Category Archives: William Asher

Blu-Ray Review: The Shadow On The Window (1957).

Directed by William Asher
Screen Play by Leo Townsend & David P. Harmon
Based on a story (“Missing Witness”) by John & Ward Hawkins
Cinematography: Kit Carson
Music by George Duning
Film Editor: William A. Lyon

Cast: Phil Carey (Tony Atlas), Betty Garrett (Linda Atlas), John Barrymore, Jr. (Jess Reber), Corey Allen (Gil Ramsey), Gerald Sarracini (Joey Gomez), Jerry Mathers (Petey), Sam Gilman (Sgt. Paul Denke), Paul Picerni (Bigelow)

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This tough little gem from Columbia can be found in Kit Parker’s nine-movie, three-disc Blu-Ray set Noir Archive, Volume 3 (1956-1960). These sets offer up a real wealth of riches — and I hope they keep coming.

A little boy (Jerry Mathers) sees his mother (Betty Garrett) getting roughed up by some punks as they rob and kill an old man. He wanders off, in shock, and is picked up on the side of the road by a couple of truckdrivers. Turns out he’s the son of police offer Tony Atlas (Phil Carey). With very little to go on (Mathers is able to tell them a few things), the cops race against time to find her.

Of course, we’ve seen this kind of thing before — crooks hiding in a house with a witness or two that can’t be allowed to live to rat ’em out. (There’s even an episode of Little House On The Prairie like that.) And while we’re sure the police procedural stuff will lead to the creeps before it’s all over, there are some good performances (Betty Garrett and Jerry Mathers are very good), some over-the-top menace from John Barrymore, Jr. and a great parade of 50s character actors to keep me happy — Sam Gilman, Paul Picerni, Norman Leavitt, Angela Stevens, Mel Welles and so forth. William Asher’s direction is tight and assured — a long way from his loose-as-a-goose Beach Party movies.

But what gets me about movies like this is the unshakeable craft of the crew. From the sets to the cinematography, what you see is a well-oiled machine powered by people who knew what they were doing and, despite the budget, came through every single time. Cheap studio movies from the 50s usually look very good. Kit Carson’s cinematography on this one was never going to win him an Oscar, but he creates mood where he needs to and helps conceal the pictures’s limited budget. Carson did a lot of TV and only a handful of features.

So far, this series has given us 27 features, and every one of them looks terrific (some a bit better than others, as you’d expect). The Shadow On The Window is one of the nicest of the bunch — nice 1.85 framing, superb contrast and the kind of grain that reminds you that this used to be on film. This movie’s easy to recommend — and these sets are essential stuff.

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Filed under 1957, Columbia, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Kit Parker, Phil Carey, William Asher

Blu-Ray News #239: Johnny Cool (1963).

Directed by William Asher
Starring Henry Silva, Elizabeth Montgomery, Richard Anderson, Jim Backus, Joey Bishop, Telly Savalas, Sammy Davis, Jr.

William Asher’s 1963 gangster picture Johnny Cool is terrific, and I’m so stoked it’s making its way to Blu-Ray later this year from the folks at Scorpion Releasing.

In the early 60s, the gangster picture enjoyed a small resurgence, thanks to stuff like Budd Boetticher’s The Rise And Fall Of Legs Diamond (1960), Murder Inc. (1960) and Portrait Of A Mobster (1961). Asher’s picture might be the most brutal and violent one of the bunch. Most stylish, too — thanks in large part to the great cinematography of Sam Leavitt.

William Asher was in the middle of his Beach Party movies at AIP when he took on Johnny Cool. He and Elizabeth Montgomery became an item after she auditioned for the picture, they’d marry, and he’d go on to direct the bulk of her Bewitched TV show. The cast is really something, from Henry Silva to Jim Backus to Mort Sahl to Telly Savalas (with hair) — with a great part for Sammy Davis, Jr.

Johnny Cool has a great score from Billy May, with Davis singing the title tune. This is an overlooked, under-seen little movie, well worth (re)discovery in high definition. Recommended.

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Filed under 1963, DVD/Blu-ray News, Elizabeth Montgomery, Henry Silva, Jim Backus, United Artists, William Asher

Blu-Ray News #237: How To Stuff A Wild Bikini (1965).

Directed by William Asher
Starring Annette Funicello, Dwayne Hickman, Brian Donlevy, Buster Keaton, Beverly Adams, Harvey Lembeck, John Ashley, Jody McCrea, Mickey Rooney, Len Lesser, Bobbi Shaw, Michele Carey, The Kingsmen, Frankie Avalon, Elizabeth Montgomery

Okay, so maybe the whole Beach Party thing was starting to run out of steam by the time they got around to How To Stuff A Wild Bikini (1965). But who cares? All the elements are in place, from Frankie and Annette to Eric Von Zipper (Harvey Lembeck) and Bonehead (Jody McCrea) to the later addition Buster Keaton (as Bwana in this one).

It’s plenty stupid and tons of Pathécolor, Panavision fun. And I’m so stoked that it’s making its way to Blu-Ray from the folks at Olive Films. They did a tremendous job bringing Muscle Beach Party (1964) and Beach Blanket Bingo (1965) to high definition — let’s hope they get around to Bikini Beach (1964). Coming (in off the curl) in late June.

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Filed under 1965, AIP, Annette Funicello, Buster Keaton, Elizabeth Montgomery, Frankie Avalon, John Ashley, Mickey Rooney, Olive Films, William Asher

Blu-Ray News #233: Noir Archive Volume 3: 1956-1960.

I’ve been making my way through the first glorious volume of this terrific series from Kit Parker and Mill Creek Entertainment, and now they’ve announced the third. There’s another great lineup on the way (no pun intended).

The Shadow On The Window (1956)
Directed by William Asher
Starring Phil Carey, Betty Garrett, John Barrymore, Jr., Jerry Mathers

Jerry Mathers goes into shock after seeing his mom hassled by a group of thugs, then helps his dad (Phil Carey) and the cops rescue her. The Beaver is really good in this.

The Long Haul (1957)
Directed by Ken Hughes
Starring Victor Mature, Diana Dors

A British noir picture with Mature all tangled up in the shifty trucking industry — and a hood’s girlfriend.

Pickup Alley 6S

Pickup Alley (1957, UK Title: Interpol)
Directed by John Gilling
Starring Victor Mature, Anita Ekberg, Trevor Howard

Victor Mature and Anita Ekberg in a B&W Scope picture about dope smugglers — directed by the guy who did The Plague Of The Zombies (1966)! Where’s this movie been all my life?

The Tijuana Story (1957)
Directed by Leslie Kardos
Starring Rodolfo Acosta, James Darren, Jean Willes

Another lurid geography lesson from the great Sam Katzman. I love Rodolfo Acosta — his tiny part in One-Eyed Jacks includes one of the coolest single shots in all of Cinema, if you ask me (which you didn’t). Here, he’s got the lead!

She Played With Fire (1957, UK Title: Fortune Is A Woman)
Directed by Sidney Gilliat
Starring Jack Hawkins, ArleneDahl, DennisPrice, ChristopherLee
More UK noir, this one about a painting and insurance fraud.

The Lineup (1958)
Directed by Don Siegel
Starring Eli Wallach, Robert Keith, Warner Anderson, Richard Jaeckel

The TV series is turned into a typically tough and tight Don Siegel film. Siegel’s San Francisco movies (this and Dirty Harry) really get in the way of the city’s whole peace and love/hippie vibe. This time, it’s a town crawling with dope, crooks and killers. This set’s worth it for this one alone!

The Case Against Brooklyn (1958)
Directed by Paul Wendkos
Starring Darren McGavin, Maggie Hayes, Warren Stevens, Nestor Paiva, Brian G. Hutton

A documentary-style, true-story crooked cop picture starring Darren McGaven. Paul Wendkos also did The Legend Of Lizzie Borden (1975). Produced by Charles H. Schneer in-between Harryhausen movies. Oh, and Nestor Paiva’s in it.

The Crimson Kimono (1959)
Directed by Samuel Fuller
Starring James Shigeta, Glenn Corbett, Victoria Shaw

On the surface, it’s a detective story, but that’s never how a Fuller movie works, is it? Fuller understood that the best way to tackle an issue/message in a picture was to wrap it up in something else like a cop story or a Western. He also knew that if you stuck to B movies, the suits didn’t pay much attention and left you alone to do what you wanted. This one’s terrific.

Man On A String (1960)
Directed by Andre De Toth
Starring Ernest Borgnine, Kerwin Mathews, Alexander Scourby, Colleen Dewhurst, Glenn Corbett, Ted Knight, Seymour Cassel

Ernest Borgnine stars in this 1960 spy picture based on the life (and autobiography, Ten Years A Counterspy) of Boris Morros, a Russian-born musical director in Hollywood (John Ford’s Stagecoach, 1939) who was first a Russian spy, then a counterspy for the FBI. Andre de Toth focuses on the double-crosses that stack up like cordwood.

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Filed under 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, Andre de Toth, Christopher Lee, Columbia, Darren McGavin, Diana Dors, Don Siegel, DVD/Blu-ray News, Ernest Borgnine, John Gilling, Kit Parker, Mill Creek, Nestor Paiva, Sam Fuller, Sam Katzman, William Asher

DVD News #37: Vintage Sci-Fi Six-Movie Collection.

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Mill Creek has brought out a number of these collections, scooping up stuff from the Columbia vaults (some might say from the dumpster) and bringing them out at great prices — and in their proper aspect ratios! It’s hard to keep up with ’em all. I’m really excited about this one, which gives us another picture from the underrated, overlooked Fred F. Sears.

The Night The World Exploded (1957)
Directed by Fred F. Sears
Starring Kathryn Grant, William Leslie, Tristram Coffin, Raymond Greenleaf, Charles Evans, Frank J. Scannell

The 27th Day (1957)
Directed by William Asher
Starring Gene Barry, Valerie French, George Vaokovec, Arnold Moss, Stefan Schnabel, Friedrich von, Ledebur

Twelve To The Moon (1960)
Directed by David Bradley
Starring Ken Clark, Michi Kobi, Tom Conway, Anthony Dexter, John Wengraf, Robert Montgomery, Jr.

Valley Of The Dragons (1961)
Directed by Edward Bernds
Starring Cesare Danova, Sean McClory, Joan Staley, Danielle De Metz, Gregg Martell, Gil Peerkins

The H-Man (1958)
Directed by Ishirō Honda
Starring Yumi Shirakawa, Kenji Sahara, Akihiko Hirata, Eitarô Ozawa, Koreya Senda, Makoto Satô

Battle In Outer Space
Directed by Ishirō Honda
Starring Ryô Ikebe, Kyôko Anzai, Minoru Takada, Koreya Senda, Len Stanford, Harold Conway

the-night-the-world-exploded

 

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Filed under 1957, 1958, 1960, 1961, Columbia, DVD/Blu-ray News, Fred F. Sears, Gene Barry, Ishirō Honda, Mill Creek, Toho, William Asher

Bikini Beach (1964)

Bikini Beach HS

Directed by William Asher
Produced byJames H. Nicholson and Samuel Z. Arkoff
Co-Producer: Anthony Carras
Screenplay by William Asher, Leo Townsend and Robert Dillon
Photography by Floyd Crosby, ASC
Film Editors: Fred Feitshans and Eve Newman
Art Direction: Daniel Haller
Music Score by Les Baxter
Music Coordinator: Al Simms

Cast: Frankie Avalon (Frankie & Potato Bug), Annette Funicello (Dee Dee), Martha Hyer (Vivian Clements), Don Rickles (Big Drag), Harvey Lembeck (Eric Von Zipper), John Ashley (Johnny), Jody McCrea (Deadhead), Candy Johnson (Candy), Danielle Aubry (Lady Bug), Meredith MacRae (Animal), Delores Wells (Sniffles), Donna Loren, Little Stevie Wonder, The Pyramids, The Exciters Band, Janos Prohaska (Clyde), Timothy Carey (South Dakota Slim), Val Warren (The Teenage Werewolf Monster), Keenan Wynn (Harvey Huntington Honeywagon), Mickey Dora, Gary Ushes, Roger Christian, Mary Hughes, Salli Sachse, Patti Chandler, Boris Karloff (The Art Dealer)

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The green metal-flake Volkswagen made its way through the drive-in lot toward the concession stand, its redline tires crunching in the gravel as it prowled in search of the best vantage point. Passing by the Beatnik Bandit, the Deora and the Silhouette, it found its spot, parked and waited for the feature to begin.

$(KGrHqZHJDgFG8V7eTe6BR5EKcPutg~~60_35The concession stand was a shoebox. The screen tower was my parents’ console TV. And the patrons were my Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars. That’s how I saw my first Beach Party flick, Bikini Beach (1964).  It made quite an impression on an eight-year-old kid from South Georgia: I thought life on the California beaches was really like that. I was hooked, and Bikini Beach remains one of my favorite films to this day.

At the time of its release, the critics’ nightmares were coming true: the AIP Beach Party films were becoming a series. And with this third one, they’d truly hit their stride. It’s got surfers, chicks in bikinis, rail dragsters, Beatle satire, Gary Usher songs, Boris Karloff, Don Rickles, Timothy Carey, Eric Von Zipper (Harvey Lembeck), Deadhead (Jody McCrea) and Candy Johnson.

All that, plus a fake monkey who surfs and drags. A masterpiece of Dumb.

bikinilobby1Frankie Avalon plays two roles this time. He’s Frankie the happy-go-lucky surfer, of course, and he’s The Potato Bug, an obnoxious British pop star. He handles the part surprisingly well, turning in a Terry Thomas-ish performance (aided by hysterical fake teeth). He does one satirically Beatlesque tune (complete with the prerequisite “yeah-yeah-yeahs”), playing a cool double-neck Danelectro guitar. Of course, the two Frankies end up competing for Annette’s affection. Annette loves Frankie, as we all know, but if he’d only settle down! (I have to stop here to mention that for some people, such as my wife, the Potato Bug subplot is the cinematic equivalent of Chinese water torture.)

bikinibeach

Meredith MacRae and Annette Funicello.

Annette: “I’d always hated the beach. The sea air made my hair frizzy, and as for surfing-forget it. In almost every picture, the director would call for a shot of me running down the beach, board tucked under my arm, then leaping gracefully into the surf and paddling out. But back then boards were over six feet long and weighed upward of twenty-five pounds. I tried several times, but the most they ever got out of it was a totally winded Annette gasping in the sand, my board lying several feet behind me.”

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Millionaire Harvey Huntington Honeywagon (Keenan Wynn) is out to get the kids this time, using a chimp named Clyde (actually Janos Prohaska in a monkey outfit) to show up the gang (and teenagers in general) by outdoing them at surfing, drag-racing, etc. Plot-wise, that’s pretty much it. But we’re not here for the plot, are we? Just know there’s a fiery dragster crash, Timothy Carey as a pool hustler named South Dakota Slim, a Boris Karloff cameo, and it somehow ends with a chase that has Eric Von Zipper zipping around in a twin-engine go-kart like a bat out of hell.

Bikini Beach EVZ kart

Bikini Beach seems like a Panavision time capsule of teenage life in Southern California in the early 60s — fed through AIP’s powerful exploitation machine. You’ve got the surf culture, complete with the instrumental surf music that would soon be laid waste by the British Invasion (which itself is represented by The Potato Bug); the drag-racing and custom car sequences featuring a number of real cars and drivers; even go-karting is represented. And some of SoCal’s finest were on hand as technical advisors (sometimes with credit): “TV” Tommy Ivo, a 50s TV star who turned to drag-racing in the 60s; legendary surfer Mickey Dora, surf-hot rod songwriters Roger Christian and Gary Usher; and Von Deming, “West Coast Go-kart Champion.”

Bikini Beach Big Drag

Don Rickles does a lot for this film, returning as Jack Fanny (from 1964’s Muscle Beach Party) — who’s now changed his name to Big Drag, ditching the bodybuilding scene for the drags and the arts. “…I got out of the Fanny business. That’s all behind me now.” (Smart move, Jack.) His club, Big Drag’s Pit Stop, is where the kids all hang out.

Don Rickles: “They’d shoot the entire picture in a couple of weeks. Fourteen days from start to finish… One problem: I was working clubs up in Hollywood at the same time. I’d get home at 4, grab an hour’s sleep and head out at 5 for a 6AM call at the Malibu Pier. When the camera started rolling, my eyes started rolling back. I was out of it.”

Timothy Carey is hilarious and a little creepy as South Dakota Slim, a creepy nut-job pool hustler. He’d have a bigger part in the next Beach movie, Beach Blanket Bingo (1965). To see him share a scenes with Harvey Lemback (as Eric Von Zipper) is terrific.

Ivo model box

Some great cars get screen time here. First, check out Clyde’s dragster. It’s The Showboat, a four-engine Buick-powered dragster owned by “TV” Tommy Ivo. The Showboat has four slicks and when it hops off the line at Big Drag’s Dragstrip, it smokes up the entire track. How did anybody see to steer the thing? (A model of the car was available from Revell.) However, it turned out that four engines were not necessarily an advantage: due to the extra weight, it was slower than Ivo’s twin-engine machine.

Bikini Beach Mantaray

Frankie and Annette check out Dean Jeffries’ Mantaray in Pamona.

Dean Jeffries’ showcar, the Mantaray, also appears. The Potato Bug cruises up to the dragstrip in it. That’s actually Jeffries, in the Bug’s duds, behind the wheel. Jeffries is also the creator of the Black Beauty from TV’s The Green Hornet. All the racing scenes were shot at Pamona Raceway, using footage from the ’64 Winternationals (including a run from “Big Daddy” Don Garlits).

S111-300The music’s always great in these things, but a real highlight here is an appearance by The Pyramids, the crazed bald surf band from Long Beach known for their hit “Penetration.” They do two songs, “Record Run” and the boss instrumental “Bikini Drag.” (Both tunes finally appeared on a Pyramids compilation CD from the good people at Sundazed.) Donna Loren sings “Love’s A Secret Weapon,” backed by The Exciters Band as Candy Johnson does her incredible gyrations. The Exciters Band, who backed Candy for her nightclub act, serves as the house band whenever The Pyramids aren’t around. “Little” Stevie Wonder also appears, singing over the end credits.

Bikini Beach Donna L Candy J

Donna Loren sings, as Candy Johnson does her Candy Johnson thing.

The story goes that The Beatles were contacted about appearing in Bikini Beach, but by the time production got underway, the Fab Four had appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show and were now demanding far more than AIP’s $600,000 budget would allow. So The Beatles became The Potato Bug.

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AIP’s Jim Nicholson, contest winner Val Warren and Famous Monsters’ Forrest J. Ackerman.

Around this time, Famous Monsters Of Filmland magazine held a monster makeup contest with the winner getting the chance to appear in an AIP film — and AIP getting their movie plugged in FM. The winner was Val Warren, which explains why there’s a werewolf drinking milk at the pool hall with South Dakota Slim and Eric Von Zipper. Given the tone of the film, he’s right at home.

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The great Floyd Crosby was Bikini Beach‘s director of photography — and he keeps things bright and colorful throughout. Around the same time, he was shooting AIP’s Corman/Poe series, which gave him a chance to really experiment. (Floyd is also former Byrd David Crosby’s dad.)

I watch Bikini Beach about once a year. There’s something about it that just makes me happy. It’s dumb, it’s funny, the music’s great, the cars are cool, it’s got Timothy Carey in it. It’s available on a great-looking DVD from MGM (and as part of a set of all the Beach Party movies). I long for the day when it’s available on Blu-ray. Then, all will be right with the world.

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Patti Chandler captured in Panavision and Pathécolor.

beach-party-frankie-annetteThis post is comin’ in off the curl as part of the Beach Party Blogathon hosted by Speakeasy and Silver Screenings, June 8-12, 2015. Be sure to check out the other posts offered up by bloggers and gremmies from all across the web. And do the wise thing: apply plenty of sunscreen.

SOURCES: A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes by Annette Funicello, and Rickles’ Book: A Memoir by Don Rickles

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Filed under 1964, AIP, Annette Funicello, Boris Karloff, Don Rickles, Frankie Avalon, Timothy Carey, William Asher

Blu-Ray News #15: Four From American International Pictures (And Olive Films).

AIP logo scope

Olive Films has announced four terrific titles from American International Pictures (AIP) for February release on Blu-ray.

Frankie Annette drivein

Muscle Beach Party (1964)
Directed by William Asher
Starring Frankie Avalon, Annette Funicello, Luciana Paluzzi, John Ashley, Don Rickles, Jody McCrea, Dick Dale, Candy Johnson, Morey Amsterdam, Buddy Hackett, Little Stevie Wonder

Beach Blanket Bingo (1965)
Directed by William Asher
Starring Frankie Avalon, Annette Funicello, Deborah Walley, Harvey Lembeck, John Ashley, Jody McCrea, Donna Loren, Linda Evans, Timothy Carey, Don Rickles, Paul Lynde

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The Wild Angels (1966)
Directed by Roger Corman
Starring Peter Fonda, Nancy Sinatra, Bruce Dern, Diane Ladd, Michael J. Pollard, Gayle Hunnicutt, Dick Miller

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Psych-Out (1968)
Directed by Richard Rush
Starring Susan Strasburg, Dean Stockwell, Jack Nicholson, Bruce Dern, Adam Roarke, The Seeds, The Strawberry Alarm Clock

This is some of the stuff that rotted my brain as a kid. Essential.

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Filed under 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, AIP, Annette Funicello, Buddy Hackett, Dick Miller, Don Rickles, DVD/Blu-ray News, Frankie Avalon, Olive Films, Peter Bogdanovich, Peter Fonda, Roger Corman, Timothy Carey, William Asher