Category Archives: DVD/Blu-ray Reviews

Blu-Ray Review: The Wonderful World Of The Brothers Grimm (1962).

Directed by Henry Levin (& George Pal)
Produced by George Pal
Screenplay by Charles Beaumont & William Roberts,
based on the stories of Wilhelm & Jacob Grimm
Cinematography: Paul Vogel
Film Editor: Walter Thompson
Special Effects: David Pal, Tim Barr, Wah Chang, Robert Hoag, Gene Warren
Music by Leigh Harline

Cast: Laurence Harvey (Wilhelm Grimm/The Cobbler), Karl Bohm (Jacob Grimm), Claire Bloom (Dorothea Grimm), Barbara Eden (Greta Heinrich), Yvette Mimieux (The Princess), Jim Backus (The King), Russ Tamblyn (The Woodsman/Tom Thumb), Buddy Hackett (Hans), Terry-Thomas (Ludwig), Beulah Bondi (The Gypsy), Ian Wolfe (Gruber)


The Wonderful World Of The Brothers Grimm premiered in the US in August of 1962, with the distinction of being “the first dramatic film in fabulous Cinerama” — shot and exhibited in the original three-panel format. Next came How The West Was Won (1962), again with the three-panel setup. (Grimm was actually shot after West.) These things were expensive to shoot and hard to exhibit, so beginning with It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), non-travelogue films for Cinerama exhibition were shot in things like 70mm Ultra Panavision.

The one time  I saw The Wonderful World Of The Brothers Grimm was on laserdisc. And while I was thrilled to be seeing it in something widescreen-ish, the merging of the three Cinerama panels was a mess and incredibly distracting. I was not impressed, though Buddy Hackett and the dragon (my reason for watching it to begin with) really knocked me out. Hooray for Jim Danforth!

All these years later, a truly gargantuan restoration of The Wonderful World Of The Brothers Grimm has come to Blu-Ray, and it’s a really remarkable thing. The picture had been declared un-restorable, its elements too far gone. Luckily, David Strohmaier and Tom H. March, the folks responsible for the Blu-Ray of How The West Was Won, really outdid themselves here to give Brothers Grimm a new lease on life. The panel lines are practically gone, the color’s near-perfect and it comes complete with overture, intermission and all the trimmings. Even a few glitches in the original effects have been repaired, not in a revisionary way — just a subtle patch here and there.


Producer George Pal used the story of Wilhelm (Laurence Harvey) and Jacob Grimm (Karl Bohm) as a backbone for a series of Grimm’s fairy tales: “The Dancing Princess,” “The Cobbler And The Elves” and “The Singing Bone.” It’s pretty ingenious, with some nice effects and beautiful locations, but you might could argue whether this was a good fit for the mammoth Cinerama screen.

The cast in impressive. Russ Tamblyn reprises his title role from Pal’s Tom Thumb (1958) and Yvette Mimieux had been in Pal’s The Time Machine (1960). Pal was able to revisit his Puppetoon days (above) for “The Cobbler And The Elves.” It’s interesting that Jim Backus, Buddy Hackett and Terry-Thomas would soon be back on the Cinerama screens in It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. 

For movie nerds like me, the real story is the miracle this Blu-Ray pulls off. The Wonderful World Of The Brothers Grimm looks marvelous, whether you choose the standard widescreen version or the “smilebox” setup that approximates the feel of the curved screen (and gets rid of the odd bowl-shaped effect that comes with these three-panel films). The sound has been spiffed up, with plenty of punch. My favorite thing was the documentary, which shows just all the work, and all the technical whatzits, that were needed to get Pal’s picture looking better than ever. I’ve watched it twice.

As a movie, The Wonderful World Of The Brothers Grimm is cute, but as an example of yesterday’s roadshow exhibition and today’s film restoration, it’s nothing short of a miracle. Highly, highly recommended.

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Filed under 1962, Buddy Hackett, Cinerama, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Film Preservation, George Pal, Henry Levin, Jim Backus, MGM, Warner Archive

Blu-Ray Review: Monster From Green Hell (1957).

Directed by Kenneth G. Crane
Produced by Al Zimbalist
Written by Endre Bohem & Louis Vittes
Director Of Photography: Ray Flin
Music by Albert Glasser

Cast: Jim Davis (Dr. Quent Brady), Robert Griffin (Dan Morgan), Joel Fluellen (Arobi), Barbara Turner (Lorna Lorentz), Eduardo Ciannelli (Mahri), Vladimir Sokoloff (Dr. Lorentz)


A wasp hitches a ride into space on an experimental rocket, grows to mammoth size upon returning to earth and starts chomping on natives near the rocket’s African crash site. A team of scientists lead by Jim Davis heads to the Green Hell region to investigate — and finds a giant queen wasp and her colony.

Monster From Green Hell (1957) is a typical blend of stock footage (from 1939’s Stanley And Livingstone), pseudo-science dialogue, location work at Bronson Caves and decent special effects to create a fun entry in the 50s Big Bug sub-genre. It’s wonderful. (Why do I love movies like this so much?)

Producer Al Zimbalist had already done Cat-Women Of The Moon (1953), Robot Monster (1953) and King Dinosaur (1955). He would later give us Don Siegel’s Baby Face Nelson (1957) and Young Dillinger (1964). My kinda guy.

The giant wasps were built by the great Paul Blaisdell, without credit (or payment, according to Blaisdell). The stop-motion work by Gene Warren is quite good. The miniatures and full-size effects cut together pretty well.

Jim Davis narrates, smokes a lot of cigarettes and figures out how to kill off the great big wasps (while wearing an odd safari outfit to match Spencer Tracy in the Stanley And Livingstone footage), but the picture’s acting honors probably go to Joel Fluellen. Director Kenneth Crane was an editor making a career move here. DP Ray Flin shot hundreds of TV shows — this is one of his few features. And the score by Albert Glasser is up to his usual standards.

Distributed by DCA, Monster From Green Hell played theaters and drive-ins paired with Half-Human (1955), a Toho picture directed by Ishirō Honda. DCA’s American version added footage with John Carradine and Morris Ankrum — would you expect anything else?

The Film Detective folks have done their usual fine work on this one. It looks great, offered up in both the 1.85 and 1.33 aspect ratios. While it would’ve played theaters at 1.85, the 1.33 version gives us a little better peek at the monsters. I really liked seeing a line or two from the original print. They’re never distracting, and they’re gone in a few seconds, but to me that’s part of what film look like.

Monster From Green Hell played in its original run with a tinted climax — about two minutes. Since I’d only seen it on TV and VHS tape, with the ending in B&W, it was great to see the sequence restored here. What was shocking is that while the dying wasp shots are tinted red, the scenes with the actors are in full color! [Glenn Erickson, Robert Furmanek and Jack Theakston get to the bottom of this tinted vs. color business here.]

Of course, The Film Detective never holds back on the extras, and here we get a nice featurette on Jim Davis from C. Courtney Joyner, a commentary by Stephen Bissette and a nice booklet with an essay by Don Stradley.

It’s an excellent package all-around. For fans of this kind of thing, it comes highly, highly recommended.


One last thing: They say the wonderful Horrible Hamilton toy from 1964, which gave youngsters giant toy bugs and army men to feed to them, was based on the wasps in Monster From Green Hell. I always wanted one.

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Filed under 1957, Big Bug Movies, DCA, Don Siegel, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, John Carradine, Morris Ankrum, Paul Blaisdell, The Film Detective

Blu-Ray Review: Frankenstein’s Daughter (1958).

Directed by Richard E. Cunha
Written by H. E. Barrie
Cinematography: Meredith Nicholson
Film Editor: Everett Dodd
Music by Nicholas Carras

Cast: John Ashley (Johnny Bruder), Sandra Knight (Trudy Morton), Donald Murphy (Oliver Frank/Frankenstein), Sally Todd (Suzie Lawler), Harold Lloyd Jr. (Don), Felix Maurice Locher (Carter Morton), Wolfe Barzell (Elsu), John Zaremba (Lt. Boyd), Robert Dix (Det. Bill Dillon), Harry Wilson (The Monster)


With Frankenstein’s Daughter (1958), The Film Detective has topped their exquisite Blu-Ray of Giant From The Unknown. Shot in less than a week in May of 1958 for about $65,000, Frankenstein’s Daughter is a typically glorious, wonderful late-50s junk movie.

Richard Cunha directed a handful of films, including Frankenstein’s Daughter, that I have a real fondness for, regardless of whether they’re any good or not. Caught this one on the late show as a teenager, when I was soaking up as much of this stuff as I could get my hands on.

At the time, I was enticed by stills in some monster movie books and magazines, and by the fact that John Ashley was in it. I’d seen Ashley in Larry Buchanan’s abysmal The Eye Creatures, a 16mm AIP TV movie from 1967 (and a remake of 1957’s Invasion Of The Saucer Men) — and, of course, the Beach Party pictures.

John Ashley: “Frankenstein’s Daughter was really rock bottom. But the people involved were very nice, especially Dick Cunha, the director.”*

Richard E. Cunha was born in Honolulu in 1922. He attended LA’s Art Center School. After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in December, 1941, Cunha enlisted in the Air Force and served in their First Motion Picture Unit, making training films at the Hal Roach Studios (nicknamed “Fort Roach” at the time).

After the war, Cunha started his own company, making industrial films and commercials — and he shot some early TV shows. He’d later work as DP on Death Valley Days and Branded.

It was in 1957 that Cunha began his run of low-budget monster movies: Giant From The Unknown, She Demons, Missile To The Moon and Frankenstein’s Daughter. Each were done in about a week for around $65,000. They’re a load of cheeseball fun, with personal favorites being Frankenstein’s Daughter and Missile To The Moon (I’m a sucker for those guys-reach-another-world-and-find-a-society-of-women movies). It’s hard to put your finger on what makes Cunha’s movies somehow better than the other one-week wonders from the same period, but they are. 

But our focus today is on Frankenstein’s Daughter. It’s got yet another member of the Frankenstein family conducting the family business under an assumed name (the very lame Oliver Frank). Oliver is working as a lab assistant and spiking the fruit juice of his boss’s niece Trudy (Sandra Knight) with a secret formula that contains something called Digenerol. While all this is happening, Trudy has recurring dreams of turning into a monster. And if all that’s not enough, Oliver is also assembling a female version of the typical Frankenstein brand of “perfect being.” All that, and it’s got a Playboy Playmate in it (Sally Todd, February 1957). Sounds awesome, don’t it?

On Blu-Ray, this thing looks terrific — nice and clean and sharp, framed the way it should be (1.85), with surprisingly punchy audio. Never thought I’d see it look like this.

Then there’s all the extras, and The Film Detective really piles ’em on. For starters, there’s a commentary from Tom Weaver (who also wrote some stuff for the packaging). Then there are two terrific documentaries: Richard E. Cunha: Filmmaker Of The Unknown (complete with some interview footage) and John Ashley: Man From The B’s. I loved ’em both. This is an all-around wonderful release, my favorite so far from The Film Detective.

It’s really easy to recommend this thing, especially to fans of such nonsense. Here’s hoping that The Film Detective gets around to She Demons soon (Missile To The Moon got a pretty solid Blu-Ray release from Snappy Video).

* From Interviews With B Science Fiction & Horror Movie Makers by Tom Weaver

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Filed under 1958, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, John Ashley, Richard Cunha, The Film Detective

Blu-Ray Review: A Life At Stake (1955).

Directed by Paul Guilfoyle
Produced by Hank McCune
Screenplay by Russ Bender
From a story ideas by Hank McCune
Director Of Photography: Ted Allan
Film Editor: Frank Sullivan
Music by Les Baxter

Cast: Angela Lansbury (Doris Hillman), Keith Andes (Edward Shaw), Douglass Dumbrille (Gus Hillman), Claudia Barrett (Madge Neilan), Jane Darwell (Landlady), Gavin Gordon (Sam Pearson), Charles Maxwell Lt. Hoff), William Henry (Myles Norman)


Between my two blogs, I’ve said this about a thousand times (and I’m sure you’re all sick of hearing it) — it makes my heart feel good to see low-budget movies get the high-end treatment on DVD and (especially) Blu-Ray. One of the companies making these happen is The Film Detective, and their new Blu-Ray of A Life At Stake (1955) joins their growing (and very interesting) list of great-looking pictures.

A Life At Stake (1955) is an independent mini-noir starring Angela Lansbury, Keith Andes and Douglass Dumbrille. It was shot in about a week in 1954, then it sat for nine months or so before finally making it to theaters. This delay explains why a 1955 release is still in the 1.37 aspect ratio.

Andes is a down-on-his-luck architect who ends up part of a life insurance caper cooked up by a wealthy couple (Lansbury and Dumbrille). They take out a hefty policy on Andes as part of a large development project, then plan his lucrative demise. (Her first husband croaked off under kinda shifty circumstances and with a nice insurance payoff.) As you’d expect, once Andes finds out about all this, he’s not in favor of it.

Of course, life insurance thing may sound like a riff on Double Indemnity (1944), which I’m sure it is, but writer Russ Bender steers clear of obvious imitation and his ending is a bit of a surprise.

Angela Lansbury is lovely and diabolical as the femme fatale. Her career was in a bit of a lull here, not too long after she left MGM. After years of making movies there, the budget and schedule for A Life At Stake must’ve been quite a shock. She did A Lawless Street (1955) at Columbia not long after this. 

Keith Andes is pretty good as the sap who gets involved with people he shouldn’t, namely Lansbury. He was a stage, radio and movie actor. He appeared in Fritz Lang’s Clash By Night (1952) at RKO, then like a lot of others at that studio, went a long time between pictures, which might’ve hurt his career’s momentum. He wound up at Universal International where he was in pictures like Pillars Of The Sky and Away All Boats (both 1956).

Douglass Dumbrille is, of course, Douglass Dumbrille, and that’s about as good as it gets. He doesn’t have a tremendous amount of screen time here. The great Jane Darwell — from Ford’s The Grapes Of Wrath (1940), My Darling Clementine (1946), Wagon Master (1950) and The Sun Shines Bright (1953) — plays Andes’s landlady. She’s always a treat.

The picture’s director was character actor Paul Guilfoyle. He only directed three features, but did quite a few TV shows. As an actor, he’s the guy in the trunk in White Heat (1949).

By the way, Lansbury’s crazy-looking convertible is a 1954 Kaiser Darrin. They had fiberglass bodies and pocket doors. Only 435 production cars were built.

The Film Detective has done a terrific job with A Life At Stake. It looks and sounds quite nice, with a few blemishes (and perhaps some warping) that happily remind us we’re watching an old movie. With something like this, you have to work with what you can track. In this case, they gave it a 4K restoration. Les Baxter’s score has a nice range.

You can always count on The Film Detective for an extra or two (or three). There’s a commentary and essay from “film noir scholar and critic” Jason Ney, along with a short documentary on The Filmmakers, Ida Lupino’s production company that had a hand in A Life At Stake. All are top notch.

There was a film at stake, a pretty good one, and The Film Detective came through. Recommended.

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Filed under 1955, Douglass Dumbrille, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, The Film Detective

Blu-Ray Review: Flight To Mars (1951).

Directed by Lesley Selander
Screenplay by Arthur Strawn
Produced by Walter Mirisch
Cinematography: Harry Neumann
Film Editor: Richard V. Heermance
Music by Marlin Skiles

Cast: Marguerite Chapman (Alita), Cameron Mitchell (Steve Abbott), Arthur Franz (Dr. Jim Barker), Virginia Huston (Carol Stafford), John Litel (Dr. Lane), Morris Ankrum (Ikron)

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If there’s a recipe for cooking up a perfect 50s B movie, you can bet it was used to whip up Flight To Mars (1951). Let’s see. You’ve got the great B director Lesley Selander. There’s Cameron Mitchell, Arthur Franz and Morris Ankrum in the cast. There’s the lovely Martian maiden (Marguerite Chapman) in her interstellar miniskirt. And it’s all in Cinecolor from the fine folks at Monogram Pictures.

A team of American scientists, accompanied by a newspaperman (Cameron Mitchell), take a rocket ride to Mars. (Mitchell smokes through much of the flight.) Once they crash on the Red Planet, the seemingly-friendly people of Mars start plotting to imprison the Earthlings and use their damaged rocket to plan the Martian migration to Earth. You see, Mars is running low on the crucial element Corium…

There’s an element of hope in 50s science fiction that find very attractive, and Flight To Mars has it in spades. In movies like this, you can “trust the science” (and scientists) without a trace of irony or sarcasm. 

Note that they had to do some retouching to Marguerite Chapman’s outfit.

Flight To Mars, with its “Mars N Miniskirts” theme (Marguerite Chapman looks great in her Martian attire), is part of a rich cinema heritage. There’s also Abbott & Costello Go To Mars (1953), Cat-Women Of The Moon (1953, with Marie Windsor), Devil Girl From Mars (1954), World Without End (1955),  Fire Maidens From Outer Space (1956), Queen Of Outer Space (1957) and Invasion Of The Star Creatures (1962). That’d make a helluva weekend retrospective, wouldn’t it?

There’s a strong tie between Flight To Mars and both World Without End and Queen Of Outer Space — both use rocket footage from this one, severely cropped for CinemaScope. All three were released by Monogram or Allied Artisits — same company, different names.

Producer Walter Mirisch was trying to take things up a notch at Monogram, and it’s obvious they splurged a bit (relatively speaking) on Flight To Mars.

A Martian clock, made in Zeeland, Michigan.

There are the effects and Cinecolor, of course. A cast with a few name actors in it. Some interesting sets for the underground Martian city, complete with a Herman Miller ball clock (designed by George Nelson). And a handful of nice matte paintings (certainly inspired by 1936’s Things To Come).

But you’ll still see some of the usual Poverty Row tricks — the cast is tiny, the sets are often reconfigured to create new spaces, and for a movie about space flight, there’s very little space actually seen. And it was all shot in just five days!

The Film Detective treated Flight To Mars to a 4K restoration from the picture’s original 35mm Cinecolor separation negatives. On the whole, it looks wonderful. The Cinecolor is terrific, given the process’s odd, limited color palette. Some scenes are sharper than others, with the Mars portion of the movie looking best. The grain’s a bit clunky in some scenes, but I’m so glad nobody tried to process it away. Never thought I’d see it look like this. The sound is quite nice, with more range than you’d expect. There are a couple of nice documentaries from Ballyhoo, a commentary from Justin Humphreys and an essay by Don Stradley. 

I adore Monogram Pictures Corporation and have a real soft spot for many of their movies, no matter how good they actually are. I love Flight To Mars — and what The Film Detective has done with it. Highly, highly recommended.

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Filed under 1951, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Lesley Selander, Monogram/Allied Artists, Morris Ankrum, The Film Detective

Blu-Ray Review: I Wouldn’t Be In Your Shoes! (1948).

Directed by William Nigh
Screenplay by Steve Fisher
From a novel by Cornell Woolrich
Cinematography: Mack Stengler
Film Editor: Roy V. Livingston
Music by Edward J. Kay

Cast: Don Castle (Tom J. Quinn), Elyse Knox (Ann Quinn), Regis Toomey (Inspector Clint Judd), Charles D. Brown (Inspector Stevens), Rory Mallinson (Harry), Robert Lowell (John L. Kosloff), Steve Darrell (D.A.), Bill Kennedy (Detective), Bill Walker (Prisoner), John Doucette (Prisoner), Ray Teal (Guard)

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There are times when a cheap old movie actually seems to benefit from how cheap it is. Maybe the lack of money demands a more stylized approach to the sets and art direction. Or perhaps the tight schedule calls for long takes, reducing the number of setups to get a scene in the can. Or it could be the opportunity for character actors to get rare lead roles. Or somehow they lucked out and got a really good script. It’s most likely some combination of these. But the takeaway is this: when time and money are tight, moviemakers rely on their creativity and problem-solving skills to get something good on the screen. In other words, with a lack of budget can come a surplus of inspiration and innovation.

When it all comes together, it’s a beautiful thing to behold. I Wouldn’t Be In Your Shoes (1948), a once hard-to-see Monogram mini-noir, is one of those those times. It’s a wealth of riches from Hollywood’s Poverty Row. And its release on Blu-Ray from Warner Archive really illustrates just how well it rises above its humble origins.

Don Castle and Elyse Knox play a young couple, dancers, whose lives fall apart when he’s wrongfully convicted of murder and sent to await his turn in the electric chair. Lucky for him, he’s got a wife who’s not willing to give up on him too easily. She keeps working to track down the real killer, with the help of a sympathetic detective (Regis Toomey).

Castle and Knox are fine as the couple. They’re likable and have pretty good chemistry. Elyse Knox had a pretty brief, but interesting, movie career — Sheriff Of Tombstone (1941) with Roy Rogers, The Mummy’s Tomb (1942) starring Lon Chaney and Hit The Ice (1943) with Abbott & Costello. Don Castle made a number of pictures in the 40s, interrupted by Word War II. His last film was a small part in Gunfight At The OK Corral (1957). 

Regis Toomey is terrific here, as always. He was an insanely busy character actor, juggling big pictures like The Big Sleep (1946) and The High And The Mighty (1954) with B movies like this one and The Nebraskan (1953). He was really good in the 1953 John Wayne movie Island In The Sky. In I Wouldn’t Be In Your Shoes, he somehow manages to be slimy and sympathetic at the same time. That’s quite a trick.

Years and years ago, I went nuts over Columbia’s Whistler movies, mainly because of my infatuation with William Castle. Those movies introduced me to the great crime writer Cornell Woolrich. Two of the Whistler pictures were based on his stories; so were The Leopard Man (1943), Fall Guy (1947), The Window (1949) and Rear Window (1954). His story for I Wouldn’t Be In Your Shoes is pretty solid.

William Nigh started out in silent movies as an actor, then made the transition to director. He was really prolific, spending a lot of time working on Poverty Row for Monogram and PRC — though he’d do a picture at Republic, RKO or Universal ever once in a while. I Wouldn’t Be In Your Shoes was one of his last films. 

The picture’s cinematographer, Mack Stengler, started out in the silents and shot a few hundred movies and TV shows during his 30-plus years behind the camera. Stengler spent most of the 40s shooting at Monogram — everything from Kid Dynamite to The Ape Man (both 1943) to Fall Guy (1947) — and a number of Hopalong Cassidy pictures. He made to the move to TV in the 50s, shooting more than 75 episodes of The Lone Ranger and almost 150 episodes of Leave It To Beaver, along with plenty of other shows. He retired in 1962.

Stengler’s solid work on I Wouldn’t Be In Your Shoes gets a big boost on the Blu-Ray from Warner Archive. This is a rare Monogram picture that doesn’t scream at you how cheap it is. The Blu-Ray is sharp as a tack, with the contrast dialed-in just right. It looks like film, which it should. The sound is clean and clear. 

I Wouldn’t Be In Your Shoes is a terrific little picture. It, and its treatment on Blu-Ray, are really easy to recommend.

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Filed under DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Monogram/Allied Artists, Regis Toomey, Warner Archive, William Nigh

Blu-Ray Review: Doctor X (1932).

Directed by Michael Curtiz
Written by Robert Tasker & Earl Baldwin
Based on The Terror 1931 play by Howard W. Comstock Allen C. Miller
Photography by Ray Rennahan
Art Director: Anton Grot
Film Editor: George Amy
Music by Vitaphone Orchestra conducted by Leo F. Forbstein

Cast: Lionel Atwill (Dr. Jerry Xavier), Fay Wray (Joanne Xavier), Lee Tracy (Lee Taylor), Preston Foster (Dr. Wells), John Wray (Dr. Haines), Harry Beresford (Dr. Duke), Arthur Edmund Carewe (Dr. Rowitz), Leila Bennett (Mamie), Robert Warwick (Police Commissioner Stevens), George Rosener (Otto)

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Warner Archive has done monster movie fans a huge service with their miraculous restoration of Michael Curtiz’s Doctor X (1932).

The horror movies of the early 30s are a weird, wicked, wonderful lot — with the Pre-Code ones having the added benefit of being able to go a bit further with what we see and what’s hinted at. Doctor X, for instance, has cannibalism as one of its tasteless themes — and while we don’t see any actual people-munching, just a year later, merely mentioning it would’ve given the censors fits.

That’s what makes these old movies appeal to me so. Since they can mention, or allude to, just about anything, that’s exactly what they do. When it comes to the lurid, everything goes, and let the very skanky chips fall where they may. Doctor X touches on all kinds of dreadful things: cannibalism, mutilation, rape, a heart in a jar, prostitution. They just pile ’em all on, and if it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, well, that’s OK. Ah, the joys of Pre-Code Horror.

There’s a cannibalistic serial killer working nights in New York City. About all witnesses can offer up is that he’s hideous-looking. The cops turn to Doctor Xavier (Lionel Atwill) when they see a connection between these nasty killings and his medical academy. The fact that some of the researchers there are studying things like cannibalism and the effects of the moon on the human psyche only adds to their suspicion.

Dr. Xavier gathers these doctors and researchers, along with his daughter (Fay Wray) at his beachside home to try to sort out the killings. A reporter (Lee Tracy) makes his way there, too. This sets up a murder mystery with a little haunted house picture nailed to it, spiced up with as much out-and-out weirdness as they could get away with.

Lionel Atwill is a lot of fun as Dr. X. He’d make a career out of mining the mad doctor vein he created here. Fay Wray is charming, and really lovely in this early Technicolor. Of course, she’s one of cinema’s all-time great screamers. As the spunky reporter, Lee Tracy gets old pretty quickly. And I don’t buy it for a second that Fay Wray would fall for him. 

Art director Anton Grot and cinematographer Ray Rennahan use the two-strip Technicolor’s limited color palette for all it’s worth, creating plenty of mood and some downright weird images — with a decided emphasis on green. These otherworldly hues, coupled with the picture’s sinister, suggestive subject matter, come together to create something truly weird and downright creepy.

Almost a year ago, Warner Archive treated us to a restored Blu-Ray of Warner’s later color horror picture, The Mystery Of The Wax Museum (1933). (The success of Doctor X spawned Wax Museum, which was created by many of the same folks.) A couple of well-worn 35mm prints were all they had to work with, and the results were eye-poppingly beautiful. With Doctor X, they faced a similar task, and the results are just as startling. If you can, dig out the old laserdisc (which we all used to oooh and ahhh over), and you’ll see just how much work was done here. It’s easy to focus on the visuals, which are so rich and moody, but the soundtrack has been given a thorough cleaning as well. 

Doctor X was restored by UCLA Film & Television Archive and The Film Foundation in association with Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. Funding was provided by the Hobson/Lucas Family Foundation. A big thanks to all those associated with this. It’s incredible.

Warner Archive has put together another impressive package for this one. There are two commentaries, a couple documentaries — along with the alternate black and white version, which was shot alongside the color version. There are subtle differences, but most of the takes are the same. 

It’s amazing to think that us movie nuts used to travel sizable distances to see Doctor X in color — any kind of color. And now, for about the price of a pizza, we can have it in our homes looking as good, if not even better, than it did in theaters back in 1932. This one’s as essential as it gets.

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Filed under DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Fay Wray, Lionel Atwill, Michael Curtiz, Pre-Code, Warner Archive, Warner Bros.

Blu-Ray Review: Hercules And The Captive Women (1963).

Directed by Vittorio Cottafavi
Produced by Achille Piazzi
Executive Supervision: Hugo Grimaldi
Cinematography: Carlo Carlini
Music Supervision (US Version): Gordon Zahler, General Music Corp.
Title Design (US Version): Filmation Associates

Cast: Reg Park (Hercules), Fay Spain (Queen Antinea), Ettore Manni (Androclo, Re di Tebe), Luciano Marin (Illo), Laura Efrikian (Ismene), Maurizio Coffarelli (Proteus, The Monster), Leon Selznick (Narrator, US Version)

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Let’s not take for granted the fact that Blu-Ray technology has become prevalent enough that niche genre films like Hercules And The Captive Women (1963) are getting the kind of deluxe treatment usually given to pictures widely acknowledged as “classics.” As someone who seems to only watch movies that fall into some kind of goofy niche, I’m so thankful to the companies putting these things out.

That makes reviewing something like The Film Detective’s new Blu-Ray of Hercules And The Captive Women a bit odd, since I’m overjoyed by the thing before I even know what it looks like. With that out of the way, lets get to it.

Hercules And The Captive Women was released in Italy in 1961 as Ercole alla conquista di Atlantide, which translates to “Hercules At The Conquest Of Atlantis.” Shot in Technicolor and Technirama, it was Reg Park’s first time as Hercules. The picture played in the UK as Hercules Conquers Atlantis.

In 1963, The Woolner Bros. brought it to the States. They re-cut it, re-dubbed it, replaced the score, gave it the title Hercules And The Captive Women and opened it with new animated credits from Filmation. This is the version The Film Detective has brought to Blu-Ray, and it’s beautiful.

This time around, Hercules takes on Antinea, the Queen of Atlantis (Fay Spain), who’s planning on taking over the world with an army of odd-looking blond warriors. Along the way, there are all kinds of fights, plenty of posing and posturing and lots of crazy dialogue — you know, the stuff that makes these peplum movies what they are.

Hercules And The Captive Women one was one of my favorite peplums as a kid, thanks largely to the lizard monster Hercules (Reg Park) takes on. Fay Spain appeared in everything from Dragstrip Girl (1957) to The Godfather Part II (1974). I liked Park’s next one, Mario Bava’s Hercules In The Haunted World (1961), even better. This was probably the peak for peplum.

Thanks to the Technicolor and Technirama, Hercules And The Captive Women has a bigger, lusher feel than the rest of these things, which is where The Film Detective’s really pays off. The transfer — a 4K Restoration from the original 35mm camera negative — is as sharp as a tack. Sharpness and deep focus were the key benefits of Technirama, surely one of the best of the many film processes to turn up in the 50s. The audio here is, well, it is what it is. The dubbing and effects are as wonky as you remember, but quite a bit cleaner and clearer. You might recognize a music cue from Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954) — it’s also in Bend Of The River (1952) and King Kong Vs. Godzilla (1962).

There’s a mighty batch of extras: a commentary by Tim Lucas, a nice booklet with notes from C. Courtney Joyner, a documentary on peplums, Hercules And The Conquest Of Cinema, and MST3K’s take on the film. This is a really nice package. The Film Detective is a company to keep an eye on — they’re really on a roll these days. Highly recommended.

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Filed under 1963, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Fay Spain, Mario Bava, Peplum, Reg Park, The Film Detective, Woolner Brothers

DVD Review: Jungle Man-Eaters (1954).

Directed by Lee Sholem
Produced by Sam Katzman
Story & Screen Play by Samuel Newman
Cinematography: Henry Freulich
Film Editor: Gene Havlick

Cast: Johnny Weissmuller (Jungle Jim), Karin Booth (Dr. Bonnie Crandall), Richard Wyler (Inspector Jeffrey Bernard), Bernie Hamilton (Zuwaba), Gregory Gaye (Leroux), Lester Matthews (Commissioner Kingston), Paul Thompson (Zulu), Vince Townsend, Jr. (Chief Boganda), Louise Franklin (N’Gala), Tamba

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Critics’ Choice and Mill Creek have released a six-movie set of Jungle Jim movies (there are 16 of ’em, 1948 – 1955), pulled from the middle to the end of series (’50-’55). The next-to-last picture in the set is Jungle Man-Eaters (1954).

The later Jungle Jim movies look even cheaper than the early ones, with a very heavy reliance on stock footage. Even some of the Johnny Weissmuller shots look like footage from previous entries, given away by the new 1.85 framing. In this one, Jungle Jim (Weissmuller) gets involved in a war between tribes largely orchestrated by Leroux, a French diamond smuggler. Pretty Kari Booth (I’ve always liked her) is a doctor along for the ride, and she gets caught up in the birth of the son of one of the warring tribes’ leader. Tamba dresses up like a doctor, torments Karin Booth, does plenty of flips and eats a lot of bananas.

Despite the title and ads, there are cannibals, no man is eaten (“human banquet”) and Karin Booth’s legs are never threatened by fire.

While there are three more pictures in the series, this is the last one where Weissmuller is actually called Jungle Jim. Producer Sam Katzman has Weissmuller use his own name for the rest of the run, probably because Screen Gems had signed with King Features to use the character in a TV series, again with Weissmuller. It debuted about the time the last feature, Devil Goddess, hit theaters in October 1955.

Jungle Man-Eaters features the work of the couple of guys who toiled quite a bit on Katzman pictures: director Lee Sholem and cinematographer Henry Freulich.

Sholem was known as “Roll ‘Em Sholem” for how quickly he worked. He directed over 1,300 features and TV shows over the course of four decades. They say he never went over schedule. One of his masterworks is Superman And The Mole Men (1951).

Henry Freulich had been behind the camera since the Silents. He was a cameraman on The Hunchback Of Notre Dame (1922). He was at Columbia for years and years, shooting everything from It Happened One Night (1934) to over a hundred Three Stooges shorts to all sorts of wonderful things in the 50s — pictures like William Castle’s Masterson Of Kansas (1954), It Came From Beneath The Sea (1955), Fred F. Sears’s Teen-Age Crime Wave (1955) and George Sherman’s Reprisal! (1956).

Freulich’s work on Jungle Man-Eaters looks terrific on DVD in this set. In fact, all six boast the gorgeous transfers we’ve come to expect of cheap Columbia movies from this period. A lot of us have been waiting quite a while for Jungle Jim to make his way out of the jungle and onto DVD. This collection is worth the wait — and hopefully the first of several volumes. Recommened.

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Filed under 1954, Columbia, Critics' Choice Collection, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Johnny Weissmuller, Jungle Jim, Karin Booth, Lee Sholem, Mill Creek, Sam Katzman

Blu-Ray Review: Isle Of The Dead (1945).

Directed by Mark Robson
Produced by Val Lewton
Written by Ardel Wray
Director Of Photography: Jack MacKenzie
Film Editor: Lyle Boyer
Music by Leigh Harline

Cast: Boris Karloff (Gen. Nikolas Pherides), Ellen Drew (Thea), Marc Cramer (Oliver Davis), Katherine Emery (Mrs. Mary St. Aubyn), Helene Thimig (Madame Kyra), Alan Napier (St. Aubyn), Jason Robards, Sr. (Albrecht), Ernst Deutsch (Dr. Drossos), Sherry Hall (Col. Kobestes), Erick Hanson (Officer), Skelton Knaggs (Andrew Robbins)

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Producer Val Lewton made a number of artful horror movies at RKO, a string of creepy, wonderful classics that includes Cat People (1942), The Ghost Ship (1943) and I Walked With A Zombie (1943).

One was so artful, in fact, it was actually inspired by a painting, Arnold Böcklin’s Isle Of The Dead. The painting is pretty much recreated early in the 1945 Lewton film of the same name.

It’s the story of a group of people quarantined on a small island during the Balkan Wars of 1912 — Gen. Pherides (Boris Karloff) and Oliver Davis (Marc Cramer) rowing to the island is where art imitates art (above). The plot, which gets a little complicated at time, touches on the plague, grave robbing, premature burial, madness and the dreaded vorvolaka. Like most of the Lewton pictures, it’s relentlessly creepy — with more overt horror/scary stuff towards the end, and the screens seems to drip atmosphere onto the floor.

Val Lewton was a novelist who wound up a producer. In the early 40s, he found himself in charge of a small unit at RKO, making horror films for $150,000 each. His psychological approach, preying upon our fear of the dark and the unknown, was both effective (the first, Cat People, grossed  millions and helped save the studio) and cost-effective (little light, minimal sets and no monster makeup). Lewton believed it was better to suggest horror than to show it. Leaving RKO in 1946, he made films for Paramount and MGM, and considered starting an independent production company with two of his directors from RKO, Robert Wise and Mark Robson. It fell through. There was talk of an association with Stanley Kramer at Columbia. And there was a producing gig at Universal-International — which resulted in Apache Drums (1951), which turned out to be his last film.

Mark Robson started out as an editor, assisting Robert Wise on Citizen Kane (1941). It’s hard to believe that the Mark Robson who directed The Seventh Victim (1943) and Isle Of The Dead, tight little movies brimming with atmosphere and suspense, is the same Mark Robson responsible for the big, bloated Earthquake (1974), which is almost totally devoid of atmosphere and suspense. In between this film and the wretched Earthquake, he made some good stuff: Champion (1949),  Roughshod (1949), The Harder They Fall (1956) and Von Ryan’s Express (1965), to name a few.

Boris Karloff is terrific in this. Production was interrupted by his back surgery, which might explain some of the plot confusion, but his performance is dead on. His curly hair gives him a really odd appearance, which along with the uniform, puts a new spin on the kind of tortured soul thing he does so well. The more time that goes by, and the more of his films I see again and again, just how great an actor Karloff was becomes more and more apparent. 

Warner Archive’s new Blu-Ray of Isle Of The Dead is really incredible. Coming from a 4K scan of original nitrate camera negative, it’s flawless. I can’t imagine it looking any better when it opened in 1945, and it’s a real pleasure to see Jack MacKenzie’s beautiful black and white look like this. We’re also treated to some nice extras — a commentary and an original trailer (with Spanish subtitles). The Lewton horror films are essential viewing, and since so much of their power comes from atmosphere, a high-def presentation like this is a huge leap forward. Essential.

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Filed under Boris Karloff, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Mark Robson, RKO, Val Lewton, Warner Archive