Category Archives: Olive Films

DVD/Blu-Ray News #145: The Stranger (1946).

Directed by Orson Welles
Starring Edward G. Robinson, Loretta Young, Orson Welles

In a way, Orson Welles’ The Stranger (1946) is a better movie if you don’t know anything about it. Because if you come at it free of all the stuff film snobs turn their noses up at — Welles did it to prove he could make a “regular” Hollywood movie on time and on budget, his input into the script was limited, etc. — you’re treated to a very good noir-ish thriller filled with the touches that make Welles’ pictures so special.

Welles is a prep school teacher being pursued by a Nazi hunter (Edward G. Robinson). That’s about all you need to know other than that Russell Metty shot it, and he and Welles have a real field day. It’ll be great to see Metty’s gorgeous work, and the incredible sets by Perry Ferguson (who did Citizen Kane), in high definition when Olive Films’ Blu-Ray gets here.

It’s interesting to imagine what the movie would’ve been like if Welles had been allowed to cast Agnes Moorehead as the Nazi hunter!

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Filed under DVD/Blu-ray News, Olive Films, Orson Welles

Blu-Ray Review: Money From Home (1953).

Directed by George Marshall
Produced by Hal B. Wallis
Screenplay by Hal Kanter
Adapted by James Allardice and Hal Kanter
From a story by Damon Runyon
Director Of Photography: Daniel L. Fapp

Cast: Dean Martin (Honey Talk Nelson), Jerry Lewis (Virgil Yokum), Marjie Millar (Phyllis Leigh), Pat Crowley (Autumn Claypool), Richard Haydn (Bertie Searles), Robert Strauss (Seldom Seen Kid), Gerald Mohr (Marshall Preston), Sheldon Leonard (Jumbo Schneider), Jack Kruschen (Short Boy)

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From a technical standpoint, Money From Home (1953) was a real landmark for Martin and Lewis. It was their first picture in color — and in some theaters it played in 3-D (and stereo), too. It was one of only two (if memory servces) films shot in both three-strip Technicolor and 3-D, which meant six (!) strips of negative were going through the camera at once.

This was the first Martin and Lewis picture I ever saw, catching it on TV as a kid. I loved it. So while I think the pair made better films (Artists And Models gets my vote for their best), I have a real soft spot for this one.

It’s the 20s. Dean’s a gambler named Honey Talk Nelson who owes a small fortune to bookmaker Jumbo Schneider (Sheldon Leonard). Jumbo will forgive Honey Talk’s stack of IOUs if Dean can keep a certain horse from winning a certain race — with the alternative being a pair of cement boots. So Honey Talk drafts his animal-loving, vet tech cousin Virgil (Lewis) and off they go. This paves the way for the typical crooning and romancing from Martin — of course, he falls for the owner of the horse he’s trying to fix (Marjie Millar), along with the prerequisite stupidity from Lewis — doing the dance of the seven veils, impersonating an English jockey, letting his ant farm loose at a cocktail party, etc. There’s a lot of funny stuff in here, most of it dependent on your personal preference and/or tolerance for Jerry Lewis.

Paramount surrounded Martin and Lewis with some great character actors in this one. Richard Haydn is funny as the drunk jockey Bertie Searles), and Robert Strauss, Sheldon Leonard and Jack Kruschen are great as the mobsters. Oh, and be sure to look for Mara Corday as a waitress.

Dean in front of the Dynoptic camera rig, Jerry with his (16mm?) home movie camera.

Olive Films has gives us a nice, if bare-bones, Blu-Ray of Money From Home. There’s been a lot of squawking about why they didn’t go all out with 3-D, which overlooks just how nice this Blu-Ray really is. (And besides, this isn’t the kinda movie that needs 3-D to work.) It’s sharp as a tack, with near-perfect contrast and color — allowing for some of the inconsistencies you see in a lot of old Technicolor material. That isn’t a complaint at all — it looks every bit like what it is, a polished Paramount studio picture from the early 50s. The audio is nice and clean — it’s a shame the stereo tracks have been lost.

Money From Home is a funny picture, and Olive Films has it looking seriously splendid. It’s easy to recommend this.

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Filed under 1953, 3-D, Dean Martin, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, George Marshall, Jerry Lewis, Mara Corday, Olive Films, Paramount

DVD/Blu-Ray News #101: Panther Girl Of The Kongo (1955).

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Directed by Franklin Adreon
Starring Phyllis Coates, Myron Healey, Arthur Space, John Day

The next-to-last Republic serial, Panther Girl Of The Kongo (1955), is coming to DVD and Blu-Ray from Olive Films.

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Stock footage was the order of the day in the final years of Republic serials, and this one lifts liberally from Jungle Girl (1941) starring Frances Gifford. What really sets Panther Girl Of The Kongo apart are the always-terrific Phyllis Coates and the really cool giant crayfish (here in North Carolina, we call them crawdads). I guess Hollywood’s big bug trend (Them!, Tarantula, The Deadly Mantis, The Black Scorpion) infested the Republic lot — and it’s all brought to life by the genius of Howard and Theodore Lydecker. They built scale jungle “sets” and turned real crayfish loose on them.

It all makes for a really fun serial that comes highly recommended.

UPDATE 2/10/17: Amazon has this available for pre-order at just $12.99!

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Filed under 1955, DVD/Blu-ray News, Lydecker Brothers, Olive Films, Phyllis Coates, Republic Pictures

Blu-Ray Review: The Return Of Dracula (1958).

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Directed by Paul Landres
Story and Screenplay by Pat Fielder
Music by Gerald Fried
Director Of Photography: Jack MacKenzie, ASC
Film Editor: Sherman A. Rose, ACE

Cast: Francis Lederer (Count Dracula/Bellac Gordal), Norma Eberhardt (Rachel Mayberry), Greta Granstedt (Cora Mayberry), Gage Clark (Doctor/Reverend Whitfield), Ray Stricklyn (Tim Hansen), John Wengraf (Merriman), Virginia Vincent (Jenny Blake), Jimmie Baird (Mickey Mayberry), John McNamara (Sheriff Bicknell)

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The late 50s were a good time for movie vampires, thanks largely to the first of Hammer’s Dracula films, Horror Of Dracula (US title, 1958). But there was also The Vampire and Blood Of Dracula in 1957 and Blood Of The Vampire and The Return Of Dracula in 1958. Oh, and let’s not forget the vampire Western, Curse Of The Undead (1959).

What’s interesting about all these blood-guzzling movies is how each took a different approach to the traditional vampire lore. Hammer, with Christopher Lee in Dracula (1958), dialed up the sex and blood — all of it in alluring Technicolor. The Vampire made vampirism a medical condition. Blood Of Dracula fits right in with AIP’s I Was A Teenage Werewolf (1957), with a teenage vampire created by hypnotism, not a bite on the neck. The Return Of Dracula, which Olive Films has just released on DVD and Blu-Ray, goes in a different direction entirely — following in the steps of many of the Dracula movies that came before it, while moving the Lugosi-ish proceedings to modern-day California.

The Return Of Dracula comes from director Paul Landres and writer Pat Fielder. So did The Vampire. Landres worked mostly in TV, but his low-budget features from the 50s (Westerns and monster movies) are well worth seeking out. Pat Fielder also wrote the excellent The Monster That Challenged The World (1957) — and a number of episodes of The Rifleman.

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Fleeing Transylvania, Count Dracula (Francis Lederer) kills an artist and assumes his identity. Arriving in California, he moves in with the victim’s family, who only know him from letters. They eventually notice that their guest sleeps all day, goes out at night and doesn’t like mirrors or the local priest. Teenage Rachel (Norma Eberhardt) also becomes concerned when her friend Jenny (Virginia Vincent) starts wasting away.

Lederer makes a pretty good Dracula, aided by his Hungarian accent. Norma Eberhardt tries hard to convince us she’s a teenager, and almost pulls it off. And Jenny Blake has a great part as Rachel’s friend turned Dracula’s minion.

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But it’s the assured, creative direction of Paul Landres that keeps things interesting, and the cinematography of Jack MacKenzie that adds the atmosphere these movies rely on — both to create the right mood and conceal how cheap the sets are. MacKenzie shot Isle Of The Dead (1945) for producer Val Lewton, which should tell you something.

Olive Films has The Return Of Dracula polished up and shining like a brand new chrome-covered 1958 Impala. It’s a beautiful Blu-Ray, with contrast levels and aspect ratio (1.85) right where they need to be — and a cool color effect toward the end. Revisiting films like this, in this kind of quality, has been a real joy the last few years, and a number of them have come from Olive.

For fans of these things, or of the people who made them (I’m a big admirer of Landres’ work from this period), The Return Of Dracula comes highly recommended. And I’m hoping Olive gives The Vampire the same treatment.

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Filed under 1957, 1958, AIP, Christopher Lee, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Hammer Films, Olive Films, Paul Landres, United Artists

Blu-ray Review: The Monster Of Piedras Blancas (1958).

monster-of-piedras-blancas-1959

Directed by Irvin Berwick
Produced by Jack Kevan
Screenplay by C. Haile Chace
Director Of Photography: Philip Lathrop
Film Editor: George Gittens, ACE

Cast: Jeanne Carmen (Lucille Sturges), Les Tremayne (Dr. Sam Jorgenson), John Harmon (Sturges, the Lighthouse Keeper), Don Sullivan (Fred), Forrest Lewis (Constable George Matson), Pete Dunn (Eddie/The Monster)

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In 1958, what could you do with a couple weeks and $29,000? Well, you could put together an ultra-cheap riff on The Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954) called The Monster Of Piedras Blancas. To help stretch that budget a bit, you could borrow the hands from Universal’s The Mole People (1956) and some Metaluna mutant feet from This Island Earth (1955) — especially if your producer used to work in the makeup department at Universal.

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That’s pretty much the story of how The Monster Of Piedras Blancas came together. Producer Jack Kevan had indeed been one of the monster makers at Universal — and early in his career did makeup work on The Wizard Of Oz (1939) at MGM. He teamed up with another ex-Universal employee, Irvin Berwick, to start making pictures. This was their first.

For years, Sturges (John Harmon) the lighthouse keeper has been leaving food out for the monster of Piedras Blancas for years (much like you would for the feral cat in the vacant lot down the street). The monster eventually tires of the menu, or decides it wants larger portions, and starts preying upon the citizens of the coastal town nearby. There are beheadings and mutilations along the way, before the monster threatens the lighthouse keeper’s lovely daughter Lucille (Jean Carmen) and is eventually killed a group of townspeople led by Lucille’s boyfriend Fred (Don Sullivan) and a doctor (Les Tremayne).

monster-piedras-blancas-lc3

It sounds like a pretty typical 50s monster movie, doesn’t it? Well, it is — and an especially cheap one at that. But it has a few things going for it. First, the cast is quite good — Les Tremayne was always good. Next, it’s surprisingly graphic for its time, which is one reason it made an impression on the many kids who’ve seen it over the years. And finally, it makes great use of its unique setting. Point Piedras Blancas is a real place, about five miles from San Simeon, California. It has a lighthouse. But the one you see in the movie is at Point Conception.

The Monster Of Piedras Blancas was one of those pictures all the monster kids wanted to see, thanks to lurid stills (like the one up top) in magazines like Famous Monsters. All you had were late night TV airings and an eventual VHS copy from Republic Home Video — till it made it to DVD and Blu-ray from Olive Films. The transfer is absolutely flawless — any problems you see are with the original material. Me, I like seeing a little dust and dirt or inconsistencies that come from low-budget filmmaking. They’re all here in glistening high definition, presented in 1.78 (it would’ve been 1.85 back in 1959).

The movie it was it is — if you’re into this kind of stuff, this one’s a must. And we can all feel good about minor, obscure films getting the kind of attention that clearly went into this one. Recommended.

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Filed under 1959, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Olive Films

DVD/Blu-ray News #70: The Monster Of Piedras Blancas (1959).

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Directed by Irvin Berwick
Starring Jeanne Carmen, Les Tremayne, John Harmon, Don Sullivan, Forrest Lewis, Pete Dunn

This horror picture was completed for less than $30,000. But when it comes to 50s monster movies, it’s often the cheaper, the better. Maybe better isn’t quite the word for it.

monster-of-piedras-blancas-1959

The Monster Of Piedras Blancas (1959) is cheap, somewhat gory and a whole lotta fun. It was clearly inspired by The Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954). And Olive Films is bringing it to Blu-ray in September. Can’t wait.

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Filed under 1959, DVD/Blu-ray News, Olive Films

Blu-ray News #67: The Return Of Dracula (1958).

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Directed by Paul Landres
Starring Francis Lederer, Norman Eberhardt, Ray Strickland

Paul Landres directed three cool little horror pictures for Gramercy Pictures in 1957-58: The Vampire, The Return Of Dracula and The Flame Barrier. Each was done in week on a shoestring budget.

Olive Films has announced an October Blu-ray release for The Return Of Dracula (1958). Jack MacKenzie’s moody photography will be a real treat in high definition.

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Filed under 1958, DVD/Blu-ray News, Olive Films, Paul Landres