Hartford, Connecticut. By the way, Devil Take Us (1955) is an Oscar-nominated documentary short shot by the great Floyd Crosby.
Category Archives: Howard W. Koch
Directed by Don McDougall
Produced by Howard W. Koch
Screenplay by Don Martin & Richard Landau
Based on a novel by H. Haile Chace
Photography by William Margulies
Edited by George A. Gittens, ACE
Music by Les Baxter
John Bromfield (Nick Dunn), Joi Lansing (Karen Winter), Mark Dana (Smiley Ward), Carol Shannon (Jane Dunn), Markel (Arthur Markel), Dabbs Greer (Detective Davenport)
Every once in a while, you need a 50s crime picture. Nothing else will do. I recently landed on Hot Cars (1956), a Bel-Air picture produced by Howard W. Koch. Look at that poster — the title, the cast, Joi Lansing as a “stop-at-nothing blonde,” the guy falling off the rollercoaster. Consider that it was shot mostly on location around Santa Monica and it’s only 60 minutes long, and you just know it’s gonna be great.
Nick Dunn (John Bromfield) and his wife Jane (Carol Shannon) are in a bad way financially when their son gets sick and needs an operation, so against his better judgement (and to their quick regret), Nick takes a job at a used car lot run by Markel (Ralph Clanton), Karen (Joi Lansing) and their sinister flunky Smiley Ward (Mark Dana).
They turn out to be a pretty shifty bunch — they’re selling the hot cars of the title, and before you know it, a cop looking into the operation (Dabbs Greer) turns up dead. I probably don’t need to mention that Karen puts the moves on Nick — and that he’s suspecting of rubbing out the cop.
The big finish takes place on the rollercoaster at Pacific Ocean Park (POP) in Santa Monica, with some great POV stuff on the old attraction as Nick and Smiley duke it out. The picture’s location shooting is probably its strong suit, featuring a couple of cool Culver City car dealers (Big John’s and Johnny O’Toole’s) and Jack’s At The Beach, a Santa Monica restaurant near POP that you might recognize from The Rockford Files.
Koch and Bel-Air excelled at these low-budget, lurid little crime pictures — Shield For Murder (1954), Big House USA (1955), Three Bad Sisters (1956), Untamed Youth (1957, with Mamie Van Doren and Eddie Cochran!) and so on. A few of my favorite 50s movies came from Bel-Air.
John Bromfield made quite a few cool B movies, stuff like The Black Dakotas (1954) and Revenge Of The Creature (1955). He starred in the TV series The Sheriff Of Cochise, which was also called US Marshal. He retired in 1960 when the show was cancelled and became a commercial fisherman. He’s quite good in Hot Cars, appearing in about every scene. Joi Lansing does what’ she normally does in movies like this — stand around and look sultry. She’s really good at it.
Director Don McDougall stayed plenty busy doing TV, from the 50s well into the 80s. Lots of cool shows, from The Roy Rogers Show to Bonanza and from M Squad to The Night Stalker. He also did the Star Trek episode “The Squire Of Gothos.” Hot Cars is one of only a handful of features he directed, and while it’s nothing flashy, he and DP William Margulies avoid the studio-bound staginess of a lot of cheap movies from the period. They must’ve had a blast manning those cameras on the rollercoaster! Margulies spent the bulk of his career at Universal, where he shot tons of TV, Gunpoint (1966) with Audie Murphy and the great Ghost And Mr. Chicken (1966).
Hot Cars also boasts an ultra-cool jazzy score from Les Baxter. Baxter composed music for quite a few Bel-Air movies, and some Regalscope pictures, before hitting his stride at American International. Of course, at the same time, he was making great records like 1958’s Space Escapade. Wouldn’t you love a big fat CD boxed set of Baxter’s 50s an 60s movie work?
Truth be told, Hot Cars is cooler than it is good, and its appeal might be limited largely to fans of cheap noir. But if you fall into that group, you’ll find it quite a thing. You can get Hot Cars on DVD as part of MGM’s MOD program. It’s full-frame, but it looks pretty good. A Blu-Ray would be terrific.
* This map post-dates Hot Cars.
Directed by Howard W. Koch
Starring Boris Karloff, Tom Duggan, Jana Lund, Donald Barry, Charlotte Austin
Thanks to Warner Archive, in about a month, we’ll be able to recreate this terrific twin bill in high definition in our own living rooms, as they add Frankenstein 1970 (1958) to their list of terrific Allied Artists ‘Scope monster movies on Blu-Ray.
Black & white CinemaScope is such a cool thing on Blu-Ray, I can’t wait for this!
Three lurid Mamie Van Doren pictures (did she make any other kind?) in one high-definition package. How cool is that?
The Girl In Black Stockings (1957)
Directed by Howard W. Koch
Starring Lex Barker, Anne Bancroft, Mamie Van Doren, John Dehner, Marie Windsor, Stuart Whitman, Dan Blocker
A girl is brutally murdered at a Utah hotel and everybody seems to have some sort of motive. Look at that cast!
Guns, Girls And Gangsters (1959)
Directed by Edward L. Cahn
Starring Mamie Van Doren, Gerald Mohr, Lee Van Cleef, Paul Fix
Edward L. Cahn directs an armored car robbery picture that has both Mamie Van Doren and Lee Van Cleef in it. How could it miss? It doesn’t.
Vice Raid (1960)
Directed by Edward L. Cahn
Starring Mame Van Doren, Richard Coogan, Brad Dexter, Carol Nugent
Mamie’s a call girl sent to New York to get an un-corruptible cop in hot water. But when her sister is raped, Mamie has to turn to the framed cop for help.
Due in November, the longest of these movies is 75 minutes. Perfect.
Directed by Edmond O’Brien and Howard W. Koch
Screenplay by Richard Alan Simmons and John C. Higgins
Adaptation by Richard Alan Simmons
From a book by William P. McGivern
Music by Paul Dunlap
Photography by Gordon Avil
Film Editor: John F. Schreyer
Cast: Edmond O’Brien (Barney Nolan), Marla English (Patty Winters), John Agar (Mark Brewster), Emile Meyer (Capt. Gunnarson), Carolyn Jones (Girl at bar), Claude Akins (Fat Michaels), Larry Ryle (Laddie O’Neil), Hugh Sanders, William Schallert, Richard Deacon, Vito Scotti
One the best things for any old-movie nut is to come across something new — not new as in released last week, but new in that you’ve never seen it. Well, Shield For Murder (1954) was a new one for me. And I loved every frame of it.
“If ever a picture was crammed with guts — this is it!” Even the ad copy for this movie is great.
Barney Nolan (Edmond O’Brien) is a good cop gone really, really bad. Before the main title even appears, he’s killed a bookie for the $25,000 he’s got on him. Barney does it because he wants to buy a Castle Heights tract home and marry his girlfriend Patty (Marla English). The cops get the idea that Barney might’ve done it, but his best friend on the force (John Agar) refuses to believe. As the evidence mounts (and bodies stack up), we watch Barney get more desperate, more bitter, more violent as things spin out of control. Eventually, of course, Barney’s on the run and there’s nothing left of his hopes for a nice, quiet life in the suburbs with his girl.
O’Brien co-directed Shield For Murder with producer Howard W. Koch. The division of labor worked like this — O’Brien rehearsed the actors, and once the cameras rolled, Koch was at the helm. They gave the picture a sparse, bare-bones, almost documentary feel — with perfectly gritty camerawork from Gordon Avil (who shot the 1930 Billy The Kid in 70mm).
The performances are good across the board. Carolyn Jones really knocked me out here as a girl O’Brien meets in a bar. Claude Akins is great as a thug trying the retrieve the missing $25,000. Here and there, folks like Hugh Sanders, William Schallert, Richard Deacon and Vito Scotti turn up. You can’t go wrong with those guys.
But Shield For Murder is Edmond O’Brien’s picture all the way. He’s terrific. Watching Barney slide into the gutter is downright uncomfortable, as his American Dream turns to crap. You cringe with every wrong turn he takes, knowing Fate’s gonna kick in at any minute.
Researching the commentary for Kino Lorber’s Blu-Ray of A Strange Adventure (1956) a couple months ago, I got to focus on Marla English and her brief, very interesting career. (Wish I’d been able to do a commentary for this one!) Marla was a teenage beauty queen and swimsuit model from San Diego who signed to Paramount in 1952. They put her in a few little parts — she’s one of the partygoers in Rear Window (1954). But when she turned down a role in The Mountain with Spencer Tracy, Paramount dumped her. She was soon doing independent pictures for Bel-Air, Republic, AIP and the like. And as we all know, that’s when things usually get interesting. Marla’s in stuff like Runaway Daughters, The She Creature — she’s the She Creature, Flesh And The Spur with John Agar (all 1956) and Voodoo Woman (1957) with Mike Connors. She gave up on acting after Voodoo Woman. Though she was in a few pictures before Shield For Murder (she was only 19 when it was released), she gets an “introducing” credit in it.
Shield For Murder was a first for both of our co-directors. O’Brien would only direct a few more things, but Koch kept at it. His next picture, Big House, USA (1955), is a B Movie masterpiece. And he gave us jewels like Untamed Youth (1957), Violent Road (1958) and Frankenstein 1970 (1958). Koch also produced a string of very successful A pictures — things like The Manchurian Candidate (1962), The Odd Couple (1968) and Airplane! (1980).
From a Castle Heights subdivision to West Hollywood alleys to a great public pool, Shield For Murder makes excellent use of LA locations. It’s perfectly rough around the edges and captured by Gordon Avil in all its gritty, appropriately grainy glory. And all of that’s perfectly preserved on the Blu-Ray from Kino Lorber. Highly, highly recommended.
Directed byEdmond O’Brien and Howard W. Koch
Starring Edmond O’Brien, John Agar, Marla English, Emile Meyer, Carolyn Jones, Claude Akins, Hugh Sanders, William Schallert, Richard Deacon, Vito Scotti
Howard W. Koch directed one of my all-time favorite sleazeball crime pictures, Big House, USA (1955). He preceded it with Shield For Murder (1954), starring Edmond O’Brien (who co-directed).
O’Brien’s a detective who kills a bookie for the cash he’s carrying. When he finds out there was a witness, guess it’s time for more killing. O’Brien is joined by a dream cast that includes John Agar, Marla English, Carolyn Jones, Claude Akins, William Schallert, Richard Deacon and Vito Scotti.
Where has this movie been all my life? Lucky for us all, it’s coming to Blu-ray from Kino Lorber. Man, I can’t wait.
Directed by Howard W. Koch
Produced by Aubrey Schenck
Screenplay by Richard Landau and George Worthing Yates
Story by Charles A. Moses and Aubrey Schenck
Cinematography: Carl E. Guthrie
Music: Paul A. Dunlap
Film Editor: John A. Bushelman
Cast: Boris Karloff (Baron Victor Von Frankenstein), Tom Duggan (Mike Shaw), Jana Lund (Carolyn Hayes), Donald Barry (Douglas Row), Charlotte Austin (Judy Stevens), Irwin Berke (Inspector Raab), Rudolph Anders (Wilhelm Gottfried), Norbert Schiller (Shuter), John Dennis (Morgan Haley), Mike Lane (Hans Himmler/The Monster)
The last member of the Frankenstein family has fallen on hard times. To keep things afloat, namely his experiments, Baron Victor Von Frankenstein (Boris Karloff) has rented his castle out for a horror movie shoot. He’s eager for them to wrap and get out, then he realizes the cast and crew offer up a sizable supply of body parts.
Frankenstein 1970 (1958) takes this terrific film-within-a-film premise — an American film crew making a Frankenstein movie in the real Frankenstein castle, while the real monster reposes in the lab below — and puts almost none of its potential on the screen. Another thought-provoking idea, that Frankenstein was tortured by the Nazis — in other words, he got a bit of his own medicine, is brought up and dropped. And what could’ve been made of Karloff’s “real” monster meeting its cheesy movie namesake?
I’d been wanting to see Frankenstein 1970 since I was a kid, thanks to some lurid stills — and the fact that it was in black-and-white CinemaScope. And for an eight-day Allied Artists monster picture, it has its moments. The opening’s well done, with a young woman chased through a foggy swamp by a deformed monster, only to have it revealed as part of the movie. And a scene where Karloff, convinced to appear in the film project, goes off script as he tells the story of his ancestors’ work — is a hoot. Both demonstrate the plot-line gold that was waiting to be mined. Cinematographer Carl E. Guthrie does a terrific job, as always, and I’ve always liked long takes in CinemaScope movies (I’m sure they were used more for efficiency than aesthetics on this one). If there’s one thing I’ve learned watching cheap movies of the late 50s, there were some real pros doing excellent work on these crummy things.
Guthrie’s craft is well-presented in the Karloff & Lugosi Horror Classics DVD set. It also includes The Walking Dead (1936), You’ll Find Out (1940) and Zombies On Broadway (1945). The films themselves aren’t always stellar, but they sure look good. Recommended.
Directed by Howard W. Koch
Starring Broderick Crawford, Ralph Meeker, Reed Hadley, William Talman, Lon Chaney Jr., Felicia Farr, Charles Bronson
Part crime picture, part prison movie, Big House, U.S.A. (1955) is one of the most incredible films I’ve ever seen — so vile, so nasty, so mean. Let’s see. A kid is chucked off a cliff. A guy is trapped inside a giant boiler — and steamed like a lobster tail. One of the leads has his face and fingertips seared off with a blowtorch to conceal his identity. And that’s the short list.
Howard W. Koch will never make a list of the Great Directors. But with this one, he serves up a solid exploitation film — and gives a dream-team cast of 50s movie bad guys a real field day. With all these heavies working on the same film, did the rest of Hollywood have to shut down?
Kino Lorber is bringing Big House, U.S.A. to your house on Blu-ray this August. Highly, highly recommended.