Blu-Ray News #284: Inner Sanctum Mysteries: The Complete Film Series.

Until the DVD set came out years ago, I’d only seen one of the Inner Sanctum pictures. Boy, had I been missing out.

These cheap little mysteries are terrific, the kind of spooky hokum Universal specialized in back in the 40s. Now the series, all six of ’em, are getting a Blu-Ray upgrade from Mill Creek.

Calling Dr. Death (1943)
Directed by Reginald Le Borg
Starring Lon Chaney, Patricia Morison, J. Carrol Naish, David Bruce

Weird Woman (1944)
Directed by Reginald Le Borg
Starring Lon Chaney, Anne Gwynne, Evelyn Ankers, Ralph Morgan

Dead Man’s Eyes (1944)
Directed by Reginald Le Borg
Starring Lon Chaney, Acquanetta (“as Tonya, sister of Satan!”), Jean Parker, Paul Kelly, Thomas Gomez

The Frozen Ghost (1945)
Directed by Harold Young
Starring Lon Chaney, Elena Verdugo, Evelyn Ankers, Tala Birell, Martin Kosleck

Strange Confession (1945, re-released as The Missing Head)
Directed by John Hoffman
Starring Lon Chaney, Brenda Joyce, J. Carrol Naish, Lloyd Bridges

Pillow Of Death (1945)
Directed by Wallace Fox
Starring Lon Chaney, Brenda Joyce, J. Edward Bromberg, Rosalind Ivan, Clara Blandick

What’s striking about these movies, to me, is that though they were seen as cheap little pictures with Universal’s lower-level talent, there’s a real craft to them that shines through. Can’t wait to see them in high-definition.

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Filed under DVD/Blu-ray News, J. Carrol Naish, Lon Chaney Jr., Mill Creek, Reginald Le Borg, Universal (-International)

Hot Cars (1956).

Directed by Don McDougall
Produced by Howard W. Koch
Screenplay by Don Martin & Richard Landau
Based on a novel by H. Haile Chace
Photography by William Margulies
Edited by George A. Gittens, ACE
Music by Les Baxter

John Bromfield (Nick Dunn), Joi Lansing (Karen Winter), Mark Dana (Smiley Ward), Carol Shannon (Jane Dunn), Markel (Arthur Markel), Dabbs Greer (Detective Davenport)

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Every once in a while, you need a 50s crime picture. Nothing else will do. I recently landed on Hot Cars (1956), a Bel-Air picture produced by Howard W. Koch. Look at that poster — the title, the cast, Joi Lansing as a “stop-at-nothing blonde,” the guy falling off the rollercoaster. Consider that it was shot mostly on location around Santa Monica and it’s only 60 minutes long, and you just know it’s gonna be great.

Nick Dunn (John Bromfield) and his wife Jane (Carol Shannon) are in a bad way financially when their son gets sick and needs an operation, so against his better judgement (and to their quick regret), Nick takes a job at a used car lot run by Markel (Ralph Clanton), Karen (Joi Lansing) and their sinister flunky Smiley Ward (Mark Dana).

Hard to decide which is prettier — Joi Lansing or the 1955 Mercedes 190 SL.

They turn out to be a pretty shifty bunch — they’re selling the hot cars of the title, and before you know it, a cop looking into the operation (Dabbs Greer) turns up dead. I probably don’t need to mention that Karen puts the moves on Nick — and that he’s suspecting of rubbing out the cop.

Hot Cars makes use of Jack’s At The Beach (#17) and the rollercoaster at Pacific Ocean Park.*

The big finish takes place on the rollercoaster at Pacific Ocean Park (POP) in Santa Monica, with some great POV stuff on the old attraction as Nick and Smiley duke it out. The picture’s location shooting is probably its strong suit, featuring a couple of cool Culver City car dealers (Big John’s and Johnny O’Toole’s) and Jack’s At The Beach, a Santa Monica restaurant near POP that you might recognize from The Rockford Files.

Koch and Bel-Air excelled at these low-budget, lurid little crime pictures — Shield For Murder (1954), Big House USA (1955), Three Bad Sisters (1956), Untamed Youth (1957, with Mamie Van Doren and Eddie Cochran!) and so on. A few of my favorite 50s movies came from Bel-Air.

John Bromfield made quite a few cool B movies, stuff like The Black Dakotas (1954) and Revenge Of The Creature (1955). He starred in the TV series The Sheriff Of Cochise, which was also called US Marshal. He retired in 1960 when the show was cancelled and became a commercial fisherman. He’s quite good in Hot Cars, appearing in about every scene. Joi Lansing does what’ she normally does in movies like this — stand around and look sultry. She’s really good at it.

Director Don McDougall stayed plenty busy doing TV, from the 50s well into the 80s. Lots of cool shows, from The Roy Rogers Show to Bonanza and from M Squad to The Night Stalker. He also did the Star Trek episode “The Squire Of Gothos.” Hot Cars is one of only a handful of features he directed, and while it’s nothing flashy, he and DP William Margulies avoid the studio-bound staginess of a lot of cheap movies from the period. They must’ve had a blast manning those cameras on the rollercoaster! Margulies spent the bulk of his career at Universal, where he shot tons of TV, Gunpoint (1966) with Audie Murphy and the great Ghost And Mr. Chicken (1966).

Hot Cars also boasts an ultra-cool jazzy score from Les Baxter. Baxter composed music for quite a few Bel-Air movies, and some Regalscope pictures, before hitting his stride at American International. Of course, at the same time, he was making great records like 1958’s Space Escapade. Wouldn’t you love a big fat CD boxed set of Baxter’s 50s an 60s movie work?

Truth be told, Hot Cars is cooler than it is good, and its appeal might be limited largely to fans of cheap noir. But if you fall into that group, you’ll find it quite a thing. You can get Hot Cars on DVD as part of MGM’s MOD program. It’s full-frame, but it looks pretty good. A Blu-Ray would be terrific.

* This map post-dates Hot Cars.

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Filed under 1956, Bel-Air, Dabbs Greer, Howard W. Koch, John Bromfield, Joi Lansing, Les Baxter, United Artists

The Flying Tigers (1942).

That’s John Wayne in Republic’s Flying Tigers (1942).

The real reason for this post is to honor Mr. Frank Losonsky, the last survivor of the Flying Tigers, who passed away this week at 99.

The Flying Tigers were 311 U.S. military service members recruited to help the Chinese Air Force fend off the Japanese in mid-1941. Mr. Losonsky was a crew chief and sergeant with the 3rd Squadron. Thanks to the John Wayne movie, a number of books on the subject and those cool-looking planes, I’ve been in awe of these men since I was a little kid.

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Filed under John Wayne, Republic Pictures

Blu-Ray News #283: Hollywood Story (1951) And New Orleans Uncensored (1955).

Mill Creek has another William Castle hi-def double bill on the way. This one’s got a couple of his noir pictures. If you’re like me, anything Mr. Castle touched is worthwhile.

Hollywood Story (1951)
Directed by William Castle
Starring Richard Conte, Julia Adams, Henry Hull, Fred Clark, Francis X. Bushman, William Farnum

William Castle spent a few years working as a contract director at Universal-International, directing cool pictures like Johnny Stool Pigeon (1949), Cave Of Outlaws (1951) and this one, Hollywood Story (1951). It’s based on the murder of the silent director William Desmond Taylor and features a handful of silent stars in tiny parts (probably done as a promo stunt more than anything else). It was shot by the underrated cinematographer Carl E. Guthrie.

Hollywood Story was often paired with Huge Fregonse’s Apache Drums (1951).

New Orleans Uncensored (1955)
Directed by William Castle
Produced by Sam Katzman
Starring Arthur Franz, Beverly Garland, Helene Stanton, Michael Ansara, Stacy Harris, Mike Mazurki

After those years at U-I, Castle moved to Columbia and made a slew of movies in Sam Katzman’s unit. This one has a dream cast — Beverly Garland, Stacy Harris, Mike Mazurki, it’s in widescreen B&W, and it runs a brisk 76 minutes. My kind of movie!

This single-disc set comes highly, highly recommended. Let’s hope Mill Creek has more like this on the way!

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Filed under 1951, 1955, Beverly Garland, Columbia, DVD/Blu-ray News, Julie Adams, Mill Creek, Sam Katzman, Universal (-International), William Castle

Blu-Ray News #282: Dragnet (1954).

Directed by Jack Webb
Starring Jack Webb, Ben Alexander, Richard Boone, Ann Robinson, Stacy Harris, Virginia Gregg, Victor Perrin, Georgia Ellis, James Griffith, Dennis Weaver, Dub Taylor

A friend and I were talking a couple months ago about the movies we really wanted to see on Blu-Ray. That’s the kind of thing movie geeks do to pass the time. Well, I put the 1954 Dragnet feature in my top spot, and Kino Lorber has announced it for Blu-Ray later this year. You can imagine how stoked I am.

aadrag10This movie’s got everything that makes the original Dragnet TV show so perfect, only more of it. The same no-nonsense style (with a few camera moves here and there), the same character actors and the same Joe Friday (Jack Webb) talking smack to every crook he comes across. There’s more violence (Dub Taylor gets shot in the face before the WB shield even shows up!), widescreen, WarnerColor and a majestic version of the theme song from the Warner Bros. orchestra. This is one of my favorite movies, and the old DVD is atrocious.

UPDATE (2/12/2020) — I will have the extreme privilege of doing a commentary for this one. It may present the film in both 1.37 and 1.75 aspect ratios. It was a very early non-anamorphic widescreen film.

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Filed under 1954, DVD/Blu-ray News, Jack Webb, James H. Griffith, Warner Bros.

Blu-Ray News #281: Jungle Queen (1945).

Directed by Ray Taylor & Lewis D. Collins
Starring Edward Norris, Eddie Quillan, Douglass Dumbrille, Lois Collier, Ruth Roman, Tala Birell, Clarence Muse

Anything with Douglass Dumbrille as a Nazi, Ruth Roman as the Jungle Queen and Clarence Muse as anything is worth a few hours of your time. And since the Universal serials VCI has been bringing to Blu-Ray lately are absolutely beautiful, I’m really looking forward to this one.

It’s 1939, and the Nazis are trying to take over Africa. They’re looking for the fabled Sword Of Tongu, which will help them win over the natives and have them join the fight against the British. It’s up to a couple of Americans (Edward Norris and Eddie Quillan), a British agent/archeologist (Lois Collier) and the beautiful, mysterious Jungle Queen, Lothel (Ruth Roman), to stop them.

Directors Ray Taylor and Lewis D. Collins did a ton of serials, and Collins went on to direct a few of the terrific William Elliott B Westerns at Monogram and Allied Artists. Universal’s serials boast better production values than other studio’s chapter plays, though this one is a bit talky and makes liberal use of stock footage.

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Filed under Douglass Dumbrille, DVD/Blu-ray News, Lewis D. Collins, Ray Taylor, Ruth Roman, Serial, Universal (-International), VCI

Blu-Ray News #280: Munster, Go Home! (1966).

Directed by Earl Bellamy
Starring Fred Gwynne, Yvonne De Carlo, Al Lewis, Butch Patrick, Debbie Watson, Terry-Thomas, John Carradine

Shout Factory is bringing Munster, Go Home! (1966) to Blu-Ray in March.

The picture gave us a chance to see TV’s Munster family on the big screen in eye-popping Technicolor. It played one of those summer matinee series when I was a kid, and I can still remember the incredible color of that battered 35mm print. And though the DVD of the picture is quite nice, it’ll be great to have it in high-definition.

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Filed under 1966, DVD/Blu-ray News, Shout/Scream Factory, Universal (-International)