Category Archives: Warner Archive

Blu-Ray News #360: The Ghost Ship (1943) And Bedlam (1946).

Warner Archive has announced a double feature Blu-Ray of two Val Lewton horror pictures, The Ghost Ship (1943) and Bedlam (1946), both directed by Mark Robson.

Happy Halloween, indeed!

The Ghost Ship (1943)
Directed by Mark Robson
Produced by Val Lewton
Starring Richard Dix, Russell Wade, Edith Barrett, Ben Bard, Edmund Glover, Skelton Knaggs, Lawrence Tierney

Shot for $150,000 on ship sets left over from for Pacific Liner (1939), this spooky little picture, starring Richard Dix, was unseen for decades after a plagiarism suit filed against Lewton over the screenplay. To see this one, you had to pay too much for a horrible-looking bootleg VHS tape (I’m guilty as charged). Having it in high-definition is gonna be great.

Bedlam (1946)
Directed by Mark Robson
Produced by Val Lewton
Starring Boris Karloff, Anna Lee, Billy House, Richard Fraser

Bedlam was the last of Lewton’s films at RKO (and the producer’s last time working with Boris Karloff). Lewton would head off to do other things, ending with a terrific Western at Universal International, Apache Drums (1951). He died before that one made it to theaters.

There’s nothing supernatural going on in this one. The conditions are appalling at an insane asylum run by Boris Karloff, where ironically, Anna Lee is sent after she campaigns for better care for the mentally ill. Karloff is really creepy and the cinematography from Nicholas Musuraca is really effective — which is why this Blu-Ray release is gonna be a real treat.

Highly, highly recommended.

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Filed under Boris Karloff, DVD/Blu-ray News, Mark Robson, RKO, Val Lewton, Warner Archive

Blu-Ray News #359: Mad Love (1935).

Directed by Karl Freund
Starring Peter Lorre, Frances Drake, Colin Clive, Ted Healy, Keye Luke

Peter Lorre’s first American film was directed by the great German cinematographer Karl Freund — and Greg Toland worked on it. If that’s not enough to sell you on Mad Love (1935), that photo up top should do the trick. As a kid, I used to stare at it one of my old horror movie books, or maybe a copy of Famous Monsters, and I was dying to see it.

It’s coming to Blu-Ray next month from Warner Archive. An adaptation of The Hands Of Orlac, it stands as another weird, creepy, cool-looking 30s horror movie — and those are always worth seeking out. Seeing this one’s incredible camerawork in high definition is gonna be terrific. Highly recommended!

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Filed under DVD/Blu-ray News, MGM, Peter Lorre, Warner Archive

“What if that aircraft came here not just to visit the earth, but to conquer it? To start growing some kind of horrible army?”

The family took a walk around Broughton High School here in Raleigh tonight and came across a little garden. These cucumbers remind me of the James Arness “seedlings” in The Thing From Another World (1951), growing a platoon of little Things.

That scene, with the little pods hooked up to the plasma, and breathing, never ceases to creep me out — even after seeing it dozens of times. What a movie!

I want to take this opportunity to thank Warner Archive once again for releasing their exquisite Blu-Ray of The Thing. It’s perfect.

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Filed under 1951, Howard Hawks, Kenneth Tobey, Paul Frees, RKO, Warner Archive

Blu-Ray Review: I Wouldn’t Be In Your Shoes! (1948).

Directed by William Nigh
Screenplay by Steve Fisher
From a novel by Cornell Woolrich
Cinematography: Mack Stengler
Film Editor: Roy V. Livingston
Music by Edward J. Kay

Cast: Don Castle (Tom J. Quinn), Elyse Knox (Ann Quinn), Regis Toomey (Inspector Clint Judd), Charles D. Brown (Inspector Stevens), Rory Mallinson (Harry), Robert Lowell (John L. Kosloff), Steve Darrell (D.A.), Bill Kennedy (Detective), Bill Walker (Prisoner), John Doucette (Prisoner), Ray Teal (Guard)

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There are times when a cheap old movie actually seems to benefit from how cheap it is. Maybe the lack of money demands a more stylized approach to the sets and art direction. Or perhaps the tight schedule calls for long takes, reducing the number of setups to get a scene in the can. Or it could be the opportunity for character actors to get rare lead roles. Or somehow they lucked out and got a really good script. It’s most likely some combination of these. But the takeaway is this: when time and money are tight, moviemakers rely on their creativity and problem-solving skills to get something good on the screen. In other words, with a lack of budget can come a surplus of inspiration and innovation.

When it all comes together, it’s a beautiful thing to behold. I Wouldn’t Be In Your Shoes (1948), a once hard-to-see Monogram mini-noir, is one of those those times. It’s a wealth of riches from Hollywood’s Poverty Row. And its release on Blu-Ray from Warner Archive really illustrates just how well it rises above its humble origins.

Don Castle and Elyse Knox play a young couple, dancers, whose lives fall apart when he’s wrongfully convicted of murder and sent to await his turn in the electric chair. Lucky for him, he’s got a wife who’s not willing to give up on him too easily. She keeps working to track down the real killer, with the help of a sympathetic detective (Regis Toomey).

Castle and Knox are fine as the couple. They’re likable and have pretty good chemistry. Elyse Knox had a pretty brief, but interesting, movie career — Sheriff Of Tombstone (1941) with Roy Rogers, The Mummy’s Tomb (1942) starring Lon Chaney and Hit The Ice (1943) with Abbott & Costello. Don Castle made a number of pictures in the 40s, interrupted by Word War II. His last film was a small part in Gunfight At The OK Corral (1957). 

Regis Toomey is terrific here, as always. He was an insanely busy character actor, juggling big pictures like The Big Sleep (1946) and The High And The Mighty (1954) with B movies like this one and The Nebraskan (1953). He was really good in the 1953 John Wayne movie Island In The Sky. In I Wouldn’t Be In Your Shoes, he somehow manages to be slimy and sympathetic at the same time. That’s quite a trick.

Years and years ago, I went nuts over Columbia’s Whistler movies, mainly because of my infatuation with William Castle. Those movies introduced me to the great crime writer Cornell Woolrich. Two of the Whistler pictures were based on his stories; so were The Leopard Man (1943), Fall Guy (1947), The Window (1949) and Rear Window (1954). His story for I Wouldn’t Be In Your Shoes is pretty solid.

William Nigh started out in silent movies as an actor, then made the transition to director. He was really prolific, spending a lot of time working on Poverty Row for Monogram and PRC — though he’d do a picture at Republic, RKO or Universal ever once in a while. I Wouldn’t Be In Your Shoes was one of his last films. 

The picture’s cinematographer, Mack Stengler, started out in the silents and shot a few hundred movies and TV shows during his 30-plus years behind the camera. Stengler spent most of the 40s shooting at Monogram — everything from Kid Dynamite to The Ape Man (both 1943) to Fall Guy (1947) — and a number of Hopalong Cassidy pictures. He made to the move to TV in the 50s, shooting more than 75 episodes of The Lone Ranger and almost 150 episodes of Leave It To Beaver, along with plenty of other shows. He retired in 1962.

Stengler’s solid work on I Wouldn’t Be In Your Shoes gets a big boost on the Blu-Ray from Warner Archive. This is a rare Monogram picture that doesn’t scream at you how cheap it is. The Blu-Ray is sharp as a tack, with the contrast dialed-in just right. It looks like film, which it should. The sound is clean and clear. 

I Wouldn’t Be In Your Shoes is a terrific little picture. It, and its treatment on Blu-Ray, are really easy to recommend.

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Filed under DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Monogram/Allied Artists, Regis Toomey, Warner Archive, William Nigh

Blu-Ray Review: It Happened At The World’s Fair (1963).

Directed by Norman Taurog
Produced by Ted Richmond
Written by Si Rose & Seaman Jacobs
Cinematography: Joseph Ruttenberg
Film Editor: Fredric Steinkamp
Music by Leith Stevens

Cast: Elvis Presley (Mike Edwards), Joan O’Brien (Diane Warren), Gary Lockwood (Danny Burke), Vicky Tiu (Sue-Lin), Yvonne Craig (Dorothy Johnson), H. M. Wynant (Vince Bradley), Kam Tong (Walter Ling), Kurt Russell

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After Elvis Presley movies like Blue Hawaii (1960) were big hits while more serious stuff such as Flaming Star (1960) underperformed, the King’s move career settled into a pattern. Give Elvis a unique profession — circus performer, race driver, crop-duster (in this one), rodeo cowboy, Navy frogman, etc., throw in a couple of girls, a handful of songs, color and Panavision. The kids’ll love it.

When that routine worked, it really worked. Viva Las Vegas (1964) or Roustabout (1965), for instance. When it didn’t, well, it was Elvis — and for a lot of folks, that was enough. 

Which brings us to It Happened At The World’s Fair (1963). Elvis and Gary Lockwood are crop duster pilots who end up in Seattle. Thanks to a little girl (Vicky Tiu) he’s babysitting, Elvis meets a lovely nurse (Joan O’Brien). As he tries to get involved with the nurse, he ends up involved with some crooks and smuggled furs, too.

What really sets this one off is its location shooting at the 1962 World’s Fair in Seattle, also called the Century 21 Exposition. It was shot in September 1962, a month before the fair ended. The picture’s like a Metrocolor and Panavision time capsule of a pretty amazing time — monorails, the Space Needle, GM’s Firebird III dream car, the Pavilion of Electric Power, computers and some really cool-looking mobile homes. The Fair footage is gorgeous, and the Blu-Ray’s picture incredible quality gives you a chance to really study all that’s going on. It’s surprising you don’t see people gawking at the King as he makes his way from ride to game to food joint to the dispensary.

By this time, the music in Elvis’ movies could be pretty hit or miss. The best tune here is probably “One Broken Heart For Sale,” which with a bit more bite to it, could’ve been a good one. Written by Otis Blackwell and Winfield Scott, it was the first Elvis RCA single to not hit the Top Five (it made it to 11). I’ve always felt the songs hurt Elvis’ movies as much as anything. If every tune was as good as, say, “Mean Woman Blues,” “Viva Las Vegas” or even “A Little Less Conversation,” the pictures would’ve had more life to ’em. Face it, some of that stuff is embarrassing to listen to — imagine having to get up there and sing it like you mean it. Poor Elvis. Plus, not only are some of the songs pretty lacking, but there’s too many of ’em — two or three strong ones is a lot better than 10 forgettable ones. (Remember, when Elvis staged his comeback in ’68, he did it through great music, not another movie.)

Joan O’Brien, Elvis and Norman Taurog.

It’s really easy to slam these movies. There’s not a lot to them. But you can look at them as the last reel of the studio system — Hollywood was a very different place by the time the 70s came along. These pictures were put together by real pros — from director Norman Taurog to cinematographer Joseph Ruttenberg (got an Oscar for ’59’s Gigi). Maybe someone like Ruttenberg was just trying to pay his bills or prepare for retirement (his last picture was Speedway), but he was incapable of making a shabby-looking movie.

Elvis and Yvonne Craig.

And for me, that’s the real benefit of Warner Archive’s Blu-Ray of It Happened At The World’s Fair. The movie just shines. The 1962 World’s Fair was a place of hope and promise for the future, and it comes through perfectly here. This Blu-Ray reminded me how blessed we are to have old movies look this good today. (Do you remember what something like this looked like on your local station’s afternoon movie — or even VHS?) It’s bright and sharp with gorgeous color. The sound rings loud and clear in glorious mono. The DVD looked fine, but this is a whole new level. The only extra is a trailer, which is fun. 

Is It Happened At The World’s Fair Elvis’ best movie? Not even close. I’d put it somewhere in the middle. It’s fun and pretty to look at — and it gives us a great peek at the World’s Fair. And, of course, there’s Elvis. That’s plenty to recommend it.

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Filed under 1963, Elvis Presley, MGM, Warner Archive, Yvonne Craig

Blu-Ray News #349: Objective, Burma! (1945).

Directed by Raoul Walsh
Starring Errol Flynn, James Brown, William Prince, George Tobias, Henry Hull, Rodd Redwing, Hugh Beaumont

Raoul Walsh’s Objective Burma (1945), starring Errol Flynn, remains one of my favorite war movies — and it’s coming to Blu-Ray from Warner Archive.

It’s a hard-hitting picture, loosely based on the exploits of Merrill’s Marauders in the Burma Campaign — which also inspired the 1962 Sam Fuller picture, Merrill’s Marauders. While it might be hard to imagine Flynn as an Army paratrooper, he pulls it off effortlessly (he tried to enlist but was declared unfit due to a medical condition).

Paired up, Walsh and Flynn were a movie-making force of nature (I even like 1948’s Silver River). Get Objective, Burma! on Blu-Ray. That’s an order!

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Filed under DVD/Blu-ray News, Errol Flynn, Raoul Walsh, Warner Archive, Warner Bros.

Blu-Ray News #345: It Happened At The World’s Fair (1963).

Directed by Norman Taurog
Starring Elvis Presley, Joan O’Brien, Gary Lockwood, Vicky Tiu, Yvonne Craig, Kurt Russell

Warner Archive is bringing Elvis to Blu-Ray this June with Norman Taurog’s It Happened At The World’s Fair (1963). Elvis plays a crop duster pilot named Mike Edwards who ends up at the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair.

This one doesn’t have any of Elvis’ best songs and the plot’s nothing to write home about, but the mobile homes are really swank in a mid-century modern sort of way and the whole thing was shot by Joseph Ruttenburg, who did lots of great-looking movies for MGM. His last was Speedway (1968). It should look terrific on Blu-Ray. Can’t wait!

Dig that original mono copy of the soundtrack LP!

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Filed under 1963, DVD/Blu-ray News, Elvis Presley, MGM, Warner Archive, Yvonne Craig

Blu-Ray Review: Doctor X (1932).

Directed by Michael Curtiz
Written by Robert Tasker & Earl Baldwin
Based on The Terror 1931 play by Howard W. Comstock Allen C. Miller
Photography by Ray Rennahan
Art Director: Anton Grot
Film Editor: George Amy
Music by Vitaphone Orchestra conducted by Leo F. Forbstein

Cast: Lionel Atwill (Dr. Jerry Xavier), Fay Wray (Joanne Xavier), Lee Tracy (Lee Taylor), Preston Foster (Dr. Wells), John Wray (Dr. Haines), Harry Beresford (Dr. Duke), Arthur Edmund Carewe (Dr. Rowitz), Leila Bennett (Mamie), Robert Warwick (Police Commissioner Stevens), George Rosener (Otto)

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Warner Archive has done monster movie fans a huge service with their miraculous restoration of Michael Curtiz’s Doctor X (1932).

The horror movies of the early 30s are a weird, wicked, wonderful lot — with the Pre-Code ones having the added benefit of being able to go a bit further with what we see and what’s hinted at. Doctor X, for instance, has cannibalism as one of its tasteless themes — and while we don’t see any actual people-munching, just a year later, merely mentioning it would’ve given the censors fits.

That’s what makes these old movies appeal to me so. Since they can mention, or allude to, just about anything, that’s exactly what they do. When it comes to the lurid, everything goes, and let the very skanky chips fall where they may. Doctor X touches on all kinds of dreadful things: cannibalism, mutilation, rape, a heart in a jar, prostitution. They just pile ’em all on, and if it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, well, that’s OK. Ah, the joys of Pre-Code Horror.

There’s a cannibalistic serial killer working nights in New York City. About all witnesses can offer up is that he’s hideous-looking. The cops turn to Doctor Xavier (Lionel Atwill) when they see a connection between these nasty killings and his medical academy. The fact that some of the researchers there are studying things like cannibalism and the effects of the moon on the human psyche only adds to their suspicion.

Dr. Xavier gathers these doctors and researchers, along with his daughter (Fay Wray) at his beachside home to try to sort out the killings. A reporter (Lee Tracy) makes his way there, too. This sets up a murder mystery with a little haunted house picture nailed to it, spiced up with as much out-and-out weirdness as they could get away with.

Lionel Atwill is a lot of fun as Dr. X. He’d make a career out of mining the mad doctor vein he created here. Fay Wray is charming, and really lovely in this early Technicolor. Of course, she’s one of cinema’s all-time great screamers. As the spunky reporter, Lee Tracy gets old pretty quickly. And I don’t buy it for a second that Fay Wray would fall for him. 

Art director Anton Grot and cinematographer Ray Rennahan use the two-strip Technicolor’s limited color palette for all it’s worth, creating plenty of mood and some downright weird images — with a decided emphasis on green. These otherworldly hues, coupled with the picture’s sinister, suggestive subject matter, come together to create something truly weird and downright creepy.

Almost a year ago, Warner Archive treated us to a restored Blu-Ray of Warner’s later color horror picture, The Mystery Of The Wax Museum (1933). (The success of Doctor X spawned Wax Museum, which was created by many of the same folks.) A couple of well-worn 35mm prints were all they had to work with, and the results were eye-poppingly beautiful. With Doctor X, they faced a similar task, and the results are just as startling. If you can, dig out the old laserdisc (which we all used to oooh and ahhh over), and you’ll see just how much work was done here. It’s easy to focus on the visuals, which are so rich and moody, but the soundtrack has been given a thorough cleaning as well. 

Doctor X was restored by UCLA Film & Television Archive and The Film Foundation in association with Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. Funding was provided by the Hobson/Lucas Family Foundation. A big thanks to all those associated with this. It’s incredible.

Warner Archive has put together another impressive package for this one. There are two commentaries, a couple documentaries — along with the alternate black and white version, which was shot alongside the color version. There are subtle differences, but most of the takes are the same. 

It’s amazing to think that us movie nuts used to travel sizable distances to see Doctor X in color — any kind of color. And now, for about the price of a pizza, we can have it in our homes looking as good, if not even better, than it did in theaters back in 1932. This one’s as essential as it gets.

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Filed under DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Fay Wray, Lionel Atwill, Michael Curtiz, Pre-Code, Warner Archive, Warner Bros.

Blu-Ray Review: Isle Of The Dead (1945).

Directed by Mark Robson
Produced by Val Lewton
Written by Ardel Wray
Director Of Photography: Jack MacKenzie
Film Editor: Lyle Boyer
Music by Leigh Harline

Cast: Boris Karloff (Gen. Nikolas Pherides), Ellen Drew (Thea), Marc Cramer (Oliver Davis), Katherine Emery (Mrs. Mary St. Aubyn), Helene Thimig (Madame Kyra), Alan Napier (St. Aubyn), Jason Robards, Sr. (Albrecht), Ernst Deutsch (Dr. Drossos), Sherry Hall (Col. Kobestes), Erick Hanson (Officer), Skelton Knaggs (Andrew Robbins)

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Producer Val Lewton made a number of artful horror movies at RKO, a string of creepy, wonderful classics that includes Cat People (1942), The Ghost Ship (1943) and I Walked With A Zombie (1943).

One was so artful, in fact, it was actually inspired by a painting, Arnold Böcklin’s Isle Of The Dead. The painting is pretty much recreated early in the 1945 Lewton film of the same name.

It’s the story of a group of people quarantined on a small island during the Balkan Wars of 1912 — Gen. Pherides (Boris Karloff) and Oliver Davis (Marc Cramer) rowing to the island is where art imitates art (above). The plot, which gets a little complicated at time, touches on the plague, grave robbing, premature burial, madness and the dreaded vorvolaka. Like most of the Lewton pictures, it’s relentlessly creepy — with more overt horror/scary stuff towards the end, and the screens seems to drip atmosphere onto the floor.

Val Lewton was a novelist who wound up a producer. In the early 40s, he found himself in charge of a small unit at RKO, making horror films for $150,000 each. His psychological approach, preying upon our fear of the dark and the unknown, was both effective (the first, Cat People, grossed  millions and helped save the studio) and cost-effective (little light, minimal sets and no monster makeup). Lewton believed it was better to suggest horror than to show it. Leaving RKO in 1946, he made films for Paramount and MGM, and considered starting an independent production company with two of his directors from RKO, Robert Wise and Mark Robson. It fell through. There was talk of an association with Stanley Kramer at Columbia. And there was a producing gig at Universal-International — which resulted in Apache Drums (1951), which turned out to be his last film.

Mark Robson started out as an editor, assisting Robert Wise on Citizen Kane (1941). It’s hard to believe that the Mark Robson who directed The Seventh Victim (1943) and Isle Of The Dead, tight little movies brimming with atmosphere and suspense, is the same Mark Robson responsible for the big, bloated Earthquake (1974), which is almost totally devoid of atmosphere and suspense. In between this film and the wretched Earthquake, he made some good stuff: Champion (1949),  Roughshod (1949), The Harder They Fall (1956) and Von Ryan’s Express (1965), to name a few.

Boris Karloff is terrific in this. Production was interrupted by his back surgery, which might explain some of the plot confusion, but his performance is dead on. His curly hair gives him a really odd appearance, which along with the uniform, puts a new spin on the kind of tortured soul thing he does so well. The more time that goes by, and the more of his films I see again and again, just how great an actor Karloff was becomes more and more apparent. 

Warner Archive’s new Blu-Ray of Isle Of The Dead is really incredible. Coming from a 4K scan of original nitrate camera negative, it’s flawless. I can’t imagine it looking any better when it opened in 1945, and it’s a real pleasure to see Jack MacKenzie’s beautiful black and white look like this. We’re also treated to some nice extras — a commentary and an original trailer (with Spanish subtitles). The Lewton horror films are essential viewing, and since so much of their power comes from atmosphere, a high-def presentation like this is a huge leap forward. Essential.

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Filed under Boris Karloff, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Mark Robson, RKO, Val Lewton, Warner Archive

Blu-Ray News #334: Doctor X (1932).

Directed by Michael Curtiz
Starring Lionel Atwill, Fay Wray, Lee Tracy, Preston Foster

Warner Archive is following their incredible two-color Technicolor restoration of Mystery Of The Wax Museum (1932) with a similar presentation of Doctor X (1932), coming in April. It will feature a slew of extras, including the alternate black and white version (shot separately).

The success of this one prompted Warner Bros. to bring Lionel Atwill and Fay Wray back for Wax Museum.

Both pictures are just plain creepy and weird — and wonderful. This one plays around with cannibalism and voyeurism. Ahh, the joys of Pre-Code Horror. Essential.

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Filed under DVD/Blu-ray News, Fay Wray, Lionel Atwill, Pre-Code, Warner Archive, Warner Bros.