Sgt. Joe Friday (Jack Webb): “Flinch, and you’ll be chasing your head down Fifth Street!”
From the Dragnet 1967 episode “The Shooting.” My God, I love Jack Webb!
The fine folks at The 3-D Film Archive have announced a followup to the Kickstarter campaign that fueled their incredible Blu-Ray of Africa Screams (1949) — I’ll have a review of that one up soon, as soon as I find a few more superlatives!
This time, they’re taking on Dynasty (AKA Qian dao wan li zhu AKA Super Dragon), a 3-D martial arts picture released in the States in 1977.
Once their work is through, you’ll be able to watch its incredible martial arts action three ways —
• BD3D polarized 3-D
• Anaglyphic (red/cyan) 3-D
• Standard flat 2-D
The audio will present the English dub in its original 4-channel magnetic Quadrophonic sound.
They hope to have this in our hot little hands by December. There’s plenty of work to be done, so click on the one-sheet above and help get this thing going!
(November 10. 1928 – July 6, 2020)
The great composer Ennio Morricone has passed away at 91. Among his many terrific scores was the one for Sergio Leone’s The Good, The Bad And The Ugly (1966).
Without his music, would spaghetti Westerns have been as impactful as they were?
His work that comes to mind with this news is Mario Bava’s Danger: Diabolik (1967).
Directed by William Castle
Produced by Leonard Goldstein
Story and Screenplay by Frederick Kohner and Fred Brady
Cinematography: Carl E. Guthrie
Film Editor: Virgil Vogel
Cast: Richard Conte (Larry O’Brien), Julie Adams (Sally/Amanda Rousseauz), Richard Egan (Police Lt. Bud Lennox), Henry Hull (Vincent St. Clair), Fred Clark (Sam Collyer), Jim Backus (Mitch Davis), Houseley Stevenson (John Miller), Paul Cavanagh (Roland Paul), Katherline Meskill (Mary), Louis Lettieri (Jimmy Davis), Francis X. Bushman, Betty Blythe, William Farnum, Helen Gibson, Joel McCrea
Art imitates life here. Hollywood Story (1951) concerns a producer (Richard Conte) solving an old Hollywood murder mystery, while prepping a movie about that mystery. It was based on the actual 1922 murder of director William Desmond Taylor. This scandalous crime, which created a media circus and plenty of completely fabricated news stories, was never solved.
Conte buys an old movie studio and learns of the murder that took place there. Intrigued, he decides to use it as the basis for his next picture, and he reaches out to a number of people who were working at the studio at the time — from a writer (Henry Hull) to the daughter of one of the studio’s biggest stars (Julie Adams). With that framework, the picture manages to follow the Taylor case fairly closely as Conte pieces together what happened.
William Castle directed several entries in Columbia’s The Whistler series, moody mini-noirs starring Richard Dix. They were excellent, and Castle’s same no-nonsense approach can be found here. Hollywood Story was done before Castle went gimmick crazy with his late 5os horror movies, but there’s a gimmick anyway, bringing in a few silent stars — Betty Blythe, Francis X. Bushman, William Farnum and Helen Gibson. Their parts mean nothing to the movie, but their names look good in the ads. (They were paid peanuts.)
This was one of a handful of pictures Castle did at Universal International. He did some cool stuff there — this one, Undertow (1949) and Cave Of Outlaws (1951) — before returning to Columbia, where he’d start working for producer Sam Katzman.
Hollywood Story gives us a great look at early 50s moviemaking, particularly at Universal International. Joel McCrea has a cameo in one of the on-the-set scenes. Judging from his costume, he might’ve been shooting Frenchie (1950) when his brief scene was done. We also visit a number of Hollywood points of interest — such as Jack’s At The Beach, Ciro’s, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, Ocean Park Pier and the old Chaplin Studio (as the scene of the crime).
The cinematography from Carl E. Guthrie is terrific, adding plenty of mood when it’s needed and playing up the bright lights of Hollywood. Universal’s movies from the 50s, whether they were in Technicolor or black and white, have a real sparkle to them, thanks to masters like Guthrie. And that’s what makes this Blu-Ray such a great thing. It presents Guthrie’s work flawlessly. It’s much better than the old DVD. Brighter, with better contrast. It adds a level of depth you don’t see very often, which is really effective in the darker, scenes.
Hollywood Story is a solid movie, and it’s been given a sterling transfer for Blu-Ray. Mill Creek has paired it with Castle’s New Orleans Uncensored (1955). It looks great, too, and since each picture is on its own disc, the bit rates are quite high. They’re priced right, too. For William Castle fans, this set is an absolute must. More, please!
Before getting this set, I don’t think I’d ever seen an episode of Dan August all the way through. I thought of it pretty much the way most folks do: either it was this TV thing Burt Reynolds did before Deliverance (1972) made him a big deal, or it was just another 70s cop show — take your pick. Either way you look at it, you’re selling it short.
The set Dan August – The Complete Collection kicks off with the 1970 TV movie House On Greenapple Road that introduces the Dan August character, played by Christopher George. Like the series that would come after it, it’s got a terrific cast — Janet Leigh (who’s really good), Keenan Wynn, Julie Harris, Walter Pigeon, Ed Asner, Paul Fix and Barry Sullivan. Whether they saw it as a pilot or just a TV movie at the time, it’s really good.
Dan August is a homicide detective in the fictional Southern California town of Santa Luisa. It doesn’t seem to be a very big place, but people sure do turn up dead a lot. And that’s were August comes in. Christopher George played him as the typical late 60s TV detective, and he’s very good. But when the series came along, George turned it down and recommended his friend Burt Reynolds for the part. It took some time to sell Quinn Martin (and Burt) on the idea, but it all came together.
Reynold’s Dan August is younger and more physical, which brings in more topical subject matter (drugs, hippies, homosexuals, protests, etc.) and a lot more action. Burt does all his owns stunts — leaping over fences and cars, fighting one crook after another, and always running. He must’ve been a bruised-up, exhausted mess when he got home each day. Of course, it adds a lot of authenticity to the show. His self-deprecating sense of humor isn’t on display here, and the series is better off without it.
The principal cast was reimagined with Burt in the lead. His partner’s Norman Fell (taking over from the movie’s Keenan Wynn), and Richard Anderson replaced Barry Sullivan as the Chief Of Police. Ned Romero and Ena Hartman were kept from the TV movie.
The shows are well-written and sharply, stylishly directed. And the casting from episode to episode is fabulous, bringing in folks like Ricardo Montalban, Vera Miles (above), Harrison Ford, Dabney Coleman, Larry Hagman, Diana Muldaur, Julie Adams, Carolyn Jones, Bradford Dillman, Donna Mills, Victor French, Richard Basehart, Lee Meriweather, Don Stroud, Sal Mineo, Ellen Corby, Billy Dee Williams and Mickey Rooney. It’s a lot of fun watching for who’ll pop up in the next one.
Even though Burt was nominated for a Golden Globe, Dan August only lasted one season (on ABC). It was an expensive show to make, and it was up against some heavy competition. Burt would quickly move on, and after he was a major star, Dan August would be rerun by CBS both late at night and in primetime.
Now, thanks to the DVD set Dan August – The Complete Collection from VEI, it runs whenever you want it to run. The shows are complete and look really good. The pilot movie, House On Greenapple Road, looks terrific, bright with rich color. The set is highly recommended.
Directed by Michael Curtiz
Screenplay by Don Mullaly and Carl Erickson
From the story by Charles S. Belden
Photography by Ray Rennahan
Art Director Anton Grot
Edited by George Amy
Gowns by Orry-Kelly
Cast: Lionel Atwill (Mr. Igor), Fay Wray (Charlotte Duncan), Glenda Farrell (Florence), Frank McHugh (Editor), Allen Vincent (Ralph Burton), Gavin Gordon (George Winton), Edwin Maxwell (Joe Worth), Holmes Herbert (Dr. Rasmussen), Arthur Edmund Carewe (Darcy/Sparrow)
There’s something about a “lost” film that magically lifts it above the usual concerns about quality. It’s lost, good or bad doesn’t matter anymore. Same goes with what it looks like — we’ll take anything, it’s lost!* When a 35mm Technicolor print of Mystery Of The Wax Museum (1933) turned up in Jack Warner’s personal archive (about 50 years ago!), all that mattered was seeing it. It once was lost, but now it was found.
Sadly, the 16mm color prints (pulled from Jack’s 35) that made the rounds of colleges and film festivals weren’t much to write home about. (The story goes that the picture’s cinematographer, Technicolor artiste Ray Rennahan, attended one of those screenings, and he was so dismayed by what was on the screen, he left.)
Well, enough time’s gone by that Mystery Of The Wax Museum isn’t a lost film anymore. To most folks, it’s just a creaky, creepy old horror movie with weird-looking color. In fact, it’s probably better known now as the movie House Of Wax (1953) was a remake of. But thanks to Warner Archive’s new Blu-Ray — from a miraculous restoration by UCLA and The Film Foundation, with funding from The George Lucas Family Foundation, it’s certainly not lost. It’s not nearly as creaky. And its color, while still a little weird, shines like a diamond (or an emerald since there’s so much green). And I’m happy to say, man, this thing’s creepier than ever.
Come to think of it, it’s like it’s been found again! We don’t have to look past or through anything anymore. We don’t have to imagine what it looked like back in ’33. We can just enjoy it for what it is. This restoration (a second print was later discovered in France) levels the playing field to let it compete with its ghoulish gang of contemporaries — 30s horror masterpieces like Frankenstein (1931), White Zombie (1932), The Black Cat (1934) and so on. And while it might not reach some of those lurid, lofty heights, it really holds its own.
We all know the plot by now. A sculptor (Lionel Atwill) is disfigured when a London wax museum is burned by its owner for the insurance money. Years later, that sculptor has relocated to New York and is about to reopen a new museum with recreations of his greatest works. A young reporter (Glenda Farrell) notices that the Joan Of Ark figure looks a lot like a young women who died a few days ago, and whose body disappeared from the morgue. (Obviously, House Of Wax was a very faithful remake.) Then, as luck would have it, Fay Wray wanders into the museum, and she’s the spitting image of Atwill’s melted masterpiece, Marie Antoinette. From there, things get even weirder and far more sinister as Atwill’s evil plan and despicable working methods are discovered.
Seeing it look this good, and with its sound cleaned up to an astonishing degree, there are some things about the film that really strike you. The dialogue has that snappy early-30s cops and reporters repartee going on, which we know from pictures like The Front Page (1931). Some of it’s a real hoot — and some a little suggestive, which helps remind you that this is a pre-Code picture.
The picture seems to wallow in its more lurid aspects. Atwill’s employees are quite a seemly, leering bunch. One, Darcy (Arthur Edmund Carewe), is a junkie who the police question until his DTs cause him to spill. There’s a bit of talk about bootlegging. And we get to spend time in the morgue, with a body rising to a seated position, an eery result of the embalming process. And of course there are numerous opportunities to gawk at Fay Wray’s legs. It’s all part of the fun.
There are times when it’s quite obvious the wax figures are played by people. The hot lights needed for Technicolor photography didn’t get along with the wax figures. Queen Victoria blinks. Joan Of Arc’s lip twitches.
Speaking of those hot lights. Mystery Of The Wax Museum was the last feature shot in two-color Technicolor. Ray Rennahan and set designer/art director Anton Grot worked with the process’ limited color palette to create plenty of atmosphere. As we see the picture today, two colors were not a handicap for these folks. The odd color enhances the odd nature of the story, especially the vivid greens in a few creepy closeups. It’s surprisingly stylish.
Mystery Of The Wax Museum has always been a favorite, and I cherish my laserdisc of it paired with Doctor X (1932), another creepy two-color picture from Atwill, Wray, Curtiz and Rennahan. (Would love to see Doctor X get a similar restoration.) Seeing Mystery Of The Wax Museum on Blu-Ray is a revelation, making it quite obvious that the damage and semi-color were a real detriment to how much we enjoyed it over the years. The extras — a tribute to Fay Wray, a before/after comparison of the restoration and two commentaries — make for a nice package indeed.
Film history nuts (especially those fond of the technical stuff), pre-Code fans and those of us who just can’t get enough classic horror really need this Blu-Ray. It shows what can be done these days to bring a beat-up old movie back from the brink — and lets us sit back and really enjoy this creepy old thing like never before. Essential.
* If London After Midnight suddenly turned up, would you care what kind of shape the print was in — or if the movie was actually any good? I didn’t think so.
Directed by Antonio Margheriti
Starring Anthony Eisley, Wandisa Guida, Diana Lorys, Ursula Parker, Folco Lulli
This one’s already out. Code Red has released Antonio Margheriti’s Lightning Bolt (1966, also known as Operazione Goldman) on Blu-Ray, with The Resurrection Of Zachary Wheeler (1971) as an extra. That’s got Leslie Neilson and Angie Dickinson in it.
Lightning Bolt is one of those European James Bond ripoffs from the mid-60s. This one proved (to me, at least) that the ripoffs could be every bit as enjoyable as what they were ripping off, sometimes more. It’s a lot of fun, if you don’t ask it to make a lot of sense. Margheriti was really on a roll during this period, with Barbara Steele pictures (Castle Of Blood, The Long Hair Of Death) coming before this one — and the Gamma 1 series (Wild, Wild Planet, etc.) following it.
Picked up by Woolner Bros. in the States, Lightning Bolt played with Red Dragon (1966) during its original run. It’s not near as good. Judging from screen grabs from the Blu-Ray, the picture may not be of demonstration quality, but it’s miles ahead of what I saw on TV and had on VHS once upon a time. Can’t wait to see its full Techniscope framing!
If you’re a fan of this stuff, this one comes highly recommended. I’ll get around to a longer piece once I see the Blu-Ray.
Gerald Isaac Stiller
(June 8, 1927 – May 11, 2020)
Jerry Stiller, surely one of the funniest men ever, has passed away at 92. Of course, he’s known for his incredible work on Seinfeld and King Of Queens, but I’ve always loved his part in one of my favorite 70s films, The Taking Of Pelham 123 (1974).
What a gift to the world this guy was!
Richard Wayne Penniman
(December 5, 1932 – May 9, 2020)
The great Little Richard has passed away at 87.
Maybe due to his over-the-top personality, lots of folks today don’t realize just how incredible Little Richard was. Take a look at his scenes in Frank Tashlin’s The Girl Can’t Help It (1956, above), and you’ll see what I mean.
I love behind-the-scenes photos from Toho’s kaiju movies, so here’s the latest batch — all from Godzilla Vs. The Smog Monster (1971, AKA Godzilla Vs. Hedorah).
Toho’s masters, director Ishirō Honda and special effects man Eiji Tsuburaya, weren’t on board this time around. Yoshimitsu Banno directed and worked on the script.
There’s an environmental message to Godzilla Vs. The Smog Monster, but as a kid I didn’t hold it against it.
It has Godzilla taking on a pretty cool monster, and plenty of stuff got stomped, so us kids were pretty happy with it.
There was even a pop song tie-in in Japan, which was totally lost on us here in the States.