Category Archives: 1955

DVD News #314: The Jungle Jim Movie Collection (1950-55).

The Jungle Jim Movie Collection from Critics’ Choice Collection gives us six of Sam Kaztman’s Jungle Jim pictures starring Johnny Weissmuller.

Mark Of The Gorilla (1950)
Directed by William Berke
Starring Johnny Weissmuller, Trudy Marshall, Onslow Stevens

Pygmy Island (1950)
Directed by William Berke
Starring Johnny Weissmuller, Ann Savage, David Bruce, Steven Geray, William Tannen, Tristram Coffin, Billy Curtis, Billy Barty

Fury Of The Congo (1951)
Directed by William Berke
Starring Johnny Weissmuller, Sherry Moreland, William Henry, Lyle Talbot, John Hart

Jungle Manhunt (1951)
Directed by Lew Landers
Starring Johnny Weissmuller, Bob Waterfield, Sheila Ryan, Rick Vallin, Lyle Talbot

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

Jungle Moon Men (1955)
Directed by Charles S. Gould
Starring Johnny Weissmuller, Jean Byron, Helene Stanton, Bill Henry, Myron Healey

The transfers on these films are usually terrific. Let’s hope Jungle Man-Eaters (1954) and Jungle Moon Men (1955) are widescreen. They were 1.85 in theaters.

A few years ago, Umbrella Entertainment in Australia put out a six-movie/three-DVD set, The Jungle Jim Movie Collection. Get both sets and you’ll have 11 of the 16 Jungle Jim pictures.

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Filed under 1950, 1951, 1954, 1955, Columbia, Critics' Choice Collection, Johnny Weissmuller, Jungle Jim, Lyle Talbot, Myron Healey, Sam Katzman

Devil Goddess (1955)

Directed by Spencer G. Bennet
Produced by Sam Katzman
Screenplay by George Plympton
Story by Dwight Babcock
Director Of Photography: Ira Morgan
Film Editor: Aaron Stell

Cast: Johnny Weissmuller (Johnny Weissmuller), Angela Stevens (Nora Blakely), Selmer Jackson (Prof. Carl Blakely), William Tannen (Nels Comstock), Ed Hinton (Joseph Leopold), William M. Griffith (Prof. Ralph Dixon), Abel Fernandez (Teinusi), Frank Lackteen (Nkruma), Vera Francis (Sarabina), Kimba

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A few days ago, I saw the 1955 Three Stooges short Blunder Boys (it’s a Shemp one). It featured the lovely Angela Stevens, which reminded me that I’d been meaning to write something about Devil Goddess (1955), the last of the 16 Jungle Jim movies. Miss Stevens did the Stooges short and the Jungle Jim picture the same year.

This one begins with Kimba the chimp sharing pan-fried fish and liquor with a couple of his simian pals at Johnny Weissmuller’s camp (he’s not called Jungle Jim in this one). Next, Angela Stevens comes through the jungle looking for Weissmuller — to help her father’s expedition to find a missing professor. Before long, everyone’s wrapped up in a bunch of nonsense about the Mountain Of Explosive Fire, a fire demon, a tribe that happens to have King Solomon’s treasure, and a gang of looters who want that treasure. Oh, and that tribe, they sacrifice young women to the fire god.

Shot in a week right before Christmas of 1954, Devil Goddess shows that the Jungle Jim series had pretty much run out of gas. Johnny Weissmuller, who was never a good actor, seems really disinterested here. Aside from a few cameos, this was his last feature. Incidentally, Devil Goddess was playing theaters when the Jungle Jim TV show, starring Weissmuller, made its debut in October 1955.

There’s lots of stock footage in the picture’s 68 minutes, ranging from wild animal stuff to shots lifted from previous Jungle Jim movies. The Mountain Of Explosive Fire looks a lot like Bronson Canyon. And there’s a one-take-and-let’s-move-on feel to the whole thing. All typical for a Sam Katzman production.

Spencer Gordon Bennett, one of the most prolific serial and B Western directors, called the shots on Devil Goddess. The screenplay was by George Plympton, who wrote dozens of serials, from a story from Dwight Babcock. Babcock cooked up the stories for some of Universal’s B horror movies like The Mummy’s Curse (1944) and The Brute Man (1946). He later wrote lots of TV, including episodes of Jungle Jim and The Roy Rogers Show.

Cinematographer Ira H. Morgan’s career ran from the teens to the late 50s. He shot Chaplin’s Modern Times (1936), the 1948 Superman serial and a few other Jungle Jim pictures. His last film was The Cyclops (1957). There’s no telling how many setups he was doing a day on Devil Goddess.

The Jungle Jim pictures are, for the most part, absent on DVD and Blu-Ray. An Australian set gives you six of them, including this one. Not sure how they look or if any further volumes are planned. (Some of these later entries should be 1.85, and some sources say they were released in sepia.) Wouldn’t a nice set of all 16 be a hoot?

One last thing: the title. The fire demon is as close as we ever get to Devil Goddess.

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Filed under 1955, Angela Stevens, Columbia, Johnny Weissmuller, Jungle Jim, Sam Katzman, Spencer Gordon Bennet, The Three Stooges

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