Category Archives: Rod Taylor

Blu-Ray Review: Dark Of The Sun (1968).

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Directed by Jack Cardiff
Produced by George Englund
Screenplay by Ranald MacDougall (as Quentin Werty) and Adrien Spies
Based on the novel by Wilbur Smith
Cinematography: Edward Scaife, Jack Cardiff (uncredited)
Film Editor: Ernest Walter
Music: Jacques Loussier

Cast: Rod Taylor (Captain Curry), Yvette Mimieux (Claire), Jim Brown (Sgt. Ruffo), Kenneth More (Dr. Wreid), Peter Carsten (Captain Henlein), Calvin Lockhart (President Ubi)

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This post was about halfway written when Rod Taylor died, and I decided not to toss it out there in the middle of the usual celebrity death news cycle. The Warner Archive Blu-Ray seemed like the perfect time to finish it up.

The Congo Chainsaw Massacre?

Put as simply as I can put it, Jack Cardiff’s Dark Of The Sun (1968) is one of the damnedest movies I’ve ever seen. Stunningly brutal, ruthlessly suspenseful and surprisingly intelligent, it’s like no action movie of its period — or any period, really. It quickly becomes obvious that all the Movie Rules have been thrown out the window, especially as they existed in 1968. We normally trust our filmmakers to get the characters, and the audience, to the end of the picture safely. And much like Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), once you get the feeling that anyone could get killed at any minute, the suspense becomes all the more powerful.

Dark As The Sun breaks a couple of other action movie rules: it gives us real characters and somehow works a very humanist message into the whole thing without seeming hypocritical — and without slowing the bloodletting even the slightest bit.

The Congo is going to hell. A mercenary (Rod Taylor) leads a strike force deep into Simba territory to bring back $50 million in diamonds that the government desperately needs. Of course, the dangerous mission goes wrong — almost everything goes wrong, and the way home becomes a real struggle to survive.

Jack Cardiff: “When I made the film, I thought that it would have been too awful for words to make it like the real violence, but it had to have violence in it… I could only say to those that I met that my film was nothing like the real thing — it was a quarter, a fifth, a sixteenth of the violence that really happened. None the less, it had the reputation as a violent film.”

Make no mistake about it, it is a violent film. Cardiff has an incredible way of insinuating far more violence, mayhem and depravity than we get to actually see.

A lot of that comes from the performances. Rod Taylor has never been better as Bruce Curry, a burned-out mercenary who’s clearly seen too much and been through too much. Jim Brown plays against Taylor well as a soldier whose morals and ideals are still intact.

Yvette Mimieux doesn’t have a lot to do as a woman they rescue along the way. Kenneth Moore is terrific as a drunken doctor who sees this mission as a way to redemption. And Peter Carsten is as evil as it gets as Captain Henlein, an ex-Nazi they reluctantly add to their team (some unfortunate dubbing hurts his performance a bit). The inevitable conflict between Curry and Henlein takes over the movie’s last reel or so as it speeds towards its bloody climax.

The cinematography of Dark Of The Sun by Edward Scaife and an uncredited Jack Cardiff is top-notch, though with Cardiff at the helm, you’d expect nothing less. The editing is very tight, making this picture a unrelenting, exhausting and ultimately haunting film.

Frank McCarthy’s original poster art.

The new Blu-Ray from Warner Archive really adds to that overall experience. It’s incredibly sharp and the color is superb — who knew Metrocolor could look like this? A batch of extras round it out nicely. They’ve really gone the extra mile for this movie, and it deserves it. Essential.

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Filed under 1968, Jack Cardiff, Jim Brown, MGM, Rod Taylor, Warner Archive

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

Blu-Ray News #160: Dark Of The Sun (1968).

Frank McCarthy’s original poster art.

Directed by Jack Cardiff
Starring Rod Taylor, Yvette Mimieux, Jim Brown, Kenneth More

Warner Archive has announced the upcoming Blu-Ray release of one of the damnedest movies I’ve ever seen, Jack Cardiff’s Dark Of The Sun (1968). Easily one of the darkest, most jaw-dropping-ly over-the-top action movies of the 60s, if you haven’t seen this, you’re in for a real treat.

Rod Taylor’s performance, like so much other stuff in this thing, has to be seen to be believed. If there was ever a movie that deserved re-discovery, it’s this one, Highly, highly recommended.

Thanks to Dick Vincent for the news. It made my day.

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Filed under 1968, DVD/Blu-ray News, MGM, Rod Taylor, Warner Archive

Blu-Ray Review: World Without End (1956).

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Directed by Edward Bernds
Story & Screenplay by Edward Bernds
Cinematography: Ellsworth Fredericks
Film Editor: Eda Warren
Original Music Leith Stevens

Cast: Hugh Marlowe (John Bordon), Nancy Gates (Garnet), Nelson Leigh (Dr. Eldon Galbraithe), Rod Taylor (Herbert Ellis), Shawn Smith (Elaine), Lisa Montell (Deena), Christopher Dark (Hank Jaffe), Booth Colman (Mories), Everett Glass (Timmek)

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Allied Artists’ ads for World Without End (1956) bragged that it was the first sci-fi movie in CinemaScope and Technicolor. Its writer and director Edward Bernds called it “A-picture mounting for a B-budgeted picture.”*

And what a B picture it is! A team of intrepid U.S. astronauts — including Hugh Marlowe and a very young Rod Taylor — returns to Earth from their trip to Mars. Somehow they wind up in the 26th century, finding their home planet reduced to a hostile, post-Apocalyptic world teeming with mutants (that’s one to the left), giant spiders, underground cities, weird old men wearing kooky hats and beautiful girls in mini skirts. You’re starting to get a feel for how terrific this is, aren’t you?

You know how these things work. Before long, the astronauts are killing the spiders, duking it out with the mutants and romancing the ladies. And people wonder why I love these old things so much.

Allied Artists sprang for Technicolor and Scope for World Without End, but that doesn’t mean Bernds had a blank check. Not by a long shot. The spaceship footage — leaving Mars’ orbit and crash-landing back on Earth — was lifted from Monogram’s Flight To Mars (1951) and severely cropped for CinemaScope (from 1.33 down to 2.55). Of course, Allied Artists used to be Monogram, so it’s easy to understand why the footage was cheap.

Walter Mirisch of Allied Artists and Edward Bernds

Bernds: “It’s strange how some producers, at least at that time, got hooked on the idea of saving money by using stock film… You could duplicate those stock shots for a few thousand dollars — are you going to make a $400,000 picture on the basis of saving a few bucks?”*

Another sign of cost-consciousness (one that you see in a lot of these 50s sci-fi flicks): post-Apocalyptic Earth looks a whole lot like the Iverson Ranch.

Edward Bernds wanted Sterling Hayden for the lead, but Allied Artists went with the much cheaper Hugh Marlowe. He’s a little bland, maybe, but fine. Marlowe would have a pretty good run in 50s science fiction. He started out in The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951), and he’d follow World Without End with Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers (1956).

Lisa Montell plays Deena, one of the lovely women of our planet’s grim future. As she describes it, “That film was a lot of fun… Part of the fun was that my character was related to the ‘Mutates’ and I got to speak in Mutate talk, which I just made up as I went along.”*

Nancy Gates falls for Hugh Marlowe, and Rod Taylor winds up shirtless. Gates’ career was going a mile a minute at this time, working steadily in movies and TV. Taylor had only been in the States a couple years when he was cast in this; he’d appear in Giant (1956) the same year.

Pin-up artist Alberto Vargas (the pressbook called him an “internationally known painter of curvaceous femininity”) did sketches for the film, focusing on the women’s costumes. These were used to promote the picture, and I’m sure they were effective. A six-sheet was available with each of the ladies 5′ 6″ tall.

Director of photography Ellsworth Fredericks did a ton of stuff for Allied Artists around this time, everything from At Gunpoint (1955) to Friendly Persuasion (1956). Wow, from Gary Cooper as a Quaker to rubber spiders. He shot Don Siegel’s Invasion Of The Body Snatchers the same year.

Warner Archive has done us all a huge favor by bringing this glorious bit of nonsense to Blu-Ray, gloriously. Fredericks uses the Scope frame really well, and it’s great to have the CinemaScope presented in high definition. Every plastic rocket, every fake spider, every skimpy costume is as sharp as a tack. The color’s perfectly saturated, and the sound’s clear as a bell.

There are certainly better movies than this, but this has become one of my favorite Blu-Rays. It’s a marvel to look at and a real hoot of a movie. Highly, highly recommended.

Read somewhere that Joe Dante saw World Without End and Abbott & Costello Meet The Mummy (1955) as a double bill some Saturday afternoon when he was a kid. He loved it so much, he sat through it twice — and when he got home, his parents had called the police!

*Sources: The Edward Bernds quotes are from Tim Weaver interviews; Lisa Montell’s quote comes from the Treasures Of Wonderment website.

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Filed under 1956, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Edward Bernds, Hugh Marlowe, Monogram/Allied Artists, Rod Taylor, Warner Archive

Blu-Ray News #110: World Without End (1956).

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Directed by Edward Bernds
Starring Hugh Marlowe, Nancy Gates, Rod Taylor

Allied Artists bragged that with World Without End (1956), they’d given the world the first sci-fi movie in CinemaScope. And Warner Archive is about to give it to us on Blu-Ray.

So, these astronauts return to Earth from a trip to Mars. Somehow they end up in the 26th century, to find a post-Apocalyptic world (actually, the Iverson Ranch) of mutants, monsters and girls in mini skirts. I love this kinda stuff.

world-without-end

Director Edward Bernds  had a most interesting career, going from The Three Stooges to The Bowery Boys to Westerns like The Storm Rider (1957) to a string of sci-fi movies — World Without End, Queen Of Outer Space (1958), Return Of The Fly (1959) and Valley Of The Dragons (1961). He wrote or co-wrote all of these. Oh, and Sam Peckinpah was the dialogue director. So far, there is no specific release date.

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Filed under 1956, DVD/Blu-ray News, Edward Bernds, Monogram/Allied Artists, Rod Taylor, Sam Peckinpah, Warner Archive

RIP, Rod Taylor.

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Rodney Sturt “Rod” Taylor
(11 January 1930 – 7 January 2015)

Hated to see that Rod Taylor passed away. It’s baffling to me that he never became a big-time movie star. It certainly wasn’t because of a lack of good movies: The Time Machine (1960), The Birds (1963, below), The Glass-Bottom Boat (1966) and on and on. There’s a bunch of ’em.

One that I only discovered last year, Dark Of The Sun (1968, above), is just astonishing. It’s available from Warner Archive, and I’d put it near the top of the list of 60s action films.

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Filed under 1963, 1968, Alfred Hitchcock, Rod Taylor, Warner Archive