Category Archives: The Film Detective

Blu-Ray News #370: The Capture (1950).



Directed by John Sturges
Starring Lew Ayres, Teresa Wright, Victor Jory, Jacqueline White, Jimmy Hunt, Duncan Renaldo

It’s a great day when another obscure noir picture turns up looking like a million bucks. The Film Detective has announced a January 18 Blu-Ray release for John Sturges’ under-seen The Capture (1950), from a 4K scan of 35mm archival material. With its Mexican setting, flashback structure (a confession to a priest), narration and innocent-man-accused-of-something-heinous  plot-line, it checks a lot of the noir boxes.

The Blu-Ray will include featurettes on John Sturges and Teresa Wright, a commentary by C. Courtney Joyner and more. The folks at The Film Detective have done some incredible work recently, so it’s easy to recommend this one.

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Filed under 1950, DVD/Blu-ray News, John Sturges, RKO, The Film Detective

Blu-Ray Review: Frankenstein’s Daughter (1958).

Directed by Richard E. Cunha
Written by H. E. Barrie
Cinematography: Meredith Nicholson
Film Editor: Everett Dodd
Music by Nicholas Carras

Cast: John Ashley (Johnny Bruder), Sandra Knight (Trudy Morton), Donald Murphy (Oliver Frank/Frankenstein), Sally Todd (Suzie Lawler), Harold Lloyd Jr. (Don), Felix Maurice Locher (Carter Morton), Wolfe Barzell (Elsu), John Zaremba (Lt. Boyd), Robert Dix (Det. Bill Dillon), Harry Wilson (The Monster)

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With Frankenstein’s Daughter (1958), The Film Detective has topped their exquisite Blu-Ray of Giant From The Unknown. Shot in less than a week in May of 1958 for about $65,000, Frankenstein’s Daughter is a typically glorious, wonderful late-50s junk movie.

Richard Cunha directed a handful of films, including Frankenstein’s Daughter, that I have a real fondness for, regardless of whether they’re any good or not. Caught this one on the late show as a teenager, when I was soaking up as much of this stuff as I could get my hands on.

At the time, I was enticed by stills in some monster movie books and magazines, and by the fact that John Ashley was in it. I’d seen Ashley in Larry Buchanan’s abysmal The Eye Creatures, a 16mm AIP TV movie from 1967 (and a remake of 1957’s Invasion Of The Saucer Men) — and, of course, the Beach Party pictures.

John Ashley: “Frankenstein’s Daughter was really rock bottom. But the people involved were very nice, especially Dick Cunha, the director.”*

Richard E. Cunha was born in Honolulu in 1922. He attended LA’s Art Center School. After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in December, 1941, Cunha enlisted in the Air Force and served in their First Motion Picture Unit, making training films at the Hal Roach Studios (nicknamed “Fort Roach” at the time).

After the war, Cunha started his own company, making industrial films and commercials — and he shot some early TV shows. He’d later work as DP on Death Valley Days and Branded.

It was in 1957 that Cunha began his run of low-budget monster movies: Giant From The Unknown, She Demons, Missile To The Moon and Frankenstein’s Daughter. Each were done in about a week for around $65,000. They’re a load of cheeseball fun, with personal favorites being Frankenstein’s Daughter and Missile To The Moon (I’m a sucker for those guys-reach-another-world-and-find-a-society-of-women movies). It’s hard to put your finger on what makes Cunha’s movies somehow better than the other one-week wonders from the same period, but they are. 

But our focus today is on Frankenstein’s Daughter. It’s got yet another member of the Frankenstein family conducting the family business under an assumed name (the very lame Oliver Frank). Oliver is working as a lab assistant and spiking the fruit juice of his boss’s niece Trudy (Sandra Knight) with a secret formula that contains something called Digenerol. While all this is happening, Trudy has recurring dreams of turning into a monster. And if all that’s not enough, Oliver is also assembling a female version of the typical Frankenstein brand of “perfect being.” All that, and it’s got a Playboy Playmate in it (Sally Todd, February 1957). Sounds awesome, don’t it?

On Blu-Ray, this thing looks terrific — nice and clean and sharp, framed the way it should be (1.85), with surprisingly punchy audio. Never thought I’d see it look like this.

Then there’s all the extras, and The Film Detective really piles ’em on. For starters, there’s a commentary from Tom Weaver (who also wrote some stuff for the packaging). Then there are two terrific documentaries: Richard E. Cunha: Filmmaker Of The Unknown (complete with some interview footage) and John Ashley: Man From The B’s. I loved ’em both. This is an all-around wonderful release, my favorite so far from The Film Detective.

It’s really easy to recommend this thing, especially to fans of such nonsense. Here’s hoping that The Film Detective gets around to She Demons soon (Missile To The Moon got a pretty solid Blu-Ray release from Snappy Video).

* From Interviews With B Science Fiction & Horror Movie Makers by Tom Weaver

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Filed under 1958, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, John Ashley, Richard Cunha, The Film Detective

Blu-Ray News #364: Monster From Green Hell (1957).

Directed by Kenneth G. Crane
Starring Jim Davis, Barbara Turner, Robert Griffin, Joel Fluellen

Another wonderfully cheap monster movie is making its way to Blu-Ray from The Film Detective. Monster From Green Hell (1957) concerns giant wasps created by an experimental launch into outer space. Jim Davis is one of the scientists who has to take on the massive, deadly insect.

I absolutely love 50s Big Bug movies. Lucky for me, there are quite a few of them. The Film Detective has been releasing some terrific stuff of late, and I can’t wait for this one to arrive at my hive in early 2022.

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Filed under 1957, Big Bug Movies, DVD/Blu-ray News, The Film Detective

Blu-Ray News #358: Frankenstein’s Daughter (1958).

Directed by Richard E. Cunha
Starring John Ashley, Sandra Knight, Donald Murphy, Sally Todd, Harold Lloyd, Jr., John Zaremba

Here’s another little-over-a-week wonder making its way to Blu-Ray thanks to our friends at The Film Detective. Frankenstein’s Daughter (1958) was shot in eight day for around $65,000, and it’s a real treat for lovers of such junk (count me as one).

Sandra Knight’s a teenager who dreams she turns into a monster at night. Little does she know she really is — she’s being slipped a serum that turns her into something deadly and hideous. Rest assured, it’s every bit as ridiculous, and wonderful, as it sounds.

The Film Detective is on a roll these days, and I can’t wait to get my hands on Frankenstein’s Daughter. Sorry, that sounds a bit creepy. Let’s just say I’m excited about this release.

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Filed under 1958, DVD/Blu-ray News, John Ashley, Richard Cunha, The Film Detective

Blu-Ray Review: A Life At Stake (1955).

Directed by Paul Guilfoyle
Produced by Hank McCune
Screenplay by Russ Bender
From a story ideas by Hank McCune
Director Of Photography: Ted Allan
Film Editor: Frank Sullivan
Music by Les Baxter

Cast: Angela Lansbury (Doris Hillman), Keith Andes (Edward Shaw), Douglass Dumbrille (Gus Hillman), Claudia Barrett (Madge Neilan), Jane Darwell (Landlady), Gavin Gordon (Sam Pearson), Charles Maxwell Lt. Hoff), William Henry (Myles Norman)

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Between my two blogs, I’ve said this about a thousand times (and I’m sure you’re all sick of hearing it) — it makes my heart feel good to see low-budget movies get the high-end treatment on DVD and (especially) Blu-Ray. One of the companies making these happen is The Film Detective, and their new Blu-Ray of A Life At Stake (1955) joins their growing (and very interesting) list of great-looking pictures.

A Life At Stake (1955) is an independent mini-noir starring Angela Lansbury, Keith Andes and Douglass Dumbrille. It was shot in about a week in 1954, then it sat for nine months or so before finally making it to theaters. This delay explains why a 1955 release is still in the 1.37 aspect ratio.

Andes is a down-on-his-luck architect who ends up part of a life insurance caper cooked up by a wealthy couple (Lansbury and Dumbrille). They take out a hefty policy on Andes as part of a large development project, then plan his lucrative demise. (Her first husband croaked off under kinda shifty circumstances and with a nice insurance payoff.) As you’d expect, once Andes finds out about all this, he’s not in favor of it.

Of course, life insurance thing may sound like a riff on Double Indemnity (1944), which I’m sure it is, but writer Russ Bender steers clear of obvious imitation and his ending is a bit of a surprise.

Angela Lansbury is lovely and diabolical as the femme fatale. Her career was in a bit of a lull here, not too long after she left MGM. After years of making movies there, the budget and schedule for A Life At Stake must’ve been quite a shock. She did A Lawless Street (1955) at Columbia not long after this. 

Keith Andes is pretty good as the sap who gets involved with people he shouldn’t, namely Lansbury. He was a stage, radio and movie actor. He appeared in Fritz Lang’s Clash By Night (1952) at RKO, then like a lot of others at that studio, went a long time between pictures, which might’ve hurt his career’s momentum. He wound up at Universal International where he was in pictures like Pillars Of The Sky and Away All Boats (both 1956).

Douglass Dumbrille is, of course, Douglass Dumbrille, and that’s about as good as it gets. He doesn’t have a tremendous amount of screen time here. The great Jane Darwell — from Ford’s The Grapes Of Wrath (1940), My Darling Clementine (1946), Wagon Master (1950) and The Sun Shines Bright (1953) — plays Andes’s landlady. She’s always a treat.

The picture’s director was character actor Paul Guilfoyle. He only directed three features, but did quite a few TV shows. As an actor, he’s the guy in the trunk in White Heat (1949).

By the way, Lansbury’s crazy-looking convertible is a 1954 Kaiser Darrin. They had fiberglass bodies and pocket doors. Only 435 production cars were built.

The Film Detective has done a terrific job with A Life At Stake. It looks and sounds quite nice, with a few blemishes (and perhaps some warping) that happily remind us we’re watching an old movie. With something like this, you have to work with what you can track. In this case, they gave it a 4K restoration. Les Baxter’s score has a nice range.

You can always count on The Film Detective for an extra or two (or three). There’s a commentary and essay from “film noir scholar and critic” Jason Ney, along with a short documentary on The Filmmakers, Ida Lupino’s production company that had a hand in A Life At Stake. All are top notch.

There was a film at stake, a pretty good one, and The Film Detective came through. Recommended.

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Filed under 1955, Douglass Dumbrille, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, The Film Detective

Blu-Ray Review: Flight To Mars (1951).

Directed by Lesley Selander
Screenplay by Arthur Strawn
Produced by Walter Mirisch
Cinematography: Harry Neumann
Film Editor: Richard V. Heermance
Music by Marlin Skiles

Cast: Marguerite Chapman (Alita), Cameron Mitchell (Steve Abbott), Arthur Franz (Dr. Jim Barker), Virginia Huston (Carol Stafford), John Litel (Dr. Lane), Morris Ankrum (Ikron)

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If there’s a recipe for cooking up a perfect 50s B movie, you can bet it was used to whip up Flight To Mars (1951). Let’s see. You’ve got the great B director Lesley Selander. There’s Cameron Mitchell, Arthur Franz and Morris Ankrum in the cast. There’s the lovely Martian maiden (Marguerite Chapman) in her interstellar miniskirt. And it’s all in Cinecolor from the fine folks at Monogram Pictures.

A team of American scientists, accompanied by a newspaperman (Cameron Mitchell), take a rocket ride to Mars. (Mitchell smokes through much of the flight.) Once they crash on the Red Planet, the seemingly-friendly people of Mars start plotting to imprison the Earthlings and use their damaged rocket to plan the Martian migration to Earth. You see, Mars is running low on the crucial element Corium…

There’s an element of hope in 50s science fiction that find very attractive, and Flight To Mars has it in spades. In movies like this, you can “trust the science” (and scientists) without a trace of irony or sarcasm. 

Note that they had to do some retouching to Marguerite Chapman’s outfit.

Flight To Mars, with its “Mars N Miniskirts” theme (Marguerite Chapman looks great in her Martian attire), is part of a rich cinema heritage. There’s also Abbott & Costello Go To Mars (1953), Cat-Women Of The Moon (1953, with Marie Windsor), Devil Girl From Mars (1954), World Without End (1955),  Fire Maidens From Outer Space (1956), Queen Of Outer Space (1957) and Invasion Of The Star Creatures (1962). That’d make a helluva weekend retrospective, wouldn’t it?

There’s a strong tie between Flight To Mars and both World Without End and Queen Of Outer Space — both use rocket footage from this one, severely cropped for CinemaScope. All three were released by Monogram or Allied Artisits — same company, different names.

Producer Walter Mirisch was trying to take things up a notch at Monogram, and it’s obvious they splurged a bit (relatively speaking) on Flight To Mars.

A Martian clock, made in Zeeland, Michigan.

There are the effects and Cinecolor, of course. A cast with a few name actors in it. Some interesting sets for the underground Martian city, complete with a Herman Miller ball clock (designed by George Nelson). And a handful of nice matte paintings (certainly inspired by 1936’s Things To Come).

But you’ll still see some of the usual Poverty Row tricks — the cast is tiny, the sets are often reconfigured to create new spaces, and for a movie about space flight, there’s very little space actually seen. And it was all shot in just five days!

The Film Detective treated Flight To Mars to a 4K restoration from the picture’s original 35mm Cinecolor separation negatives. On the whole, it looks wonderful. The Cinecolor is terrific, given the process’s odd, limited color palette. Some scenes are sharper than others, with the Mars portion of the movie looking best. The grain’s a bit clunky in some scenes, but I’m so glad nobody tried to process it away. Never thought I’d see it look like this. The sound is quite nice, with more range than you’d expect. There are a couple of nice documentaries from Ballyhoo, a commentary from Justin Humphreys and an essay by Don Stradley. 

I adore Monogram Pictures Corporation and have a real soft spot for many of their movies, no matter how good they actually are. I love Flight To Mars — and what The Film Detective has done with it. Highly, highly recommended.

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Filed under 1951, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Lesley Selander, Monogram/Allied Artists, Morris Ankrum, The Film Detective

Blu-Ray News #351: The Amazing Mr. X (1948).

Directed by Bernard Vorhaus
Starring Turhan Bey, Lynn Bari, Cathy O’Donnell, Richard Carlson, Donald Curtis, Virginia Gregg

There’s a lot of good stuff on the way to Blu-Ray these days. Among these riches is The Amazing Mr. X (1948), also known as The Spiritualist, coming from The Film Detective in October.

Turhan Bey plays Alexis, a phony spiritualist who gets in way over his head with his latest con — convincing a widow that he’s in contact with her late husband.

Bey is terrific as the bogus medium. The picture’s got noir regulars Lynn Bari and Cathy O’Donnell, horror/sci-fi favorite Richard Carlson and the great Virginia Gregg (who Jack Webb must’ve had on retainer).

But the real attraction here is the cinematography by John Alton. Alton was a real master, and his book Painting With Light is a classic for both filmmakers and movie geeks. To have Alton’s work in high definition is a real treat. The Amazing Mr. X is a cool little movie and given that The Film Detective is promising a restoration, it’s highly recommended indeed.

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Filed under DVD/Blu-ray News, Eagle Lion, John Alton, Richard Carlson, The Film Detective

Blu-Ray Review: Hercules And The Captive Women (1963).

Directed by Vittorio Cottafavi
Produced by Achille Piazzi
Executive Supervision: Hugo Grimaldi
Cinematography: Carlo Carlini
Music Supervision (US Version): Gordon Zahler, General Music Corp.
Title Design (US Version): Filmation Associates

Cast: Reg Park (Hercules), Fay Spain (Queen Antinea), Ettore Manni (Androclo, Re di Tebe), Luciano Marin (Illo), Laura Efrikian (Ismene), Maurizio Coffarelli (Proteus, The Monster), Leon Selznick (Narrator, US Version)

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Let’s not take for granted the fact that Blu-Ray technology has become prevalent enough that niche genre films like Hercules And The Captive Women (1963) are getting the kind of deluxe treatment usually given to pictures widely acknowledged as “classics.” As someone who seems to only watch movies that fall into some kind of goofy niche, I’m so thankful to the companies putting these things out.

That makes reviewing something like The Film Detective’s new Blu-Ray of Hercules And The Captive Women a bit odd, since I’m overjoyed by the thing before I even know what it looks like. With that out of the way, lets get to it.

Hercules And The Captive Women was released in Italy in 1961 as Ercole alla conquista di Atlantide, which translates to “Hercules At The Conquest Of Atlantis.” Shot in Technicolor and Technirama, it was Reg Park’s first time as Hercules. The picture played in the UK as Hercules Conquers Atlantis.

In 1963, The Woolner Bros. brought it to the States. They re-cut it, re-dubbed it, replaced the score, gave it the title Hercules And The Captive Women and opened it with new animated credits from Filmation. This is the version The Film Detective has brought to Blu-Ray, and it’s beautiful.

This time around, Hercules takes on Antinea, the Queen of Atlantis (Fay Spain), who’s planning on taking over the world with an army of odd-looking blond warriors. Along the way, there are all kinds of fights, plenty of posing and posturing and lots of crazy dialogue — you know, the stuff that makes these peplum movies what they are.

Hercules And The Captive Women one was one of my favorite peplums as a kid, thanks largely to the lizard monster Hercules (Reg Park) takes on. Fay Spain appeared in everything from Dragstrip Girl (1957) to The Godfather Part II (1974). I liked Park’s next one, Mario Bava’s Hercules In The Haunted World (1961), even better. This was probably the peak for peplum.

Thanks to the Technicolor and Technirama, Hercules And The Captive Women has a bigger, lusher feel than the rest of these things, which is where The Film Detective’s really pays off. The transfer — a 4K Restoration from the original 35mm camera negative — is as sharp as a tack. Sharpness and deep focus were the key benefits of Technirama, surely one of the best of the many film processes to turn up in the 50s. The audio here is, well, it is what it is. The dubbing and effects are as wonky as you remember, but quite a bit cleaner and clearer. You might recognize a music cue from Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954) — it’s also in Bend Of The River (1952) and King Kong Vs. Godzilla (1962).

There’s a mighty batch of extras: a commentary by Tim Lucas, a nice booklet with notes from C. Courtney Joyner, a documentary on peplums, Hercules And The Conquest Of Cinema, and MST3K’s take on the film. This is a really nice package. The Film Detective is a company to keep an eye on — they’re really on a roll these days. Highly recommended.

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Filed under 1963, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Fay Spain, Mario Bava, Peplum, Reg Park, The Film Detective, Woolner Brothers

Blu-Ray News #339: Flight To Mars (1951).

Directed by Lesley Selander
Starring Marguerite Chapman, Cameron Mitchell, Arthur Franz, Virginia Huston, John Litel, Morris Ankrum

The same year (1951) that Kenneth Tobey and Margaret Sheridan locked horns with The Thing From Another World, Cameron Mitchell went on a Flight To Mars and discovered chicks in shiny mini skirts. Which vision of life from other planets would you prefer?

Before you answer that, consider that in Flight To Mars, once the American scientists land on the Red Planet, the seemingly-friendly people of Mars start plotting to imprison the Earthlings and use their ship to plan their migration to Earth. You see, Mars is running low on the crucial element Corium…

All you need to know in order to put this one atop your Want List is that it’s from Lesley Selander and Monogram, there are the usual Martian women in the aforementioned mini skirts (in Cinecolor!) and that Morris Ankrum is a Martian leader named Ikorn. You’re all set to pre-order this little jewel, aren’t you?

Oh, and remember that Monogram (now called Allied Artists) would crop the spaceship effects for ‘Scope for World Without End (1956). That picture would add mutants and giant spiders to the Mars-and-miniskirts plot.

Warner Archive brought us a beautiful (and complete) restoration of The Thing a couple years ago. And now The Film Detective is giving Flight To Mars similar treatment. We’ve got to wait till July, but they’re promising a 4K restoration from original 35mm Cinecolor Separation Negatives — and a healthy batch of extras. From the two-color Technicolor of The Mystery Of The Wax Museum (1933) to some of the Trucolor Republics from Kino Lorber, we’ve seen some amazing results from these cheaper, more limited color processes. Flight To Mars should look otherworldly. This is my kind of mind-rotting nonsense! Highly recommended.

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Filed under 1951, DVD/Blu-ray News, Kenneth Tobey, Lesley Selander, Monogram/Allied Artists, Morris Ankrum, The Film Detective

DVD/Blu-Ray News #338: Hercules And The Captive Women (1963, AKA 1961’s Hercules Conquers Atlantis).

Directed by Vittorio Cottafavi
Starring Reg Park, Fay Spain, Ettore Manni, Luciano Marin

Next month, The Film Detective is unleashing Hercules And The Captive Women (1963), the Woolner Brothers’ US version of 1961’s Italian peplum picture Ercole Alla Conquista Ai Atlantide. Coming on both DVD and Blu-Ray, it’s been given a 4K Restoration from the original 35mm camera negative. Being that this one was shot in Technicolor and Technirama, it should be quite a treat.

Hercules And The Captive Women one was one of my favorite peplum things as a kid, thanks largely to the lizard monster Hercules (Reg Park) takes on (see above). It was Park’s first film. His next one was Mario Bava’s Hercules In The Haunted World (1961).

The Film Detective has promised a mighty batch of extras, including a commentary by Tim Lucas, a documentary and MST3K’s take on the film. But the biggest bonus, for me at least, will be seeing it in its proper aspect ratio and high definition. Can’t wait. Highly recommended.

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Filed under 1961, 1963, DVD/Blu-ray News, Peplum, Reg Park, The Film Detective