Category Archives: Dabbs Greer

Hot Cars (1956).

Directed by Don McDougall
Produced by Howard W. Koch
Screenplay by Don Martin & Richard Landau
Based on a novel by H. Haile Chace
Photography by William Margulies
Edited by George A. Gittens, ACE
Music by Les Baxter

John Bromfield (Nick Dunn), Joi Lansing (Karen Winter), Mark Dana (Smiley Ward), Carol Shannon (Jane Dunn), Markel (Arthur Markel), Dabbs Greer (Detective Davenport)

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Every once in a while, you need a 50s crime picture. Nothing else will do. I recently landed on Hot Cars (1956), a Bel-Air picture produced by Howard W. Koch. Look at that poster — the title, the cast, Joi Lansing as a “stop-at-nothing blonde,” the guy falling off the rollercoaster. Consider that it was shot mostly on location around Santa Monica and it’s only 60 minutes long, and you just know it’s gonna be great.

Nick Dunn (John Bromfield) and his wife Jane (Carol Shannon) are in a bad way financially when their son gets sick and needs an operation, so against his better judgement (and to their quick regret), Nick takes a job at a used car lot run by Markel (Ralph Clanton), Karen (Joi Lansing) and their sinister flunky Smiley Ward (Mark Dana).

Hard to decide which is prettier — Joi Lansing or the 1955 Mercedes 190 SL.

They turn out to be a pretty shifty bunch — they’re selling the hot cars of the title, and before you know it, a cop looking into the operation (Dabbs Greer) turns up dead. I probably don’t need to mention that Karen puts the moves on Nick — and that he’s suspecting of rubbing out the cop.

Hot Cars makes use of Jack’s At The Beach (#17) and the rollercoaster at Pacific Ocean Park.*

The big finish takes place on the rollercoaster at Pacific Ocean Park (POP) in Santa Monica, with some great POV stuff on the old attraction as Nick and Smiley duke it out. The picture’s location shooting is probably its strong suit, featuring a couple of cool Culver City car dealers (Big John’s and Johnny O’Toole’s) and Jack’s At The Beach, a Santa Monica restaurant near POP that you might recognize from The Rockford Files.

Koch and Bel-Air excelled at these low-budget, lurid little crime pictures — Shield For Murder (1954), Big House USA (1955), Three Bad Sisters (1956), Untamed Youth (1957, with Mamie Van Doren and Eddie Cochran!) and so on. A few of my favorite 50s movies came from Bel-Air.

John Bromfield made quite a few cool B movies, stuff like The Black Dakotas (1954) and Revenge Of The Creature (1955). He starred in the TV series The Sheriff Of Cochise, which was also called US Marshal. He retired in 1960 when the show was cancelled and became a commercial fisherman. He’s quite good in Hot Cars, appearing in about every scene. Joi Lansing does what’ she normally does in movies like this — stand around and look sultry. She’s really good at it.

Director Don McDougall stayed plenty busy doing TV, from the 50s well into the 80s. Lots of cool shows, from The Roy Rogers Show to Bonanza and from M Squad to The Night Stalker. He also did the Star Trek episode “The Squire Of Gothos.” Hot Cars is one of only a handful of features he directed, and while it’s nothing flashy, he and DP William Margulies avoid the studio-bound staginess of a lot of cheap movies from the period. They must’ve had a blast manning those cameras on the rollercoaster! Margulies spent the bulk of his career at Universal, where he shot tons of TV, Gunpoint (1966) with Audie Murphy and the great Ghost And Mr. Chicken (1966).

Hot Cars also boasts an ultra-cool jazzy score from Les Baxter. Baxter composed music for quite a few Bel-Air movies, and some Regalscope pictures, before hitting his stride at American International. Of course, at the same time, he was making great records like 1958’s Space Escapade. Wouldn’t you love a big fat CD boxed set of Baxter’s 50s an 60s movie work?

Truth be told, Hot Cars is cooler than it is good, and its appeal might be limited largely to fans of cheap noir. But if you fall into that group, you’ll find it quite a thing. You can get Hot Cars on DVD as part of MGM’s MOD program. It’s full-frame, but it looks pretty good. A Blu-Ray would be terrific.

* This map post-dates Hot Cars.

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Filed under 1956, Bel-Air, Dabbs Greer, Howard W. Koch, John Bromfield, Joi Lansing, Les Baxter, United Artists

Blu-Ray News #94: The Vampire (1957).

Va,pire LC incinerator

Directed by Paul Landres
Starring John Beal, Coleen Gray, Kenneth Tobey, Lydia Reed, Dabbs Greer, James H. Griffith

The Vampire (1957) is a cheap, solid 50s monster movie from Paul Landres, a director I’ve been trying to champion over the last few months. (I just recently reviewed the old DVD release.)

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To me, this is a criminally overlooked little picture — the script, cast and direction take this way beyond its budget — and I’m so glad to learn that Scream Factory has it listed for a 2017 Blu-Ray release. It’s also great to see the work of someone like Landres get such high-quality treatment on video.

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Filed under Dabbs Greer, DVD/Blu-ray News, James H. Griffith, Kenneth Tobey, Paul Landres, Shout/Scream Factory

DVD Review: The Vampire (1957).

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Directed by Paul Landres
Screenplay by Pat Fielder
Director Of Photography: Jack MacKenzie
Film Editor: John Faure
Music: Gerald Fried

Cast: John Beal (Dr. Paul Beecher), Coleen Gray (Carol Butler), Kenneth Tobey (Sheriff Buck Donnelly), Lydia Reed (Betsy Beecher), Dabbs Greer (Dr. Will Beaumont), Herb Vigran (George Ryan), James H. Griffith (Henry Wilson)

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Made in six days for just $150,000, The Vampire (1957) shows the kind of miracles director Paul Landres could perform with no time and no money. The fact that it made it to the screen to begin with is quite a feat — then consider that it’s a pretty solid little monster movie.

Dr. Paul Beecher (John Beal) is a small-town physician who becomes a bloodthirsty monster after he mistakenly takes an experimental drug extracted from the blood of vampire bats. That the vampire here is the product of science, not the undead, is an interesting twist — and so 1950s. What’s more, it serves up a pretty good, and certainly early, depiction of the perils of drug addiction.

Landres began as an editor, cutting series Westerns and serials at Universal, and made the move to director in the very early 50s — both in features and TV. He retired after a 1972 episode of Adam-12. The late 50s were a particularly interesting period for Landres. He directed a few Regalscope pictures (including the terrific Frontier Gun in 1958) and a handful of cheap horror/sci-fi movies that transcend their budgets — The Vampire being one of them.

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Along with Landres’ direction, what helps elevate The Vampire are its thoughtful script by Pat Fielder — who wrote a number of good science fiction pictures, including this film’s co-feature, The Monster That Challenged The World (1957) — and the solid character actors who make up its cast. John Beal does a superb job of keeping Dr. Beecher sympathetic, even as he’s killing an old lady. Coleen Gray and Kenneth Tobey are always a treat. And Dabbs Greer and James H. Griffith steal the show was two guys from the university that sponsored the drug research. Then there’s Jack MacKenzie’s moody photography. He worked with Val Lewton at RKO on Isle Of The Dead (1945), so he’s no stranger to shadows and atmospherics, and he puts them to good use here.

With a cast and crew like this, how could The Vampire go wrong?

Va,pire LC incinerator

The scene where John Beal stuffs James Griffith into the incinerator is one of those monster movie moments that has stuck with me since I was a kid. Part of a genre, and an era, I adore, this one comes highly recommended.

The Vampire is available on DVD as part of one of the old MGM Midnite Movies collection, paired with The Return Of Dracula (1958), another little gem from Paul Landres. The version I watched this week was the Movies 4 You: Horror set from Timeless Media Group — which also includes a pretty good transfer of The Screaming Skull (1958). The widescreen transfer of The Vampire is excellent, allowing for some artifacts coming from cramming four features onto one disc, and a real bargain at five or six bucks.

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Filed under 1957, Coleen Gray, Dabbs Greer, James H. Griffith, Kenneth Tobey, Paul Landres, Timeless Media Group