Category Archives: Mill Creek

Blu-Ray Review: Hollywood Story (1951).

Directed by William Castle
Produced by Leonard Goldstein
Story and Screenplay by Frederick Kohner and Fred Brady
Cinematography: Carl E. Guthrie
Film Editor: Virgil Vogel

Cast: Richard Conte (Larry O’Brien), Julie Adams (Sally/Amanda Rousseauz), Richard Egan (Police Lt. Bud Lennox), Henry Hull (Vincent St. Clair), Fred Clark (Sam Collyer), Jim Backus (Mitch Davis), Houseley Stevenson (John Miller), Paul Cavanagh (Roland Paul), Katherline Meskill (Mary), Louis Lettieri (Jimmy Davis), Francis X. Bushman, Betty Blythe, William Farnum, Helen Gibson, Joel McCrea

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Art imitates life here. Hollywood Story (1951) concerns a producer (Richard Conte) solving an old Hollywood murder mystery, while prepping a movie about that mystery. It was based on the actual 1922 murder of director William Desmond Taylor. This scandalous crime, which created a media circus and plenty of completely fabricated news stories, was never solved.

Conte buys an old movie studio and learns of the murder that took place there. Intrigued, he decides to use it as the basis for his next picture, and he reaches out to a number of people who were working at the studio at the time — from a writer (Henry Hull) to the daughter of one of the studio’s biggest stars (Julie Adams). With that framework, the picture manages to follow the Taylor case fairly closely as Conte pieces together what happened.

L-R: Richard Conte, Francis X. Bushman, Helen Gibson, William Farnum, Betty Blythe.

William Castle directed several entries in Columbia’s The Whistler series, moody mini-noirs starring Richard Dix. They were excellent, and Castle’s same no-nonsense approach can be found here. Hollywood Story was done before Castle went gimmick crazy with his late 5os horror movies, but there’s a gimmick anyway, bringing in a few silent stars — Betty Blythe, Francis X. Bushman, William Farnum and Helen Gibson. Their parts mean nothing to the movie, but their names look good in the ads. (They were paid peanuts.)

This was one of a handful of pictures Castle did at Universal International. He did some cool stuff there — this one, Undertow (1949) and Cave Of Outlaws (1951) — before returning to Columbia, where he’d start working for producer Sam Katzman.

Hollywood Story gives us a great look at early 50s moviemaking, particularly at Universal International. Joel McCrea has a cameo in one of the on-the-set scenes. Judging from his costume, he might’ve been shooting Frenchie (1950) when his brief scene was done. We also visit a number of Hollywood points of interest — such as Jack’s At The Beach, Ciro’s, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, Ocean Park Pier and the old Chaplin Studio (as the scene of the crime).

The cinematography from Carl E. Guthrie is terrific, adding plenty of mood when it’s needed and playing up the bright lights of Hollywood. Universal’s movies from the 50s, whether they were in Technicolor or black and white, have a real sparkle to them, thanks to masters like Guthrie. And that’s what makes this Blu-Ray such a great thing. It presents Guthrie’s work flawlessly. It’s much better than the old DVD. Brighter, with better contrast. It adds a level of depth you don’t see very often, which is really effective in the darker, scenes. 

Hollywood Story is a solid movie, and it’s been given a sterling transfer for Blu-Ray. Mill Creek has paired it with Castle’s New Orleans Uncensored (1955). It looks great, too, and since each picture is on its own disc, the bit rates are quite high. They’re priced right, too. For William Castle fans, this set is an absolute must. More, please!

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Filed under 1951, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Joel McCrea, Julie Adams, Mill Creek, Universal (-International), William Castle

Blu-Ray News #291: The H Man (1958) & Battle In Outer Space (1959).

Mill Creek’s been offering up some really good stuff lately, and this one’s gonna be terrific. Here’s a Blu-Ray twin bill of Toho pictures from director Ishirō Honda — The H Man (1958) and Battle In Outer Space (1959).

The H Man plays like a bit of a Japanese radioactive tiff on The Blob (1958), with some gangsters thrown in for good measure. Columbia cut some of the criminal element out for its US release, making it 8-9 minutes shorter than what Japanese audience saw. Still, it’s a cool movie.

The great Eiji Tsuburaya at work on Battle In Outer Space.

Battle In Outer Space, aside from the English dubbing, Columbia left alone. It’s set in the future, 1965, with Earth being attacked by the planet Natal, which is causing natural disasters and other chaos from afar. Eventually, the UN battles it out with the saucer fleet from Natal. Toho’s special effects genius Eiji Tsuburaya had a real field day with this one.

Both pictures were in Eastmancolor and Tohoscope, and they should look great in high-definition. Coming in June. Boy, us grown-up monster kids are getting spoiled these days!

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Filed under 1958, 1959, Columbia, DVD/Blu-ray News, Eiji Tsuburaya, Ishirō Honda, Mill Creek, Toho

Blu-Ray Review: The Return Of Ultraman (1971-72).

When the Japanese special effects master Eiji Tsuburaya passed away in 1970, his son Hajime took over the family business, Tsuburaya Productions. In what would prove to be a very smart move, he resurrected the Ultra Series with The Return Of Ultraman. (Sadly, Hajime Tsuburaya passed away in 1973.)

The Return Of Ultraman was the fourth entry in the Ultra Series, and what’s cool about this batch is that Ishirō Honda, the principal director of Toho’s Godzilla movies and other kaiju pictures, was on hand for a few episodes, including the first one, “All Monsters Attack.” Honda is the John Ford of Japanese monster movies — everyone copies what he did, but no one could come close to the master’s work. (Years later, Akira Kurosawa would coax Honda our of retirement to work on his later films, sometimes as a second unit director.)

You could probably say The Return Of Ultraman is more of the same. Which, if you like the earlier stuff, sounds like a pretty good deal. (Today, Hollywood pretty much lives on the “more of the same” approach to filmmaking.) There are some subtle differences in how our new Ultraman, a race-car driver named Hideki Go, works — and there are some alterations to the Ultraman outfit, but when it comes to Ultraman battling monsters, the Tsuburayas knew they were onto a good thing.

The Monster Attack Team (MAT) and their gorgeous 1971 Mazda Cosmo Sport.

What I found interesting about The Return Of Ultraman is that the Ishirō Honda episodes have a slightly different look and feel to them. Honda’s style, while maybe hard to describe, seems to be impossible to duplicate (whether it’s Godzilla or Ultraman, features or TV).

Mill Creek has released The Return Of Ultraman as part of their ongoing Ultraman DVD/Blu-Ray program, and like its predecessors, it looks and sounds terrific. They’re presented in Japanese with nice English subtitles (even the theme song),  they look like a million bucks, and they’re packaged with obvious care. The monster “roster” included in the booklet is a lot of fun. It’s always nice to see something like this, as goofy or juvenile as it may seem, receive stellar treatment like this. For fans of this sort of thing, this is highly, highly recommended.

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Filed under 1971, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Eiji Tsuburaya, Ishirō Honda, Kaiju Movies, Mill Creek

Blu-Ray News #284: Inner Sanctum Mysteries: The Complete Film Series.

Until the DVD set came out years ago, I’d only seen one of the Inner Sanctum pictures. Boy, had I been missing out.

These cheap little mysteries are terrific, the kind of spooky hokum Universal specialized in back in the 40s. Now the series, all six of ’em, are getting a Blu-Ray upgrade from Mill Creek.

Calling Dr. Death (1943)
Directed by Reginald Le Borg
Starring Lon Chaney, Patricia Morison, J. Carrol Naish, David Bruce

Weird Woman (1944)
Directed by Reginald Le Borg
Starring Lon Chaney, Anne Gwynne, Evelyn Ankers, Ralph Morgan

Dead Man’s Eyes (1944)
Directed by Reginald Le Borg
Starring Lon Chaney, Acquanetta (“as Tonya, sister of Satan!”), Jean Parker, Paul Kelly, Thomas Gomez

The Frozen Ghost (1945)
Directed by Harold Young
Starring Lon Chaney, Elena Verdugo, Evelyn Ankers, Tala Birell, Martin Kosleck

Strange Confession (1945, re-released as The Missing Head)
Directed by John Hoffman
Starring Lon Chaney, Brenda Joyce, J. Carrol Naish, Lloyd Bridges

Pillow Of Death (1945)
Directed by Wallace Fox
Starring Lon Chaney, Brenda Joyce, J. Edward Bromberg, Rosalind Ivan, Clara Blandick

What’s striking about these movies, to me, is that though they were seen as cheap little pictures with Universal’s lower-level talent, there’s a real craft to them that shines through. Can’t wait to see them in high-definition.

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Filed under DVD/Blu-ray News, J. Carrol Naish, Lon Chaney Jr., Mill Creek, Reginald Le Borg, Universal (-International)

Blu-Ray News #283: Hollywood Story (1951) And New Orleans Uncensored (1955).

Mill Creek has another William Castle hi-def double bill on the way. This one’s got a couple of his noir pictures. If you’re like me, anything Mr. Castle touched is worthwhile.

Hollywood Story (1951)
Directed by William Castle
Starring Richard Conte, Julia Adams, Henry Hull, Fred Clark, Francis X. Bushman, William Farnum

William Castle spent a few years working as a contract director at Universal-International, directing cool pictures like Johnny Stool Pigeon (1949), Cave Of Outlaws (1951) and this one, Hollywood Story (1951). It’s based on the murder of the silent director William Desmond Taylor and features a handful of silent stars in tiny parts (probably done as a promo stunt more than anything else). It was shot by the underrated cinematographer Carl E. Guthrie.

Hollywood Story was often paired with Huge Fregonse’s Apache Drums (1951).

New Orleans Uncensored (1955)
Directed by William Castle
Produced by Sam Katzman
Starring Arthur Franz, Beverly Garland, Helene Stanton, Michael Ansara, Stacy Harris, Mike Mazurki

After those years at U-I, Castle moved to Columbia and made a slew of movies in Sam Katzman’s unit. This one has a dream cast — Beverly Garland, Stacy Harris, Mike Mazurki, it’s in widescreen B&W, and it runs a brisk 76 minutes. My kind of movie!

This single-disc set comes highly, highly recommended. Let’s hope Mill Creek has more like this on the way!

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Filed under 1951, 1955, Beverly Garland, Columbia, DVD/Blu-ray News, Julie Adams, Mill Creek, Sam Katzman, Universal (-International), William Castle

Blu-Ray Review: Ultra Q (1966).

Until this Mill Creek set turned up in my mailbox, I hadn’t seen an episode of Ultra Q (1966) in its entirety. Now, about halfway through the show’s 28 episodes, I’m having a blast.

If I had seen Ultra Q when I was 10 (and could understand Japanese), it might’ve been my favorite TV show.

It goes like this. Eiji Tsuburaya, the special effects maestro behind Toho’s Godzilla movies, started his own production company and kicked things off with Ultra Q. It’s about a team of investigators who look into different mysterious goings from episode to episode — similar to the setup of, say, The Night Stalker or The X Files. But this being Japan in the mid-60s, that premise (inspired by The Outer Limits) becomes a showcase for a giant monster every week. Toho was an investor in Tsuburaya’s new production company and gave the show access to their prop warehouse, filled with monster suits waiting to be unleashed on another miniature Tokyo. Part of the fun is spotting disguised monsters from the Kaiju movies, such as Godzilla dressed up to play Gomess in the first episode.

It’s a pretty whacked-out affair. All sorts of things come from space or out of the ground, and our intrepid team — a scientist, a young reporter and a pilot — take them on as the Japanese countryside and infrastructure get stomped. That’s pretty much it. The half-hour format really works in its favor, as time is never wasted — they get right to the monster.

Ultra Q only lasted one season. Tsuburaya Productions moved on to the first Ultraman series (in color) in 1967, and that franchise is still going.

Mill Creek has done a terrific job on this set, available in regular or steelbook packaging, and on their first Ultraman set (released the same day).

Ultra Q‘s gorgeous black and white is perfectly presented on Blu-Ray, with the contrast masterfully dialed in. Everything’s sharp as a tack, allowing for some grainy stock footage from time to time. The sound is clear as a bell (it’s got a great Surf-y theme song), and the English subtitles (it’s in Japanese only) are nicely done. (There was evidently an English version prepared that never aired. It’d be cool to see some of those.)

Ultra Q was quite a discovery for me, and I’m sure fans of the show will be overjoyed by this set. If only every TV show got this kind of attention.

Mill Creek is to be commended for this one. Highly recommended for fans of this sort of thing.

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Filed under 1966, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Eiji Tsuburaya, Kaiju Movies, Mill Creek, Toho

Blu-Ray Review: White Line Fever (1975).

Directed by Jonathan Kaplan
Written by Ken Freidman & Jonathan Kaplan
Director Of Photography: Fred Koenekamp
Film Editor: O. Nicholas Brown
Music by David Nichtern

Cast: Jan-Michael Vincent (Carrol Jo Hummer), Kay Lenz (Jerri Hummer), Slim Pickens (Duane Haller), Sam Laws (Pops Dinwiddie), L.Q. Jones (Buck Wessle), Don Porter (Cutler), R.G. Armstrong (Prosecutor), Leigh French (Lucy), Dick Miller (Birdie Corman), Martin Kove (Clem)

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Jonathan Kaplan directed a cool Isaac Hayes movie called Truck Turner (1974) and followed it with a movie that’s really about trucks, White Line Fever (1975). It’s a modern day Western, pretty much, with some good stunt work and a terrific cast. Kaplan did exactly what I would’ve done if I had a shot at making a movie in the mid-70s — load it up with all my favorite character actors (his love of Sam Peckinpah is quite obvious here).

Carrol Jo Hummer (Jan Michael Vincent) is a young Air Force vet who gets married (to Kay Lenz), gets a truck and gets out on the road to make a life for his new family. Unfortunately, Carrol Jo soon discovers the high cost of being an honest man in a very corrupt world. But, lucky for us, that sets in motion a lot of action scenes involving all sorts of trucks and Carrol Jo’s Remington pump shotgun.

Growing up in the South in the 70s, White Line Fever was the talk of the playground in the sixth grade — everybody’d seen it over the summer break. It took me years to finally catch up with it (Jaws dominated that summer for me), and when I did, here were all these guys I knew from other movies — Slim Pickens, L.Q. Jones, R.G. Armstrong, Dick Miller. That remains its chief appeal for me today. Another thing — movies like this, which were sorta dismissed when they came out, sure seem good compared to what came later. I’d watch this 10 times before I’d watch something made in the last 10 years.

White Line Fever is now available from Mill Creek on Blu-Ray with a special sleeve that recycles the old VHS packaging. I worked my way through college at video stores (anybody remember Philadelphia’s Video Village?) and this box — complete with “Action,” PG rating and “Please Rewind” stickers — really took me back. But it’s what’s inside that counts, and this is a near-perfect transfer of a typical mid-70s action movie. You probably have a pretty good idea of what that looks like. There are no extras, just a pretty cool movie looking really good. And that’s plenty good enough for me.

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Filed under 1975, Columbia, Dick Miller, L.Q. Jones, Mill Creek, R.G. Armstrong, Slim Pickens

Blu-Ray News #243: Ultra Q And Ultraman.

Mill Creek Entertainment will release on Blu-ray Ultra Q: The Complete Series  and Ultraman: The Complete Series (both 1966-67). These are the first two entries in Japan’s Ultra Series, and they’ll be out in October in regular packaging and some of those steelbook things (like their Mothra comes in).

Eiji Tsuburaya, the genius behind all the Toho monster effects, developed Ultra Q as an Outer Limits/X Files sort of thing — each week, a team of investigators would tackle a different mysterious phenomenon. Well, when the realized how nuts kids were about giant monsters like Godzilla and Gamera, the weekly stories were jam-packed with monsters, sometimes using suits from the Toho movies (even Godzilla did double duty in an episode).

Ultra Q paved the way for the next series, Ultraman. You see, the Science Patrol keeps the world safe from giant monsters and aliens. When they’re out of their league, which seems to happen quite often, one of their members, Hayata, secretly transforms into the 150-foot-tall Ultraman to duke it out with whatever it is that’s threatening the earth that week. This time, they went with color (Ultra Q is in glorious black and white.)

The Ultra series ran through the 80s and remains incredibly popular to this day, raking in millions in toy sales. To see these things on Blu-Ray, in their original Japanese versions, will be quite a treat. I’m ultra-stoked about these things.

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Filed under 1966, 1967, DVD/Blu-ray News, Eiji Tsuburaya, Kaiju Movies, Mill Creek, Television, Toho

Blu-Ray Review: Escape In The Fog (1945).

Directed by Oscar (Budd) Boetticher, Jr.
Screenplay by Aubrey Wisberg
Cinematography: George Meehan
Film Editor: Jerome Thoms

Cast: Otto Kruger (Paul Devon), Nina Foch (Eileen Carr), William Wright (Barry Malcolm), Konstantin Shayne (Schiller), Ivan Triesault (Hausmer, Schiller’s Henchman), Ernie Adams (George Smith)

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Escape In The Fog (1945) is one of the pictures featured in Noir Archive, Volume 1 (1944-1954), a nine-movie, three-disc Blue-Ray set from Mill Creek, “curated” by Kit Parker. Now folks, we all owe Mr. Parker and the gang at Mill Creek a big fat thank you, because there are two more of these wonderful sets on the way, each one offering a wealth of deep, dark, cynical, noir-y riches. Some are A pictures, but most of Bs — a ratio I like a whole lot.

The B movie units at Columbia churned out some really cool movies in the 40s and 50s, some of my all-time favorites — from noir/mystery/crime stuff like The Whistler series to Westerns like The Law Vs. Billy The Kid (1954) to horror stuff like The Devil Commands (1941). A few of the guys who directed these things went on to bigger things, such as Mr. Budd Boetticher. In Escape In The Fog, you won’t see the stylistic and thematic stuff that makes Boetticher’s later Westerns the masterworks that they are. But you will see the economy, efficiency and pacing that all his pictures benefit from, along with a real skill at building tension, something he’d put to terrific use in The Killer Is Loose (1956).

Nina Foch is a Navy nurse who has a vivid dream of a man being attacked on San Francisco’s Bay Bridge. That dream becomes a reality, she becomes involved with the guy getting pounded in her dream (William Wright) and they’re soon wrapped up in wartime espionage involving federal agents, Otto Kruger and Nazi spies. It all comes together pretty well, making for a solid 63 minutes.

Budd Boetticher’s movies remind me of Anthony Mann pictures in that the location often plays as big a role in the story as the people — Lone Pine is almost as important as Randolph Scott. There’s none of that here, but the frame totally filled with fog is quite effective — not only adding to the atmosphere, but concealing just how cheap this 12-day picture really is.

Columbia has always done a great job of keeping their material in tip-top shape, and this set, all nine movies, look fresh and crisp and sharp. Of course, some look a little better than others, but across the board they’re stunning. In spite of their often tiny budgets, the craftspeople who worked on these things made sure they looked good — and time hasn’t changed that one bit. If anything, high-definition might accentuate the incredible look of these films.

Escape In The Fog is a neat little movie. And this set is essential stuff — for fans of noir, of B moviemaking or of any of the casts and crews represented here. So, thank you Mr. Parker and the folks at Mill Creek. Looking forward to the next one!

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Filed under Budd Boetticher, Columbia, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Kit Parker, Mill Creek

Blu-Ray News #234: Mothra (1961).

Directed by Ishiro Honda
Starring Hiroshi Koizumi, Kyôko Kagawa, Yûmi Itô, Emi Itô, Ken Uehara

Mill Creek has announced a Blu-Ray of Mothra (1961) in one of those spiffy-looking steel cases, seen above, with extras like a commentary and still gallery. Mothra‘s a picture with really gorgeous Technicolor, and I’m really looking forward to seeing it in high-definition. A digital showing at a local theater a couple years ago was really something to see. Coming in July.

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Filed under 1961, Columbia, DVD/Blu-ray News, Ishirō Honda, Kaiju Movies, Mill Creek, Toho