Blu-Ray News #213: The Strange Door (1951).


Directed by Joseph Pevney
Starring Charles Laughton, Boris Karloff, Sally Forrest, Richard Stapley, Alan Napier, Michael Pate

It’s from Universal and it’s got Boris Karloff in it. That’s enough to put The Strange Door, coming in April from Kino Lorber, on my Blu-Ray want list.

The Strange Door is a weird duck. There are castles and graveyards and many of the other Universal horror staples, but it’s more of an action/adventure/romance thing. Karloff is cool, Charles Laughton overplays it perfectly and Irving Glassberg in gorgeous black and white.

 

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Blu-Ray News #212: Human Desire (1954).

Directed by Fritz Lang
Starring Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame, Broderick Crawford, Edgar Buchanan, Peggy Maley

Human Desire (1954) is small-town noir as only the great Fritz Lang could do it — and Eureka is bringing it to Blu-Ray in all its B&W widescreen glory.

Glenn Ford’s a train engineer who gets involved in murder, blackmail and about every kind of seediness you can think of — all thanks to Fate and Gloria Grahame. Lang and DP Burnett Guffey come up with some stunning visuals, especially around the railroad yard. And while it’s not the seedy masterpiece The Big Heat (1953) is— which first brought Lang, Ford and Grahame together — it shows how Lang’s stylistics can elevate substandard material. (There were all kinds of problems with thing as it came together.)

Lang in high-definition is always a treat. Can’t wait for this.

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Filed under 1954, DVD/Blu-ray News, Fritz Lang, Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame

Happy Birthday, George Reeves.

George Reeves
(January 5, 1914 – June 16, 1959)

George Reeves was born 105 years ago today. And I’d much rather celebrate his life and work than commemorate his mysterious death.

So, here’s a color behind the scenes look at Adventures Of Superman. Reeves played the Man Of Steel on the TV show — and the little Lippert picture that served as its pilot, Superman And The Mole Men (1951). He was also in Gone With The Wind (1939), Jungle Jim (1948), Rancho Notorious (1952) and From Here To Eternity (1953). A Superman feature, Superman And The Secret Planet, was in development at the time of Reeves’ death.

I love Reeves as Superman.

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Filed under 1951, George Reeves, Lippert/Regal/API

Blu-Ray Review: (Horror Of) Dracula (1958).

Directed by Terence Fisher
Screenplay by Jimmy Sangster
From the novel by Bram Stoker
Director Of Photography: Jack Asher, BSC
Music by James Bernard

Cast: Peter Cushing (Dr. Van Helsing), Michael Gough (Arthur Holmwood), Melissa Stribling (Mina Holmwood), Carol Marsh (Lucy Holmwood), Christopher Lee (Count Dracula)

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In the early 90s, I had the chance to see a 35mm IB Technicolor print of Horror Of Dracula (1958) run at a film festival in Baltimore. It was a great evening — one of my favorite nights spent in a movie theater, with a film I’d seen countless times taking on a whole new life. Technicolor let the fake blood (and Jack Asher’s color effects) really pop, and the stories of Hammer’s visceral late-50s impact suddenly made a lot of sense. The new Blu-Ray from Warner Archive gives us a near-perfect approximation of what that IB Tech print looked like.

To back up a bit, Hammer Films breathed new life into the Horror Movie with their violent, colorful takes on the monster classics. They began with Curse Of Frankenstein (1957), which was a huge hit. Next came Dracula (1958, Horror Of Dracula in the US), followed by The Mummy (1959). All three starred Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, were shot by Jack Asher and were directed by Terence Fisher. As the censors lightened up some and the ratings system came along, Hammer lost their way a bit. But along the way, they made some really cool movies — and had a huge, lasting influence on the Horror Film.

Dracula might be the best of the bunch. It’s a streamlined, yet faithful adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel, with an emphasis on the sensual side of the vampire thing that hadn’t made its way to the screen before. Lee is suave as the evil Count, whose female victims don’t seem all that much like victims. Peter Cushing is perfect as the moral, determined vampire killer Dr. Van Helsing — whose calling has relegated him to a life on the fringes of both Science and Religion.

Each time I see Dracula, I’m struck now by how well it moves. There’s not an ounce of fat on this film. It’s made up of set-pieces — a biting here, a staking there — that build to a final battle of Good vs. Evil. It feels, to me, like it’s about 20 minutes long.

Terence Fisher might be the Ringo Starr of film directors — subtle, nothing flashy, but with impeccable taste and a perfect sense of what is needed. He knows exactly where to put his camera, and no matter how lustful or blood-soaked things get, there’s a class to his Hammers that really sets them apart. This one is the perfect showcase for his talents.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet Mr. Jack Asher, BSC.

Over the years, we’ve been unable to really appreciate Jack Asher’s brilliant photography, due to faded TV prints, crappy VHS tapes and a pretty lazy attempt at a DVD. (The UK Blu-Ray release looked quite good.) Asher tosses an oddball colored light here and there, and his choices are theatrical, effective and just plain cool. These touches were perfect for Technicolor, and they’re perfectly presented by Warner Archive. So is the audio, with James Bernard’s score pounding out of your speakers with astounding impact.

This is one of the finest Blu-Rays in my collection, and I’m seriously considering a bigger, better TV just to give it a closer look. Essential.

Next up: Dracula – Prince Of Darkness (1966) from Scream Factory!

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Filed under 1958, Christopher Lee, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Hammer Films, Michael Gough, Peter Cushing, Terence Fisher, Warner Archive

Hammer Holidays!

Having a Star Wars nut for a daughter worked out very well for me this Christmas. Presley got me a couple Peter Cushing toys — perfect for a holiday season filled with Hammer films on Blu-Ray.

Here’s a Grand Moff Tarken (Cushing) action figure hanging a wreath on his mid-century modern home.

Now he’s enjoying cocoa in front of the TV. Guess he’s waiting for me to fire up Horror Of Dracula (1958) again. Hope you’re having a holiday as nice as my family and Mr. Cushing are.

These cool photos were done by Presley.

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Filed under 1958, Hammer Films, Peter Cushing

Merry Christmas.

Big Business (1929) is only technically a Christmas movie — Laurel & Hardy sell Christmas trees door to door. It contains nothing resembling the holiday spirit — since it seems determined to show just how mean, spiteful and destructive people can be. Of course, none of that matters since it’s so incredibly funny.

They say Hal Roach bought the house you see in the film (it belonged to a studio employee) for the sole purpose of letting Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy destroy it. We can assume he did the same with the car that James Finlayson dismantles in retaliation. How much of the tit-for-tat vandalism was scripted and how much was ad-libbed is anybody’s guess.

You can find Big Business on YouTube if you don’t have it at home. Whenever I watch it, I imagine just how much fun it must’ve been to make. And Oliver Hardy has quite a batting average when it comes to hitting pottery with a shovel.

Merry Christmas.

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Happy Birthday, Freddie Francis.

Freddie Francis
(December 22, 1917 – March 17, 2007)

Freddie Francis was born 101 years ago today. He was one of the greatest cinematographers the movies ever had — a master of B&W ‘Scope (The Innocents, The Elephant Man) — and the director of a pretty good string of horror movies, usually for Hammer or Amicus.

He’s seen here (left) on the set of Dracula Has Risen From The Grave (1968) with Christopher Lee and Veronica Carlson. They’re actually celebrating Lee’s birthday, but this photo’s close enough for our purposes.

Also, a happy birthday to Colin McGuigan, a friend of this blog and my Western one. His Riding The High Country gives us all something to live up to.

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Filed under 1968, Amicus Productions, Christopher Lee, Freddie Francis, Hammer Films