Blu-ray Review: Giant Monster Gamera (1965), Or Gammera The Invincible (1966), Or Gamera The Giant Monster.

Directed by Noriaki Yuasa
Starring Eiji Funakoshi, Harumi Kiritachi, Junichiro Yamashita
American version stars Albert Dekker, Brian Donlevy

__________

Mill Creek’s Blu-ray Gamera sets, Gamera: Ultimate Collection Volumes 1 and 2, have gotten some lukewarm reviews. They don’t look all that good. The detail’s fine, but things are a bit flat. Same goes for the audio: flat. But what I think folks are forgetting is that this is right in line with the way we’ve always seen these Japanese Daiei monster movies in the States. Growing up in the 70s, I saw them on TV — pan-and-scan and perforated by used car commercials. Later, when they started showing up on videotape, they looked just as bad, only you could stop them to go to the bathroom.

What I’m taking forever to get around to is this: in my mind, these kinds of movies aren’t supposed to look all that good. An iffy transfer? If you insist. Scratches? Yes, please. Splices? A few, just for authenticity. And grain? It’s a must. When these start looking too good, they lose some of their appeal. (Grindhouse didn’t look like that just to be obnoxious.)

And, be honest, did you buy a set of Gamera pictures to demonstrate your swanky TV next time your brother-in-law comes over?

A Brief History Of Giant Flying Turtle Movies, Part One.

Gamera: The Giant Monster (1965) was produced by Japan’s Daiei Motion Picture Company, clearly inspired by the callossal worldwide success of Toho’s Godzilla films.

Gamera is a giant prehistoric fire-breathing flying turtle with tusks, who’s released from the North Pole or someplace by a nuclear explosion. Gamera makes his way to Japan, where all hell breaks loose. The first attempt to get rid of him fails (explosives underneath him simply flip him onto his back), and he’s lured into a rocket and sent to Mars.

It’s clearly a Godzilla knock-off, with its meager budget evident in almost every frame. It’s black and white and Scope, which is always a good look, regardless of the picture’s budget (Lippert’s black and white Regalscope pictures were notoriously cheap).

A special version was prepared for the United States, called Gammera The Invincible (note the extra M), with sequences added featuring Albert Dekker and Brian Donlevy. This version played theaters in 1966 and was a constant on TV throughout the 70s.

The first volume in the Mill Creek Blu-Ray set includes the original foreign version, in Japanese with English subtitles. It looks nice and sharp — it’s terrific to see it widescreen, and the original Japanese audio tracks give the picture a slightly more sophisticated feel. (Very slightly — remember, this is a movie about a giant flying turtle.)

Personally, I would’ve preferred the Dekker/Donlevy American version I saw countless times on TV as a kid. It adds an extra layer of cheese, and for me, has added nostalgia value. Some of the dubbed voices are cats you’d recognize from Speed Racer and Ultraman.

By the way, there was a theme song, “Gammera The Invincible” by The Moons, released as a single in 1966 (that’s the sleeve to the right). It’s suspiciously similar to Neil Hefti’s Batman TV theme.

The picture was a success in Japan, particularly with kids, and a series was quickly launched, with Gamera taking on one crazy monster after another. The followups were all in color — and in the States, they all went straight to TV. Only Gammera The Invincible played US theaters.

Gamera: The Giant Monster was followed by six additional Gamera films, released between 1966 and 1971 —
Gamera Vs. Barugon (1966; AIP-TV title: War Of The Monsters)
Gamera Vs. Gyaos (1967; AIP-TV title: Return Of The Giant Monsters)
Gamera Vs. Viras (1968; AIP-TV title: Destroy All Planets)
Gamera Vs. Guiron (1969; AIP-TV title: Attack Of The Monsters)
Gamera Vs. Jiger (1970; AIP-TV title: Gamera Vs. Monster X)
Gamera Vs. Zigra (1971)

Daiei ran into money trouble and went into bankruptcy, leaving an eighth Gamera picture unmade. But just like Gamera busting out of the ice after that long repose, the series was back in theaters in 1980 with Gamera: Super Monster from New Daiei. It includes footage from the seven previous movies. The fiery flying turtle was revived again in 1995 for series of films I have absolutely no interest in.

Mill Creek’s Gamera: Ultimate Collection Volumes 1 and 2 give these eight Gamera movies in hi-def, looking pretty splendid (as I see em). All are in the correct 2.35:1 aspect ratio, are all in color but the first one, and all feature what seems to be a solid job of subtitling. And, to top it all off, the pricing is terrific.

Advertisements

3 Comments

Filed under 1965, 1966, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Kaiju Movies, Mill Creek

Blu-Ray Review: Night Moves (1975).

Directed by Arthur Penn
Written by Alan Sharp
Director Of Photography: Bruce Surtees
Film Editor: Dede Allen
Music by Michael Small

Cast: Gene Hackman (Harry Moseby), Jennifer Warren (Paula), Edward Binns (Joey Ziegler), Harris Yulin (Marty Heller), Kenneth Mars (Nick), Janet Ward (Arlene Iverson), James Woods (Quentin), Anthony Costello (Marv Ellman), John Crawford (Tom Iverson), Melanie Griffith (Delly Grastner), Susan Clark (Ellen Moseby)

__________

The Seventies were an interesting time for film noir and private eye movies. Surprisingly, there were plenty of them — pictures like Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye (1973), Roman Polanski’s Chinatown (1974), Stuart Rosenberg’s The Drowning Pool (1975) and Arthur Penn’s Night Moves (1975). They all seemed to drag the genres into a decade they seemed very much at odds with. By this time, both noir and PI movies had seen their conventions spoofed time and time again — and each director headed in a different direction.

But with the 70s a decade marked by cynicism, doesn’t it make sense that noir would emerge from the shadows?

In Penn’s case, with Night Moves, it looks like he decided to make his football-player-turned-detective (with a gorgeous 1967 Mustang), Harry Moseby (Gene Hackman), every bit as messed up as the dysfunctional family he’s hired to help sort out. He turns out to be just as lost as the young girl (Melanie Griffith) he’s trying to track down. And that’s what sets this one apart — Moseby’s investigation and introspection get all twisted together before it’s over with. Alan Sharp’s wonderful script juggles this effortlessly.

Hackman’s really terrific in this. His Moseby is a burned out guy you somehow can’t help but care about, even as you question a number of the choices he makes along the way. This is one of Hackman’s better performances, and he isn’t lacking for great performances.

You hear a lot about this being Melanie Griffith’s first movie (and that she’s naked quite a bit), but it’s Jennifer Warren that stands out to me. Paula’s a long way from the femme fatale we’re used to, but just as dangerous. Warren also played Paul Newman’s wife Francine in Slap Shot (1977). She didn’t have a tremendous amount of screen time in that one, but she was really good.

In a lot of PI movies, the plot sort of meanders along, often a bit incoherently, towards a conclusion that tries to wrap up (almost) everything. Night Moves weaves its lost girl/murder plot and character study together seamlessly, waiting for just the right moment to do so. Arthur Penn really amazes me sometimes. This is one of those times.

Night Moves didn’t do well upon its original release. Something called Jaws opened about the same time. Maybe it was too downbeat, maybe it was just too good, to be successful. Feel good hit of the year it ain’t.

But there’s plenty to feel good about with the new Blu-Ray from Warner Archive. It’s splendid. Seventies movies have a look all their own, and that’s preserved here flawlessly. This one has the added benefit of having been photographed by the great Bruce Surtees (who shot a number of my favorite films, from Dirty Harry to The Shootist). The disc includes a trailer and a production short from back in the day.

It’s easy to recommend Night Moves. And for fans of the movie, I can’t imagine you not springing for this Blu-Ray.

Leave a comment

Filed under 1975, Arthur Penn, Bruce Surtees, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Gene Hackman, Warner Archive, Warner Bros.

Making Movies: Diamonds Are Forever (1971).

It had been a while since I’d seen Diamonds Are Forever (1971), Sean Connery’s last entry in the “official” Bond series, and the followup to my favorite 007 movie, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), which starred the one-Bond-only George Lazenby.

Much of the picture was shot in and around Las Vegas, so for us in the States, it doesn’t have the exotic, globe-hopping angle the series tends to have. However, it offers a terrific Panavision and Technicolor look at Sin City in the early 70s. Many of the casinos you see in it are now gone.

Another slight disappointment is the absence of Bond’s Aston Martin (either the DB5 from Goldfinger or the DBS seen in OHMSS). He drives a red 1971 Ford Mustang Mach 1 instead.

Another vehicle is the prototype moon buggy Bond swipes from Willard Whyte’s place.

Connery practiced his golf swing on the moon simulation set. (Actually, judging from behind-the-scenes photos, it looks like he practiced everywhere.)

Connery’s co-star was the lovely Jill St. John. Here they are with an ice cream bar.

And between takes on the offshore oil rig.

Here are Bruce Glover (as Mr. Wint) and Putter Smith (as Mr. Kidd) on location in Amsterdam.

Lastly, dig this preliminary poster design from the great Robert McGinnis.

Diamonds Are Forever, in a way, hints at the tone of the Roger Moore Bonds that were to follow. Guy Hamilton, who directed this and Goldfiinger (1964), would do the first two Moore pictures, Live And Let Die (1973) and The Man With The Golden Gun (1974).

Leave a comment

Filed under 1971, James Bond, Making Movies, Sean Connery

Blu-Ray News #141: Twilight People (1972).

Chicago_Tribune_Mon__Mar_20__1972_ (1)

Directed by Eddie Romero
Starring John Ashley, Pat Woodell, Jan Merlin, Pam Grier

This is an update to a previous post.

VCI has announced a Blu-Ray release of Twilight People (1972) for January 2018.  Eddie Romero directed this Filipino-American take on H.G. Wells’ The Island Of Dr. Moreau — with a little of Romero’s previous Terror Is A Man (1959) thrown in for good measure.

Star John Ashley was one of the producers. He and Eddie Romero became quite successful with their cheap horror movies, stuff like Brides Of Blood (1968), Beast Of Blood (1970) and The Woman Hunt (1972, yet another version of The Most Dangerous Game). Their films were often done for Roger Corman’s New World Pictures, with budgets of around $125,000. This one was the first film released by Dimension Pictures. It played in double bills with everything from Man Beast (1956) to The Sin Of Adam And Eve (1969) to Conquest Of The Planet Of The Apes (1972).

twilight-3John Ashley had a fascinating career, going from AIP to TV shows like The Beverly Hillbillies to the wonderfully awful AIP TV movie The Eye Creatures (1965) to these Filipino movies to consulting on Apocalypse Now (1979, shot in the Philippines) to producing The A-Team and Walker, Texas Ranger. Wish he’d written his memoirs before passing away in 1997.

VCI put Twilight People out on VHS back in the day, and their eventual DVD was pretty good. This Blu-Ray release will feature a 2K scan of the original negative, presented in the proper aspect ratio. Extras will include a video interview with Eddie Romero, a still and poster gallery, and a commentary by Toby Roan.

2 Comments

Filed under 1972, AIP, DVD/Blu-ray News, Eddie Romero, John Ashley, New World, Pam Grier, Roger Corman, VCI

DVD/Blu-Ray News #97: The Man Who Died Twice (1958).

man-who-died-twice-lx

Directed by Joe Kane
Starring Rod Cameron, Vera Ralston, Mike Mazurki, Don Hagggerty, Paul Picerni, Luana Anders

This is an update to a post from way back in January.

Naturama was Republic’s widescreen process, and Vera Ralston was the figure-skater girlfriend/wife of Republic’s president, Herbert J. Yates. Guys like Rod Cameron, Sterling Hayden and even John Wayne appeared with her, grudgingly. And when Republic shut down, do did Ralston’s career.

s-l1600-28That said, she made some pretty cool movies, and The Man Who Died Twice (1958) is one of them. In fact, it was her last — the studio tanked that year (it’s also the last Republic Joe Kane directed). It’s a low-budget crime/noir thing. Rod Cameron’s cool in it (as always), Luana Anders plays a heroin addict, and Jack Marta shot it in black & white widescreen. Sounds terrific, don’t it?

Kino Lorber will bring The Man Who Died Twice to both DVD and Blu-Ray in November. For decades, seeing Republic Naturama movies in their original 2.35 aspect ratio has been damn near impossible, so this release is a real treat (and hopefully the first of many). The transfer’s excellent — got a good look at it while working on a commentary for it. Recommended.

8 Comments

Filed under 1958, DVD/Blu-ray News, Joe Kane, Kino Lorber, Republic Pictures, Rod Cameron, Vera Ralston

Screening: Frankenstein Conquers The World (1966) And War Of The Gargantuas (1970).

Directed by Ishirô Honda
Starring Nick Adams, Tadao Takashima, Kumi Mizuno, Yoshio Tsuchiya

Directed by Ishirô Honda
Starring Russ Tamblyn, Kumi Mizuno, Kenji Sahara, Nobuo Nakamura

Boy, I’d love to make it to this. The New Beverly has Toho’s Frankenstein Conquers The World (1966) paired with its sequel War Of The Gargantuas (1970) this Friday and Saturday.

The alterations to the US versions remove any indication that the two films are related. My best friend and I saw Gargantuas at a Saturday matinee many years ago and loved it. It remains one of my favorite of the Kaiju movies.

Tim Lucas has written a great piece on these films for The New Beverly’s blog.

7 Comments

Filed under 1966, 1970, AIP, Ishirō Honda, Kaiju Movies, Screenings, Toho

Blu-Ray News #149: Crime Of Passion (1957).

Directed by Gerd Oswald
Starring Barbara Stanwyck, Sterling Hayden, Raymond Burr, Fay Wray, Virginia Grey, Royal Dano

ClassicFlix has Gerd Oswald’s Crime Of Passion (1957) on the way, both Blu-Ray and DVD. This was an early direction gig for Oswald, but he did some great stuff right out of the gate, such as A Kiss Before Dying (1956) and Fury At Showdown (1957, a personal favorite). He had a real knack for getting the most out of a tiny budget and tinier schedule — and the results are always stylish. This made him perfect for later TV work like The Outer Limits and Star Trek.

Of course, with a cast like this one — Stanwyck, Hayden, Burr, etc., how could he miss? Crime Of Passion was dismissed as just another B noir back in the day, and it certainly deserves the reappraisal it’s received over the years. It’ll be great to have it spiffed up on Blu-Ray, where Joseph LaShelle’s camerawork can really shine. Highly recommended.

Leave a comment

Filed under 1957, Barbara Stanwyck, ClassicFlix, DVD/Blu-ray News, Gerd Oswald, Sterling Hayden