Category Archives: Mill Creek

Blu-Ray Review: The Rockford Files – The Complete Series (1974-80).

We should get this out of the way right up front — it’s absolutely impossible for me to be objective about The Rockford Files. My mom and I used to watch it on a little TV in the kitchen, and those remain some of my favorite times we spent together. And when you have an emotional attachment like that to something, does it really matter if it’s any good?

Well, luckily, The Rockford Files is very good indeed. It’s pretty easy to say it’s one of the greatest television shows ever. At its best, a TV series reflects the personality of its star — or what we perceive is that personality. Think of The Andy Griffith Show or The Mary Tyler Moore Show. You feel you really get to know those people. I think the same goes for James Garner and The Rockford Files. Jim Rockford fits Garner like a glove.

Another thing Andy, Mary and Rockford have in common is that the star serves as a hub, with some wonderful characters spinning around that hub from episode to episode. Sometimes those characters are regulars, sometimes they’re only in a single episode. With Rockford/Garner, a lot of the joy comes from his reactions to folks like Angel (Stuart Margolin), Rocky (Noah Beery, Jr.) and Gandy Fitch (Isaac Hayes). Oftentimes, the plot or case seems to serve mainly as a way to connect Rockford to those characters.

Of course, a character-driven show like this puts a lot of pressure on the writers, casting people, directors and actors. And with The Rockford Files, in all these departments, what you get here is about as good as it gets.

It’s all pretty simple. Jim Rockford is an ex-con (wrongfully convicted and pardoned) private detective living in a trailer on the beach in Malibu. He’s close to his dad, Rocky, a retired truck driver. And he’s got a couple friends who often get involved with his cases: Becker (Joe Santos), a sergeant in the LAPD, and Angel, a con man Rockford met in prison. In the earlier seasons, there’s Beth Davenport (Gretchen Corbett), an attorney Jim’s sweet on.

And, of course, there’s the Firebird. And Rocky’s truck. Garner was a car guy, and he made sure the vehicles were cast as well as the actors. The trailer (up top) is also perfectly propped out to reflect Rockford’s status and personality (he keeps his pistol in a cookie jar). The Firebird and trailer suffer all sorts of abuse of the course of the series.

Mill Creek has released The Rockford Files, all six seasons, in a Blu-Ray set that I’ve been returning to time and time again. It gives me an all new reason (not that I need one) to revisit these 122 episodes yet again.

The Rockford Files has the typical 70s cop show look, maybe a bit seedier than usual. LA locations seem to have been chosen for how glitzy or grungy they are, fitting the big wigs and lowlives Garner locks horns with from week to week.

Doesn’t exactly sound like the best use of the Blu-Ray format, does it? Well, not so fast. The DVD sets from Universal were terrific, but this high-def upswing really serves the series well. It’s a blast to find new details in episodes I’ve seen countless times. (Rockford’s beat up 1959 Nashua trailer is especially fun to study.) The color’s nice — and thankfully still looks like 1970s film stock. The sound’s a major improvement, with plenty of added depth in the music.

As with a lot of these TV sets, one episode might look better or worse than another, but overall Rockford in high definition is a revelation. And the package takes up a fraction of the shelf space the DVDs did (which around my place is a blessing). Highly recommended.

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Filed under DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, James Garner, Mill Creek, Television

Blu-Ray Review: The Stone Killer (1973).

Directed by Michael Winner
Screenplay by Gerald Wilson
Based on a book by John Gardner
Cinematography: Robert Moore
Music by Roy Budd

Cast: Charles Bronson (Lou Torrey), Martin Balsam (Al Vescari), David Sheiner (Guido Lorenz), Norman Fell (Daniels), Ralph Waite (Mathews), Paul Koslo (Langley), Stuart Margolin (Lawrence), Jack Colvin (Jumper), John Ritter (Hart)

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Mill Creek’s recent Blu-Ray release, Charles Bronson: 4 Movie Collection, offers up The Valachi Papers (1972), The Stone Killer (1973), Hard Times (1974) and Breakout (1975). There’s some good stuff there, especially Walter Hill’s Hard Times, and they all look terrific on Blu-Ray. It’s a nice set at a great price.

Michael Winner, Charles Bronson and Dino De Laurentis

Charles Bronson made quite a few movies with Italian producer Dino De Laurentis in the 70s. It seems to have been a successful relationship for all concerned. Michael Winner first directed Bronson in Chato’s Land (1972), and they’d go on to do Death Wish (1974), which would send both of their careers in a certain direction. At this point in his career, Bronson was really on a roll.

The Stone Killer has Bronson as Lou Torrey, an undercover cop who comes upon a Mafia revenge plot — with a squad of Vietnam vets assembled by the Mob to pull off a number of hits. That provides a framework upon which shootings, torture, car crashes and other stuff can be hung. Bronson’s cool in this one, and he’s been surrounded by a top-notch cast — Martin Balsam, Norman Fell, Ralph Waite, and a couple of my 70s favorites: Paul Koslo and Stuart Margolin (Angel on The Rockford Files). The action’s very well done, they make great use of New York and LA locations, and there’s that 70s-film-stock look that’s so perfect for things like this.

Speaking of locations, there’s a scene near the middle of the picture, with Bronson visiting a hippie commune, that was shot at Moonfire Ranch outside LA. Built for Harper (1966) — it was the temple where the whacked-out holy man Strother Martin hung out. It’s still there today (the photo above is recent). The Doors and Jimi Hendrix played concerts there in the late 60s.

The Stone Killer looks great on Blu-Ray from Mill Creek. All four pictures in the set do. Columbia’s transfers are typically outstanding, and these are no exception. And these movies are Charles Bronson in his prime. And if the increased definition isn’t enough for ya, this will even save you some shelf space. Charles Bronson: 4 Movie Collection is a winner however you wanna look at it. Recommended.

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Filed under 1973, Charles Bronson, Columbia, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Michael Winner, Mill Creek

Blu-Ray News #167: An Evening With Joan Crawford.

Mill Creek Entertainment has announced an upcoming twin-bill Blu-Ray of two Joan Crawford horror pictures, Strait-Jacket (1964) from William Castle and Berserk (1967), produced by Herman Cohen.

Strait-Jacket
Directed by William Castle
Starring Joan Crawford, Diane Baker, George Kennedy, Leif Erickson

William Castle’s Strait-Jacket (1964) has Joan Crawford as an axe murderer who’s released from the nuthouse. Oddly enough, as soon as she gets out, people start getting chopped up.

Berserk!
Directed by Jim O’Connolly
Starring Joan Crawford, Ty Hardin, Michael Gough, Diana Dors, Judy Geeson

This time, Miss Crawford runs a circus where people keep winding up dead — in the most grisly ways. Berserk‘s in Technicolor, shot by Desmond Dickinson. Herman Cohen, Michael Gough and Dickinson had already enriched our lives with Horrors Of The Black Museum (1959).

Mill Creek’s double features like this are terrific — they’ve already treated us to a number of Castle and Hammer films. All are a great deal and come highly recommended.

Strait-Jacket is also on its way as a stand-alone Blu-Ray from Scream Factory, which will come with some supplemental stuff. All of a sudden, there’s more Joan Crawford than you can shake an axe handle at.

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Filed under 1964, 1967, Columbia, Desmond Dickinson, DVD/Blu-ray News, Herman Cohen, Joan Crawford, Mill Creek, William Castle

Blu-Ray Review: The Maniac (1963).

Directed by Michael Carreras
Screenplay by Jimmy Sangster
Director of Photography: Wilkie Cooper
Music by Stanley Black
Film Editor: Tom Simpson

Cast: Kerwin Mathews (Paul Farrell), Nadia Gray (Eve Beynat), Norman Bird (Salon), Liliane Brousse (Annette Beynat), Arnold Diamond (Janiello), Donald Houston (George)

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(The) Maniac (1963) contains many of the things I love about 60s movies. It’s black and white ‘Scope, with some really cool camera stuff every once in a while. It wallows in what they could now put on the more-permissive screen — such as death by blowtorch, though they do it without actually putting it on the screen. It’s got a terrific jazzy score by Stanley Black. I could go on.

Being that Maniac is a Hammer film, none of this should come as a big surprise. In their hey-day, they pushed the envelope big time. What is a surprise is just how good this post-Psycho psychological horror picture really is — and how it holds up today. As a kid, I was cheesed off that it had no Frankenstein or Dracula. Now it’s creepy, lurid and downright cool.

So here’s the story. A young woman is assaulted by a man in a small town in the South of France. Her father kills the guy with a blowtorch and is sent to an insane asylum. An American artist (Kerwin Mathews) comes to town and is attracted to the girl, now a pretty young lady (Liliane Brousse), and her mother Eve (Nadia Gray). Mathews begins an affair with Eve, and they devise a plot to spring dad from the nuthouse. He says he’s give Eve a divorce if she’ll help him. From there on, nothing is as it seems.

Aside from the psycho freak (Donald Houston) wielding a blowtorch, what really strikes me about Manic is what a slimeball Mathews is in it. To see Sinbad himself hitting on both a teenager and her stepmother, dumping a body into the bay and pounding gallons of brandy, is a little jarring. The previous year, he’d been in Hammer’s Pirates of Blood River (1962). Of course, Nadia Gray will forever be known for her stripping scene in that Fellini thing La Dolce Vita (1960).

Michael Carreras’ direction tends to be a bit flat, but this is his best picture. He was a much better producer or writer than a director — his dad ran Hammer. Jimmy Sangster’s script offers up some unexpected turns here and there. But what the picture really has going for it is DP Wilkie Cooper’s black and white Megascope photography. He gives the picture real flair, but pours on the shadows when needed. The whole thing is total claptrap, but it’s so well put together, who cares?

Cooper’s work is served very well on Blu-Ray by Mill Creek Entertainment. Maniac is paired with Die! Die! My Darling! (1965; UK title: Fanatic), and both look like a million bucks. Black and white tends to take on a lot of depth in high definition, and with Mill Creek’s incredible price point on these things, this thing’s a must.

The other Hammer double feature pairs up Scream Of Fear (1960) with Never Take Candy From A Stranger (1960). It’s every bit as nice as this set.

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Filed under 1963, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Hammer Films, Mill Creek

Blu-Ray News #156: A Study In Terror (1966).

Directed by James Hill
Starring John Neville, Donald Houston, John Fraser, Anthony Quayle, Robert Morley, Frank Finlay, Barbara Windsor, Cecil Parker, Judi Dench

Mill Creek has announced that they have the terrific Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack The Ripper movie, A Study In Terror (1966), in the works for Blu-Ray release. While I might prefer Murder By Decree (1978), John Neville makes a great Holmes in this one.

Mill Creek has an April 10 date for this one. I’m sure the price will be great. (There’s a four-movie Charles Bronson Blu-Ray coming at the same time.)

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Filed under 1966, Columbia, DVD/Blu-ray News, Mill Creek, Sherlock Holmes

Blu-Ray News #154: Two More Hammer Double Features From Mill Creek.

A couple years ago, Mill Creek Entertainment treated us all to a couple of twin-bill Blu-Rays of some Hammer horror pictures. While some folks had problems with the transfers — I thought they were terrific, you sure couldn’t complain about the price. My hope was that those titles would sell enough to warrant more, and it looks like they did. The next two double features pair up Scream Of Fear (1960) with Never Take Candy From A Stranger (1960) and The Maniac (1963) with Die! Die! My Darling! (1965). All four of these were originally released by Columbia in the States.

Scream Of Fear (1961; UK title: Taste Of Fear)
​Directed by Seth Holt
​Starring Susan Strasberg, Ronald Lewis, Ann Todd, Christopher Lee

These four films come from Hammer’s string of often Psycho-inspired thrillers of the early 60s. One of the best of the bunch is Scream Of Fear, which borrows more from Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques (1955) than it does from the Hitchcock picture. Susan Strasberg is terrific as the handicapped young woman who is being systematically scared to death by a conniving couple. Jimmy Sangster’s script, Seth Holt’s direction and Douglas Slocombe’s black and white photography are all top-notch. This is a good one.

Never Take Candy From A Stranger (1960)
Directed by Cyril Frankel
Starring Patrick Allen, Gwen Watford

In a way, it’s hard to believe this story of an old man praying on young children even exists. But it does, Hammer made it, and while it’s hard to take (especially is you have a teenage daughter), by implying what’s happening rather than showing it, it becomes all the more effective. That’s a lesson I wish all filmmakers would learn. Not for everyone, for sure, but it’s excellent.

Oh, it was called Never Take Candy From A Stranger in the UK.

(The) Maniac (1963)
Directed by Michael Carreras
Starring Kerwin Mathews, Nadia Gray, Donald Houston

Aside from the psycho freak (Donald Houston) wielding a blowtorch, what strikes me about Manic is what a slimeball Kerwin Mathews is in it. To see Sinbad himself hitting on both a teenager and her stepmother, as he pounds gallons of brandy, is a little jarring.

Michael Carreras’ direction is a bit flat, and the movie suffers for it. He was a much better producer or writer than a director — his dad ran Hammer. What the picture really has going for it is DP Wilkie Cooper’s black and white Megascope — love those B&W ‘Scope pictures!

For some reason, Columbia dropped the The from its title in the US.

Richard Burton (center) is about to kick Donald Houston’s teeth out in Where Eagles Dare (1969)

Donald Houston, the picture’s maniac, would go on to appear in my all-time favorite movie — he’s the Nazi agent Richard Burton kicks in the face during the cablecar fight in Where Eagles Dare (1969). In Maniac, he’s appropriately over the top, and stills of him with his torch and goggles fascinated me as a kid.

Die! Die! My Darling! (1965; UK title: Fanatic)
Directed by Silvio Narizzano
Starring Tallulah Bankhead, Stefanie Powers, Peter Vaughan, Yootha Joyce, Donald Sutherland

This time, Hammer aimed for something more in the vein of Robert Aldrich’s What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) and Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964). They wisely got the great Richard Matheson to write it and the incomparable Tallulah Bankhead to star. Good, creepy stuff. This would be Bankhead’s last role, aside from her turn as Black Widow on Batman.

Mill Creek has these scheduled for a March release. I’m eternally grateful for their ongoing efforts to bring movies like these to hi-def at such low cost.

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Filed under 1960, 1961, 1963, 1965, Alfred Hitchcock, Christopher Lee, Columbia, DVD/Blu-ray News, Hammer Films, Mill Creek, Richard Burton, Richard Matheson, Robert Aldrich

Blu-ray Review: Giant Monster Gamera (1965), Or Gammera The Invincible (1966), Or Gamera The Giant Monster.

Directed by Noriaki Yuasa
Starring Eiji Funakoshi, Harumi Kiritachi, Junichiro Yamashita
American version stars Albert Dekker, Brian Donlevy

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Mill Creek’s Blu-ray Gamera sets, Gamera: Ultimate Collection Volumes 1 and 2, have gotten some lukewarm reviews. They don’t look all that good. The detail’s fine, but things are a bit flat. Same goes for the audio: flat. But what I think folks are forgetting is that this is right in line with the way we’ve always seen these Japanese Daiei monster movies in the States. Growing up in the 70s, I saw them on TV — pan-and-scan and perforated by used car commercials. Later, when they started showing up on videotape, they looked just as bad, only you could stop them to go to the bathroom.

What I’m taking forever to get around to is this: in my mind, these kinds of movies aren’t supposed to look all that good. An iffy transfer? If you insist. Scratches? Yes, please. Splices? A few, just for authenticity. And grain? It’s a must. When these start looking too good, they lose some of their appeal. (Grindhouse didn’t look like that just to be obnoxious.)

And, be honest, did you buy a set of Gamera pictures to demonstrate your swanky TV next time your brother-in-law comes over?

A Brief History Of Giant Flying Turtle Movies, Part One.

Gamera: The Giant Monster (1965) was produced by Japan’s Daiei Motion Picture Company, clearly inspired by the callossal worldwide success of Toho’s Godzilla films.

Gamera is a giant prehistoric fire-breathing flying turtle with tusks, who’s released from the North Pole or someplace by a nuclear explosion. Gamera makes his way to Japan, where all hell breaks loose. The first attempt to get rid of him fails (explosives underneath him simply flip him onto his back), and he’s lured into a rocket and sent to Mars.

It’s clearly a Godzilla knock-off, with its meager budget evident in almost every frame. It’s black and white and Scope, which is always a good look, regardless of the picture’s budget (Lippert’s black and white Regalscope pictures were notoriously cheap).

A special version was prepared for the United States, called Gammera The Invincible (note the extra M), with sequences added featuring Albert Dekker and Brian Donlevy. This version played theaters in 1966 and was a constant on TV throughout the 70s.

The first volume in the Mill Creek Blu-Ray set includes the original foreign version, in Japanese with English subtitles. It looks nice and sharp — it’s terrific to see it widescreen, and the original Japanese audio tracks give the picture a slightly more sophisticated feel. (Very slightly — remember, this is a movie about a giant flying turtle.)

Personally, I would’ve preferred the Dekker/Donlevy American version I saw countless times on TV as a kid. It adds an extra layer of cheese, and for me, has added nostalgia value. Some of the dubbed voices are cats you’d recognize from Speed Racer and Ultraman.

By the way, there was a theme song, “Gammera The Invincible” by The Moons, released as a single in 1966 (that’s the sleeve to the right). It’s suspiciously similar to Neil Hefti’s Batman TV theme.

The picture was a success in Japan, particularly with kids, and a series was quickly launched, with Gamera taking on one crazy monster after another. The followups were all in color — and in the States, they all went straight to TV. Only Gammera The Invincible played US theaters.

Gamera: The Giant Monster was followed by six additional Gamera films, released between 1966 and 1971 —
Gamera Vs. Barugon (1966; AIP-TV title: War Of The Monsters)
Gamera Vs. Gyaos (1967; AIP-TV title: Return Of The Giant Monsters)
Gamera Vs. Viras (1968; AIP-TV title: Destroy All Planets)
Gamera Vs. Guiron (1969; AIP-TV title: Attack Of The Monsters)
Gamera Vs. Jiger (1970; AIP-TV title: Gamera Vs. Monster X)
Gamera Vs. Zigra (1971)

Daiei ran into money trouble and went into bankruptcy, leaving an eighth Gamera picture unmade. But just like Gamera busting out of the ice after that long repose, the series was back in theaters in 1980 with Gamera: Super Monster from New Daiei. It includes footage from the seven previous movies. The fiery flying turtle was revived again in 1995 for series of films I have absolutely no interest in.

Mill Creek’s Gamera: Ultimate Collection Volumes 1 and 2 give these eight Gamera movies in hi-def, looking pretty splendid (as I see em). All are in the correct 2.35:1 aspect ratio, are all in color but the first one, and all feature what seems to be a solid job of subtitling. And, to top it all off, the pricing is terrific.

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Filed under 1965, 1966, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Kaiju Movies, Mill Creek