Category Archives: 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

Blu-Ray Review: Giant From The Unknown (1958).

Directed by Richard E. Cunha
Produced by Marc Frederic & Arthur A. Jacobs
Written by Ralph Brooke
Frank Hart Taussig
Music by Albert Glasser
Cinematography: Richard E. Cunha

Cast: Ed Kemmer (Wayne Brooks), Sally Fraser (Janet Cleveland), Buddy Baer (Vargas the Giant), Bob Steele (Sheriff Parker), Morris Ankrum (Dr. Frederick Cleveland), Oliver Blake (Cafe Proprietor), Jolene Brand (Anne Brown), Billy Dix (Indian Joe), Gary Crutcher (Charlie Brown), Ned Davenport (Townsman), Ewing Miles Brown (Townsman)

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1957-58 was an interesting time for the Horror Film. For starters, Hammer kicked off their rethink (I hate the word “reboot”) of the classic monsters with Curse Of Frankenstein and Horror Of Dracula. Jacques Tourneur gave us the masterful Night Of The Demon. And William Castle launched his string of gimmick-y horror pictures with Macabre. But there was something else brewing, with a bunch of unknowns, independents and upstarts cooking up their own scrappy little monster movies. Pictures like Attack Of The Crab Monsters, Earth Vs. The Spider, Curse Of The Faceless Man — and Giant From The Unknown. And while they’re lacking in what we normally think of when it comes to Good Movies, they’ve been beloved by fans since they first played drive-ins and turned up on the late show.

Giant From The Unknown works from a pretty kooky premise. After 500 years in the dirt, a Spanish Conquistador, Vargas the “Diablo Giant” (Buddy Baer), is resurrected by lightning and goes on a killing spree. The sheriff (Bob Steele), a geologist (Edward Kemmer) and a group on citizens from Pine Ridge, California, eventually take him down.

Shot around Big Bear Lake for about $55,000 — and going from idea to answer print in just 60 days, Giant From The Unknown is a hoot. Director Richard E. Cunha and producer Arthur A. Jacobs were making commercials before this first feature. Cunha would make three more low-budget monster pictures in the late 50s: She Demons, Missile To The Moon and Frankenstein’s Daughter. On this one, he was a cinematographer and editor, too. 

The Giant’s makeup was done by none other than Jack Pierce, the genius behind all the Universal Monsters. And it boasts a couple of terrific character actors, Bob Steele and Morris Ankrum. Buddy Baer is, of course, the father of Jethro Bodine himself, Max Baer.

The Film Detective brings Giant From The Unknown to Blu-Ray in a “Deluxe Edition” using a 4K scan of the camera negative. It’s absolutely startling, especially of you remember how it looked on TV or VHS. It looks like it was made yesterday, unbelievably sharp and clean. It comes with a terrific stable of extras — a couple commentaries, interviews, the trailer and a nice booklet.

I’ve loved this movie for decades, and I love what The Film Detective has done with it. It’s wonderful to have movies like Giant From The Unknown get this kind of treatment. Highly, highly recommended.

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Filed under 1958, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Jack Pierce, Morris Ankrum, Richard E. Cunha, The Film Detective

Blu-Ray News #321: Giant From The Unknown (1958).

Directed by Richard E. Cunha
Starring Ed Kemmer, Sally Fraser, Buddy Baer, Bob Steele, Morris Ankrum

The Film Detective has announced an upcoming Blu-Ray release of Ricard E. Cunha’s Giant From The Unknown (1958), due in January 2021. As you can see from this trailer, the 4K scan of the camera negative is stunning.

The set will come with all kinds of goodies —
• Audio commentary with Tom Weaver and guests
• Audio commentary with co-star Gary Crutcher
You’re A B-Movie Star, Charlie Brown, interview with actor/screenwriter Gary Crutcher
• The Man With A Badge: Bob Steele In The 1950s
• Interview with author/film historian C. Courtney Joyner
• Original trailer
Booklet with still gallery and liner notes by Tom Weaver

Available before that release, in time for the holidays, is a Limited-Edition Giant Cult Film Box Set with “exclusive collectibles that will thrill any cult classic film fan, including a 13-month cult film calendar, bookmark, magnet, custom playing card deck and lapel pin inspired by Vargas the Giant himself. And that’s not all!  Each box set will also include a surprise, TFD Vault cult film, recently restored from the original camera negative in stunning 4K and a one-year subscription to The Film Detective app.” The pre-order date for that one is November 13. Act now!

Giant From The Unknown has a number of things to recommend it. The giant’s makeup was done by Jack Pierce, who did Karloff’s Frankenstein (1931) and other Universal classic monsters. It’s good to see Bob Steele in a more sizable part, and Morris Ankrum is always a treat. And there’s something about Richard E. Cunha’s low-budget, one-week pictures I like — he was the cinematographer on this one, too. It played in twin bills with his She Demons (1958) starring Irish McCalla.

Between my two blogs, I’ve said this about a million times — seeing cheap movies like this get such stellar treatment makes me feel good. And for fans of this kind of stuff, this one is easy to recommend.

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Filed under 1958, DVD/Blu-ray News, Morris Ankrum, Richard Cunha, The Film Detective

Blu-Ray News #117: The Vampire Bat (1933).

Directed by Frank Strayer
Starring Lionel Atwill, Fay Wray, Melvyn Douglas, Dwight Frye

There’s some great stuff making its way to DVD and Blu-Ray these days. The Film Detective has announced the 1933 horror picture The Vampire Bat, from a UCLA restoration that even recreates the original hand-colored sequence!

Like White Zombie (1932), The Vampire Bat is one of those times when a Poverty Row studio went nuts and came up with something really special. Majestic Pictures signed Lionel Atwill and Fay Wray from Doctor X and Mystery Of The Wax Museum, took advantage of some standing sets on the major lots, and stirred in the great Dwight Frye. It’s a great example of how creepy and crazy a 30s horror movie can get. It’s coming in April, and it’s highly recommended.

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Filed under 30s Horror, DVD/Blu-ray News, Fay Wray, Poverty Row, The Film Detective