Category Archives: Lippert/Regal/API

Superman And The Mole Men (1951).

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Directed by Lee Sholem
Original Screenplay by Richard Fielding
Cameraman: Clark Ramsey

Cast: George Reeves (Clark Kent/Superman), Phyllis Coates (Lois Lane), Jeff Corey (Luke Benson), Walter Reed (Bill Corrigan), J. Farrell MacDonald (Pop Sheridan), Stanley Andrews (The Sheriff)

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Judging from what little I’ve seen of them, the comic book movies they churn out these days aren’t my cup of tea. Far from it. Superman And The Mole Men (1951) is more to my taste. (For what it’s worth, my other favorite comic book/strip movies are the first Blondie feature, Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome,  The Lone Ranger with Clayton Moore, the 1966 Batman feature, Mario Bava’s Danger: Diabolik and The Rocketeer.)

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Clark Kent and Lois Lane travel from Metropolis to Silsby to do a story on the world’s deepest oil well. Out of that hole come the mole men, a group of maybe-radioactive midgets in furry suits and bald wigs who live in the center of the earth. The frightened townspeople, led by Jeff Corey (who’d soon be blacklisted), try to get rid of them, but Superman saves the day (along with the mole men).

Superman: “You’re not going to shoot those little creatures. In the first place, they haven’t done you any harm. In the second place, they may be radioactive.”

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Superman And The Mole Men kinda served as a pilot for the Superman TV series — and it would be split in half to create a two-part episode to wrap up the show’s first season. The movie’s the first time we see George Reeves as Clark Kent and Superman, and Phyllis Coates as Lois Lane. Shot (in a hurry) on the RKO-Pathé lot, it made use of some oil derricks down the street. Lippert Pictures released the feature, and the TV show would go into production not long after. Director Lee Sholem did a number of the episodes, too.

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It’s a cheap affair, to be sure. The mole men’s weapon appears to be a vacuum cleaner (Electrolux, perhaps?) with a funnel attached to one end. Superman doesn’t have all that much screen time, with much of the picture’s 58 minutes devoted to a couple of mole men trying to outrun the citizens of Silsby. But, Superman And The Mole Men has the distinction of being the first feature film based on a DC comic book. (I’m not counting the Batman and Superman serials.) And there’s a ragged charm to it you’ll never see in the big-budget, computer-effects-laden movies of today.

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On DVD, Warner Bros. added Superman And The Mole Men to the first season of the Adventures Of Superman TV show, which also includes the two-episode version. Highly recommended.

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Filed under 1951, George Reeves, Lippert/Regal/API, Phyllis Coates, Television

DVD/Blu-Ray News #90: The Alligator People (1959).

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Directed by Roy Del Ruth
Starring Beverly Garland, Bruce Bennett, Lon Chaney, George Macready, Richard Crane

Anolis Entertainment, a company out of Germany, has announced a DVD/Blu-Ray combo release of The Alligator People (1959) from 20th Century-Fox and Robert Lippert’s Associated Producers, Inc.

This is one of those 50s monster movies that is 100% carried by its cast. Beverly Garland, one of my favorite actresses, is terrific here — as she always was in these things. This kind of hokum needs just the right touch to really work, and Bruce Bennett, Lon Chaney and George Macready are on hand to help pull the whole thing of.

Garland’s new husband (Richard Crane) suddenly disappears during their honeymoon. It takes her a couple years, but she tracks him down to his family’s Southern estate, where a botched medical treatment has turned him into an alligator.

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It’s clearly inspired by The Fly (1958), and it’s a load of fun. 20th Century-Fox proudly boasted that The Alligator People (and its co-feature The Return Of The Fly) were in CinemaScope, no longer releasing their black-and-white Scope pictures under the Regalscope banner. The domestic DVD presents the picture in gorgeous widescreen and stereo. The Blu-Ray can only be stunning.

Thanks to John Knight for the tip.

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Filed under 1959, 20th Century-Fox, Beverly Garland, DVD/Blu-ray News, Lippert/Regal/API, Lon Chaney Jr., Vincent Price

DVD News #65: Gang War (1958).

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Directed by Gene Fowler, Jr.
Starring Charles Bronson, Kent Taylor, Jennifer Holden, John Doucette, Gloria Henry, Whit Bissell

Since I haven’t gotten any sort of verification on the aspect ratio of this Fox Archives DVD, I’m a little hesitant to mention Gang War (1958). But it’s another Regalscope picture, and it stars Charles Bronson — who’s also in one of the better Regalscope Westerns, Showdown At Boot Hill (also 1958) — so it’s way up there on my Want List.

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It’s a cool movie, and it should be anamorphic widescreen to preserve the picture’s 2.35 Scope photography. Fox has released some of these early Scope films in terrible 1.33 pan-and-scan transfers. If you hear anything on this one, please let me know. It’s available now.

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Filed under 1958, 20th Century-Fox, Charles Bronson, DVD/Blu-ray News, Lippert/Regal/API

DVD Review: Hand Of Death (1962).

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Directed by Gene Nelson
Written and Produced by Eugene Ling
Director Of Photography: Floyd Crosby, ASC
Music Composed and Conducted by Sonny Burke

Cast: John Agar (Alex Marsh), Paula Raymond (Carol Wilson), Stephen Dunne (Tom Holland), Roy Gordon (Dr. Frederick Ramsey), John Alonzo (Carlos), Jack Younger (Mike), Joe Besser (Gas station attendent), Butch Patrick (Davey)

You know you’re having a good day when a black-and-white CinemaScope monster movie starring John Agar that you’ve never seen shows up in your mailbox. In my case, such a day came courtesy of Hand Of Death (1962), a 60-minute cheeseball masterpiece from Robert Lippert’s Associated Producers, Inc. It’s a picture that’s been almost impossible to see over the last few decades, especially in something resembling its original CinemaScope.

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Working in a desert laboratory, research scientist Alex Marsh (John Agar) develops a powerful nerve gas. Accidentally exposed to it, he becomes a hideous, burned, swollen monster — and anyone he touches dies. The last half of the picture finds Agar driving around L.A. in a Chrysler station wagon, killing a cab driver, and eventually winding up in Malibu where he terrifies his girlfriend (Paula Raymond) in a beach house before the cops catch up with him.

Hand Of Death gave musical actor Gene Nelson his first directing credit. He’d go on to direct the two Elvis movies Sam Katzman produced, Kissin’ Cousins (1964) and Harum Scarum (1965).

John Agar: “Hand Of Death was [Gene Nelson’s] first shot at directing, and I thought he did a very good job for his first go at it.”

Nelson was mentored along the way by Maury Dexter, who seemed to be cranking out one of these API features about every week. Nelson’s job was no doubt made even easier by having master cameraman Floyd Crosby on hand. This was around the time Crosby was collaborating with Roger Corman on pictures like Pit And The Pendulum (1961), working wonders on a low budget. Carlos, Agar’s lab assistant, is played by John Alonzo, who’d leave acting to become a cinematographer (his work on Chinatown is beautiful). Wonder if watching Crosby at work influenced Alonzo’s career change?

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Bob Mark, a veteran makeup man who spent years at Republic Pictures, handled Agar’s bloated, crusty head and hands — which resemble The Thing from Marvel’s The Fantastic Four comics.

John Agar: “First they got some long johns and padded ’em to make me look like I weighed about 400 pounds. Then they had this grotesque mask — a complete hood — and very large hands, to make me look burned… It wasn’t that bad — except at the very end, when I finally died. We went out to Malibu for a scene where I run into the ocean trying to get away from the police, and they shoot me. When I fell, the waves started knocking me around, and with that mask over my face I didn’t know where I was! My eyes were set way back and the mask was sticking way out in front, and the only thing I could see was just directly straight out. I couldn’t see the waves coming — that water was crashin’ on me, and I was flopping around, supposed to be dead! That was quite an experience.”

The monster getup is pretty impressive. It doesn’t let Agar get very expressive, but since all he’s called to do is grunt and get mad and bust stuff, it’s fine. Of course, by the early 60s, Agar had been in a slew of these movies, from great ones like Tarantula (1955) to The Brain From Planet Arous (1957). He’s pretty good here, delivering the typical pseudo-science dialogue with authority. Paula Raymond is able to make her role a bit more than the usual screaming girlfriend.

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The picture also benefits from Sonny Burke’s jazzy score, which mixes organ, theremin and bongos to great effect. It gives the picture a little extra snap, and I’d give my right arm for a soundtrack LP. (I knew Burke from my Frank Sinatra records and his work on 1969’s The Wild Bunch.)

Hand Of Death is a cheap monster movie. You could even say very cheap. Agar becoming a monster isn’t a cosmic punishment — he simply knocks over a flask and gets the stuff on his hands, so it doesn’t have the Beware Of Science message you find in so many of these things. It doesn’t build to a Big Finish, though it has its moments (usually when someone first sees Agar’s deflicted* head). But for some reason, it all comes together — the cast, the cinematography, the music, the makeup — into something I love.

There have been complaints about a few of the transfers from Fox’s Cinema Archives collection, namely pan-and-scan versions of Scope pictures. But I can’t imagine how Hand Of Death could look any better than it does. It’s clean and crisp, with contrast, grain and framing the way they should be. This isn’t the kind of movie you’re likely to see turn up on Blu-ray, and since this DVD-R (available from major online retailers) looks so good, that isn’t a problem.

For Hand Of Death to go from practically lost to looking like this, is wonderful. Is this a good movie? No. Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

Source: On The Good Ship Hollywood: The John Agar Story by John Agar and L.C. Van Savage.

* Deflicted is a Frank Zappa word, not a real word.

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Filed under 1962, 20th Century-Fox, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, John Agar, Lippert/Regal/API

DVD News #26: The Day Mars Invaded Earth (1962).

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Produced and directed by Maury Dexter
Starring Kent Taylor, Marie Windsor, William Mims, Lowell Brown

In the late 50s, Lippert Pictures made a slew of low-budget, black-and-white, widescreen films for 20th Century-Fox — released under the name Regal Films, with CinemaScope renamed Regalscope. The arrangement continued into the 60s under the name Associated Producers, Inc.

The Day Mars Invaded The Earth (1962) is one of the better ones, I think. Made on a shoestring, Maury Dexter makes sure we see more on the Scope screen than the budget would have you expect, thanks largely to the use of Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills. It’s an odd take on the whole alien invasion thing, with some creepy moments that continue to haunt those of us who saw it as a kid.

Maury Dexter (in Tim Weaver’s I Talked With A Zombie): “…On this one I was keenly aware of wanting to try to get… a weird feel, if that’s the right word. Something a little different, a little eerie.”

Dexter got what he was aiming for. It’s a creepy little movie. And we can get it April 7 from Fox’s Cinema Archives collection. Released the same day is API’s Hand Of Death (1962) starring John Agar.

I recommend another one of Dexter’s API films, House Of The Damned (1963), which also makes good use of Greystone Mansion.

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Filed under 1962, 1963, DVD/Blu-ray News, John Agar, Lippert/Regal/API, Marie Windsor, Maury Dexter, Robert Lippert