

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Filed under Boris Karloff, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, MGM, Pre-Code, Warner Archive

Blu-Ray News #82: The New Centurions (1972).


Directed by Richard Fleischer
Starring George C. Scott, Stacy Keach, Scott Wilson, Rosalind Cash, Erik Estrada, Clifton James

Richard Fleischer’s The New Centurions (1972) is a tough look at the lives of three rookie cops in L.A. — Stacy Keach, Scott Wilson and Erik Estrada — and what the job does to their personal lives. We also get to know the veteran cops who show these rookies the ropes — and try to help them stay alive.


What has always struck me about The New Centurions is how solid the acting is. Given the cast, what would you expect?

This is certainly not Feel Good Hit Of The Year material, folks. But it’s very good and it’s coming to Blu-Ray from Carlotta FIlms out of France.


Filed under 1972, George C. Scott, Richard Fleischer

Blu-Ray Review: The City Of The Dead (1960, AKA Horror Hotel).

City Of The Dead UK quad

Directed by John Moxey
Screenplay by George Baxt
Story by Milton Subotsky
Director Of Photography: Desmond Dickinson

Cast: Patricia Jessel (Mrs. Newless), Dennis Lotis (Richard Barlow), Christopher Lee (Alan Driscoll), Tom Naylor (Bill), Betta St. John (Patricia), Venetia Stevenson (Nan Barlow)


John Llewellyn Moxey’s The City Of The Dead (1960), under its American title Horror Hotel, was one of those movies I bumped into a lot on TV as a kid. If I came across it, I’d always watch it through to the end.

The sets, the lighting, the fog — there’s something about this movie that really gets under my skin.


It’s a really simple story: a college student (Venetia Stevenson) travels to Whitewood, Massachusetts, for some research on 17th-century witches (at the urging of her professor, Christopher Lee). That research ends up being a bit more primary than she had in mind, as she discovers that Elizabeth Selwyn (Patricia Jessel), who was burned at the stake in 1692, is running the Ravens Inn under the name Newless. Why do witches, vampires, etc. take on a new identity by simply reversing their last names?


The City Of The Dead is often compared to Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), with it assumed that Moxey ripped off Hitch. But while there are similarities — a pretty young woman heads out on her own, checks into a creepy hotel/motel and something bad happens midway through the picture — The City Of The Dead began production before Psycho. As Horror Hotel, however, it hit theaters in the States after Hitchcock’s film debuted.

By the way, this picture is an early effort from the folks who later became Amicus Productions and made horror films throughout the 70s.


It couldn’t be more obvious that Whitewood is a soundstage, not Massachusetts. Some see that as a sign of its limited budget, others as part of the stylized, atmospheric look. Whether it’s due to aesthetics or economics, to me it’s one of the picture’s greatest strengths. No other movie looks like this. Desmond Dickinson’s camerawork is terrific.

You can see all this plainly on the new Blu-Ray from VCI, which makes use of original material from the British Film Institute. There’s been some criticism of the framing (1.78 vs. the UK version’s 1.66; it probably ran 1.85 in the States), but the film’s never looked better on video. The contrast seems perfect, accommodating both the fog and, say, headlights in the same shot, without either being compromised. Audio is fine, doing justice to Douglas Gamley’s creepy score. And there are a slew of extras, from multiple commentaries to the trailer to the shorter US cut of the film (Horror Hotel).

No matter how shoddy it might look, I’d recommend The City Of The Dead. This Blu-ray makes it absolutely essential for fans of 60s horror.

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Filed under 1960, Amicus Productions, Christopher Lee, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, VCI