Category Archives: United Artists

Hot Cars (1956).

Directed by Don McDougall
Produced by Howard W. Koch
Screenplay by Don Martin & Richard Landau
Based on a novel by H. Haile Chace
Photography by William Margulies
Edited by George A. Gittens, ACE
Music by Les Baxter

John Bromfield (Nick Dunn), Joi Lansing (Karen Winter), Mark Dana (Smiley Ward), Carol Shannon (Jane Dunn), Markel (Arthur Markel), Dabbs Greer (Detective Davenport)

__________

Every once in a while, you need a 50s crime picture. Nothing else will do. I recently landed on Hot Cars (1956), a Bel-Air picture produced by Howard W. Koch. Look at that poster — the title, the cast, Joi Lansing as a “stop-at-nothing blonde,” the guy falling off the rollercoaster. Consider that it was shot mostly on location around Santa Monica and it’s only 60 minutes long, and you just know it’s gonna be great.

Nick Dunn (John Bromfield) and his wife Jane (Carol Shannon) are in a bad way financially when their son gets sick and needs an operation, so against his better judgement (and to their quick regret), Nick takes a job at a used car lot run by Markel (Ralph Clanton), Karen (Joi Lansing) and their sinister flunky Smiley Ward (Mark Dana).

Hard to decide which is prettier — Joi Lansing or the 1955 Mercedes 190 SL.

They turn out to be a pretty shifty bunch — they’re selling the hot cars of the title, and before you know it, a cop looking into the operation (Dabbs Greer) turns up dead. I probably don’t need to mention that Karen puts the moves on Nick — and that he’s suspecting of rubbing out the cop.

Hot Cars makes use of Jack’s At The Beach (#17) and the rollercoaster at Pacific Ocean Park.*

The big finish takes place on the rollercoaster at Pacific Ocean Park (POP) in Santa Monica, with some great POV stuff on the old attraction as Nick and Smiley duke it out. The picture’s location shooting is probably its strong suit, featuring a couple of cool Culver City car dealers (Big John’s and Johnny O’Toole’s) and Jack’s At The Beach, a Santa Monica restaurant near POP that you might recognize from The Rockford Files.

Koch and Bel-Air excelled at these low-budget, lurid little crime pictures — Shield For Murder (1954), Big House USA (1955), Three Bad Sisters (1956), Untamed Youth (1957, with Mamie Van Doren and Eddie Cochran!) and so on. A few of my favorite 50s movies came from Bel-Air.

John Bromfield made quite a few cool B movies, stuff like The Black Dakotas (1954) and Revenge Of The Creature (1955). He starred in the TV series The Sheriff Of Cochise, which was also called US Marshal. He retired in 1960 when the show was cancelled and became a commercial fisherman. He’s quite good in Hot Cars, appearing in about every scene. Joi Lansing does what’ she normally does in movies like this — stand around and look sultry. She’s really good at it.

Director Don McDougall stayed plenty busy doing TV, from the 50s well into the 80s. Lots of cool shows, from The Roy Rogers Show to Bonanza and from M Squad to The Night Stalker. He also did the Star Trek episode “The Squire Of Gothos.” Hot Cars is one of only a handful of features he directed, and while it’s nothing flashy, he and DP William Margulies avoid the studio-bound staginess of a lot of cheap movies from the period. They must’ve had a blast manning those cameras on the rollercoaster! Margulies spent the bulk of his career at Universal, where he shot tons of TV, Gunpoint (1966) with Audie Murphy and the great Ghost And Mr. Chicken (1966).

Hot Cars also boasts an ultra-cool jazzy score from Les Baxter. Baxter composed music for quite a few Bel-Air movies, and some Regalscope pictures, before hitting his stride at American International. Of course, at the same time, he was making great records like 1958’s Space Escapade. Wouldn’t you love a big fat CD boxed set of Baxter’s 50s an 60s movie work?

Truth be told, Hot Cars is cooler than it is good, and its appeal might be limited largely to fans of cheap noir. But if you fall into that group, you’ll find it quite a thing. You can get Hot Cars on DVD as part of MGM’s MOD program. It’s full-frame, but it looks pretty good. A Blu-Ray would be terrific.

* This map post-dates Hot Cars.

Leave a comment

Filed under 1956, Bel-Air, Dabbs Greer, Howard W. Koch, John Bromfield, Joi Lansing, Les Baxter, United Artists

Blu-Ray News #268: Some Girls Do (1969).

Directed by Ralph Thomas
Starring Richard Johnson, Daliah Lavi, Beba Loncar, Robert Morley

Network Releasing in the UK has announced their upcoming (February) Blu-Ray release of Some Girls Do (1969). The second picture with Richard Johnson as a revamped Bulldog Drummond, coming after Deadlier Than The Male (1967), Some Girls Do is a fun, lively 60s spy movie.

Some of the film was shot at Pinewood Studios at the same time as On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) — Joanna Lumley and Virginia North appear in both. And by the way, Terence Young wanted Richard Johnson to play James Bond when he directed Dr. No (1962).

Leave a comment

Filed under 1969, DVD/Blu-ray News, James Bond, Network Releasing, Richard Johnson, United Artists

Help Save Africa Screams!

Robert Furmanek of The 3-D Film Archive is the author (with Ron Palumbo) of one of my all-time favorite film books, Abbott & Costello In Hollywood. He recently kicked off a Kickstarter campaign to restore one of Bud and Lou’s funniest films, their independently-produced Africa Screams (1949). It’s one of the team’s absolute best, released right after Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948). They were really on a roll.

My love of this movie stems from Bob’s terrific, extras-packed laserdisc from the late 80s. I played that thing about a million times. And I’m really stoked about the opportunity to take a part in this restoration.

The existing 35mm material (camera negative and fine grain positive) is on nitrate stock, which is difficult, dangerous and expensive to work with, but can make for stunning results. The plan is to do 4K scans of these reels, then do a thorough clean-up for a DVD and Blu-Ray release. When I checked, Bob was over halfway to his goal of $7,500, and we have till the end of December to help make this happen. Click on the image up top to do your part.

Not sure what’s more exciting about this — being able to help preserve a movie I adore, or the thought of seeing it look like a million bucks on Blu-Ray.

unnamed-1UPDATE: In a little over a day, the goal has been met. Thanks to everyone who pledged to bring Africa Screams to Blu-Ray.

Leave a comment

Filed under Abbott & Costello, Charles Barton, Film Preservation, Hillary Brooke, Shemp Howard, The 3-D Film Archive, 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.

Leave a comment

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.

1 Comment

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

__________

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.

s-l1600-2

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.

7 Comments

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.

3 Comments

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.

Gun-Crazy-Direction1

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.

Leave a comment

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

RIP, Lewis Gilbert.

lewis-gilbert-dead-97

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.

1 Comment

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.

1 Comment

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