Category Archives: Lippert/Regal/API

Blu-Ray Review: The Abominable Snowman (Of The Himalayas) (1957).

Directed by Val Guest
Written by Nigel Kneale
Based on his 1955 TV play The Creature
Cinematographer: Arthur Grant
Film Editor: Bill Linney
Music by Humphrey Searle

Cast: Forrest Tucker (Tom Friend), Peter Cushing (Dr. John Rollason), Arnold Marlé (The Lhama), Maureen Connell (Helen Rollason), Richard Wattis (Peter Fox), Robert Brown (Ed Shelley), Michael Brill (Andrew McNee)

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The Western part of North Carolina certainly gets its share of Sasquatch sightings. So many, in fact, that a small town (Marion) held its second Bigfoot Festival back in September. With all the talk of Sasquatch/Yeti/Bigfoot going on around here, Scream Factory’s Blu-Ray of Hammer’s The Abominable Snowman (1957) seems almost topical.

It’s a movie I’ve loved since I was a kid, and the chance to see Arthur Grant’s B&W Regalscope cinematography in high definition is a huge deal.

Stanley Baker and Peter Cushing in The Creature, live on BBC TV in January 1955.

The Abominable Snowman began as a live TV program from the BBC, The Creature, written by Nigel Kneale — drawing on recent Yeti sightings and Mount Everest expeditions for inspiration. It starred Stanley Baker as Tom Friend and Peter Cushing as John Rollason. Two performances were aired live in January 1955 — neither were recorded. What a drag.

Hammer Films had turned a Kneale TV serial, The Quatermass Xperiment, into a successful film in 1955 (they’d do the same with its TV sequel), and they bought the movie rights for The Creature. Val Guest, who’d directed the Quatermass feature was brought back. Peter Cushing, who’d not only starred in The Creature, but had begun an association with Hammer with The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), was also put on the payroll. Forrest Tucker was cast as Tom Friend, making the explorer/entrepreneur an American.

Nigel Kneale turned his own teleplay into a screenplay, calling it The Snow Creature — until someone realized there already was a picture with that title. (The Snow Creature is a cheap piece of junk from 1954, with the distinction of being the first Bigfoot movie.) Hammer eventually settled on The Abominable Snowman. In the States, the title was extended to The Abominable Snowman Of The Himalayas. Kneale gets solo credit for the script, but Val Guest did a rewrite cutting back on a lot of the dialogue.

The production kicked off with a small crew doing some location shooting in the French Pyrenees in mid-January 1957. None of the cast made the trip; they used doubles. Some of the impressive mountain scenes used a helicopter, others were snagged from a cable car. Principal photography ran from January 28th to March 5th at Bray and Pinewood studios. The monastery set was built at Bray (with waiters from local Chinese restaurants playing the monks), while the snowy mountain stuff required the larger space to be found at Pinewood.

The story is pretty simple, at least on the surface. Tom Friend (Forrest Tucker) brings an exhibition to a monastery in the Himalayas, where Dr. John Rollason (Peter Cushing) is conducting botany research. Tucker’s after the Yeti, and he convinces Cushing to come along. It would’ve been better for all concerned if they’d stayed home. They do indeed find the Yeti — gentle, intelligent creatures waiting around for us to wipe ourselves out so they can take over.

Tucker and Cushing are perfect for their roles, and they really put this one over. Guest’s direction is quite good — keeping things moving, building tension and doing a great job of cutting together the location and studio stuff — they say he kept a Moviola on the set so he could refer to the mountain footage. This was cinematographer Arthur Grant’s first film for Hammer, and it looks terrific. He’d eventually replace Jack Asher as Hammer’s go-to DP.

I’ve raved about Scream Factory’s previous Hammer Blu-Ray releases, and The Abominable Snowman continues their stellar track record. When they received the HD material, they found it five minutes short. That footage has been reinstated from an (upscaled) SD source, though you can watch the shorter, all-HD version if you prefer. Either way, it looks terrific (go with the complete one), with the B&W ‘Scope a real knockout. The sound’s good, giving real power to the windy sound effects and Humphrey Searle’s score. There are plenty of extras, too — commentary, trailer, Joe Dante’s Trailers From Hell piece, etc. A nice package all-around.

​In the UK, ​The Abominable Snowman was often paired with Mamie Van Doren in Untamed Youth. Now that was a nice night at the movies. I highly recommend The Abominable Snowman Of The Himalayas. It’s still the best movie ever made about Bigfoot (to be honest, it doesn’t have much competition) — and this Blu-Ray is the perfect way to see it (especially if you’ve got a big TV).

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Filed under 1957, 20th Century-Fox, Arthur Grant, Forrest Tucker, Hammer Films, Lippert/Regal/API, Mamie Van Doren, Peter Cushing, Shout/Scream Factory, Val Guest

The Unknown Terror (1957).

Directed by Charles Marquis Warren
Produced by Robert Stabler
Written by Kenneth Higgins
Music by Raoul Kraushaar
Cinematography: Joseph F. Biroc
Film Editor: Michael Luciano

Cast: John Howard (Dan Matthews), Mala Powers (Gina Matthews), Paul Richards (Peter Morgan), May Wynn (Concha Ramsey), Gerald Milton (Dr. Ramsey), Charles H. Gray (Jim Wheatley) Gerald Gilden (Raoul Koom)

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By the mid-50s, CinemaScope had done what it was supposed to do — help bring back the audiences lost to television. With TV still black and white and mono, 20th Century-Fox decreed that all their CinemaScope pictures would be in color. B producer Robert Lippert approached Fox with the idea of having his Regal Films, Inc. produce a series of second features for the studio — two black and white CinemaScope pictures a month. Lippert wanted to combine the economy of B&W with the draw of CinemaScope. To get around Fox’s no-color, no-‘Scope policy, and to work around Fox’s fear that these low-budget films would damage the prestige of their CinemaScope process, a new name was cooked up: RegalScope.

RegalScope is black and white CinemaScope, nothing more. Lippert made around 50 RegalScope features between 1956 and 1959 — all of them cheap, many of them Westerns or horror movies.

I absolutely love the RegalScope pictures. But it’s almost impossible to watch them today, since most of what we see, when we can find them at all, are terrible pan-and-scan (or just the middle of the wide image, no panning or scanning) transfers often taken from battered 16mm TV prints. No movie should be seen that way.

The other day, I received a fairly watchable copy of The Unknown Terror (1957), taken from an adapted ‘Scope print. “Adapted ‘Scope” is what we later called letterboxed. These prints don’t give you the entire 2.35 image, but they’re certainly an improvement over the 1.33 versions.

The Unknown Terror follows the typical RegalScope business model. It runs 77 minutes, with minimal sets, a small cast (with character actors getting rare lead roles), long takes and more dialogue than action. When these movies work, it’s usually because someone cleverly wrote around these constraints to tell a solid story — the Western The Quiet Gun (1956) is a terrific example.

In The Unknown Terror, three American explorers (John Howard, Mala Powers and Paul Richards) travel to the Caribbean in search of a friend who went down there to find the Cave Of The Dead — and never came back. This leads them to an American scientist (Gerald Milton) doing fungus research, a gaggle of fungus-infested mutants and lots of fake rocks (AKA the Cave Of The Dead). Eventually, the fast-growing fungus goes completely nuts and covers up pretty much everything — which means the last few minutes feature lots of shots of something like soap suds running down the fake rocks, all set to loud gurgling noises. I loved it.

Unknown Terror stillMala Powers and Paul Richards discover the secret of the fungus and the Cave Of The Dead — and set out to put an end to the whole icky, gooey, deadly mess. They’re terrific at carrying this nonsense through to its conclusion, playing it all completely straight, something 50s character actors became quite adept at. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but who said that was a requirement for a movie like this?

Cinematographer Joseph Biroc handled the B&W ‘Scope, filling the wide frame and doing a good job of concealing how set-bound it is — and how tiny those sets are. I’m sure the last reel was a real drag to shoot, with gallons upon gallons of the “fungus” being poured on everything and everyone — and probably smelling terrible in the heat of Biroc’s lights.

Charles Marquis Warren directed, not long after leaving Gunsmoke. He made another RegalScope horror picture, Back From The Dead starring Peggie Castle that went out with The Unknown Terror as a double bill. Warren did a few RegalScope Westerns, too. Copper Sky (1957) is quite good.

Olive Films released a handful of RegalScope films on DVD and Blu-Ray a few years ago — and they look terrific. The Unknown Terror was not one of them, which is a shame. I’m sure there are plenty of classic horror fans who’d find this one a lot of fun.

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Filed under 1957, 20th Century-Fox, Charles Marquis Warren, Lippert/Regal/API, Mala Powers, Peggie Castle

Blu-Ray News #220: The Alligator People (1959).

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

Scream Factory has just announced a Blu-Ray 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.

fly-alligator-ad

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. Scream Factory has done a great job with their old monster movies, and I can’t wait to see this in hi-def — backed by an alligator purse full of extras.

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Filed under 1959, Beverly Garland, DVD/Blu-ray News, Lippert/Regal/API, Lon Chaney Jr., Shout/Scream Factory

Reno, Nevada, November 1973.

In the fall of 1973, there was evidently a wave of UFO sightings all across the US. There were a couple in the Reno, Nevada, area. The Granada Theatre acted quickly, booking a couple of sci-fi pictures for a midnight show — The Day Mars Invaded The Earth (1962) and The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951).

Fun local bookings are something I really miss, whether they’re Halloween marathons at the drive-in or something more topical like this one. Going to the movies used to be so much fun.

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Filed under 1951, 1963, 1973, Lippert/Regal/API, Marie Windsor, Maury Dexter, Robert Wise

Happy Birthday, George Reeves.

George Reeves
(January 5, 1914 – June 16, 1959)

George Reeves was born 105 years ago today. And I’d much rather celebrate his life and work than commemorate his mysterious death.

So, here’s a color behind the scenes look at Adventures Of Superman. Reeves played the Man Of Steel on the TV show — and the little Lippert picture that served as its pilot, Superman And The Mole Men (1951). He was also in Gone With The Wind (1939), Jungle Jim (1948), Rancho Notorious (1952) and From Here To Eternity (1953). A Superman feature, Superman And The Secret Planet, was in development at the time of Reeves’ death.

I love Reeves as Superman.

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Filed under 1951, George Reeves, Lippert/Regal/API

Superman And The Mole Men (1951).

superman-mole-men

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.”

superman-and-the-mole-men-phyllis-coates

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.

molemenad

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).

alligatorpeoplelc-07

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.

fly-alligator-ad

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