Blu-Ray News #333: The Face Behind The Mask (1941).

Directed by Robert Florey
Starring Peter Lorre, Evelyn Keyes, Don Beddoe, George E. Stone, John Tyrrell

One I’ve been waiting for. The Face Behind The Mask (1941) is one of those sublime B movies where everything went just right.

Peter Lorre is terrific as an optimistic immigrant whose personal version of the American Dream becomes a living hell. He goes from lowly dishwasher (who’s hideously scarred in an accident) to a criminal ringleader (amassing the fortune needed for plastic surgery). Everything changes when he meets a sweet young blind woman (Evelyn Keyes), but will he be able to just walk away from his double-crossing gang?

Robert Florey’s direction and the moody camerawork of Franz F. Planer — and one of Lorre’s best performances — make this thing a winner from fade-in to fade-out.

Imprint is bringing The Face Behind The Mask to Blu-Ray in May with an assortment of commentaries and interviews. But the real attraction will be the chance to see this terrific little picture in high definition. Highly, highly recommended.

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Filed under Columbia, DVD/Blu-ray News, Imprint Films, Peter Lorre

Blu-Ray News #332: Larceny (1948).

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

George Sherman was at Universal-International from 1948 to 1956. He directed a lot of Westerns, along with some crime/noir pictures and adventure things. Not a lot of ’em have made their way to DVD, much less Blu-Ray. So Larceny (1948), a cool noir with John Payne and Dan Duryea, coming to Blu-Ray from Kino Lorber is big news.

We should see it turn up this summer.

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

McQ (1974).

Directed by John Sturges
Written by Lawrence Roman
Cinematography: Harry Stradling, Jr.
Film Editor: William H. Ziegler
Music by Elmer Bernstein

Cast: John Wayne (Det. Lt. Lon “McQ” McHugh), Eddie Albert (Capt. Edward Kosterman), Diana Muldaur (Lois), Colleen Dewhurst (Myra), Clu Gulager (Frank Toms), David Huddleston (“Pinky” Farrell), Jim Watkins (J.C.), Al Lettieri (Manny Santiago), Julie Adams (Elaine), Roger E. Mosley (Rosey)

__________

For weeks, I had a melody stuck in my head. I knew it was from a film score, probably from the 70s, that was all I could figure out. My first thought was that it might be the work of Lalo Schifrin, or maybe part of David Shire’s score for The Taking Of Pelham One Two Three (1974).

Then, watching an episode of The Rifleman, I saw the credit for the show’s producers, Jules V. Levy and Arthur Gardner. They later teamed up with John Wayne’s Batjac to make McQ (1974) and Brannigan (1975). That jogged my memory — the tune was from Elmer Bernstein’s score for McQ. I promptly pulled out the movie, which I hadn’t seen in at least a decade.

John Wayne in a contemporary cop story is a bit jarring. John Wayne in a contemporary anything is a bit jarring. Seeing him drive around in a Trans Am is odd. So is seeing a tiny snub nose revolver in Duke’s huge hands (he has a Colt Python and a S&W Model 10). That weaponry gives way to something more fitting to the great John Wayne — a MAC-10 submachine gun. But you quickly get used to all this — John Wayne is John Wayne.



They say this picture came about because Wayne turned down Dirty Harry (1971). John Sturges was brought in to direct. Sturges and Wayne working together sounds like a dream come true. It’s a shame it was this late in both their careers. Sturges’s handling of the action scenes is as masterful as ever, but it’s a lot talkier than it needs to be. This was Sturges’s next-to-last film.

John Sturges and John Wayne take a walk on the beach.

Wayne is Lon McHugh, a Seattle cop. A good friend on the force is gunned down, and as he looks into it, Duke discovers there are crooked cops stealing confiscated dope and selling it, with the help of a big-time local smuggler (Al Lettieri). McQ becomes a target of the cops, the crooked cops and the bad guys. That’s not the kind of thing John Wayne approves of, and he gets to the bottom of it as the bodies and wrecked cars pile up. It plays exactly like what it is, a 70s rogue cop movie filtered through John Wayne — which means the anti-hero thing is dialed way back.

One of the picture’s highlights is its cast. Wayne’s terrific. Eddie Albert and Clu Gulager are fine as cops. David Huddelson is cool as a P.I. friend of McQ’s. Julie Adams has a single scene as Wayne’s ex-wife. And Roger E. Moseley is fun as one of Wayne’s informants. 

Al Lettieri makes a swell bad guy, as always. He’d been in The Godfather (1972) and The Getaway (1972), and he’d follow McQ with Mr. Majestyk (1974). Sadly, he’d have a heart attack and pass away the next year. What a shame, he had a lot of movies left in him.

Acting honors go to Colleen Dewhurst as Myra, a waitress and addict Wayne reaches out to for information. She brings a real sadness to the role, and Wayne offering her some cocaine (taken from a smalltime crook) is heartbreaking. If you hate the rest of the movie, her scenes are worth the whole thing. Of course, she’d appeared with Wayne before, in The Cowboys (1972).

There’s a good car chase, with an interesting twist. Wayne’s in a 1973 Brewster Green Pontiac Firebird Trans Am chasing a green and yellow delivery truck. He takes a number of detours and side streets to catch up to the truck, only to spot an identical truck in his rearview mirror. Duke’s reactions and impatient slow burn behind the wheel help make for a very effective sequence.

The picture’s big finish features another car chase, this time with the crooks chasing Wayne on the beach at speeds of around 75 miles an hour, ending with an incredible car-flip stunt. Hal Needham, the stunt man who’d later turn director (Smokey And The Bandit, etc.), broke his back developing the stunt. To quote Car And Driver, “the cop flick also contains the debut of the McQ Cannon, as it has become known. Created by Hal Needham and still in use today, it allows a car to be barrel rolled without a ramp by basically fitting explosives to its undercarriage. The test run on a dry lake almost killed Needham, so the film’s spectacular beach rollover was performed by Gary McLarty.” It’s quite a scene.

Elmer Bernstein’s score is a perfect blend of 70s’ jazz-funk crime picture music and the kind of score Bernstein had written for previous Wayne movies like The Sons Of Katie Elder (1965). Bernstein has also scored Sturges pictures like The Magnificent Seven (1960) and The Great Escape (1963). The composer’s work for McQ works really well for the film and (in my case at least) gets stuck in your head with ease. A CD of the complete score was released by Film Score Monthly.

During the shooting of the beach sequence, the cast and crew stayed at The Polynesian Motel in Oceans Shores. Wayne stayed on his yacht, The Wild Goose, and sailed around the area on weekends.

McQ is no Rio Bravo (1959), and it’s no Dirty Harry (1971). But it’s got a lot going for it, mainly Wayne himself. He could carry a picture without breaking a sweat. The cast is terrific and the action scenes are exceedingly well done. What more do you need?

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Filed under 1974, John Sturges, John Wayne, Julie Adams, Warner Bros.

Blu-Ray News #331: The Hellfighters (1968).

Directed by Andrew V. McLaglen
Starring John Wayne, Katharine Ross, Jim Hutton, Vera Miles, Jay C. Flippen, Bruce Cabot

Mill Creek has announced the May Blu-Ray release of The Hellfighters (1968) Based (at least in part) on oil well firefighter Red Adair, it’s a pretty good later John Wayne movie (watch for something on 1974’s McQ in the next day or so).

This has always looked good on laserdisc or DVD, so I imagine the Blu-Ray will look terrific.

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Filed under 1968, Andrew V. McLaglen, DVD/Blu-ray News, John Wayne, Mill Creek, Uncategorized, Universal (-International), Vera Miles

Blu-Ray News #330: The Matt Helm Movies (1966-69).

Dean’s Martin’s Matt Helm series of James Bond spoofs, based on Donald Hamilton’s hard-boiled spy novels, is coming to Blu-Ray in the UK, thanks to Mediumrare Entertainment. The set’s called The Matt Helm Lounge, the same name Columbia called the set they released on DVD in the US.

In 1966, it seems that the only way to compete with the James Bond juggernaut was to spoof it, as these films, the Derek Flint pictures and countless one-offs show. The lone exception might be the Harry Palmer films, starting with The Ipcress File (1965). 

The Helms bear almost no resemblance to the novels, aside from Helm’s name the the book titles. (Actually, The Silencers borrows a couple things from Hamilton’s Death Of A Citizen.) Love ’em or hate ’em, the Matt Helm films are exactly what you’d expect from James Bond spoofs starring Dean Martin. While the Helm pictures were meant to make fun of the James Bond films (and cash in on the spy craze), the Bond pictures themselves would eventually adopt the tone of spoofs like these. 

The Silencers (1966)
Directed by Phil Karlson
Starring Dean Martin, Stella Stevens, Daliah Lavi, Victor Buono, Arthur O’Connell, Robert Webber, James Gregory, Nancy Kovack, Beverly Adams

Opening around the same time as Martin’s TV show, The Silencers was a huge hit. Believe it or not, at one point it was going to be a serious film, with a screenplay by Oscar Saul. It was director Phil Karlson’s idea to go for the tongue-in-cheek approach, and Saul’s script was rewritten by Herbert Baker, who was writing for The Dean Martin Show. Baker does not get credit. By the way, Baker wrote the incredible The Girl Can’t Help It (1956).

Dean Martin, Nancy Kovack and Phil Karlson.

Stella Stevens is terrific as Gail Hendricks, a bumbling agent Matt gets stuck with. She shows a real flair for comedy. It’s a shame Ms. Stevens was never recognized as the talent she was.

Dean/Matt has a tricked-out station wagon, complete with a bed and a bar, and a pistol that shoots backwards. The picture was shot by the great Burnett Guffey, a year before he’d head to Texas to shoot Bonnie And Clyde (1967). Elmer Bernstein provides a great score, that somehow mixes a little Rat Pack swing with the appropriate secret agent feel.

Murderers’ Row (1966)
Directed by Henry Levin
Starring Dean Martin, Ann-Margret, Karl Malden, Camilla Sparv, James Gregory, Beverly Adams

Oscar Saul wrote a draft or two for this one, too, and Herbert Baker rewrote that. The credits are the reverse of the last one; this time, Saul is not credited.

Murderers’ Row was supposed to be shot on location, but Dean Martin refused to go to Europe, and being that he was a co-producer, he got his way. Ann-Margret is a real firecracker, as always, and Karl Malden looks like he’s having fun. James Gregory and Beverly Adams are back from ICE HQ. The gadgets this time include a cigarette that launches a tiny missile, something that would turn up in the next Bond film, You Only Live Twice (1967).

The score this time comes from Lalo Schifrin, and it’s a good one. The group Dino, Desi & Billy (Dino is Dean Paul Martin, Dean’s son) appear in a discotheque scene.

The Ambushers (1967)

Directed by Henry Levin
Starring Dean Martin, Senta Berger, Janice Rule, James Gregory, Albert Salmi, Beverly Adams

Every series has a low point, a weak link, and in the Matt Helm movies, The Ambushers is it. Again written by Herbert Baker, it doesn’t have quite the sense of fun of the previous two. Doesn’t have much of a plot, either. As Roger Ebert put it in his review back in ’67, “Dean plays Matt Helm again, and goes to Acapulco, and drives up and down scenic highways with ravishing beauties, and occasionally gets shot at.” There’s a UFO, by the way.

This time, Hugo Montenegro composed the score. There was no soundtrack album, unfortunately. The music’s the best thing in the movie.

The Wrecking Crew (1969)
Directed by Phil Karlson
Starring Dean Martin, Elke Sommer, Sharon Tate, Nancy Kwan, Nigel Green, Tina Louise

Getting Phil Karlson back as director was a good idea, as The Wrecking Crew is easily the best in the series, except for maybe The Silencers. A new writer was brought in, William P. McGivern, who wrote the stories that became The Big Heat (1953) and Shield For Murder (1954) and the script for William Castle’s I Saw What You Did (1965). He also wrote a couple of episodes of Adam-12.

There’s some other interesting casting. James Gregory is replaced as MacDonald by John Larch. Bruce Lee provided choreography for the martial arts scenes. And Chuck Norris appears as a henchman in a scene or two.

Bruce Lee trains Nancy Kwan and Sharon Tate train for thier fight scene.

The film’s claim to fame today is that it the last Sharon Tate released in her lifetime. She was murdered by the Manson family in August of 1969. She’s very good here as an incompetent aide to Helm similar to Stella Stevens in the first one. There were plans to make a fifth Matt Helm picture, The Ravagers, with Tate back as Miss Carlson. Some say The Ravagers was cancelled due to lackluster grosses for The Wrecking Crew, but after Sharon’s murder, Dean Martin pulled the plug on it.

I remember sitting in the back seat of the family Chevrolet and seeing this trailer for The Wrecking Crew at The Hi-Way Drive-In in Thomasville, Georgia. I was five. Funny, but I don’t remember what movie we saw, just this trailer.

Bright and breezy with great modern architecture and furniture, these films will look terrific in high definition when they arrive in April. They were originally 1.85. Not sure what the set’s region status will be, but it comes highly recommended anyway.

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Filed under 1966, 1967, 1969, Ann-Margret, Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris, Columbia, Dean Martin, DVD/Blu-ray News, Henry Levin, James Gregory, Phil Karlson, Senta Berger, Sharon Tate, Stella Stevens

Blu-Ray News #329: The Eurocrypt Of Christopher Lee Collection (1962-72).

Severin Films has announced The Eurocrypt Of Christopher Lee Collection, an exhaustive eight-disc set coming out May 25.

The Castle Of The Living Dead (1964)
Directed by Warren Kiefer
Starring Christopher Lee, Gaia Germani, Philippe Leroy, Mirko Valentin, Donald Sutherland
Lee plays a 19th century Count who lets a theatrical troupe spend the weekend in his creepy castle. As you’d expect, it would’ve been better if they’d turned down his invitation. 4K restoration from the Italian negative; English audio.

Challenge The Devil (1963, AKA Katarsis)
Directed by Giuseppe Vegezzi
Starring Christopher Lee, Giorgio Adrisson, Vittoria Centroni
One of Lee’s most obscure films. He turns out to be the devil. 2K restoration from the Italian negative; Italian audio.

Crypt Of The Vampire (1964, AKA Terror In The Crypt and Crypt Of Horror)
Directed by Camillo Mastrocinque
Starring Christopher Lee, Adriana Ambesi
Another adaptation of Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla, with Lee as Count Karnstein. 2k restoration from a fine-grain 35mm master print; Italian and English audio.

Sherlock Holmes And The Deadly Necklace (1962)
Directed by Terence Fisher
Starring Christopher Lee, Thorley Walters, Senta Berger
Lee and director Terence Fisher follow Hammer’s The Hound Of The Baskervilles (1959) with Sherlock Holmes And The Deadly Necklace, giving Lee and chance to play the world’s greatest detective. (It was Peter Cushing in Hound.) Written by Curt Siodmak, based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Valley Of Fear. 2K restoration from the German negative; English & German tracks.

Theatre Macabre (1971-1972)
Christopher Lee hosts an anthology TV series, providing and intro and wrap-up for each episode. 24 surviving episodes have now been scanned in 2K from the original negatives.

The Torture Chamber Of Dr. Sadism (1967, AKA The Blood Demon, The Snake Pit And The Pendulum, Castle Of The Walking Dead)
Directed by Harald Reinl
Starring Christopher Lee, Karin Dor, Lex Barker
Count Regula (Christopher Lee) is executed for killing 12 virgins in his dungeon. Years later, he comes back for revenge. 4K restoration from from the original German negative; English and German audio.

Relics From The Crypt
A collection of interviews with Lee over the years and other related horror featurettes.

In addition to the Relics From The Crypt disc, each disc is packed full of extras, from commentaries and interviews to trailers and still galleries. There’s a CD of Angelo Francesco Lavagnino’s score for The Castle Of The Living Dead, and an 88-page illustrated book by Lee biographer Jonathan Rigby. This is really gonna be something. Highly, highly recommended.

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Filed under 1962, 1963, 1964, 1967, 1971, 1972, Christopher Lee, DVD/Blu-ray News, Karin Dor, Peter Cushing, Senta Berger, Severin Films, Sherlock Holmes, Terence Fisher

House Of Frankenstein.

Just saw that Boris Karloff’s Hollywood home — he lived there in the late 30s and early 40s — is on the market for a little under $9 million. 

It was built in 1927. Katherine Hepburn sold it to Karloff. Later, Eric Burden of The Animals lived there. I’m guessing that Mr. Karloff left this house every morning to head to Universal for Son Of Frankenstein (1939). Wonder how much of the surviving gardening is his work?

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Blu-Ray News #328: Columbia Noir #3 (1947-59).

Indicator’s got a third Columbia Noir Blu-Ray box on the way, and it’s gonna be another good one.

Johnny O’Clock (1947)
Written and directed by Robert Rossen
Starring Dick Powell, Evelyn Keyes, Lee J. Cobb, Jeff Chandler
Dick Powell is cool in his second noir picture, Burnett Guffey’s cinematography is often stunning. Robert Rossen does a good job guiding us through the rather complex plot.

The Dark Past (1948)
Directed by Rudolph Maté
Starring William Holden, Nina Foch, Lee J. Cobb
William Holden is an escaped convict in this remake of 1939’s Blind Alley. Lee J. Cobb is a psychologist who’s held hostage and analyzes his captor along the way.

Convicted (1950)
Directed by Henry Levin
Starring Glenn Ford, Broderick Crawford, Millard Mitchell, Dorothy Malone, Carl Benton Reid, Frank Faylen
Another remake of The Criminal Code, with Glenn Ford an inmate and Broderick Crawford the warden. Burnett Guffey shot this one, too, which is always a good thing.

Between Midnight And Dawn (1950)
Directed by Gordon Douglas
Starring Mark Stevens, Edmond O’Brien, Gale Storm, Madge Blake
A prototype for the buddy cop movies, with Edmond O’Brien and Mark Stevens  childhood friends who end up cops. Gale Storm is the dispatcher they talk to throughout their shift.


The Sniper (1952)
Directed by Edward Dmytryk
Starring Adolphe Menjou, Arthur Franz, Gerald Mohr, Marie Windsor, Frank Faylen
Arthur Franz plays a freak with a rifle before the freak-with-a-rifle sub-genre even existed. Dmytryk does a terrific job, as does DP Burnett Guffey. Essential.

City Of Fear (1959)
Directed by Irving Lerner
Starring Vince Edwards, Lyle Talbot, John Archer
Vince Edwards escapes from San Quentin and has what he thinks is a vial of heroin. Turns out it’s the ultra-dangerous Cobalt-60, which could wipe out LA. Edwards gets sicker as the movie plays out — and time runs out. A very cool little movie.

The set comes with the kind of extras — commentaries, video essays, shorts (including six from The Three Stooges!), trailers, galleries and more. You don’t wanna miss this one.

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Filed under 1950, 1959, Broderick Crawford, Columbia, Dick Powell, DVD/Blu-ray News, Edward Dmytryk, Frank Faylen, Glenn Ford, Indicator/Powerhouse, Marie Windsor, Mark Stevens, The Three Stooges, William Holden

Old John Robertson.

I’m reading the delightful, insightful book Time Between by Chris Hillman of The Hillmen, The Byrds, The Flying Burrito Brothers, The Desert Rose Band and other bands.

In an early chapter, Hillman covers growing up in San Diego County and the old movie director John Robertson who lived nearby. He and his wife Josephine, a screenwriter, became the inspiration for the song “Old John Robertson” on The Byrds’ The Notorious Byrd Brothers LP from 1968. (A different version had been the B-side to the 1967 “Lady Friend” single.)

Robertson directed a number of silent films, with his biggest being the silent Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde (1920) starring John Barrymore. One of his later pictures was Little Orphan Annie (1932). In the 50s, when Hillman and his friends encountered him, he was still dressing the part of a silent movie director, complete with jodhpurs and a handlebar mustache.

“Old John Robertson”
by Chris Hillman and Roger McGuinn

Old John Robertson
He wore a Stetson hat
People everywhere would
Laugh behind his back

No one cared to take
Any time to find out
What he was all about
Fear kept them out

Children laughed and played
And didn’t know his name
They could tell when he
Was coming just the same

Walking slow with old John’s
Crippled wife by his side
Then she sighed, then she died

Magic words from him
Entrancing children’s ears
But they laughed at him
When he went to hide his tears

All in vain was no game
For he’d lost an old friend
In the end, in the end

Old John Robertson
He wore a Stetson hat
People everywhere would
Laugh behind his back

No one cared to take
Any time to find out
What he was all about
Fear kept them out

Robertson passed away in 1964, so he was never aware that he’d been immortalized in song by one of the local kids. Shame, it’s a wonderful song — on a terrific album. Of course, Mr. Hillman is a national treasure.

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Filed under 1968

RIP, Christopher Plummer.

Christopher Plummer
December 13, 1929 – February 5, 2021

Christopher Plummer has passed away at 91. Of course, we’ll be hearing a lot about The Sound Of Music (1965) the next few days, but I’ll always remember his turn to play Sherlock Holmes in Murder By Decree (1978). He was terrific, taking his place up there with Basil Rathbone and Peter Cushing.

In this photo, he’s sitting on the set in his Holmes outfit.

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Filed under 1978, Sherlock Holmes