Category Archives: Monogram/Allied Artists

Blu-Ray Review: Flight To Mars (1951).

Directed by Lesley Selander
Screenplay by Arthur Strawn
Produced by Walter Mirisch
Cinematography: Harry Neumann
Film Editor: Richard V. Heermance
Music by Marlin Skiles

Cast: Marguerite Chapman (Alita), Cameron Mitchell (Steve Abbott), Arthur Franz (Dr. Jim Barker), Virginia Huston (Carol Stafford), John Litel (Dr. Lane), Morris Ankrum (Ikron)

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If there’s a recipe for cooking up a perfect 50s B movie, you can bet it was used to whip up Flight To Mars (1951). Let’s see. You’ve got the great B director Lesley Selander. There’s Cameron Mitchell, Arthur Franz and Morris Ankrum in the cast. There’s the lovely Martian maiden (Marguerite Chapman) in her interstellar miniskirt. And it’s all in Cinecolor from the fine folks at Monogram Pictures.

A team of American scientists, accompanied by a newspaperman (Cameron Mitchell), take a rocket ride to Mars. (Mitchell smokes through much of the flight.) Once they crash on the Red Planet, the seemingly-friendly people of Mars start plotting to imprison the Earthlings and use their damaged rocket to plan the Martian migration to Earth. You see, Mars is running low on the crucial element Corium…

There’s an element of hope in 50s science fiction that find very attractive, and Flight To Mars has it in spades. In movies like this, you can “trust the science” (and scientists) without a trace of irony or sarcasm. 

Note that they had to do some retouching to Marguerite Chapman’s outfit.

Flight To Mars, with its “Mars N Miniskirts” theme (Marguerite Chapman looks great in her Martian attire), is part of a rich cinema heritage. There’s also Abbott & Costello Go To Mars (1953), Cat-Women Of The Moon (1953, with Marie Windsor), Devil Girl From Mars (1954), World Without End (1955),  Fire Maidens From Outer Space (1956), Queen Of Outer Space (1957) and Invasion Of The Star Creatures (1962). That’d make a helluva weekend retrospective, wouldn’t it?

There’s a strong tie between Flight To Mars and both World Without End and Queen Of Outer Space — both use rocket footage from this one, severely cropped for CinemaScope. All three were released by Monogram or Allied Artisits — same company, different names.

Producer Walter Mirisch was trying to take things up a notch at Monogram, and it’s obvious they splurged a bit (relatively speaking) on Flight To Mars.

A Martian clock, made in Zeeland, Michigan.

There are the effects and Cinecolor, of course. A cast with a few name actors in it. Some interesting sets for the underground Martian city, complete with a Herman Miller ball clock (designed by George Nelson). And a handful of nice matte paintings (certainly inspired by 1936’s Things To Come).

But you’ll still see some of the usual Poverty Row tricks — the cast is tiny, the sets are often reconfigured to create new spaces, and for a movie about space flight, there’s very little space actually seen. And it was all shot in just five days!

The Film Detective treated Flight To Mars to a 4K restoration from the picture’s original 35mm Cinecolor separation negatives. On the whole, it looks wonderful. The Cinecolor is terrific, given the process’s odd, limited color palette. Some scenes are sharper than others, with the Mars portion of the movie looking best. The grain’s a bit clunky in some scenes, but I’m so glad nobody tried to process it away. Never thought I’d see it look like this. The sound is quite nice, with more range than you’d expect. There are a couple of nice documentaries from Ballyhoo, a commentary from Justin Humphreys and an essay by Don Stradley. 

I adore Monogram Pictures Corporation and have a real soft spot for many of their movies, no matter how good they actually are. I love Flight To Mars — and what The Film Detective has done with it. Highly, highly recommended.

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Filed under 1951, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Lesley Selander, Monogram/Allied Artists, Morris Ankrum, The Film Detective

Blu-Ray Review: I Wouldn’t Be In Your Shoes! (1948).

Directed by William Nigh
Screenplay by Steve Fisher
From a novel by Cornell Woolrich
Cinematography: Mack Stengler
Film Editor: Roy V. Livingston
Music by Edward J. Kay

Cast: Don Castle (Tom J. Quinn), Elyse Knox (Ann Quinn), Regis Toomey (Inspector Clint Judd), Charles D. Brown (Inspector Stevens), Rory Mallinson (Harry), Robert Lowell (John L. Kosloff), Steve Darrell (D.A.), Bill Kennedy (Detective), Bill Walker (Prisoner), John Doucette (Prisoner), Ray Teal (Guard)

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There are times when a cheap old movie actually seems to benefit from how cheap it is. Maybe the lack of money demands a more stylized approach to the sets and art direction. Or perhaps the tight schedule calls for long takes, reducing the number of setups to get a scene in the can. Or it could be the opportunity for character actors to get rare lead roles. Or somehow they lucked out and got a really good script. It’s most likely some combination of these. But the takeaway is this: when time and money are tight, moviemakers rely on their creativity and problem-solving skills to get something good on the screen. In other words, with a lack of budget can come a surplus of inspiration and innovation.

When it all comes together, it’s a beautiful thing to behold. I Wouldn’t Be In Your Shoes (1948), a once hard-to-see Monogram mini-noir, is one of those those times. It’s a wealth of riches from Hollywood’s Poverty Row. And its release on Blu-Ray from Warner Archive really illustrates just how well it rises above its humble origins.

Don Castle and Elyse Knox play a young couple, dancers, whose lives fall apart when he’s wrongfully convicted of murder and sent to await his turn in the electric chair. Lucky for him, he’s got a wife who’s not willing to give up on him too easily. She keeps working to track down the real killer, with the help of a sympathetic detective (Regis Toomey).

Castle and Knox are fine as the couple. They’re likable and have pretty good chemistry. Elyse Knox had a pretty brief, but interesting, movie career — Sheriff Of Tombstone (1941) with Roy Rogers, The Mummy’s Tomb (1942) starring Lon Chaney and Hit The Ice (1943) with Abbott & Costello. Don Castle made a number of pictures in the 40s, interrupted by Word War II. His last film was a small part in Gunfight At The OK Corral (1957). 

Regis Toomey is terrific here, as always. He was an insanely busy character actor, juggling big pictures like The Big Sleep (1946) and The High And The Mighty (1954) with B movies like this one and The Nebraskan (1953). He was really good in the 1953 John Wayne movie Island In The Sky. In I Wouldn’t Be In Your Shoes, he somehow manages to be slimy and sympathetic at the same time. That’s quite a trick.

Years and years ago, I went nuts over Columbia’s Whistler movies, mainly because of my infatuation with William Castle. Those movies introduced me to the great crime writer Cornell Woolrich. Two of the Whistler pictures were based on his stories; so were The Leopard Man (1943), Fall Guy (1947), The Window (1949) and Rear Window (1954). His story for I Wouldn’t Be In Your Shoes is pretty solid.

William Nigh started out in silent movies as an actor, then made the transition to director. He was really prolific, spending a lot of time working on Poverty Row for Monogram and PRC — though he’d do a picture at Republic, RKO or Universal ever once in a while. I Wouldn’t Be In Your Shoes was one of his last films. 

The picture’s cinematographer, Mack Stengler, started out in the silents and shot a few hundred movies and TV shows during his 30-plus years behind the camera. Stengler spent most of the 40s shooting at Monogram — everything from Kid Dynamite to The Ape Man (both 1943) to Fall Guy (1947) — and a number of Hopalong Cassidy pictures. He made to the move to TV in the 50s, shooting more than 75 episodes of The Lone Ranger and almost 150 episodes of Leave It To Beaver, along with plenty of other shows. He retired in 1962.

Stengler’s solid work on I Wouldn’t Be In Your Shoes gets a big boost on the Blu-Ray from Warner Archive. This is a rare Monogram picture that doesn’t scream at you how cheap it is. The Blu-Ray is sharp as a tack, with the contrast dialed-in just right. It looks like film, which it should. The sound is clean and clear. 

I Wouldn’t Be In Your Shoes is a terrific little picture. It, and its treatment on Blu-Ray, are really easy to recommend.

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Filed under DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Monogram/Allied Artists, Regis Toomey, Warner Archive, William Nigh

Blu-Ray News #350: I Wouldn’t Be In Your Shoes! (1948).

Directed by William Nigh
Starring Don Castle, Elyse Knox, Regis Toomey, Charles D. Brown, Bill Kennedy, John Doucette, Ray Teal

A Monogram picture making its way to Blu-Ray is always a reason to rejoice. This one, a fairly obscure noir picture based on a Cornell Woolrich story, it’s a really big deal indeed. Thank you, Warner Archive!

I Wouldn’t Be In Your Shoes! (1948) is one of those Poverty Row pictures where everything came together just right, from the lack of money to the chintzy sets to the no-name stars to the great character actors, to create something really memorable. Don Castle plays a dancer who’s convicted of murder (that he didn’t do). Elyse Knox is his wife, who’ll do just about anything to get him off Death Row. I’m not gonna spoil things by going any further.

This was one of director William Nigh’s last pictures. He was a prolific Poverty Row man, and he gave us some real favorites — Mutiny In The Big House (1939), Doomed To Die (194o), The Ape (1940) and Black Dragons (1942, one of “the Monogram Nine”). I Wouldn’t Be In Your Shoes! has the usual Monogram feel, stagy and a bit hurried, but it makes quite an impression. I’m a sucker for DP Mack Stengler, who shot everything from Sagebrush Law and Ghosts On The Loose (both 1943) to episodes of The Lone Ranger and Leave It To Beaver.

I Wouldn’t Be In Your Shoes! gets a big fat recommendation.

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Filed under DVD/Blu-ray News, Monogram/Allied Artists, Regis Toomey, William Nigh

Blu-Ray News #343: Silver Screams Cinema Collection (1945 – 1957).

Imprint has announced their upcoming Silver Screams Cinema Collection, six pictures (complete with extras) on three Blu-Ray discs. You might dismiss this as a bit of a random, grab bag assortment of old horror movies. But that downplays all the cool stuff that’s in here — some Republic stuff, one of Bela Lugosi’s Monogram Nine and a couple of Regalscope pictures. You get:

The Phantom Speaks (1945)
Directed by John English
Starring Richard Arlen, Stanley Ridges, Lynne Roberts, Tom Powers

The Vampire’s Ghost (1945)
Directed by Lesley Selander
Starring John Abbott, Charles Gordon, Peggy Stewart, Grant Withers, Emmett Vogan, Adele Mara

Valley Of The Zombies (1946)
Directed by Philip Ford
Starring Robert Livingston, Lorna Gray, Ian Keith, Thomas E. Jackson

Return Of The Ape Man (1946)
Directed by Philip Rosen
Starring Bela Lugosi, John Carradine, George Zucco, Frank Moran, Judith Gibson

She Devil (1957)
Directed by Kurt Neumann
Starring Mari Blanchard, Jack Kelly, Albert Dekker

Unknown Terror (1957)
Directed by Charles Marquis Warren
Starring John Howard, Mala Powers, Paul Richards, May Wynn

To me, the real jewel here is the last film, Unknown Terror, a pretty solid Regalscope picture. You won’t find this one in widescreen anywhere else, and having it in high definition is an added treat. It’s a pretty good example of the ultra-cheap Regal films. It concerns mutants and rampant fungus — and has a good part for the lovely Mala Powers.

Imprint always does really nice work, so you can count on this set being top-notch. Recommended.

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Filed under 1957, Bela Lugosi, Charles Marquis Warren, DVD/Blu-ray News, George Zucco, Imprint Films, John Carradine, Lesley Selander, Lippert/Regal/API, Mala Powers, Mari Blanchard, Monogram/Allied Artists, Republic Pictures, Sam Katzman, The Monogram Nine

Blu-Ray News #339: Flight To Mars (1951).

Directed by Lesley Selander
Starring Marguerite Chapman, Cameron Mitchell, Arthur Franz, Virginia Huston, John Litel, Morris Ankrum

The same year (1951) that Kenneth Tobey and Margaret Sheridan locked horns with The Thing From Another World, Cameron Mitchell went on a Flight To Mars and discovered chicks in shiny mini skirts. Which vision of life from other planets would you prefer?

Before you answer that, consider that in Flight To Mars, once the American scientists land on the Red Planet, the seemingly-friendly people of Mars start plotting to imprison the Earthlings and use their ship to plan their migration to Earth. You see, Mars is running low on the crucial element Corium…

All you need to know in order to put this one atop your Want List is that it’s from Lesley Selander and Monogram, there are the usual Martian women in the aforementioned mini skirts (in Cinecolor!) and that Morris Ankrum is a Martian leader named Ikorn. You’re all set to pre-order this little jewel, aren’t you?

Oh, and remember that Monogram (now called Allied Artists) would crop the spaceship effects for ‘Scope for World Without End (1956). That picture would add mutants and giant spiders to the Mars-and-miniskirts plot.

Warner Archive brought us a beautiful (and complete) restoration of The Thing a couple years ago. And now The Film Detective is giving Flight To Mars similar treatment. We’ve got to wait till July, but they’re promising a 4K restoration from original 35mm Cinecolor Separation Negatives — and a healthy batch of extras. From the two-color Technicolor of The Mystery Of The Wax Museum (1933) to some of the Trucolor Republics from Kino Lorber, we’ve seen some amazing results from these cheaper, more limited color processes. Flight To Mars should look otherworldly. This is my kind of mind-rotting nonsense! Highly recommended.

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Filed under 1951, DVD/Blu-ray News, Kenneth Tobey, Lesley Selander, Monogram/Allied Artists, Morris Ankrum, The Film Detective

A Night At The Movies, June 1955.

Hartford, Connecticut. By the way, Devil Take Us (1955) is an Oscar-nominated documentary short shot by the great Floyd Crosby.

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Filed under 1955, A Night At The Movies, Bel-Air, Broderick Crawford, Charles Bronson, Coleen Gray, Dennis O'Keefe, Floyd Crosby, Howard W. Koch, Lon Chaney Jr., Monogram/Allied Artists, Ralph Meeker, Sidney Salkow, United Artists

The Corpse Vanishes (1942).

Directed by Wallace Fox
Produced by Sam Katzman & Jack Dietz
Story & Screenplay by Harvey Gates, Sam Robins & Gerald Schnitzer
Photography: Arthur Reed
Film Editor: Robert Golden

Cast: Bela Lugosi (Dr. Lorenz), Luana Walters (Patricia Hunter), Tristram Coffin (Dr. Foster), Elizabeth Russell (Countess Lorenz), Minerva Urecal (Fagah), Angelo Rossitto (Toby), Frank Moran (Angel), Vince Barnett (Sandy), Kenneth Harlan (Editor Keenan), George Eldredge (Mike), Joan Barclay (Alice Wentworth), Gwen Kenyon (Peggy), Sam Katzman

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No matter where you look these days, the United States is falling apart, so it seems like the perfect time for The Corpse Vanishes (1942). One of Bela Lugosi’s Monogram Nine, its glorious nonsense is a nice alternative to the hideous, venomous nonsense just oozing out of every pore of our society.

Brides are collapsing at the alter, then they disappear during their ambulance ride. A spunky girl reporter (the lovely and tragic Luana Walters) discovers that all the unfortunate brides wore the same odd-smelling orchid, which leads her to Dr. George Lorenz (Lugosi), an authority on orchids — and a mad scientist who’s using the young girls to create a serum to keep his wife, Countess Lorenz (Elizabeth Russell), young and beautiful.

Toss in a family of freaks that lives in Lugosi’s basement, and the fact that Lugosi and Russell sleep in his-and-hers coffins, and you’ve got The Corpse Vanishes. It’s not a scary movie, but it has a real creepiness about it, thanks to its overall air of extreme weirdness and dread — along with a typically committed performance from Lugosi. As crazy as it may sound, this is one of the more coherent and logical of Lugosi’s Monogram Nine.

Speaking of being coherent, a guy once told me he thought the brides were alive, not dead. Well, the title is  The Corpse Vanishes, and when Luana Walters finds them, they’re in drawers like the morgue, so I stick to the dead idea. Besides, if they aren’t dead, why does Lugosi have to keep getting more of ’em?

Dr. George Lorenz (Bela Lugosi): “You are beautiful. And I shall always keep you that way.”

Since every copy of The Corpse Vanishes you see is a varying degree of bad (warning: the Blu-Ray is not an upgrade), it’s hard to get much of an idea of what Arthur Reed’s camerawork looks like. It’s hurried, for sure — shooting began in early March, and the picture was in theaters the week in May. Reed spent his entire career shooting pictures for tiny little studios like Tiffany, Argosy and Cameo — and places we’ve heard of like PRC and Monogram. Wonder what the longest schedule he ever had was? If it was more than two weeks, I’d be surprised.

Director Wallace Fox toiled on Poverty Row a lot, too, though he worked for Universal, RKO and Columbia from time to time. He started out at the end of the silents, making cheap Westerns. That continued with talkies, starring guys like Tom Tyler, Jack Randall, Grant Kirby, Tex Ritter and William Elliott. Powdersmoke Range (1935) with Harry Carey and Hoot Gibson is a good one. In the 40s, came the East Side Kids and Bela Lugosi pictures. Pillow Of Death (1945) with Lon Chaney, Jr. is part of Universal’s Inner Sanctum series. He made his way to TV in the 50s, and after a 1954 episode of Annie Oakley, he retired. 

The producer was one of my heroes, the great Sam Katzman, who was cranking out glorious junk like this by the train car load. He produced seven movies in 1942; Lugosi was in three of them.

So, with the world a big fat ball of despair, The Corpse Vanishes provides 64 minutes or rather grim, delirious fun. And an escape from a time that sure can use some escaping from. For that, Mr. Fox, Mr. Lugosi, Ms. Walters and Mr. Katzman, I can’t thank you enough.

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Filed under Bela Lugosi, Luana Walters, Monogram/Allied Artists, Sam Katzman, The Monogram Nine, Wallace Fox

Blu-Ray News #307: Attack Of The Crab Monsters (1957).

Produced & Directed by Roger Corman
Starring Richard Garland, Pamela Duncan, Russell Johnson, Leslie Bradley, Mel Welles, Richard H. Cutting

Shout Factory has announced that Roger Corman’s Attack Of The Crab Monsters (1957) will be released on Blu-Ray on August 25th (that’s next week) in a limited edition of just 1,000 copies. Act now, folks!

This pretty much sums up all that was wonderful about Hollywood in the 1950s.

Made for just $70,000, Attack Of The Crab Monsters played in a double bill with Corman’s Not Of This Earth (1957) — which Shout Factory will hopefully get to soon, and made over a million bucks.

Attack Of The Crab Monsters was shot at Leo Carrillo State Beach, Bronson Caverns and Marineland by the great cinematographer Floyd Crosby, and it features a good score by Ronald Stein. The crab monsters were made out of styrofoam, so getting them to go underwater was tough (and destructive). Everything about this movie is terrific.

This Blu-Ray promises a new scan of a fine-grain print (in its original 1.85), a new commentary, the theatrical trailer and a tribute to Mr. Corman. It’s available exclusively through the Shout Factory website, and only 1,000 of ’em will be pressed. Highly, highly recommended. Click on the half sheet up top to order yours!

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Filed under 1957, DVD/Blu-ray News, Floyd Crosby, Monogram/Allied Artists, Roger Corman, Russell Johnson, Shout/Scream Factory

DVD Review: The Bowery Boys Meet The Monsters (1954).

Directed by Edward Bernds
Produced by Ben Schwalb
Written by Edward Bernds and Elwood Ullman
Music by Marlin Skiles
Cinematography: Harry Neumann
Film Editor: William Austin

Cast: Leo Gorcey (Terrance Aloysius ‘Slip’ Mahoney), Huntz Hall (Horace Debussy ‘Sach’ Jones), David Gorcey (Chuck Anderson), Bennie Bartlett (Butch Williams), Bernard Gorcey (Louie Dumbrowski), Lloyd Corrigan (Anton Gravesend), Ellen Corby (Amelia Gravesend), John Dehner (Dr. Derek Gravesend), Laura Mason (Francine Gravesend), Paul Wexler (Grissom), Steve Calvert (Gorilla)

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This post is dedicated to my friend Dan Conway. A while back, he and I got to talking about The Bowery Boys, which prompted me to task myself with a series of posts on the Boys and their movies. This is the first.

The basic plot point of Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) — that Dracula needs a simple, pliable brain to put in the head of the Frankenstein monster, so naturally he’s after Costello — is pure genius. Wish I’d come up with it. Evidently, so did the folks behind The Bowery Boys Meet The Monsters (1954), because they took that idea and ran with it. If one monster after a brain was funny, how about a bunch of monsters after a couple of brains?

The Bowery Boys Meet The Monsters goes like this. Slip and Sach wind up at the creepy old mansion of the Gravesend family. Turns out each Gravesend is in need of a brain or body. A brain that’ll fit inside a gorilla’s head. Another brain for a robot. Some meat for a carnivorous tree. And, of course, somebody always needs some fresh blood. The boys are encouraged to stay at Chez Gravesend, and the chase begins — with the rest of the Boys coming to the rescue.

The Bowery Boys Meet The Monsters comes from the back end of the Boys’ filmography, when everyone was getting a little tired. But if you find this stuff funny, you’ll find something to laugh at here. Everything you expect is in place: Slip’s butchering of the English language, Louie’s Sweet Shop, some kind of chase, and so on. The addition of monsters and the typical old-dark-house stuff — and yet another guy (Steve Calvert ) in a gorilla suit — add a certain something. You’ve got the usual folks behind the camera — Edward Bernds directed from a script he wrote with Elwood Ullman. Harry Neumann shot it, obviously in a hurry, but he was always dependable. Great character actors like Lloyd Corrigan, Ellen Corby and John Dehner do a lot for this movie, and it looks like they were having fun.

Let’s talk about the gorilla. Steve Calvert, a bartender at Ciro’s, bought Ray “Crash” Corrigan’s ape suits and turned monkeying around into a career. He was in several of the Jungle Jim pictures with Johnny Weissmuller, starting with the first one, along with Road To Bali (1952), Bela Lugosi Meets A Brooklyn Gorilla (1952) and the late-in-the-game Republic serial Panther Girl Of The Congo (1955). I love these gorilla suit guys. Luckily, someone interviewed Calvert before he passed away.

Of course, every frame of this movie is stupid. Which is a good thing. The Bowery Boys Meet The Monsters is included in Warner Archive’s The Bowery Boys, Volume Two. This terrific four-volume series packs 12 movies on four discs in each set. They look terrific — Meet The Monsters is even presented widescreen! — and if you’re a fan of this stuff, they’re absolutely essential.

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Filed under 1954, Bela Lugosi, Bowery Boys, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Edward Bernds, Gorilla suit guys, Johnny Weissmuller, Jungle Jim, Monogram/Allied Artists, Warner Archive

Blu-Ray News #228: Frankenstein 1970 (1958).

Directed by Howard W. Koch
Starring Boris Karloff, Tom Duggan, Jana Lund, Donald Barry, Charlotte Austin

Thanks to Warner Archive, in about a month, we’ll be able to recreate this terrific twin bill in high definition in our own living rooms, as they add Frankenstein 1970 (1958) to their list of terrific Allied Artists ‘Scope monster movies on Blu-Ray.

Frankenstein 1970 is one I like a lot — in spite of itself in a few spots. I really dig Queen Of Outer Space (1958), too.

Black & white CinemaScope is such a cool thing on Blu-Ray, I can’t wait for this!

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Filed under 1958, Boris Karloff, DVD/Blu-ray News, Howard W. Koch, Monogram/Allied Artists, Warner Archive