Category Archives: John Agar

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

The Carbon Arc Podcast Episode 1: Phil Hopkins, The Film Detective.

The first episode of The Carbon Arc Podcast is up and running — with Mr. Phil Hopkins of The Film Detective as our guest.

You can click on the thing up top to hear/see it on YouTube, or you can find it on podcast-y corral things like Podomatic.

Hope you enjoy it.

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Filed under AIP, Film Preservation, John Agar, The Carbon Arc Podcast, The Film Detective

Blu-Ray News #378: The Brain From Planet Arous (1957).

Directed by Nathan H. Juran
Starring John Agar, Joyce Meadows, Robert Fuller

I love The Brain From Planet Arous (1957), and I’m ecstatic that it’s coming to Blu-Ray in June. A big thanks to the folks at The Film Detective. Will add more details as they’re announced. Can’t wait!

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

One Quick Thing.

The second volume of Kit Parker’s Noir Archive series showed up yesterday. In a year filled with really great stuff coming out on Blu-Ray, this might be my favorite so far.

Four of my favorite B directors are here: William Castle, Nathan Juran, Phil Karlson and Fred F. Sears. Some of my favorite actors, too — John Agar, Robert Blake, Mari Blanchard, Timothy Carey, Richard Denning, Faith Domergue, Vince Edwards, Beverly Garland, Brian Keith, Guy Madison, Kim Novack and more.

All nine pictures look terrific — the Columbia transfers are almost flawless. Proper reviews will follow, but I can’t recommend Noir Archives Volume 2: 1954-1956 highly enough.

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Filed under 1954, 1955, 1956, Beverly Garland, Columbia, DVD/Blu-ray News, Faith Domergue, Fred F. Sears, John Agar, Kit Parker, Mari Blanchard, Nathan Juran, Phil Karlson, Richard Denning, Sam Katzman, Timothy Carey, William Castle

Blu-Ray News #229: Noir Archive Volume 2: 1954-1956.

The first nine-film, three-disc volume in Kit Parker’s awesome assemblage of hi-def Film Noir hasn’t hit the street yet, and now the second’s been announced. These are coming in July, and it’s another great lineup.

Bait (1954)
Directed by Hugo Haas
Starring Cleo Moore, Hugo Haas, John Agar

Hugo Haas directs himself, Cleo Moore and John Agar in a love triangle involving a lost gold mine.

The Crooked Web (1955)
Directed by Nathan Juran
Starring Frank Lovejoy, Mari Blanchard, Richard Denning

Nathan Juran directed lots of cool stuff, but this is the only one with Mari Blanchard as a waitress. This one involves gold, too, but it’s a stash of Nazi gold. Nathan Juran did some cool stuff — from The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad (1957) to Good Day For A Hanging (1958).

The Night Holds Terror (1955)
Directed by Andrew Stone
Starring Jack Kelly, Hildy Parks, Vince Edwards, John Cassavetes, David Cross, Jonathan Hale

Sort of a combination of The Hitch-Hiker and The Desperate Hours, with John Cassavetes one of the crooks.

Footsteps In The Fog (1955)
Directed by Arthur Lubin
Starring Stewart Granger, Jean Simmons, Bill Travers, Ronald Squire

The only picture in the set in color, this one has Stewart Granger as a killer who chooses the wrong victim, literally.

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Cell 2455, Death Row (1955)
Directed by Fred F. Sears
Starring William Campbell, Marian Carr, Kathryn Grant, Harvey Stephens, Vince Edwards

Based on the true story by Caryl Chessman. Director Fred F. Sears is a real favorite of mine.

5 Against The House (1955)
Directed by Phil Karlson
Starring Kim Novack, Alvy Moore, William Conrad, Kerwin Mathews

A team of Army buddies snag a camper trailer and head to Reno to rob the casinos. Phil Karlson keeps things tough and tight. Terrific movie.

New Orleans Uncensored (1955)
Directed by William Castle
Starring Arthur Franz, Beverly Garland, Helene Stanton, Mike Mazurki

William Castle working for Sam Katzman. Beverly Garland. Black and white widescreen. Why haven’t you pre-ordered one already?

Spin A Dark Web (1955)
Directed by Vernon Sewell
Starring Faith Domergue, Lee Patterson, Rona Anderson, Martin Benson

A boxer gets sucked into the London mob, with a little help from Faith Domergue. Vernon Sewell directed lots of B movies in the UK, and this is a cool one.

Rumble On The Docks (1956)
Directed by Fred F. Sears
Starring James Darren, Laurie Carrol, Michael Granger, Robert Blake, Timothy Carey

Fred F. Sears, Robert Blake and Timothy Carey all working on a Sam Katzman movie — and the results are every bit as wonderful as you might be imagining.

To have these nine pictures, in their original aspect ration and high definition, is a real treat. I can’t wait.

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Filed under 1954, 1955, 1956, Beverly Garland, DVD/Blu-ray News, Faith Domergue, Fred F. Sears, John Agar, Kit Parker, Mari Blanchard, Mill Creek, Nathan Juran, Phil Karlson, Richard Denning, Timothy Carey, William Castle

2018 In Review – Part 2.

When I started doing DVD and Blu-Ray commentaries, it no longer felt appropriate to survey the best DVD and Blu-Ray releases of the year. So, as a substitute (maybe a poor one), here’s a reminder of a few things we were treated to this year. We’ll let all the praise, complaints or ranking come from you in the comments. Part 1 can be found over at 50 Westerns From The 50s.

This was a banner year for old sci-fi and horror movies making their way to Blu-Ray. From what we’re hearing so far, next year might be the same for noir and crime pictures. Anyway, here’s some of 2018’s bounty — a few of which I’m still working on proper reviews of.

The Thing (From Another World) (1951)
This is one of the all-time favorite movies. I find something new in it every time I see it — a line, a look, a particular setup, the music, a new appreciation for the guy who did the fire stunt. It’s always something — and that, to me, is one of the requirements for a Great Movie. Warner Archive worked long and hard on this one, and I’m in their debt for sure.

The Hammer Draculas
It’s like there was some sorta Monster Movie Summit, and it was decreed that the Hammer Dracula series would be given its due on Blu-Ray. Warner Archive did a lot of the heavy lifting with Horror Of Dracula (1958), Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972) and The Satanic Rites Of Dracula (1974). In the meantime, Scream Factory came through with Dracula – Prince Of Darkness (1966). Taste The Blood Of Dracula (1970) hit Blu-Ray a few years ago. That leaves Scars Of Dracula (197) as the only Hammer Dracula picture not available on Blu-Ray. Who’s gonna step up to the plate for that one?

The Hammer goodness wasn’t limited to the Dracula pictures. Mill Creek included some Hammer pictures in their twin-bill sets, some of the best values in all of home video. Hammer Films, William Castle, Ray Harryhausen — there’s some good stuff in those sets.

The Creature From The Black Lagoon Complete Legacy Collection
That’s quite a name for a set that only includes three movies. But what movies they are — the first two, anyway. And they’re in both widescreen 2-D and 3-D.

Gun Crazy (1949)
Joseph H. Lewis hit it out of the park with Gun Crazy (1949). So did his cast — and this year, with a stunning Blu-Ray, so did Warner Archive.

Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1956)
Don Siegel making it to Blu-Ray is always a reason to celebrate, and this is one of his many milestones. Over the years, we’ve all put up with some pretty shoddy-looking stuff when it comes to this incredible movie. Olive Films’ Blu-Ray is a huge improvement.

The Tingler (1959)
It’s hard to pick between this one and House On Haunted Hill (1958) for my favorite William Castle movie. Scream Factory did a wonderful job with this one, and they’ve given us other Castle pictures as well.

Dark Of The Sun (1968)
Warner Archive has been hinting around about this one on Blu-Ray for a while. It’s beautiful — and still one of the damnedest movies I’ve ever seen.

There’s a few that stood out for me. What DVD and Blu-Ray releases knocked you out this year?

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Filed under 1951, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1958, 1959, 1970, 1972, 1973, 3-D, Barbara Shelley, Caroline Munro, Christopher Lee, Don Siegel, DVD/Blu-ray News, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Hammer Films, Howard Hawks, Jack Arnold, James Arness, John Agar, Joseph H. Lewis, Julie Adams, Kenneth Tobey, Kevin McCarthy, Mill Creek, Nestor Paiva, Olive Films, Peggy Cummins, Peter Cushing, Richard Carlson, Richard Denning, Richarld Carlson, RKO, Rod Taylor, Shout/Scream Factory, Terence Fisher, Vincent Price, Warner Archive, William Castle

Blu-Ray News #201: The Mole People (1956).

Directed by Virgil Vogel
Starring John Agar, Cynthia Patrick, Hugh Beaumont, Nestor Paiva, Alan Napier

Boy, the good news keeps on coming. Scream Factory has announced The Mole People (1956), coming to Blu-Ray in February 2019.

This is one a lot of the Universal monster nuts complain about, but I love it as much as an adult as I did as a kid. It’s really stupid, it’s fun, the monsters are cool. It’s got a great cast — you can’t beat John Agar and Nestor Paiva. And Reynold Brown cranked out another masterpiece for the posters. Can’t wait!

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Filed under 1956, DVD/Blu-ray News, John Agar, Nestor Paiva, Reynold Brown, Shout/Scream Factory, Universal (-International)

Blu-Ray News #172: Creature From the Black Lagoon: Complete Legacy Collection (1954-1956).

Universal has announced that their Creature From The Black Lagoon – Complete Legacy Collection set is coming to Blu-Ray. It includes Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954), Revenge Of The Creature (1955) and The Creature Walks Among Us (1956). The first two were in 3-D and directed by the great Jack Arnold (and feature Nestor Paiva).

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Revenge is finally making its way to Blu-Ray in 3-D. For me, the great benefit of this set will be having all three pictures in their original 1.85 aspect ratio. While the first two are among my all-time favorite films — and I’ve got a pile of Creature toys to prove it, Walks Among Us is a mess. But I’m looking forward to revisiting it in high definition. This stuff is essential, folks.

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Filed under 1954, 1955, 1956, 3-D, DVD/Blu-ray News, Jack Arnold, John Agar, Julie Adams, Nestor Paiva, Richard Carlson, Universal (-International)

Blu-Ray Review: Shield For Murder (1954).

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.

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This movie’s perfect, down to Edmond O’Brien’s loafers.

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.

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Filed under 1954, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Edmond O'Brien, Howard W. Koch, John Agar, Kino Lorber, Marla English, United Artists, William Schallert

DVD/Blu-Ray News #85: Dimension 5 And Cyborg 2087 (Both 1966).

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Dimension 5 (1965)
Directed byFranklin Adreon
Written by Arthur C. Pierce
Starring Jeffrey Hunter, France Nuyen, Harold Sakata

United Pictures Corporation produced nine films between 1966 and 1968, with the idea that they’d quickly make their way to TV, where they’d be attractive thanks to name actors (even if past their prime) and color photography. Two of those nine UPC pictures, Dimension 5 and Cyborg 2087 (both 1966) have been announced for DVD and Blu-Ray release early next year.

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Cyborg 2087 (1966)
Directed byFranklin Adreon
Written by Arthur C. Pierce
Starring Michael Rennie, Wendell Corey, Warren Stevens, Eduard Franz, Harry Carey, Jr.

Both films were directed by Franklin Adreon from time-traveling scripts by Arthur C. Pierce. Pierce wrote a slew of low-budget sci-fi pictures: The Cosmic Man (1959), Beyond The Time Barrier (1960), Women Of The Prehistoric Planet (1966) and more. A weekend retrospective of his work would be a real hoot — and would allow you to spend time with the likes of John Agar, Mamie Van Doren, Scott Brady and John Carradine.

1966 was quite a year. You had Pet Sounds, Revolver and Blonde On Blonde to listen to and cheeseball movies like these to watch. Those were the days.

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Filed under 1966, John Agar, John Carradine, Kino Lorber, Television, The Beatles