Category Archives: DVD/Blu-ray Reviews

DVD Review: William Castle Adventures Collection (1953-54).

My copy of the eagerly-awaited Critics’ Choice Collection four-feature, two-DVD William Castle Adventures Collection arrived yesterday. Will have a proper, more in-depth review of one of the titles soon, but thought I’d go ahead and share some thoughts on the collection as a whole.

The four films here are Serpent Of The Nile (1953), The Iron Glove (1954), Charge Of The Lancers (1954) and The Saracen Blade (1954). They were all shot in Technicolor in that crazy transitional period when Hollywood went through all sorts of technical turmoil — Scope, 3D, Eastmancolor, stereophonic sound and a number of spherical aspect ratios. From all that comes the trouble with this set.

The color’s quite nice from one picture to the next. Putting two features on a single DVD may affect the overall picture quality a bit, but I don’t have any complaints there.

Then we get to the aspect ratios, and things get pretty whacked out. Charge Of The Lancers was released in 1.66, and that’s the way it’s presented here. A nice anamorphic transfer — the jewel of this package.

The Iron Glove and The Saracen Blade were both 1.85. That’s how they’re framed here (once you get past the Columbia logo), but they’re not anamorphic. So, as you’re probably aware, that means they appear as a rectangle centered in the middle of our 16×9 TVs. Not ideal, but certainly watchable. (If your TV has a zoom feature, that’ll help.)

The real trouble comes with Serpent Of The Nile. Released in 1953, it was shot full-frame (1.37). Here, it’s cropped for 1.85 (after the titles) and non-anamorphic. There are plenty of heads and titles cut off throughout. It’s a real mess, even though the color is excellent. (There’s currently a decent, properly-framed version on YouTube.)

These goofy little movies from Sam Katzman and William Castle, two my favorite filmmakers, are junk, perhaps, but they’re wonderful junk. Critics’ Choice (and Mill Creek) license these films from Columbia and work with the material the studio provides. Usually, stuff from Columbia is beautiful. In this case, what Critics’ Choice was sent for three of the four films should’ve been sent back. Happy to have this set, but have to admit I’m disappointed.

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Filed under 1953, 1954, Carolyn Jones, Columbia, Critics' Choice Collection, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Julie Newmar, Karin Booth, Mill Creek, Rhonda Fleming, Sam Katzman, William Castle

Blu-Ray Review: The Bat (1959).


Directed by Crane Wilbur
Produced by C.J. Tevlin
Screen Story & Screenplay by Crane Wilbur
Based on the play by Mary Roberts Rinehart & Avery Hopwood
Director Of Photography: Joseph F. Biroc, ASC
Film Editor: William Austin, ACE
Musical Score by Louis Forbes

Cast: Vincent Price (Dr. Malcolm Wells), Agnes Moorehead (Cornelia van Gorder), Gavin Gordon (Lt. Andy Anderson), John Sutton (Warner), Lenita Lane (Lizzie Allen), Elaine Edwards (Dale Bailey), Darla Hood (Judy Hollander), John Bryant (Mark Fleming), Harvey Stephens (John Fleming)


As a monster movie-loving kid growing up in the 1970s, as Halloween approached, I’d go through the TV Guide and newspaper with a fine-tooth comb, looking for the treats that would be running on the local TV stations (and if lucky, an area theater). Then with my roster all planned out, and armed with a plastic pumpkin full of candy, I’d sit down to watch as much of it as I could take in. (Bet I wasn’t the only one doing this.) 

Of course, it works nothing like that now. Tons of old monster movies can be plucked out of thin air through streaming services and YouTube. But for us hardcore collector nerds, who want to own something physical, and for those of us who demand that these things look as good (or better) than they did when they came out, Halloween works a tiny bit like it did back in the day — who’s putting out what on DVD and Blu-Ray as October 31st rolls around?

One of this year’s treats is The Bat (1959), now on Blu-Ray from The Film Detective. This is actually a picture I first caught during one of those Halloween movie marathons. And if only for the simple reason that it stars Vincent Price and Agnes Moorehead, it’s wonderful.

It’s not really a horror picture, but a murder mystery complete with all the necessary ingredients — a million bucks in stolen money, a murder or two, a shadowy figure called The Bat, Vincent Price in a laboratory (studying bats, ironically) and a mystery-writer-turned-sleuth (Agnes Moorehead) trying to get the bottom of it all. This was the fourth film adaptation of Mary Roberts Rinehart’s novel, which had also been turned into a play.


The Bat
comes from a real sweet spot in Vincent Price’s career, as he became a true horror icon. He’d already done The Fly and its sequel, House On Haunted Hill and The Tingler. He’d soon kick off the Corman/Poe “cycle” with House Of Usher (1960). Price is a hoot in films like this, rarely taking himself too seriously. Agnes Moorehead is always a joy to watch, and she’s terrific here.

Crane Wilbur’s screenplay and direction are pretty good, keeping things moving and letting the leads do their thing. As an actor, Wilbur is known for 1914 serial The Perils Of Pauline. As a writer, he gave us some really cool stuff, pictures like He Walked By Night (1949), House Of Wax (1953), Crime Wave (1954) and The Phenix City Story (1955). 

One of the film’s biggest assets is the camerawork of Joseph Biroc — whose black and white work is always incredible, in pictures ranging from Sam Fuller’s Forty Guns (1957) to William Castle’s 13 Ghosts (1960) to Robert Aldrich’s Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964, he worked with Aldrich a lot). Biroc won an Oscar for The Towering Inferno (1974).

The Film Detective has done Biroc proud with this new DVD and Blu-Ray. Working from original 35mm elements, this thing looks gorgeous. I don’t know that the sharpness and contrast could be any better, and the 1.85:1 framing is perfect. Any lines and dirt have been cleaned up without any noticeable manipulation, and the audio is as clear as a bell.

Along with the spectacular transfer of the film itself, we’re treated to plenty of extras. The booklet contains an essay, “The Case Of The Forgotten Author,” about author Mary Roberts Rinehart and her source material for The Bat. There’s a featurette from Ballyhoo, “The Case For Crane Wilbur,” covering his long, varied career. Then there are nine radio shows featuring Price. They sound terrific and they’re very, very cool. Finally, there’s a feature-length commentary by Jason A. Ney.

Overall, this is a fabulous package. The movie’s a lot of fun, and it’s presented flawlessly. The extras are top-notch, with the radio shows being a real bonus. The Film Detective folks are on a real roll these days. Highly, highly recommended. 

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Filed under 1959, Agnes Moorehead, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Monogram/Allied Artists, The Film Detective, Vincent Price

Blu-Ray Review: Mark Of The Vampire (1935).

Directed by Tod Browning
Produced by E.J. Mannix
Screenplay by Guy Endore & Bernard Schubert
Photographed by James Wong Howe
Film Editor: Ben Lewis
Music by Herbert Stothart & Edward Ward

Cast: Lionel Barrymore (Prof. Zelen), Elizabeth Allan (Irena Borotyn), Bela Lugosi (Count Mora), Lionel Atwill (Inspector Neumann), Jean Hersholt (Baron Otto von Zinden), Carroll Borland (Luna Mora), Donald Meek (Dr. Doskil), Henry Wadsworth (Fedor Vincente)


With Mark Of The Vampire (1935), Tod Browning and Bela Lugosi set out to make their Dracula (1931) lightning strike twice. But since they were at MGM this time around, not Universal, a proper sequel wasn’t to be. Instead, Browning returned to his silent Lon Chaney picture London After Midnight (1927).

When Sir Karell Borotyn (Holmes Herbert) is found murdered, the local physician (Donald Meek) notes a pair of small wounds on his neck and decides a vampire did it. The mysterious Count Mora (Bela Lugosi) and his creepy daughter Luna (Carroll Borland) are suspected of being the undead, though the local police inspector (Lionel Atwill) doesn’t believe it.

When Sir Karell’s daughter Irena (Elizabeth Allan) falls ill with the same sinister marks on her neck, an authority on the occult and vampires, Professor Zelen (Lionel Barrymore), is summoned to save Irena and destroy the vampires.

Couldn’t resist. Here’s Lon Chaney in London After Midnight (1927).

The working title for Mark Of The Vampire was The Vampires Of Prague, but the setting might as well be Transylvania. The plot is a pretty direct lift from London After Midnight — which like most humans alive today, I’ve never seen. (It’s a lost film.) But the picture’s visual style and having Lugosi onboard as the vampire puts Mark Of The Vampire squarely in Dracula territory. 

Lugosi really doesn’t have all that much to do, but Lionel Barrymore has a field day as Professor Zelen, a standard Van Helsing kind of role. He’s all over the place, and he’s wonderful. 

Scenes that hint at an incestuous relationship between the Count and Luna, and the Count’s suicide, were removed from the script. (The suicide accounts for the unexplained wound on the side of Lugosi’s head.) The finished film runs only 61 minutes. But what glorious minutes they are, with only the trick ending (Spoiler Alert) — with the vampires being actors employed to root out the real killer — threatening to spoil things. (Scooby Doo would do the fake-monster copout in every single episode, which infuriated me as a kid.)

Cinematographer James Wong Howe (sitting on camera dolly) and Tod Browning (in director’s chair) shoot a scene with Carroll Borland and Bela Lugosi.

But real vampires or not, the atmosphere here is very real, thanks to Cedric Gibbons’ art direction, the haunting “score” — which seems to be made up of ghostly moans and groans, and the masterful camerawork of the great James Wong Howe. Howe takes the mood of Dracula, which was shot by the incredible Karl Freund, to an entirely new level. Nobody lights a run-down castle, a rat or an armadillo quite like those two! Howe keeps his camera moving quite a bit, which was really difficult on these early sound films. After all, the camera was the size of a refrigerator! There are tracking shots along the castle’s staircase that will knock you out.

It’s these visuals that truly benefit from the exquisite new Blu-Ray from Warner Archive. They’ve worked their magic again on this one. We have an idea of what a film from 1935 should look like, influenced more by the shoddy ways we’ve seen them over the years. Now, it looks like it was shot yesterday. It’s flawless, letting Howe’s work really shine. There are frames from this movie I’d love to hang on my wall.

The Blu-Ray’s extras include a commentary, a short and a cartoon, but the real jewel is the original trailer. It makes great use of Lugosi, who speaks directly to the audience. He has 10 times more dialogue in this trailer than he does in the actual movie! 

I love 30s horror pictures, and seeing them look like this is a real blessing. A big thanks to Warner Archive for all the work that went into this Mark Of The Vampire. It blew me away. This one’s essential, folks!

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Filed under Bela Lugosi, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Lon Chaney, MGM, Tod Browning, Warner Archive

DVD Review: Jungle Jim (1948).

Directed by William Berke
Produced by Sam Katzman
Story & Screen Play by Carroll Young
Based on the newspaper feature Jungle Jim
Director Of Photography: Lester White, ASC
Art Director: Paul Palmentola
Film Editor: Aaron Stell

Cast: Johnny Weissmuller (Jungle Jim Bradley), Virginia Grey (Dr. Hilary Parker), George Reeves (Bruce Edwards), Lita Baron (Zia), Rick Vallin (Kolu – Chief of the Masai), Holmes Herbert (Commissioner Geoffrey Marsden), Tex Mooney (Chief Devil Doctor)


After 16 years and 12 movies (six for MGM, six for RKO), Johnny Weissmuller’s days are Tarzan came to an end with Tarzan And The Mermaids (1948). (It was a troubled production, shot in Mexico, well worth reading up on sometime.)

That same year, Sam Katzman came along to offer Weissmuller the part of Jungle Jim, a big game hunter featured in Alex Raymond’s comic strip. It was perfect for the former Olympic swimmer, now middle aged — a chance to trade his loin cloth for khakis. Jungle Jim had already hit the screen as a 1937 serial from Universal (there was a radio show, too). Katzman had in mind a series of short, characteristically cheap features for Columbia. He’d recently added features to his duties at the studio; he’d been in charge of their serials since ’45. 

In this first picture, called simply Jungle Jim (1948), Weissmuller is hired to help Dr. Hilary Parker (Virginia Grey), a medical researcher, find the source of a rare poison that might point the way to a cure for polio. Bruce Edwards (George Reeves) comes along as a photographer. Jim brings along Kolu (Rick Vallin) and his sister Zia (Lita Baron). As they make their way through the jungle to the temple of Zimbalu and its “devil doctors,” they tackle a crocodile, elephants, a lion and more — including the “devil doctors.” And it turns out George Reeves would rather take the treasures of Zimbalu than take pictures of them. 

Virginia Grey had been in Tarzan’s New York Adventure (1942) with Weissmuller. George Reeves was still a few years way from playing Superman. And Lita Baron was Mrs. Rory Calhoun at the time. Of course, Weissmuller gets plenty of chances to swim, and he’s still incredible in the water.

Director William Berke started out writing silent Westerns. He became a prolific B director, cranking out tons of movies and TV shows before having a heart attack on the set of his last film, The Lost Missile (1958). He was only 54. Berke directed several of the Jungle Jim movies, along with Robin Hood Of The Range (1943), Dick Tracy (1945) and Cop Hater (1958).

Carroll Young had written some of the later Tarzan pictures and hopped right into the Jungle Jim series. He also wrote a couple of the better Regalscope pictures, She Devil and Apache Warrior (both 1957).

Jungle Jim was successful enough to spawn 15 more films (1948-1955) and a single-season TV show. Weissmuller would retire after the last one, Devil Goddess (1955), and the series.

The movies are as fun as they are dumb. I love them, even though Weissmuller can’t act and you see the same elephant, monkey and crocodile footage over and over and over. This first one is available in Volume 1 of the three-volume set from Umbrella out of Australia. It looks nice. If you know these films, I don’t need to recommend them — you know what you’re getting into. 

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Filed under Columbia, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Johnny Weissmuller, Jungle Jim, Sam Katzman, Tarzan

Blu-Ray Review: Battle Of The Worlds (1961).

Directed by Antonio Margheriti (Anthony Dawson)
Story & Screenplay by Vassily Petrov
Cinematography: Marcello Masciocchi
Edited by Mario Serandrei
Music by Mario Migliard

Cast: Claude Rains (Professor Benson), Bill Carter (Cmdr. Robert Cole), Maya Brent (Eve Barnett), Umberto Orsini (Dr. Fred Steele), Jacqueline Derval (Mrs. Collins)


Antonio Margheriti’s first film as director, Assignment: Outer Space (1960, AKA Space-Men) did well, so Titanus (there’s no producer credited on these films) gave him a bit more to work with for the next one, which ended up being Battle Of The Worlds (1961). The most obvious thing to come from that boost in budget was hiring Claude Rains, who does a lot more for the film than it does for him.

Rains plays Professor Benson, a cantankerous old genius who’s been watching another planet, which he calls “The Outsider,” approach the earth. Scientists from a space station near Mars consult with Rains, who predicts The Outsider will come close to the earth, but pass by without hitting it. They doubt him, but when it turns out he’s right, everybody’s relieved. Whew! Then it alters its course and settles into an orbit around the earth. That’s not a very planet-y thing to do.

Rains decides some sort of intelligence is controlling The Outsider and tells the scientists it needs to be destroyed right away. Again, the professor is ignored.

Spaceships are sent out to investigate — and they’re promptly destroyed by a fleet of flying saucers that come swarming out of The Outsider. Whatever this thing is, it’s got some vile ideas about the earth. Now, everybody’s more than willing to listen to Rains. And he knows exactly what needs to be done.

Like most Italian science fiction movies, Battle Of The Worlds is pretty odd. At times, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. The budget limitations are painfully obvious. The acting is, for the most part, pretty bad (hard to tell with all the dubbing). And the pacing is weird. But like Margheriti’s previous picture, there’s something about it that I find really, really cool.

All of Margheriti’s sci-fi pictures of the 60s demonstrate his love of science fiction, which makes up for most of the film’s deficiencies. The special effects run hot and cold. Maybe that’s being generous, but I prefer them that way. Battle Of The Worlds is jam-packed with ideas and creativity, which are far more valuable than a several million bucks worth of CGI. 

Claude Rains is a lot of fun in this thing. He’s pretty over-the-top, playing an eccentric scientist a lot like the one he played in the remake of The Lost World (1960, he was Professor Challenger in that one). Rains demanded that his scenes for Battle Of The Worlds be shot with sound, rather than the Italian way of dubbing everything in later. English-speaking actors were used frequently. All this makes a big difference in how the film plays.

Margheriti and cinematographer Marcello Masciocchi are very inventive with their camerawork. Odd angles and unusual lens choices give the picture a very distinct, other-wordly look — and help disguise the lack of funds.

Battle Of The Worlds touches down in Orlando, Florida, 1963.

In 1963, Topaz Film Corporation paired Battle Of The Worlds with another Italian picture, Atom Age Vampire (1960). They played drive-ins for years before winding up on television. That’s where I caught up with it, on a local station late one night in the mid-70s.

The crap we used to watch (left) vs. The Film Detective (right).

Now let’s get to the new Blu-Ray from The Film Detective. An original 35mm print from the American Topaz release was used. While the picture played Italy in Technicolor, it criss-crossed the US in Eastman Color — and that’s what we see here. The folks at The Film Detective have cleaned up the print quite a bit — it’s sharp as a tack, very steady and with minimal splices. The color has faded a bit toward that Eastman Color’s weird, sickly, pinkish brown, however. That’s a shame, but what we have here is far, far superior to what we’ve been suffering through for decades (see the above comparison, from The Film Detective YouTube channel). It’s not perfect, but I’m so happy to have it. (Having grown up watching lots of film prints, mostly 16mm, I have a soft spot for a few light lines, some grain and a bit of fading. It’s part of the film experience, and I like being reminded of it every now and then.) I’m so thankful that companies like The Film Detective are willing to do the sleuthing necessary to find the best available material for films like this, then taking on the costly clean-up work needed for a nice DVD/Blu-Ray release.

The supplements are quite nice. There’s a half-hour piece on Antonio Margheriti from Ballyhoo and Tim Lucas. It’s excellent. There’s also a commentary by Justin Humphreys, and a nice essay in the booklet.

I’ve been a fan of Battle Of The Worlds since I saw it on TV. For years, I’ve wanted it to make it to DVD or Blu-Ray in a version that reflected what it looked like back in 1961 (or ’63). This isn’t perfect, but I love it. I’ve been on a Margheriti sci-fi mini-binge of late, so the timing with this is perfect. A big thanks to folks at The Film Detective, and a big recommendation to all y’all out there.

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Filed under 1961, Antonio Margheriti, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, The Film Detective

Blu-Ray Review: The Brain From Planet Arous (1957).

Directed by Nathan Hertz (Nathan Juran)
Produced by Jacques Marquette
Written by Ray Buffum
Director Of Photography: Jacques Marquette
Supervising Film Editor: Irving Schoenberg
Music by Walter Greene

Cast: John Agar (Steve March), Joyce Meadows (Sally Fallon), Robert Fuller (Dan Murphy), Thomas Browne Henry (John Fallon), Kenneth Terrell (Colonel), Henry Travis (Colonel Frogley), E. Leslie Thomas (General Brown), Tim Graham (Sheriff Wiley Pane), Bill Giorgio (Russian), Dale Tate (voices of Gor and Vol)


Many 50s science fiction movies were plagued by paltry budgets and skimpy schedules. But seen today, there’s a charm to them money just can’t buy. The Brain From Planet Arous (1957), a cheesy gem from Nathan Juran starring John Agar, is a perfect example of this.

In the early 50s, the owners of two independent cinema chains — with theaters spread across Virginia, North and South Carolina, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi* — got together and entered the production side of things as Howco International. They knew the kind of pictures that worked in cinemas like theirs, and that’s exactly what they made. One of their offerings was The Brain From Planet Arous.

According to just about every criteria used to size up a movie — production values, effects, writing, acting, etc. — this picture comes up lacking. But it might be a better movie, or at least a more enjoyable one, because of it.

Steve March (John Agar), a scientist, and Dan (Robert Fuller), his assistant, head to Mystery Mountain to investigate a “hot burst of gamma.” Deep in Bronson Caves, Steve and Dan are confronted by a floating brain-monster named Gor from the planet Arous. Dan shoots at Gor and is promptly burned to a crisp, while Steve’s body is possessed by the sinister brain. “I need your body as a dwelling place.” 

Through Agar, Gor announces that he’s going to take over the earth, and he’ll wipe out the capital of any country that doesn’t play along. Help arrives when Vol, a friendly brain from planet Arous, shows up and inhabits the body of George, a dog belonging to March’s fiancee Sally (Joyce Meadows). Turns out, Gor is Public Enemy Number One back on Arous. 

It also turns out that Gor has a thing for earth ladies, and while dwelling in Agar, he puts the moves on Joyce Meadows. “She appeals to me.”

By the last reel, the fate of the world depends on Sally and her alien-possessed dog. What does Sally do? Get out the encyclopedia, of course.

One of the best things about The Brain From Planet Arous is that it’s absolutely, completely nuts, in a way we wouldn’t really see until Hollywood’s open-border policy for whacked-out Mexican and Italian monster movies came along in the early 60s. The story comes from a short story cameraman and producer Jacques Marquette liked as a kid. Screenplay duties went to Ray Buffum, who also wrote the film’s “co-hit” Teenage Monster.

By this time, architect turned art director turned director Nathan Juran had shown himself to be quite adept at sci-fi and fantasy stuff with The Deadly Mantis and 20 Million Miles To Earth (both 1957). With this one and Attack Of The 50 Foot Woman (1958), he had himself credited as Nathan Hertz. As I see it, there was no need to hide behind a pseudonym. He does a good job with what he had to work with. The performances are fine, across the board — with Agar completely over the top when inhabited by Gor. Marquette’s cinematography is quite good, especially in the cave sequences. It doesn’t look near as cheap as it clearly was. And Irving Schoenberg’s no-frills editing keeps things moving well.

I’ve loved The Brain From Planet Arous since I was a kid, when I was actually frightened by Gor and creeped out by Agar’s chrome-looking contacts. So I was absolutely thrilled to learn it was on its way to Blu-Ray from The Film Detective. I knew Phil Hopkins and his gang would come through — and did they ever! The movie itself looks terrific, but not perfect. That’s the way I like ’em! The sound is clear as a bell. The extras are nicely done (Ballyhoo’s work here is up to their usual high standards), including an intro featuring Joyce Meadows. 

With movies like The Brain From Planet Arous getting Cadillac Blu-Ray releases like this, this is a wonderful time to be an old sci-fi movie nut. I’m surely not the only one out there with this picture one near the top of their Blu-Ray Want List. Highly, highly recommended.

Oh, and the picture started shooting 65 years ago today.

* This is the kind of stuff that makes me proud to be from the South!

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Filed under 1957, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Howco International, John Agar, Nathan Juran, The Film Detective

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