Category Archives: Warner Bros.

Blu-Ray Review: The Curse Of Frankenstein (1957).

Directed by Terence Fisher
Produced by Anthony Hinds
Screenplay by Jimmy Sangster
Based on the novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Director Of Photography: Jack Asher
Production Design: Bernard Robinson
Makeup Artist: Phil Leakey
Music by James Bernard
Film Editor: James Needs

Cast: Peter Cushing (Baron Victor Frankenstein), Melvyn Hayes (Young Victor), Robert Urquhart (Paul Krempe), Hazel Court (Elizabeth), Sally Walsh (Young Elizabeth), Christopher Lee (The Creature), Valerie Gaunt (Justine), Noel Hood (Aunt Sophia), Paul Hardtmuth (Professor Bernstein)

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With its first color film, and first foray into Gothic horror, Hammer Films created a brand that would change their direction, launch the horror careers of a couple of iconic actors, and ultimately change the horror movie itself. That’s accomplishing quite a bit, especially when you’re talking about a little company in the UK with a $250,000 monster movie — and working out of a house, not a proper studio.

Of course, we’re talking about is The Curse Of Frankenstein (1957) starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. And it’s just been given an incredible restoration and Blu-Ray release by Warner Archive.

While it varies quite a bit from the Shelley novel, it’s right in line with the cinematic Frankenstein story. A brilliant, obsessed doctor (Peter Cushing) assembles a man (Christopher Lee) from parts of dead bodies and brings it to life — with less than the desired result.

Seen today, it’s still a nasty little movie. Victor Frankenstein isn’t just an overly-driven medical researcher, he’s a manipulative lech. Actresses seem to have been chosen, and costumes designed, to highlight the female form. And every gruesome opportunity to dwell upon a lopped-off head, a severed hand or an eye in a jar is taken with relish. And remember, this is the first time audiences had ever seen such gore in color!

But what’s really important, and what makes this new Blu-Ray so essential, is we get to see the level of craft that went into Curse Of Frankenstein. Bernard Robinson’s sets are incredible, especially when you consider he was working in such tight spaces. Jack Asher’s cinematography, his first time working in color, uses shadow and light to draw  the eye to exactly what he wanted us to see and making those tiny sets look as big, as opulent, as possible. His experiments with color and light would continue with each film, making watching these early Hammer horror pictures in order of release a fun exercise.

Phil Leakey touches up Christopher Lee’s hairdo.

For Christopher Lee’s Creature, the makeup had to steer clear of the classic Universal/Karloff look, and Phil Leakey went in an effective stitched-up, patchwork direction. The Blu-Ray’s restored color really aids our appreciation of the look of the Creature, and we can see that Lee’s wounds seem to “heal” as the film goes on. 

James Bernard’s score is kinetic and dynamic, creating a signature sound (with an obviously small orchestra) that instantly IDs a Hammer film. A friend and I had dinner with Mr. Bernard in the early 90s. What a nice, charming man — and so humble.

Terence Fisher, Hazel Court and Peter Cushing on the set.

Terence Fisher’s direction brings all these elements together, beginning to set the tone for what Hammer would make into the mid-60s. He gets pitch-perfect performances from his cast. His camera rarely moves, but when it does, it’s always to great effect. But what probably makes the biggest difference is that he makes sure no one, from the cast to the cameraman to the caterer, looks down on the material. That made all the difference.

Warner Archive has done a remarkable job bringing Curse Of Frankenstein back to life. It’s sharp, the color is a huge improvement over anything I’ve seen before. (This one was shot in Eastmancolor.) We also get the original aspect ratio(s) — from the UK’s 1.66 to the 1.85 seen in the US to the 1.33 we saw on TV and videotape. (I recommend the 1.66.) The supplemental stuff is a real home run — a casket-load of commentaries, documentaries and a trailer. I was particularly happy to see James Bernard and Jack Asher singled out, with a short video on each. They’re key to the lasting impact of these films. 

While Horror Of Dracula* (1958) may get a lot of the glory, Curse Of Frankenstein is where it all began. It’s an important film, and a really cool one. As essential as they come, both as a movie and as an upgrade to whatever format you might currently have it in. 

* Also available (and stunning) on Blu-Ray from Warner Archive.

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Filed under 1957, Christopher Lee, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Hammer Films, Hazel Court, Jack Asher, Terence Fisher, Warner Archive, Warner Bros.

Blu-Ray News #323: Mister Roberts (1955).

Directed by John Ford & Mervyn LeRoy
Starring Henry Fonda, James Cagney, William Powell, Jack Lemmon, Betsy Palmer, Ward Bond, Philip Carey, Nick Adams, Perry Lopez, Ken Curtis

By all accounts, Mister Roberts (1955) was a troubled production, with a feud between star Fonda and director Ford (and a illness/bender taking taking Ford off the picture). Some say Ford’s attempt to turn the play into a John Ford movie was a hindrance, but as most folks see it, the end result is just wonderful. It was a huge hit back in ’55 and is beloved today.

Warner Archive is bringing Mister Roberts to Blu-Ray, and early CinemaScope films are a real treat in high-definition. And given how splendid recent Warner Archive Blu-Rays have looked, this should be a huge upgrade. The old DVD’s commentary from Jack Lemmon (who won an Oscar for playing Ensign Pulver) is being kept, which is good news.

This one’s coming December 15, and I highly recommend it.

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Filed under 1955, DVD/Blu-ray News, Henry Fonda, Jack Lemmon, John Ford, Martin Milner, Nick Adams, Warner Archive, Warner Bros.

Blu-Ray News #319: The Curse Of Frankenstein (1957).

Directed by Terence Fisher
Starring Peter Cushing, Hazel Court, Robert Urquhardt, Christopher Lee

Boy, this is going to be great! You get The Curse Of Frankenstein (1957), the first of Hammer’s Frankenstein series three different ways (on two discs), restored from preservation separations — the 1.66 UK aspect ratio, 1.85 as it played in the States and 1.37 as we saw it on TV for years and years. There will be commentaries, documentaries and a trailer. And if you’re familiar with what a lot of Warner Archive’s stuff has been looking like lately, you can only imagine how stunning this one would be. Essential!

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Filed under 1957, Christopher Lee, DVD/Blu-ray News, Hammer Films, Hazel Court, Peter Cushing, Terence Fisher, Warner Archive, Warner Bros.

Let’s Help Bob With Bud And Lou And Jack!

Robert Furmanek restored one of Abbott & Costello’s funniest films, Africa Screams (1949), for its stunning Blu-Ray release, and he and his are are back with Jack And The Beanstalk (1952).

Working with the only surviving 35mm color camera negative footage, this should be incredible. As before, there will a Kickstarter campaign to help cover the restoration costs — and to let you help make it happen. More details to come!

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Filed under 1952, Abbott & Costello, ClassicFlix, DVD/Blu-ray News, Film Preservation, Jean Yarborough, Warner Bros.

Blu-Ray News #311: The Flintstones – The Complete Series (1960-66).

The Modern Stone Age family comes to high definition. Warner Bros. has announced the upcoming Blu-Ray set The Flintstones – The Complete Series. You get all 166 episodes and the feature The Man Called Flintstone (1966) on 10 discs. It’s coming in October. Between this and the previously announced Space Ghost and the already available Jonny Quest sets, there’a lot of high-def Hannah-Barbara going on.

The image above is from The Flintstones Viewmaster set.

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Filed under Cartoons, DVD/Blu-ray News, Hanna-Barbera, Television, Warner Bros.

Blu-Ray News #282-A: Dragnet (1954).

Directed by Jack Webb
Starring Jack Webb, Ben Alexander, Richard Boone, Ann Robinson, Stacy Harris, Virginia Gregg, Victor Perrin, Georgia Ellis, James Griffith, Dennis Weaver, Dub Taylor

Update: Kino Lorber has announced a November 17 release date for their Blu-Ray of the 1954 Dragnet feature. They’ve also provided some info about what’s coming.

Special Features and Technical Specs:
• NEW 2K RESTORATION 
• TWO PRESENTATIONS OF THE FILM: IN 1.75:1 & 1.37:1 RATIOS
• Audio Commentary by Toby Roan
• Theatrical Trailer
• Optional English SDH subtitles for the main feature

When you do one of these commentaries, of course, you end up going through the movie many, many times. You can get kinda sick of it by the time you’re through. Not with this one. There was always a rant from Jack Webb, a cool LA location or something around the corner to look forward to. It never got old. 

It’s easy to recommend this one, and if you get it, I encourage you to stick to the 1.75 widescreen version. It gives it a fresh, crisp look — and it’s what Webb and DP Edward Colman were going for. Highly, highly recommended.

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Filed under 1954, DVD/Blu-ray News, Jack Webb, James H. Griffith, Kino Lorber, Television, Warner Bros.

Blu-Ray News #305: Bugs Bunny 80th Anniversary Collection.

The scoop on this set had been coming in dribs and drabs, but in the end it doesn’t matter — in November, you can get 60 Bugs Bunny cartoons on Blu-Ray. That’s all you need to know.

Click and it becomes legible.

That’s about half the total Bugs Bunny cartoons made between 1940 and 1964. Blooper Bunny comes from the 90s. They’re presented in chronological order.

There will be some extras, and the spiffy package will include some trinket-y stuff. But again, it’s the shorts themselves that matter. Can’t wait to dig through ’em. Highly recommended.

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Filed under Cartoons, DVD/Blu-ray News, Warner Bros.

Blu-Ray Review: Mystery Of The Wax Museum (1933).

Directed by Michael Curtiz
Screenplay by Don Mullaly and Carl Erickson
From the story by Charles S. Belden
Photography by Ray Rennahan
Art Director Anton Grot
Edited by George Amy
Gowns by Orry-Kelly

Cast: Lionel Atwill (Mr. Igor), Fay Wray (Charlotte Duncan), Glenda Farrell (Florence), Frank McHugh (Editor), Allen Vincent (Ralph Burton), Gavin Gordon (George Winton), Edwin Maxwell (Joe Worth), Holmes Herbert (Dr. Rasmussen), Arthur Edmund Carewe (Darcy/Sparrow)

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There’s something about a “lost” film that magically lifts it above the usual concerns about quality. It’s lost, good or bad doesn’t matter anymore. Same goes with what it looks like — we’ll take anything, it’s lost!* When a 35mm Technicolor print of Mystery Of The Wax Museum (1933) turned up in Jack Warner’s personal archive (about 50 years ago!), all that mattered was seeing it. It once was lost, but now it was found.

Sadly, the 16mm color prints (pulled from Jack’s 35) that made the rounds of colleges and film festivals weren’t much to write home about. (The story goes that the picture’s cinematographer, Technicolor artiste Ray Rennahan, attended one of those screenings, and he was so dismayed by what was on the screen, he left.)

Well, enough time’s gone by that Mystery Of The Wax Museum isn’t a lost film anymore. To most folks, it’s just a creaky, creepy old horror movie with weird-looking color. In fact, it’s probably better known now as the movie House Of Wax (1953) was a remake of. But thanks to Warner Archive’s new Blu-Ray — from a miraculous restoration by UCLA and The Film Foundation, with funding from The George Lucas Family Foundation, it’s certainly not lost. It’s not nearly as creaky. And its color, while still a little weird, shines like a diamond (or an emerald since there’s so much green). And I’m happy to say, man, this thing’s creepier than ever.

Come to think of it, it’s like it’s been found again! We don’t have to look past or through anything anymore. We don’t have to imagine what it looked like back in ’33. We can just enjoy it for what it is. This restoration (a second print was later discovered in France) levels the playing field to let it compete with its ghoulish gang of contemporaries — 30s horror masterpieces like Frankenstein (1931), White Zombie (1932), The Black Cat (1934) and so on. And while it might not reach some of those lurid, lofty heights, it really holds its own. 

We all know the plot by now. A sculptor (Lionel Atwill) is disfigured when a London wax museum is burned by its owner for the insurance money. Years later, that sculptor has relocated to New York and is about to reopen a new museum with recreations of his greatest works. A young reporter (Glenda Farrell) notices that the Joan Of Ark figure looks a lot like a young women who died a few days ago, and whose body disappeared from the morgue. (Obviously, House Of Wax was a very faithful remake.) Then, as luck would have it, Fay Wray wanders into the museum, and she’s the spitting image of Atwill’s melted masterpiece, Marie Antoinette. From there, things get even weirder and far more sinister as Atwill’s evil plan and despicable working methods are discovered.

Seeing it look this good, and with its sound cleaned up to an astonishing degree, there are some things about the film that really strike you. The dialogue has that snappy early-30s cops and reporters repartee going on, which we know from pictures like The Front Page (1931). Some of it’s a real hoot — and some a little suggestive, which helps remind you that this is a pre-Code picture.

The picture seems to wallow in its more lurid aspects. Atwill’s employees are quite a seemly, leering bunch. One, Darcy (Arthur Edmund Carewe), is a junkie who the police question until his DTs cause him to spill. There’s a bit of talk about bootlegging. And we get to spend time in the morgue, with a body rising to a seated position, an eery result of the embalming process. And of course there are numerous opportunities to gawk at Fay Wray’s legs. It’s all part of the fun. 

Ray Rennaham (behind camera), Lionel Atwill and Michael Curtiz.

There are times when it’s quite obvious the wax figures are played by people. The hot lights needed for Technicolor photography didn’t get along with the wax figures. Queen Victoria blinks. Joan Of Arc’s lip twitches. 

Speaking of those hot lights. Mystery Of The Wax Museum was the last feature shot in two-color Technicolor. Ray Rennahan and set designer/art director Anton Grot worked with the process’ limited color palette to create plenty of atmosphere. As we see the picture today, two colors were not a handicap for these folks. The odd color enhances the odd nature of the story, especially the vivid greens in a few creepy closeups. It’s surprisingly stylish.

Mystery Of The Wax Museum has always been a favorite, and I cherish my laserdisc of it paired with Doctor X (1932), another creepy two-color picture from Atwill, Wray, Curtiz and Rennahan. (Would love to see Doctor X get a similar restoration.) Seeing Mystery Of The Wax Museum on Blu-Ray is a revelation, making it quite obvious that the damage and semi-color were a real detriment to how much we enjoyed it over the years. The extras — a tribute to Fay Wray, a before/after comparison of the restoration and two commentaries — make for a nice package indeed.

Film history nuts (especially those fond of the technical stuff), pre-Code fans and those of us who just can’t get enough classic horror really need this Blu-Ray. It shows what can be done these days to bring a beat-up old movie back from the brink — and lets us sit back and really enjoy this creepy old thing like never before. Essential. 

* If London After Midnight suddenly turned up, would you care what kind of shape the print was in — or if the movie was actually any good? I didn’t think so.

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

Blu-Ray News #282: Dragnet (1954).

Directed by Jack Webb
Starring Jack Webb, Ben Alexander, Richard Boone, Ann Robinson, Stacy Harris, Virginia Gregg, Victor Perrin, Georgia Ellis, James Griffith, Dennis Weaver, Dub Taylor

A friend and I were talking a couple months ago about the movies we really wanted to see on Blu-Ray. That’s the kind of thing movie geeks do to pass the time. Well, I put the 1954 Dragnet feature in my top spot, and Kino Lorber has announced it for Blu-Ray later this year. You can imagine how stoked I am.

aadrag10This movie’s got everything that makes the original Dragnet TV show so perfect, only more of it. The same no-nonsense style (with a few camera moves here and there), the same character actors and the same Joe Friday (Jack Webb) talking smack to every crook he comes across. There’s more violence (Dub Taylor gets shot in the face before the WB shield even shows up!), widescreen, WarnerColor and a majestic version of the theme song from the Warner Bros. orchestra. This is one of my favorite movies, and the old DVD is atrocious.

UPDATE (2/12/2020) — I will have the extreme privilege of doing a commentary for this one. It may present the film in both 1.37 and 1.75 aspect ratios. It was a very early non-anamorphic widescreen film.

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Filed under 1954, DVD/Blu-ray News, Jack Webb, James H. Griffith, Warner Bros.

Blu-Ray News #241: None But The Brave (1965).

Directed by Frank Sinatra
Starring Frank Sinatra, Clint Walker, Tommy Sands, Brad Dexter, Tony Bill, Tatsuya Mihashi

None But The Brave (1965) is usually shrugged off as simply “the only picture Frank Sinatra directed,” which it is. But it’s also a pretty solid war movie, a lot better than reviews at the time would have you expecting. Two groups of soldiers, one Japanese and one American, are stranded on the same little Pacific island. They establish a pretty shaky truce in order to survive.

It was shot in Hawaii, and during production, Brad Dexter saved Sinatra (and Ruth Koch, the wife of producer Howard W. Koch) from drowning after getting caught in a riptide. In Japan, it was distributed by Toho, the Godzilla movie people. And Tommy Sands was Sinatra’s son-in-law at the time, and he’d divorce Nancy the same year.

It’s got great Panavision cinematography by Harold Lipstein. Sinatra had cinematographer William H. Daniels working as a producer, and with those two master craftsmen on board, how could it not look great? And that, for me, is why I’m so happy Warner Archive is bringing None But The Brave to Blu-Ray. It’s out next week, I think. Recommended.

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Filed under 1965, DVD/Blu-ray News, Frank Sinatra, Toho, Warner Archive, Warner Bros.