Category Archives: Mill Creek

DVD Review: Jungle Man-Eaters (1954).

Directed by Lee Sholem
Produced by Sam Katzman
Story & Screen Play by Samuel Newman
Cinematography: Henry Freulich
Film Editor: Gene Havlick

Cast: Johnny Weissmuller (Jungle Jim), Karin Booth (Dr. Bonnie Crandall), Richard Wyler (Inspector Jeffrey Bernard), Bernie Hamilton (Zuwaba), Gregory Gaye (Leroux), Lester Matthews (Commissioner Kingston), Paul Thompson (Zulu), Vince Townsend, Jr. (Chief Boganda), Louise Franklin (N’Gala), Tamba

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Critics’ Choice and Mill Creek have released a six-movie set of Jungle Jim movies (there are 16 of ’em, 1948 – 1955), pulled from the middle to the end of series (’50-’55). The next-to-last picture in the set is Jungle Man-Eaters (1954).

The later Jungle Jim movies look even cheaper than the early ones, with a very heavy reliance on stock footage. Even some of the Johnny Weissmuller shots look like footage from previous entries, given away by the new 1.85 framing. In this one, Jungle Jim (Weissmuller) gets involved in a war between tribes largely orchestrated by Leroux, a French diamond smuggler. Pretty Kari Booth (I’ve always liked her) is a doctor along for the ride, and she gets caught up in the birth of the son of one of the warring tribes’ leader. Tamba dresses up like a doctor, torments Karin Booth, does plenty of flips and eats a lot of bananas.

Despite the title and ads, there are cannibals, no man is eaten (“human banquet”) and Karin Booth’s legs are never threatened by fire.

While there are three more pictures in the series, this is the last one where Weissmuller is actually called Jungle Jim. Producer Sam Katzman has Weissmuller use his own name for the rest of the run, probably because Screen Gems had signed with King Features to use the character in a TV series, again with Weissmuller. It debuted about the time the last feature, Devil Goddess, hit theaters in October 1955.

Jungle Man-Eaters features the work of the couple of guys who toiled quite a bit on Katzman pictures: director Lee Sholem and cinematographer Henry Freulich.

Sholem was known as “Roll ‘Em Sholem” for how quickly he worked. He directed over 1,300 features and TV shows over the course of four decades. They say he never went over schedule. One of his masterworks is Superman And The Mole Men (1951).

Henry Freulich had been behind the camera since the Silents. He was a cameraman on The Hunchback Of Notre Dame (1922). He was at Columbia for years and years, shooting everything from It Happened One Night (1934) to over a hundred Three Stooges shorts to all sorts of wonderful things in the 50s — pictures like William Castle’s Masterson Of Kansas (1954), It Came From Beneath The Sea (1955), Fred F. Sears’s Teen-Age Crime Wave (1955) and George Sherman’s Reprisal! (1956).

Freulich’s work on Jungle Man-Eaters looks terrific on DVD in this set. In fact, all six boast the gorgeous transfers we’ve come to expect of cheap Columbia movies from this period. A lot of us have been waiting quite a while for Jungle Jim to make his way out of the jungle and onto DVD. This collection is worth the wait — and hopefully the first of several volumes. Recommened.

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Filed under 1954, Columbia, Critics' Choice Collection, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Johnny Weissmuller, Jungle Jim, Karin Booth, Lee Sholem, Mill Creek, Sam Katzman

Blu-Ray News #331: The Hellfighters (1968).

Directed by Andrew V. McLaglen
Starring John Wayne, Katharine Ross, Jim Hutton, Vera Miles, Jay C. Flippen, Bruce Cabot

Mill Creek has announced the May Blu-Ray release of The Hellfighters (1968) Based (at least in part) on oil well firefighter Red Adair, it’s a pretty good later John Wayne movie (watch for something on 1974’s McQ in the next day or so).

This has always looked good on laserdisc or DVD, so I imagine the Blu-Ray will look terrific.

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Filed under 1968, Andrew V. McLaglen, DVD/Blu-ray News, John Wayne, Mill Creek, Uncategorized, Universal (-International), Vera Miles

Blu-Ray News #308: Hammer Films – The Ultimate Collection (1958-1971).

I’ve been really impressed with Mill Creek’s Hammer releases. They don’t have the extras we get from someone like Scream Factory, but they look good, they’re often in double bills or sets (with us DVD/Blu-Ray collectors, shelf space is always a concern), and the price is certainly right. 

Mill Creek’s newest Hammer project is the 20-picture Hammer Films – The Ultimate Collection. It’s got some great stuff — some are repeats from previous MC releases, some not. It focuses on Hammer films that were distributed by Columbia in the States. Here’s the lineup:

The Revenge Of Frankenstein (1958)
The Snorkel (1958)
The Camp On Blood Island (1958)
Yesterday’s Enemy (1959)
The Two Faces Of Dr. Jekyll (1960)
Never Take Candy From A Stranger (1960)

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The Stranglers Of Bombay (1960)
Cash On Demand (1961)
Scream Of Fear (1961)
Stop Me Before I Kill! (1961)

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The Terror Of The Tongs (1961)
The Pirates Of Blood River (1962)
These Are The Damned (1962)
The Old Dark House (1963)
The Curse Of The Mummy’s Tomb (1963)
Maniac (1963)
The Devil-Ship Pirates (1964)

The Gorgon (1964)
Die! Die! My Darling (1965)
Creatures The World Forgot (1971)

I can’t wait to get my hands on this thing. These films are essential stuff. A few of these I haven’t seen in quite a while — and never on Blu-Ray. It’s coming in November.

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Filed under 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1971, Arthur Grant, Christopher Lee, Columbia, Don Sharp, DVD/Blu-ray News, Freddie Francis, Hammer Films, John Gilling, Kerwin Matthews, Mill Creek, Oliver Reed, Peter Cushing, Stanley Baker, Terence Fisher, Val Guest, William Castle

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), Wallace Fox

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