Category Archives: 1958

Blu-Ray News #257: Hammer Volume 4 – Faces Of Fear.

The folks at Indicator have done a terrific job with their Hammer Blu-Ray sets — and I expect just as much from this one.

Scream Of Fear (1961; UK title: Taste Of Fear)
​Directed by Seth Holt
​Starring Susan Strasberg, Ronald Lewis, Ann Todd, Christopher Lee

Hammer made a string of Psycho-inspired thrillers in the early 60s. One of the best of the bunch is Scream Of Fear, which borrows more from Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques (1955) than it does from the Hitchcock picture. Susan Strasberg is terrific as the handicapped young woman who is being systematically scared to death by a conniving couple. Jimmy Sangster’s script, Seth Holt’s direction and Douglas Slocombe’s black and white photography are all top-notch.

The Revenge Of Frankenstein (1958)
Directed by Terence Fisher
Starring Peter Cushing, Eunice Grayson, Francis Matthews, Michael Gwynn

The Revenge Of Frankenstein (1958) is the second entry in Hammer’s Frankenstein series, coming after The Curse Of Frankenstein (1957). Hammer went a different route than Universal — they follow the Doctor, not the Monster, which lets the stories go in all sorts of different directions. And more important, it established Peter Cushing as a leading horror star through the 70s.

Revenge picks up where Curse left off. Frankenstein escapes the guillotine, flees to Carlsbruck and builds a successful practice under the name Stein. Of course, he’s conducting his usual experiments on the side — and they go horribly wrong. Frankenstein transplants the brain of a willing assistant into the newly constructed monster, giving the crippled young man a stronger, straighter body. Or that’s the idea anyway.

This, for my money, is one of Hammer’s finest films. Cushing is terrific as the brilliant doctor completely taken over by arrogance and misguided ambition (making it quite appropriate during this Presidential election). Eunice Grayson and Francis Matthews are good as the nurse and young doctor caught up in Frankenstein’s mayhem. Michael Gwynn is really superb as the monster, perfectly balancing the sympathy and horror the part requires. His performance is what makes the movie work as well as it does. Jimmy Sangster’s script is more disciplined than usual, free of the diversions that can lead his films astray. And Terence Fisher’s direction is as assured as ever.

The Two Faces Of Dr. Jekyll (1960; US Title: House Of Fright)
Directed by Terence Fisher
Starring Paul Massie, Dawn Addams, Christopher Lee, David Kossoff, Oliver Reed

Hammer always put their own spin on the horror standards they tackled, and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde is no exception. Their Dr. Jekyll (Paul Massie) is rather boring, but his potion transforms him into the suave, yet lecherous and murderous Mr. Hyde. Minus the murder part, this seems like a precursor to Jerry Lewis’ The Nutty Professor (1963). This framework provides ample opportunity for everything from rape and murder to snake-charming — the kind of stuff censors pounced on, resulting in a cut-up American release from American International.

The Damned (1963; US Title: These Are The Damned)
Directed by Joseph Losey
Starring MacDonald Carey, Shirley Anne Field, Viveca Lindfors, Oliver Reed

Fleeing the harassment of a motorcycle gang (lead by Oliver Reed), a couple (MacDonald Carey, Shirley Anne Field) winds up in a cave occupied by a group of children — the product an experiment to create a race of radiation-friendly humans.

Hammer sat on this one a while before releasing it, and in in the States it was cut to just 77 minutes. It’s never been given its due, though it’s cherished by fans of Joseph Losey. Indicator, of course, is offering up the original cut, not the chopped-up American thing.

Coming November 18, this Region-Free set loads each picture up with extras — from interviews and trailers to commentaries and photo galleries. Highly, highly recommended.

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Filed under 1958, 1960, 1961, 1963, AIP, Christopher Lee, DVD/Blu-ray News, Hammer Films, Indicator/Powerhouse, Oliver Reed, Peter Cushing, Terence Fisher

Blu-Ray Review: Frankenstein – 1970 (1958).

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Directed by Howard W. Koch
Produced by Aubrey Schenck
Screenplay by Richard Landau and George Worthing Yates
Story by Charles A. Moses and Aubrey Schenck
Cinematography: Carl E. Guthrie
Music by Paul A. Dunlap
Film Editor: John A. Bushelman

Cast: Boris Karloff (Baron Victor Von Frankenstein), Tom Duggan (Mike Shaw), Jana Lund (Carolyn Hayes), Donald Barry (Douglas Row), Charlotte Austin (Judy Stevens), Irwin Berke (Inspector Raab), Rudolph Anders (Wilhelm Gottfried), Norbert Schiller (Shuter), John Dennis (Morgan Haley), Mike Lane (Hans Himmler/The Monster)

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This review is partially based on a review of the previously-released DVD.

The last member of the Frankenstein family has fallen on hard times. To keep things afloat, namely his experiments, Baron Victor Von Frankenstein (Boris Karloff) has rented his castle to a company shooting a cheap horror movie. The lecherous director’s played by Don “Red” Barry. Frankenstein’s eager for them to wrap and get out, until he realizes the cast and crew offer up a sizable supply of body parts for his “work.”

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Director Howard W. Koch on the set with Boris Karloff.

Frankenstein 1970 (1958) takes this terrific film-within-a-film premise — an American film crew making a Frankenstein movie in the real Frankenstein castle, while the real monster reposes in the lab below — and puts almost none of its obvious potential on the screen. Another thought-provoking idea, that Frankenstein was tortured by the Nazis — in other words, he got a bit of his own medicine, is brought up and dropped. And what could’ve been made of Karloff’s “real” monster meeting its cheesy movie namesake?

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I was dying to see Frankenstein 1970 as a kid, thanks to a stack of lurid stills that kept turning up in my monster movie books and magazines — and the fact that it was in black-and-white CinemaScope (always a huge draw for me). And for an eight-day Allied Artists monster picture, it certainly has its moments. The opening’s well done, with a young woman chased through a foggy swamp by a deformed monster, only to have it revealed as part of the movie being made. And a scene where Karloff, convinced to appear in the film project, goes off script as he tells the story of his ancestors’ work — is a hoot. You don’t see Karloff get that worked up in many movies. Both of these ideas demonstrate the plot-line gold that was waiting to be mined here. Cinematographer Carl E. Guthrie does a terrific job, as always, and I’ve always liked long takes in Scope movies (I’m sure they were used more for efficiency than aesthetics on this one). If there’s one thing I’ve learned watching cheap movies of the late 50s, there were some real pros doing excellent work on these crummy things.

Howard W. Koch is never going to make a list of the Great Directors, but he made a few films I love dearly — Shield For Murder (1954), Big House, USA (1955), Untamed Youth (1957; it’s got Eddie Cochran in it!) — and I’ve developed a real fondness for Frankenstein 1970. (He produced some terrific stuff like 1962’s The Manchurian Candidate and 1967’s The Odd Couple. I’ll overlook the fact that he produced Ghost.)

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Carl Guthrie’s craft is beautifully presented on the new Blu-Ray from Warner Archive, though it’s a tad lighter than I would’ve expected. The material they worked with was either in perfect condition or they skillfully made it look that way. It’s a nice jump up from the DVD. So, while I spent the last few paragraphs pointing out the picture’s disappointments, I’m thrilled to have it on Blu-Ray. For fans of such stuff, this one is easy to recommend.

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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.

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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 News #228: Frankenstein 1970 (1958).

Directed by Howard W. Koch
Starring Boris Karloff, Tom Duggan, Jana Lund, Donald Barry, Charlotte Austin

Thanks to Warner Archive, in about a month, we’ll be able to recreate this terrific twin bill in high definition in our own living rooms, as they add Frankenstein 1970 (1958) to their list of terrific Allied Artists ‘Scope monster movies on Blu-Ray.

Frankenstein 1970 is one I like a lot — in spite of itself in a few spots. I really dig Queen Of Outer Space (1958), too.

Black & white CinemaScope is such a cool thing on Blu-Ray, I can’t wait for this!

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Filed under 1958, Boris Karloff, DVD/Blu-ray News, Howard W. Koch, Monogram/Allied Artists, Warner Archive

Blu-Ray Review: (Horror Of) Dracula (1958).

Directed by Terence Fisher
Screenplay by Jimmy Sangster
From the novel by Bram Stoker
Director Of Photography: Jack Asher, BSC
Music by James Bernard

Cast: Peter Cushing (Dr. Van Helsing), Michael Gough (Arthur Holmwood), Melissa Stribling (Mina Holmwood), Carol Marsh (Lucy Holmwood), Christopher Lee (Count Dracula)

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In the early 90s, I had the chance to see a 35mm IB Technicolor print of Horror Of Dracula (1958) run at a film festival in Baltimore. It was a great evening — one of my favorite nights spent in a movie theater, with a film I’d seen countless times taking on a whole new life. Technicolor let the fake blood (and Jack Asher’s color effects) really pop, and the stories of Hammer’s visceral late-50s impact suddenly made a lot of sense. The new Blu-Ray from Warner Archive gives us a near-perfect approximation of what that IB Tech print looked like.

To back up a bit, Hammer Films breathed new life into the Horror Movie with their violent, colorful takes on the monster classics. They began with Curse Of Frankenstein (1957), which was a huge hit. Next came Dracula (1958, Horror Of Dracula in the US), followed by The Mummy (1959). All three starred Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, were shot by Jack Asher and were directed by Terence Fisher. As the censors lightened up some and the ratings system came along, Hammer lost their way a bit. But along the way, they made some really cool movies — and had a huge, lasting influence on the Horror Film.

Dracula might be the best of the bunch. It’s a streamlined, yet faithful adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel, with an emphasis on the sensual side of the vampire thing that hadn’t made its way to the screen before. Lee is suave as the evil Count, whose female victims don’t seem all that much like victims. Peter Cushing is perfect as the moral, determined vampire killer Dr. Van Helsing — whose calling has relegated him to a life on the fringes of both Science and Religion.

Each time I see Dracula, I’m struck now by how well it moves. There’s not an ounce of fat on this film. It’s made up of set-pieces — a biting here, a staking there — that build to a final battle of Good vs. Evil. It feels, to me, like it’s about 20 minutes long.

Terence Fisher might be the Ringo Starr of film directors — subtle, nothing flashy, but with impeccable taste and a perfect sense of what is needed. He knows exactly where to put his camera, and no matter how lustful or blood-soaked things get, there’s a class to his Hammers that really sets them apart. This one is the perfect showcase for his talents.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet Mr. Jack Asher, BSC.

Over the years, we’ve been unable to really appreciate Jack Asher’s brilliant photography, due to faded TV prints, crappy VHS tapes and a pretty lazy attempt at a DVD. (The UK Blu-Ray release looked quite good.) Asher tosses an oddball colored light here and there, and his choices are theatrical, effective and just plain cool. These touches were perfect for Technicolor, and they’re perfectly presented by Warner Archive. So is the audio, with James Bernard’s score pounding out of your speakers with astounding impact.

This is one of the finest Blu-Rays in my collection, and I’m seriously considering a bigger, better TV just to give it a closer look. Essential.

Next up: Dracula – Prince Of Darkness (1966) from Scream Factory!

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Filed under 1958, Christopher Lee, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Hammer Films, Michael Gough, Peter Cushing, Terence Fisher, Warner Archive

Hammer Holidays!

Having a Star Wars nut for a daughter worked out very well for me this Christmas. Presley got me a couple Peter Cushing toys — perfect for a holiday season filled with Hammer films on Blu-Ray.

Here’s a Grand Moff Tarken (Cushing) action figure hanging a wreath on his mid-century modern home.

Now he’s enjoying cocoa in front of the TV. Guess he’s waiting for me to fire up Horror Of Dracula (1958) again. Hope you’re having a holiday as nice as my family and Mr. Cushing are.

These cool photos were done by Presley.

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Filed under 1958, Hammer Films, Peter Cushing

2018 In Review – Part 2.

When I started doing DVD and Blu-Ray commentaries, it no longer felt appropriate to survey the best DVD and Blu-Ray releases of the year. So, as a substitute (maybe a poor one), here’s a reminder of a few things we were treated to this year. We’ll let all the praise, complaints or ranking come from you in the comments. Part 1 can be found over at 50 Westerns From The 50s.

This was a banner year for old sci-fi and horror movies making their way to Blu-Ray. From what we’re hearing so far, next year might be the same for noir and crime pictures. Anyway, here’s some of 2018’s bounty — a few of which I’m still working on proper reviews of.

The Thing (From Another World) (1951)
This is one of the all-time favorite movies. I find something new in it every time I see it — a line, a look, a particular setup, the music, a new appreciation for the guy who did the fire stunt. It’s always something — and that, to me, is one of the requirements for a Great Movie. Warner Archive worked long and hard on this one, and I’m in their debt for sure.

The Hammer Draculas
It’s like there was some sorta Monster Movie Summit, and it was decreed that the Hammer Dracula series would be given its due on Blu-Ray. Warner Archive did a lot of the heavy lifting with Horror Of Dracula (1958), Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972) and The Satanic Rites Of Dracula (1974). In the meantime, Scream Factory came through with Dracula – Prince Of Darkness (1966). Taste The Blood Of Dracula (1970) hit Blu-Ray a few years ago. That leaves Scars Of Dracula (197) as the only Hammer Dracula picture not available on Blu-Ray. Who’s gonna step up to the plate for that one?

The Hammer goodness wasn’t limited to the Dracula pictures. Mill Creek included some Hammer pictures in their twin-bill sets, some of the best values in all of home video. Hammer Films, William Castle, Ray Harryhausen — there’s some good stuff in those sets.

The Creature From The Black Lagoon Complete Legacy Collection
That’s quite a name for a set that only includes three movies. But what movies they are — the first two, anyway. And they’re in both widescreen 2-D and 3-D.

Gun Crazy (1949)
Joseph H. Lewis hit it out of the park with Gun Crazy (1949). So did his cast — and this year, with a stunning Blu-Ray, so did Warner Archive.

Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1956)
Don Siegel making it to Blu-Ray is always a reason to celebrate, and this is one of his many milestones. Over the years, we’ve all put up with some pretty shoddy-looking stuff when it comes to this incredible movie. Olive Films’ Blu-Ray is a huge improvement.

The Tingler (1959)
It’s hard to pick between this one and House On Haunted Hill (1958) for my favorite William Castle movie. Scream Factory did a wonderful job with this one, and they’ve given us other Castle pictures as well.

Dark Of The Sun (1968)
Warner Archive has been hinting around about this one on Blu-Ray for a while. It’s beautiful — and still one of the damnedest movies I’ve ever seen.

There’s a few that stood out for me. What DVD and Blu-Ray releases knocked you out this year?

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Filed under 1951, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1958, 1959, 1970, 1972, 1973, 3-D, Barbara Shelley, Caroline Munro, Christopher Lee, Don Siegel, DVD/Blu-ray News, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Hammer Films, Howard Hawks, Jack Arnold, James Arness, John Agar, Joseph H. Lewis, Julie Adams, Kenneth Tobey, Kevin McCarthy, Mill Creek, Nestor Paiva, Olive Films, Peggy Cummins, Peter Cushing, Richard Carlson, Richard Denning, Richarld Carlson, RKO, Rod Taylor, Shout/Scream Factory, Terence Fisher, Vincent Price, Warner Archive, William Castle