Category Archives: Columbia

Blu-Ray Review: The Shadow On The Window (1957).

Directed by William Asher
Screen Play by Leo Townsend & David P. Harmon
Based on a story (“Missing Witness”) by John & Ward Hawkins
Cinematography: Kit Carson
Music by George Duning
Film Editor: William A. Lyon

Cast: Phil Carey (Tony Atlas), Betty Garrett (Linda Atlas), John Barrymore, Jr. (Jess Reber), Corey Allen (Gil Ramsey), Gerald Sarracini (Joey Gomez), Jerry Mathers (Petey), Sam Gilman (Sgt. Paul Denke), Paul Picerni (Bigelow)

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This tough little gem from Columbia can be found in Kit Parker’s nine-movie, three-disc Blu-Ray set Noir Archive, Volume 3 (1956-1960). These sets offer up a real wealth of riches — and I hope they keep coming.

A little boy (Jerry Mathers) sees his mother (Betty Garrett) getting roughed up by some punks as they rob and kill an old man. He wanders off, in shock, and is picked up on the side of the road by a couple of truckdrivers. Turns out he’s the son of police offer Tony Atlas (Phil Carey). With very little to go on (Mathers is able to tell them a few things), the cops race against time to find her.

Of course, we’ve seen this kind of thing before — crooks hiding in a house with a witness or two that can’t be allowed to live to rat ’em out. (There’s even an episode of Little House On The Prairie like that.) And while we’re sure the police procedural stuff will lead to the creeps before it’s all over, there are some good performances (Betty Garrett and Jerry Mathers are very good), some over-the-top menace from John Barrymore, Jr. and a great parade of 50s character actors to keep me happy — Sam Gilman, Paul Picerni, Norman Leavitt, Angela Stevens, Mel Welles and so forth. William Asher’s direction is tight and assured — a long way from his loose-as-a-goose Beach Party movies.

But what gets me about movies like this is the unshakeable craft of the crew. From the sets to the cinematography, what you see is a well-oiled machine powered by people who knew what they were doing and, despite the budget, came through every single time. Cheap studio movies from the 50s usually look very good. Kit Carson’s cinematography on this one was never going to win him an Oscar, but he creates mood where he needs to and helps conceal the pictures’s limited budget. Carson did a lot of TV and only a handful of features.

So far, this series has given us 27 features, and every one of them looks terrific (some a bit better than others, as you’d expect). The Shadow On The Window is one of the nicest of the bunch — nice 1.85 framing, superb contrast and the kind of grain that reminds you that this used to be on film. This movie’s easy to recommend — and these sets are essential stuff.

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Filed under 1957, Columbia, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Kit Parker, Phil Carey, William Asher

Blu-Ray Review: White Line Fever (1975).

Directed by Jonathan Kaplan
Written by Ken Freidman & Jonathan Kaplan
Director Of Photography: Fred Koenekamp
Film Editor: O. Nicholas Brown
Music by David Nichtern

Cast: Jan-Michael Vincent (Carrol Jo Hummer), Kay Lenz (Jerri Hummer), Slim Pickens (Duane Haller), Sam Laws (Pops Dinwiddie), L.Q. Jones (Buck Wessle), Don Porter (Cutler), R.G. Armstrong (Prosecutor), Leigh French (Lucy), Dick Miller (Birdie Corman), Martin Kove (Clem)

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Jonathan Kaplan directed a cool Isaac Hayes movie called Truck Turner (1974) and followed it with a movie that’s really about trucks, White Line Fever (1975). It’s a modern day Western, pretty much, with some good stunt work and a terrific cast. Kaplan did exactly what I would’ve done if I had a shot at making a movie in the mid-70s — load it up with all my favorite character actors (his love of Sam Peckinpah is quite obvious here).

Carrol Jo Hummer (Jan Michael Vincent) is a young Air Force vet who gets married (to Kay Lenz), gets a truck and gets out on the road to make a life for his new family. Unfortunately, Carrol Jo soon discovers the high cost of being an honest man in a very corrupt world. But, lucky for us, that sets in motion a lot of action scenes involving all sorts of trucks and Carrol Jo’s Remington pump shotgun.

Growing up in the South in the 70s, White Line Fever was the talk of the playground in the sixth grade — everybody’d seen it over the summer break. It took me years to finally catch up with it (Jaws dominated that summer for me), and when I did, here were all these guys I knew from other movies — Slim Pickens, L.Q. Jones, R.G. Armstrong, Dick Miller. That remains its chief appeal for me today. Another thing — movies like this, which were sorta dismissed when they came out, sure seem good compared to what came later. I’d watch this 10 times before I’d watch something made in the last 10 years.

White Line Fever is now available from Mill Creek on Blu-Ray with a special sleeve that recycles the old VHS packaging. I worked my way through college at video stores (anybody remember Philadelphia’s Video Village?) and this box — complete with “Action,” PG rating and “Please Rewind” stickers — really took me back. But it’s what’s inside that counts, and this is a near-perfect transfer of a typical mid-70s action movie. You probably have a pretty good idea of what that looks like. There are no extras, just a pretty cool movie looking really good. And that’s plenty good enough for me.

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Filed under 1975, Columbia, Dick Miller, L.Q. Jones, Mill Creek, R.G. Armstrong, Slim Pickens

Blu-Ray Review: The Crooked Web (1955).

Directed by Nathan Hertz Juran
Produced by Sam Katzman
Story & Screenplay by Lou Breslow
Cinematography: Henry Freulich
Film Editor: Edwin H. Bryant

Cast: Frank Lovejoy (Stanley Fabian), Mari Blanchard (Joanie Daniel), Richard Denning (Frank Daniel), John Mylong (Herr Koenig), Harry Lauter (Sgt. Mike Jancoweizc), Steven Ritch (Ramon ‘Ray’ Torres), Lou Merrill (Herr Schmitt)

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With some movies, you can smell the next plot point, or even the rest of the picture, a mile away. The experience is then reduced to just waiting around to see if you were right — unless you just give up on the whole thing. Then there are movies that make a point of not only zigging when you expect them to zag, but doing it so frequently you can’t possibly get ahead of them. The Crooked Web (1955) is one of those movies.

As a favor, you’re not going to get much of a synopsis out of me. Stan (Frank Lovejoy) owns a drive-in restaurant and he’s sweet on Joanie (Mari Blanchard), one of his carhops. One afternoon, Joanie’s brother Frank (Richard Denning) pulls up to say hello.

The Crooked Web makes great use of Stan’s Drive-In at the corner of Sunset and Highland in Hollywood. Giving Mark Lovejoy’s character the name Stan lets them show us all that wonderful signage. As soon as the movie was over, I hopped online to see if Stan’s was still around. Sadly, it’s not.

All these twists and turns are the work of Lou Breslow, who gets credit for both the story and screenplay. He takes this one way beyond what you expect from Sam Katzman’s unit. Breslow’s credits stretch back to the silents and he worked on pictures like W.C. Field’s masterpiece It’s A Gift (1934), Charlie Chan At The Race Track (1936), Mr. Moto Takes A Chance (1938), Shooting High with Gene Autry (1940), Blondie Goes To College (1942), Abbott & Costello In Hollywood (1945) and My Favorite Spy (1951). The Crooked Web was his last feature, though he did lots of TV.

Before trying his hand at directing, Nathan Juran was an art director — one of the gaggle of geniuses behind the Oscar-winning designs for John Ford’s How Green Was My Valley (1941). Juran directed a handful of pictures, mostly Westerns at Universal-International, before taking on The Crooked Web. He found his sweet spot in horror/sci-fi/fantasy stuff, and he’d go on to do 20 Million Miles To Earth (1957), The Seventh Voyage Of Sinbad (1958), The Brain From Planet Arous (1957) and Attack Of The 50 Foot Woman (1958). His Western Good Day For A Hanging (1958) starring Fred MacMurray is really terrific.

A picture like The Crooked Web can’t really work if its cast isn’t up to snuff. And the three leads here are top-notch — pros going about their business. Beginning with Lovejoy being head over heels for Blanchard, everybody’s believable enough to escort us from one plot twist to another. Frank Lovejoy is excellent in this one. Richard Denning was so good as a creep in both Hangman’s Knot (1952) and Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954) that I have a hard time seeing him as anything else.

I’ve always liked Mari Blanchard, especially in Rails Into Laramie (1954) and Stagecoach To Fury (1957). She’s very good here, though she was probably hired primarily for her eye-candy-ness. She had a pretty incredible life, overcoming polio as a child — look her up sometime. Her last feature was McLintock! (1963). Cancer took her in 1970.

The Crooked Web is part of Kit Parker’s Noir Archive, Volume 2 (1954-1955), a nine-movie, three-disc Blue-Ray set. It looks terrific — all nine pictures do. I’ve covered this before, but it’s worth repeating: seeing B movies like this on Blu-Ray can be a real revelation. The craft that went into these things has been obscured by washed-out TV prints and sorry-looking VHS tapes. People like cinematographer Henry Freulich certainly deserve to have their work seen in the best possible condition. And that’s exactly how you see The Crooked Web here. The movie comes highly recommended — and the Blu-Ray set, well, it’s essential.

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Filed under 1955, Columbia, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Kit Parker, Mari Blanchard, Nathan Juran, Richard Denning, Sam Katzman

Saturdays With Sam (Katzman) #1: Who The Hell Is Captain Africa?

Most Sam Katzman movies were seen on Saturdays (mornings and afternoons, to be exact), so it makes sense to devote the day to him.

Heading into 1955, Sam Katzman’s latest project was going to be a second The Phantom serial — Columbia’d done an excellent one starring Tom Tyler back in 1943. It was written, it was cast, it was being shot when someone at Columbia figured out they no longer had the rights to the character. Negotiations with King Features quickly got underway and they wanted more money than Sam Katzman was willing to pay. So long, Phantom.

Some rewriting, re-costuming, reshooting and re-editing took care of things. The serial’s star, John Hart, now wore a getup that look somewhat Phantom-ish, except for the weird addition of a leather aviator’s cap. This was Captain Africa. Adventures Of Captain Africa, Mighty Jungle Avenger! (1955) turned out to be Columbia and Katzman’s last jungle serial (they’d only make two more serials period), and its 15 chapters include a liberal amount of stock footage (Katzman’s SOP) from Jungle Menace (1937), The Phantom (1943) and The Desert Hawk (1944). When this was going to be an actual followup to the first Phantom serial, there was to be a lot more footage from it. There is a surprising lack of new footage in this thing, and it seems like every other chapter is a recap. Guess director Spencer Gordon Bennet did what he could under the circumstances.

It’s George Barrows as the gorilla in this one. And John Hart would go on to do Riot On The Sunset Strip (1967) for Katzman.

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Filed under 1955, Columbia, Gorilla suit guys, John Hart, Sam Katzman, Spencer Gordon Bennet

One Quick Thing.

The second volume of Kit Parker’s Noir Archive series showed up yesterday. In a year filled with really great stuff coming out on Blu-Ray, this might be my favorite so far.

Four of my favorite B directors are here: William Castle, Nathan Juran, Phil Karlson and Fred F. Sears. Some of my favorite actors, too — John Agar, Robert Blake, Mari Blanchard, Timothy Carey, Richard Denning, Faith Domergue, Vince Edwards, Beverly Garland, Brian Keith, Guy Madison, Kim Novack and more.

All nine pictures look terrific — the Columbia transfers are almost flawless. Proper reviews will follow, but I can’t recommend Noir Archives Volume 2: 1954-1956 highly enough.

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Filed under 1954, 1955, 1956, Beverly Garland, Columbia, DVD/Blu-ray News, Faith Domergue, Fred F. Sears, John Agar, Kit Parker, Mari Blanchard, Nathan Juran, Phil Karlson, Richard Denning, Sam Katzman, Timothy Carey, William Castle

Jungle Moon Men (1955).

Directed by Charles S. Gould
Produced by Sam Katzman
Written by Dwight Babcock and Jo Pagano
Cinematography​: ​Henry Freulich
Film Edit​or: ​Henry Batista

Johnny Weissmuller (Johnny Weissmuller), Jean Byron (Ellen Marsten), Helene Stanton (Oma), Bill Henry (Bob Prentice), Myron Healey (Mark Santo), Billy Curtis (Damu), Michael Granger (Nolimo), Frank Sully (Max), Ben Chapman (Marro), Kenneth L. Smith (Link), Ed Hinton (Regan), Kimba

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Nobody’s ever going to accuse Johnny Weissmuller of being a good actor, but he made plenty of entertaining movies. He chose to retire after Sam Katzman’s Jungle Jim films, 16 cheaply-made (the norm for Katzman) adventure pictures that make liberal use of stock footage, and the later syndicated TV series. Jungle Moon Men (1955) is the next-to-last Jungle Jim picture, and Weissmuller goes by his real name instead of Jungle Jim. Go figure.

In this one, Weissmuller sings on as a guide for Ellen Marston (Jean Byron), a researcher who wants to explore the Baku country — in search of the Egyptians’ secret to eternal life.

They come across the Moon Men — a pygmy tribe armed with poisonous darts, a necklace bearing Egyptian hieroglyphics and a big fat diamond, and some bad guys (Myron Healey is one of them) out to get that diamond. All this nonsense takes us to a cave where Jim/Johnny and the others meet the Baku High Priestess Oma (Helene Stanton) — who must remain in the cave to avoid the wrath of the sun god Rah. It’s rather weird, to say the least, and it’s all wrapped up in 69 minutes.

Director Charles S. Gould had a long career as an assistant director — he worked on number of the classic Universal monster movies, among other things. Jungle Moon Men is one of the few features he directed. The later Jungle Jims are a fairly ramshackle bunch, with (even) less money and attention going into making these things. Gould probably did the best he could with what he had to work with.

Jean Byron, the researcher here, is known for playing Patty Duke’s mom on The Patty Duke Show. Helene Stanton was in The Big Combo and New Orleans Uncensored (both 1955), highlights of a very short film career. She’s the mother of Dr. Drew Pinsky, the radio/reality show guy. Myron Healey made a pretty good living playing bad guy parts like this. And Billy Curtis — who’s in everything from Terror Of Tiny Town (1938) to Superman And The Mole-Men (1951) to High Plains Drifter (1973), along with a previous Jungle Jim picture, Pygmy Island (1950) — plays Damu, the leader of the Moon Men.

There’s not a lot to the Jungle Jim movies, and Jungle Moon Men is one of the lesser ones. But there’s something about these things — probably Weissmuller himself — that really appeals to me. Others must agree: calls for a DVD or Blu-Ray set of these is one of the most common wants I get around here.

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Filed under 1955, Columbia, Johnny Weissmuller, Jungle Jim, Myron Healey, Sam Katzman

Jungle Jim.

I’ve been wanting to dive into Sam Katzman’s Jungle Jim series, but have been waiting for someone to put out a set of all 16 pictures (released from 1948 to 1955) and the single-season TV show. That hasn’t happened, and the single discs are way too expensive and take up way too much shelf space.

Figure this summer is a good time to take em on, along with the Bowery Boys. First will be Johnny Weissmuller in either Cannibal Attack (1954) or Jungle Moon Men (1955), a couple of the later ones.

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Filed under Bowery Boys, Columbia, Johnny Weissmuller, Jungle Jim, Lew Landers, Monogram/Allied Artists, Sam Katzman, Spencer Gordon Bennett