Blu-Ray Review: The Stranger (1946).

Directed by Orson Welles
Produced by Sam Spiegel (S.P. Eagle)
Screenplay by Victor Trivas, Decla Dunning, Anthony Veiller, Orson Welles (uncredited), John Huston (uncredited)
Cinematography: Russell Metty
Film Editor: Ernest J. Nims
Music by Bronislau Kaper

Cast: Edward G. Robinson (Wilson), Loretta Young (Mary Longstreet Rankin), Orson Welles (Charles Rankin/Franz Kindler), Richard Long (Noah Longstreet), Philip Merivale (Judge Longstreet)

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Folks have a tendency to shrug off The Stranger (1946) as a lesser Orson Welles picture. After all, he took it on in an attempt to show he could make a movie according to the Hollywood rules — with the idea that it would put him back on the studios’ collective good side. There are two things wrong with all this. One, while the movie came in a day early and under budget and was indeed a box-office success, it didn’t boost Welles’ employability. And two, to blow off The Stranger deprives you of a really good movie.

Welles is a teacher at a New England prep school, with the supreme good fortune of being married to Loretta Young. He’s also a notorious Nazi war criminal who fled to the States, somehow managing to remove any evidence that might identify him — except for his unusual hobby/obsession: clocks.

Then one day, Nazi hunter Mr. Wilson (Edgar G. Robinson) arrives in Harper, Connecticut — and learns of a school teacher who’s been working on the old church clock in the town square.

Charles Rankin/Franz Kindler (Orson Welles): “Who would think to look for the notorious Franz Kindler in the sacred precincts of the Harper School, surrounded by the sons of America’s first families? And I’ll stay hidden… till the day when we strike again.”

As much as I appreciate Citizen Kane (1941) and The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), I really love the way Welles handled more lurid material like Touch Of Evil (1958), The Lady From Shanghai (1947) and this one. The trappings here are certainly more upscale than the border town in Touch Of Evil, but the deep shadows, striking camera angles and long takes create a similar sinister mood. (Both films were shot by Russell Metty.) Don’t be misled — this is very much an Orson Welles movie.

The Stranger went into the public domain in the 70s, and fans of the movie have been subjected to all sorts of nasty-looking VHS tapes and DVD over the years. To see Welles and Metty’s incredible visuals run through the video thrashing machine is a heinous thing indeed. I’m happy to report that the Blu-Ray from Olive Films looks fine. It’s not gonna be the thing you throw on when you want to show the neighbors how nice your TV is, but it lets you appreciate the rich contrast and deep focus that make the movie as effective as it is. There are other Blu-Rays of the picture out there, and while this one’s a tiny bit softer than some of the others, it’s a bit darker, too — which seems more in line with how the film should look. The grain’s there, as it should be. The audio is sharp and clear. Extras include an audio commentary by Nora Fiore and the original trailer.

This is a nice package — and a really terrific movie (that made a huge impact on me as a kid). Highly, highly recommended.

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Filed under DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Olive Films, Orson Welles

Screening: House On Haunted Hill (1959).

Directed by William Castle
Written by Robb White
Starring Vincent Price, Carol Ohmart, Richard Long, Alan Marshal, Carolyn Craig, Elisha Cook, Jr.

The Graham Cinema in nearby Graham, North Carolina, is one of my favorite places to see a movie. So imagine how excited I was to find out one of my all-time favorites films, William Castle’s House On Haunted Hill (1959), will be playing there Friday night, October 20, at 11:30.

House On Haunted Hill adWilliam Castle. Vincent Price. Robb White. Elisha Cook, Jr. Emergo. Even the Ennis House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright (and just up the street from the infamous Ackermansion). There are a million reasons why this movie’s so wonderful.

8336_cinema_efAdmission’s just $2 and benefits the Shriners Hospital For Children. If you’ve never been to the Graham Cinema, you owe it to yourself to check it out. And of you’ve never seen House On Haunted Hill, I pity you. I really do.

The Graham Cinema
119 N Main St, Graham, NC 27253

UPDATE: I get the supreme honor of introducing the movie Friday night.

Thanks to my daughter Presley for the tip.

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Filed under 1959, Elisha Cook, Jr., Monogram/Allied Artists, Screenings, Vincent Price, William Castle

DVD/Blu-Ray News #147: Return Of The Ape Man (1944).

Directed by Phil Rosen
Starring Bela Lugosi, John Carradine, George Zucco

More Poverty Row horror makes its way to Blu-Ray — Return Of The Ape Man (1944), one of the infamous Monogram 9.

The nine pictures Lugosi made for Sam Katzman at Monogram between 1941 and 1944 are filled to the brim with cheesy goodness. To have them turn up in high definition is a dream come true — thanks, Olive! For fans of this kind of stuff, this is absolutely essential.

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Filed under Bela Lugosi, DVD/Blu-ray News, John Carradine, Monogram 9, Monogram/Allied Artists, Olive Films, Sam Katzman

DVD/Blu-Ray News #146: The Vampire’s Ghost (1945).

Directed by Lesley Selander
Starring John Abbott, Charles Gordon, Grant Withers, Peggy Stewart, Adele Mara

Neither Republic Pictures nor director Lesley Selander made many horror movies. Which makes The Vampire’s Ghost (1945) something worth seeking out. Add to that the fact that it’s got both Peggy Stewart and Adele Mara in it, with a story from the great Leigh Brackett, and it’s not to be missed.

The Vampire’s Ghost is making it way to DVD and Blu-Ray thanks to Olive Films in time for Halloween.

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Filed under DVD/Blu-ray News, Lesley Selander, Olive Films, Republic Pictures

DVD/Blu-Ray Rumor #145: I, The Jury (1953).

Directed by Harry Essex
Starring Biff Elliot, Preston Foster, Peggie Castle, Margaret Sheridan, John Qualen, Elisha Cook, Jr.

It’s the first film based on a Mickey Spillane/Mike Hammer book. It was in 3-D, shot by the great John Alton. And it’s got a terrific cast: Peggie Castle, Margaret Sheridan (so great in The Thing), Elisha Cook, Jr.

The word on the street is that it’s being prepped for a Blu-Ray release. That’s great news. Wonder if they’ve found the stereo tracks?

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Filed under 1953, 3-D, DVD/Blu-ray News, Elisha Cook, Jr., Peggie Castle

DVD/Blu-Ray News #144: A Woman’s Devotion (1956).

Directed by Paul Henreid
Starring Ralph Meeker, Janice Rule, Paul Henreid, Rosenda Monteros

The low-budget noir pictures are making their way to DVD and Blu-Ray at a great clip these days. Here’s a pretty obscure one — A Woman’s Devotion (1956), a Trucolor mini-noir from Republic’s dying days.

Some American newlyweds are vacationing in Mexico, and the husband (Meeker) ends up the prime suspect in the murder of a local girl. It was directed by Paul Henreid. Kino Lorber says the 4K remaster, which should look stunning, will be available early next year.

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Filed under 1956, DVD/Blu-ray News, Kino Lorber, Ralph Meeker

Blu-Ray News #143: Highway Dragnet (1954).

Directed by Nathan Juran
Starring Richard Conte, Joan Bennett, Wanda Hendrix, Reed Hadley, Mary Beth Hughes, Iris Adrian

Highway Dragnet (1954) is a tough little Allied Artists noir picture, from a story co-written by Roger Corman. I’ve been waiting for this one to make it to DVD and/or Blu-Ray for quite some time. It’s terrific — and it’s on its way from Kino Lorber, with a 4K restoration prepared by Paramount.

Richard Conte is a Korean War vet wanted for murder, after a woman he meets in a bar winds up very dead. On the lamb, he ends bumming a ride from a fashion photographer (Joan Bennett) and model (Wanda Hendrix).

Nathan Juran started out as an art director and became a director after World War II. He did a number of picture I really love: Law And Order (1953), The Deadly Mantis (1957), 20 Million Miles To Earth (1957), The Seventh Voyage Of Sinbad (1958) and so on. Highway Dragnet was a pretty early credit for him, and he does a great job with this one, keeping things cooking as it winds its way to a pretty cool wrap-up. Watch for it early next year. Highly recommended.

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Filed under 1954, DVD/Blu-ray News, Kino Lorber, Monogram/Allied Artists, Nathan Juran, Richard Conte, Roger Corman