There are hundreds, probably thousands, of movies sitting on our collective DVD and Blu-Ray Want Lists. But coming across this pressbook for a twin bill of Machine Gun Kelly and The Bonnie Parker Story (both 1958) — while doing some research on William Witney — got me thinking what a fun widescreen, hi-def package this would be.
Category Archives: Charles Bronson
Directed by Gene Fowler, Jr.
Starring Charles Bronson, Kent Taylor, Jennifer Holden, John Doucette, Gloria Henry, Whit Bissell
Since I haven’t gotten any sort of verification on the aspect ratio of this Fox Archives DVD, I’m a little hesitant to mention Gang War (1958). But it’s another Regalscope picture, and it stars Charles Bronson — who’s also in one of the better Regalscope Westerns, Showdown At Boot Hill (also 1958) — so it’s way up there on my Want List.
It’s a cool movie, and it should be anamorphic widescreen to preserve the picture’s 2.35 Scope photography. Fox has released some of these early Scope films in terrible 1.33 pan-and-scan transfers. If you hear anything on this one, please let me know. It’s available now.
How To Make A Monster (1958) has always been hard to track down, which is a drag. When Cinemax ran it in the early 90s as part of their AIP series, I was overjoyed. Here’s a comic-type ad for it, plugging the Certificate Of Bravery you got for making it all the way to the end. With that gimmick and the last reel in color, this thing’s a real hoot.
It’d be terrific to have AIP titles like this on Blu-ray, such as I Was A Teenage Frankenstein (1957) and Machine Gun Kelly (1958).
Mill Creek Entertainment and Columbia have done us another big favor, this time assembling a big collection from the big house (for a February 2016 release): Tales From The Prison Yard. It gives us six prison movies, ranging from a Sam Katzman quickie to Hal Ashby’s The Last Detail (1973). For me, the attraction is two more Fred F. Sears pictures to add to my collection.
Directed by Henry Levin
Starring Glenn Ford, Broderick Crawford, Millard Mitchell, Dorothy Malone, Will Geer
Cell 2455 Death Row (1955)
Directed by Fred F. Sears
Starring William Campbell, Marian Carr, Kathryn Grant, Harvey Stephens, Vince Edwards
Escape From San Quentin (1957)
Directed by Fred F. Sears
Starring Johnny Desmond, Merry Anders, Richard Devon, Roy Engel
City Of Fear (1959)
Directed by Irving Lerner
Starring Vince Edwards, Lyle Talbot, John Archer, Patricia Blair, Steven Ritch
The Valachi Papers (1972)
Directed by Terence Young
Starring Charles Bronson, Lino Ventura, Jill Ireland, Joseph Wiseman
The Last Detail (1973)
Directed by Hal Ashby
Starring Jack Nicholson, Otis Young, Randy Quaid, Clifton James, Carol Kane
Directed by Howard W. Koch
Starring Broderick Crawford, Ralph Meeker, Reed Hadley, William Talman, Lon Chaney Jr., Felicia Farr, Charles Bronson
Part crime picture, part prison movie, Big House, U.S.A. (1955) is one of the most incredible films I’ve ever seen — so vile, so nasty, so mean. Let’s see. A kid is chucked off a cliff. A guy is trapped inside a giant boiler — and steamed like a lobster tail. One of the leads has his face and fingertips seared off with a blowtorch to conceal his identity. And that’s the short list.
Howard W. Koch will never make a list of the Great Directors. But with this one, he serves up a solid exploitation film — and gives a dream-team cast of 50s movie bad guys a real field day. With all these heavies working on the same film, did the rest of Hollywood have to shut down?
Kino Lorber is bringing Big House, U.S.A. to your house on Blu-ray this August. Highly, highly recommended.
Further proof that I’m on the wrong side of the United States. The New Beverly is running a 35mm print of Mr. Majestyk (1974) on January 28 & 29.
It stars Charles Bronson, Linda Cristal, a Ford F-150 pickup and a Winchester shotgun, supported by Paul Koslo and Al Lettieri. Richard Fleischer directs, from a script by Elmore Leonard.
Lee Marvin was an established heavy before taking on M Squad, thanks to memorable turns in solid pictures like The Wild One, The Big Heat (both 1953), Violent Saturday (1955) and Seven Men From Now (1956). And while he was sick of doing the show by its second season, it helped him make the transition from bad guys to leads.
The show follows Lieutenant Frank Ballinger (Marvin) of M Squad, “a special detail of the Chicago police.” Each week, Ballinger tackles a different type of case — murder, corruption, organized crime, etc. — depending on where he’s assigned. It’s a pretty slick way to set up a cop show, avoiding the “another week, another murder” setup that can get stale. That, along with narration by Marvin covering the points they don’t have the time or money to show, makes it seem a bit like Dragnet on the surface. But the resemblances end there. M Squad hops the line between a strict procedural and an attempt to channel Mickey Spillane (which was happening with Darin McGavin at the same time on Mike Hammer).
What sets M Squad apart is, of course, Lee Marvin. Whether he’s shooting a nut-job killer, slapping a mobster around or chatting with a female witness, he adds his own brutal energy, as he did to just about everything he did. As Ballinger, Marvin may be on the right side of the law here, but’s he as unhinged and violent at times as, say, Liberty Valance. And the show is better for it.
TV of the 50s is a great place to follow the work of some of genre filmmaking’s greatest actors and directors. Some saw the small screen as slumming, others just saw it as work. William Witney, John Brahm and Earl Bellamy were among the veteran directors who worked on the show. It also provided fairly early credits to Don Taylor, Boris Sagal and Robert Altman. But no matter who’s at the helm, the show has a stripped-down, claustrophobic noir aesthetic, helped along by some real heavyweights in charge of the cinematography: Ray Rennehan, William A. Sickner, Lionel Lindon and Bert Glennon, to name just a few.
At the same time, future stars and established character actors are featured each week: Luana Anders, Morris Ankrum, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, Ted de Corsia, Angie Dickinson, John Doucette, Penny Edwards, Jack Elam, Virginia Gregg, James Griffith, Stacy Harris, DeForest Kelley, Tom Laughlin, Ruta Lee, Betty Lynn, Mike Mazurki, Howard McNear, Dick Miller, Leonard Nimoy, Burt Reynolds and Yvette Vickers. The combined cast list is incredible.
The point here is that Marvin, who was one of the producers of the show, made sure he was surrounded by top talent. He may not have liked the rigors of a weekly TV series, but he made sure he did it right. With so much talent on both sides of the camera, how could it not be great?
Speaking of top talent, Count Basie provided the theme for M Squad‘s later seasons. John Williams (credited as Johnny) and Benny Carter scored some episodes, providing a perfect jazzy complement to the hard-boiled hipster dialogue. The soundtrack LP is terrific. (That’s Lee Marvin, Count Basie and music director Stanley Wilson above.)
Timeless Media Group gives us all 117 episodes of M Squad, in order, spread over 16 DVDs, with a bonus disc of various Marvin TV appearances. The quality varies from episode to episode. Most look fine, some are pretty rough. But the show’s so good and Marvin’s so cool, quality becomes secondary to having the show’s entire run.
This is essential stuff.
M Squad earned an odd footnote as one of the inspirations for the Police Squad and The Naked Gun TV and movie franchise starring Leslie Nielson. The music and opening credits for Police Squad are clearly patterned after M Squad. (M Squad does not feature a “hunchback at the office.”)