RIP, Monte Hellman.

Monte Hellman (Monte Jay Himmelman)
(July 12, 1929 – April 20, 2021)

When I was a kid, my gear-head cousin used to talk about this movie about a ’55 Chevy and a GTO racing cross-country for pinks. It was called Two-Lane Blacktop (1971), and he thought it was the coolest thing ever. It was several years later before I finally saw it, but he was right — it’s about the coolest thing ever.

Monte Hellman directed that movie, and he has passed away at 91.

Hellman certainly had a weird career. He was one of the Roger Corman kids, who learned by doing, making Roger’s cheap movies. Of course, that’s probably the best way to learn anything. There were a few of those. He directed a couple of terrific Westerns with Jack Nicholson in 1966, Ride The Whirlwind and The Shooting. They’re called things like Acid Westerns, Revisionist Westerns and Weird Westerns. Call ’em what you want, but they’re just Westerns — different, sure, and very good.

Then came Two-Lane Blacktop. It absolutely nails the car culture — which is why folks like my cousin hold it in such high esteem — and contains one of the greatest film performances you’ll ever see, from Mr. Warren Oates. In the photo up top, there’s (L-R) Hellman, Warren Oates and James Taylor on location.

One of the picture’s final scenes was shot on near the North Carolina-Tennessee line. I pay homage every time I pass by.

There were other movies — some he directed (Cockfighter is incredible), others he worked on (often without credit) as a director/editor/fixer. I wish he’d made more movies because he sure knew what he was doing, and he put his stamp on everything he touched. And it was one helluva stamp.

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Filed under 1971, Jack Nicholson, Monte Hellman, Warren Oates

70 Years Ago.

The Thing From Another World opened in San Francisco on this day in 1951. It was paired with the Tim Holt picture Masked Raiders (1949).

I would’ve loved to have been there. Speaking of “Astounding!,” if you don’t have the Warner Archive Blu-Ray, get it!

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Filed under 1951, Howard Hawks, James Arness, Kenneth Tobey, Paul Frees, RKO

Blu-Ray News #342: In Harm’s Way (1965).

Directed by Otto Preminger
Starring John Wayne, Kirk Douglas, Patricia Neal, Paula Prentiss, Brandon De Wilde, Dana Andrews, Henry Fonda, Slim Pickens, George Kennedy, Bruce Cabot, Barbara Bouchet

Nothing makes me love the Blu-Ray format more than black and white ‘Scope movies. They look just wonderful. So I’m really stoked that Paramount is bringing Otto Preminger’s In Harm’s Way (1965) to Blu-Ray in June.

It’s a bit of a soap opera, but John Wayne’s in it, the model work is really cool, Loyal Griggs’s cinematography is beautiful and Jerry Goldsmith’s score is terrific. Highly recommended.

One gripe: back in ’65, this picture boasted a brilliant poster design from the great Saul Bass (above). Why would Paramount ditch that in favor something totally cheeseball?

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Filed under 1965, DVD/Blu-ray News, Henry Fonda, John Wayne, Kirk Douglas, Paramount, Saul Bass, Slim Pickens

Blu-Ray News #341: The Spider Woman Strikes Back (1946).

Directed by Arthur Lubin
Starring Gale Sondergaard, Brenda Joyce, Kirby Grant, Milburn Stone, Rondo Hatton

Regardless of its title, and even though Gale Sondergaard is in it, The Spider Woman Strikes Back (1946) is not a sequel to Sherlock Holmes And The Spider Woman (1943). 

A 59-minute horror picture directed by Arthur Lubin — whose usual output was comedies like Buck Privates (1941) and Rhubarb (1951), this was an attempt to launch another Universal Monster series. It didn’t work, and The Spider Woman Strikes Back became a rather overlooked little monster movie from Universal. The studio tried a similar tactic with The Brute Man (1946) starring Rondo Hatton — which they eventually sold to PRC.

The picture was shot by Paul Ivano, whose long career behind the camera runs from Greed (1924) and the silent Ben Hur (1925) to Frankenstein (1931) and Gone With The Wind (1939) to The Frozen Ghost (1945) to hundreds of TV shows. He was under contract at Universal in the mid-40s, and his pictures always look terrific.

Kino Lorber is bringing this goofy little monster movie to Blu-Ray sometime this summer. 

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Filed under Arthur Lubin, DVD/Blu-ray News, Kino Lorber, Rondo Hatton, Universal (-International)

Blu-Ray Review: Hercules And The Captive Women (1963).

Directed by Vittorio Cottafavi
Produced by Achille Piazzi
Executive Supervision: Hugo Grimaldi
Cinematography: Carlo Carlini
Music Supervision (US Version): Gordon Zahler, General Music Corp.
Title Design (US Version): Filmation Associates

Cast: Reg Park (Hercules), Fay Spain (Queen Antinea), Ettore Manni (Androclo, Re di Tebe), Luciano Marin (Illo), Laura Efrikian (Ismene), Maurizio Coffarelli (Proteus, The Monster), Leon Selznick (Narrator, US Version)

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Let’s not take for granted the fact that Blu-Ray technology has become prevalent enough that niche genre films like Hercules And The Captive Women (1963) are getting the kind of deluxe treatment usually given to pictures widely acknowledged as “classics.” As someone who seems to only watch movies that fall into some kind of goofy niche, I’m so thankful to the companies putting these things out.

That makes reviewing something like The Film Detective’s new Blu-Ray of Hercules And The Captive Women a bit odd, since I’m overjoyed by the thing before I even know what it looks like. With that out of the way, lets get to it.

Hercules And The Captive Women was released in Italy in 1961 as Ercole alla conquista di Atlantide, which translates to “Hercules At The Conquest Of Atlantis.” Shot in Technicolor and Technirama, it was Reg Park’s first time as Hercules. The picture played in the UK as Hercules Conquers Atlantis.

In 1963, The Woolner Bros. brought it to the States. They re-cut it, re-dubbed it, replaced the score, gave it the title Hercules And The Captive Women and opened it with new animated credits from Filmation. This is the version The Film Detective has brought to Blu-Ray, and it’s beautiful.

This time around, Hercules takes on Antinea, the Queen of Atlantis (Fay Spain), who’s planning on taking over the world with an army of odd-looking blond warriors. Along the way, there are all kinds of fights, plenty of posing and posturing and lots of crazy dialogue — you know, the stuff that makes these peplum movies what they are.

Hercules And The Captive Women one was one of my favorite peplums as a kid, thanks largely to the lizard monster Hercules (Reg Park) takes on. Fay Spain appeared in everything from Dragstrip Girl (1957) to The Godfather Part II (1974). I liked Park’s next one, Mario Bava’s Hercules In The Haunted World (1961), even better. This was probably the peak for peplum.

Thanks to the Technicolor and Technirama, Hercules And The Captive Women has a bigger, lusher feel than the rest of these things, which is where The Film Detective’s really pays off. The transfer — a 4K Restoration from the original 35mm camera negative — is as sharp as a tack. Sharpness and deep focus were the key benefits of Technirama, surely one of the best of the many film processes to turn up in the 50s. The audio here is, well, it is what it is. The dubbing and effects are as wonky as you remember, but quite a bit cleaner and clearer. You might recognize a music cue from Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954) — it’s also in Bend Of The River (1952) and King Kong Vs. Godzilla (1962).

There’s a mighty batch of extras: a commentary by Tim Lucas, a nice booklet with notes from C. Courtney Joyner, a documentary on peplums, Hercules And The Conquest Of Cinema, and MST3K’s take on the film. This is a really nice package. The Film Detective is a company to keep an eye on — they’re really on a roll these days. Highly recommended.

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Filed under 1963, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Fay Spain, Mario Bava, Peplum, Reg Park, The Film Detective, Woolner Brothers

DVD Review: Jungle Man-Eaters (1954).

Directed by Lee Sholem
Produced by Sam Katzman
Story & Screen Play by Samuel Newman
Cinematography: Henry Freulich
Film Editor: Gene Havlick

Cast: Johnny Weissmuller (Jungle Jim), Karin Booth (Dr. Bonnie Crandall), Richard Wyler (Inspector Jeffrey Bernard), Bernie Hamilton (Zuwaba), Gregory Gaye (Leroux), Lester Matthews (Commissioner Kingston), Paul Thompson (Zulu), Vince Townsend, Jr. (Chief Boganda), Louise Franklin (N’Gala), Tamba

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Critics’ Choice and Mill Creek have released a six-movie set of Jungle Jim movies (there are 16 of ’em, 1948 – 1955), pulled from the middle to the end of series (’50-’55). The next-to-last picture in the set is Jungle Man-Eaters (1954).

The later Jungle Jim movies look even cheaper than the early ones, with a very heavy reliance on stock footage. Even some of the Johnny Weissmuller shots look like footage from previous entries, given away by the new 1.85 framing. In this one, Jungle Jim (Weissmuller) gets involved in a war between tribes largely orchestrated by Leroux, a French diamond smuggler. Pretty Kari Booth (I’ve always liked her) is a doctor along for the ride, and she gets caught up in the birth of the son of one of the warring tribes’ leader. Tamba dresses up like a doctor, torments Karin Booth, does plenty of flips and eats a lot of bananas.

Despite the title and ads, there are cannibals, no man is eaten (“human banquet”) and Karin Booth’s legs are never threatened by fire.

While there are three more pictures in the series, this is the last one where Weissmuller is actually called Jungle Jim. Producer Sam Katzman has Weissmuller use his own name for the rest of the run, probably because Screen Gems had signed with King Features to use the character in a TV series, again with Weissmuller. It debuted about the time the last feature, Devil Goddess, hit theaters in October 1955.

Jungle Man-Eaters features the work of the couple of guys who toiled quite a bit on Katzman pictures: director Lee Sholem and cinematographer Henry Freulich.

Sholem was known as “Roll ‘Em Sholem” for how quickly he worked. He directed over 1,300 features and TV shows over the course of four decades. They say he never went over schedule. One of his masterworks is Superman And The Mole Men (1951).

Henry Freulich had been behind the camera since the Silents. He was a cameraman on The Hunchback Of Notre Dame (1922). He was at Columbia for years and years, shooting everything from It Happened One Night (1934) to over a hundred Three Stooges shorts to all sorts of wonderful things in the 50s — pictures like William Castle’s Masterson Of Kansas (1954), It Came From Beneath The Sea (1955), Fred F. Sears’s Teen-Age Crime Wave (1955) and George Sherman’s Reprisal! (1956).

Freulich’s work on Jungle Man-Eaters looks terrific on DVD in this set. In fact, all six boast the gorgeous transfers we’ve come to expect of cheap Columbia movies from this period. A lot of us have been waiting quite a while for Jungle Jim to make his way out of the jungle and onto DVD. This collection is worth the wait — and hopefully the first of several volumes. Recommened.

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Filed under 1954, Columbia, Critics' Choice Collection, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Johnny Weissmuller, Jungle Jim, Karin Booth, Lee Sholem, Mill Creek, Sam Katzman

Blu-Ray News #340: Larceny (1948).

Directed by George Sherman
Starring John Payne, Joan Caulfield, Dan Duryea, Shelley Winters

While I’m a sucker for his Westerns, you can count me in on anything from George Sherman. He was a top-notch “journeyman” or contract director, and please don’t take that as a knock to his prowess. He made some great movies.

Larceny (1948) is built around one of the scuzziest plot points ever — a con man (John Payne) trying to snake a war widow (Joan Caulfield) out of money allegedly for a memorial to her husband. When Payne has second thoughts, and develops a thing for the widow, the boss (Dan Duryea) won’t let him out of it — then Duryea’s moll (Shelley Winters) really louses things up.

Noir works best when it’s kept lean and tight, which makes it perfect for George Sherman. This is a terrific movie, and it’ll be great to see Irving Glassberg’s cinematography in high definition. Coming to Blu-Ray from Kino Lorber in July. Highly recommended.

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Filed under Dan Duryea, DVD/Blu-ray News, George Sherman, John Payne, Kino Lorber, Universal (-International)

Blu-Ray Review: Isle Of The Dead (1945).

Directed by Mark Robson
Produced by Val Lewton
Written by Ardel Wray
Director Of Photography: Jack MacKenzie
Film Editor: Lyle Boyer
Music by Leigh Harline

Cast: Boris Karloff (Gen. Nikolas Pherides), Ellen Drew (Thea), Marc Cramer (Oliver Davis), Katherine Emery (Mrs. Mary St. Aubyn), Helene Thimig (Madame Kyra), Alan Napier (St. Aubyn), Jason Robards, Sr. (Albrecht), Ernst Deutsch (Dr. Drossos), Sherry Hall (Col. Kobestes), Erick Hanson (Officer), Skelton Knaggs (Andrew Robbins)

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Producer Val Lewton made a number of artful horror movies at RKO, a string of creepy, wonderful classics that includes Cat People (1942), The Ghost Ship (1943) and I Walked With A Zombie (1943).

One was so artful, in fact, it was actually inspired by a painting, Arnold Böcklin’s Isle Of The Dead. The painting is pretty much recreated early in the 1945 Lewton film of the same name.

It’s the story of a group of people quarantined on a small island during the Balkan Wars of 1912 — Gen. Pherides (Boris Karloff) and Oliver Davis (Marc Cramer) rowing to the island is where art imitates art (above). The plot, which gets a little complicated at time, touches on the plague, grave robbing, premature burial, madness and the dreaded vorvolaka. Like most of the Lewton pictures, it’s relentlessly creepy — with more overt horror/scary stuff towards the end, and the screens seems to drip atmosphere onto the floor.

Val Lewton was a novelist who wound up a producer. In the early 40s, he found himself in charge of a small unit at RKO, making horror films for $150,000 each. His psychological approach, preying upon our fear of the dark and the unknown, was both effective (the first, Cat People, grossed  millions and helped save the studio) and cost-effective (little light, minimal sets and no monster makeup). Lewton believed it was better to suggest horror than to show it. Leaving RKO in 1946, he made films for Paramount and MGM, and considered starting an independent production company with two of his directors from RKO, Robert Wise and Mark Robson. It fell through. There was talk of an association with Stanley Kramer at Columbia. And there was a producing gig at Universal-International — which resulted in Apache Drums (1951), which turned out to be his last film.

Mark Robson started out as an editor, assisting Robert Wise on Citizen Kane (1941). It’s hard to believe that the Mark Robson who directed The Seventh Victim (1943) and Isle Of The Dead, tight little movies brimming with atmosphere and suspense, is the same Mark Robson responsible for the big, bloated Earthquake (1974), which is almost totally devoid of atmosphere and suspense. In between this film and the wretched Earthquake, he made some good stuff: Champion (1949),  Roughshod (1949), The Harder They Fall (1956) and Von Ryan’s Express (1965), to name a few.

Boris Karloff is terrific in this. Production was interrupted by his back surgery, which might explain some of the plot confusion, but his performance is dead on. His curly hair gives him a really odd appearance, which along with the uniform, puts a new spin on the kind of tortured soul thing he does so well. The more time that goes by, and the more of his films I see again and again, just how great an actor Karloff was becomes more and more apparent. 

Warner Archive’s new Blu-Ray of Isle Of The Dead is really incredible. Coming from a 4K scan of original nitrate camera negative, it’s flawless. I can’t imagine it looking any better when it opened in 1945, and it’s a real pleasure to see Jack MacKenzie’s beautiful black and white look like this. We’re also treated to some nice extras — a commentary and an original trailer (with Spanish subtitles). The Lewton horror films are essential viewing, and since so much of their power comes from atmosphere, a high-def presentation like this is a huge leap forward. Essential.

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Filed under Boris Karloff, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Mark Robson, RKO, Val Lewton, Warner Archive

RIP, George Segal.

George Segal
(February 13, 1934 – March 23, 2021)

George Segal, who made some damn good movies in a pretty long, busy career, has passed away at 87. The one that always stands out for me is Peter Yates’s The Hot Rock (1972), a crime comedy thing based on a funny Dortmunder novel by Donald E. Westlake. He’s on the right in the above photo, along with (L-R) Paul Sand, Ron Leibman and Robert Redford. (Moses Gunn and Zero Mostel are also in it.) The Hot Rock lead me to Westlake’s books, which worked around to the Richard Stark novels (Stark was one of Westlake’s pen names). By the way, The Hot Rock gives us an eerie helicopter ride around the World Trade Center when the towers were under construction. 

George Segal was also in Ship Of Fools (1965), King Rat (1965), Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? (1966), Roger Corman’s The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre (1967), Where’s Poppa? (1970) and Robert Altman’s California Split (1974).

He was also a really good banjo player.

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Filed under 1972, George Segal, Peter Yates, Robert Altman, Robert Redford, Roger Corman

Blu-Ray News #339: Flight To Mars (1951).

Directed by Lesley Selander
Starring Marguerite Chapman, Cameron Mitchell, Arthur Franz, Virginia Huston, John Litel, Morris Ankrum

The same year (1951) that Kenneth Tobey and Margaret Sheridan locked horns with The Thing From Another World, Cameron Mitchell went on a Flight To Mars and discovered chicks in shiny mini skirts. Which vision of life from other planets would you prefer?

Before you answer that, consider that in Flight To Mars, once the American scientists land on the Red Planet, the seemingly-friendly people of Mars start plotting to imprison the Earthlings and use their ship to plan their migration to Earth. You see, Mars is running low on the crucial element Corium…

All you need to know in order to put this one atop your Want List is that it’s from Lesley Selander and Monogram, there are the usual Martian women in the aforementioned mini skirts (in Cinecolor!) and that Morris Ankrum is a Martian leader named Ikorn. You’re all set to pre-order this little jewel, aren’t you?

Oh, and remember that Monogram (now called Allied Artists) would crop the spaceship effects for ‘Scope for World Without End (1956). That picture would add mutants and giant spiders to the Mars-and-miniskirts plot.

Warner Archive brought us a beautiful (and complete) restoration of The Thing a couple years ago. And now The Film Detective is giving Flight To Mars similar treatment. We’ve got to wait till July, but they’re promising a 4K restoration from original 35mm Cinecolor Separation Negatives — and a healthy batch of extras. From the two-color Technicolor of The Mystery Of The Wax Museum (1933) to some of the Trucolor Republics from Kino Lorber, we’ve seen some amazing results from these cheaper, more limited color processes. Flight To Mars should look otherworldly. This is my kind of mind-rotting nonsense! Highly recommended.

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Filed under 1951, DVD/Blu-ray News, Kenneth Tobey, Lesley Selander, Monogram/Allied Artists, Morris Ankrum, The Film Detective