Category Archives: 1955

Blu-Ray News #299: Universal Horror Collection, Volume 6.

I’m really excited about this one, as Shout Factory’s Universal Horror Blu-Ray series moves into the 50s. This is announced for release on August 25.

The Black Castle (1952)
Directed by Nathan H. Juran
Starring Richard Greene, Boris Karloff, Stephen McNally, Rita Corday, Lon Chaney, Jr., John Hoyt, Michael Pate
You could say this was the last of the true Universal-type horror movies, with all the trapping and a few of the actors we associate with such things. It was Nathan Juran’s first time as director. He was on the film as art director, but was moved into the director’s chair when Joseph Pevney walked.

Cult Of The Cobra (1955)
Directed by Francis D. Lyon
Starring Faith Domergue, Richard Long, Kathleen Hughes, Marshall Thompson, Jack Kelly, William Reynolds, David Janssen
This story of a cult of snake worshippers, a deadly curse and the beautiful, deadly snake goddess (Faith Domergue) making their way to New York went out as the second feature behind Revenge Of The Creature (1955).

The Thing That Couldn’t Die (1958)
Directed by Will Cowan
Starring William Reynolds, Andra Martin, Jeffrey Stone, Carolyn Kearney
Running just 69 minutes, shot by the great Russell Metty and with terrific poster art from Reynold Brown (up top), this played with Hamer’s Horror Of Dracula (1958) in the States. It’s about a telepathic head that’s discovered in a box at a dude ranch.

The Shadow Of The Cat (1961)
Directed by John Gilling
Starring André Morell, Barbara Shelley, William Lucas, Fred Jackson
A cat witnesses a murder, then helps both solve it and bring the culprits to their just rewards. Shot in black & white by Hammer’s ace cameraman Arthur Grant.

Scream Factory has come up with some real gold in this one, and it’s good to see these more obscure Universal horror pictures get a chance to shine. They’ll be seen in their original widescreen aspect ratio, with the exception of The Black Castle, which predates the shift to widescreen. Highly recommended.

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Filed under 1952, 1955, 1958, 1961, Arthur Grant, Barbara Shelley, Boris Karloff, DVD/Blu-ray News, Faith Domergue, Hammer Films, John Gilling, Lon Chaney Jr., Marshall Thompson, Nathan Juran, Reynold Brown, Shout/Scream Factory, Universal (-International)

Blu-Ray News #283: Hollywood Story (1951) And New Orleans Uncensored (1955).

Mill Creek has another William Castle hi-def double bill on the way. This one’s got a couple of his noir pictures. If you’re like me, anything Mr. Castle touched is worthwhile.

Hollywood Story (1951)
Directed by William Castle
Starring Richard Conte, Julia Adams, Henry Hull, Fred Clark, Francis X. Bushman, William Farnum

William Castle spent a few years working as a contract director at Universal-International, directing cool pictures like Johnny Stool Pigeon (1949), Cave Of Outlaws (1951) and this one, Hollywood Story (1951). It’s based on the murder of the silent director William Desmond Taylor and features a handful of silent stars in tiny parts (probably done as a promo stunt more than anything else). It was shot by the underrated cinematographer Carl E. Guthrie.

Hollywood Story was often paired with Huge Fregonse’s Apache Drums (1951).

New Orleans Uncensored (1955)
Directed by William Castle
Produced by Sam Katzman
Starring Arthur Franz, Beverly Garland, Helene Stanton, Michael Ansara, Stacy Harris, Mike Mazurki

After those years at U-I, Castle moved to Columbia and made a slew of movies in Sam Katzman’s unit. This one has a dream cast — Beverly Garland, Stacy Harris, Mike Mazurki, it’s in widescreen B&W, and it runs a brisk 76 minutes. My kind of movie!

This single-disc set comes highly, highly recommended. Let’s hope Mill Creek has more like this on the way!

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Filed under 1951, 1955, Beverly Garland, Columbia, DVD/Blu-ray News, Julie Adams, Mill Creek, Sam Katzman, Universal (-International), William Castle

Blu-Ray Review: Underwater! (1955).

Directed by John Sturges
Written by Walter Newman
From a story by Robert B. Bailey & Hugh King
Cinematography: Harry J. Wild
Film Editor: Stuart Gilmore
Music by Roy Webb

Cast: Jane Russell (Theresa Gray), Richard Egan (Johnny Gray), Gilbert Roland (Dominic Quesada), Lori Nelson (Gloria), Robert Keith (Father Cannon), Joseph Calleia (Rico Herrera), Eugene Iglesias (Miguel Vega), Ric Roman (Jesus), Jayne Mansfield

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Howard Hughes was notorious for screwing around with the movies at his RKO. This time, Howard gets his mitts on John Sturges’ Underwater! (1955), a film put together as a star vehicle for Jane Russell (and titled The Big Rainbow). The trouble is, going in, Sturges had been lead to believe it was going to be a B action movie. After months and months of pre-production, shooting, the usual Hughes tampering and a boatload of reshoots, the finished picture had its world premiere underwater at Silver Springs, Florida — with the cast, various studio people, the press and assorted celebrities and dignitaries watching the picture 20 feet down wearing aqualungs. Really.

The plot’s a pretty flimsy one (though there were more than 20 drafts of the screenplay). Richard Egan and Gilbert Roland discover a 17th-century treasure ship, perched precariously on the edge of an underwater cliff. As they try to remove the booty before the ship drops into the abyss, they tackle sharks, Joseph Calleia and the bends. Jane Russell is Egan’s wife and Roland’s sister,  and she seems to possess an inordinate amount of swimwear.

Before it was all over, some location work was done in Hawaii and Mexico (most of it with doubles and little of it actually used), a giant tank was built on the RKO lot, and a couple million was spent before the thing was finished. Lori Nelson was borrowed from Universal-International and wasted in a nothing part — some say she had the lead and was replaced with Russell, so a role was added to fit her in (after all, they were paying U-I for her services).

It’s a real mystery why Hughes didn’t get involved in the engineering of Jane’s bathing suits, as he did with her brasserie for The Outlaw (1941). It was supposed to be shot in 3-D, but it was abandoned in favor of Technicolor and RKO’s SuperScope widescreen process. John Sturges never met Hughes; they just spoke on the phone in story conferences. The trouble-plagued location stuff was done before the cast had been nailed down, so everything had to be shot from a distance. The water in the RKO tank would get murky every so often and have to be drained. By the time Hughes and his micromanaging got to the reshoots, Sturges had reported to MGM for Bad Day At Black Rock (1955), no doubt sparing him a great deal of heartache. Ah, the joys of Hughes-era RKO.

The critics hated it, but it was a hit anyway. It turned out to be Russell’s last picture for Hughes.

While it’s easy to dismiss Underwater! as a pleasant enough film, it has plenty going for it. The Mexican and Hawaiian scenery is beautiful — and beautifully shot by Harry J. Wild. The boats we see in the harbor, and the yacht our heroes take on their adventure, are incredible. The film’s greatest assets turn out to be Jane Russell (no pun intended) and Gilbert Roland. Jane’s accent is terrible, but she looks terrific and has the likable quality that seems to carry her through some pretty shaky movies. By this point in his career, Roland was in his 50s and proving to be a real force of nature. Other films from this period, such as Anthony Mann’s Thunder Bay (1953) and George Sherman’s The Treasure Of Pancho Villa (1955), also benefit from his presence. In Underwater!, he steals about every scene he’s in, even when he’s up against Russell in a bathing suit.

Jane Russell and her double Pat Deane Smith.

Like a lot of movies with diving sequences, things slow down below the surface. Even the great Thunderball (1965) suffers from this. But with Underwater!, it isn’t much of a deficit, and the 99 minutes cruise along just fine.

Warner Archive has done everyone concerned proud with their Blu-Ray of Underwater!, presenting it in its original SuperScope 2.0 and making sure the Technicolor pops like it’s supposed to. It’s stunning how sharp it is at times, highlighting just how much craftsmanship went into a picture Russell called a turkey — and RKO pronounced one of its biggest hits. Recommended, not so much for the film, but for Jane Russell, Gilbert Roland and Warner Archive’s terrific presentation.

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Filed under 1955, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Howard Hughes, Jane Russell, John Sturges, RKO, Warner Archive

DVD News #273: The Jungle Jim Movie Collection.

Boy, am I stoked about this! Umbrella Entertainment in Australia has put together a six-movie/three-DVD set, The Jungle Jim Movie Collection, something Sam Katzman fans have been screaming for for years. It includes:

Jungle Jim (1948)
Directed by William Berke
Starring Johnny Weissmuller, Virginia Grey, George Reeves, Lita Baron

Voodoo Tiger (1952)
Directed by Spencer G. Bennet
Starring Johnny Weissmuller, James Seay, Jean Byron

Savage Mutiny (1953)
Directed by Spencer G. Bennet
Starring Johnny Weissmuller, Angela Stevens, Lester Matthews, Nelson Leigh

Jungle Man-Eaters (1954)
Directed by Lee Sholem
Starring Johnny Weissmuller, Karin Booth, Richard Stapley

Cannibal Attack (1954)
Directed by Lee Sholem
Starring Johnny Weissmuller, Judy Walsh, David Bruce

Devil Goddess (1955)
Directed by Spencer G. Bennet
Starring Johnny Weissmuller, Angela Stevens, Selmer Jackson

The six pictures in the set range from the first to the last of the 16 Jungle Jim movies. Every indication is that this is Region Free. This is the kind of stuff that will make 2020 a very good year!

Thanks to Graham Carter for the news.

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Filed under 1952, 1953, 1954, 1955, Angela Stevens, Columbia, DVD/Blu-ray News, George Reeves, Johnny Weissmuller, Jungle Jim, Lee Sholem, Sam Katzman, Spencer Gordon Bennet, Virginia Grey

Blu-Ray News #271: Underwater! (1955).

Directed by John Sturges
Starring Jane Russell, Gilbert Roland, Richard Egan, Lori Nelson, Robert Keith, Joseph Calleia, Jayne Mansfield

This is gonna be terrific. Warner Archive is bringing John Sturges’ Underwater! (1955) to Blu-Ray, preserving its Superscope framing.

Of course, the appeal of this one back in ’55 was Jane Russell in a bathing suit (though I don’t think Howard Hughes engineered her outfit this time). It was promoted with a premiere showing that was actually held underwater. If you thought 3-D glasses were uncomfortable, how about an aqualung?

Not sure when this thing is coming, but boy am I glad it is. Highly recommended.

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Filed under 1955, DVD/Blu-ray News, Jane Russell, John Sturges, RKO, Warner Archive

Blu-Ray News #269: Day The World Ended (1955).

Produced & Directed by Roger Corman
Starring Richard Denning, Lori Nelson, Adele Jergens, Mike Connors, Paul Birch, Jonathan Haze, Paul Blaisdell

Scream Factory just keeps coming up with the gold! They’ve announced a March Blu-Ray release of Roger Corman’s Day The World Ended (1955). It’s got Corman directing — his fourth time at bat. It’s got a perfect B-picture cast — Denning and Nelson are both veterans of the Creature movies and Adele Jergens is always terrific. Plus, it’s got a great Paul Blaisdell monster, which he plays. What more could you want?

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: seeing these cheap movies get the white-glove treatment on Blu-Ray makes my heart feel good. Glad there’s enough demand to make such efforts worthwhile — wish 50s Westerns had a fanbase of the same size (or, no offense, willingness to part with their money).

Not sure what the extras will be, but given Scream Factory’s track record, it’ll be quite a haul. And it’ll be a treat (maybe a grainy one) to see it in its original Superscope framing. Highly, highly recommended.

UPDATE: Evidently, that March date was announced too soon. No official release date has been given, but it’s coming — and that’s good news indeed!

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Filed under 1955, Adele Jergens, AIP, DVD/Blu-ray News, Paul Birch, Paul Blaisdell, Richard Denning, Roger Corman, Shout/Scream Factory

Blu-Ray Review: Moonfleet (1955).

Directed by Fritz Lang
Produced by John Houseman
Screen Play by Jan Lustig & Margaret Fitts
Based on the novel by J. Meade Falkner
Director Of Photography: Robert Planck
Film Editor: Albert Akst
Music by Miklos Rozsa

Cast: Stewart Granger (Jeremy Fox.), Jon Whiteley (John Mohune), George Sanders (Lord Greenwood), Joan Greenwood (Lady Greenwood), Viveca Lindfors (Mrs. Minton), Liliane Montevecchi (Gypsy), Jack Elam (Damen)

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Fritz Lang’s Moonfleet (1955) is a movie people seem to delight in tearing down. It helps that it’s a long way from Lang’s best work — there’s plenty to criticize. But me, I’ll take Lang’s bad over About Anybody Else’s good. And there’s a lot for movie nuts to appreciate here.

If Disney had asked Fritz Lang to direct Treasure Island (1950), you might’ve ended up with something like Moonfleet. There’s a young boy. There are smugglers instead of pirates. And there are lots and lots of opportunities for the kind of deep, dark, moody scenes Lang excelled at.

The story suits Lang so well it’s hard to believe he was brought in as a director-for-hire just a few weeks before the cameras rolled. You see, MGM hated Lang. Fury (1936), his first film for the studio — his first American film period, had been a big hit. But they hated him so much they didn’t work with him again until Moonfleet. They gave him a paltry budget, a script he wasn’t allowed to fine-tune and no approval of the final cut. Lang was not the dictatorial artist here, he was an employee, plain and simple.

Lang was never loved in Hollywood. From studio heads to actors to crew members, few people worked with him more than once.

George Sanders (far right) made three movies with Fritz Lang.

Lang: “In Moonfleet we tried to create a period film entirely in the studio; we shot everything there, even the exteriors.”

Along with being assigned a set-bound period picture with very little time to prepare for it, Lang was handed CinemaScope as part of the package. The director was not a fan of the process, and as Moonfleet shows, it threw a monkey wrench into Lang’s style. ‘Scope pictures at the time relied on longer takes and fewer closeups, giving Lang a helluva time when it came to his usual way of cutting, and types of shots, to create rhythm and suspense. He’d never make another ‘Scope picture.

John Mohune, an orphan (Jon Whitely), arrives in the village of Moonfleet looking for Jeremy Fox (Stewart Granger), an old flame of his deceased mother. Fox is a gentleman wrapped up with a group of smugglers (one of them is Jack Elam!) — and with little time, aptitude or interest, for caring for a young boy. But the search for a hidden diamond brings them together — and makes them the targets of pirates, soldiers and the greedy, crooked Lord and Lady Greenwood (George Sanders and Joan Greenwood). Sanders comes off like his Nazi creep in Man Hunt (1941), just with a wig.

There are some terrific scenes here and there, particularly the ones set in the church graveyard and tombs. Lang keeps the picture planted in the boy’s point of view, much in the way William Cameron Menzies did with Jimmy Hunt in Invaders From Mars (1953), and it works well. It’s probably why I liked this so much as a kid (when I didn’t know, or care, who Fritz Lang was). After all, to a young boy, what’s cooler that pirates and thieves and skeletons? Some lazy editing — the last 10 minutes must’ve been cut at four o’clock on a Friday afternoon — makes it quite obvious that Lang wasn’t able to see his movie across the finish line. But when it’s good, it’s really good, and when it’s not good, well, it’s still good.

Warner Archive has done Lang and DP Robert Planck a great service with their new Blu-Ray of Moonfleet. We can now appreciate the somber color palette (the Eastmancolor looks quite good), the glorious painted backdrops and the sheer enormity of some of the MGM sound stages. Maybe that makes this more of a treat for those who want to look at how the movie was made rather than just watch it. But what’s wrong with that? Lang’s movies have always appealed more to us Film Geeks anyway.

Highly recommended. (Remember, it has Jack Elam as a pirate.)

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Filed under 1955, Fritz Lang, George Sanders, MGM, Warner Archive

Blu-Ray News #262: The Beast With 1,000,000 Eyes (1955).

Directed by David Kramarsky
Starring Paul Birch, Lorna Thayer, Dona Cole, Dick Sargent, Chester Conklin

The Beast With 1,000,000 Eyes (1955),  early effort from AIP (called American Releasing Corporation at the time), features Paul Blaisdell’s first monster, was partially directed by Roger Corman (who fired David Kramarsky midway through production) and stars the great Paul Birch.

It’s coming to Blu-Ray from Scorpion Releasing with a new transfer and a commentary by Tim Lucas. Can’t wait.

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Filed under 1955, AIP, DVD/Blu-ray News, Paul Birch, Paul Blaisdell, Roger Corman, Scorpion Releasing

Blu-Ray News #253: Moonfleet (1955).

Directed by Fritz Lang
Starring Stewart Granger, George Sanders, Joan Greenwood, Viveca Lindfors, John Hoyt, Jack Elam

Fritz Lang makes a pirate movie at MGM, in CinemaScope — and puts Jack Elam in it! That should be enough to sell you on Warner Archive’s Blu-Ray of Moonfleet (1955).

Shot almost entirely in the studio (and Lang’s only ‘Scope film), Moonfleet is a really incredible thing to look at. Lang and cinematographer Robert Planck use color and lighting (or lack of it) to create mood. They gypped MGM out of the big bright color pirate extravaganza they were hoping for — but made a movie perfect for Blu-Ray. I’m so excited to see this again, looking better than I’d ever imagined would be possible. Highly recommended.

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Filed under 1955, DVD/Blu-ray News, Fritz Lang, George Sanders, MGM, Warner Archive

Blu-Ray Review: The Crooked Web (1955).

Directed by Nathan Hertz Juran
Produced by Sam Katzman
Story & Screenplay by Lou Breslow
Cinematography: Henry Freulich
Film Editor: Edwin H. Bryant

Cast: Frank Lovejoy (Stanley Fabian), Mari Blanchard (Joanie Daniel), Richard Denning (Frank Daniel), John Mylong (Herr Koenig), Harry Lauter (Sgt. Mike Jancoweizc), Steven Ritch (Ramon ‘Ray’ Torres), Lou Merrill (Herr Schmitt)

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With some movies, you can smell the next plot point, or even the rest of the picture, a mile away. The experience is then reduced to just waiting around to see if you were right — unless you just give up on the whole thing. Then there are movies that make a point of not only zigging when you expect them to zag, but doing it so frequently you can’t possibly get ahead of them. The Crooked Web (1955) is one of those movies.

As a favor, you’re not going to get much of a synopsis out of me. Stan (Frank Lovejoy) owns a drive-in restaurant and he’s sweet on Joanie (Mari Blanchard), one of his carhops. One afternoon, Joanie’s brother Frank (Richard Denning) pulls up to say hello.

The Crooked Web makes great use of Stan’s Drive-In at the corner of Sunset and Highland in Hollywood. Giving Mark Lovejoy’s character the name Stan lets them show us all that wonderful signage. As soon as the movie was over, I hopped online to see if Stan’s was still around. Sadly, it’s not.

All these twists and turns are the work of Lou Breslow, who gets credit for both the story and screenplay. He takes this one way beyond what you expect from Sam Katzman’s unit. Breslow’s credits stretch back to the silents and he worked on pictures like W.C. Field’s masterpiece It’s A Gift (1934), Charlie Chan At The Race Track (1936), Mr. Moto Takes A Chance (1938), Shooting High with Gene Autry (1940), Blondie Goes To College (1942), Abbott & Costello In Hollywood (1945) and My Favorite Spy (1951). The Crooked Web was his last feature, though he did lots of TV.

Before trying his hand at directing, Nathan Juran was an art director — one of the gaggle of geniuses behind the Oscar-winning designs for John Ford’s How Green Was My Valley (1941). Juran directed a handful of pictures, mostly Westerns at Universal-International, before taking on The Crooked Web. He found his sweet spot in horror/sci-fi/fantasy stuff, and he’d go on to do 20 Million Miles To Earth (1957), The Seventh Voyage Of Sinbad (1958), The Brain From Planet Arous (1957) and Attack Of The 50 Foot Woman (1958). His Western Good Day For A Hanging (1958) starring Fred MacMurray is really terrific.

A picture like The Crooked Web can’t really work if its cast isn’t up to snuff. And the three leads here are top-notch — pros going about their business. Beginning with Lovejoy being head over heels for Blanchard, everybody’s believable enough to escort us from one plot twist to another. Frank Lovejoy is excellent in this one. Richard Denning was so good as a creep in both Hangman’s Knot (1952) and Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954) that I have a hard time seeing him as anything else.

I’ve always liked Mari Blanchard, especially in Rails Into Laramie (1954) and Stagecoach To Fury (1957). She’s very good here, though she was probably hired primarily for her eye-candy-ness. She had a pretty incredible life, overcoming polio as a child — look her up sometime. Her last feature was McLintock! (1963). Cancer took her in 1970.

The Crooked Web is part of Kit Parker’s Noir Archive, Volume 2 (1954-1955), a nine-movie, three-disc Blue-Ray set. It looks terrific — all nine pictures do. I’ve covered this before, but it’s worth repeating: seeing B movies like this on Blu-Ray can be a real revelation. The craft that went into these things has been obscured by washed-out TV prints and sorry-looking VHS tapes. People like cinematographer Henry Freulich certainly deserve to have their work seen in the best possible condition. And that’s exactly how you see The Crooked Web here. The movie comes highly recommended — and the Blu-Ray set, well, it’s essential.

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Filed under 1955, Columbia, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Kit Parker, Mari Blanchard, Nathan Juran, Richard Denning, Sam Katzman