Category Archives: Sam Katzman

Saturdays With Sam (Katzman) #1: Who The Hell Is Captain Africa?

Most Sam Katzman movies were seen on Saturdays (mornings and afternoons, to be exact), so it makes sense to devote the day to him.

Heading into 1955, Sam Katzman’s latest project was going to be a second The Phantom serial — Columbia’d done an excellent one starring Tom Tyler back in 1943. It was written, it was cast, it was being shot when someone at Columbia figured out they no longer had the rights to the character. Negotiations with King Features quickly got underway and they wanted more money than Sam Katzman was willing to pay. So long, Phantom.

Some rewriting, re-costuming, reshooting and re-editing took care of things. The serial’s star, John Hart, now wore a getup that look somewhat Phantom-ish, except for the weird addition of a leather aviator’s cap. This was Captain Africa. Adventures Of Captain Africa, Mighty Jungle Avenger! (1955) turned out to be Columbia and Katzman’s last jungle serial (they’d only make two more serials period), and its 15 chapters include a liberal amount of stock footage (Katzman’s SOP) from Jungle Menace (1937), The Phantom (1943) and The Desert Hawk (1944). When this was going to be an actual followup to the first Phantom serial, there was to be a lot more footage from it. There is a surprising lack of new footage in this thing, and it seems like every other chapter is a recap. Guess director Spencer Gordon Bennet did what he could under the circumstances.

It’s George Barrows as the gorilla in this one. And John Hart would go on to do Riot On The Sunset Strip (1967) for Katzman.

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Filed under 1955, Columbia, Gorilla suit guys, John Hart, Sam Katzman, Spencer Gordon Bennet

Happy Birthday, Sam Katzman.

Sam Katzman
(July 7, 1901 – August 4, 1973)

Here’s producer Sam Katzman with Little Richard on the set of Don’t Knock The Rock (1956). It’s a Rock N Roll picture directed by Fred F. Sears. Little Richard does “Long Tall Sally” and “Tutti-Frutti” in it. You need to see it.

Click it make it legible.

Sam Katzman was born on this day back in 1901. As a little kid, I noticed that his name turned up in the credits of a whole lot of movies I really liked. And for all the joy his cheap little pictures have given the world — everything from the Batman serial to the Jungle Jim movies to The Werewolf (1956) to Harum Scarum (1965) with Elvis, he should have a postage stamp, a national holiday, something. He sure made my world a better place.

Incidentally, today is Fred F. Sears’ birthday, too. Wonder if a great big birthday cake was ever shared on the Columbia lot?

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Filed under 1956, Elvis Presley, Fred F. Sears, Jungle Jim, 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

Jungle Moon Men (1955).

Directed by Charles S. Gould
Produced by Sam Katzman
Written by Dwight Babcock and Jo Pagano
Cinematography​: ​Henry Freulich
Film Edit​or: ​Henry Batista

Johnny Weissmuller (Johnny Weissmuller), Jean Byron (Ellen Marsten), Helene Stanton (Oma), Bill Henry (Bob Prentice), Myron Healey (Mark Santo), Billy Curtis (Damu), Michael Granger (Nolimo), Frank Sully (Max), Ben Chapman (Marro), Kenneth L. Smith (Link), Ed Hinton (Regan), Kimba

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Nobody’s ever going to accuse Johnny Weissmuller of being a good actor, but he made plenty of entertaining movies. He chose to retire after Sam Katzman’s Jungle Jim films, 16 cheaply-made (the norm for Katzman) adventure pictures that make liberal use of stock footage, and the later syndicated TV series. Jungle Moon Men (1955) is the next-to-last Jungle Jim picture, and Weissmuller goes by his real name instead of Jungle Jim. Go figure.

In this one, Weissmuller sings on as a guide for Ellen Marston (Jean Byron), a researcher who wants to explore the Baku country — in search of the Egyptians’ secret to eternal life.

They come across the Moon Men — a pygmy tribe armed with poisonous darts, a necklace bearing Egyptian hieroglyphics and a big fat diamond, and some bad guys (Myron Healey is one of them) out to get that diamond. All this nonsense takes us to a cave where Jim/Johnny and the others meet the Baku High Priestess Oma (Helene Stanton) — who must remain in the cave to avoid the wrath of the sun god Rah. It’s rather weird, to say the least, and it’s all wrapped up in 69 minutes.

Director Charles S. Gould had a long career as an assistant director — he worked on number of the classic Universal monster movies, among other things. Jungle Moon Men is one of the few features he directed. The later Jungle Jims are a fairly ramshackle bunch, with (even) less money and attention going into making these things. Gould probably did the best he could with what he had to work with.

Jean Byron, the researcher here, is known for playing Patty Duke’s mom on The Patty Duke Show. Helene Stanton was in The Big Combo and New Orleans Uncensored (both 1955), highlights of a very short film career. She’s the mother of Dr. Drew Pinsky, the radio/reality show guy. Myron Healey made a pretty good living playing bad guy parts like this. And Billy Curtis — who’s in everything from Terror Of Tiny Town (1938) to Superman And The Mole-Men (1951) to High Plains Drifter (1973), along with a previous Jungle Jim picture, Pygmy Island (1950) — plays Damu, the leader of the Moon Men.

There’s not a lot to the Jungle Jim movies, and Jungle Moon Men is one of the lesser ones. But there’s something about these things — probably Weissmuller himself — that really appeals to me. Others must agree: calls for a DVD or Blu-Ray set of these is one of the most common wants I get around here.

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Filed under 1955, Columbia, Johnny Weissmuller, Jungle Jim, Myron Healey, Sam Katzman

Jungle Jim.

I’ve been wanting to dive into Sam Katzman’s Jungle Jim series, but have been waiting for someone to put out a set of all 16 pictures (released from 1948 to 1955) and the single-season TV show. That hasn’t happened, and the single discs are way too expensive and take up way too much shelf space.

Figure this summer is a good time to take em on, along with the Bowery Boys. First will be Johnny Weissmuller in either Cannibal Attack (1954) or Jungle Moon Men (1955), a couple of the later ones.

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Filed under Bowery Boys, Columbia, Johnny Weissmuller, Jungle Jim, Lew Landers, Monogram/Allied Artists, Sam Katzman, Spencer Gordon Bennett

Blu-Ray Review: The Miami Story (1954).

Directed by Fred F. Sears
Produced by Sam Katzman
Story and Screenplay by Robert E. Kent
Director Of Photography​: ​Henry Freulich
Film Edit​or: ​Viola Lawrence

Cast: Barry Sullivan (Mick Flagg AKA Mike Pierce), Luther Adler (Tony Brill), John Baer (Ted Delacorte), Adele Jergens (Gwen Abbott), Beverly Garland (Holly Abbott), Dan Riss (Frank Alton), Damian O’Flynn (Police Chief Martin Belman), Chris Alcaide (Robert Bishop), Gene Darcy (Johnny Loker)

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Here’s looking at a solid little noir/crime picture from producer Sam Katzman and director Fred F. Sears — The Miami Story (1954). It’s featured in Noir Archive, Volume 1 (1944-1954), a nine-movie, three-disc Blue-Ray set Kit Parker Films.

The Miami Story has ex-mobster Mick Flagg (Barry Sullivan) lured out of retirement (he’s now a farmer) to help snag some of his old “co-workers” in Miami. Flagg’s approach to his task isn’t hampered by the kinds of things cops or the Feds have to contend with, and he turns out to be very effective at stirring up the hoods. Along the way, he gets to threaten, beat up or at least talk smack to about everybody else in the cast. A couple of examples —

Teddy (John Baer): How much of this am I supposed to swallow?

Mick Flagg (Barry Sullivan): You better take a full dose of it, kid, if you wanna stay alive.

Gwen (Adele Jergens): Don’t give me that holier-than-thou stuff, Holly. You could hoof. All I could do was shake on top and wiggle on the bottom in crummy burlesque joints.

Mick Flagg (Barry Sullivan): Big sister just told you there’s no Santa Claus and you’re all beat up about it. Relax, things’ll look a lot worse tomorrow.

The picture is filled with dialogue like this. And Sullivan is terrific at delivering it, as is Adele Jergens. Jergens gives any movie a boost, and this one is no exception. Tired of playing these kinds of tawdry parts, she’d leave the picture business a few after The Miami Story. What a shame. She’s in one of my favorites, Armored Car Robbery (1950), along with Sugarfoot (1951), Abbott & Costello Meet The Invisible Man (1951) and a couple of the Blondie movies.

The performances are solid, to be sure, but I give a lot of credit for The Miami Story‘s success to Fred F. Sears and screenwriter Robert E. Kent. Sears proved himself to be a master craftsman, churning out a string of Katzman pictures like this that are far better than they probably have any right to be. Like Sears, Robert Kent worked a lot for Katzman’s unit at Columbia, churning out scripts for stuff like Fort Ti (1953), Jesse James Vs. The Daltons (1954) and The Werewolf (1956). He also came up with the story for Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome (1947). They made so many pictures, they can’t all be great, but when their best are well worth seeking out.

The Miami Story looks like a million bucks on Blu-Ray. DP Henry Freulich, another craftsman, is well-served here. It’s sharp, with nice-looking grain and solid blacks. As the only picture in the set from 1954, The Miami Story is the only title in 1.85. This movie, and the Blu-Ray collection, come highly recommended. If this becomes your gateway to the joys of Columbia B movies, you’re in for a real treat.

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Filed under 1954, Adele Jergens, Barry Sullivan, Beverly Garland, Columbia, Fred F. Sears, Kit Parker, Sam Katzman

Blu-Ray News #233: Noir Archive Volume 3: 1956-1960.

I’ve been making my way through the first glorious volume of this terrific series from Kit Parker and Mill Creek Entertainment, and now they’ve announced the third. There’s another great lineup on the way (no pun intended).

The Shadow On The Window (1956)
Directed by William Asher
Starring Phil Carey, Betty Garrett, John Barrymore, Jr., Jerry Mathers

Jerry Mathers goes into shock after seeing his mom hassled by a group of thugs, then helps his dad (Phil Carey) and the cops rescue her. The Beaver is really good in this.

The Long Haul (1957)
Directed by Ken Hughes
Starring Victor Mature, Diana Dors

A British noir picture with Mature all tangled up in the shifty trucking industry — and a hood’s girlfriend.

Pickup Alley 6S

Pickup Alley (1957, UK Title: Interpol)
Directed by John Gilling
Starring Victor Mature, Anita Ekberg, Trevor Howard

Victor Mature and Anita Ekberg in a B&W Scope picture about dope smugglers — directed by the guy who did The Plague Of The Zombies (1966)! Where’s this movie been all my life?

The Tijuana Story (1957)
Directed by Leslie Kardos
Starring Rodolfo Acosta, James Darren, Jean Willes

Another lurid geography lesson from the great Sam Katzman. I love Rodolfo Acosta — his tiny part in One-Eyed Jacks includes one of the coolest single shots in all of Cinema, if you ask me (which you didn’t). Here, he’s got the lead!

She Played With Fire (1957, UK Title: Fortune Is A Woman)
Directed by Sidney Gilliat
Starring Jack Hawkins, ArleneDahl, DennisPrice, ChristopherLee
More UK noir, this one about a painting and insurance fraud.

The Lineup (1958)
Directed by Don Siegel
Starring Eli Wallach, Robert Keith, Warner Anderson, Richard Jaeckel

The TV series is turned into a typically tough and tight Don Siegel film. Siegel’s San Francisco movies (this and Dirty Harry) really get in the way of the city’s whole peace and love/hippie vibe. This time, it’s a town crawling with dope, crooks and killers. This set’s worth it for this one alone!

The Case Against Brooklyn (1958)
Directed by Paul Wendkos
Starring Darren McGavin, Maggie Hayes, Warren Stevens, Nestor Paiva, Brian G. Hutton

A documentary-style, true-story crooked cop picture starring Darren McGaven. Paul Wendkos also did The Legend Of Lizzie Borden (1975). Produced by Charles H. Schneer in-between Harryhausen movies. Oh, and Nestor Paiva’s in it.

The Crimson Kimono (1959)
Directed by Samuel Fuller
Starring James Shigeta, Glenn Corbett, Victoria Shaw

On the surface, it’s a detective story, but that’s never how a Fuller movie works, is it? Fuller understood that the best way to tackle an issue/message in a picture was to wrap it up in something else like a cop story or a Western. He also knew that if you stuck to B movies, the suits didn’t pay much attention and left you alone to do what you wanted. This one’s terrific.

Man On A String (1960)
Directed by Andre De Toth
Starring Ernest Borgnine, Kerwin Mathews, Alexander Scourby, Colleen Dewhurst, Glenn Corbett, Ted Knight, Seymour Cassel

Ernest Borgnine stars in this 1960 spy picture based on the life (and autobiography, Ten Years A Counterspy) of Boris Morros, a Russian-born musical director in Hollywood (John Ford’s Stagecoach, 1939) who was first a Russian spy, then a counterspy for the FBI. Andre de Toth focuses on the double-crosses that stack up like cordwood.

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Filed under 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, Andre de Toth, Christopher Lee, Columbia, Darren McGavin, Diana Dors, Don Siegel, DVD/Blu-ray News, Ernest Borgnine, John Gilling, Kit Parker, Mill Creek, Nestor Paiva, Sam Fuller, Sam Katzman, William Asher