Category Archives: 1961

Blu-Ray Review: Battle Of The Worlds (1961).

Directed by Antonio Margheriti (Anthony Dawson)
Story & Screenplay by Vassily Petrov
Cinematography: Marcello Masciocchi
Edited by Mario Serandrei
Music by Mario Migliard

Cast: Claude Rains (Professor Benson), Bill Carter (Cmdr. Robert Cole), Maya Brent (Eve Barnett), Umberto Orsini (Dr. Fred Steele), Jacqueline Derval (Mrs. Collins)


Antonio Margheriti’s first film as director, Assignment: Outer Space (1960, AKA Space-Men) did well, so Titanus (there’s no producer credited on these films) gave him a bit more to work with for the next one, which ended up being Battle Of The Worlds (1961). The most obvious thing to come from that boost in budget was hiring Claude Rains, who does a lot more for the film than it does for him.

Rains plays Professor Benson, a cantankerous old genius who’s been watching another planet, which he calls “The Outsider,” approach the earth. Scientists from a space station near Mars consult with Rains, who predicts The Outsider will come close to the earth, but pass by without hitting it. They doubt him, but when it turns out he’s right, everybody’s relieved. Whew! Then it alters its course and settles into an orbit around the earth. That’s not a very planet-y thing to do.

Rains decides some sort of intelligence is controlling The Outsider and tells the scientists it needs to be destroyed right away. Again, the professor is ignored.

Spaceships are sent out to investigate — and they’re promptly destroyed by a fleet of flying saucers that come swarming out of The Outsider. Whatever this thing is, it’s got some vile ideas about the earth. Now, everybody’s more than willing to listen to Rains. And he knows exactly what needs to be done.

Like most Italian science fiction movies, Battle Of The Worlds is pretty odd. At times, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. The budget limitations are painfully obvious. The acting is, for the most part, pretty bad (hard to tell with all the dubbing). And the pacing is weird. But like Margheriti’s previous picture, there’s something about it that I find really, really cool.

All of Margheriti’s sci-fi pictures of the 60s demonstrate his love of science fiction, which makes up for most of the film’s deficiencies. The special effects run hot and cold. Maybe that’s being generous, but I prefer them that way. Battle Of The Worlds is jam-packed with ideas and creativity, which are far more valuable than a several million bucks worth of CGI. 

Claude Rains is a lot of fun in this thing. He’s pretty over-the-top, playing an eccentric scientist a lot like the one he played in the remake of The Lost World (1960, he was Professor Challenger in that one). Rains demanded that his scenes for Battle Of The Worlds be shot with sound, rather than the Italian way of dubbing everything in later. English-speaking actors were used frequently. All this makes a big difference in how the film plays.

Margheriti and cinematographer Marcello Masciocchi are very inventive with their camerawork. Odd angles and unusual lens choices give the picture a very distinct, other-wordly look — and help disguise the lack of funds.

Battle Of The Worlds touches down in Orlando, Florida, 1963.

In 1963, Topaz Film Corporation paired Battle Of The Worlds with another Italian picture, Atom Age Vampire (1960). They played drive-ins for years before winding up on television. That’s where I caught up with it, on a local station late one night in the mid-70s.

The crap we used to watch (left) vs. The Film Detective (right).

Now let’s get to the new Blu-Ray from The Film Detective. An original 35mm print from the American Topaz release was used. While the picture played Italy in Technicolor, it criss-crossed the US in Eastman Color — and that’s what we see here. The folks at The Film Detective have cleaned up the print quite a bit — it’s sharp as a tack, very steady and with minimal splices. The color has faded a bit toward that Eastman Color’s weird, sickly, pinkish brown, however. That’s a shame, but what we have here is far, far superior to what we’ve been suffering through for decades (see the above comparison, from The Film Detective YouTube channel). It’s not perfect, but I’m so happy to have it. (Having grown up watching lots of film prints, mostly 16mm, I have a soft spot for a few light lines, some grain and a bit of fading. It’s part of the film experience, and I like being reminded of it every now and then.) I’m so thankful that companies like The Film Detective are willing to do the sleuthing necessary to find the best available material for films like this, then taking on the costly clean-up work needed for a nice DVD/Blu-Ray release.

The supplements are quite nice. There’s a half-hour piece on Antonio Margheriti from Ballyhoo and Tim Lucas. It’s excellent. There’s also a commentary by Justin Humphreys, and a nice essay in the booklet.

I’ve been a fan of Battle Of The Worlds since I saw it on TV. For years, I’ve wanted it to make it to DVD or Blu-Ray in a version that reflected what it looked like back in 1961 (or ’63). This isn’t perfect, but I love it. I’ve been on a Margheriti sci-fi mini-binge of late, so the timing with this is perfect. A big thanks to folks at The Film Detective, and a big recommendation to all y’all out there.

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Filed under 1961, Antonio Margheriti, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, The Film Detective

Blu-Ray News #373 UPDATE: Samson And The 7 Miracles Of The World (1961).

Directed by Riccardo Freda
Starring Gordon Scott, Yôko Tani, Hélène Chanel

It’s great that these peplum pictures are turning up on Blu-Ray, and Kino Lorber has announced an upcoming release of Samson And The Seven Miracles Of The World (1961).

Designed to use sets designed for Marco Polo (1962, also with Yôko Tani), this was a Maciste picture elsewhere in the world — Maciste (Gordon Scott) was renamed Samson in the English dubbing for the UK and US. In the UK, the title was shortened to Samson And The Seven Miracles (1962). It sends Gordon Scott to the Orient where he has to come to the aide of a Chinese princess. The earthquake in the final reel is pretty cool.

Released in Italy in late 1961, it was almost 1963 before AIP put it out, re-scored by Les Baxter — and with yet another incredible poster by Reynold Brown. I’m sure Kino Lorber will give us something to make us forget those horrible pan-and-scan 16mm TV prints.

The disc will include both the longer international cut and the shorter AIP version — and a commentary from Tim Lucas. Coming in August. Can’t wait!

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Filed under 1961, AIP, DVD/Blu-ray News, Gordon Scott, Kino Lorber, Les Baxter, Peplum, Riccardo Freda

4K/Blu-Ray News #393: The Trial (1962).

Directed by Orson Welles
Starring Anthony Perkins, Orson Welles, Jeanne Moreau, Romy Schneider, Akim Tamiroff

StudioCanal is working on a 4K Blu-ray and Blu-ray release of Orson Welles’ The Trial (1962), based in the book by Franz Kafka. A 4K restoration is being done from the original 35mm negative. The cinematography
by Edmond Richard deserves the best treatment we can give it — he and Welles put together some incredible visuals in this thing. Highly recommended.

 

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Filed under 1961, Anthony Perkins, DVD/Blu-ray News, Orson Welles

Cash On Demand (1961).

Directed by Quentin Lawrence
Screenplay by David T. Chantler & Lewis Greifer
Based on the teleplay The Gold Inside by Jacques Gillies
Director Of Photography: Arthur Grant
Film Editor: Eric Boyd-Perkins
Music by Wilfred Josephs

Cast: Peter Cushing (Harry Fordyce), André Morell (Colonel Gore Hepburn), Richard Vernon (Pearson), Norman Bird (Arthur Sanderson), Kevin Stoney (Detective Inspector Bill Mason), Barry Lowe (Peter Harvill), Edith Sharpe (Miss Pringle), Lois Daine (Sally), Alan Haywood (Kane)



What’s better than a heist movie? A heist movie starring Peter Cushing, from Hammer Films. Cash On Demand (1961) is another Hammer picture that’s eluded me over the years, and I’m so glad I finally caught up with it.

It’s a couple days before Christmas, and Harry Fordyce (Peter Cushing) is running the Haversham branch of City And Colonial Bank as coldly and efficiently as ever. Then Colonel Gore Hepburn (André Morell) comes in, announcing that he’s an insurance investigator. But once he’s in Fordyce’s office, Hepburn reveals that he’s actually a bank robber, he has Fordyce’s family hostage and that he fully expects the branch manager to help him clean out the vault.

From there, it gets very tense. Cash On Demand proves that when you have a good script to work with, along with a strong cast and crew, you don’t need much money. (They say Hammer spent just £37,000 on this thing.) The entire picture takes place in the bank or in front of it (Morell’s Maserati parked out front is nice to see).

The performances here are top-notch, and I think that’s the key to the film’s success. André Morell is charming as the robber, but we completely believe him when he threatens Fordyce’s family. Peter Cushing is incredible here. We don’t care much for the bank manager, he’s the ultimate cold fish, but Cushing makes us sympathize with him over the course of the film. For his sake (and his family’s), we want the heist to succeed. Cushing plays his rather Scrooge-ish redemption at the end just perfectly.

The US prints run 80 minutes, while the UK theatrical cut is just 67. As tight as the longer version is, I’d love to see how the shorter version plays. The Indicator Blu-Ray gives you both, by the way.

Richard Vernon has a good part in this. I’ve been aware of him for ages, thanks to movies I watched constantly as a kid: A Hard Days Night, Goldfinger, The Tomb Of Ligeia (all 1964) and The Satanic Rites Of Dracula (1973). Both Morell and Richard Vernon were in the television play this was based on, The Gold Inside, and Morell played Watson to Cushing’s Holmes in Hammer’s The Hound Of The Baskervilles (1959). Norman Bird was in The League Of Gentlemen (1960), Maniac (1963) and The Wrong Box (1966).

Director Quentin Lawrence worked largely in television, but he also did The Crawling Eye (1957). And, of course, cinematographer Arthur Grant’s work is as masterful as ever. Editor Eric Boyd-Perkins excels here, putting the pieces together to really ramp up the suspense.

How’d that vault get backstage at the London Opera House?

Another familiar “face” is Bray Studios. I recognized some of the bank sets from other Hammer films, namely The Phantom Of The Opera (1962).

My Peter Cushing bias is splattered all over this blog — he’s one of my absolute favorites, and I’d list him as one of the greatest, and most under-appreciated, screen actors of them all. Cash On Demand is yet another picture that supports my lofty claims. But from one end to another, this is an excellent film, one where everything — script, cast, direction, etc. — comes together perfectly. Highly, high recommended.

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Filed under 1961, 1964, Arthur Grant, Columbia, Hammer Films, Indicator/Powerhouse, Peter Cushing

Blu-Ray News #387: Battle Of The Worlds (Il Pianeta Degli Uomini Spenti, 1961).

Directed by Antonio Margheriti (Anthony Dawson)
Starring Claude Rains, Bill Carter, Maya Brent, Umberto Orsini

Antonio Margheriti directed quite a few science fiction and horror movies, spy films, spaghetti westerns and peplum pictures in the 60s and 70s. He rarely had much money to work with, and some of the scripts were lousy, but he had a visual flair that makes his films worthwhile. His whacked-out Wild, Wild Planet (1966) is incredible.

The Film Detective is bringing Margheriti’s second film, Battle Of The Worlds (1961) starring Claude Rains, to Blu-Ray this summer. Distributed in the States by Topaz Film Corp. in 1963, it was often paired with Atom Age Vampire (1960). Battle Of The Worlds is one of those movies that looks pretty terrible whenever it turns up, a situation I’m sure the folks at The Film Detective will rectify. Looking forward to seeing it look like something!

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Filed under 1961, Antonio Margheriti, DVD/Blu-ray News, The Film Detective

San Francisco, May, 1964.

You couldn’t pay me to go to San Francisco today, but I would love to have been there in May of 1964. Look at this great twin bill — Mario Bava’s Erik The Conqueror (1961) and Hercules And The Captive Women (1963).

All that, and Jimmy Payne, a former Mr. America, was dropping by!

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Filed under 1961, 1963, AIP, Mario Bava, Peplum, Reg Park, Woolner Brothers

4K News: The Guns Of Navarone (1961).

The guns built for the movie. Navarone is not a real island, by the way.

Directed by J. Lee Thompson
Starring Gregory Peck, David Niven, Anthony Quinn, Stanley Baker, Anthony Quayle, Irene Papas, Gia Scala, James Darren, Richard Harris

Sony has announced a 60th anniversary 4K edition of J. Lee Thompson’s The Guns Of Navarone (1961) — in both the US and the UK. The Blu-Ray from 2011 was a huge upgrade from the DVD, and I’m eager to find out how much more resolution can be gotten out of this thing. (It’s never been a super-sharp-looking film, as far as I can tell.) Sony has listed a lot of extras, some carried over from the Blu-Ray. I’m excited about the restoration of the picture’s original four-track stereo.

The Marx Navarone playset is a really cool thing.

Of course, no matter how you see it, The Guns Of Navarone is terrific. Alistair MacLean’s “impossible mission” novel made a great movie — and everyone from director J. Lee Thompson to that stellar cast to composer Dimitri Tiomkin brought their A game. What always strikes me about it is how quickly its 158 minutes go by. (The same can be said for another MacLean picture, 1969’s Where Eagles Dare.)

I haven’t taken the 4K plunge yet, and it’s terrific to see these older pictures getting this UHD treatment. The movie itself, of course, is highly, highly recommended.

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Filed under 1961, 4K, Anthony Quinn, Columbia, David Niven, DVD/Blu-ray News, Gregory Peck, J. Lee Thompson, Stanley Baker

Happy Birthday, Vincent Price.

Vincent Price
(May 27, 1911 – October 25, 1993)

Here’s the great Vincent Price having a drink during the shooting of Roger Corman’s Pit And The Pendulum (1961). You get so thirsty in those crypts!

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Filed under 1961, AIP, Roger Corman, Vincent Price

DVD/Blu-Ray News #338: Hercules And The Captive Women (1963, AKA 1961’s Hercules Conquers Atlantis).

Directed by Vittorio Cottafavi
Starring Reg Park, Fay Spain, Ettore Manni, Luciano Marin

Next month, The Film Detective is unleashing Hercules And The Captive Women (1963), the Woolner Brothers’ US version of 1961’s Italian peplum picture Ercole Alla Conquista Ai Atlantide. Coming on both DVD and Blu-Ray, it’s been given a 4K Restoration from the original 35mm camera negative. Being that this one was shot in Technicolor and Technirama, it should be quite a treat.

Hercules And The Captive Women one was one of my favorite peplum things as a kid, thanks largely to the lizard monster Hercules (Reg Park) takes on (see above). It was Park’s first film. His next one was Mario Bava’s Hercules In The Haunted World (1961).

The Film Detective has promised a mighty batch of extras, including a commentary by Tim Lucas, a documentary and MST3K’s take on the film. But the biggest bonus, for me at least, will be seeing it in its proper aspect ratio and high definition. Can’t wait. Highly recommended.

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Filed under 1961, 1963, DVD/Blu-ray News, Peplum, Reg Park, The Film Detective

RIP, Pamela Tiffin.

Pamela Tiffin
(October 13, 1942 – December 2, 2020)

Pamela Tiffin had a pretty short career in movies and on the stage. She was wonderful in a couple of my favorite films of the 60s — One Two Three (1961) and Harper (1966). She passed away last week at 78.

Not long after Harper, she headed to Italy and did a few films. By the mid-70s, she’d retired. It’s a shame she didn’t stick with it a bit longer, she was terrific.

The top image is from the Harper trailer; the bottom for Harper itself.

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Filed under 1961, 1966, Billy Wilder, Paul Newman