Category Archives: 1957

The Unknown Terror (1957).

Directed by Charles Marquis Warren
Produced by Robert Stabler
Written by Kenneth Higgins
Music by Raoul Kraushaar
Cinematography: Joseph F. Biroc
Film Editor: Michael Luciano

Cast: John Howard (Dan Matthews), Mala Powers (Gina Matthews), Paul Richards (Peter Morgan), May Wynn (Concha Ramsey), Gerald Milton (Dr. Ramsey), Charles H. Gray (Jim Wheatley) Gerald Gilden (Raoul Koom)

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By the mid-50s, CinemaScope had done what it was supposed to do — help bring back the audiences lost to television. With TV still black and white and mono, 20th Century-Fox decreed that all their CinemaScope pictures would be in color. B producer Robert Lippert approached Fox with the idea of having his Regal Films, Inc. produce a series of second features for the studio — two black and white CinemaScope pictures a month. Lippert wanted to combine the economy of B&W with the draw of CinemaScope. To get around Fox’s no-color, no-‘Scope policy, and to work around Fox’s fear that these low-budget films would damage the prestige of their CinemaScope process, a new name was cooked up: RegalScope.

RegalScope is black and white CinemaScope, nothing more. Lippert made around 50 RegalScope features between 1956 and 1959 — all of them cheap, many of them Westerns or horror movies.

I absolutely love the RegalScope pictures. But it’s almost impossible to watch them today, since most of what we see, when we can find them at all, are terrible pan-and-scan (or just the middle of the wide image, no panning or scanning) transfers often taken from battered 16mm TV prints. No movie should be seen that way.

The other day, I received a fairly watchable copy of The Unknown Terror (1957), taken from an adapted ‘Scope print. “Adapted ‘Scope” is what we later called letterboxed. These prints don’t give you the entire 2.35 image, but they’re certainly an improvement over the 1.33 versions.

The Unknown Terror follows the typical RegalScope business model. It runs 77 minutes, with minimal sets, a small cast (with character actors getting rare lead roles), long takes and more dialogue than action. When these movies work, it’s usually because someone cleverly wrote around these constraints to tell a solid story — the Western The Quiet Gun (1956) is a terrific example.

In The Unknown Terror, three American explorers (John Howard, Mala Powers and Paul Richards) travel to the Caribbean in search of a friend who went down there to find the Cave Of The Dead — and never came back. This leads them to an American scientist (Gerald Milton) doing fungus research, a gaggle of fungus-infested mutants and lots of fake rocks (AKA the Cave Of The Dead). Eventually, the fast-growing fungus goes completely nuts and covers up pretty much everything — which means the last few minutes feature lots of shots of something like soap suds running down the fake rocks, all set to loud gurgling noises. I loved it.

Unknown Terror stillMala Powers and Paul Richards discover the secret of the fungus and the Cave Of The Dead — and set out to put an end to the whole icky, gooey, deadly mess. They’re terrific at carrying this nonsense through to its conclusion, playing it all completely straight, something 50s character actors became quite adept at. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but who said that was a requirement for a movie like this?

Cinematographer Joseph Biroc handled the B&W ‘Scope, filling the wide frame and doing a good job of concealing how set-bound it is — and how tiny those sets are. I’m sure the last reel was a real drag to shoot, with gallons upon gallons of the “fungus” being poured on everything and everyone — and probably smelling terrible in the heat of Biroc’s lights.

Charles Marquis Warren directed, not long after leaving Gunsmoke. He made another RegalScope horror picture, Back From The Dead starring Peggie Castle that went out with The Unknown Terror as a double bill. Warren did a few RegalScope Westerns, too. Copper Sky (1957) is quite good.

Olive Films released a handful of RegalScope films on DVD and Blu-Ray a few years ago — and they look terrific. The Unknown Terror was not one of them, which is a shame. I’m sure there are plenty of classic horror fans who’d find this one a lot of fun.

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Filed under 1957, 20th Century-Fox, Charles Marquis Warren, Lippert/Regal/API, Mala Powers, Peggie Castle

Blu-Ray Review: The Shadow On The Window (1957).

Directed by William Asher
Screen Play by Leo Townsend & David P. Harmon
Based on a story (“Missing Witness”) by John & Ward Hawkins
Cinematography: Kit Carson
Music by George Duning
Film Editor: William A. Lyon

Cast: Phil Carey (Tony Atlas), Betty Garrett (Linda Atlas), John Barrymore, Jr. (Jess Reber), Corey Allen (Gil Ramsey), Gerald Sarracini (Joey Gomez), Jerry Mathers (Petey), Sam Gilman (Sgt. Paul Denke), Paul Picerni (Bigelow)

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This tough little gem from Columbia can be found in Kit Parker’s nine-movie, three-disc Blu-Ray set Noir Archive, Volume 3 (1956-1960). These sets offer up a real wealth of riches — and I hope they keep coming.

A little boy (Jerry Mathers) sees his mother (Betty Garrett) getting roughed up by some punks as they rob and kill an old man. He wanders off, in shock, and is picked up on the side of the road by a couple of truckdrivers. Turns out he’s the son of police offer Tony Atlas (Phil Carey). With very little to go on (Mathers is able to tell them a few things), the cops race against time to find her.

Of course, we’ve seen this kind of thing before — crooks hiding in a house with a witness or two that can’t be allowed to live to rat ’em out. (There’s even an episode of Little House On The Prairie like that.) And while we’re sure the police procedural stuff will lead to the creeps before it’s all over, there are some good performances (Betty Garrett and Jerry Mathers are very good), some over-the-top menace from John Barrymore, Jr. and a great parade of 50s character actors to keep me happy — Sam Gilman, Paul Picerni, Norman Leavitt, Angela Stevens, Mel Welles and so forth. William Asher’s direction is tight and assured — a long way from his loose-as-a-goose Beach Party movies.

But what gets me about movies like this is the unshakeable craft of the crew. From the sets to the cinematography, what you see is a well-oiled machine powered by people who knew what they were doing and, despite the budget, came through every single time. Cheap studio movies from the 50s usually look very good. Kit Carson’s cinematography on this one was never going to win him an Oscar, but he creates mood where he needs to and helps conceal the pictures’s limited budget. Carson did a lot of TV and only a handful of features.

So far, this series has given us 27 features, and every one of them looks terrific (some a bit better than others, as you’d expect). The Shadow On The Window is one of the nicest of the bunch — nice 1.85 framing, superb contrast and the kind of grain that reminds you that this used to be on film. This movie’s easy to recommend — and these sets are essential stuff.

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Filed under 1957, Columbia, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Kit Parker, Phil Carey, William Asher

Blu-Ray News #246: The Abominable Snowman Of The Himalayas (1957).

Directed by Val Guest
​Screenplay by Nigel Kneale
Based on the teleplay “The Creature” by Nigel Kneale
​Starring Forrest Tucker​, ​Peter Cushing​, ​Maureen Connell, Richard Wattis​, ​Arnold Marle

Over the years, this early Hammer film has been as hard to see as its maybe-real namesake, The Abominable Snowman Of The Himalayas (1957). There was a letterboxed laserdisc and early DVD from Anchor Bay, which is now a collectors’ item. So Scream Factory’s announcement of an upcoming Blu-Ray is big news.

An early Bigfoot movie, The Abominable Snowman Of The Himalayas left some mighty big shoes to fill. It appeals to me on so many levels — Hammer Films, Peter Cushing, Forrest Tucker (a staple of 50s Westerns), Regalscope, Val Guest and on and on.

Black and white CinemaScope (which is what Regalscope was) looks great on Blu-Ray, and Scream Factory has done a tremendous job with all their Hammer releases so far. There’s no release date for this yet (it was announced at Comic-Con this weekend). I can’t wait. Highly, highly recommended.

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Filed under 1957, 20th Century-Fox, Forrest Tucker, Hammer Films, Peter Cushing, Shout/Scream Factory, Val Guest

Blu-Ray News #233: Noir Archive Volume 3: 1956-1960.

I’ve been making my way through the first glorious volume of this terrific series from Kit Parker and Mill Creek Entertainment, and now they’ve announced the third. There’s another great lineup on the way (no pun intended).

The Shadow On The Window (1956)
Directed by William Asher
Starring Phil Carey, Betty Garrett, John Barrymore, Jr., Jerry Mathers

Jerry Mathers goes into shock after seeing his mom hassled by a group of thugs, then helps his dad (Phil Carey) and the cops rescue her. The Beaver is really good in this.

The Long Haul (1957)
Directed by Ken Hughes
Starring Victor Mature, Diana Dors

A British noir picture with Mature all tangled up in the shifty trucking industry — and a hood’s girlfriend.

Pickup Alley 6S

Pickup Alley (1957, UK Title: Interpol)
Directed by John Gilling
Starring Victor Mature, Anita Ekberg, Trevor Howard

Victor Mature and Anita Ekberg in a B&W Scope picture about dope smugglers — directed by the guy who did The Plague Of The Zombies (1966)! Where’s this movie been all my life?

The Tijuana Story (1957)
Directed by Leslie Kardos
Starring Rodolfo Acosta, James Darren, Jean Willes

Another lurid geography lesson from the great Sam Katzman. I love Rodolfo Acosta — his tiny part in One-Eyed Jacks includes one of the coolest single shots in all of Cinema, if you ask me (which you didn’t). Here, he’s got the lead!

She Played With Fire (1957, UK Title: Fortune Is A Woman)
Directed by Sidney Gilliat
Starring Jack Hawkins, ArleneDahl, DennisPrice, ChristopherLee
More UK noir, this one about a painting and insurance fraud.

The Lineup (1958)
Directed by Don Siegel
Starring Eli Wallach, Robert Keith, Warner Anderson, Richard Jaeckel

The TV series is turned into a typically tough and tight Don Siegel film. Siegel’s San Francisco movies (this and Dirty Harry) really get in the way of the city’s whole peace and love/hippie vibe. This time, it’s a town crawling with dope, crooks and killers. This set’s worth it for this one alone!

The Case Against Brooklyn (1958)
Directed by Paul Wendkos
Starring Darren McGavin, Maggie Hayes, Warren Stevens, Nestor Paiva, Brian G. Hutton

A documentary-style, true-story crooked cop picture starring Darren McGaven. Paul Wendkos also did The Legend Of Lizzie Borden (1975). Produced by Charles H. Schneer in-between Harryhausen movies. Oh, and Nestor Paiva’s in it.

The Crimson Kimono (1959)
Directed by Samuel Fuller
Starring James Shigeta, Glenn Corbett, Victoria Shaw

On the surface, it’s a detective story, but that’s never how a Fuller movie works, is it? Fuller understood that the best way to tackle an issue/message in a picture was to wrap it up in something else like a cop story or a Western. He also knew that if you stuck to B movies, the suits didn’t pay much attention and left you alone to do what you wanted. This one’s terrific.

Man On A String (1960)
Directed by Andre De Toth
Starring Ernest Borgnine, Kerwin Mathews, Alexander Scourby, Colleen Dewhurst, Glenn Corbett, Ted Knight, Seymour Cassel

Ernest Borgnine stars in this 1960 spy picture based on the life (and autobiography, Ten Years A Counterspy) of Boris Morros, a Russian-born musical director in Hollywood (John Ford’s Stagecoach, 1939) who was first a Russian spy, then a counterspy for the FBI. Andre de Toth focuses on the double-crosses that stack up like cordwood.

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Filed under 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, Andre de Toth, Christopher Lee, Columbia, Darren McGavin, Diana Dors, Don Siegel, DVD/Blu-ray News, Ernest Borgnine, John Gilling, Kit Parker, Mill Creek, Nestor Paiva, Sam Fuller, Sam Katzman, William Asher

Blu-Ray Review: The Deadly Mantis (1957).

Directed by Nathan Juran
Produced by William Alland
Screenplay by Martin Berkeley
Director Of Photography: Ellis W. Carter
Film Editor: Chester W. Schaeffer

Cast: Craig Stevens (Col. Joe Parkman), William Hopper (Dr. Nedrick Jackson), Alix Talton (Marge Blaine), Donald Randolph (Maj. Gen. Mark Ford), Pat Conway (Sgt. Pete Allen) and Florenz Ames (Prof. Anton Gunther)

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The 50s Big Bug movies are all terrific. Some are better than others, of course, but there’s something about them I love. They’re just so damn entertaining! The Deadly Mantis (1957) is one of the later ones, and while it’s certainly no Them! (1954), it’s got plenty going for it.

A volcano eruption sets off a chain reaction — an iceberg melts, releasing a giant praying mantis that’s been frozen for eons. It attacks polar military outposts, an airplane and an eskimo village, all through the liberal use of stock footage (this film might have the most stock of any movie I’ve ever seen). It’s up to a scientist (William Hopper), an Air Force CO (Craig Stevens) and a reporter (Alix Talton) to sort it all out.

While it has the mandatory pseudo-science and military propaganda, what sets The Deadly Mantis apart are the monster scenes. There are the usual teases — a claw here, a shadow there, some buzzing from time to time — before the big reveal, and it’s all handled well. The bug models are pretty well done — especially in the final scenes in the Manhattan Tunnel. (They’re a bit like the final scene in Them! deep in LA’s drain system, but still very cool.)

Real bug, fake monument.

Then there’s the Washington Monument. They took a real praying mantis and let it do a slow, graceful, creepy crawl up a (very) miniature monument. It might be the best single shot in the movie.

The mantis stuck in traffic is effective, too. These are images forever seared into my brain as a kid — who cares how good the rest of the movie is? The strength of these images might be attributed to director Nathan Juran. Before trying his hand at directing, he was an art director — one of the geniuses behind the Oscar-winning designs for John Ford’s How Green Was My Valley (1941). Juran directed a handful of pictures, including several Audie Murphy movies, before The Deadly Mantis. This was his first horror/sci-fi/fantasy movie, and he’d go on to do stuff like 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). Those last two he did under the name Nathan Hertz. His Western Good Day For A Hanging (1958) is really good. (Shout Factory has announced a Blu-Ray release of Juran’s Law And Order from 1953.)

Another Reynold Brown masterpiece.

Scream Factory has brought The Deadly Mantis to Blu-Ray in grand fashion. It looks terrific — the contrast is near-perfect and all the dust and scratches you see are from the original stock footage. The audio is quite strong and there are so nice extras — commentary, trailer and the episode of MST3000 that pokes fun at the picture. (They were wise to keep Reynold Brown’s original poster art for their packaging.)

I have a soft spot for this movie bigger than the deadly mantis itself, and I’m so stoked to see this type of thing get this level of TLC. Highly recommended.

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Filed under 1957, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Nathan Juran, Reynold Brown, Shout/Scream Factory, Universal (-International)

Blu-Ray News #206: The Deadly Mantis (1957).

Directed by Nathan Juran
Starring Craig Stevens, Alix Talton, William Hopper, Florenz Ames

Just this morning, a co-worker told me a great holiday story. A few years ago, her family bought a locally-grown Christmas tree (we’re in North Carolina), got it home, decorated it and sat their infant son in front of it for a first-Christmas photo. Then, suddenly, hundreds of tiny praying mantises began cascading out of the tree.

So, why am I telling you this? Well, first, it’s a cool story. And second, Scream Factory has just announced the upcoming Blu-Ray release of Universal’s big-bug classic The Deadly Mantis (1957). It’s not the masterpiece Them! (1954) is, and it’s not quite as cool as Tarantula (1955). But scenes near the end of the picture with the (deadly) mantis atop the Washington Monument and stuck in the Manhattan Tunnel have been seared in my brain since I was about eight. One complaint: where’s Nestor Paiva?

The Deadly Mantis won’t hatch until March 2019. I can’t wait.

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Filed under 1957, DVD/Blu-ray News, Nathan Juran, Shout/Scream Factory, Universal (-International)

Blu-Ray News #200: The Land Unknown (1957).

Directed by Virgil Vogel
Starring Jock Mahoney,Shawn Smith, William Reynolds, Henry Brandon, Phil Harvey, Douglas Kennedy

A cheesy dinosaur and a model helicopter duke it out in black and white CinemaScope. No wonder I loved this thing so much as a kid (even though Ellis Carter’s CinemaScope photography was butchered on TV), and that I’m so stoked that Kino Lorber’s bringing it to Blu-Ray. It’s set for early 2019.

Reynold Brown’s beautiful poster art promised a lot, and there was no way the movie was gonna be able to deliver any of it. But it has that 50s sci-fi charm to it that makes these things so much fun. What’s left of my nine-year-old self recommends this one very, very highly.

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Filed under 1957, DVD/Blu-ray News, Kino Lorber, Reynold Brown, Universal (-International)