Guess who? Universal is bringing Walter Lantz’s Woody Woodpecker cartoons to Blu-Ray, promising 25 shorts and some extra featurettes and stuff. So far, I haven’t seen a listing of what the 25 shorts will be.
It’s coming in September.
Directed by Stanley Donen
Starring Gregory Peck, Sophia Loren
Stanley Donen directed a couple of my favorite films of the 60s, Charade (1963) and Bedazzled (1967). In between, he did Arabesque (1966), a fun piece of Hitchcockian eye candy starring Gregory Peck and Sophia Loren. It’s coming to Blu-Ray from Kino Lorber.
Donen offered the lead to Cary Grant, who’d starred in Charade. Grant turned it down, and the part went to Peck. He’s a hieroglyphics expert who can decode a secret message — and who ends up pursued by sinister agents with Sophia Loren in tow. The story’s slight, but Donen and cinematographer Christopher Challis more than make up for it with all kinds of Technicolor-Panavision loveliness.
Henry Mancini cooked up a great score, which The Ventures covered (only released as a 45). Robert McGinnis did the terrific poster art (up top) between his work for Thunderball (1965) and You Only Live Twice (1967).
Flashy 60s pictures like this are perfect for Blu-Ray, and this one comes highly recommended.
Directed by Arthur Lubin
Starring Gale Sondergaard, Brenda Joyce, Kirby Grant, Milburn Stone, Rondo Hatton
Regardless of its title, and even though Gale Sondergaard is in it, The Spider Woman Strikes Back (1946) is not a sequel to Sherlock Holmes And The Spider Woman (1943).
A 59-minute horror picture directed by Arthur Lubin — whose usual output was comedies like Buck Privates (1941) and Rhubarb (1951), this was an attempt to launch another Universal Monster series. It didn’t work, and The Spider Woman Strikes Back became a rather overlooked little monster movie from Universal. The studio tried a similar tactic with The Brute Man (1946) starring Rondo Hatton — which they eventually sold to PRC.
The picture was shot by Paul Ivano, whose long career behind the camera runs from Greed (1924) and the silent Ben Hur (1925) to Frankenstein (1931) and Gone With The Wind (1939) to The Frozen Ghost (1945) to hundreds of TV shows. He was under contract at Universal in the mid-40s, and his pictures always look terrific.
Kino Lorber is bringing this goofy little monster movie to Blu-Ray sometime this summer.
Directed by George Sherman
Starring John Payne, Joan Caulfield, Dan Duryea, Shelley Winters
While I’m a sucker for his Westerns, you can count me in on anything from George Sherman. He was a top-notch “journeyman” or contract director, and please don’t take that as a knock to his prowess. He made some great movies.
Larceny (1948) is built around one of the scuzziest plot points ever — a con man (John Payne) trying to snake a war widow (Joan Caulfield) out of money allegedly for a memorial to her husband. When Payne has second thoughts, and develops a thing for the widow, the boss (Dan Duryea) won’t let him out of it — then Duryea’s moll (Shelley Winters) really louses things up.
Noir works best when it’s kept lean and tight, which makes it perfect for George Sherman. This is a terrific movie, and it’ll be great to see Irving Glassberg’s cinematography in high definition. Coming to Blu-Ray from Kino Lorber in July. Highly recommended.
Directed by Ray Taylor
Starring Tom Tyler, Gloria Shea, LeRoy Mason, Craig Reynolds, William Desmond, Walter Brennan
VCI’s series of Universal serials on Blu-Ray continues with The Phantom Of The Air (1933), a 12-chapter pre-Code serial filled with Tom Tyler, Gloria Shea, terrific old airplanes and lots and lots of crazy stunts.
There’s a plane named “The Phantom” and an anti-gravity device called the Contragrav, stuff to talk about as they go from stunt to stunt in this “adventure in the sky.” It’s a lot of fun, and it should look just great on Blu-Ray. Coming later this year.
Directed by George Sherman
Starring John Payne, Joan Caulfield, Dan Duryea, Shelley Winters
George Sherman was at Universal-International from 1948 to 1956. He directed a lot of Westerns, along with some crime/noir pictures and adventure things. Not a lot of ’em have made their way to DVD, much less Blu-Ray. So Larceny (1948), a cool noir with John Payne and Dan Duryea, coming to Blu-Ray from Kino Lorber is big news.
We should see it turn up this summer.
Directed by Andrew V. McLaglen
Starring John Wayne, Katharine Ross, Jim Hutton, Vera Miles, Jay C. Flippen, Bruce Cabot
Mill Creek has announced the May Blu-Ray release of The Hellfighters (1968) Based (at least in part) on oil well firefighter Red Adair, it’s a pretty good later John Wayne movie (watch for something on 1974’s McQ in the next day or so).
This has always looked good on laserdisc or DVD, so I imagine the Blu-Ray will look terrific.
I’ve been thinking about a classic Universal monster movie for Halloween night, but there are a lot of them — and they’re all so great? (They’re represented by this wonderful ad for the Aurora monster model. Click on it and it gets, well, monstrous!)
What are your thoughts? Mummy? Frankenstein? Dracula? The Wolf Man? The Creature? Or a one-off like The Invisible Ray (1936)? Or, maybe a different direction, like something from AIP or Hammer?
Directed by Don Siegel
Starring Clint Eastwood, Shirley MacLaine
Kino Lorber has announced an October Blu-Ray release of Don Siegel’s Two Mules For Sister Sara (1970), his second picture with Clint Eastwood (from a story by Budd Boetticher).
Kino Lorber has promised 4K restorations of both the US cut and the longer international version, along with a host of extras.
Directed by William Castle
Produced by Leonard Goldstein
Story and Screenplay by Frederick Kohner and Fred Brady
Cinematography: Carl E. Guthrie
Film Editor: Virgil Vogel
Cast: Richard Conte (Larry O’Brien), Julie Adams (Sally/Amanda Rousseauz), Richard Egan (Police Lt. Bud Lennox), Henry Hull (Vincent St. Clair), Fred Clark (Sam Collyer), Jim Backus (Mitch Davis), Houseley Stevenson (John Miller), Paul Cavanagh (Roland Paul), Katherline Meskill (Mary), Louis Lettieri (Jimmy Davis), Francis X. Bushman, Betty Blythe, William Farnum, Helen Gibson, Joel McCrea
Art imitates life here. Hollywood Story (1951) concerns a producer (Richard Conte) solving an old Hollywood murder mystery, while prepping a movie about that mystery. It was based on the actual 1922 murder of director William Desmond Taylor. This scandalous crime, which created a media circus and plenty of completely fabricated news stories, was never solved.
Conte buys an old movie studio and learns of the murder that took place there. Intrigued, he decides to use it as the basis for his next picture, and he reaches out to a number of people who were working at the studio at the time — from a writer (Henry Hull) to the daughter of one of the studio’s biggest stars (Julie Adams). With that framework, the picture manages to follow the Taylor case fairly closely as Conte pieces together what happened.
William Castle directed several entries in Columbia’s The Whistler series, moody mini-noirs starring Richard Dix. They were excellent, and Castle’s same no-nonsense approach can be found here. Hollywood Story was done before Castle went gimmick crazy with his late 5os horror movies, but there’s a gimmick anyway, bringing in a few silent stars — Betty Blythe, Francis X. Bushman, William Farnum and Helen Gibson. Their parts mean nothing to the movie, but their names look good in the ads. (They were paid peanuts.)
This was one of a handful of pictures Castle did at Universal International. He did some cool stuff there — this one, Undertow (1949) and Cave Of Outlaws (1951) — before returning to Columbia, where he’d start working for producer Sam Katzman.
Hollywood Story gives us a great look at early 50s moviemaking, particularly at Universal International. Joel McCrea has a cameo in one of the on-the-set scenes. Judging from his costume, he might’ve been shooting Frenchie (1950) when his brief scene was done. We also visit a number of Hollywood points of interest — such as Jack’s At The Beach, Ciro’s, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, Ocean Park Pier and the old Chaplin Studio (as the scene of the crime).
The cinematography from Carl E. Guthrie is terrific, adding plenty of mood when it’s needed and playing up the bright lights of Hollywood. Universal’s movies from the 50s, whether they were in Technicolor or black and white, have a real sparkle to them, thanks to masters like Guthrie. And that’s what makes this Blu-Ray such a great thing. It presents Guthrie’s work flawlessly. It’s much better than the old DVD. Brighter, with better contrast. It adds a level of depth you don’t see very often, which is really effective in the darker, scenes.
Hollywood Story is a solid movie, and it’s been given a sterling transfer for Blu-Ray. Mill Creek has paired it with Castle’s New Orleans Uncensored (1955). It looks great, too, and since each picture is on its own disc, the bit rates are quite high. They’re priced right, too. For William Castle fans, this set is an absolute must. More, please!