Category Archives: United Artists

Blu-Ray Review: The Killer Is Loose (1956).


Directed by Budd Boetticher
Screenplay by Harold Medford
From a story by John Hawkins and Ward Hawkins
Cinematography: Lucien Ballard
Music by Lionel Newman
Film Editor: George Gittens

Cast: Joseph Cotten (Det. Sam Wagner), Rhonda Fleming (Lila Wagner), Wendell Corey (Leon Poole), Alan Hale (Denny), Michael Pate (Det. Chris Gillespie), John Larch (Otto Flanders), Dee J. Thompson (Grace Flanders)

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To me, there’s nothing more satisfying than a little movie that pays off big. And Budd Boetticher’s The Killer Is Loose (1956) is that in spades.

Detective Joseph Cotton accidentally shoots Wendell Corey’s wife while arresting him for bank robbery. On his way to prison, Corey swears he’ll get his revenge. And when he escapes, his only thought is to put Cotton through the same pain he suffered: the loss of his wife.

Where do you begin with this thing? From Lucien Ballard’s cinematography to Budd Boetticher’s crisp direction to the editing by George Gittens to the terrific cast, this movie knocks everything out of the park. Wendell Corey was never better than he is here as the milquetoast banker turned robber and murderer. You somehow feel sorry for him, even as you wish they’d hurry up and blow him away. Rhonda Fleming is quite good as Cotton’s wife, Corey’s target. It’s a part that’s pretty unlikable — she hates her husband being a cop, forcing Cotton to not only search for Corey, but conceal the fact that Fleming is who he’s after. Then there’s the great use of LA locations and the decision to set some of the film’s tensest scenes in the most mundane of places (kitchens, suburban neighborhoods, lettuce fields, etc.).

1956 was a great year for movies, and many of the folks behind The Killer Is Loose were on a roll. Boetticher was about to begin his superb Ranown Cycle with Randolph Scott — Seven Men From Now would arrive in a few short months. Rhonda Fleming’s next picture was Allan Dwan’s Slightly Scarlet (1956). And Lucien Ballard would continue working with Boetticher on the Ranown pictures and shoot The Killing (1956) for Stanley Kubrick.

Ballard (beside camera with scarf) and Boetticher (in front of Ballard) shooting on an LA bus.

Ballard’s camerawork not only sets this movie apart, it allows the new Blu-Ray from ClassicFlix to really shine. This is exactly how a black and white film should look in high definition. Film grain is present throughout, in a good way. Contrast levels are near-perfect, the blacks are very true and the proper 1.85 aspect ratio is preserved (the full-frame DVD looks awful clunky in comparison). And the lossless audio is rock solid.

The Killer Is Loose is a picture I’ve been lifting up for years, and this Blu-Ray is just as easy to recommend. Trust me, you need this.

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Filed under 1956, Allan Dwan, Budd Boetticher, ClassicFlix, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Joseph Cotton, Rhonda Fleming, Stanley Kubrick, United Artists, Wendell Corey

Blu-Ray News #123: Death Rides A Horse (1967).

Directed by Giulio Petroni
Starring Lee Van Cleef, John Phillip Law

I’m rather picky when it comes to Spaghetti Westerns. While some of them are brilliant, you have to wade through a lot of crap to get to them. Death Rides A Horse (1967) is one of the brilliant ones. Van Cleef is excellent; John Phillip Law was about to make Danger: Diabolik (1968), so he’s at his supercool best; Giulio Petroni is one of the better directors for these things; and this has to be one of Ennio Morricone’s best Western scores.

It’s been available on DVD for ages, often pan-and-scan and looking like crap, so the upcoming Blu-Ray from Kino Lorber is good news indeed. They say to look for it this summer. Highly recommended.

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Filed under 1967, DVD/Blu-ray News, Ennio Morricone, John Phillip Law, Kino Lorber, Lee Van Cleef, Spaghetti Westerns, United Artists

Blu-Ray News #113: The Killer Is Loose (1955).

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Directed by Budd Boetticher
Starring Joseph Cotten, Rhonda Fleming, Wendell Corey, Alan Hale, Jr., Michael Pate, John Larch

Now we’re talking! Budd Boetticher’s The Killer Is Loose (1956) is coming to Blu-Ray from ClassicFlix. The release date evidently hasn’t been nailed down.

Ballard (beside the camera) and Boetticher (in front of Ballard) shooting a scene on a bus.

This terrific noir shows that Boetticher’s mastery of the movies wasn’t limited to Westerns or Randolph Scott. It’s tight, tense and terrific — with Wendell Corey giving a very creepy, career-best performance. Joseph Cotton and Rhonda Fleming are good, too. Lucien Ballard’s cinematography is top-notch with some great location work. The Killer Is Loose is a really good one.

Budd Boetticher (from his book When In Disgrace): “The Killer Is Loose was a good film with Joseph Cotton, Rhonda Fleming and Wendell Corey, who were wonderful to work with. But I don’t think they appreciated what Lucien and I did. We made that picture in 15 days on a 20-day schedule.”

This came out the same year as Budd’s Seven Men From Now (1956). Boy, was he on a roll! Way overlooked — and way overdue on Blu-Ray.

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Filed under 1956, Budd Boetticher, DVD/Blu-ray News, United Artists

Blu-Ray News #108: The Four Skulls Of Jonathan Drake (1959).

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Directed by Edward L. Cahn
Starring Eduard Franz, Henry Daniell, Valerie French, Grant Richards, Lumsden Hare, Paul Wexler

If people would stop and think for a second that we live in an age when an Edward L. Cahn picture like The Four Skulls Of Jonathan Drake (1959) gets a high-end Blu-Ray release, maybe they’d quit freaking out about the sorry state our world is in. There is hope indeed. (However, if someone wants to organize a Cheap Movies Matter march, I’m in!)

Fake politics aside, this is one of those movies I saw repeatedly growing up, and it left quite an impression on me. Paul Wexler with his mouth sewn shut is an image seared into my brain — thanks to the stills in all the monster movie magazines and books I hoarded as a kid.

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Edward L. Cahn is a director whose work I adore — from stuff like Girls In Prison (1956) and Dragstrip Girl (1957) to cheap Westerns like Flesh And The Spur (1956) to all those terrific monster and sci-fi movies — Creature With The Atom Brain (1955), It! The Terror From Beyond Space (1958), Invisible Invaders (1959) and so many more. I’ve never seen his 1933 picture Laughter In Hell, but it boasts one of my all-time favorite movie titles. Cahn doesn’t transcend his material the way Fred F. Sears or Paul Landres sometimes do, but he goes at these silly things absolutely seriously, and it always seems to work for him. (He would’ve been an ideal director for the Batman TV show.)

Shout Factory have this listed for a Spring release. I can’t wait to butt heads with The Four Skulls Of Jonathan Drake again.

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Filed under 1959, DVD/Blu-ray News, Edward L. Cahn, Shout/Scream Factory, United Artists

Blu-Ray Review: The Return Of Dracula (1958).

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Directed by Paul Landres
Story and Screenplay by Pat Fielder
Music by Gerald Fried
Director Of Photography: Jack MacKenzie, ASC
Film Editor: Sherman A. Rose, ACE

Cast: Francis Lederer (Count Dracula/Bellac Gordal), Norma Eberhardt (Rachel Mayberry), Greta Granstedt (Cora Mayberry), Gage Clark (Doctor/Reverend Whitfield), Ray Stricklyn (Tim Hansen), John Wengraf (Merriman), Virginia Vincent (Jenny Blake), Jimmie Baird (Mickey Mayberry), John McNamara (Sheriff Bicknell)

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The late 50s were a good time for movie vampires, thanks largely to the first of Hammer’s Dracula films, Horror Of Dracula (US title, 1958). But there was also The Vampire and Blood Of Dracula in 1957 and Blood Of The Vampire and The Return Of Dracula in 1958. Oh, and let’s not forget the vampire Western, Curse Of The Undead (1959).

What’s interesting about all these blood-guzzling movies is how each took a different approach to the traditional vampire lore. Hammer, with Christopher Lee in Dracula (1958), dialed up the sex and blood — all of it in alluring Technicolor. The Vampire made vampirism a medical condition. Blood Of Dracula fits right in with AIP’s I Was A Teenage Werewolf (1957), with a teenage vampire created by hypnotism, not a bite on the neck. The Return Of Dracula, which Olive Films has just released on DVD and Blu-Ray, goes in a different direction entirely — following in the steps of many of the Dracula movies that came before it, while moving the Lugosi-ish proceedings to modern-day California.

The Return Of Dracula comes from director Paul Landres and writer Pat Fielder. So did The Vampire. Landres worked mostly in TV, but his low-budget features from the 50s (Westerns and monster movies) are well worth seeking out. Pat Fielder also wrote the excellent The Monster That Challenged The World (1957) — and a number of episodes of The Rifleman.

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Fleeing Transylvania, Count Dracula (Francis Lederer) kills an artist and assumes his identity. Arriving in California, he moves in with the victim’s family, who only know him from letters. They eventually notice that their guest sleeps all day, goes out at night and doesn’t like mirrors or the local priest. Teenage Rachel (Norma Eberhardt) also becomes concerned when her friend Jenny (Virginia Vincent) starts wasting away.

Lederer makes a pretty good Dracula, aided by his Hungarian accent. Norma Eberhardt tries hard to convince us she’s a teenager, and almost pulls it off. And Jenny Blake has a great part as Rachel’s friend turned Dracula’s minion.

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But it’s the assured, creative direction of Paul Landres that keeps things interesting, and the cinematography of Jack MacKenzie that adds the atmosphere these movies rely on — both to create the right mood and conceal how cheap the sets are. MacKenzie shot Isle Of The Dead (1945) for producer Val Lewton, which should tell you something.

Olive Films has The Return Of Dracula polished up and shining like a brand new chrome-covered 1958 Impala. It’s a beautiful Blu-Ray, with contrast levels and aspect ratio (1.85) right where they need to be — and a cool color effect toward the end. Revisiting films like this, in this kind of quality, has been a real joy the last few years, and a number of them have come from Olive.

For fans of these things, or of the people who made them (I’m a big admirer of Landres’ work from this period), The Return Of Dracula comes highly recommended. And I’m hoping Olive gives The Vampire the same treatment.

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Filed under 1957, 1958, AIP, Christopher Lee, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Hammer Films, Olive Films, Paul Landres, United Artists