Category Archives: The Film Detective

Blu-Ray Review: The Bat (1959).


Directed by Crane Wilbur
Produced by C.J. Tevlin
Screen Story & Screenplay by Crane Wilbur
Based on the play by Mary Roberts Rinehart & Avery Hopwood
Director Of Photography: Joseph F. Biroc, ASC
Film Editor: William Austin, ACE
Musical Score by Louis Forbes

Cast: Vincent Price (Dr. Malcolm Wells), Agnes Moorehead (Cornelia van Gorder), Gavin Gordon (Lt. Andy Anderson), John Sutton (Warner), Lenita Lane (Lizzie Allen), Elaine Edwards (Dale Bailey), Darla Hood (Judy Hollander), John Bryant (Mark Fleming), Harvey Stephens (John Fleming)


As a monster movie-loving kid growing up in the 1970s, as Halloween approached, I’d go through the TV Guide and newspaper with a fine-tooth comb, looking for the treats that would be running on the local TV stations (and if lucky, an area theater). Then with my roster all planned out, and armed with a plastic pumpkin full of candy, I’d sit down to watch as much of it as I could take in. (Bet I wasn’t the only one doing this.) 

Of course, it works nothing like that now. Tons of old monster movies can be plucked out of thin air through streaming services and YouTube. But for us hardcore collector nerds, who want to own something physical, and for those of us who demand that these things look as good (or better) than they did when they came out, Halloween works a tiny bit like it did back in the day — who’s putting out what on DVD and Blu-Ray as October 31st rolls around?

One of this year’s treats is The Bat (1959), now on Blu-Ray from The Film Detective. This is actually a picture I first caught during one of those Halloween movie marathons. And if only for the simple reason that it stars Vincent Price and Agnes Moorehead, it’s wonderful.

It’s not really a horror picture, but a murder mystery complete with all the necessary ingredients — a million bucks in stolen money, a murder or two, a shadowy figure called The Bat, Vincent Price in a laboratory (studying bats, ironically) and a mystery-writer-turned-sleuth (Agnes Moorehead) trying to get the bottom of it all. This was the fourth film adaptation of Mary Roberts Rinehart’s novel, which had also been turned into a play.


The Bat
comes from a real sweet spot in Vincent Price’s career, as he became a true horror icon. He’d already done The Fly and its sequel, House On Haunted Hill and The Tingler. He’d soon kick off the Corman/Poe “cycle” with House Of Usher (1960). Price is a hoot in films like this, rarely taking himself too seriously. Agnes Moorehead is always a joy to watch, and she’s terrific here.

Crane Wilbur’s screenplay and direction are pretty good, keeping things moving and letting the leads do their thing. As an actor, Wilbur is known for 1914 serial The Perils Of Pauline. As a writer, he gave us some really cool stuff, pictures like He Walked By Night (1949), House Of Wax (1953), Crime Wave (1954) and The Phenix City Story (1955). 

One of the film’s biggest assets is the camerawork of Joseph Biroc — whose black and white work is always incredible, in pictures ranging from Sam Fuller’s Forty Guns (1957) to William Castle’s 13 Ghosts (1960) to Robert Aldrich’s Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964, he worked with Aldrich a lot). Biroc won an Oscar for The Towering Inferno (1974).

The Film Detective has done Biroc proud with this new DVD and Blu-Ray. Working from original 35mm elements, this thing looks gorgeous. I don’t know that the sharpness and contrast could be any better, and the 1.85:1 framing is perfect. Any lines and dirt have been cleaned up without any noticeable manipulation, and the audio is as clear as a bell.

Along with the spectacular transfer of the film itself, we’re treated to plenty of extras. The booklet contains an essay, “The Case Of The Forgotten Author,” about author Mary Roberts Rinehart and her source material for The Bat. There’s a featurette from Ballyhoo, “The Case For Crane Wilbur,” covering his long, varied career. Then there are nine radio shows featuring Price. They sound terrific and they’re very, very cool. Finally, there’s a feature-length commentary by Jason A. Ney.

Overall, this is a fabulous package. The movie’s a lot of fun, and it’s presented flawlessly. The extras are top-notch, with the radio shows being a real bonus. The Film Detective folks are on a real roll these days. Highly, highly recommended. 

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Filed under 1959, Agnes Moorehead, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Monogram/Allied Artists, The Film Detective, Vincent Price

A Night At The Movies, Halloween 1959.

You could see The Bat (1959) at The Uptown Theatre in Sedalia, Missouri, back in October of 1959. Today, we can see it looking splendid on DVD and Blu-Ray from The Film Detective. Watch for my review, coming real soon.

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Filed under 1959, A Night At The Movies, Agnes Moorehead, Halloween Marathons, Monogram/Allied Artists, The Film Detective, Vincent Price

Blu-Ray Review: Battle Of The Worlds (1961).

Directed by Antonio Margheriti (Anthony Dawson)
Story & Screenplay by Vassily Petrov
Cinematography: Marcello Masciocchi
Edited by Mario Serandrei
Music by Mario Migliard

Cast: Claude Rains (Professor Benson), Bill Carter (Cmdr. Robert Cole), Maya Brent (Eve Barnett), Umberto Orsini (Dr. Fred Steele), Jacqueline Derval (Mrs. Collins)


Antonio Margheriti’s first film as director, Assignment: Outer Space (1960, AKA Space-Men) did well, so Titanus (there’s no producer credited on these films) gave him a bit more to work with for the next one, which ended up being Battle Of The Worlds (1961). The most obvious thing to come from that boost in budget was hiring Claude Rains, who does a lot more for the film than it does for him.

Rains plays Professor Benson, a cantankerous old genius who’s been watching another planet, which he calls “The Outsider,” approach the earth. Scientists from a space station near Mars consult with Rains, who predicts The Outsider will come close to the earth, but pass by without hitting it. They doubt him, but when it turns out he’s right, everybody’s relieved. Whew! Then it alters its course and settles into an orbit around the earth. That’s not a very planet-y thing to do.

Rains decides some sort of intelligence is controlling The Outsider and tells the scientists it needs to be destroyed right away. Again, the professor is ignored.

Spaceships are sent out to investigate — and they’re promptly destroyed by a fleet of flying saucers that come swarming out of The Outsider. Whatever this thing is, it’s got some vile ideas about the earth. Now, everybody’s more than willing to listen to Rains. And he knows exactly what needs to be done.

Like most Italian science fiction movies, Battle Of The Worlds is pretty odd. At times, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. The budget limitations are painfully obvious. The acting is, for the most part, pretty bad (hard to tell with all the dubbing). And the pacing is weird. But like Margheriti’s previous picture, there’s something about it that I find really, really cool.

All of Margheriti’s sci-fi pictures of the 60s demonstrate his love of science fiction, which makes up for most of the film’s deficiencies. The special effects run hot and cold. Maybe that’s being generous, but I prefer them that way. Battle Of The Worlds is jam-packed with ideas and creativity, which are far more valuable than a several million bucks worth of CGI. 

Claude Rains is a lot of fun in this thing. He’s pretty over-the-top, playing an eccentric scientist a lot like the one he played in the remake of The Lost World (1960, he was Professor Challenger in that one). Rains demanded that his scenes for Battle Of The Worlds be shot with sound, rather than the Italian way of dubbing everything in later. English-speaking actors were used frequently. All this makes a big difference in how the film plays.

Margheriti and cinematographer Marcello Masciocchi are very inventive with their camerawork. Odd angles and unusual lens choices give the picture a very distinct, other-wordly look — and help disguise the lack of funds.

Battle Of The Worlds touches down in Orlando, Florida, 1963.

In 1963, Topaz Film Corporation paired Battle Of The Worlds with another Italian picture, Atom Age Vampire (1960). They played drive-ins for years before winding up on television. That’s where I caught up with it, on a local station late one night in the mid-70s.

The crap we used to watch (left) vs. The Film Detective (right).

Now let’s get to the new Blu-Ray from The Film Detective. An original 35mm print from the American Topaz release was used. While the picture played Italy in Technicolor, it criss-crossed the US in Eastman Color — and that’s what we see here. The folks at The Film Detective have cleaned up the print quite a bit — it’s sharp as a tack, very steady and with minimal splices. The color has faded a bit toward that Eastman Color’s weird, sickly, pinkish brown, however. That’s a shame, but what we have here is far, far superior to what we’ve been suffering through for decades (see the above comparison, from The Film Detective YouTube channel). It’s not perfect, but I’m so happy to have it. (Having grown up watching lots of film prints, mostly 16mm, I have a soft spot for a few light lines, some grain and a bit of fading. It’s part of the film experience, and I like being reminded of it every now and then.) I’m so thankful that companies like The Film Detective are willing to do the sleuthing necessary to find the best available material for films like this, then taking on the costly clean-up work needed for a nice DVD/Blu-Ray release.

The supplements are quite nice. There’s a half-hour piece on Antonio Margheriti from Ballyhoo and Tim Lucas. It’s excellent. There’s also a commentary by Justin Humphreys, and a nice essay in the booklet.

I’ve been a fan of Battle Of The Worlds since I saw it on TV. For years, I’ve wanted it to make it to DVD or Blu-Ray in a version that reflected what it looked like back in 1961 (or ’63). This isn’t perfect, but I love it. I’ve been on a Margheriti sci-fi mini-binge of late, so the timing with this is perfect. A big thanks to folks at The Film Detective, and a big recommendation to all y’all out there.

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Filed under 1961, Antonio Margheriti, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, The Film Detective

Blu-Ray Review: The Brain From Planet Arous (1957).

Directed by Nathan Hertz (Nathan Juran)
Produced by Jacques Marquette
Written by Ray Buffum
Director Of Photography: Jacques Marquette
Supervising Film Editor: Irving Schoenberg
Music by Walter Greene

Cast: John Agar (Steve March), Joyce Meadows (Sally Fallon), Robert Fuller (Dan Murphy), Thomas Browne Henry (John Fallon), Kenneth Terrell (Colonel), Henry Travis (Colonel Frogley), E. Leslie Thomas (General Brown), Tim Graham (Sheriff Wiley Pane), Bill Giorgio (Russian), Dale Tate (voices of Gor and Vol)


Many 50s science fiction movies were plagued by paltry budgets and skimpy schedules. But seen today, there’s a charm to them money just can’t buy. The Brain From Planet Arous (1957), a cheesy gem from Nathan Juran starring John Agar, is a perfect example of this.

In the early 50s, the owners of two independent cinema chains — with theaters spread across Virginia, North and South Carolina, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi* — got together and entered the production side of things as Howco International. They knew the kind of pictures that worked in cinemas like theirs, and that’s exactly what they made. One of their offerings was The Brain From Planet Arous.

According to just about every criteria used to size up a movie — production values, effects, writing, acting, etc. — this picture comes up lacking. But it might be a better movie, or at least a more enjoyable one, because of it.

Steve March (John Agar), a scientist, and Dan (Robert Fuller), his assistant, head to Mystery Mountain to investigate a “hot burst of gamma.” Deep in Bronson Caves, Steve and Dan are confronted by a floating brain-monster named Gor from the planet Arous. Dan shoots at Gor and is promptly burned to a crisp, while Steve’s body is possessed by the sinister brain. “I need your body as a dwelling place.” 

Through Agar, Gor announces that he’s going to take over the earth, and he’ll wipe out the capital of any country that doesn’t play along. Help arrives when Vol, a friendly brain from planet Arous, shows up and inhabits the body of George, a dog belonging to March’s fiancee Sally (Joyce Meadows). Turns out, Gor is Public Enemy Number One back on Arous. 

It also turns out that Gor has a thing for earth ladies, and while dwelling in Agar, he puts the moves on Joyce Meadows. “She appeals to me.”

By the last reel, the fate of the world depends on Sally and her alien-possessed dog. What does Sally do? Get out the encyclopedia, of course.

One of the best things about The Brain From Planet Arous is that it’s absolutely, completely nuts, in a way we wouldn’t really see until Hollywood’s open-border policy for whacked-out Mexican and Italian monster movies came along in the early 60s. The story comes from a short story cameraman and producer Jacques Marquette liked as a kid. Screenplay duties went to Ray Buffum, who also wrote the film’s “co-hit” Teenage Monster.

By this time, architect turned art director turned director Nathan Juran had shown himself to be quite adept at sci-fi and fantasy stuff with The Deadly Mantis and 20 Million Miles To Earth (both 1957). With this one and Attack Of The 50 Foot Woman (1958), he had himself credited as Nathan Hertz. As I see it, there was no need to hide behind a pseudonym. He does a good job with what he had to work with. The performances are fine, across the board — with Agar completely over the top when inhabited by Gor. Marquette’s cinematography is quite good, especially in the cave sequences. It doesn’t look near as cheap as it clearly was. And Irving Schoenberg’s no-frills editing keeps things moving well.

I’ve loved The Brain From Planet Arous since I was a kid, when I was actually frightened by Gor and creeped out by Agar’s chrome-looking contacts. So I was absolutely thrilled to learn it was on its way to Blu-Ray from The Film Detective. I knew Phil Hopkins and his gang would come through — and did they ever! The movie itself looks terrific, but not perfect. That’s the way I like ’em! The sound is clear as a bell. The extras are nicely done (Ballyhoo’s work here is up to their usual high standards), including an intro featuring Joyce Meadows. 

With movies like The Brain From Planet Arous getting Cadillac Blu-Ray releases like this, this is a wonderful time to be an old sci-fi movie nut. I’m surely not the only one out there with this picture one near the top of their Blu-Ray Want List. Highly, highly recommended.

Oh, and the picture started shooting 65 years ago today.

* This is the kind of stuff that makes me proud to be from the South!

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Filed under 1957, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Howco International, John Agar, Nathan Juran, The Film Detective

Blu-Ray News #394: The Tarzan Vault Collection (1918-1935).

In August, The Film Detective is dragging three early Tarzan pictures out of the deep, dark video jungle and giving them new life on Blu-Ray.

Tarzan Of The Apes (1918)
Directed by Scott Sidney
Starring Elmo Lincoln, Enid Markey, George B. French, Gordon Griffith, Eugene Pallette

The first Tarzan film ever made. Edgar Rice Burroughs’ novel of the same name was published in 1912, and this is still held up as the most faithful film version of the character. The swamps of Louisiana doubled for the jungles of Africa. The film was a hit, and Elmo Lincoln would continue as Tarzan.

Adventures Of Tarzan (1921)
Directed by Robert F. Hill & Scott Sidney
Starring Elmo Lincoln, Louise Lorraine, Scott Pembroke, Frank Whitson, Lillian Worth

This 15-chapter serial was Elmo Lincoln’s third, and final, time as the Lord Of The Jungle, though he’d have small parts in a couple of the 40s Tarzan pictures.

The New Adventures Of Tarzan (1935)
Directed by Edward Kull & Wilbur F. McGaugh
Starring Herman Brix, Ula Holt, Ashton Dearholt, Frank Baker, Lewis Sargent

This 12-chapter serial was filmed on location in Guatemala, which brought with it a ton of problems, from financial and romantic woes to disease and impassible roads — and interference from MGM, which by this time was in the middle of their Johnny Weissmuller series. (Read up on this one sometime — it’s got quite a production history.)

Herman Brix made a name for himself at the 1928 Olympics, and they say he was considered by MGM before they cast Weissmuller in 1932’s Tarzan The Ape Man. Brix would later go by the name Bruce Bennett and he had a long, successful film career.

You can count on The Film Detective to make things things look as good as possible — and to load ’em up with extras. There are commentaries, documentaries and more. This is gonna be a good one, folks!

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Filed under Bruce Bennett, DVD/Blu-ray News, Johnny Weissmuller, MGM, Serial, Tarzan, The Film Detective

Assignment: Outer Space (1960, AKA Space-Men).

Directed by Antonio Margheriti (Anthony Dawson)
Screenplay by Antonio Margheriti & Ennio De Concini
Cinematography: Marcello Masciocchi
Music by Lelio Luttazzi

Cast: Rik Van Nutter (Ray Peterson, IZ41), Gabriella Farinon (Lucy, Y13), David Montresor (George the Commander), Archie Savage (Al, X15), Alain Dijon (Archie, Y16), Franco Fantasia (Sullivan)


Antonio Margheriti worked on documentaries, did special effects work and wrote screenplays before directing his first feature, Assignment: Outer Space (1960). This kicked off a career that went from whacked-out Italian science fiction and spaghetti westerns to peplum and horror movies to spy movies and action films.

When you crank out more than 50 fad-chasing genre pictures, it’s understood that quite a few of them will be less than great. But Margheriti had a real knack for no-budget special effects — and he loved science fiction. He certainly knew how to get a movie done quickly and efficiently — using multiple cameras to get everything from master shots to closeups at the same time. With the Gamma One series, for instance, he shot four films simultaneously, using the same actors, props and sets — shooting scenes from four color-coded screenplays each day. Margheriti’s ingenuity and love of cinema is baked into most of his films, especially the ones from the 60s, and it helps put a lot of them over.

Space-Men — or Assignment: Outer Space, as it’s known in the States — is a picture with more ideas and scope than its budget could bankroll, but Margheriti manages to make it work.

Antonio Margheriti (from a 1970 interview): “Back then, Titanus was a big production company and one day they asked me if I wanted to make this film. I said yes, obviously… I made the film in 14 days and I spent 41,000,000 lire, which is very little money.”

The story is pretty basic — a broken-down spaceship is on a collision course with Earth, and the team on a single space station are mankind’s only hope. The special effects are passable, nothing more. And its pacing is pretty leisurely for a story with so much natural suspense.

But these liabilities become assets in Margheriti’s hands. The story serves as a framework for some imaginative sequences that may, or may not, advance the story. Margheriti devotes lots of screen time to showing us the (speculative) ins and outs of space travel, in a way that plays a bit like a precursor to Kubrick’s 2001: a space odyssey (1968) — with a waking-up-from-suspended-animation scene that was clearly an influence on Alien (1979). The special effects are quaint, cool, surreal and charming — especially for those of use who consider CGI a nail in cinema’s coffin. (Larger models would’ve made a big difference, no pun intended.) It’s a very visual experience throughout, which makes it a real shame that it looks so consistently, and internationally, lousy on video.

They say that while Margheriti was shooting Assignment: Outer Space, Mario Bava was hard at work on Black Sunday (1960) on the soundstage next door at Scalera Film studios. One thing I found brilliant was the use of letters and numbers on the characters’ uniforms and space suits, so we know who’s who in longer shots — much like numbers on a baseball jersey. And one more thing: Rik Van Nutter would go on to play Felix Leiter in Thunderball (1965) — and was married to Anita Ekberg.

Antonio Margheriti would follow this with Battle Of The Worlds (1961), which is on its way to Blu-Ray from The Film Detective, and a few years later would come the Gamma One pictures (available from Warner Archive). In between, some spaghetti westerns and gothic horror — all of it worth your time. And though his work from the 70s and 80s doesn’t have the same ingenuity and creativity, it’s a real shame that Margheriti isn’t better known, and appreciated. 

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Filed under 1960, Antonio Margheriti, Mario Bava, The Film Detective, Warner Archive

The Carbon Arc Podcast Episode 1: Phil Hopkins, The Film Detective.

The first episode of The Carbon Arc Podcast is up and running — with Mr. Phil Hopkins of The Film Detective as our guest.

You can click on the thing up top to hear/see it on YouTube, or you can find it on podcast-y corral things like Podomatic.

Hope you enjoy it.

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Filed under AIP, Film Preservation, John Agar, The Carbon Arc Podcast, The Film Detective

Blu-Ray News #392: The Bat (1959).

Directed by Crane Wilbur
Starring Vincent Price, Agnes Moorehead, Gavin Gordon, John Sutton

The Film Detective comes through with another one. Coming in September is The Bat (1959), a mystery thriller that Allied Artists promoted much like House On Haunted Hill (1959). People expected horror and didn’t get it, and that has hurt the picture’s reputation over the years. 

Price is as good as ever and Agnes Moorehead is terrific. This The Bat was the fourth film based on the stageplay by Mary Roberts Rinehart and Avery Hopwood, based on a novel by Rinehart.

The Film Detective has done incredible work over the last couple years, dragging cool movies like this from the depths of PD, dollar-bin DVD hell— and giving them new life on Blu-Ray. This one is easy to recommend.

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Filed under 1959, Agnes Moorehead, DVD/Blu-ray News, Monogram/Allied Artists, The Film Detective, Vincent Price

Blu-Ray News #387: Battle Of The Worlds (Il Pianeta Degli Uomini Spenti, 1961).

Directed by Antonio Margheriti (Anthony Dawson)
Starring Claude Rains, Bill Carter, Maya Brent, Umberto Orsini

Antonio Margheriti directed quite a few science fiction and horror movies, spy films, spaghetti westerns and peplum pictures in the 60s and 70s. He rarely had much money to work with, and some of the scripts were lousy, but he had a visual flair that makes his films worthwhile. His whacked-out Wild, Wild Planet (1966) is incredible.

The Film Detective is bringing Margheriti’s second film, Battle Of The Worlds (1961) starring Claude Rains, to Blu-Ray this summer. Distributed in the States by Topaz Film Corp. in 1963, it was often paired with Atom Age Vampire (1960). Battle Of The Worlds is one of those movies that looks pretty terrible whenever it turns up, a situation I’m sure the folks at The Film Detective will rectify. Looking forward to seeing it look like something!

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Filed under 1961, Antonio Margheriti, DVD/Blu-ray News, The Film Detective

DVD/Blu-Ray News #385: Girl On A Chain Gang (1966).

Directed by Jerry Gross
Starring William Watson, Julie Ange, Ron Charles, Arlene Farber

The Film Detective is bringing Girl On A Chain Gang (1966) to DVD and Blu-Ray. It’s a drive-in exploitation picture from Jerry Gross, who made a fortune in the 70s with films like I Drink Your Blood (1970), I Eat Your Skin (1971), I Spit On Your Grave (1978) and The Boogey Man (1980). Gross was a big believer in the power of a good title, and that string of pictures kinda proves his point.

Gross wrote, produced and directed Girl On A Chain Gang, so we have no one to blame it on but him. It’s a junky, yet fascinating story of three young people framed, busted and tossed in a hellhole prison by corrupt Southern cops. (It’s always the South, isn’t it?) The 70s would see a bumper crop of pictures like this — crooked cops in the Deep South. Gross was ahead of the curve with this one.

I’m looking forward to seeing this with the level of care we’ve come to expect from The Film Detective. Coming in April.

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Filed under 1966, DVD/Blu-ray News, The Film Detective