Category Archives: Warner Archive

Blu-Ray News #406: Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde (1931) And Mark Of The Vampire (1935).

Man oh man, am I excited about this! Warner Archive has announced a couple of terrific 30s horror pictures for October release on Blu-Ray — Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde (1931) and Mark Of The Vampire (1935).

Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde
Directed by Rouben Mamoulian
Starring Fredric March, Miriam Hopkins, Rose Hobart, Holmes Herbert

Fredric March won an Oscar for this excellent pre-Code horror picture, which came way too close to being a lost film. When MGM started working on their Spencer Tracy version, they bought the rights to the March film and the 1920 silent version with Lionel Barrymore — and destroyed all the material they could find. Luckily, something survived. 

Mark Of The Vampire
Directed by Tod Browning
Starring Lionel Barrymore, Elizabeth Allan, Bela Lugosi, Lionel Atwill, Jean Hersholt, Carroll Borland

Tod Browning revisits his silent London After Midnight (1927), adding sound and replacing Lon Chaney with Bela Lugosi. (Browning directed the 1931 Dracula.) Lugosi is at his Dracula-y best, Lionel Barrymore is a hoot as an expert on the occult and Carroll Borland is creepy as Lugosi’s daughter.

These played theaters in the early 70s along with Boris Karloff in Mask Of Fu Manchu (1932). What a night of 35mm wonderfulness that would’ve been. (Why didn’t my parents take me to this? I thought they loved me.) That’s the poster for the “terrifying triple show” up top.

You can always count on Warner Archive for exquisite transfers, and I’m really looking forward to seeing these look as good (or better) than they did back in the 30s. This is essential stuff, folks!

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Filed under Bela Lugosi, DVD/Blu-ray News, MGM, Paramount, Tod Browning, Warner Archive

Blu-Ray News #401: King Kong (1933).

Directed by Merian C. Cooper & Ernest B. Schoedsack
Starring Fay Wray, Robert Armstrong, Bruce Cabot

I’ve seen King Kong (1933) countless times, and it never ceases to knock me out. If there’s any single film that demonstrated to the world what the movies were capable of, it has to be this one. We can thank Mr. Willis O’Brien for that.
Warner Archive is bringing this incredible film back to Blu-Ray. This is the way you need to see it — unless it hits your local theater in 35mm (don’t hold your breath). Essential.

My movie-geek advice: watch this one and The Most Dangerous Game (1932) as a double feature. Same sets, much of the same cast, both terrific!

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Filed under DVD/Blu-ray News, Fay Wray, RKO, Warner Archive, Willis O'Brien

Assignment: Outer Space (1960, AKA Space-Men).

Directed by Antonio Margheriti (Anthony Dawson)
Screenplay by Antonio Margheriti & Ennio De Concini
Cinematography: Marcello Masciocchi
Music by Lelio Luttazzi

Cast: Rik Van Nutter (Ray Peterson, IZ41), Gabriella Farinon (Lucy, Y13), David Montresor (George the Commander), Archie Savage (Al, X15), Alain Dijon (Archie, Y16), Franco Fantasia (Sullivan)


Antonio Margheriti worked on documentaries, did special effects work and wrote screenplays before directing his first feature, Assignment: Outer Space (1960). This kicked off a career that went from whacked-out Italian science fiction and spaghetti westerns to peplum and horror movies to spy movies and action films.

When you crank out more than 50 fad-chasing genre pictures, it’s understood that quite a few of them will be less than great. But Margheriti had a real knack for no-budget special effects — and he loved science fiction. He certainly knew how to get a movie done quickly and efficiently — using multiple cameras to get everything from master shots to closeups at the same time. With the Gamma One series, for instance, he shot four films simultaneously, using the same actors, props and sets — shooting scenes from four color-coded screenplays each day. Margheriti’s ingenuity and love of cinema is baked into most of his films, especially the ones from the 60s, and it helps put a lot of them over.

Space-Men — or Assignment: Outer Space, as it’s known in the States — is a picture with more ideas and scope than its budget could bankroll, but Margheriti manages to make it work.

Antonio Margheriti (from a 1970 interview): “Back then, Titanus was a big production company and one day they asked me if I wanted to make this film. I said yes, obviously… I made the film in 14 days and I spent 41,000,000 lire, which is very little money.”

The story is pretty basic — a broken-down spaceship is on a collision course with Earth, and the team on a single space station are mankind’s only hope. The special effects are passable, nothing more. And its pacing is pretty leisurely for a story with so much natural suspense.

But these liabilities become assets in Margheriti’s hands. The story serves as a framework for some imaginative sequences that may, or may not, advance the story. Margheriti devotes lots of screen time to showing us the (speculative) ins and outs of space travel, in a way that plays a bit like a precursor to Kubrick’s 2001: a space odyssey (1968) — with a waking-up-from-suspended-animation scene that was clearly an influence on Alien (1979). The special effects are quaint, cool, surreal and charming — especially for those of use who consider CGI a nail in cinema’s coffin. (Larger models would’ve made a big difference, no pun intended.) It’s a very visual experience throughout, which makes it a real shame that it looks so consistently, and internationally, lousy on video.

They say that while Margheriti was shooting Assignment: Outer Space, Mario Bava was hard at work on Black Sunday (1960) on the soundstage next door at Scalera Film studios. One thing I found brilliant was the use of letters and numbers on the characters’ uniforms and space suits, so we know who’s who in longer shots — much like numbers on a baseball jersey. And one more thing: Rik Van Nutter would go on to play Felix Leiter in Thunderball (1965) — and was married to Anita Ekberg.

Antonio Margheriti would follow this with Battle Of The Worlds (1961), which is on its way to Blu-Ray from The Film Detective, and a few years later would come the Gamma One pictures (available from Warner Archive). In between, some spaghetti westerns and gothic horror — all of it worth your time. And though his work from the 70s and 80s doesn’t have the same ingenuity and creativity, it’s a real shame that Margheriti isn’t better known, and appreciated. 

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Filed under 1960, Antonio Margheriti, Mario Bava, The Film Detective, Warner Archive

Blu-Ray Review: The Wonderful World Of The Brothers Grimm (1962).

Directed by Henry Levin (& George Pal)
Produced by George Pal
Screenplay by Charles Beaumont & William Roberts,
based on the stories of Wilhelm & Jacob Grimm
Cinematography: Paul Vogel
Film Editor: Walter Thompson
Special Effects: David Pal, Tim Barr, Wah Chang, Robert Hoag, Gene Warren
Music by Leigh Harline

Cast: Laurence Harvey (Wilhelm Grimm/The Cobbler), Karl Bohm (Jacob Grimm), Claire Bloom (Dorothea Grimm), Barbara Eden (Greta Heinrich), Yvette Mimieux (The Princess), Jim Backus (The King), Russ Tamblyn (The Woodsman/Tom Thumb), Buddy Hackett (Hans), Terry-Thomas (Ludwig), Beulah Bondi (The Gypsy), Ian Wolfe (Gruber)


The Wonderful World Of The Brothers Grimm premiered in the US in August of 1962, with the distinction of being “the first dramatic film in fabulous Cinerama” — shot and exhibited in the original three-panel format. Next came How The West Was Won (1962), again with the three-panel setup. (Grimm was actually shot after West.) These things were expensive to shoot and hard to exhibit, so beginning with It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), non-travelogue films for Cinerama exhibition were shot in things like 70mm Ultra Panavision.

The one time  I saw The Wonderful World Of The Brothers Grimm was on laserdisc. And while I was thrilled to be seeing it in something widescreen-ish, the merging of the three Cinerama panels was a mess and incredibly distracting. I was not impressed, though Buddy Hackett and the dragon (my reason for watching it to begin with) really knocked me out. Hooray for Jim Danforth!

All these years later, a truly gargantuan restoration of The Wonderful World Of The Brothers Grimm has come to Blu-Ray, and it’s a really remarkable thing. The picture had been declared un-restorable, its elements too far gone. Luckily, David Strohmaier and Tom H. March, the folks responsible for the Blu-Ray of How The West Was Won, really outdid themselves here to give Brothers Grimm a new lease on life. The panel lines are practically gone, the color’s near-perfect and it comes complete with overture, intermission and all the trimmings. Even a few glitches in the original effects have been repaired, not in a revisionary way — just a subtle patch here and there.


Producer George Pal used the story of Wilhelm (Laurence Harvey) and Jacob Grimm (Karl Bohm) as a backbone for a series of Grimm’s fairy tales: “The Dancing Princess,” “The Cobbler And The Elves” and “The Singing Bone.” It’s pretty ingenious, with some nice effects and beautiful locations, but you might could argue whether this was a good fit for the mammoth Cinerama screen.

The cast in impressive. Russ Tamblyn reprises his title role from Pal’s Tom Thumb (1958) and Yvette Mimieux had been in Pal’s The Time Machine (1960). Pal was able to revisit his Puppetoon days (above) for “The Cobbler And The Elves.” It’s interesting that Jim Backus, Buddy Hackett and Terry-Thomas would soon be back on the Cinerama screens in It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. 

For movie nerds like me, the real story is the miracle this Blu-Ray pulls off. The Wonderful World Of The Brothers Grimm looks marvelous, whether you choose the standard widescreen version or the “smilebox” setup that approximates the feel of the curved screen (and gets rid of the odd bowl-shaped effect that comes with these three-panel films). The sound has been spiffed up, with plenty of punch. My favorite thing was the documentary, which shows just all the work, and all the technical whatzits, that were needed to get Pal’s picture looking better than ever. I’ve watched it twice.

As a movie, The Wonderful World Of The Brothers Grimm is cute, but as an example of yesterday’s roadshow exhibition and today’s film restoration, it’s nothing short of a miracle. Highly, highly recommended.

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Filed under 1962, Buddy Hackett, Cinerama, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Film Preservation, George Pal, Henry Levin, Jim Backus, MGM, Warner Archive

Blu-Ray News #374: The Wonderful World Of The Brothers Grimm (1962).

Directed by Henry Levin and George Pal
Starring Laurence Harvey, Karlheinz Böhm, Claire Bloom, Yvette Mimieux, Russ Tamblyn, Jim Backus, Terry-Thomas, Barbara Eden, Buddy Hackett

After an extensive (and expensive) digital restoration, from 4K scans of the original Cinerama camera negatives, The Wonderful World Of The Brothers Grimm (1962) is coming to Blu-Ray from Warner Archive. 

It played at the Museum Of Modern Art a few days ago.

Originally shot and exhibited in the three-panel Cinerama process, spiffing this thing up was no easy task. The Blu-Ray sounds like it’s really gonna be something. From Warner Archive: “…this Deluxe Two Disc Edition gives the viewer the opportunity to watch the film either in a traditional letterbox format, or in the Smilebox format which attempts to re-create the immersive Cinerama experience with a simulated curve to the screen. Both versions bring together the three original Cinerama panels with virtually no trace of the lines that joined them together when originally projected in theaters back in 1962.”

The set will come with a hefty batch of extras. Can’t wait. When it comes to film restoration, this is a real fairy-tale ending!

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Filed under 1962, Buddy Hackett, DVD/Blu-ray News, George Pal, Henry Levin, Jim Backus, MGM, 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)

__________

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


After Elvis Presley movies like Blue Hawaii (1960) were big hits while more serious stuff such as Flaming Star (1960) underperformed, the King’s movie 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