Category Archives: United Artists

Blu-Ray News #239: Johnny Cool (1963).

Directed by William Asher
Starring Henry Silva, Elizabeth Montgomery, Richard Anderson, Jim Backus, Joey Bishop, Telly Savalas, Sammy Davis, Jr.

William Asher’s 1963 gangster picture Johnny Cool is terrific, and I’m so stoked it’s making its way to Blu-Ray later this year from the folks at Scorpion Releasing.

In the early 60s, the gangster picture enjoyed a small resurgence, thanks to stuff like Budd Boetticher’s The Rise And Fall Of Legs Diamond (1960), Murder Inc. (1960) and Portrait Of A Mobster (1961). Asher’s picture might be the most brutal and violent one of the bunch. Most stylish, too — thanks in large part to the great cinematography of Sam Leavitt.

William Asher was in the middle of his Beach Party movies at AIP when he took on Johnny Cool. He and Elizabeth Montgomery became an item after she auditioned for the picture, they’d marry, and he’d go on to direct the bulk of her Bewitched TV show. The cast is really something, from Henry Silva to Jim Backus to Mort Sahl to Telly Savalas (with hair) — with a great part for Sammy Davis, Jr.

Johnny Cool has a great score from Billy May, with Davis singing the title tune. This is an overlooked, under-seen little movie, well worth (re)discovery in high definition. Recommended.

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Filed under 1963, DVD/Blu-ray News, Elizabeth Montgomery, Henry Silva, Jim Backus, United Artists, William Asher

DVD/Blu-Ray News #198: In The Heat Of The Night (1967).

Directed by Norman Jewison
Screenplay by Sterling Silliphant
Cinematographer: Haskell Wexler
Film Editor: Hal Ashby
Music by Quincy Jones
Starring Sidney Poitier, Rod Steiger, Warren Oates, Lee Grant, William Schallert, Matt Clark, Scott Wilson

In The Heat Of The Night (1967) has stood for more than 50 years as proof you can make a movie about a subject like racism and still offer up something exciting, suspenseful and entertaining. A quick look at the pictures usually covered on this blog will show I don’t care much for Message Movies, and I firmly believe issues like racism are better handled in “regular” movies like the 1956 Westerns The Searchers or Reprisal! And in the case of In The Heat Of The Night, the “regular movie” is a murder mystery in a small Southern town.

Fact is, In The Heat Of The Night is just a cool movie, period. It’s directed, shot, edited and scored in that distinctive 60s style that makes for so many cool movies. Sidney Poitier is terrific, and Rod Steiger makes his tendency to overplay things work to his advantage. Everybody brought their A game to this one — and it toted off a stack of Oscars to prove it.

Here, the South isn’t portrayed in a positive light, but at least the accents aren’t an insult to those of us with Southern accents. Interestingly, the TV show that followed almost 20 years later is the movie’s complete opposite — it was heavy-handed in a way the movie’s not, and the fake accents will make you cringe.

This was Scott Wilson’s first movie; next came In Cold Blood (1967) and many other great things. He passed away last week, and I hope the upcoming Criterion release will remind folks of all he could do. He was so good, and so overlooked.

I can’t recommend In The Heat Of The Night enough, and I’m sure Criterion will do a terrific job with it. It’s coming in January.

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Filed under 1967, Criterion Collection, DVD/Blu-ray News, United Artists, William Schallert

Blu-Ray Review: Shield For Murder (1954).

Directed by Edmond O’Brien and Howard W. Koch
Screenplay by Richard Alan Simmons and John C. Higgins
Adaptation by Richard Alan Simmons
From a book by William P. McGivern
Music by Paul Dunlap
Photography by Gordon Avil
Film Editor: John F. Schreyer

Cast: Edmond O’Brien (Barney Nolan), Marla English (Patty Winters), John Agar (Mark Brewster), Emile Meyer (Capt. Gunnarson), Carolyn Jones (Girl at bar), Claude Akins (Fat Michaels), Larry Ryle (Laddie O’Neil), Hugh Sanders, William Schallert, Richard Deacon, Vito Scotti

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One the best things for any old-movie nut is to come across something new — not new as in released last week, but new in that you’ve never seen it. Well, Shield For Murder (1954) was a new one for me. And I loved every frame of it.

“If ever a picture was crammed with guts — this is it!” Even the ad copy for this movie is great.

Barney Nolan (Edmond O’Brien) is a good cop gone really, really bad. Before the main title even appears, he’s killed a bookie for the $25,000 he’s got on him. Barney does it because he wants to buy a Castle Heights tract home and marry his girlfriend Patty (Marla English). The cops get the idea that Barney might’ve done it, but his best friend on the force (John Agar) refuses to believe. As the evidence mounts (and bodies stack up), we watch Barney get more desperate, more bitter, more violent as things spin out of control. Eventually, of course, Barney’s on the run and there’s nothing left of his hopes for a nice, quiet life in the suburbs with his girl.

O’Brien co-directed Shield For Murder with producer Howard W. Koch. The division of labor worked like this — O’Brien rehearsed the actors, and once the cameras rolled, Koch was at the helm. They gave the picture a sparse, bare-bones, almost documentary feel — with perfectly gritty camerawork from Gordon Avil (who shot the 1930 Billy The Kid in 70mm).

The performances are good across the board. Carolyn Jones really knocked me out here as a girl O’Brien meets in a bar. Claude Akins is great as a thug trying the retrieve the missing $25,000. Here and there, folks like Hugh Sanders, William Schallert, Richard Deacon and Vito Scotti turn up. You can’t go wrong with those guys.

But Shield For Murder is Edmond O’Brien’s picture all the way. He’s terrific. Watching Barney slide into the gutter is downright uncomfortable, as his American Dream turns to crap. You cringe with every wrong turn he takes, knowing Fate’s gonna kick in at any minute.

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This movie’s perfect, down to Edmond O’Brien’s loafers.

Researching the commentary for Kino Lorber’s Blu-Ray of A Strange Adventure (1956) a couple months ago, I got to focus on Marla English and her brief, very interesting career. (Wish I’d been able to do a commentary for this one!) Marla was a teenage beauty queen and swimsuit model from San Diego who signed to Paramount in 1952. They put her in a few little parts — she’s one of the partygoers in Rear Window (1954). But when she turned down a role in The Mountain with Spencer Tracy, Paramount dumped her. She was soon doing independent pictures for Bel-Air, Republic, AIP and the like. And as we all know, that’s when things usually get interesting. Marla’s in stuff like Runaway Daughters, The She Creature — she’s the She Creature, Flesh And The Spur with John Agar (all 1956) and Voodoo Woman (1957) with Mike Connors. She gave up on acting after Voodoo Woman. Though she was in a few pictures before Shield For Murder (she was only 19 when it was released), she gets an “introducing” credit in it.

Shield For Murder was a first for both of our co-directors. O’Brien would only direct a few more things, but Koch kept at it. His next picture, Big House, USA (1955), is a B Movie masterpiece. And he gave us jewels like Untamed Youth (1957), Violent Road (1958) and Frankenstein 1970 (1958). Koch also produced a string of very successful A pictures — things like The Manchurian Candidate (1962), The Odd Couple (1968) and Airplane! (1980).

From a Castle Heights subdivision to West Hollywood alleys to a great public pool, Shield For Murder makes excellent use of LA locations. It’s perfectly rough around the edges and captured by Gordon Avil in all its gritty, appropriately grainy glory. And all of that’s perfectly preserved on the Blu-Ray from Kino Lorber. Highly, highly recommended.

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Filed under 1954, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Edmond O'Brien, Howard W. Koch, John Agar, Kino Lorber, Marla English, United Artists, William Schallert

DVD/Blu-Ray News #165: Odds Against Tomorrow (1959).

Directed by Robert Wise
Starring Harry Belafonte, Robert Ryan, Shelley Winters, Ed Begley, Gloria Grahame

Greed, lust, corruption, murder — film noir can pack about every sin, vice and crime you can think of into about 90 minutes of goodness. That’s why I love em so much. Odds Against Tomorrow (1959) goes a step further and stirs in a big fat helping of hatred. You could easily say it’s a movie about racism, but it goes deeper than that. Robert Ryan’s character just plain hates — everybody. He’s a guy with absolutely zero to recommend him. Where did such a kind-hearted (by all accounts) man go to dredge up all this nasty stuff?

A couple of despicable crooks (ex-con Ryan, ex-cop Ed Begley) bring a black man (Harry Belafonte) in on their bank job. Everything goes to hell, as it always does in these kinds of things, and we get to watch. It’s a gritty, tough and terrific picture — and it packs quite a wallop. Robert Wise did this before directing West Side Story (1961). And while in some ways the two movies couldn’t be more different, they both give us a look at what kind of damage hate can do. It was Wise’s last film in black and white.

The score by John Lewis of the Modern Jazz Quartet is terrific, and the album of the MJQ performing it (Music From Odds Against Tomorrow) is unbelievably cool. The actual film score was also released.

Olive Films is bringing this out on both DVD and Blu-Ray in May. I’m on a bit of a crime picture/noir binge right now, spurred by the incredible Shield For Murder (1954), so I’m really stoked to learn this is on the way. Highly, highly recommended.

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Filed under 1959, DVD/Blu-ray News, Gloria Grahame, Olive Films, Robert Ryan, Robert Wise, United Artists

Blu-Ray News #164: Gun Crazy (1949).

Directed by Joseph H. Lewis
Starring Peggy Cummins, John Dall, Berry Kroeger, Morris Carnovksy

Most people who love movies, especially those who end up making them, can cite a few key films that sealed the deal for them. The ones that nailed their Movie Geekdom firmly in place. Joseph H. Lewis’ Gun Crazy (1949) is one of mine.

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There are few movies I can think of where you’re constantly aware of the choices the director is making. With about every scene, every decision, Lewis is pushing movies in a direction that wasn’t on the map till he got there.

Of course, Lewis is aided by a cast that’s willing to go along with him. Peggy Cummins is terrific here — pretty, sexy and completely terrifying by the time it’s all over. Same goes for John Dall. He’s likable for the first reel, then he’s lost in his love for Cummins — and swept up in her love of guns.

Scripted by a blacklisted Dalton Trumbo, fronted by Millard Kaufman, this King Brothers picture was to be distributed by Monogram, but wound up at the bigger United Artists. Obviously, someone realized they were on to something.

Warner Archive is putting this masterpiece out on Blu-Ray at a time when the gun argument in the United States is at its nastiest. Gun Crazy makes a strong case that the trouble starts with the head that drives the hand that pulls the trigger.

Almost 70 years after its release, Gun Crazy is still potent stuff. Absolutely essential.

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Filed under DVD/Blu-ray News, Joseph H. Lewis, Monogram/Allied Artists, United Artists, Warner Archive

RIP, Lewis Gilbert.

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Lewis Gilbert (left) directs Sean Connery and Donald Pleasance in You Only Live Twice

Lewis Gilbert
(March 6, 1920 – February 23, 2018)

Lewis Gilbert, who directed the underrated James Bond film You Only Live Twice (1967), has passed away at 97. In a couple more weeks, we would’ve been 98. You Only Live Twice gets a lot of flack, but to me it’s a knockout — from the incredible sets by Ken Adam to one of John Barry’s best Bond scores to the fact that Sean Connery hits a guy with a sofa! It’s big, loud and a bit obnoxious, and I love it.

He also directed the hip and influential Michael Caine movie Alfie (1966). Then there’s the terrific Sink The Bismark! (1960), with Kenneth Moore, Dana Wynter, Michael Hordern and some outstanding model work — all in black and white CinemaScope. It’s just a great thing all-around.

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Filed under 1960, 1966, 1967, James Bond, Lewis Gilbert, Michael Caine, Sean Connery, United Artists

Blu-Ray News #152: Five Steps To Danger (1957).

Directed by Henry S. Kesler
Starring Ruth Roman, Sterling Hayden, Werner Klemperer, Richard Gaines, Charles Davis, Jeanne Cooper

I can’t get enough of Sterling Hayden — I’d watch a film of him brushing his teeth. Five Steps To Danger (1957), a cool Cold War espionage story, has been a hard one to track down over the years. All that’s about to change with a new 4K restoration and Blu-Ray from ClassicFlix. Judging from their previous releases, we can count on it looking like a million bucks.

So far, the only release date from ClassicFlix is early 2018. Man, I’m really looking forward to this one.

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Filed under 1957, ClassicFlix, DVD/Blu-ray News, Sterling Hayden, United Artists