Category Archives: Warner Bros.

Screening: 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, Dub Taylor

Noir City: Hollywood – The 20th Annual Los Angeles Festival Of Film Noir is presenting one of my all-time favorite films on the 18th, Jack Webb’s 1954 feature version of Dragnet. I can’t tell you how much I love this movie. The DVD is a rather ugly, full-frame mess, making the chance to see it on the big screen, on film, an even greater treat. And Ann Robinson, who plays a lady officer, will be there for a discussion after the movie.

Wednesday, April 18, 7:30pm
Egyptian Theatre
6712 Hollywood Boulevard
Hollywood, CA 90028

And if Dragnet wasn’t cool enough, the festival’s also got Armored Car Robbery (1950) in its lineup on the 16th. Another one of those times when I live on the wrong side of the country.

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Filed under 1954, Jack Webb, James H. Griffith, Screenings, Television, Warner Bros.

Blu-Ray Review: The Black Scorpion (1957).

Directed by Edward Ludwig
Produced by Jack Dietz and Frank Melford
Screenplay by Robert Blees and David Duncan
Story by Paul Yawitz
Director Of Photography: Lionel Lindon
Special Effects by Willis H. O’Brien and Pete Peterson
Film Editor: Richard L. Van Enger
Music by Paul Sawtell

Cast: Richard Denning (Hank Scott), Mara Corday (Teresa), Carlos Rivas (Arturo Ramos), Mario Navarro (Juanito), Carlos Muzquiz (Dr. Velazco), Pascual Garcia Pena (Jose de la Cruz)

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When you look at the big-bug movies of the 50s, the good-to-bad ratio is surprisingly good. Them! (1954), about giant ants, is terrific. Tarantula (1955) is excellent, too, thanks in large part to Jack Arnold’s snappy direction. The Deadly Mantis (1957) sticks the mantis in the Manhattan Tunnel for a cool last reel. Then there’s The Black Scorpion (1957), with Warner Bros. hoping to scare up another batch of Them!-like profits, which doesn’t get the attention it deserves.

Black Scorpion Mex LC

A once-dormant volcano erupts, wreaking all sorts of havoc in Mexico. Geologists Henry Scott (Richard Denning) and Arturo Ramos (Carlos Rivas) come to investigate, meeting the lovely Teresa (Mara Corday) — and discovering a nest of giant scorpions living in the caverns beneath the volcano.

black_scorpion still cropped

These aren’t just any giant scorpions. They’re the work of the great Willis O’Brian and his assistant Pete Peterson. A master of stop-motion animation and one of the true pioneers of movie effects, O’Brien gave us The Lost World (1925), King Kong (1933), Mighty Joe Young (1949) and others. His career was winding down by the time he took on The Black Scorpion, and even though working with a small budget (setting up shop in tiny studio space and his own garage, the story goes), he made sure the movie delivered the goods. (As a kid, I measured the quality of movies like this according to how much screen time the monsters had. I had yet to appreciate Mara Corday.)

A terrible picture of one of Willis O’Brien’s original scorpion models.

In the shots where you see two or three scorpions, imagine animating all those legs! A sequence with a train attacked by one of the scorpions is just incredible. And I love how the scorpions are constantly drooling!

Lionel Lindon’s cinematography is top-notch, using deep shadows and limited lighting to create a creepy mood, especially in the caverns, and avoid making the special effects appear not-too-special. (Be sure to see his stunning work on 1957’s The Lonely Man.) Lindon won an Oscar for Around The World In 80 Days (1956). The editing comes from Richard L. Van Enger, who spent years at Republic cutting everything from Heart Of The Golden West (1942) with Roy Rogers to John Wayne in Sands Of Iwo Jima (1949) to Nick Ray’s Johnny Guitar (1954). The sound design on this one is great, too. The scorpion noises (borrowed from Them!) are a very effective way of building suspense.

Black Scorpion LC 2

Richard Denning and Mara Corday were old hands at this kinda stuff. He’d already dealt with The Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954) and she’d come up against Tarantula. They do exactly what a movie like this asks of them: look scared, be brave and deliver some whacky pseudo-science to fool audiences into almost believing it for 80 minutes or so.

I’ve had this movie on laserdisc, on DVD twice (one being from Warner Archive), and this Blu-Ray is really something special. The Black Scorpion has always fluctuated in sharpness from shot to shot — maybe because of the special effects. It’s no different in high definition, but when it’s sharp, it’s as sharp as I’ve ever seen. Stunning at times.

The extras are terrific, gathering up some of O’Brien’s tests, clips, trailers and other goodies. Warner Archive was wise to keep those for this release, but for me, the true extra is still the restoration of its 1.85 framing — now even better in high definition. Every setup looks so much better, from the dialogue scenes to the monster footage. Widescreen films like this, regardless of their age, can look pretty clunky when seen full-frame.

The movie’s easy to recommend. So is the upgrade to Blu-Ray. Go for it!

Time for a bit of transparency: This is a partial re-tread of my review of the Warner Archive DVD of The Black Scorpion from a few years back.

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Filed under 1957, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Edward Ludwig, Mara Corday, Richard Denning, Warner Archive, Warner Bros.

Blu-Ray Review: Harper (1966).

Directed by Jack Smight
Director: Jack Smight
Producer: Jerry Gershwin, Elliott Kastner
Screenplay by William Goldman,
based on the novel The Moving Target by Ross McDonald
Cinematography: Conrad Hall
Film Editor: Stefan Arnsten
Music by Johnny Mandel

Cast: Paul Newman (Lew Harper), Lauren Bacall (Elaine Sampson), Julie Harris (Betty Fraley), Arthur Hill (Albert Graves), Janet Leigh (Susan Harper), Shelley Winters, Robert Wagner

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For my money, Harper (1966) is the ultimate Paul Newman movie. He’s cool, funny and tough — and like all of his best films, his character’s got a little loser in him. He’s also got a cool car — a Porsche Speedster with the driver’s door sprayed in brown primer and the hubcaps missing. (Bet Newman had a lot of fun with that thing between takes.)

Harper is also a near-perfect 60s movie, touching on the mounting weirdness of the latter half of the decade, especially in Los Angeles, without going overboard in trying to be hip. Harper (Newman) is hired by a Lauren Bacall to locate her wealthy husband, who disappeared the night before. Harper’s investigation drags him through all sorts of stuff — kidnapping, smuggling illegal immigrants, heroin addiction, torture and crackpot religion. Along the way, he gets beaten up time and time again.

Elaine Sampson (Lauren Bacall): Los Angeles is the big leagues for religious nuts.
Lew Harper (Paul Newman): That’s because there’s nothing to do at night.

And it does all this while carrying on the tradition set by earlier private detective pictures like The Big Sleep (1946). You could say that this vibe was taken to the next level, a logical progression, by Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye (1971).

Strother Martin is terrific as the weirded out holy man. Shelley Winters is a hoot as the washed up actress involved in the whole mess. Arthur Hill is perfect as Harper’s nerdy lawyer friend. And as I’ve already stated, cool just oozes out of Newman in every frame.

I am deeply indebted to this movie for two things. First, it introduced me to Ross MacDonald’s Lew Archer books. I’ve read them all, they’re great. Next, the shot underneath director Jack Smight’s credit — looking over Harper’s shoulder as he approaches Lauren Bacall’s house in his Porsche, it (and The Love Bug) helped kick off my fascination with Ferdinand Porsche and his vehicles.

Director Jack Smight and Paul Newman between takes.

Harper was shot in Technicolor and Panavision by the great Conrad Hall. The Blu-Ray from Warner Archive is near perfect, as good a presentation of original Technicolor as I’ve ever seen. Of course, it’s not the eye candy of something like Singing In The Rain (1950), but it shows us all exactly what the color process looked like in the 60s. Watch those reds — the cars, the waiters’ uniforms, etc. That’s dye transfer Tech — and it’s beautiful. Harper looks better than I’ve ever seen it look (and I’ve seen a 16mm IB Tech Scope print, the letterboxed laserdisc and the DVD). Essential.

At the same time, Warner Archive has brought the second Newman/Harper film, The Drowning Pool (1975), to Blu-Ray. It’s not as good — for one thing, the plot is really complex, but any movie featuring Murray Hamilton, Paul Koslo, Andy Robinson, Linda Haynes and Richard Jaeckel is worth seeing. This time, Harper winds up in Louisiana (the book kept Archer in California) to help out an old flame (Joanne Woodward) and people start winding up dead.

The scene with Newman and Gail Strickland trapped in a flooded hydrotherapy room, where the title comes from, is really cool.

The great Gordon Willis (The Godfather) shot this one, and it’s beautiful — and presently flawlessly on Blu-Ray by Warner Archive. Newman and all those character actors make The Drowning Pool worthwhile. Recommended.

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Filed under 1966, 1975, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Janet Leigh, Lauren Bacall, Murray Hamilton, Paul Newman, Robert Wagner, Strother Martin, Warner Archive, Warner Bros.

Blu-Ray News #158: The Black Scorpion (1957).

Directed by Edward Ludwig
Special Effects by Willis H. O’Brien and Pete Peterson
Starring Richard Denning, Mara Corday, Carlos Rivas, Mario Navarro

Warner Archive has announced that they’re getting The Black Scorpion (1957) prepped for Blu-Ray. Their DVD from a few years back was terrific, and I think the leap to high definition will be a real treat. More on this as the infestation takes shape.

Thanks to John Knight for the tip.

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Filed under 1957, DVD/Blu-ray News, Mara Corday, Warner Archive, Warner Bros.

Blu-Ray Review: Night Moves (1975).

Directed by Arthur Penn
Written by Alan Sharp
Director Of Photography: Bruce Surtees
Film Editor: Dede Allen
Music by Michael Small

Cast: Gene Hackman (Harry Moseby), Jennifer Warren (Paula), Edward Binns (Joey Ziegler), Harris Yulin (Marty Heller), Kenneth Mars (Nick), Janet Ward (Arlene Iverson), James Woods (Quentin), Anthony Costello (Marv Ellman), John Crawford (Tom Iverson), Melanie Griffith (Delly Grastner), Susan Clark (Ellen Moseby)

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The Seventies were an interesting time for film noir and private eye movies. Surprisingly, there were plenty of them — pictures like Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye (1973), Roman Polanski’s Chinatown (1974), Stuart Rosenberg’s The Drowning Pool (1975) and Arthur Penn’s Night Moves (1975). They all seemed to drag the genres into a decade they seemed very much at odds with. By this time, both noir and PI movies had seen their conventions spoofed time and time again — and each director headed in a different direction.

But with the 70s a decade marked by cynicism, doesn’t it make sense that noir would emerge from the shadows?

In Penn’s case, with Night Moves, it looks like he decided to make his football-player-turned-detective (with a gorgeous 1967 Mustang), Harry Moseby (Gene Hackman), every bit as messed up as the dysfunctional family he’s hired to help sort out. He turns out to be just as lost as the young girl (Melanie Griffith) he’s trying to track down. And that’s what sets this one apart — Moseby’s investigation and introspection get all twisted together before it’s over with. Alan Sharp’s wonderful script juggles this effortlessly.

Hackman’s really terrific in this. His Moseby is a burned out guy you somehow can’t help but care about, even as you question a number of the choices he makes along the way. This is one of Hackman’s better performances, and he isn’t lacking for great performances.

You hear a lot about this being Melanie Griffith’s first movie (and that she’s naked quite a bit), but it’s Jennifer Warren that stands out to me. Paula’s a long way from the femme fatale we’re used to, but just as dangerous. Warren also played Paul Newman’s wife Francine in Slap Shot (1977). She didn’t have a tremendous amount of screen time in that one, but she was really good.

In a lot of PI movies, the plot sort of meanders along, often a bit incoherently, towards a conclusion that tries to wrap up (almost) everything. Night Moves weaves its lost girl/murder plot and character study together seamlessly, waiting for just the right moment to do so. Arthur Penn really amazes me sometimes. This is one of those times.

Night Moves didn’t do well upon its original release. Something called Jaws opened about the same time. Maybe it was too downbeat, maybe it was just too good, to be successful. Feel good hit of the year it ain’t.

But there’s plenty to feel good about with the new Blu-Ray from Warner Archive. It’s splendid. Seventies movies have a look all their own, and that’s preserved here flawlessly. This one has the added benefit of having been photographed by the great Bruce Surtees (who shot a number of my favorite films, from Dirty Harry to The Shootist). The disc includes a trailer and a production short from back in the day.

It’s easy to recommend Night Moves. And for fans of the movie, I can’t imagine you not springing for this Blu-Ray.

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Filed under 1975, Arthur Penn, Bruce Surtees, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Gene Hackman, Warner Archive, Warner Bros.

DVD News #147: Porky Pig 101.

This is the way I’ve been hoping they’d get around to these wonderful Warner Bros. cartoons — big fat sets in chronological order. And it makes sense that they’d get the ball rolling with Porky Pig, the first of their big “stars.” There will be 101 shorts on five discs, all unedited. Man, I can’t wait.

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Filed under Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies, Warner Archive, Warner Bros.