Category Archives: 1968

Blu-Ray Review: Quatermass And The Pit (1968).

Directed by Roy Ward Baker
Produced by Anthony Nelson Keyes
Screenplay by Nigel Kneale
Director Of Photography: Arthur Grant
Film Editor: Spencer Reeve

Cast: James Donald (Dr. Roney), Andrew Keir (Quatermass), Barbara Shelley (Barbara Judd), Julian Glover (Colonel Breen), Duncan Lamont (Sladden), Bryan Marshall (Captain Potter), Peter Copley (Howell)

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When I was a kid, there was a Sony Trinitron in the guest room. It was a great television, able to pick up out-of-town stations our other TVs couldn’t touch.

At 10 years old, armed with that television, the TV Guide and a Radio Shack earphone (with a 15-foot cord), I began the clandestine, full-scale rotting of my brain on old monster movies at all hours of the night. (If they have Internet service in Heaven, I sure hope my mom doesn’t see this!*)

One of the films I discovered late one night using that Sony/Radio Shack rig was Hammer’s Five Million Miles To Earth (1968). It scared me to death, and I’m sure I was totally useless at school the next day.

In the UK, Five Million Years To Earth went by the same title as the BBC TV serial it was based on, Quatermass And The Pit — which is how it’s billed everywhere nowadays. This movie doesn’t waste a second, plunging immediately into its story. A crew is digging in a London Underground station. They find a fossilized skull, followed by an entire skeleton. Dr. Roney (James Donald) is brought in, accompanied by his fellow scientist Barbara Judd (Barbara Shelley). As they dig, they find what is believed to be an unexploded bomb. At this point, the military and the brilliant Dr. Quatermass (the brilliant Andrew Kier) get involved.

More and more stuff is ingeniously added to the plot as things get weirder, darker and a bit supernatural. The bomb isn’t a bomb after all, it’s an ancient spacecraft that seems to have brought grasshopper-looking creatures to earth millions of years ago (there’s the Five Million Years To Earth.) And those interstellar insects, well, they’ve been responsible for all sorts of evil havoc in this part of London for generations.

There are a few things about Quatermass And The Pit that have stuck with me for more than 40 years. To this day, I can’t see a grasshopper without thinking of this film. The scene where the rotting insects are dissected, as green “blood” oozes out and everyone complains about the smell, never ceases to give me the willies. And Barbara Shelley in her 60s plaid skirt has to be one of the loveliest women to ever grace the motion picture screen.

At 97 minutes, Quatermass And The Pit is one of the longer Hammer films, but it moves like a runaway train — thanks to director Roy Ward Baker, editor Spencer Reeve and writer Nigel Kneale — as it piles one plot point on top of another. To prove my point, the first skull is found before the movie’s two minutes in — and that includes the main titles. It maintains that pace throughout until all hell breaks loose in the last reel — as Quatermass and Dr. Roney save the world from heinous evil from another world.

Andrew Kier is just terrific as Quatermass, as is James Donald as Dr. Roney. Julian Glover is perfectly hatable as the military man who refuses to believe what Roney and Quatermass tell him is happening. And Barbara Shelley is great as the young scientist with a strange attachment to those weird grasshoppers from Mars. This is one of those movies were everybody brought their A game. As preposterous as it all sounds, the movie snatches you up and carries you along with its own logic.

Now, back to that Sony Trinitron and the earphone. Arthur Grant’s subtle, very effective use of color was completely lost on the late show (and on a faded 16mm print run at a convention in the 90s), but it shines like a jewel on this Blu-Ray from Shout Factory. It’s beautiful. The audio, which includes all kinds of noises, sirens and screams is clear as a bell. And there’s all sorts of extras: commentary, interviews, stills, trailers, even an episode of World Of Hammer. It’s another terrific Hammer Blu-Ray from Scream Factory — they’ve been knocking these out of the park since they started this series. Highly, highly recommended.

* If they had Internet access in Heaven, Heaven wouldn’t be Heaven, would it?

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Filed under 1968, Andrew Keir, Barbara Shelley, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Hammer Films, Roy Ward Baker, Shout/Scream Factory

Blu-Ray News #217 UPDATE: Madigan (1968).

Directed by Don Siegel
Starring Richard Widmark, Henry Fonda, Inger Stevens, Harry Guardino, James Whitmore, Susan Clark, Don Stroud

Madigan (1968) is yet another terrific picture from Don Siegel, from that late 60s – early 70s period when he was knocking out great movies one right after another. It came between his The Killers (1964) and Coogan’s Bluff (1968), and it’s one of the best cop movies of the 60s.

Kino Lorber has had this on their “coming soon” roster for a while, and they’ve given it an official release date — November 12, the same day as their new Blu-Ray of Siegel’s Charley Varrick (1973).

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Filed under 1968, Don Siegel, DVD/Blu-ray News, James Whitmore, Kino Lorber, Richard Widmark, Universal (-International)

Blu-Ray News #248: Godzilla – The Showa-Era Films (1954-1975).

If I had a nickel for every minute I stared at this FM cover as kid…

For their 1000th release (or spine number), The Criterion Collection has gone very big with a great big giant box of Godzilla movies. Not those new things — no thank you — but the real ones.

Of course, this being a Criterion release, you can count on each of these the films — all 15 Godzilla movies released from 1954 to 1975 — shining like a jewel. And naturally, there will be tons of extras, from alternate versions to commentaries to documentaries and trailers and so on. Does my heart good to know the work of Mr. Honda and Mr. Tsuburaya will get the level of respect these folks will give it.

The films are:
Godzilla (1954)
Godzilla Raids Again (1955)
King Kong Vs. Godzilla (1963, 2.35 AR)
Mothra Vs. Godzilla (1964, 2.35 AR)
Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster (1964 2.35 AR)
Invasion Of Astro-Monster (1965, 2.35 AR)
Son Of Godzilla (1967, 2.35 AR)

Destroy All Monsters (1968, 2.35 AR)
All Monsters Attack (1969, 2.35 AR)
Godzilla Ss. Hedorah (1971, AKA Godzilla Vs. The Smog Monster, 2.35 AR)

Godzilla Vs. Gigan (1972, 2.35 AR)
Godzilla Vs. Megalon (1973, 2.35 AR)
Godzilla Vs. Mechagodzilla (1974, 2.35 AR)
Terror Of Mechagodzilla (1975, 2.35 AR)

I absolutely love some of these movies. One of them I hate with a passion. Son Of Godzilla is criminally lame, and at 10, I considered it the worst movie I’d ever seen (that was before The Witches Of Eastwick). The very thought of making my way through this thing (yes, even Son Of Godzilla)  makes me happy.

Stomping its way to TVs everywhere in October. Make sure yours is one of them.

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Filed under 1954, 1955, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, AIP, Criterion Collection, DVD/Blu-ray News, Eiji Tsuburaya, Famous Monsters Of Filmland, Ishirō Honda, Kaiju Movies, Toho

Blu-Ray News #244: The Devil Rides Out (1968, AKA The Devil’s Bride).

Directed by Terence Fisher
Screenplay by Richard Matheson
Starrings Christopher Lee, Charles Gray, Niké Arrighi, Leon Greene

1968 was a really good year for Hammer Films — they released Quatermass And The Pit and The Devil Rides Out. 2019 is a great year, too, thanks to Scream Factory — they’re bringing the same two movies to Blu-Ray.

Christopher Lee is terrific and Terence Fischer was really at the top of his game on this one. Known as The Devil’s Bride in the US and based on a novel by Dennis Wheatley, is one of the best occult films ever made, if you ask me. (You didn’t, did you?) Coming in October.

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Filed under 1968, Christopher Lee, DVD/Blu-ray News, Hammer Films, Shout/Scream Factory, Terence Fisher

Blu-Ray Review: Dark Of The Sun (1968).

dark-of-the-sun-ad

Directed by Jack Cardiff
Produced by George Englund
Screenplay by Ranald MacDougall (as Quentin Werty) and Adrien Spies
Based on the novel by Wilbur Smith
Cinematography: Edward Scaife, Jack Cardiff (uncredited)
Film Editor: Ernest Walter
Music: Jacques Loussier

Cast: Rod Taylor (Captain Curry), Yvette Mimieux (Claire), Jim Brown (Sgt. Ruffo), Kenneth More (Dr. Wreid), Peter Carsten (Captain Henlein), Calvin Lockhart (President Ubi)

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This post was about halfway written when Rod Taylor died, and I decided not to toss it out there in the middle of the usual celebrity death news cycle. The Warner Archive Blu-Ray seemed like the perfect time to finish it up.

The Congo Chainsaw Massacre?

Put as simply as I can put it, Jack Cardiff’s Dark Of The Sun (1968) is one of the damnedest movies I’ve ever seen. Stunningly brutal, ruthlessly suspenseful and surprisingly intelligent, it’s like no action movie of its period — or any period, really. It quickly becomes obvious that all the Movie Rules have been thrown out the window, especially as they existed in 1968. We normally trust our filmmakers to get the characters, and the audience, to the end of the picture safely. And much like Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), once you get the feeling that anyone could get killed at any minute, the suspense becomes all the more powerful.

Dark As The Sun breaks a couple of other action movie rules: it gives us real characters and somehow works a very humanist message into the whole thing without seeming hypocritical — and without slowing the bloodletting even the slightest bit.

The Congo is going to hell. A mercenary (Rod Taylor) leads a strike force deep into Simba territory to bring back $50 million in diamonds that the government desperately needs. Of course, the dangerous mission goes wrong — almost everything goes wrong, and the way home becomes a real struggle to survive.

Jack Cardiff: “When I made the film, I thought that it would have been too awful for words to make it like the real violence, but it had to have violence in it… I could only say to those that I met that my film was nothing like the real thing — it was a quarter, a fifth, a sixteenth of the violence that really happened. None the less, it had the reputation as a violent film.”

Make no mistake about it, it is a violent film. Cardiff has an incredible way of insinuating far more violence, mayhem and depravity than we get to actually see.

A lot of that comes from the performances. Rod Taylor has never been better as Bruce Curry, a burned-out mercenary who’s clearly seen too much and been through too much. Jim Brown plays against Taylor well as a soldier whose morals and ideals are still intact.

Yvette Mimieux doesn’t have a lot to do as a woman they rescue along the way. Kenneth Moore is terrific as a drunken doctor who sees this mission as a way to redemption. And Peter Carsten is as evil as it gets as Captain Henlein, an ex-Nazi they reluctantly add to their team (some unfortunate dubbing hurts his performance a bit). The inevitable conflict between Curry and Henlein takes over the movie’s last reel or so as it speeds towards its bloody climax.

The cinematography of Dark Of The Sun by Edward Scaife and an uncredited Jack Cardiff is top-notch, though with Cardiff at the helm, you’d expect nothing less. The editing is very tight, making this picture a unrelenting, exhausting and ultimately haunting film.

Frank McCarthy’s original poster art.

The new Blu-Ray from Warner Archive really adds to that overall experience. It’s incredibly sharp and the color is superb — who knew Metrocolor could look like this? A batch of extras round it out nicely. They’ve really gone the extra mile for this movie, and it deserves it. Essential.

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Filed under 1968, Jack Cardiff, Jim Brown, MGM, Rod Taylor, Warner Archive

DVD News #218: Cold War Thrillers.

If you like your international intrigue filled with miniskirts, Walther PPKs and loads of Cold War paranoia, then this Mill Creek set is for you. Cold War Thrillers brings six 60s spy movies in from the cold — at a price even cash-strapped socialist nations can afford.

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.

The Deadly Affair (1966)
Directed by Sidney Lumet
Starring James Mason, Maximillian Schell, Simone Signoret

Sidney Lumet directs a picture from a book by John Le Carré, with James Mason in the lead. How can it miss? It doesn’t .

Otley (1968)
Directed by Dick Clement
Starring Tom Courtenay, Romy Schneider, Leonard Rossiter

Tom Courtenay is mistaken for a spy and murderer in swinging London.

Anthony Mann, Mia Farrow and Laurence Harvey on the set of A Dandy In Aspic

A Dandy In Aspic (1968)
Directed by Anthony Mann
Starring Mia Farrow, Laurence Harvey, Tom Courtenay, Peter Cook

While shooting this in Berlin, Anthony Mann had a heart attack and died. Laurence Harvey climbed into the director’s chair and finished it. It’s a solid spy picture  with Mann’s incredible use of Panavision giving it a real edge.

Hammerhead (1968)
Directed by David Miller
Starring Vince Edwards, Judy Geeson, Peter Vaughan, Diana Dors, Tracy Reed, Veronica Carlson, David Prowse

This is one I’ve been wanting to see for some time. The cast is great and David Miller’s usually worth paying attention to — after all, he did Flying Tigers (1942) and Lonely Are The Brave (1962).

The Executioner (1970)
Directed by Sam Wanamaker
Starring George Peppard, Joan Collins, Judy Geeson, Charles Gray

Here’s Judy Geeson again, this time with George Peppard in a spy picture packed with maybe too many double-crosses.

Open up a newspaper from 1966, and you’ll see there are enough 60s spy movies (or James Bond ripoffs) to do several volumes of these things. Which would be fine with me.

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Filed under 1960, 1966, 1968, Andre de Toth, Anthony Mann

Blu-Ray News #217: Madigan (1968).

Directed by Don Siegel
Starring Richard Widmark, Henry Fonda, Inger Stevens, Harry Guardino, James Whitmore, Susan Clark, Don Stroud

Madigan (1968) is yet another terrific picture from Don Siegel, from that late 60s, early 70s period when he was knocking out great movies one right after another. It came between The Killers (1964) and Coogan’s Bluff (1968), and it’s one of the best cop movies of the 60s.

Richard Widmark is Madigan, a New York cop, and he’s got 72 hours to track down a fugitive. That’s all you’re gonna get out of me. Except that it’s a great film and that Kino Lorber is bringing it to Blu-Ray later this year. I can’t wait.

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Filed under 1968, Don Siegel, DVD/Blu-ray News, Henry Fonda, Kino Lorber