Category Archives: Richard Denning

Blu-Ray Review: The Crooked Web (1955).

Directed by Nathan Hertz Juran
Produced by Sam Katzman
Story & Screenplay by Lou Breslow
Cinematography: Henry Freulich
Film Editor: Edwin H. Bryant

Cast: Frank Lovejoy (Stanley Fabian), Mari Blanchard (Joanie Daniel), Richard Denning (Frank Daniel), John Mylong (Herr Koenig), Harry Lauter (Sgt. Mike Jancoweizc), Steven Ritch (Ramon ‘Ray’ Torres), Lou Merrill (Herr Schmitt)

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With some movies, you can smell the next plot point, or even the rest of the picture, a mile away. The experience is then reduced to just waiting around to see if you were right — unless you just give up on the whole thing. Then there are movies that make a point of not only zigging when you expect them to zag, but doing it so frequently you can’t possibly get ahead of them. The Crooked Web (1955) is one of those movies.

As a favor, you’re not going to get much of a synopsis out of me. Stan (Frank Lovejoy) owns a drive-in restaurant and he’s sweet on Joanie (Mari Blanchard), one of his carhops. One afternoon, Joanie’s brother Frank (Richard Denning) pulls up to say hello.

The Crooked Web makes great use of Stan’s Drive-In at the corner of Sunset and Highland in Hollywood. Giving Mark Lovejoy’s character the name Stan lets them show us all that wonderful signage. As soon as the movie was over, I hopped online to see if Stan’s was still around. Sadly, it’s not.

All these twists and turns are the work of Lou Breslow, who gets credit for both the story and screenplay. He takes this one way beyond what you expect from Sam Katzman’s unit. Breslow’s credits stretch back to the silents and he worked on pictures like W.C. Field’s masterpiece It’s A Gift (1934), Charlie Chan At The Race Track (1936), Mr. Moto Takes A Chance (1938), Shooting High with Gene Autry (1940), Blondie Goes To College (1942), Abbott & Costello In Hollywood (1945) and My Favorite Spy (1951). The Crooked Web was his last feature, though he did lots of TV.

Before trying his hand at directing, Nathan Juran was an art director — one of the gaggle of geniuses behind the Oscar-winning designs for John Ford’s How Green Was My Valley (1941). Juran directed a handful of pictures, mostly Westerns at Universal-International, before taking on The Crooked Web. He found his sweet spot in horror/sci-fi/fantasy stuff, and he’d go on to do 20 Million Miles To Earth (1957), The Seventh Voyage Of Sinbad (1958), The Brain From Planet Arous (1957) and Attack Of The 50 Foot Woman (1958). His Western Good Day For A Hanging (1958) starring Fred MacMurray is really terrific.

A picture like The Crooked Web can’t really work if its cast isn’t up to snuff. And the three leads here are top-notch — pros going about their business. Beginning with Lovejoy being head over heels for Blanchard, everybody’s believable enough to escort us from one plot twist to another. Frank Lovejoy is excellent in this one. Richard Denning was so good as a creep in both Hangman’s Knot (1952) and Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954) that I have a hard time seeing him as anything else.

I’ve always liked Mari Blanchard, especially in Rails Into Laramie (1954) and Stagecoach To Fury (1957). She’s very good here, though she was probably hired primarily for her eye-candy-ness. She had a pretty incredible life, overcoming polio as a child — look her up sometime. Her last feature was McLintock! (1963). Cancer took her in 1970.

The Crooked Web is part of Kit Parker’s Noir Archive, Volume 2 (1954-1955), a nine-movie, three-disc Blue-Ray set. It looks terrific — all nine pictures do. I’ve covered this before, but it’s worth repeating: seeing B movies like this on Blu-Ray can be a real revelation. The craft that went into these things has been obscured by washed-out TV prints and sorry-looking VHS tapes. People like cinematographer Henry Freulich certainly deserve to have their work seen in the best possible condition. And that’s exactly how you see The Crooked Web here. The movie comes highly recommended — and the Blu-Ray set, well, it’s essential.

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Filed under 1955, Columbia, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Kit Parker, Mari Blanchard, Nathan Juran, Richard Denning, Sam Katzman

One Quick Thing.

The second volume of Kit Parker’s Noir Archive series showed up yesterday. In a year filled with really great stuff coming out on Blu-Ray, this might be my favorite so far.

Four of my favorite B directors are here: William Castle, Nathan Juran, Phil Karlson and Fred F. Sears. Some of my favorite actors, too — John Agar, Robert Blake, Mari Blanchard, Timothy Carey, Richard Denning, Faith Domergue, Vince Edwards, Beverly Garland, Brian Keith, Guy Madison, Kim Novack and more.

All nine pictures look terrific — the Columbia transfers are almost flawless. Proper reviews will follow, but I can’t recommend Noir Archives Volume 2: 1954-1956 highly enough.

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Filed under 1954, 1955, 1956, Beverly Garland, Columbia, DVD/Blu-ray News, Faith Domergue, Fred F. Sears, John Agar, Kit Parker, Mari Blanchard, Nathan Juran, Phil Karlson, Richard Denning, Sam Katzman, Timothy Carey, William Castle

Blu-Ray News #229: Noir Archive Volume 2: 1954-1956.

The first nine-film, three-disc volume in Kit Parker’s awesome assemblage of hi-def Film Noir hasn’t hit the street yet, and now the second’s been announced. These are coming in July, and it’s another great lineup.

Bait (1954)
Directed by Hugo Haas
Starring Cleo Moore, Hugo Haas, John Agar

Hugo Haas directs himself, Cleo Moore and John Agar in a love triangle involving a lost gold mine.

The Crooked Web (1955)
Directed by Nathan Juran
Starring Frank Lovejoy, Mari Blanchard, Richard Denning

Nathan Juran directed lots of cool stuff, but this is the only one with Mari Blanchard as a waitress. This one involves gold, too, but it’s a stash of Nazi gold. Nathan Juran did some cool stuff — from The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad (1957) to Good Day For A Hanging (1958).

The Night Holds Terror (1955)
Directed by Andrew Stone
Starring Jack Kelly, Hildy Parks, Vince Edwards, John Cassavetes, David Cross, Jonathan Hale

Sort of a combination of The Hitch-Hiker and The Desperate Hours, with John Cassavetes one of the crooks.

Footsteps In The Fog (1955)
Directed by Arthur Lubin
Starring Stewart Granger, Jean Simmons, Bill Travers, Ronald Squire

The only picture in the set in color, this one has Stewart Granger as a killer who chooses the wrong victim, literally.

Cell_2455_Death_Row LC

Cell 2455, Death Row (1955)
Directed by Fred F. Sears
Starring William Campbell, Marian Carr, Kathryn Grant, Harvey Stephens, Vince Edwards

Based on the true story by Caryl Chessman. Director Fred F. Sears is a real favorite of mine.

5 Against The House (1955)
Directed by Phil Karlson
Starring Kim Novack, Alvy Moore, William Conrad, Kerwin Mathews

A team of Army buddies snag a camper trailer and head to Reno to rob the casinos. Phil Karlson keeps things tough and tight. Terrific movie.

New Orleans Uncensored (1955)
Directed by William Castle
Starring Arthur Franz, Beverly Garland, Helene Stanton, Mike Mazurki

William Castle working for Sam Katzman. Beverly Garland. Black and white widescreen. Why haven’t you pre-ordered one already?

Spin A Dark Web (1955)
Directed by Vernon Sewell
Starring Faith Domergue, Lee Patterson, Rona Anderson, Martin Benson

A boxer gets sucked into the London mob, with a little help from Faith Domergue. Vernon Sewell directed lots of B movies in the UK, and this is a cool one.

Rumble On The Docks (1956)
Directed by Fred F. Sears
Starring James Darren, Laurie Carrol, Michael Granger, Robert Blake, Timothy Carey

Fred F. Sears, Robert Blake and Timothy Carey all working on a Sam Katzman movie — and the results are every bit as wonderful as you might be imagining.

To have these nine pictures, in their original aspect ration and high definition, is a real treat. I can’t wait.

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Filed under 1954, 1955, 1956, Beverly Garland, DVD/Blu-ray News, Faith Domergue, Fred F. Sears, John Agar, Kit Parker, Mari Blanchard, Mill Creek, Nathan Juran, Phil Karlson, Richard Denning, Timothy Carey, William Castle

2018 In Review – Part 2.

When I started doing DVD and Blu-Ray commentaries, it no longer felt appropriate to survey the best DVD and Blu-Ray releases of the year. So, as a substitute (maybe a poor one), here’s a reminder of a few things we were treated to this year. We’ll let all the praise, complaints or ranking come from you in the comments. Part 1 can be found over at 50 Westerns From The 50s.

This was a banner year for old sci-fi and horror movies making their way to Blu-Ray. From what we’re hearing so far, next year might be the same for noir and crime pictures. Anyway, here’s some of 2018’s bounty — a few of which I’m still working on proper reviews of.

The Thing (From Another World) (1951)
This is one of the all-time favorite movies. I find something new in it every time I see it — a line, a look, a particular setup, the music, a new appreciation for the guy who did the fire stunt. It’s always something — and that, to me, is one of the requirements for a Great Movie. Warner Archive worked long and hard on this one, and I’m in their debt for sure.

The Hammer Draculas
It’s like there was some sorta Monster Movie Summit, and it was decreed that the Hammer Dracula series would be given its due on Blu-Ray. Warner Archive did a lot of the heavy lifting with Horror Of Dracula (1958), Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972) and The Satanic Rites Of Dracula (1974). In the meantime, Scream Factory came through with Dracula – Prince Of Darkness (1966). Taste The Blood Of Dracula (1970) hit Blu-Ray a few years ago. That leaves Scars Of Dracula (197) as the only Hammer Dracula picture not available on Blu-Ray. Who’s gonna step up to the plate for that one?

The Hammer goodness wasn’t limited to the Dracula pictures. Mill Creek included some Hammer pictures in their twin-bill sets, some of the best values in all of home video. Hammer Films, William Castle, Ray Harryhausen — there’s some good stuff in those sets.

The Creature From The Black Lagoon Complete Legacy Collection
That’s quite a name for a set that only includes three movies. But what movies they are — the first two, anyway. And they’re in both widescreen 2-D and 3-D.

Gun Crazy (1949)
Joseph H. Lewis hit it out of the park with Gun Crazy (1949). So did his cast — and this year, with a stunning Blu-Ray, so did Warner Archive.

Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1956)
Don Siegel making it to Blu-Ray is always a reason to celebrate, and this is one of his many milestones. Over the years, we’ve all put up with some pretty shoddy-looking stuff when it comes to this incredible movie. Olive Films’ Blu-Ray is a huge improvement.

The Tingler (1959)
It’s hard to pick between this one and House On Haunted Hill (1958) for my favorite William Castle movie. Scream Factory did a wonderful job with this one, and they’ve given us other Castle pictures as well.

Dark Of The Sun (1968)
Warner Archive has been hinting around about this one on Blu-Ray for a while. It’s beautiful — and still one of the damnedest movies I’ve ever seen.

There’s a few that stood out for me. What DVD and Blu-Ray releases knocked you out this year?

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Filed under 1951, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1958, 1959, 1970, 1972, 1973, 3-D, Barbara Shelley, Caroline Munro, Christopher Lee, Don Siegel, DVD/Blu-ray News, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Hammer Films, Howard Hawks, Jack Arnold, James Arness, John Agar, Joseph H. Lewis, Julie Adams, Kenneth Tobey, Kevin McCarthy, Mill Creek, Nestor Paiva, Olive Films, Peggy Cummins, Peter Cushing, Richard Carlson, Richard Denning, Richarld Carlson, RKO, Rod Taylor, Shout/Scream Factory, Terence Fisher, Vincent Price, Warner Archive, William Castle

Happy Halloween!

Here’s hoping your Halloween offers up a cornucopia of Creature comforts, such as this terrific greeting card that’s making the rounds.*

As a kid, this was one of my favorite days of the year, thanks to the all-night monster movie marathons the local TV stations would run. (DVDs, streaming TV and other stuff have pretty much killed that experience, and I feel sorry for kids today.) So, tomorrow morning, let me know what monster movie(s) you used to mark this monstrous occasion.

* How easy it is to fall into the Forrest J. Ackerman pun/alliteration thing when writing about monsters.

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Filed under 1954, Forrest Ackerman, Jack Arnold, Julie Adams, Richard Carlson, Richard Denning, Universal (-International)

Blu-Ray News #188: Universal Classic Monsters – Complete 30-Film Collection (1931-1956).

If in its glory days, Universal made a movie about Frankenstein, Dracula, The Mummy, The Wolf Man, The Invisible Man or The Creature From The Black Lagoon, it’s in this box — in high definition. What more do I have to tell you?

Here’s what you get: Dracula / Drácula (Spanish version) / Frankenstein / The Mummy / The Invisible Man / Werewolf Of London / Bride Of Frankenstein / Dracula’s Daughter / Son Of Frankenstein / The Invisible Man Returns / The Mummy’s Hand / The Invisible Woman / The Wolf Man / The Mummy’s Tomb / Ghost Of Frankenstein / Invisible Agent / Son Of Dracula / Phantom Of The Opera / Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man / The Mummy’s Ghost / House Of Frankenstein / The Mummy’s Curse / The Invisible Man’s Revenge / House Of Dracula / She-Wolf Of London / Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein / Abbott & Costello Meet The Invisible Man / Creature From The Black Lagoon / Abbott & Costello Meet The Mummy / Revenge Of The Creature / The Creature Walks Among Us

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Thirty movies in all, and only one in color (Phantom Of The Opera). The Creature movies and Abbott & Costello Meet The Mummy are 1.85.

a-and-c-meet-dr-jekyllJust wondering: where’s Abbott & Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (1953)? Guess Jekyll/Hyde’s outside their normal monster cycle.

This is a great thing, and it’s coming next week.

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Filed under 3-D, 30s Horror, Abbott & Costello, Basil Rathbone, Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Curt Siodmak, DVD/Blu-ray News, Jack Arnold, Jack Pierce, James Whale, John Carradine, Julie Adams, Lon Chaney Jr., Marie Windsor, Nestor Paiva, Richard Carlson, Richard Denning, Tod Browning, Universal (-International), Vincent Price, Whit Bissell

Blu-Ray Review: The Black Scorpion (1957).

Directed by Edward Ludwig
Produced by Jack Dietz and Frank Melford
Screenplay by Robert Blees and David Duncan
Story by Paul Yawitz
Director Of Photography: Lionel Lindon
Special Effects by Willis H. O’Brien and Pete Peterson
Film Editor: Richard L. Van Enger
Music by Paul Sawtell

Cast: Richard Denning (Hank Scott), Mara Corday (Teresa), Carlos Rivas (Arturo Ramos), Mario Navarro (Juanito), Carlos Muzquiz (Dr. Velazco), Pascual Garcia Pena (Jose de la Cruz)

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When you look at the big-bug movies of the 50s, the good-to-bad ratio is surprisingly good. Them! (1954), about giant ants, is terrific. Tarantula (1955) is excellent, too, thanks in large part to Jack Arnold’s snappy direction. The Deadly Mantis (1957) sticks the mantis in the Manhattan Tunnel for a cool last reel. Then there’s The Black Scorpion (1957), with Warner Bros. hoping to scare up another batch of Them!-like profits, which doesn’t get the attention it deserves.

Black Scorpion Mex LC

A once-dormant volcano erupts, wreaking all sorts of havoc in Mexico. Geologists Henry Scott (Richard Denning) and Arturo Ramos (Carlos Rivas) come to investigate, meeting the lovely Teresa (Mara Corday) — and discovering a nest of giant scorpions living in the caverns beneath the volcano.

black_scorpion still cropped

These aren’t just any giant scorpions. They’re the work of the great Willis O’Brian and his assistant Pete Peterson. A master of stop-motion animation and one of the true pioneers of movie effects, O’Brien gave us The Lost World (1925), King Kong (1933), Mighty Joe Young (1949) and others. His career was winding down by the time he took on The Black Scorpion, and even though working with a small budget (setting up shop in tiny studio space and his own garage, the story goes), he made sure the movie delivered the goods. (As a kid, I measured the quality of movies like this according to how much screen time the monsters had. I had yet to appreciate Mara Corday.)

A terrible picture of one of Willis O’Brien’s original scorpion models.

In the shots where you see two or three scorpions, imagine animating all those legs! A sequence with a train attacked by one of the scorpions is just incredible. And I love how the scorpions are constantly drooling!

Lionel Lindon’s cinematography is top-notch, using deep shadows and limited lighting to create a creepy mood, especially in the caverns, and avoid making the special effects appear not-too-special. (Be sure to see his stunning work on 1957’s The Lonely Man.) Lindon won an Oscar for Around The World In 80 Days (1956). The editing comes from Richard L. Van Enger, who spent years at Republic cutting everything from Heart Of The Golden West (1942) with Roy Rogers to John Wayne in Sands Of Iwo Jima (1949) to Nick Ray’s Johnny Guitar (1954). The sound design on this one is great, too. The scorpion noises (borrowed from Them!) are a very effective way of building suspense.

Black Scorpion LC 2

Richard Denning and Mara Corday were old hands at this kinda stuff. He’d already dealt with The Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954) and she’d come up against Tarantula. They do exactly what a movie like this asks of them: look scared, be brave and deliver some whacky pseudo-science to fool audiences into almost believing it for 80 minutes or so.

I’ve had this movie on laserdisc, on DVD twice (one being from Warner Archive), and this Blu-Ray is really something special. The Black Scorpion has always fluctuated in sharpness from shot to shot — maybe because of the special effects. It’s no different in high definition, but when it’s sharp, it’s as sharp as I’ve ever seen. Stunning at times.

The extras are terrific, gathering up some of O’Brien’s tests, clips, trailers and other goodies. Warner Archive was wise to keep those for this release, but for me, the true extra is still the restoration of its 1.85 framing — now even better in high definition. Every setup looks so much better, from the dialogue scenes to the monster footage. Widescreen films like this, regardless of their age, can look pretty clunky when seen full-frame.

The movie’s easy to recommend. So is the upgrade to Blu-Ray. Go for it!

Time for a bit of transparency: This is a partial re-tread of my review of the Warner Archive DVD of The Black Scorpion from a few years back.

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Filed under 1957, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Edward Ludwig, Mara Corday, Richard Denning, Warner Archive, Warner Bros.