Category Archives: James H. Griffith

Double Deal (1950) — The Marie Windsor Blogathon.

Directed by Abby Berlin
Produced by James T. Vaughn
Screen play by Lee Berman & Charles S. Belden
Story by Don McGuire
Director Of Photography: Frank Redman
Film Editor: Robert Swink
Music by Michel Michelet

Cast: Marie Windsor (Terry Miller), Richard Denning (Buzz Doyle), Taylor Holmes (Corpus Mills), Fay Baker (Lilli Sebastian), James Griffith (Walter Karns), Carleton Young (Reno Sebastian), Tom Browne Henry (Sheriff L.G. Morelli), Paul E. Burns, Walter Burke, Frank Felton

This is an entry in The Marie Windsor Blogathon, a celebration of the actress’s life and work.

Bel-Air Productions cranked out some terrific little movies in the 1950s, such as the B crime pictures Big House U.S.A. (1955) and Hot Cars (1956). The very first Bel-Air film was Double Deal (1950), released by RKO Radio Pictures. It was the first time Marie Windsor received top billing.

Double Deal concerns oil wells, the extremely dysfunctional Sebastian family, gambling, a monkey and murder.

Richard Denning is Buzz Doyle, an engineer who steps off the bus just as the Sebastian family squabble turns deadly. (Have you noticed how many noir pictures open with a guy getting off a bus in some strange town?) Marie Windsor is Terry Miller, a nice girl who takes a shine to Buzz, inherits an oil well and ends up a murder suspect. Fay Baker is a conniving hag who doesn’t care who gets hurt as long as she gets what she wants. Taylor Holmes is an attorney and “walking gin mill.” And James Griffith is a slimeball who runs a crooked dice table.

Double Deal is a cheap little mini-noir that gets almost everything right. It was shot in nine days on the RKO lot, and the completed picture runs just 65 minutes. There’s a whole lot of story packed into that 65 minutes, from a couple murders, lots of wildcatting for oil and a truckload of double crosses. 

Throughout the picture, Fay Baker and James Griffith are perfectly despicable, while Richard Denning is completely likable (at one point, Kevin McCarthy was up for the part, which would’ve been his movie debut).

Marie Windsor is charming, cool and beautiful — whether she’s all dolled up for a night on the town or wearing jeans, t-shirt, baseball cap and a smudge of oil on her cheek. 1950 was a busy year for Windsor: Dakota Lil, The Showdown, Frenchie and Double Deal. Each was for a different studio — Fox, Republic, Universal International and RKO, respectively.

Director Abby Berlin was on Broadway and vaudeville as half of a comedy team with Ken Brown. He headed to Hollywood and worked as an assistant director, until he got the chance to direct with Leave It To Blondie (1945). He directed a number of the Blondie movies and quite a bit of TV before passing away in 1954.

The story for Double Deal came from Don McQuire. He had an interesting career, from acting in Armored Car Robbery (1950, the same year as Double Deal) to directing The Delicate Delinquent (1957) to supplying the story for Tootsie (1982). Screenwriter Charles S. Belden has a story credit on both Mystery Of The Wax Museum (1933) and House Of Wax (1953). He also wrote some Charlie Chan and Hopalong Cassidy pictures.

Director Of Photography Frank Redman spent the 40s and early 50s at RKO. He shot a lot of Falcon, Saint and Dick Tracy pictures. Leaving RKO, he went to TV, where he stayed plenty busy. He shot over a hundred episodes of Perry Mason, among other things. His work on Double Deal is nothing flashy, looking like so many other RKO pictures from the period.

Double Deal is not classic film noir. It’s no Narrow Margin (1952). And it was certainly done on the cheap — the crew on the oil well is limited to Denning, Windsor and Paul Burns. But I wish there were a hundred movies around just like it — cheap, short and cool.

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Filed under 1950, Bel-Air, James H. Griffith, Kevin McCarthy, Marie Windsor, Richard Denning, RKO

Blu-Ray News #282-A: Dragnet (1954).

Directed by Jack Webb
Starring Jack Webb, Ben Alexander, Richard Boone, Ann Robinson, Stacy Harris, Virginia Gregg, Victor Perrin, Georgia Ellis, James Griffith, Dennis Weaver, Dub Taylor

Update: Kino Lorber has announced a November 17 release date for their Blu-Ray of the 1954 Dragnet feature. They’ve also provided some info about what’s coming.

Special Features and Technical Specs:
• NEW 2K RESTORATION 
• TWO PRESENTATIONS OF THE FILM: IN 1.75:1 & 1.37:1 RATIOS
• Audio Commentary by Toby Roan
• Theatrical Trailer
• Optional English SDH subtitles for the main feature

When you do one of these commentaries, of course, you end up going through the movie many, many times. You can get kinda sick of it by the time you’re through. Not with this one. There was always a rant from Jack Webb, a cool LA location or something around the corner to look forward to. It never got old. 

It’s easy to recommend this one, and if you get it, I encourage you to stick to the 1.75 widescreen version. It gives it a fresh, crisp look — and it’s what Webb and DP Edward Colman were going for. Highly, highly recommended.

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Filed under 1954, DVD/Blu-ray News, Jack Webb, James H. Griffith, Kino Lorber, Television, Warner Bros.

Blu-Ray News #282: Dragnet (1954).

Directed by Jack Webb
Starring Jack Webb, Ben Alexander, Richard Boone, Ann Robinson, Stacy Harris, Virginia Gregg, Victor Perrin, Georgia Ellis, James Griffith, Dennis Weaver, Dub Taylor

A friend and I were talking a couple months ago about the movies we really wanted to see on Blu-Ray. That’s the kind of thing movie geeks do to pass the time. Well, I put the 1954 Dragnet feature in my top spot, and Kino Lorber has announced it for Blu-Ray later this year. You can imagine how stoked I am.

aadrag10This movie’s got everything that makes the original Dragnet TV show so perfect, only more of it. The same no-nonsense style (with a few camera moves here and there), the same character actors and the same Joe Friday (Jack Webb) talking smack to every crook he comes across. There’s more violence (Dub Taylor gets shot in the face before the WB shield even shows up!), widescreen, WarnerColor and a majestic version of the theme song from the Warner Bros. orchestra. This is one of my favorite movies, and the old DVD is atrocious.

UPDATE (2/12/2020) — I will have the extreme privilege of doing a commentary for this one. It may present the film in both 1.37 and 1.75 aspect ratios. It was a very early non-anamorphic widescreen film.

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Filed under 1954, DVD/Blu-ray News, Jack Webb, James H. Griffith, Warner Bros.

Screening: Dragnet (1954).

Directed by Jack Webb
Starring Jack Webb, Ben Alexander, Richard Boone, Ann Robinson, Stacy Harris, Virginia Gregg, Victor Perrin, Georgia Ellis, James Griffith, Dub Taylor

Noir City: Hollywood – The 20th Annual Los Angeles Festival Of Film Noir is presenting one of my all-time favorite films on the 18th, Jack Webb’s 1954 feature version of Dragnet. I can’t tell you how much I love this movie. The DVD is a rather ugly, full-frame mess, making the chance to see it on the big screen, on film, an even greater treat. And Ann Robinson, who plays a lady officer, will be there for a discussion after the movie.

Wednesday, April 18, 7:30pm
Egyptian Theatre
6712 Hollywood Boulevard
Hollywood, CA 90028

And if Dragnet wasn’t cool enough, the festival’s also got Armored Car Robbery (1950) in its lineup on the 16th. Another one of those times when I live on the wrong side of the country.

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Filed under 1954, Jack Webb, James H. Griffith, Screenings, Television, Warner Bros.

Blu-Ray News #94: The Vampire (1957).

Va,pire LC incinerator

Directed by Paul Landres
Starring John Beal, Coleen Gray, Kenneth Tobey, Lydia Reed, Dabbs Greer, James H. Griffith

The Vampire (1957) is a cheap, solid 50s monster movie from Paul Landres, a director I’ve been trying to champion over the last few months. (I just recently reviewed the old DVD release.)

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To me, this is a criminally overlooked little picture — the script, cast and direction take this way beyond its budget — and I’m so glad to learn that Scream Factory has it listed for a 2017 Blu-Ray release. It’s also great to see the work of someone like Landres get such high-quality treatment on video.

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Filed under Dabbs Greer, DVD/Blu-ray News, James H. Griffith, Kenneth Tobey, Paul Landres, Shout/Scream Factory

DVD Review: The Vampire (1957).

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Directed by Paul Landres
Screenplay by Pat Fielder
Director Of Photography: Jack MacKenzie
Film Editor: John Faure
Music: Gerald Fried

Cast: John Beal (Dr. Paul Beecher), Coleen Gray (Carol Butler), Kenneth Tobey (Sheriff Buck Donnelly), Lydia Reed (Betsy Beecher), Dabbs Greer (Dr. Will Beaumont), Herb Vigran (George Ryan), James H. Griffith (Henry Wilson)

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Made in six days for just $150,000, The Vampire (1957) shows the kind of miracles director Paul Landres could perform with no time and no money. The fact that it made it to the screen to begin with is quite a feat — then consider that it’s a pretty solid little monster movie.

Dr. Paul Beecher (John Beal) is a small-town physician who becomes a bloodthirsty monster after he mistakenly takes an experimental drug extracted from the blood of vampire bats. That the vampire here is the product of science, not the undead, is an interesting twist — and so 1950s. What’s more, it serves up a pretty good, and certainly early, depiction of the perils of drug addiction.

Landres began as an editor, cutting series Westerns and serials at Universal, and made the move to director in the very early 50s — both in features and TV. He retired after a 1972 episode of Adam-12. The late 50s were a particularly interesting period for Landres. He directed a few Regalscope pictures (including the terrific Frontier Gun in 1958) and a handful of cheap horror/sci-fi movies that transcend their budgets — The Vampire being one of them.

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Along with Landres’ direction, what helps elevate The Vampire are its thoughtful script by Pat Fielder — who wrote a number of good science fiction pictures, including this film’s co-feature, The Monster That Challenged The World (1957) — and the solid character actors who make up its cast. John Beal does a superb job of keeping Dr. Beecher sympathetic, even as he’s killing an old lady. Coleen Gray and Kenneth Tobey are always a treat. And Dabbs Greer and James H. Griffith steal the show was two guys from the university that sponsored the drug research. Then there’s Jack MacKenzie’s moody photography. He worked with Val Lewton at RKO on Isle Of The Dead (1945), so he’s no stranger to shadows and atmospherics, and he puts them to good use here.

With a cast and crew like this, how could The Vampire go wrong?

Va,pire LC incinerator

The scene where John Beal stuffs James Griffith into the incinerator is one of those monster movie moments that has stuck with me since I was a kid. Part of a genre, and an era, I adore, this one comes highly recommended.

The Vampire is available on DVD as part of one of the old MGM Midnite Movies collection, paired with The Return Of Dracula (1958), another little gem from Paul Landres. The version I watched this week was the Movies 4 You: Horror set from Timeless Media Group — which also includes a pretty good transfer of The Screaming Skull (1958). The widescreen transfer of The Vampire is excellent, allowing for some artifacts coming from cramming four features onto one disc, and a real bargain at five or six bucks.

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Filed under 1957, Coleen Gray, Dabbs Greer, James H. Griffith, Kenneth Tobey, Paul Landres, Timeless Media Group