Category Archives: Universal (-International)

Blu-Ray News #146: The Old Dark House (1932).

Directed by James Whale
Starring Boris Karloff, Melvyn Douglas, Gloria Stuart, Charles Laughton, Lilian Bond, Ernest Thesiger, Raymond Massey

I’ve been on a bit of a Karloff kick lately — just watched Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome (1947) for the umpteenth time, and I’m making my way through that Mill Creek set of Columbia Karloff pictures, so I was happy to see that Cohen Media has announced The Old Dark House (1932) for Blu-Ray — from a 4K restoration.

Universal kept The Old Dark House out of circulation for years, and it was on its way to becoming a lost film. Director Curtis Harrington pressured Universal to dig it out, dust it off and let people see it. We all owe him for that. Can’t wait to see how this looks.

Leave a comment

Filed under Boris Karloff, DVD/Blu-ray News, James Whale, Universal (-International)

Blu-Ray News #137: Abbott & Costello Meet The Mummy (1955).

Directed by Charles Lamont
Starring Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Marie Windsor, Michael Ansara

Another day, another Abbott & Costello movie on Blu-Ray. This time, it’s Abbott & Costello Meet The Mummy (1955), their last picture for Universal (and their last monster meeting). It’s already available in hi-def as part of Universal’s The Mummy Complete Legacy Collection.

Meet The Mummy features Marie Windsor, my all-time favorite actress. Eddie Parker, Lon Chaney’s double on the three previous Mummy movies, plays Klaris throughout this one. The scene where Costello eats a hamburger with an ancient medallion hidden in it had me in hysterics as a kid.

The 1.85 transfer, which I’m sure will be the same one in the Legacy set, splendidly shows off the picture’s backlot and soundstage version of Egypt. Nowhere near the team’s best, but highly recommended anyway.

Leave a comment

Filed under 1955, Abbott & Costello, DVD/Blu-ray News, Marie Windsor, Universal (-International)

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

mummy-r51-lc

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.

80335f255c4f463d93a60a34f286c99f1e1c776

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.

Leave a comment

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).

Mr. Chicken trade ad

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

__________

“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.

ghost-mr-chicken-lc5

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.

3 Comments

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

King Kong Escapes (1967).

kk-escapes-btx

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)

__________

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.

kk-escapes-lcs

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.

you-only-live-twice-lc

Mie Hama, who plays Madame X, 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).

freeport_journal_standard_fri__sep_13__1968_

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.

3 Comments

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).

it-came-from-outer-space LC

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!

Leave a comment

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

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

Monkey Business LC

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.

Leave a comment

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