Category Archives: Sam Katzman

DVD News #314: The Jungle Jim Movie Collection (1950-55).

The Jungle Jim Movie Collection from Critics’ Choice Collection gives us six of Sam Kaztman’s Jungle Jim pictures starring Johnny Weissmuller.

Mark Of The Gorilla (1950)
Directed by William Berke
Starring Johnny Weissmuller, Trudy Marshall, Onslow Stevens

Pygmy Island (1950)
Directed by William Berke
Starring Johnny Weissmuller, Ann Savage, David Bruce, Steven Geray, William Tannen, Tristram Coffin, Billy Curtis, Billy Barty

Fury Of The Congo (1951)
Directed by William Berke
Starring Johnny Weissmuller, Sherry Moreland, William Henry, Lyle Talbot, John Hart

Jungle Manhunt (1951)
Directed by Lew Landers
Starring Johnny Weissmuller, Bob Waterfield, Sheila Ryan, Rick Vallin, Lyle Talbot

Jungle Man-Eaters (1954)
Directed by Lee Sholem
Starring Johnny Weissmuller, Karin Booth, Richard Stapley, Richard Wyler, Bernie Hamilton

Jungle Moon Men (1955)
Directed by Charles S. Gould
Starring Johnny Weissmuller, Jean Byron, Helene Stanton, Bill Henry, Myron Healey

The transfers on these films are usually terrific. Let’s hope Jungle Man-Eaters (1954) and Jungle Moon Men (1955) are widescreen. They were 1.85 in theaters.

A few years ago, Umbrella Entertainment in Australia put out a six-movie/three-DVD set, The Jungle Jim Movie Collection. Get both sets and you’ll have 11 of the 16 Jungle Jim pictures.

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Filed under 1950, 1951, 1954, 1955, Columbia, Critics' Choice Collection, Johnny Weissmuller, Jungle Jim, Lyle Talbot, Myron Healey, Sam Katzman

Devil Goddess (1955)

Directed by Spencer G. Bennet
Produced by Sam Katzman
Screenplay by George Plympton
Story by Dwight Babcock
Director Of Photography: Ira Morgan
Film Editor: Aaron Stell

Cast: Johnny Weissmuller (Johnny Weissmuller), Angela Stevens (Nora Blakely), Selmer Jackson (Prof. Carl Blakely), William Tannen (Nels Comstock), Ed Hinton (Joseph Leopold), William M. Griffith (Prof. Ralph Dixon), Abel Fernandez (Teinusi), Frank Lackteen (Nkruma), Vera Francis (Sarabina), Kimba

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A few days ago, I saw the 1955 Three Stooges short Blunder Boys (it’s a Shemp one). It featured the lovely Angela Stevens, which reminded me that I’d been meaning to write something about Devil Goddess (1955), the last of the 16 Jungle Jim movies. Miss Stevens did the Stooges short and the Jungle Jim picture the same year.

This one begins with Kimba the chimp sharing pan-fried fish and liquor with a couple of his simian pals at Johnny Weissmuller’s camp (he’s not called Jungle Jim in this one). Next, Angela Stevens comes through the jungle looking for Weissmuller — to help her father’s expedition to find a missing professor. Before long, everyone’s wrapped up in a bunch of nonsense about the Mountain Of Explosive Fire, a fire demon, a tribe that happens to have King Solomon’s treasure, and a gang of looters who want that treasure. Oh, and that tribe, they sacrifice young women to the fire god.

Shot in a week right before Christmas of 1954, Devil Goddess shows that the Jungle Jim series had pretty much run out of gas. Johnny Weissmuller, who was never a good actor, seems really disinterested here. Aside from a few cameos, this was his last feature. Incidentally, Devil Goddess was playing theaters when the Jungle Jim TV show, starring Weissmuller, made its debut in October 1955.

There’s lots of stock footage in the picture’s 68 minutes, ranging from wild animal stuff to shots lifted from previous Jungle Jim movies. The Mountain Of Explosive Fire looks a lot like Bronson Canyon. And there’s a one-take-and-let’s-move-on feel to the whole thing. All typical for a Sam Katzman production.

Spencer Gordon Bennett, one of the most prolific serial and B Western directors, called the shots on Devil Goddess. The screenplay was by George Plympton, who wrote dozens of serials, from a story from Dwight Babcock. Babcock cooked up the stories for some of Universal’s B horror movies like The Mummy’s Curse (1944) and The Brute Man (1946). He later wrote lots of TV, including episodes of Jungle Jim and The Roy Rogers Show.

Cinematographer Ira H. Morgan’s career ran from the teens to the late 50s. He shot Chaplin’s Modern Times (1936), the 1948 Superman serial and a few other Jungle Jim pictures. His last film was The Cyclops (1957). There’s no telling how many setups he was doing a day on Devil Goddess.

The Jungle Jim pictures are, for the most part, absent on DVD and Blu-Ray. An Australian set gives you six of them, including this one. Not sure how they look or if any further volumes are planned. (Some of these later entries should be 1.85, and some sources say they were released in sepia.) Wouldn’t a nice set of all 16 be a hoot?

One last thing: the title. The fire demon is as close as we ever get to Devil Goddess.

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Filed under 1955, Angela Stevens, Columbia, Johnny Weissmuller, Jungle Jim, Sam Katzman, Spencer Gordon Bennet, The Three Stooges

Blu-Ray News #283: Hollywood Story (1951) And New Orleans Uncensored (1955).

Mill Creek has another William Castle hi-def double bill on the way. This one’s got a couple of his noir pictures. If you’re like me, anything Mr. Castle touched is worthwhile.

Hollywood Story (1951)
Directed by William Castle
Starring Richard Conte, Julia Adams, Henry Hull, Fred Clark, Francis X. Bushman, William Farnum

William Castle spent a few years working as a contract director at Universal-International, directing cool pictures like Johnny Stool Pigeon (1949), Cave Of Outlaws (1951) and this one, Hollywood Story (1951). It’s based on the murder of the silent director William Desmond Taylor and features a handful of silent stars in tiny parts (probably done as a promo stunt more than anything else). It was shot by the underrated cinematographer Carl E. Guthrie.

Hollywood Story was often paired with Huge Fregonse’s Apache Drums (1951).

New Orleans Uncensored (1955)
Directed by William Castle
Produced by Sam Katzman
Starring Arthur Franz, Beverly Garland, Helene Stanton, Michael Ansara, Stacy Harris, Mike Mazurki

After those years at U-I, Castle moved to Columbia and made a slew of movies in Sam Katzman’s unit. This one has a dream cast — Beverly Garland, Stacy Harris, Mike Mazurki, it’s in widescreen B&W, and it runs a brisk 76 minutes. My kind of movie!

This single-disc set comes highly, highly recommended. Let’s hope Mill Creek has more like this on the way!

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Filed under 1951, 1955, Beverly Garland, Columbia, DVD/Blu-ray News, Julie Adams, Mill Creek, Sam Katzman, Universal (-International), William Castle

DVD News #273: The Jungle Jim Movie Collection.

Boy, am I stoked about this! Umbrella Entertainment in Australia has put together a six-movie/three-DVD set, The Jungle Jim Movie Collection, something Sam Katzman fans have been screaming for for years. It includes:

Jungle Jim (1948)
Directed by William Berke
Starring Johnny Weissmuller, Virginia Grey, George Reeves, Lita Baron

Voodoo Tiger (1952)
Directed by Spencer G. Bennet
Starring Johnny Weissmuller, James Seay, Jean Byron

Savage Mutiny (1953)
Directed by Spencer G. Bennet
Starring Johnny Weissmuller, Angela Stevens, Lester Matthews, Nelson Leigh

Jungle Man-Eaters (1954)
Directed by Lee Sholem
Starring Johnny Weissmuller, Karin Booth, Richard Stapley

Cannibal Attack (1954)
Directed by Lee Sholem
Starring Johnny Weissmuller, Judy Walsh, David Bruce

Devil Goddess (1955)
Directed by Spencer G. Bennet
Starring Johnny Weissmuller, Angela Stevens, Selmer Jackson

The six pictures in the set range from the first to the last of the 16 Jungle Jim movies. Every indication is that this is Region Free. This is the kind of stuff that will make 2020 a very good year!

Thanks to Graham Carter for the news.

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Filed under 1952, 1953, 1954, 1955, Angela Stevens, Columbia, DVD/Blu-ray News, George Reeves, Johnny Weissmuller, Jungle Jim, Lee Sholem, Sam Katzman, Spencer Gordon Bennet, Virginia Grey

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

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