Category Archives: 1954

Blu-Ray News #86: The Mad Magician (1954) With Spooks And Pardon My Backfire (1953).

mad-magician-hs

Directed by John Brahm
Starring Vincent Price, Mary Murphy, Eva Gabor, John Emery, Donald Randolph, Lenita Lane

Here’s a perfect announcement for Halloween. Twilight Time has announced a January Blu-Ray release for Columbia’s The Mad Magician (1954) in 3-D and 2-D — with the added bonus of the two 3-D Three Stooges shorts, Spooks and Pardon My Backfire (both 1953).

spooks-ad

All three are goofy fun. The Mad Magician is very much a ripoff of House Of Wax (1953), but that’s not a complaint. It’s terrific, with Vincent “Mr. 3-D” Price at his best. The Stooges shorts are exactly what you’d expect — some of the pies and stuff are thrown at you this time around. All come highly recommended, whether you have a 3-D rig or not.

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Filed under 1953, 1954, 3-D, Columbia, The Three Stooges, Twilight Time, Vincent Price

Blu-ray News #61: Shield For Murder (1954).

shield-for-murder-movie-poster-1954-1020416538Directed byEdmond O’Brien and Howard W. Koch
Starring Edmond O’Brien, John Agar, Marla English, Emile Meyer, Carolyn Jones, Claude Akins, Hugh Sanders, William Schallert, Richard Deacon, Vito Scotti

Howard W. Koch directed one of my all-time favorite sleazeball crime pictures, Big House, USA (1955). He preceded it with Shield For Murder (1954), starring Edmond O’Brien (who co-directed).

O’Brien’s a detective who kills a bookie for the cash he’s carrying. When he finds out there was a witness, guess it’s time for more killing. O’Brien is joined by a dream cast that includes John Agar, Marla English, Carolyn Jones, Claude Akins, William Schallert, Richard Deacon and Vito Scotti.

Where has this movie been all my life? Lucky for us all, it’s coming to Blu-ray from Kino Lorber. Man, I can’t wait.

 

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Filed under 1954, DVD/Blu-ray News, Edmond O'Brien, Howard Koch, John Agar, Kino Lorber, Uncategorized, William Schallert

The Allied Artists Blogathon: Cry Vengeance (1954) By Guest Blogger John Knight.

Cry Vengeance OSDirected by Mark Stevens
Written by Warren Douglas and George Bricker
Starring Mark Stevens, Martha Hyer, Skip Homeier, Joan Vohs, Douglas Kennedy, Don Haggerty, Cheryl Callaway, Warren Douglas, Mort Mills, John Doucette

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This is an entry in The Allied Artists Blogathon, a celebration of the studio’s rich and varied output.

The writer/producer team of Warren Douglas and Lindsley Parsons made some interesting Westerns and Noirs for Allied Artists in the Fifties. Their impressive roster includes Jack Slade (1953), Loophole (1954), Finger Man (1955), The Come On (1956) and Dragoon Wells Massacre (1957).

Douglas was a B Movie lead actor who became a screenwriter, later working on many classic TV Western series. Cry Vengeance is a follow up to the stark Jack Slade, which was a surprise hit for Allied Artists. This time, Jack Slade’s leading man, Mark Stevens, also directs.

s-l1600-2Stevens plays ex-cop Vic Barron, just released after three years in San Quentin, having been framed by the mob with a hoard of “dirty money.” Worse still, the car bomb intended for Stevens killed his wife and daughter — and left Stevens with half his face blown away.

Upon release, Stevens buys a gun and heads for Ketchikan, Alaska, where his intended quarry (Douglas Kennedy) now resides. Ex-mobster Kennedy is now a respected member of the small Alaskan community.

In an unexpected plot twist Stevens actually bonds with Kennedy’s young daughter (Cheryl Callaway). On their first encounter, the child asks, “Does your face hurt?” “Sometimes,” is Stevens’ terse reply. In a chilling scene Stevens gives the child a bullet — a present for her father. Stevens clearly intends to make Kennedy sweat before he moves in for the kill.

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Stevens plays his part with unblinking intensity and gets great performances from his cast. Standouts are Skip Homeier as a sadistic hit man and Joan Vohs as his abused, alcoholic girlfriend. There’s a great scene where an already-sozzled Vohs enters a bar and asks for a tumbler full of whiskey.

imageLovers of the work of Don Siegel will find much to enjoy in this film. The way it’s shot and cut, the feel for the location and sense of community — these are constant reminders of elements in Siegel’s later work. The scene where Homeier casually skims a stone across a lake after dispatching one of his victims is a pure “Siegel” moment. I’m not saying anyone influenced anyone — these are merely observations or miscellaneous musings (thanks, Laura :)), if you will. Homeier’s Roxey seems to prefigure the bad guys in later Siegel films who are by turns florid, psychotic or misogynistic — or in the case of Homeier and Joe Don Baker in Charley Varrick (1973), all three!

It’s great fun to compare Homeier’s performance to those in Siegel’s wonderful version of The Killers (1964), in which Siegel artfully contrasts Lee Marvin’s hardboiled stoicism with Clu Gulager’s fidgety scene-stealing antics.

This abrasive revenge thriller is available on DVD or Blu Ray from Olive Films.

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Filed under 1954, Don Siegel, Olive Films

Blu-ray News #30: Them! (1954)

them-poster-sized

Directed by Gordon Douglas
Starring James Whitmore, Edmund Gwenn, Joan Weldon, James Arness, Onslow Stevens, Fess Parker, Leonard Nimoy, William Schallert

Warner Bros. is opening up another slot on my Blu-ray Want List. When October rolls around, they’ll release the best of the Big Bug movies, Them! (1954) — both as a stand-alone disc an as part of their four-title Special Effects Collection.

A Hammer set has also been announced. I’ll get around to that one soon.

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Filed under 1954, Gordon Douglas

DVD Review: The Black Scorpion (1957).

Black Scorpion 6 sheet cropped

Directed by Edward Ludwig
Produced by Jack Dietz and Frank Melford
Screenplay by Robert Blees and David Duncan
Story by Paul Yawitz
Director Of Photography: Lionel Lindon
Special Effects by Willis H. O’Brien and Pete Peterson
Film Editor: Richard L. Van Enger
Music by Paul Sawtell

Cast: Richard Denning (Hank Scott), Mara Corday (Teresa), Carlos Rivas (Arturo Ramos), Mario Navarro (Juanito), Carlos Muzquiz (Dr. Velazco), Pascual Garcia Pena (Jose de la Cruz)

When you look at the big-bug movies of the 50s, the good-to-bad ratio is surprisingly good. Them! (1954), about giant ants, is terrific. Tarantula (1955) is excellent, too, thanks in large part to Jack Arnold’s snappy direction. The Deadly Mantis (1957) sticks the mantis in the Manhattan Tunnel for a cool last reel. Then there’s The Black Scorpion (1957), with Warner Bros. hoping to scare up another batch of Them!-like profits, which doesn’t get the attention it deserves.

Black Scorpion Mex LC

WRAL here in Raleigh used to have a Saturday morning movie thing called Sunrise Theater. My best friend James and I would stay at one of our houses Friday night, sleep on the living room floor, set an alarm, and get up to watch whatever monster flick was on that week. We usually had SpaghettiOs for breakfast. I think that’s how I first saw The Black Scorpion.

A once-dormant volcano erupts, wreaking all sorts of havoc in Mexico. Geologists Henry Scott (Richard Denning) and Arturo Ramos (Carlos Rivas) come to investigate, meeting the lovely Teresa (Mara Corday) — and discovering a nest of giant scorpions living in the caverns beneath the volcano.

black_scorpion still cropped

These aren’t just any giant scorpions. They’re the work of the great Willis O’Brian and his assistant Pete Peterson. A master of stop-motion animation and one of the true pioneers of movie effects, O’Brien gave us The Lost World (1925), King Kong (1933), Mighty Joe Young (1949) and others. His career was winding down by the time he took on The Black Scorpion, and even though working with a small budget (setting up shop in tiny studio space and his own garage, the story goes), he made sure the movie delivered the goods. (As a kid, I measured the quality of movies like this according to how much screen time the monsters had.) In the shots where you see two or three scorpions, imagine animating all those legs! A sequence with a train attacked by one of the scorpions is just incredible.

Lionel Lindon’s cinematography is top-notch, using deep shadows and limited lighting to create a creepy mood, especially in the caverns. (Be sure to see his stunning work on 1957’s The Lonely Man.) He won an Oscar for Around The World In 80 Days (1956).

Black Scorpion LC 2

Richard Denning and Mara Corday were old hands at this kinda stuff. He’d already dealt with The Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954) and she’d come up against Tarantula. They do exactly what a movie like this asks of them: look scared, be brave and deliver some whacky pseudo-science to fool audiences into almost believing it for 80 minutes or so.

I’ve had the old DVD since it came out, and I was happy with it. The transfer was nice, but full-frame. The extras were terrific, gathering up some of O’Brien’s tests, clips, trailers and other goodies. Warner Archive was wise to keep those for their new release, but for me, the true extra is the restoration of its 1.85 framing. Every setup looks so much better, from the dialogue scenes to the monster footage. Widescreen films like this, regardless of their age, can look pretty clunky when seen full-frame, and I thank Warner Archive for this upgrade on The Black Scorpion. It’s sharp as a tack and the audio’s clean, down to the sound effects borrowed from Them!. If you don’t have The Black Scorpion, and you’re into this sort of thing, I recommend it highly. If you have the old DVD, well, this new one’s worth the re-purchase.

And if I remember right, it goes well with SpaghettiOs.

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Filed under 1954, 1955, 1957, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Jack Arnold, John Agar, Mara Corday, Warner Archive

The Jack Webb Blogathon: Behind The Badge.

Webb behind badge

This post is part of The Jack Webb Blogathon, a celebration of his huge, and hugely influential, body of work. For more Webb on the web, appearing October 17-19, visit Dispatch (or click on the banner below).

Jack Webb Blogathon HOR

As The Jack Webb Blogathon comes to a close, here’s some interesting trivia about Jack Webb and his work.

In lieu of compensation for assistance and information, what did Jack Webb’s Mark VII Production Company do for the Los Angeles Police Department?
The Company made generous contributions to the Los Angeles Police Orphans and Widows Fund.

How did Dragnet get the stories as basis for their episodes?
Through an arrangement with the Los Angeles Police Department, an officer wrote up a three-page report void of names and intimate details. Dragnet writers filled in the blanks and wrote a story around it. They were not given access to actual police files.

Where did the number 714 come from on the famous badge?
Jack Webb thought 7 was a lucky number. The television series began in 1949 and Webb thought badges issued in the 700s was way in the future for police. So, he choose 7 as the first number and just doubled it for the last numbers – 14.

Mark VII Productions, Inc. was Jack Webb’s production company. What is the meaning behind the logo that can be seen at the end of Dragnet episodes (iron door with a hand pounding the Roman numerals with a hammer)?
Jack Webb “stole” the idea from Arm & Hammer baking soda. He said he liked the look of it as a kid. The door to him also meant strength. The VII for 7 was probably, again, use of his lucky number.

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Jack Webb used a real badge and revolver during the first run of Dragnet. What happened to those items after the show ended and what did he use for a badge and revolver in the new Dragnet show?
When the show ended in 1958, he returned the official, registered items to the LA Police Department, which had issued them to Webb for the show. He got them back from the Police Department for the new Dragnet show.

What Emergency! regular doubled for Jack Webb’s Joe Friday character in long shots on the original Dragnet?
Marco Lopez. He also had small parts on Dragnet, as well. He admitted that he liked to cook while on that show and the cast and crew got to partake in his hobby to their delight. This led to the fully-equipped kitchen at the firehouse on Emergency! — he could not only be a regular on the show, but keep on cookin’.

Which actor did Jack Webb want as Sgt. Joe Friday in the original series, but reluctantly took the role himself, when it didn’t pan out?
Lloyd Nolan, best known for his acting roles portraying private detectives Michael Shayne and Martin Kane.

In 1953, a famous movie producer friend and his wife sold their house to Jack Webb, so they could be closer to a park for their son. Who was this producer and what special thing did they do to the house to sell it to him?
Stanley Kramer. He and his wife replaced the doorbell with one that played “dum-da-dum-dum.”

What was the “Jack Webb Special?”
A deluxe, chartered airplane provided by Warner Brothers for Webb’s cross-country tour promoting Pete Kelly’s Blues (1955). It had an eight-person crew, dining room, bedroom and even a conference room.

Speaking of Pete Kelly’s Blues, Herm Saunders played the pianist. What was his relationship to Jack Webb in real life?
At the time, he was Webb’s press agent.

a12pilotwebb

Jack Webb directing Martin Milner and Kent McCord in the Adam-12 pilot.

How did Ozzie Nelson (of Ozzie And Harriet fame) come to direct a segment in an episode of Adam-12?
Nelson phoned Webb and requested the assignment. He said he wanted to work with his old family friend Kent McCord again. (As you may remember, McCord was a regular on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.) Nelson did such an impressive job, he was asked to direct the episode called “The D.A.”

Jack Webb turned down the chance to make a movie, which lead to great animosity between the guy who wrote the story for the movie and Kent McCord. Who was the author, what was the movie and why all the hostility?
Joseph Wambaugh wrote The New Centurions, among other books about police like The Onion Field and The Blue Knight. He also created and advised on the television show Police Story. After Webb declined to do The New Centurions, according to McCord, Wambaugh set out to tarnish the badges of Jack Webb and his Adam-12. In interviews, Wambaugh would misquote McCord, trash the show’s acting and call into question the realism of the characters they portray. McCord was hot under the collar about Wambaugh’s mouthing off and was quoted as saying: “He spends his days sitting on his rear and reading burglary reports. I think he‘s out of touch with the guys who patrol the streets,” and “He shouldn’t be telling me how to act. I don’t give him advice on how to read burglary reports.” He also didn‘t like how Wambaugh‘s police characters were “jerks“ or “petty criminals,” which of course was an insult itself to Jack Webb’s style. McCord went on to say about Wambaugh, “If he had anything to say he could tell it to my face or I’d punch him in the face,” and “I’m tired of picking up newspapers and magazines and seeing Wambaugh rap me. If he keeps it up I’m going to rap him.”

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Hopefully, this blogathon has you wanting to see more Jack Webb, or better yet, own it. (I can’t wait to revisit The D.I.) Here’s where you can get the stuff written about over the weekend. Physical evidence, I guess you could say.

Dragnet (TV, 1951-59)
Public domain episodes are available from various companies. Quality varies from pretty darn good to absolutely wretched. You can also find some on YouTube and Roku.

Dragnet (Feature, 1954)
Available from Universal’s Vault program. If I didn’t consider this movie absolutely essential to life as a human, I’d tell you to wait till it was redone, preferably for Blu-ray.

Dragnet (TV, 1967-70)
You’ll find Dragnet on MeTV and Hulu Plus, along with Adam-12 and Emergency! They’re also on DVD from Shout Factory, complete with some really terrific extras, including the 1966 TV movie.

He Walked By Night (1948)
Several DVD sources for this one. Stay away from Alpha, and you’ll be OK.

Dark City (1950)
This is available on DVD from Olive Films—and in the same Blu-ray noir set as Appointment With Danger.

Appointment With Danger (1951)
Olive Films has brought this to DVD as a stand-alone disc and on Blu-ray as part of a film noir set.

Pete Kelly’s Blues (1955)
Warner Brothers brought this out on DVD, and Warner Archive recently announced a Blu-ray. Can’t wait.

The D.I. (1957)
You can get this one on DVD from Warner Archive (and you should).

-30- (1959)
Again, our friends at Warner Archive can set you up with this one on DVD.

SOURCES: Various newspapers, 1954-1976
Thanks to my wife Jennifer for researching and writing the trivia stuff.

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Filed under 1951, 1954, 1955, 1957, 1959, 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, DVD/Blu-ray News, Harry Morgan, Jack Webb, Janet Leigh, Kent McCord, Martin Milner, MeTV, Olive Films, Shout/Scream Factory, Television, Warner Archive

The Jack Webb Blogathon: Dragnet (1954).

Dragnet LC 1 dubb
Director: Jack Webb
Producer: Stanley D. Meyer
Screenplay: Richard L. Breen
Cinematography: Edward Colman
Editing: Robert M. Leeds
Art Direction: Feild M. Gray
Original Music: Walter Schumann, Miklos Rozsa

Cast: Jack Webb (Sgt. Joe Friday), Ben Alexander (Officer Frank Smith), Richard Boone (Capt. James Hamilton), Ann Robinson (Officer Grace Downey), Stacy Harris (Max Troy), Virginia Gregg (Ethel Starkie), Victor Perrin (Deputy DA Adolph Alexander), Georgia Ellis (Belle Davitt), James Griffith (Jesse Quinn), Dick Cathcart (Roy Cleaver), Malcom Atterbury (Lee Reinhard), William Sage (Chester Davitt), Olan Soulé (Ray Pinker), Dennis Weaver (Capt. R.A. Lohrman), Dub Taylor (Miller Starkie).

Jack Webb Blogathon HOR
This post is part of The Jack Webb Blogathon, a celebration of his huge, and hugely influential, body of work. For more Webb on the web, appearing October 17-19, visit Dispatch (or click on the banner above).

Dragnet (1954) was the first theatrical film spun off from a TV show. The Lone Ranger would follow in 1956. (Later, it would seem that Hollywood didn’t know how to do anything else.)

Dub Taylor is shot in the face with a sawed-off shotgun, THEN the Warner Bros. logo comes up. My case for why this is one of the coolest movies ever made could stop right there. But there’s still 85 minutes left, and we haven’t seen Jack Webb.

The familiar badge (#714) and type appear over the blue-ish L.A. sky–a dozen years before the red backdrop we know so well. The iconic theme is played by the full Warner Bros. orchestra. Big, loud, majestic. Goosebump City.

Screen shot 2014-09-29 at 10.54.42 PM

Dragnet does exactly what you’d expect it to do: dish up all the stuff you like about the show, stirring in the things TV couldn’t offer: more violence, color and thanks to the extra running time, a little nuance here and there. And widescreen—Dragnet was one of the first films shot to be projected at 1.75:1. Warners wanted CinemaScope, but Webb resisted.

But back to our story. Sgt. Joe Friday (Webb) and officer Frank Smith (Ben Alexander) get a rundown on the case from Capt. Hamilton (Richard Boone).

Capt. James Hamilton (Richard Boone): “Shotgun, extreme close range. Recovered 22 pellets double-O. Starkie was hit four times. First two cut him in half.”
Sgt. Joe Friday (Jack Webb): “Second two turned him into a crowd.”

Turns out Miller Starkie (Dub Taylor) was involved with some real lowlifes, who are brought in for questioning. One of them is Max Troy (Stacy Harris).

Dragnet Troy

Max Troy (Stacy Harris): “This gonna take long?”
Sgt. Joe Friday: “You’ve got the time.”
Max Troy: “Mine’s worth money, yours isn’t!”
Sgt. Joe Friday: “Send in a bill.”
Max Troy: “I asked you a question!”
Sgt. Joe Friday: “You’re here to answer ’em, not ask ’em!”
Max Troy: “Now, listen to me, Cop. I pay your salary.”
Sgt. Joe Friday: “All right, sit down. I’m gonna earn it.”
Max Troy: “You already have, the kind of money you make. What do they pay you to carry that badge around, 40 cents an hour?”
Sgt. Joe Friday: “You sit down! That badge pays 464 dollars a month. That’s what the job’s worth. I knew that when I hired on. $67.40 comes out with withholding. I give $27.84 for pension and 12 bucks for widows and orphans. That leaves me with $356.76. That badge is worth a dollar 82 an hour so Mister, better settle back into that chair because I’m about to blow about 20 bucks of it right now.”

That’s about as far as I’m gonna go with the synopsis. As you’d guess, everything plays out in typical Dragnet procedural fashion. With one exception: we know who the killers are from the very beginning. In the series, we’re always in the dark as we go through the investigation with Friday.

You’ll see lots of cigarette smoking in Dragnet (the MPAA would probably call it “historic smoking” today), with some Chesterfield product placement thrown in for good measure.

Dragnet Stacy ashtray

There’s some pretty inventive camerawork, too, something you rarely see in the TV show. Cinematographer Edward Colman also shot some of the TV episodes, and it looks like he and Webb (below) really enjoyed the feature’s artistic elbow room. But where the move to theaters really pays off is the luxury of time, as Webb lets the characters breathe a bit more.

Jack-Webb-Edward-Colman-Dragnet

Jack Webb: “26 minutes doesn’t permit enough time to develop character, plot and to tell a complete story of Joe Friday… In the full-length movie… we can play out a scene to its full emotional value.”

Richard L. Breen’s script was completed in March of 1954, and casting got underway in April. Many of the familiar faces from TV were signed on. There’s a yellow eyewitness played by the great James Griffith. Virginia Gregg has a terrific scene as Dub Taylor’s boozy widow. Stacy Harris, as he’d done so many times on TV, appears as one of the crooks.

Ann Robinson, who’d appeared in The War Of The Worlds the year before,  was cast as a policewoman who goes undercover to aid Friday and Smith. Webb made sure she spent a day at the police academy, training with female cadets.

Ann Robinson: “Jack was very thorough and wanted everything to be exactly as if I were a real policewoman.”

Shooting began May 3, 1954, using the teleprompter that helped keep the TV show on schedule and on budget. Dragnet wrapped in just 24 days at a cost of about half a million bucks. It made over four million in its first run.

Screen shot 2014-10-15 at 12.19.52 AM

I was barely familiar with the TV show when I saw this feature as a kid—and it really knocked me out. Everything about it was stark and hard-hitting, and everyone had such cool things to say. The 16mm print the TV station ran was appropriately gritty and the WarnerColor was, well, Warner Color. I loved every frame of it, and it became my gateway drug to crime pictures of the same period and eventually to film noir. Next stop: Charles McGraw.

Dragnet is available on DVD from the Universal Vault program. (Universal owns the entire Dragnet franchise.) It’s a serviceable transfer, but that’s being polite. There’s no widescreen framing, things are a bit soft, and the WarnerColor’s still WarnerColor. But it’s there and you can buy it and live a better life because of it. Highly recommended.

NOTE: As I was working on this post, I read that there was a fire at Ann Robinson’s Elysian Park home just the other day. She wasn’t hurt.

SOURCES: Various newspaper articles from 1954; My Name’s Friday by Michael J. Hayde

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Filed under 1954, Jack Webb, Television