Category Archives: MGM

Blu-Ray Review: Moonfleet (1955).

Directed by Fritz Lang
Produced by John Houseman
Screen Play by Jan Lustig & Margaret Fitts
Based on the novel by J. Meade Falkner
Director Of Photography: Robert Planck
Film Editor: Albert Akst
Music by Miklos Rozsa

Cast: Stewart Granger (Jeremy Fox.), Jon Whiteley (John Mohune), George Sanders (Lord Greenwood), Joan Greenwood (Lady Greenwood), Viveca Lindfors (Mrs. Minton), Liliane Montevecchi (Gypsy), Jack Elam (Damen)

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Fritz Lang’s Moonfleet (1955) is a movie people seem to delight in tearing down. It helps that it’s a long way from Lang’s best work — there’s plenty to criticize. But me, I’ll take Lang’s bad over About Anybody Else’s good. And there’s a lot for movie nuts to appreciate here.

If Disney had asked Fritz Lang to direct Treasure Island (1950), you might’ve ended up with something like Moonfleet. There’s a young boy. There are smugglers instead of pirates. And there are lots and lots of opportunities for the kind of deep, dark, moody scenes Lang excelled at.

The story suits Lang so well it’s hard to believe he was brought in as a director-for-hire just a few weeks before the cameras rolled. You see, MGM hated Lang. Fury (1936), his first film for the studio — his first American film period, had been a big hit. But they hated him so much they didn’t work with him again until Moonfleet. They gave him a paltry budget, a script he wasn’t allowed to fine-tune and no approval of the final cut. Lang was not the dictatorial artist here, he was an employee, plain and simple.

Lang was never loved in Hollywood. From studio heads to actors to crew members, few people worked with him more than once.

George Sanders (far right) made three movies with Fritz Lang.

Lang: “In Moonfleet we tried to create a period film entirely in the studio; we shot everything there, even the exteriors.”

Along with being assigned a set-bound period picture with very little time to prepare for it, Lang was handed CinemaScope as part of the package. The director was not a fan of the process, and as Moonfleet shows, it threw a monkey wrench into Lang’s style. ‘Scope pictures at the time relied on longer takes and fewer closeups, giving Lang a helluva time when it came to his usual way of cutting, and types of shots, to create rhythm and suspense. He’d never make another ‘Scope picture.

John Mohune, an orphan (Jon Whitely), arrives in the village of Moonfleet looking for Jeremy Fox (Stewart Granger), an old flame of his deceased mother. Fox is a gentleman wrapped up with a group of smugglers (one of them is Jack Elam!) — and with little time, aptitude or interest, for caring for a young boy. But the search for a hidden diamond brings them together — and makes them the targets of pirates, soldiers and the greedy, crooked Lord and Lady Greenwood (George Sanders and Joan Greenwood). Sanders comes off like his Nazi creep in Man Hunt (1941), just with a wig.

There are some terrific scenes here and there, particularly the ones set in the church graveyard and tombs. Lang keeps the picture planted in the boy’s point of view, much in the way William Cameron Menzies did with Jimmy Hunt in Invaders From Mars (1953), and it works well. It’s probably why I liked this so much as a kid (when I didn’t know, or care, who Fritz Lang was). After all, to a young boy, what’s cooler that pirates and thieves and skeletons? Some lazy editing — the last 10 minutes must’ve been cut at four o’clock on a Friday afternoon — makes it quite obvious that Lang wasn’t able to see his movie across the finish line. But when it’s good, it’s really good, and when it’s not good, well, it’s still good.

Warner Archive has done Lang and DP Robert Planck a great service with their new Blu-Ray of Moonfleet. We can now appreciate the somber color palette (the Eastmancolor looks quite good), the glorious painted backdrops and the sheer enormity of some of the MGM sound stages. Maybe that makes this more of a treat for those who want to look at how the movie was made rather than just watch it. But what’s wrong with that? Lang’s movies have always appealed more to us Film Geeks anyway.

Highly recommended. (Remember, it has Jack Elam as a pirate.)

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Filed under 1955, Fritz Lang, George Sanders, MGM, Warner Archive

Happy Thanksgiving.

Not sure what you’re doing this Thanksgiving, but I hope it’s fun and delicious and safe.

I’m enjoying Warner Archive’s terrific Blu-Ray of Operation Crossbow (1965) — and I have to say, I’m quite thankful for it.

Will have a review up soon. In the meantime, here’s a maze that promoted the picture in newspapers and theatre handouts back in’65. Enjoy!

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Filed under 1965, DVD/Blu-ray News, George Peppard, MGM, Warner Archive

Blu-Ray News #261: Operation Crossbow (1965).

Directed by Michael Anderson
Starring Sophia Loren, George Peppard, Trevor Howard, John Mills, Richard Johnson, Tom Courtenay

Warner Archive has announced a November Blu-Ray release for Michael Anderson’s Operation Crossbow (1965), a really terrific World War II secret mission movie.

It’s funny, as I was getting ready this morning, I came across George Peppard in an episode of The A-Team on TV and thought to myself, it’d be great to get Operation Crossbow on Blu-Ray. Looking forward to seeing this one again, and it’ll really be something in high definition. Highly recommended.

I’m sure this news made my good friend Dick Vincent very happy.

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Blu-Ray News #258: The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967).

Directed by Roman Polanski
Starring Jack McGowran, Sharon Tate, Alfie Bass, Ferdy Mayne, Roman Polanski

I first caught Roman Polanski’s The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967) on the CBS late show. Even though it was the butchered version (further butchered for TV), it made me laugh out loud while really creeping me out. I loved it.

This is a movie that’s been well served on video over the years. There was the letterboxed laserdisc of the original cut, then a similar presentation on DVD. I can’t wait to see the Blu-Ray, and get the chance to really study the sets, Douglas Slocombe’s camerawork, that terrific score by Krzysztof Komeda and all that fake snow. Coming in October.

Click on the Frank Frazetta poster art up top. It gets bigger.

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Filed under 1967, DVD/Blu-ray News, MGM, Roman Polanski, Sharon Tate, Warner Archive

Blu-Ray News #253: Moonfleet (1955).

Directed by Fritz Lang
Starring Stewart Granger, George Sanders, Joan Greenwood, Viveca Lindfors, John Hoyt, Jack Elam

Fritz Lang makes a pirate movie at MGM, in CinemaScope — and puts Jack Elam in it! That should be enough to sell you on Warner Archive’s Blu-Ray of Moonfleet (1955).

Shot almost entirely in the studio (and Lang’s only ‘Scope film), Moonfleet is a really incredible thing to look at. Lang and cinematographer Robert Planck use color and lighting (or lack of it) to create mood. They gypped MGM out of the big bright color pirate extravaganza they were hoping for — but made a movie perfect for Blu-Ray. I’m so excited to see this again, looking better than I’d ever imagined would be possible. Highly recommended.

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Filed under 1955, DVD/Blu-ray News, Fritz Lang, George Sanders, MGM, Warner Archive

DVD News #245: Best Of Pete Smith Specialties, Vol. 1.

I haven’t seen the exact contents of this first volume of the Pete Smith Specialty shorts, but I know there’s gonna be some really funny stuff in there.

Movie Pests (1944) is hysterical — of course, people being a drag at the movies is timeless (unfortunately). Sure hope it’s in there.

No matter. For whatever cinema silliness it contains (75 shorts on four discs), I am truly grateful to the fine folks at Warner Archive — and to a Smith names Pete. Highly recommended.

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Blu-Ray News #232: The Golden Arrow (1962).

Directed by Antonio Margheriti
Starring Tab Hunter, Rossana Podestà, Umberto Melnati, Mario Feliciani, Dominique Boschero, Renato Baldini

The only time I’ve ever run into The Golden Arrow (1964) was back in the 70s on the afternoon movie. You can imagine how badly the Technirama was butchered to shoehorn it onto TV. So I’m really stoked to see it coming on Blu-Ray from Warner Archive.

This Italian epic comes from director Antonio Margheriti, who made a string of wonderfully delirious science fiction movies (the Gamma 1 saga) a few years after this picture — The Wild, Wild Planet (1966) is probably my favorite of the bunch. He’d already done a few Barbara Steele and peplum movies, too. Then there’s his 60s spy movie Lightning Bolt (1966). If your taste in movies runs toward 60s Italian weirdness, Margheriti’s your man.

Tab Hunter seems to be having a blast in this, though it’s a shame he didn’t get to supply his own voice. His leading lady Rossana Podestà made all kinds of cool Italian movies, and I’d really love to see her 7 Golden Men (1966) make it to DVD. It’s an ultra-stylish caper picture with a liberal dose of that 60s Italian weirdness I just mentioned. The Golden Arrow is scheduled for a May release.

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Filed under 1964, Antonio Margheriti, DVD/Blu-ray News, MGM, Peplum, Tab Hunter, Warner Archive