Category Archives: DVD/Blu-ray Reviews

Blu-Ray Review: The Killer Is Loose (1956).


Directed by Budd Boetticher
Screenplay by Harold Medford
From a story by John Hawkins and Ward Hawkins
Cinematography: Lucien Ballard
Music by Lionel Newman
Film Editor: George Gittens

Cast: Joseph Cotten (Det. Sam Wagner), Rhonda Fleming (Lila Wagner), Wendell Corey (Leon Poole), Alan Hale (Denny), Michael Pate (Det. Chris Gillespie), John Larch (Otto Flanders), Dee J. Thompson (Grace Flanders)

__________

To me, there’s nothing more satisfying than a little movie that pays off big. And Budd Boetticher’s The Killer Is Loose (1956) is that in spades.

Detective Joseph Cotton accidentally shoots Wendell Corey’s wife while arresting him for bank robbery. On his way to prison, Corey swears he’ll get his revenge. And when he escapes, his only thought is to put Cotton through the same pain he suffered: the loss of his wife.

Where do you begin with this thing? From Lucien Ballard’s cinematography to Budd Boetticher’s crisp direction to the editing by George Gittens to the terrific cast, this movie knocks  everything out of the park. Wendell Corey was never better than he is here as the milquetoast banker turned robber and murderer. You somehow feel sorry for him, even as you wish they’d hurry up and blow him away. Rhonda Fleming is quite good as Cotton’s wife, Corey’s target. It’s a part that’s pretty unlikable — she hates her husband being a cop, forcing Cotton to not only search for Corey, but conceal the fact that Fleming is who he’s after. Then there’s the great use of LA locations and the decision to set some of the film’s tensest scenes in the most mundane of places (kitchens, suburban neighborhoods, lettuce fields, etc.).

1956 was a great year for movies, and many of the folks behind The Killer Is Loose were on a roll. Boetticher was about to begin his wonderful Ranown Cycle with Randolph Scott — Seven Men From Now would arrive in a few short months. Rhonda Fleming’s next picture was Allan Dwan’s Slightly Scarlet (1956). And Lucien Ballard would continue working with Boetticher on the Ranown pictures and shoot The Killing (1956) for Stanley Kubrick.

Ballard (beside camera with scarf) and Boetticher (in front of Ballard) shooting on an LA bus.

Ballard’s camerawork not only sets this movie apart, it allows the new Blu-Ray from ClassicFlix to really shine. This is exactly how a black and white film should look in high definition. Film grain is present throughout, in a good way. Contrast levels are near-perfect, the blacks are very true and the proper 1.85 aspect ratio is preserved (the full-frame DVD looks awful clunky in comparison). And the lossless audio is rock solid.

The Killer Is Loose is a picture I’ve been lifting up for years, and this Blu-Ray is just as easy to recommend. Trust me, you need this.

Leave a comment

Filed under 1956, Allan Dwan, Budd Boetticher, ClassicFlix, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Joseph Cotton, Rhonda Fleming, Stanley Kubrick, United Artists, Wendell Corey

Blu-Ray Review: World Without End (1956).

6a00d83451d04569e2017d3ed668cc970c

Directed by Edward Bernds
Story & Screenplay by Edward Bernds
Cinematography: Ellsworth Fredericks
Film Editor: Eda Warren
Original Music Leith Stevens

Cast: Hugh Marlowe (John Bordon), Nancy Gates (Garnet), Nelson Leigh (Dr. Eldon Galbraithe), Rod Taylor (Herbert Ellis), Shawn Smith (Elaine), Lisa Montell (Deena), Christopher Dark (Hank Jaffe), Booth Colman (Mories), Everett Glass (Timmek)

__________

Allied Artists’ ads for World Without End (1956) bragged that it was the first sci-fi movie in CinemaScope and Technicolor. Its writer and director Edward Bernds called it “A-picture mounting for a B-budgeted picture.”*

And what a B picture it is! A team of intrepid U.S. astronauts — including Hugh Marlowe and a very young Rod Taylor — returns to Earth from their trip to Mars. Somehow they wind up in the 26th century, finding their home planet reduced to a hostile, post-Apocalyptic world teeming with mutants (that’s one to the left), giant spiders, underground cities, weird old men wearing kooky hats and beautiful girls in mini skirts. You’re starting to get a feel for how terrific this is, aren’t you?

You know how these things work. Before long, the astronauts are killing the spiders, duking it out with the mutants and romancing the ladies. And people wonder why I love these old things so much.

Allied Artists sprang for Technicolor and Scope for World Without End, but that doesn’t mean Bernds had a blank check. Not by a long shot. The spaceship footage — leaving Mars’ orbit and crash-landing back on Earth — was lifted from Monogram’s Flight To Mars (1951) and severely cropped for CinemaScope (from 1.33 down to 2.55). Of course, Allied Artists used to be Monogram, so it’s easy to understand why the footage was cheap.

Walter Mirisch of Allied Artists and Edward Bernds

Bernds: “It’s strange how some producers, at least at that time, got hooked on the idea of saving money by using stock film… You could duplicate those stock shots for a few thousand dollars — are you going to make a $400,000 picture on the basis of saving a few bucks?”*

Another sign of cost-consciousness (one that you see in a lot of these 50s sci-fi flicks): post-Apocalyptic Earth looks a whole lot like the Iverson Ranch.

Edward Bernds wanted Sterling Hayden for the lead, but Allied Artists went with the much cheaper Hugh Marlowe. He’s a little bland, maybe, but fine. Marlowe would have a pretty good run in 50s science fiction. He started out in The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951), and he’d follow World Without End with Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers (1956).

Lisa Montell plays Deena, one of the lovely women of our planet’s grim future. As she describes it, “That film was a lot of fun… Part of the fun was that my character was related to the ‘Mutates’ and I got to speak in Mutate talk, which I just made up as I went along.”*

Nancy Gates falls for Hugh Marlowe, and Rod Taylor winds up shirtless. Gates’ career was going a mile a minute at this time, working steadily in movies and TV. Taylor had only been in the States a couple years when he was cast in this; he’d appear in Giant (1956) the same year.

Pin-up artist Alberto Vargas (the pressbook called him an “internationally known painter of curvaceous femininity”) did sketches for the film, focusing on the women’s costumes. These were used to promote the picture, and I’m sure they were effective. A six-sheet was available with each of the ladies 5′ 6″ tall.

Director of photography Ellsworth Fredericks did a ton of stuff for Allied Artists around this time, everything from At Gunpoint (1955) to Friendly Persuasion (1956). Wow, from Gary Cooper as a Quaker to rubber spiders. He shot Don Siegel’s Invasion Of The Body Snatchers the same year.

Warner Archive has done us all a huge favor by bringing this glorious bit of nonsense to Blu-Ray, gloriously. Fredericks uses the Scope frame really well, and it’s great to have the CinemaScope presented in high definition. Every plastic rocket, every fake spider, every skimpy costume is as sharp as a tack. The color’s perfectly saturated, and the sound’s clear as a bell.

There are certainly better movies than this, but this has become one of my favorite Blu-Rays. It’s a marvel to look at and a real hoot of a movie. Highly, highly recommended.

Read somewhere that Joe Dante saw World Without End and Abbott & Costello Meet The Mummy (1955) as a double bill some Saturday afternoon when he was a kid. He loved it so much, he sat through it twice — and when he got home, his parents had called the police!

*Sources: The Edward Bernds quotes are from Tim Weaver interviews; Lisa Montell’s quote comes from the Treasures Of Wonderment website.

4 Comments

Filed under 1956, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Edward Bernds, Hugh Marlowe, Monogram/Allied Artists, Rod Taylor, Warner Archive

Blu-Ray Review: Doc Savage – The Man Of Bronze (1975).

s-l1600-10

Directed by Michael Anderson
Produced by George Pal
Cinematography: Fred J. Koenekamp
Film Editor: Thomas J. McCarthy

Cast: Ron Ely (Clark “Doc” Savage Jr.), Paul Gleason (Major Thomas J. “Long Tom” Roberts), William Lucking (Col. John “Renny” Renwick), Michael Miller as Lt. Col. Andrew Blodgett “Monk” Mayfair), Eldon Quick (Professor William Harper “Johnny” Littlejohn), Darrell Zwerling (Brigadier Gen. Theodore Marley “Ham” Brooks), Paul Wexler (Captain Seas), Pamela Hensley (Mona Flores), Bob Corso (Don Rubio Gorro), Federico Roberto (Presidente Don Carlos Avispa), Janice Heiden (Adriana), Robyn Hilton (Karen), Paul Frees (Narrator)

__________

“Don’t look for it, Taylor. You may not like what you find.” Dr. Zaius says that toward the end of Planet Of The Apes (1968). You probably know what the line leads to — one of the great gut-punches in all of film.

Lately, I’ve revisited a number of movies I was drawn to as a kid (they’re turning up on Blu-Ray in droves), and that line keeps coming to mind. “You may not like what you find.” (Does your inner voice speak in movie dialogue?) Nobody wants to discover they had terrible taste as a child, so I’ve sat down with these movies accompanied by a pretty hefty chunk of trepidation. “I haven’t seen this since I was eight.” “Bob (name changed to protect the tasteless) still loves this thing, but he likes a lot of crap.” “Was it the movie I liked, or that it was the first time I went to the theater by myself?” And on and on.

It’s great to be able to say that, for the most part, I’ve been fairing pretty well. The adult me liked The Vampire (1957) much better than the kid me did. King Kong Escapes (1967) is even goofier than I remembered. And over at my Western blog, I’m constantly finding brilliance hiding under the surface of old pictures that have been branded programmers (1957’s Quantez comes to mind). So far, not a bad track record.

duodoc

Things are different when it comes to Doc Savage – The Man Of Bronze (1975). As a kid, I absolutely loved it. Not long after it opened in Raleigh, North Carolina, I was scooping up the Bantam paperbacks like a fiend. And while I now see the movie as a fairly botched adaptation of the original pulp novels, I’ve got a soft spot for it that is a much bigger deal than its actual merits as cinema.

title_doc_savage_blu-ray

Producer George Pal and director Michael Anderson seem to have been conflicted about what kind of Doc Savage movie they wanted to make. There’s plenty of the ’66 Batman camp thing going on. There are serious attempts to create real excitement and suspense. And there’s a solid effort to establish Doc’s art deco world and aides, the Fabulous Five. From one scene to the next, the movie succeeds at one of those tasks or the other — but the end result is disjointed, leaving us wondering how we should take the thing as a whole.

None of that’s a deal-breaker when you’ve got plenty of nostalgia to draw on. I do, and I still wish they’d made the sequel, Doc Savage – The Arch Enemy Of Evil. But like a lot of movies released in the summer of 1975, a shark killed Doc Savage – The Man Of Bronze. You know the one.

I was so stoked walking out of the theater in 1975.

So now, all these years later, Warner Archive brings us a gorgeous Blu-Ray that has the movie looking better than ever. It still looks a bit like a TV movie, but so what? The color’s great, there’s plenty of circa-1975 film grain and it’s so sharp you can really study Doc’s beautiful Cord Model 810. They did a very nice job with it, and if you’re a fan you’ll be blown away.

So to go back to my original thought, revisiting movies from your childhood at your own peril — how does Doc Savage hold up? It’s not cinematic gold, to be sure. Silver? No. But bronze? Yeah, I’d give it that.

Leave a comment

Filed under 1975, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, George Pal, Warner Archive

Blu-Ray Review: The Ghost And Mr. Chicken (1966).

Mr. Chicken trade ad

Directed by Alan Rafkin
Written by James Fritzel and Everett Greenbaum
Cinematography: William Margulies
Music by Vic Mizzy

Cast: Don Knotts (Luther Heggs), Joan Staley (Alma Parker), Liam Redmond (Kelsey), Dick Sargent (George Beckett), Skip Homeier (Ollie Weaver), Reta Shaw (Mrs. Halcyon Maxwell), Lurene Tuttle (Mrs. Natalie Miller), Phil Ober (Nicholas Simmons), Harry Hickox (Police Chief Art Fuller), Charles Lane (Whitlow), Hal Smith, Ellen Corby, Hope Summers, Burt Mustin

__________

“The Haunted House” is one of my favorite episodes of The Andy Griffith Show. Don Knotts must’ve liked it, too, because he used it as a springboard for his first feature, The Ghost And Mr. Chicken (1966). Recruiting a couple writers from Andy Griffith, and Andy himself as a story man (the “Attaboy, Luther!” running gag was his), they cooked up the tale of Luther Heggs (Knotts) spending a restless night in a “murder house.”

Don Knotts and Joan Staley between takes on the Universal backlot.

Ties to The Andy Griffith Show abound. First, there’s a subtle, funny, character-driven look at small town life, trading Rachel, Kansas, for Mayberry, North Carolina (and adding Technicolor and Techniscope). There’s a number of Andy people in the cast: Hal Smith as an Otis-like drunk, Hope Summers (Clara Edwards on Andy) as a busybody, Reta Shaw, Burt Mustin, Ellen Corby, Charles Lane and more. The frequent Andy director Alan Rafkin was chosen by Knotts for the movie. The set must’ve felt like a family reunion.

ghost-mr-chicken-lc5

The lovely Joan Staley — who appeared in this, Gunpoint with Audie Murphy and an episode of Batman, all in 1966 — is charming as Knott’s love interest. Skip Homeier is perfect as a creep. And Vic Mizzy’s terrific score is worth the price of admission.

And no, the haunted house if not 1313 Mockingbird Lane from The Munsters, though it’s on the same Universal backlot street.

I saw The Ghost And Mr. Chicken repeatedly as a kid and love it to this day. (I even remember the red squiggly letterboxing they used during the credits in TV prints.) Sure, it’s a funny movie, but I find it so hard to be objective with this one. It’s a member of the “movie family” I feel compelled to visit every so often. (It’s got another thing going for it — it was an early date for my wife and I. She’s a big fan of The Andy Griffith Show and had never seen it, something I had to correct as soon as possible.)

It was a big deal around my house when this was announced for Blu-Ray (a Best Buy exclusive). The Ghost And Mr. Chicken has always looked good on video, from laserdisc to DVD to this new Blu-Ray. It’s a real beauty, sharp as a tack with eye-popping Technicolor. Highly recommended, especially to those who grew up with it.

3 Comments

Filed under 1966, Andy Griffith, Don Knotts, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Universal (-International)

Blu-Ray Review: The TAMI Show (1964)/The Big TNT Show (1966).

tnt-show-rm-lc

I’m a big fan of 60s music by the likes of Jan & Dean, The Beach Boys, The Byrds, James Brown, The Rollings Stones and Roger Miller, and the concert movies The TAMI Show (1964) and The Big TNT Show (1966) have been on my Must See List for decades (the combine-the-two-into-one-VHS-tape thing, This Was Rock, doesn’t count.)

Both shows were shot on an early hi-def TV system, then transferred to 35mm for theatrical release — thanks to a process called Electronovision. So while I knew the music was great, I’ve always wondered how good they’d look when I finally got the chance to see them.

gpg-tami-0610

There was no reason to worry. The new Shout Factory Blu-Ray package gives us both films, The TAMI Show and The Big TNT Show, looking splendid — taking into consideration that these are basically high-end kinescopes. They’re widescreen (1.78 for TAMI, 1.85 for TNT), as they were in theaters, and the monophonic sound is absolutely glorious.

Which performances you like best is a matter of personal taste, with the fabled James Brown/Rolling Stones sets being obvious standouts. (The Stones do “It’s All Over Now!”) Roger Miller really knocked me out in the second picture — it’s a real treat to see him in these prime years — and The Byrds are really cool (the image is sharp enough for us to see the sweat pouring off of David Crosby, who’s wearing a cape/coat/wrap thing during their handful of songs). It’s a really diverse mix of incredible talent — so many of these acts have made their way into The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame.

These movies serve as a remarkable time capsule, documenting a time when popular music was on fire. If the music of this period is your bag, this double feature is essential.

Leave a comment

Filed under 1964, 1966, AIP, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Shout/Scream Factory

Blu-Ray Review: The Return Of Dracula (1958).

return-of-dracula-lc8

Directed by Paul Landres
Story and Screenplay by Pat Fielder
Music by Gerald Fried
Director Of Photography: Jack MacKenzie, ASC
Film Editor: Sherman A. Rose, ACE

Cast: Francis Lederer (Count Dracula/Bellac Gordal), Norma Eberhardt (Rachel Mayberry), Greta Granstedt (Cora Mayberry), Gage Clark (Doctor/Reverend Whitfield), Ray Stricklyn (Tim Hansen), John Wengraf (Merriman), Virginia Vincent (Jenny Blake), Jimmie Baird (Mickey Mayberry), John McNamara (Sheriff Bicknell)

__________

The late 50s were a good time for movie vampires, thanks largely to the first of Hammer’s Dracula films, Horror Of Dracula (US title, 1958). But there was also The Vampire and Blood Of Dracula in 1957 and Blood Of The Vampire and The Return Of Dracula in 1958. Oh, and let’s not forget the vampire Western, Curse Of The Undead (1959).

What’s interesting about all these blood-guzzling movies is how each took a different approach to the traditional vampire lore. Hammer, with Christopher Lee in Dracula (1958), dialed up the sex and blood — all of it in alluring Technicolor. The Vampire made vampirism a medical condition. Blood Of Dracula fits right in with AIP’s I Was A Teenage Werewolf (1957), with a teenage vampire created by hypnotism, not a bite on the neck. The Return Of Dracula, which Olive Films has just released on DVD and Blu-Ray, goes in a different direction entirely — following in the steps of many of the Dracula movies that came before it, while moving the Lugosi-ish proceedings to modern-day California.

The Return Of Dracula comes from director Paul Landres and writer Pat Fielder. So did The Vampire. Landres worked mostly in TV, but his low-budget features from the 50s (Westerns and monster movies) are well worth seeking out. Pat Fielder also wrote the excellent The Monster That Challenged The World (1957) — and a number of episodes of The Rifleman.

norma-eberhardt-and-francis-lederer-in-the-return-of-dracula-1958

Fleeing Transylvania, Count Dracula (Francis Lederer) kills an artist and assumes his identity. Arriving in California, he moves in with the victim’s family, who only know him from letters. They eventually notice that their guest sleeps all day, goes out at night and doesn’t like mirrors or the local priest. Teenage Rachel (Norma Eberhardt) also becomes concerned when her friend Jenny (Virginia Vincent) starts wasting away.

Lederer makes a pretty good Dracula, aided by his Hungarian accent. Norma Eberhardt tries hard to convince us she’s a teenager, and almost pulls it off. And Jenny Blake has a great part as Rachel’s friend turned Dracula’s minion.

return-of-dracula-ad-slick

But it’s the assured, creative direction of Paul Landres that keeps things interesting, and the cinematography of Jack MacKenzie that adds the atmosphere these movies rely on — both to create the right mood and conceal how cheap the sets are. MacKenzie shot Isle Of The Dead (1945) for producer Val Lewton, which should tell you something.

Olive Films has The Return Of Dracula polished up and shining like a brand new chrome-covered 1958 Impala. It’s a beautiful Blu-Ray, with contrast levels and aspect ratio (1.85) right where they need to be — and a cool color effect toward the end. Revisiting films like this, in this kind of quality, has been a real joy the last few years, and a number of them have come from Olive.

For fans of these things, or of the people who made them (I’m a big admirer of Landres’ work from this period), The Return Of Dracula comes highly recommended. And I’m hoping Olive gives The Vampire the same treatment.

3 Comments

Filed under 1957, 1958, AIP, Christopher Lee, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Hammer Films, Olive Films, Paul Landres, United Artists

DVD Review: The Mask Of Fu Manchu (1932).

karloff-as-fu-manchu

Directed by Charles Brabin and Charles Vidor (uncredited)
Produced by Irving Thalberg
Screenplay: Irene Kuhn, Edgar Allan Woolf and John Willard
Based on the novel The Mask of Fu Manchu by Sax Rohmer
Cinematography: Tony Gaudio
Film Editor: Ben Lewis

Cast: Boris Karloff (Dr. Fu Manchu), Lewis Stone (Nayland Smith), Karen Morley (Sheila Barton), Charles Starrett (Terrence Granville), Myrna Loy (Fah Lo See); Jean Hersholt (Von Berg), Lawrence Grant (Sir Lionel Barton), David Torrence (McLeod).

__________

If someone tells you they don’t see what the big deal is about pre-Code movies, show ’em The Mask Of Fu Manchu (1932). If its script has been floating around just a couple years later, it wouldn’t have been made.

The Mask Of Fu Manchu is a fever dream of an adventure story — or maybe a Chinese-food-stomach-ache adventure story, the kind of movie you get when writers and directors are fired, production is halted for a while, rewrites arrive minutes before scenes are shot, etc.

Boris Karloff: “It was a shambles, it really was — it was simply ridiculous.”

This chaos is evident on the screen. Characters come and go. There is little, if anything, in the way of character development. The plot simply doesn’t make sense. There’s no real flow from one scene to the next. And if you’re easily offended, well you’ll be easily offended.

But it’s absolutely fascinating from the MGM lion to the final fadeout. The evil Dr. Fu Manchu has kidnapped a noted archaeologist who claims to have found the tomb of Genghis Khan. Fu Manchu seeks the power contained in the Mongol emperor’s mask and sword. Torture, death and all sorts of mayhem ensue.

futorture

Fu Manchu (Karloff): “This serum, distilled from dragon’s blood, my own blood, the organs of different reptiles, and mixed with the magic brew of the sacred seven herbs, will temporarily change you into the living instrument of my will. You will do as I command!”

karloff-and-loy

The entire cast is terrific, with Karloff and Myrna Loy (as Fu Manchu’s freaky daughter) giving it their all. Lewis Stone makes a great Nayland Smith, while Sheila Barton and Charles Starrett are fine as the damsel in distress and her rescuer. The set design is incredible, combining over-the-top Chinese influence with 30s art deco and a bit of Frankenstein’s lab (Kenneth Strickfaden, who made the equipment for Frankenstein, decked out Fu Manchu’s laboratory). It’s as lavish as it is crazy.

The Mask Of Fu Manchu is one of six Pre-Code horror pictures in Warner Archive’s Hollywood Legends Of Horror Collection. It’s a MOD re-issue of the 2006 collection, and it’s great to have it available again. The Mask Of Fu Manchu is my favorite of the bunch, and it looks great — and it’s completely uncut (it was softened a bit a few decades ago). The other films — Doctor X (1932), The Return of Doctor X (1939), Mark Of The Vampire (1935), Mad Love (AKA The Hands Of Orlac, 1935) and The Devil-Doll (1936) — look just as good. All the commentaries and trailers from the original release have been retained. For monsters nuts or fans of Pre-Code Hollywood, this is essential stuff — and a steal at $29.95.

Leave a comment

Filed under Boris Karloff, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, MGM, Pre-Code, Warner Archive