Some movies get better every time you see them.
You discover something new. A performance suddenly knocks you out. You notice how the music impacts the film as a whole. Or maybe, after seeing it five times, you finally really get it.
One that really hits me in a different way ever time I see it is Walter Hill’s The Driver (1978).
I’m curious, what movies do that to you?
Category Archives: 20th Century-Fox
Some movies get better every time you see them.
Richard Wayne Penniman
(December 5, 1932 – May 9, 2020)
The great Little Richard has passed away at 87.
Maybe due to his over-the-top personality, lots of folks today don’t realize just how incredible Little Richard was. Take a look at his scenes in Frank Tashlin’s The Girl Can’t Help It (1956, above), and you’ll see what I mean.
Directed by Val Guest
Written by Nigel Kneale
Based on his 1955 TV play The Creature
Cinematographer: Arthur Grant
Film Editor: Bill Linney
Music by Humphrey Searle
Cast: Forrest Tucker (Tom Friend), Peter Cushing (Dr. John Rollason), Arnold Marlé (The Lhama), Maureen Connell (Helen Rollason), Richard Wattis (Peter Fox), Robert Brown (Ed Shelley), Michael Brill (Andrew McNee)
The Western part of North Carolina certainly gets its share of Sasquatch sightings. So many, in fact, that a small town (Marion) held its second Bigfoot Festival back in September. With all the talk of Sasquatch/Yeti/Bigfoot going on around here, Scream Factory’s Blu-Ray of Hammer’s The Abominable Snowman (1957) seems almost topical.
It’s a movie I’ve loved since I was a kid, and the chance to see Arthur Grant’s B&W Regalscope cinematography in high definition is a huge deal.
The Abominable Snowman began as a live TV program from the BBC, The Creature, written by Nigel Kneale — drawing on recent Yeti sightings and Mount Everest expeditions for inspiration. It starred Stanley Baker as Tom Friend and Peter Cushing as John Rollason. Two performances were aired live in January 1955 — neither were recorded. What a drag.
Hammer Films had turned a Kneale TV serial, The Quatermass Xperiment, into a successful film in 1955 (they’d do the same with its TV sequel), and they bought the movie rights for The Creature. Val Guest, who’d directed the Quatermass feature was brought back. Peter Cushing, who’d not only starred in The Creature, but had begun an association with Hammer with The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), was also put on the payroll. Forrest Tucker was cast as Tom Friend, making the explorer/entrepreneur an American.
Nigel Kneale turned his own teleplay into a screenplay, calling it The Snow Creature — until someone realized there already was a picture with that title. (The Snow Creature is a cheap piece of junk from 1954, with the distinction of being the first Bigfoot movie.) Hammer eventually settled on The Abominable Snowman. In the States, the title was extended to The Abominable Snowman Of The Himalayas. Kneale gets solo credit for the script, but Val Guest did a rewrite cutting back on a lot of the dialogue.
The production kicked off with a small crew doing some location shooting in the French Pyrenees in mid-January 1957. None of the cast made the trip; they used doubles. Some of the impressive mountain scenes used a helicopter, others were snagged from a cable car. Principal photography ran from January 28th to March 5th at Bray and Pinewood studios. The monastery set was built at Bray (with waiters from local Chinese restaurants playing the monks), while the snowy mountain stuff required the larger space to be found at Pinewood.
The story is pretty simple, at least on the surface. Tom Friend (Forrest Tucker) brings an exhibition to a monastery in the Himalayas, where Dr. John Rollason (Peter Cushing) is conducting botany research. Tucker’s after the Yeti, and he convinces Cushing to come along. It would’ve been better for all concerned if they’d stayed home. They do indeed find the Yeti — gentle, intelligent creatures waiting around for us to wipe ourselves out so they can take over.
Tucker and Cushing are perfect for their roles, and they really put this one over. Guest’s direction is quite good — keeping things moving, building tension and doing a great job of cutting together the location and studio stuff — they say he kept a Moviola on the set so he could refer to the mountain footage. This was cinematographer Arthur Grant’s first film for Hammer, and it looks terrific. He’d eventually replace Jack Asher as Hammer’s go-to DP.
I’ve raved about Scream Factory’s previous Hammer Blu-Ray releases, and The Abominable Snowman continues their stellar track record. When they received the HD material, they found it five minutes short. That footage has been reinstated from an (upscaled) SD source, though you can watch the shorter, all-HD version if you prefer. Either way, it looks terrific (go with the complete one), with the B&W ‘Scope a real knockout. The sound’s good, giving real power to the windy sound effects and Humphrey Searle’s score. There are plenty of extras, too — commentary, trailer, Joe Dante’s Trailers From Hell piece, etc. A nice package all-around.
In the UK, The Abominable Snowman was often paired with Mamie Van Doren in Untamed Youth. Now that was a nice night at the movies. I highly recommend The Abominable Snowman Of The Himalayas. It’s still the best movie ever made about Bigfoot (to be honest, it doesn’t have much competition) — and this Blu-Ray is the perfect way to see it (especially if you’ve got a big TV).
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)
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.
Mala 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.
Directed by Don Sharp
Starring Christopher Lee, Barbara Shelley, Richard Pasco
Just last night, I checked out Scream Factory’s new Blu-Ray of The Devil Rides Out (1968). It’s one of the best-looking Hammer pictures I’ve seen in high definition. Really something else. (A review is in the works.)
So, with that fresh in my mind, I was really stoked to see today’s announcement of Hammer’s Rasputin – The Mad Monk (1966) and X: The Unknown (1956). Scream Factory’s Hammer series shows just how nice these old horror movies can be on video. They’re all stellar.
Rasputin stars Christopher Lee and Barbara Shelley and is one of the few Hammer films in ‘Scope, actual CinemaScope this time. X: The Unkn0wn was to be Hammer’s second Quatermass film, but Nigel Kneale wouldn’t give them the rights to the character. It plays like a Quatermass movie (Joseph Losey directed some of it before he was replaced by Leslie Norman) and is very good.
These movies, and what I’m sure Scream Factory will do with the Blu-Rays, come highly recommended.
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.
Directed by Terence Fisher
Script: John Elder (Anthony Hinds)
Director Of Photography: Arthur Grant
Film Editor: Spencer Reeve
Music by James Bernard
Cast: Peter Cushing (Baron Frankenstein), Susan Denberg (Christina), Thorley Walters (Dr Hertz), Robert Morris (Hans), Duncan Lamont (The Prisoner), Peter Blythe (Anton), Barry Warren (Karl), Derek Fowlds (Johann), Alan Macnaughtan (Kleve), Peter Madden (Chief Of Police), Philip Ray (Mayor), Ivan Beavis (Landlord), Colin Jeavons (Priest), Bartlett Mullins (Bystander), Alec Mango (Spokesman), Mark McMullins (Villager), Nikki Van Der Zyl (Christina’s voice)
For the fourth entry in their Frankenstein series, Hammer went with the simple twist of making the “monster” a woman, then cast a Playboy Playmate in the title role. When you put it like that, Frankenstein Created Woman (1967) sounds really terrible. And it probably should be terrible. But somehow, it works, and works pretty well. Which shows the level of talent behind these things.
Turns out that simple plot twist isn’t so simple. It takes a number of contrivances to get us to the “created woman” part of the story. And rather than the usual “a piece here, a part there” type of creation we expect from Dr. Frankenstein (Peter Cushing), here he’s transferring souls, not just stitching together organs and limbs.
Frankenstein transfers the soul of Hans, a young man hung for something he didn’t do, into his girlfriend Christina (Susan Denberg). Hans finds his shapely new body of great benefit in getting his revenge on those who framed him. That sets up a fairly common last act for Frankenstein movies, as the doctor has to track down and stop his murderous creation.
While Hammer films from this period are top-notch in every category, and we’ll get to some of those in a bit, it’s the fine-tuned performances that put this one over. Peter Cushing is always incredible, and he really has a field day here. His Baron Frankenstein is by turns ruthless and compassionate, and it could have been laughable with a lesser actor in the role. The recent appearance of so many Hammer Films on Blu-Ray, thanks to Scream Factory and Warner Archive, has sent me off on a Peter Cushing binge. What a superb body of work. He never let budget and schedule, or the stigma attached to movies like this, get in the way of his commitment to his craft. Cushing is someone I admire as a person as much as an actor; he’s the Horror Film’s version of the Western’s Randolph Scott.
Thorley Walters is very good here, too. And Susan Denberg is terrific as Christina. Her voice was dubbed by Nikki Van Der Zyl since it was felt her Austrian accent was too thick, so it’s hard to really judge her performance. However, her transformations from young beautiful girl to murderess (and there are a number of these transformations in the last couple reels) are done through facial expressions and the sudden arrival of a knife or meat cleaver — and Denberg pulls them off very well. (By the way, the bandage bikini we see in these still does not appear in the movie. Pity.)
Frankenstein Created Woman, with its title a takeoff on the 1956 Vadim/Bardot film And God Created Woman, will never make the list of Hammer’s classics, but it’s got plenty to recommend it. I’ve already brought up the cast. Terence Fisher’s direction is as assured as ever. Never flashy, but every setup seems just right. Arthur Grant’s cinematography is near perfect, though I’ve always been more of a Jack Asher man.
About 30 years ago, I bought a 16mm print of Frankenstein Created Woman from a listing in The Big Reel. It was complete in every way, not a scratch or splice to be found, and hard-matted at the proper 1.66. But the color had turned that sickly combination of pink, brown and purple. Ever since, whether it’s laserdisc, DVD or this gorgeous new Blu-Ray from Scream Factory, this movie’s color is something I pay particular attention to. It looks terrific here, the best I’ve ever seen it look. The sound’s got plenty of punch, letting James Bernard’s score really shine. There are plenty of extras: two commentaries; interviews with Robert Morris (Hans), camera assistant Eddie Collins and 2nd assistant Director Joe Marks; two World Of Hammer episodes; the Hammer Glamour documentary; trailers and TV spots; radio spots; and still and poster galleries. Plenty of fun is to be had wading through all that stuff. Highly, highly recommended.
And remember, folks: Scream Factory’s bringing us Quatermass And The Pit (1967, AKA Five Million Years To Earth), too!
Directed by Terence Fisher
Starring Christopher Lee, Barbara Shelley, Andrew Keir, Francis Matthews, Suzan Farmer
It took Hammer almost 10 years to do a sequel to their Horror Of Dracula (1958). They shot it in Techniscope, which is really cool — one of the few Scope horror films Hammer did. And while some of the later Dracula pictures got pretty tired, if not downright stupid, this one’s terrific. Barbara Shelley’s great, but Peter Cushing is missed as Van Helsing. It had a huge impact on me as a kid.
Scream Factory has recently given us a rundown on what we can expect from their Blu-Ray, coming December 18 — dropping the Prince Of Darkness right in the middle of “merry and bright.” We get the UK and US versions of the film, with a new 4K scan of the US version. There are a number of commentaries, an episode of World Of Hammer, a documentary on the making of the picture, some 8mm behind-the-scenes footage and more.
Around my house, it’d be hard to top the excitement of The Thing (1951) coming to Blu-Ray, but this comes real close. Highly, highly recommended.
Directed by Terence Fisher
Starring Christopher Lee, Barbara Shelley, Andrew Kier, Frances Matthews, Susan Farmer
Dracula – Prince Of Darkness (1966), Hammer’s sequel to Horror Of Dracula (1958, called just Dracula in the UK), is coming to Blu-Ray from Scream Factory. It’s the only Hammer Dracula picture in Scope (Techniscope), and it should be a real treat in high definition. Plus, you can always count on Scream Factory for some great extras.
This was the first of these movies I saw as a kid. From bringing Lee back to life in the first reel to killing him off again at the end, I was completely mesmerized by the whole thing.
With this, The Vampire (1957), The Tingler (1959) and The Legend Of Hell House (1973), Scream Factory is bringing some of my favorites — the junk that really rotted by brain as a kid — to Blu-Ray in terrific shape. I’m eternally grateful.
Dracula crawls out of the grave this December.
Directed by Del Tenney
Starring John Scott, Alice Lyon, Allan Laurel, Eulabelle Moore, Marilyn Clarke, The Del-Aires
Severin Films has announced an August Blu-Ray release — with a 2K restoration and plenty of extras — of Del Tenney’s The Horror Of Party Beach (1964). Shot in two weeks for around $50,000 outside Stamford, Connecticut (and released by 20th Century-Fox), it’s a really terrible spoof/ripoff of the monster and beach party movies AIP was turning out at the time. And you don’t want to miss it.
This is not to be confused with The Beach Girls And The Monster, shot on the West Coast and released the next year (1965). It’s maybe a tiny bit better, or less bad, but it features the surf band The Hustlers, and they’re terrific. Who’s gonna offer up that one in high-def?