Category Archives: DVD/Blu-ray Reviews

Blu-Ray Review: A Bucket Of Blood (1959).

Directed by Roger Corman
Written by Charles B. Griffith
Cinematography: Jacques R. Marquette
Music by Fred Katz
Film Editor: Anthony Carras

Cast: Dick Miller (Walter Paisley), Barboura Morris (Carla), Antony Carbone (Leonard de Santis), Julian Burton (Maxwell H. Brock), Ed Nelson (Art Lacroix), John Brinkley (Will), John Herman Shaner (Oscar), Judy Bamber (Alice), Myrtle Vail (Mrs. Swickert), Bert Convy (Detective Lou Raby), Jhean Burton (Naolia)

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This is the kind of blog, read by the kind of people, where A Bucket Of Blood (1959) doesn’t require a lot of set-up. It was written by Charles B. Griffith, directed by Roger Corman for AIP, shot in five days for $50,000 (on sets left over from Diary Of A High School Bride), with the great Dick Miller in the lead. The end result is wonderful.

So, 60 years later, we get A Bucket Of Blood on Blu-Ray from Olive Films, part of their Signature series, and it’s incredible. You probably never thought you’d see this movie look like this. I certainly didn’t.

Sure, it’s still a $50,000 movie about a guy that kills people to make statues. But now we get a chance to really appreciate all that’s going on. We see Corman showing some real confidence as a director, displaying some real chops here and there — and turning out one of the better Horror Comedies, a very-hard-to-pull-off sub-genre. Dick Miller makes Walter Paisley both a lovable chump and a creepy killer. And everyone seems to be in on the fun when it comes to showing us how pretentious, cynical and hypocritical the whole Beatnik scene could be. The dime-store set design is really effective and fun to study in high definition.

Olive Films has given A Bucket Of Blood the attention I think it deserves. We’ve seen it looking so bad for so long — from muddy 16mm dupes to crappy PD VHS tapes and DVDs, it’s a bit of a shock to see it so crisp and clean. I found myself pausing it repeatedly to study things.

Along with the movie looking like a million bucks, a big leap from its $50K origins, we get a bucket-load of terrific extras, most courtesy of Elijah Drenner, whose documentary That Guy Dick Miller is a treasure. Drenner provides a new interview with Corman, an audio commentary and a wonderful visit with Dick Miller and his wife Lanie. This package is a joy from one end to the other, and a great way to revisit an old favorite. Highly, highly recommended.

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Filed under 1959, AIP, Charles B. Griffith, Dick Miller, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Olive Films, Roger Corman

Blu-Ray Review: Ultra Q (1966).

Until this Mill Creek set turned up in my mailbox, I hadn’t seen an episode of Ultra Q (1966) in its entirety. Now, about halfway through the show’s 28 episodes, I’m having a blast.

If I had seen Ultra Q when I was 10 (and could understand Japanese), it might’ve been my favorite TV show.

It goes like this. Eiji Tsuburaya, the special effects maestro behind Toho’s Godzilla movies, started his own production company and kicked things off with Ultra Q. It’s about a team of investigators who look into different mysterious goings from episode to episode — similar to the setup of, say, The Night Stalker or The X Files. But this being Japan in the mid-60s, that premise (inspired by The Outer Limits) becomes a showcase for a giant monster every week. Toho was an investor in Tsuburaya’s new production company and gave the show access to their prop warehouse, filled with monster suits waiting to be unleashed on another miniature Tokyo. Part of the fun is spotting disguised monsters from the Kaiju movies, such as Godzilla dressed up to play Gomess in the first episode.

It’s a pretty whacked-out affair. All sorts of things come from space or out of the ground, and our intrepid team — a scientist, a young reporter and a pilot — take them on as the Japanese countryside and infrastructure get stomped. That’s pretty much it. The half-hour format really works in its favor, as time is never wasted — they get right to the monster.

Ultra Q only lasted one season. Tsuburaya Productions moved on to the first Ultraman series (in color) in 1967, and that franchise is still going.

Mill Creek has done a terrific job on this set, available in regular or steelbook packaging, and on their first Ultraman set (released the same day).

Ultra Q‘s gorgeous black and white is perfectly presented on Blu-Ray, with the contrast masterfully dialed in. Everything’s sharp as a tack, allowing for some grainy stock footage from time to time. The sound is clear as a bell (it’s got a great Surf-y theme song), and the English subtitles (it’s in Japanese only) are nicely done. (There was evidently an English version prepared that never aired. It’d be cool to see some of those.)

Ultra Q was quite a discovery for me, and I’m sure fans of the show will be overjoyed by this set. If only every TV show got this kind of attention.

Mill Creek is to be commended for this one. Highly recommended for fans of this sort of thing.

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Filed under 1966, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Eiji Tsuburaya, Kaiju Movies, Mill Creek, Toho

Blu-Ray Review: The Shooting And Ride In The Whirlwind (Both 1966).

This was a post I really wanted to get right. There were two previous attempts, which I hated and discarded (to say too much about these movies, in a way, takes away from them). Hope the third time’s the charm.

The backstory. Monte Hellman and Jack Nicholson did a couple of pictures in the Philippines for Roger Corman (Back Door To Hell and Flight To Fury, both 1964). When there was talk of doing something else, Corman asked them to make a Western. That became two Westerns to be shot back-to-back — similar to their Filipino arrangement. The budgets were $75,000 apiece, with  three weeks scheduled for each.

Nicholson wrote Ride In The Whirlwind and The Shooting came from Carole Eastman (as Adrian Joyce). Both films were shot in Utah by Gregory Sandor, with Nicholson serving as producer. They share the same tiny crew and Nicholson and Millie Perkins in the casts. The Shooting was done first, with a period of about a week before Ride In The Whirlwind started. The finished films played a few festivals (Montreal, Cannes) and some foreign bookings, but were sold straight to TV in the States (though Variety reviewed Ride In The Whirlwind back in ’66).

There were plenty of ugly VHS releases before VCI brought them to DVD. That was a great day indeed, and these terrific little Westerns started to find an audience. They’ve been given the red-carpet treatment by The Criterion Collection, with an incredible batch of extras. It took quite a while, but they’re finally getting their due.

The Shooting
Directed by Monte Hellman
Written by Adrian Joyce (Carole Eastman)
Director Of Photography: Gregory Sandor

Cast: Warren Oates (Willett Gashade), Will Hutchins (Coley), Millie Perkins (The Woman), Jack Nicholson (Billy Spear)

The Shooting was shot first (and I saw it first), so we’ll begin with it. Warren Oates returns to his mining camp to learn that his brother killed a boy in town and fled. Then a mysterious woman (Millie Perkins) appears and pays Oates to lead her to the town of Kingsley, for reasons she won’t share. They begin their trip through the desert, trailed by a lone gunman dressed in black (Nicholson).

Ride In The Whirlwind
Directed by Monte Hellman
Written by Jack Nicholson
Director Of Photography: Gregory Sandor

Cast: Cameron Mitchell (Vern), Millie Perkins (Abigail), Jack Nicholson (Wes), Harry Dean Stanton (Blind Dick), Katherine Squire (Catherine), George Mitchell (Evan), Rupert Crosse (Indian Joe), Tom Filer (Otis)

A group of cowboys (Cameron Mitchell, Jack Nicholson and Tom Filer) stumble upon a cabin where Blind Dick (Harry Dean Stanton) and his gang invite them in. The next morning, the cabin’s surrounded by a posse — and the three innocents are instantly wanted men.

The idea in The Shooting of the gunman after someone, we don’t know who, is the backbone of Jack Arnold’s No Name On The Bullet (1959) with Audie Murphy. When it comes to Ride In The Whirlwind, there are plenty of innocent men on the run movies. There’s a fatalist, noir-ish feel to some of both films’ dialogue, but that comparison falls apart, too. These were unlike any Western that came before them — or after them, for that matter.

While most of Roger Corman’s young directors showed promise under his leadership, then went on to do great things, Monte Hellman managed to make two great films while still in the Corman camp. These seem to share the same basic approach as his Two-Lane Blacktop (1971) — a deceptively simple, and purposefully vague, situation is established, and for the rest of the picture, we watch the characters react to that situation. In The Shooting, like Oates, we don’t know what the hell is going on, but we’re pretty sure it’s not going to be good. Ride In The Whirlwind lets us share the desperation of Mitchell and Nicholson. And we don’t get to know the characters of Two-Lane Blacktop because there really isn’t anything to know — they just keep going.

There have been complaints over the years that some of the performances in these Westerns are wooden. The leads seem pitch-perfect to me. Millie Perkins and Jack Nicholson are fine in both. Cameron Mitchell was always dependable, no matter what kind of junk he was in. Will Hutchins is terrific. And Warren Oates was simply one of the best film actors ever, incapable of being less than stellar (and Hellman seemed to draw his best work out of him).

The camerawork from Gregory Sandor is stunning. There was no time or money or crew for lights, so everything was done with natural light. The frame of Oates with the coffee cup, above, from a long take in the first few minutes of The Shooting, sums up these movies for me. The lighting seems real, not Hollywood, and the oddball composition is perfectly imperfect. For some reason, that image has stuck with me for over 20 years.

The new 4K masters done for the Criterion release are some of the best I’ve ever seen, for any movie. Both The Shooting and Ride In The Whirlwind really look like film here, and the color seems rich even though everything is brown and dusty. Just as there was no time or money for lights, there wasn’t much for makeup, either. Millie Perkins didn’t feel she was presented very well in either film, though I disagree. She looks exactly how she ought to look.

While the merits of every film on video should hinge on the film itself, Criterion put together a series of extras that really add to your appreciation of these gems. The commentaries by Monte Hellman, Blake Lucas and Bill Krohn are some of the best I’ve ever heard. They cover everything you’d ever want to know about how these pictures came to be. Even if the films were terrible, their combined production history would be fascinating stuff. The fact that they’re absolutely brilliant makes it all the more special. Adding the package are interviews and short documentaries.

Back when these Westerns looked awful on VHS, they were something to be tracked down and studied, especially for those with a thing for Monte Hellman. This Criterion set, presenting both in stunning quality and with a serious stack of extras, is nothing short of essential. My highest recommendation.

A big thanks to Blake Lucas.

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Filed under 1966, Criterion Collection, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Harry Dean Stanton, Jack Nicholson, Monte Hellman, Morris Ankrum, Roger Corman, Warren Oates

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: Quatermass And The Pit (1968).

Directed by Roy Ward Baker
Produced by Anthony Nelson Keyes
Screenplay by Nigel Kneale
Director Of Photography: Arthur Grant
Film Editor: Spencer Reeve

Cast: James Donald (Dr. Roney), Andrew Keir (Quatermass), Barbara Shelley (Barbara Judd), Julian Glover (Colonel Breen), Duncan Lamont (Sladden), Bryan Marshall (Captain Potter), Peter Copley (Howell)

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When I was a kid, there was a Sony Trinitron in the guest room. It was a great television, able to pick up out-of-town stations our other TVs couldn’t touch.

At 10 years old, armed with that television, the TV Guide and a Radio Shack earphone (with a 15-foot cord), I began the clandestine, full-scale rotting of my brain on old monster movies at all hours of the night. (If they have Internet service in Heaven, I sure hope my mom doesn’t see this!*)

One of the films I discovered late one night using that Sony/Radio Shack rig was Hammer’s Five Million Miles To Earth (1968). It scared me to death, and I’m sure I was totally useless at school the next day.

In the UK, Five Million Years To Earth went by the same title as the BBC TV serial it was based on, Quatermass And The Pit — which is how it’s billed everywhere nowadays. This movie doesn’t waste a second, plunging immediately into its story. A crew is digging in a London Underground station. They find a fossilized skull, followed by an entire skeleton. Dr. Roney (James Donald) is brought in, accompanied by his fellow scientist Barbara Judd (Barbara Shelley). As they dig, they find what is believed to be an unexploded bomb. At this point, the military and the brilliant Dr. Quatermass (the brilliant Andrew Kier) get involved.

More and more stuff is ingeniously added to the plot as things get weirder, darker and a bit supernatural. The bomb isn’t a bomb after all, it’s an ancient spacecraft that seems to have brought grasshopper-looking creatures to earth millions of years ago (there’s the Five Million Years To Earth.) And those interstellar insects, well, they’ve been responsible for all sorts of evil havoc in this part of London for generations.

There are a few things about Quatermass And The Pit that have stuck with me for more than 40 years. To this day, I can’t see a grasshopper without thinking of this film. The scene where the rotting insects are dissected, as green “blood” oozes out and everyone complains about the smell, never ceases to give me the willies. And Barbara Shelley in her 60s plaid skirt has to be one of the loveliest women to ever grace the motion picture screen.

At 97 minutes, Quatermass And The Pit is one of the longer Hammer films, but it moves like a runaway train — thanks to director Roy Ward Baker, editor Spencer Reeve and writer Nigel Kneale — as it piles one plot point on top of another. To prove my point, the first skull is found before the movie’s two minutes in — and that includes the main titles. It maintains that pace throughout until all hell breaks loose in the last reel — as Quatermass and Dr. Roney save the world from heinous evil from another world.

Andrew Kier is just terrific as Quatermass, as is James Donald as Dr. Roney. Julian Glover is perfectly hatable as the military man who refuses to believe what Roney and Quatermass tell him is happening. And Barbara Shelley is great as the young scientist with a strange attachment to those weird grasshoppers from Mars. This is one of those movies were everybody brought their A game. As preposterous as it all sounds, the movie snatches you up and carries you along with its own logic.

Now, back to that Sony Trinitron and the earphone. Arthur Grant’s subtle, very effective use of color was completely lost on the late show (and on a faded 16mm print run at a convention in the 90s), but it shines like a jewel on this Blu-Ray from Shout Factory. It’s beautiful. The audio, which includes all kinds of noises, sirens and screams is clear as a bell. And there’s all sorts of extras: commentary, interviews, stills, trailers, even an episode of World Of Hammer. It’s another terrific Hammer Blu-Ray from Scream Factory — they’ve been knocking these out of the park since they started this series. Highly, highly recommended.

* If they had Internet access in Heaven, Heaven wouldn’t be Heaven, would it?

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Filed under 1968, Andrew Keir, Barbara Shelley, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Hammer Films, Roy Ward Baker, Shout/Scream Factory

Blu-Ray Review: How To Stuff A Wild Bikini (1965).

Directed by William Asher
Produced by Samuel Z. Arkoff & James H. Nicholson
Written byWilliam Asher & Leo Townsend
Director Of Photography: Floyd Crosby
Film Editor: Eve Newman
Titles: Art Clokey

Cast: Annette Funicello (Dee Dee), Dwayne Hickman (Ricky), Brian Donlevy (B. D. “Big Deal” McPherson), Buster Keaton (Bwana), Beverly Adams (Cassandra), Harvey Lembeck (Eric Von Zipper), John Ashley (Johnny), Jody McCrea (Bonehead), Mickey Rooney (J. Peachmont “Peachy” Keane), Marianne Gaba (Animal), Len Lesser (North Dakota Pete), Irene Tsu (Native Girl), Arthur Julian (Dr. Melamed), Bobbi Shaw (Khola Koku), Alberta Nelson (Puss), Mary Hughes, Mickey Dora, Frankie Avalon, Michele Carey, Elizabeth Montgomery, The Kingsmen

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The merits, or lack of them, of the Beach Party movies may be the embodiment of “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” To me, these things are treasure all the way. I love these stupid movies, so I was overjoyed to learn that Olive Films was bringing How To Stuff A Wild Bikini (1965) to Blu-Ray.

How To Stuff A Wild Bikini is one of the later ones — some consider it the last “official” one, and admittedly things were getting a little tired by this point. But many of the key people and elements are in place — Annette, Eric Von Zipper, Bonehead, Animal, surfing, Rock N Roll, Mary Hughes and so on. Buster Keaton is a welcome addition — he’d been in a couple of the previous ones. Instead of Timothy Carey as South Dakota Slim, we get Len Lesser as North Dakota Pete. Frankie’s on hand, but he’s limited to not much more than a cameo.

It goes something like this. Frankie’s away  Tahiti in the Naval Reserve. While he’s enjoying the company of the local girls, he wonders if maybe Dee Dee (Annette Funicello) is behaving as badly. A witch doctor (Buster Keaton) sends the beautiful Cassandra (Beverly Adams) to the beach to catch the eye of Dwayne Hickman, a young advertising man who’s taken a shine to Annette.

Cassandra creates quite a splash at the beach — all the surfers go nuts for her, an executive (Mickey Rooney) wants to use her to sell stuff, and Eric Von Zipper (Harvey Lembeck) and the Ratz and Mice turn up. It all winds up with a bunch of nonsense on motorcycles, along with a cameo from Elizabeth Montgomery.

Annette Funicello with The Kingsmen.

Some terrific musicians and bands make their way through these films, from Dick Dale to Stevie Wonder. This time around, we get The Kingsmen, the Portland garage band whose “Louie Louie” is the one you hear constantly. A soundtrack LP for the picture had two songs by The Kingsmen, one being the title tune.

And if all that’s not enough, the titles are by Art Clokey, the clay animation guy behind Gumby.

Dee Dee (Annette Funicello): Men! They’re all beasts!
Animal (Marianne Gaba): Yeah. But isn’t it wonderful?

Olive Films has brought How To Stuff A Wild Bikini to Blu-Ray, and it looks splendid. Having seen these things on TV countless time growing up, it’s a revelation to see them on Blu-Ray. Floyd Crosby’s Panavision photography makes the most of the wide screen and saturates the Pathecolor, and it’s all perfectly presented on this Blu-Ray.

Some might consider this a waste of high-definition technology, but this is the only way to see these movies. It’s gorgeous and highly recommended. Now, where’s Bikini Beach (1964)?

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Filed under 1965, AIP, Annette Funicello, Buster Keaton, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Elizabeth Montgomery, Frankie Avalon, John Ashley, Mickey Rooney, Olive Films

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