Jungle Moon Men (1955).

Directed by Charles S. Gould
Produced by Sam Katzman
Written by Dwight Babcock and Jo Pagano
Cinematography​: ​Henry Freulich
Film Edit​or: ​Henry Batista

Johnny Weissmuller (Johnny Weissmuller), Jean Byron (Ellen Marsten), Helene Stanton (Oma), Bill Henry (Bob Prentice), Myron Healey (Mark Santo), Billy Curtis (Damu), Michael Granger (Nolimo), Frank Sully (Max), Ben Chapman (Marro), Kenneth L. Smith (Link), Ed Hinton (Regan), Kimba

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Nobody’s ever going to accuse Johnny Weissmuller of being a good actor, but he made plenty of entertaining movies. He chose to retire after Sam Katzman’s Jungle Jim films, 16 cheaply-made (the norm for Katzman) adventure pictures that make liberal use of stock footage, and the later syndicated TV series. Jungle Moon Men (1955) is the next-to-last Jungle Jim picture, and Weissmuller goes by his real name instead of Jungle Jim. Go figure.

In this one, Weissmuller sings on as a guide for Ellen Marston (Jean Byron), a researcher who wants to explore the Baku country — in search of the Egyptians’ secret to eternal life.

They come across the Moon Men — a pygmy tribe armed with poisonous darts, a necklace bearing Egyptian hieroglyphics and a big fat diamond, and some bad guys (Myron Healey is one of them) out to get that diamond. All this nonsense takes us to a cave where Jim/Johnny and the others meet the Baku High Priestess Oma (Helene Stanton) — who must remain in the cave to avoid the wrath of the sun god Rah. It’s rather weird, to say the least, and it’s all wrapped up in 69 minutes.

Director Charles S. Gould had a long career as an assistant director — he worked on number of the classic Universal monster movies, among other things. Jungle Moon Men is one of the few features he directed. The later Jungle Jims are a fairly ramshackle bunch, with (even) less money and attention going into making these things. Gould probably did the best he could with what he had to work with.

Jean Byron, the researcher here, is known for playing Patty Duke’s mom on The Patty Duke Show. Helene Stanton was in The Big Combo and New Orleans Uncensored (both 1955), highlights of a very short film career. She’s the mother of Dr. Drew Pinsky, the radio/reality show guy. Myron Healey made a pretty good living playing bad guy parts like this. And Billy Curtis — who’s in everything from Terror Of Tiny Town (1938) to Superman And The Mole-Men (1951) to High Plains Drifter (1973), along with a previous Jungle Jim picture, Pygmy Island (1950) — plays Damu, the leader of the Moon Men.

There’s not a lot to the Jungle Jim movies, and Jungle Moon Men is one of the lesser ones. But there’s something about these things — probably Weissmuller himself — that really appeals to me. Others must agree: calls for a DVD or Blu-Ray set of these is one of the most common wants I get around here.

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Filed under 1955, Columbia, Johnny Weissmuller, Jungle Jim, Myron Healey, Sam Katzman

RIP, Paul Koslo.

Paul Koslo
(June 27, 1944 – January 9, 2019)

I just learned that one of my favorite character actors of the 70s, Paul Koslo, passed away back in January. He’s in so much great stuff: The Omega Man (1971), Joe Kidd (1972), Mr. Majestyk (1974, above), Freebie And The Bean (1974), The Drowning Pool (1975) and Rooster Cogburn (1975), to name just a few. How many actors could say they locked horns with John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Charles Bronson, Paul Newman and James Caan?

Every movie he was in was better for his presence.

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Filed under 1971, 1972, 1974, 1975, Alan Arkin, Charles Bronson, Charlton Heston, Clint Eastwood, James Caan, Paul Newman

Blu-Ray Review: Frankenstein Created Woman (1967).

F Created W artwork

Original poster artwork.

Directed by Terence Fisher
Script: John Elder (Anthony Hinds)
Director Of Photography: Arthur Grant
Film Editor: Spencer Reeve
Music by James Bernard

Cast: Peter Cushing (Baron Frankenstein), Susan Denberg (Christina), Thorley Walters (Dr Hertz), Robert Morris (Hans), Duncan Lamont (The Prisoner), Peter Blythe (Anton), Barry Warren (Karl), Derek Fowlds (Johann), Alan Macnaughtan (Kleve), Peter Madden (Chief Of Police), Philip Ray (Mayor), Ivan Beavis (Landlord), Colin Jeavons (Priest), Bartlett Mullins (Bystander), Alec Mango (Spokesman), Mark McMullins (Villager), Nikki Van Der Zyl (Christina’s voice)

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For the fourth entry in their Frankenstein series, Hammer went with the simple twist of making the “monster” a woman, then cast a Playboy Playmate in the title role. When you put it like that, Frankenstein Created Woman (1967) sounds really terrible. And it probably should be terrible. But somehow, it works, and works pretty well. Which shows the level of talent behind these things.

Turns out that simple plot twist isn’t so simple. It takes a number of contrivances to get us to the “created woman” part of the story. And rather than the usual “a piece here, a part there” type of creation we expect from Dr. Frankenstein (Peter Cushing), here he’s transferring souls, not just stitching together organs and limbs.

Frankenstein transfers the soul of Hans, a young man hung for something he didn’t do, into his girlfriend Christina (Susan Denberg). Hans finds his shapely new body of great benefit in getting his revenge on those who framed him. That sets up a fairly common last act for Frankenstein movies, as the doctor has to track down and stop his murderous creation.

While Hammer films from this period are top-notch in every category, and we’ll get to some of those in a bit, it’s the fine-tuned performances that put this one over. Peter Cushing is always incredible, and he really has a field day here. His Baron Frankenstein is by turns ruthless and compassionate, and it could have been laughable with a lesser actor in the role. The recent appearance of so many Hammer Films on Blu-Ray, thanks to Scream Factory and Warner Archive, has sent me off on a Peter Cushing binge. What a superb body of work. He never let budget and schedule, or the stigma attached to movies like this, get in the way of his commitment to his craft. Cushing is someone I admire as a person as much as an actor; he’s the Horror Film’s version of the Western’s Randolph Scott.

Thorley Walters is very good here, too. And Susan Denberg is terrific as Christina. Her voice was dubbed by Nikki Van Der Zyl since it was felt her Austrian accent was too thick, so it’s hard to really judge her performance. However, her transformations from young beautiful girl to murderess (and there are a number of these transformations in the last couple reels) are done through facial expressions and the sudden arrival of a knife or meat cleaver — and Denberg pulls them off very well. (By the way, the bandage bikini we see in these still does not appear in the movie. Pity.)

Terence Fisher and Susan Denberg.

Frankenstein Created Woman, with its title a takeoff on the 1956 Vadim/Bardot film And God Created Woman, will never make the list of Hammer’s classics, but it’s got plenty to recommend it. I’ve already brought up the cast. Terence Fisher’s direction is as assured as ever. Never flashy, but every setup seems just right. Arthur Grant’s cinematography is near perfect, though I’ve always been more of a Jack Asher man.

She was the better half of this happy couple.

About 30 years ago, I bought a 16mm print of Frankenstein Created Woman from a listing in The Big Reel. It was complete in every way, not a scratch or splice to be found, and hard-matted at the proper 1.66. But the color had turned that sickly combination of pink, brown and purple. Ever since, whether it’s laserdisc, DVD or this gorgeous new Blu-Ray from Scream Factory, this movie’s color is something I pay particular attention to. It looks terrific here, the best I’ve ever seen it look. The sound’s got plenty of punch, letting James Bernard’s score really shine. There are plenty of extras: two commentaries; interviews with Robert Morris (Hans), camera assistant Eddie Collins and 2nd assistant Director Joe Marks; two World Of Hammer episodes; the Hammer Glamour documentary; trailers and TV spots; radio spots; and still and poster galleries. Plenty of fun is to be had wading through all that stuff. Highly, highly recommended.

And remember, folks: Scream Factory’s bringing us Quatermass And The Pit (1967, AKA Five Million Years To Earth), too!

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Filed under 1967, 20th Century-Fox, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Hammer Films, Peter Cushing, Shout/Scream Factory, Terence Fisher

Jungle Jim.

I’ve been wanting to dive into Sam Katzman’s Jungle Jim series, but have been waiting for someone to put out a set of all 16 pictures (released from 1948 to 1955) and the single-season TV show. That hasn’t happened, and the single discs are way too expensive and take up way too much shelf space.

Figure this summer is a good time to take em on, along with the Bowery Boys. First will be Johnny Weissmuller in either Cannibal Attack (1954) or Jungle Moon Men (1955), a couple of the later ones.

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Filed under Bowery Boys, Columbia, Johnny Weissmuller, Jungle Jim, Lew Landers, Monogram/Allied Artists, Sam Katzman, Spencer Gordon Bennett

Blu-Ray News #241: None But The Brave (1965).

Directed by Frank Sinatra
Starring Frank Sinatra, Clint Walker, Tommy Sands, Brad Dexter, Tony Bill, Tatsuya Mihashi

None But The Brave (1965) is usually shrugged off as simply “the only picture Frank Sinatra directed,” which it is. But it’s also a pretty solid war movie, a lot better than reviews at the time would have you expecting. Two groups of soldiers, one Japanese and one American, are stranded on the same little Pacific island. They establish a pretty shaky truce in order to survive.

It was shot in Hawaii, and during production, Brad Dexter saved Sinatra (and Ruth Koch, the wife of producer Howard W. Koch) from drowning after getting caught in a riptide. In Japan, it was distributed by Toho, the Godzilla movie people. And Tommy Sands was Sinatra’s son-in-law at the time, and he’d divorce Nancy the same year.

It’s got great Panavision cinematography by Harold Lipstein. Sinatra had cinematographer William H. Daniels working as a producer, and with those two master craftsmen on board, how could it not look great? And that, for me, is why I’m so happy Warner Archive is bringing None But The Brave to Blu-Ray. It’s out next week, I think. Recommended.

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Filed under 1965, DVD/Blu-ray News, Frank Sinatra, Toho, Warner Archive, Warner Bros.

Blu-Ray News #240: Scars Of Dracula (1970).

Directed by Roy Ward Baker
Starring Christopher Lee, Dennis Waterman, Jenny Hanley, Patrick Troughton, Michael Gwynn, Michael Ripper

Scars Of Dracula (1970) has a weird place in the Hammer/Lee Dracula series. It’s the last of the period ones, coming right before Dracula AD 1972. It gave Christopher Lee more to do than a lot of these pictures did. In some, Dracula seems like an afterthought — not a good move when his name’s in the title. And it was directed by Roy Ward Baker, who made some terrific movies. His A Night To Remember (1958) is one of my all-time favorite films.

Scars Of Dracula has also been one of the harder films in the series to track down on TV or video over the years. Which makes the upcoming Blu-Ray from Scream Factory such a great thing. They’ve done a great job with their previous Hammer releases, and I’m sure this one will be just as good.

Coming in September. You know, if I was 12 years old again, most of my allowance would be going to Shout/Scream Factory.

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Filed under 1970, Christopher Lee, Hammer Films, Michael Ripper, Roy Ward Baker, Shout/Scream Factory

Blu-Ray News #239: Johnny Cool (1963).

Directed by William Asher
Starring Henry Silva, Elizabeth Montgomery, Richard Anderson, Jim Backus, Joey Bishop, Telly Savalas, Sammy Davis, Jr.

William Asher’s 1963 gangster picture Johnny Cool is terrific, and I’m so stoked it’s making its way to Blu-Ray later this year from the folks at Scorpion Releasing.

In the early 60s, the gangster picture enjoyed a small resurgence, thanks to stuff like Budd Boetticher’s The Rise And Fall Of Legs Diamond (1960), Murder Inc. (1960) and Portrait Of A Mobster (1961). Asher’s picture might be the most brutal and violent one of the bunch. Most stylish, too — thanks in large part to the great cinematography of Sam Leavitt.

William Asher was in the middle of his Beach Party movies at AIP when he took on Johnny Cool. He and Elizabeth Montgomery became an item after she auditioned for the picture, they’d marry, and he’d go on to direct the bulk of her Bewitched TV show. The cast is really something, from Henry Silva to Jim Backus to Mort Sahl to Telly Savalas (with hair) — with a great part for Sammy Davis, Jr.

Johnny Cool has a great score from Billy May, with Davis singing the title tune. This is an overlooked, under-seen little movie, well worth (re)discovery in high definition. Recommended.

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Filed under 1963, DVD/Blu-ray News, Elizabeth Montgomery, Henry Silva, Jim Backus, United Artists, William Asher