Category Archives: Universal (-International)

Blu-Ray News #112: The Mummy Complete Legacy Collection.

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Universal’s next Complete Legacy Collection — each Blu-Ray set covers everything featuring a particular Universal monster — concerns The Mummy. Providing Universal can come up with the proper number of tana leaves, this edition will be available in May. It spreads six movies over four discs.

The Mummy (1932) is one of the most visually-splendid movies I can think of. Karl Freund packs one incredible shot after another in this thing — and Karloff is at his brilliant best.

The first sequel (or maybe it’s more of a remake), The Mummy’s Hand (1940), has Tom Tyler doing a great job filling in for Boris Karloff — and Wallace Ford is a welcome addition to anything.

Jack Pierce turns Lon Chaney Jr. into Kharis.

The next three Mummy movies — The Mummy’s Tomb (1942), The Mummy’s Ghost (1944), and The Mummy’s Curse (1944) — with Lon Chaney, Jr. as a rather portly mummy making his way through Massachusetts and Louisiana, are a real hoot in that 1940s Universal Monsters kinda way. I love these things.

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Then there’s Abbott & Costello Meet The Mummy (1955), which throws in Marie Windsor, my all-time favorite actress, for good measure. It was A&C’s last picture for Universal, a studio they pretty much saved in the 40s. Eddie Parker, Chaney’s double on the three previous Mummy movies, plays Klaris throughout this one.

All six Mummy movies are black and white, with Meet The Mummy in 1.85 widescreen — and they’re all sure to look marvelous on Blu-Ray.

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Filed under 1955, Abbott & Costello, Boris Karloff, DVD/Blu-ray News, Jack Pierce, John Carradine, Lon Chaney Jr., Marie Windsor, Universal (-International)

Blu-Ray Review: The Ghost And Mr. Chicken (1966).

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Directed by Alan Rafkin
Written by James Fritzel and Everett Greenbaum
Cinematography: William Margulies
Music by Vic Mizzy

Cast: Don Knotts (Luther Heggs), Joan Staley (Alma Parker), Liam Redmond (Kelsey), Dick Sargent (George Beckett), Skip Homeier (Ollie Weaver), Reta Shaw (Mrs. Halcyon Maxwell), Lurene Tuttle (Mrs. Natalie Miller), Phil Ober (Nicholas Simmons), Harry Hickox (Police Chief Art Fuller), Charles Lane (Whitlow), Hal Smith, Ellen Corby, Hope Summers, Burt Mustin

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“The Haunted House” is one of my favorite episodes of The Andy Griffith Show. Don Knotts must’ve liked it, too, because he used it as a springboard for his first feature, The Ghost And Mr. Chicken (1966). Recruiting a couple writers from Andy Griffith, and Andy himself as a story man (the “Attaboy, Luther!” running gag was his), they cooked up the tale of Luther Heggs (Knotts) spending a restless night in a “murder house.”

Don Knotts and Joan Staley between takes on the Universal backlot.

Ties to The Andy Griffith Show abound. First, there’s a subtle, funny, character-driven look at small town life, trading Rachel, Kansas, for Mayberry, North Carolina (and adding Technicolor and Techniscope). There’s a number of Andy people in the cast: Hal Smith as an Otis-like drunk, Hope Summers (Clara Edwards on Andy) as a busybody, Reta Shaw, Burt Mustin, Ellen Corby, Charles Lane and more. The frequent Andy director Alan Rafkin was chosen by Knotts for the movie. The set must’ve felt like a family reunion.

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The lovely Joan Staley — who appeared in this, Gunpoint with Audie Murphy and an episode of Batman, all in 1966 — is charming as Knott’s love interest. Skip Homeier is perfect as a creep. And Vic Mizzy’s terrific score is worth the price of admission.

And no, the haunted house if not 1313 Mockingbird Lane from The Munsters, though it’s on the same Universal backlot street.

I saw The Ghost And Mr. Chicken repeatedly as a kid and love it to this day. (I even remember the red squiggly letterboxing they used during the credits in TV prints.) Sure, it’s a funny movie, but I find it so hard to be objective with this one. It’s a member of the “movie family” I feel compelled to visit every so often. (It’s got another thing going for it — it was an early date for my wife and I. She’s a big fan of The Andy Griffith Show and had never seen it, something I had to correct as soon as possible.)

It was a big deal around my house when this was announced for Blu-Ray (a Best Buy exclusive). The Ghost And Mr. Chicken has always looked good on video, from laserdisc to DVD to this new Blu-Ray. It’s a real beauty, sharp as a tack with eye-popping Technicolor. Highly recommended, especially to those who grew up with it.

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Filed under 1966, Andy Griffith, Don Knotts, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Universal (-International)

King Kong Escapes (1967).

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Directed by Ishiro Honda
Written by Takashi Kimura
Special Effects: Eiji Tsuburaya

Cast: Rhodes Reason (Commander Carl Nelson), Akira Takarada (Lt. Commander Jiro Nomura), Linda Miller (Lt. Susan Watson), Hideyo Amamoto (Dr. Who), Mie Hama (Madame X), Susumu Kurobe (Henchman)

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The highly-radioactive Element X can only be found at the North Pole. Madame X (Mie Hama) wants the element for her country, so she enlists the evil genius Dr. Who (Hideyo Amamoto) to retrieve it. Dr. Who knows the only creature capable of digging up the dangerous element is the mighty King Kong, so Dr. Who builds a robot Kong that he can control. The mechanical ape’s circuitry gets zapped by the radiation, leaving Dr. Who with no alternative but to journey to Mongo Island and capture the real King Kong — much to the dismay of the increasingly impatient Madame X.

Dr. Who and Madame X

Dr. Who’s plan becomes even more complicated when Cmdr. Carl Nelson (Rhodes Reason), Lt. Susan Watson (Linda Miller) and Lt. Jiro Nomura of the UN become involved. You see, Kong has a thing for Lt. Watson. Only she can control the beast — which makes her a valuable asset to Dr. Who and his scheme. So he kidnaps her and her cohorts. Before it’s all over, King Kong and Mechani-Kong battle it out atop Tokyo Tower.

King Kong Escapes (1967) is a crazy movie, even by Japanese Kaijū (“strange beast”) movie standards. From the logic of using King Kong to mine radioactive material to the mad scientist and his nagging sponsor, it’s just plains nuts. But these movies exist in a world all their own, where the laws of reason and science are of very little concern.

Linda Miller and some fake monsters

The story of how the movie came to be is almost as crazy. Toho had been very successful with King Kong Vs. Godzilla (1962), which was released (heavily modified) in the States by Universal in 1963. In 1966, Rankin/Bass, the stop-motion Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer people, produced a King Kong cartoon, The King Kong Show, animated in Japan. The cartoon featured both Dr. Who and Mechani-Kong. Rankin/Bass entered into a joint venture with Toho, combining story elements from the Rankin/Bass Kong series with Toho’s outstanding technical people and mangy-looking gorilla suit.

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Rhodes Reason, who plays the American commander, is the younger brother of Rex Reason from This Island Earth (1955). Reason dubbed his own voice for English-language prints, while the American model Linda Miller was upset that hers was not used. The great Paul Frees (of Disney’s Haunted Mansion fame) provided the voice of Dr. Who and a number of other characters.

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Mie Hama had just appeared with Sean Connery in You Only Live Twice (1967), the fifth James Bond movie, which was filmed in Japan. Hama, Hideyo Amamoto and Susumu Kurobe can also be found in Key Of Keys (1965), the Japanese spy movie Woody Allen re-worked for What’s Up, Tiger Lily? (1966).

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In theaters, Universal paired the picture with The Shakiest Gun In The West (1968), a remake of The Paleface (1948) starring Don Knotts. That’s a double feature I would’ve loved as a kid — I was precisely the demographic Universal had in mind. Incidentally, the Japanese version of King Kong Escapes (called Kingu Kongu No Gyakushû) is longer than the US cut.

Ishiro Honda between takes with Mechani-Kong and King Kong

What is it about these movies? They’re ludicrous and obviously aimed at kids. The special effects are both accomplished and pitiful at the same time (consider that Kubrick’s 2001: a space odyssey was in theaters that same summer). The Technicolor and TohoScope cinematography is gorgeous, and some might say it’s wasted on something like this. There’s a sense of wonder to these movies that I attribute to the director, Ishiro Honda, and the special effects crew headed by Eiji Tsuburaya. As a kid, I really liked this one because the monsters had a sizable amount of screen time — back then, my enjoyment of such things was often based on the monster-to-people footage ratio.

By the conventional idea of what constitutes a good movie, King Kong Escapes is way off the mark. But there’s nothing about it that’s conventional. Japanese monster movies are their own thing, and that thing can be pretty wonderful.

Here in the States, you’ll find King Kong Escapes available on both DVD and Blu-Ray, sometimes paired with King Kong Vs. Godzilla. It always looks splendid. The color is eye-popping and it’s sharp enough to reveal every wire on every toy helicopter. For those attuned to this type of nonsense, it comes highly recommended.

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Filed under 1967, Don Knotts, Ishirō Honda, James Bond, Kaiju Movies, Sean Connery, Toho, Universal (-International)

Blu-ray News #77: It Came From Outer Space (1953).

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Directed by Jack Arnold
Starring Richard Carlson, Barbara Rush, Charles Drake, Russell Johnson, Kathleen Hughes, Joe Sawyer

Universal has announced the October 4 release of Jack Arnold’s great It Came From Outer Space (1953). The Region-Free disc will offer up both a 3-D and 2-D hi-def transfer of the film as a Best Buy exclusive.

The 3-D has been meticulously restored, along with the original stereo mix! This was one of the first pictures to boast stereophonic sound. And you can get it all for just 10 bucks!

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Filed under 1953, 3-D, DVD/Blu-ray News, Jack Arnold, Russell Johnson, Universal (-International)

Blu-ray News #69: The Marx Bros. At Paramount.

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Of The Marx Brothers’ five Paramounts, Duck Soup (1933) is widely considered the best. My favorite’s Monkey Business (1931), for the simple reason that it makes me laugh the most. The other three are The Cocoanuts (1929), Animal Crackers (1930) and Horse Feathers (1932). Their MGM pictures are more polished — but as I see it, polish and the Marx Brothers make an odd match.

Universal’s put together a Blu-ray set of these classics, which have been available in a terrific DVD collection for years. Called The Mark Brothers Silver Screen Blu-ray Collection, it’ll be out in October. Dear God, these are funny movies.

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Filed under DVD/Blu-ray News, Paramount, Universal (-International)

Blu-ray News #66: The Ghost And Mr. Chicken (1966).

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Directed by Alan Rafkin
Starring Don Knotts, Joan Staley, Liam Redmond, Dick Sargent

It’s hard to believe The Ghost And Mr. Chicken (1966) has been with us for 50 years. I’ve loved it since I saw it at a kiddie matinee one summer.

The half-century anniversary of Don Knott’s first, and in my opinion best, starring feature will be marked by a Blu-ray release in October. No particulars on it just yet.

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I can’t wait to see it in all its Technicolor, Techniscope, high-definition glory.

Up top, that’s Don Knotts and Joan Staley between takes on the Universal lot.

Thanks to Mr. Richard Vincent for the tip.

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Filed under 1966, Don Knotts, DVD/Blu-ray News, Universal (-International)

Blu-ray Review: I Saw What You Did (1965).

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Produced and Directed by William Castle
Screenplay by William McGivern
Based on the novel Out Of The Dark by Ursula Curtiss
Cinematography: Joseph F. Biroc
Music: Van Alexander
Film Editor: Edwin H. Bryant

Cast: Joan Crawford (Amy Nelson), John Ireland (Steve Marak), Leif Erickson (Dave Mannering), Sarah Lane (Kit Austin), Andi Garrett (Libby Mannering), Sharyl Locke (Tess Mannering), Patricia Breslin (Ellie Mannering), John Archer (John Austin)

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After the big-time box office of Strait-Jacket (1964), William Castle re-teamed with its star, Joan Crawford, for I Saw What You Did (1965). It’s the story of a couple of high school girls making prank calls, who just happen to say “I saw what you did and I know who you are” to a guy who just killed his wife (John Ireland). This tactical error spurs the thrills and mayhem that make up the rest of the movie.

(In the film’s ads, Castle got a lot of mileage out of the scientific term Uxoricide, which means simply “the act of killing your wife.”)

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William Castle’s at his pseudo-Hitchcockian best here, dialing back the gimmicks and doing a very good job at creating tension. While we often overlook his skills as a director to focus on his genius as a showman, the man knew how to make a movie. Castle’s been one of my favorite filmmakers since I saw House On Haunted Hill (1959) on TV at the age of nine — even without the floating skeletons, I was awestruck.

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But back to I Saw What You Did. Joan Crawford only worked four days on it. And though she was a consummate professional, the effects of her ever-present flask can be seen in some scenes — probably the ones shot each afternoon. The aging star intimidated the two teenage players, Andi Garrett and Sara Lane, who are quite good.

Scream Factory has done a great job with I Saw What You Did, mainly by presenting Joseph Biroc’s cinematography well (it’s nice and crisp, with a pleasing amount of wear and tear) and by including trailers and other material to highlight how Castle promoted his film — which he seemed to consider every bit as important as the film itself. This isn’t Castle’s best work, and it’s a long way from Crawford’s, but this Blu-ray is highly recommended. (Scream Factory, I’d like to put in a request for another Castle Universal picture, 1964’s The Night Walker.)

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Filed under 1965, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Joan Crawford, Shout/Scream Factory, Universal (-International), William Castle