Category Archives: William Castle

DVD Review: William Castle Adventures Collection (1953-54).

My copy of the eagerly-awaited Critics’ Choice Collection four-feature, two-DVD William Castle Adventures Collection arrived yesterday. Will have a proper, more in-depth review of one of the titles soon, but thought I’d go ahead and share some thoughts on the collection as a whole.

The four films here are Serpent Of The Nile (1953), The Iron Glove (1954), Charge Of The Lancers (1954) and The Saracen Blade (1954). They were all shot in Technicolor in that crazy transitional period when Hollywood went through all sorts of technical turmoil — Scope, 3D, Eastmancolor, stereophonic sound and a number of spherical aspect ratios. From all that comes the trouble with this set.

The color’s quite nice from one picture to the next. Putting two features on a single DVD may affect the overall picture quality a bit, but I don’t have any complaints there.

Then we get to the aspect ratios, and things get pretty whacked out. Charge Of The Lancers was released in 1.66, and that’s the way it’s presented here. A nice anamorphic transfer — the jewel of this package.

The Iron Glove and The Saracen Blade were both 1.85. That’s how they’re framed here (once you get past the Columbia logo), but they’re not anamorphic. So, as you’re probably aware, that means they appear as a rectangle centered in the middle of our 16×9 TVs. Not ideal, but certainly watchable. (If your TV has a zoom feature, that’ll help.)

The real trouble comes with Serpent Of The Nile. Released in 1953, it was shot full-frame (1.37). Here, it’s cropped for 1.85 (after the titles) and non-anamorphic. There are plenty of heads and titles cut off throughout. It’s a real mess, even though the color is excellent. (There’s currently a decent, properly-framed version on YouTube.)

These goofy little movies from Sam Katzman and William Castle, two my favorite filmmakers, are junk, perhaps, but they’re wonderful junk. Critics’ Choice (and Mill Creek) license these films from Columbia and work with the material the studio provides. Usually, stuff from Columbia is beautiful. In this case, what Critics’ Choice was sent for three of the four films should’ve been sent back. Happy to have this set, but have to admit I’m disappointed.

20 Comments

Filed under 1953, 1954, Carolyn Jones, Columbia, Critics' Choice Collection, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Julie Newmar, Karin Booth, Mill Creek, Rhonda Fleming, Sam Katzman, William Castle

DVD News #403: The William Castle Adventures Collection (1953-54)

We can all use some good news these days, and this is good news indeed. Critics Choice has announced a DVD set featuring four adventure pictures from William Castle and Sam Katzman — The William Castle Adventures Collection — coming in September.

All four films were shot in Technicolor (none were in 3-D). The transfers should be terrific. The 1954 films should be widescreen, either 1.66 or 1.85.

Sam Katzman, Rhonda Fleming & William Castle. Fleming holds the Serpent Of The Nile.

Serpent Of The Nile (1953)
Starring Rhonda Fleming, William Lundigan, Raymond Burr, Michael Ansara, Julie Newmar

Castle’s first film for Katzman (he’d been at Columbia in the 40s), it’s an epic done on the cheap (as you might expect). Rhonda Fleming is Cleopatra, wandering around on sets left over from Columbia’s much bigger (but not nearly as much fun) Salome (1953). Another director from Katzman’s unit, Fred F. Sears, serves as narrator.

The Iron Glove (1954)
Starring Robert Stack, Ursula Thiess, Richard Stapley, Alan Hale Jr.

In this two-week swashbuckler, the Columbia backlot doubles as Scotland. Robert Stack would soon do The High And The Mighty (1954), which would give his career a boost. Katzman wanted Cornel Wilde in the lead, and at one point the title was to have been The Kiss And The Sword.

Charge Of The Lancers (1954)
Starring Paulette Goddard, Jean-Pierre Aumont, Karin Booth

Castle and Katzman raid the costume department again, this time going for the Crimean War of the 1850s (don’t expect any actual historic accuracy). One of Paulette Goddard’s last films. 

The Saracen Blade (1954)
Starring Ricardo Montalbán, Betta St. John, Rick Jason, Carolyn Jones

This was the last of Katzman and Castle’s pictures like this, and this one takes on the Crusades. There was talk of filming this in Italy, but it was probably just that, talk. In his wonderful book Step Right Up! I’m Gonna Scare The Pants Off America, Castle wrote that for “three years I had been up to my ass in queens, kings and jokers.” He’d also been making plenty of Westerns for Katzman, and in 1958, he’d go independent and make his own series of gimmicky horror pictures, most of which Columbia would release.

These cheap and tacky little movies are a lot of fun. I cannot recommend this set highly enough. Can’t wait to get my hands on it!

Thanks to John Hall for the tip!

8 Comments

Filed under 1953, 1954, Carolyn Jones, Columbia, Critics' Choice Collection, DVD/Blu-ray News, Fred F. Sears, Julie Newmar, Karin Booth, Rhonda Fleming, Sam Katzman, William Castle

Blu-Ray News #365: Johnny Stool Pigeon (1949).

Directed by William Castle
Starring Howard Duff, Shelley Winters, Dan Duryea, Tony Curtis, John McIntire, Gar Moore, Leif Erickson

Kino Lorber is continuing their terrific noir Blu-Ray series Film Noir: The Dark Side Of Cinema with Volumes VI and VII.

Volume VI contains John Brahm’s Singapore (1947), with Fred MacMurray, Ava Gardner and Roland Culver; George Sherman’s The Raging Tide (1951) with Shelley Winters, Richard Conte, Stephen McNally, Charles Bickford, Alex Nicol and John McIntire; and William Castle’s Johnny Stool Pigeon (1949).

In Castle’s picture, Federal agents need Johnny Evans (Dan Duryea), who’s doing time in Alcatraz, to rat on some drug dealers and hit men. Johnny’s not to hip to the idea. It’s a solid effort from Castle. Recommended.

Volume VII will contain Byron Haskin’s The Boss (1956) starring John Payne; Sidney Salkow’s Chicago Confidential (1957) with Brian Keith, Beverly Garland and Dick Foran; and Dana Andrews, Dick Foran and Marilee Earle in Jacques Tourneur’s The Fearmakers (1958).

2 Comments

Filed under 1956, 1957, 1958, Ava Gardner, Beverly Garland, Dan Duryea, Dana Andrews, DVD/Blu-ray News, Film Noir, Fred MacMurray, George Sherman, Jacques Tourneur, John Payne, Kino Lorber, Richard Conte, Tony Curtis, Universal (-International), William Castle

62 Years Ago Today.

These guys knew what they were doing, and were clearly using the William Castle playbook, when they promoted the hell out of his House On Haunted Hill (1959).

If I’d happened upon this display as a kid, my mom couldn’t have drug me away from that spot.

9 Comments

Filed under 1959, Elisha Cook, Jr., Vincent Price, William Castle

DVD News #313: The Whistler Film Noir Collection (1944-48).

The_Whistler-Richard_Dix-Title

Columbia’s The Whistler series. Some of the best cheap movies ever made. Some of William Castle’s finest work. And now one of the greatest DVD sets to come out in a long, long time.

Castle’s second film as director, The Whistler (1944) is a tight little mini-noir that put him on the B-movie map. It was a hit for Columbia Pictures and spawned an eight-picture series that’s been on collectors’ Want Lists for decades. They were available through Sony’s on-demand program, but $20 each was pretty steep.

The Whistler (1944)
Directed by William Castle
Starring Richard Dix, J. Carrol Naish, Gloria Stuart

The Power Of The Whistler (1945)
Directed by Lew Landers
Starring Richard Dix, Janis Carter

Voice Of The Whistler (1945)
Directed by William Castle
Starring Richard Dix, Lynn Merrick

Mysterious Intruder (1946)
Directed by William Castle
Starring Richard Dix, Nina Vale

Secret Of The Whistler (1946)
Directed by George Sherman
Starring Richard Dix, Leslie Brooks

The Thirteenth Hour (1947)
Directed by William Clemens
Starring Richard Dix, Karen Morley

The Return Of The Whistler (1948)
Directed by Ross Lederman
Starring Michael Duane, Lenore Aubert, Dick Lane

Based on the popular CBS radio program, each Whistler movie is a stand-alone story, with Richard Dix starring in all but the last one. He’s a different character every time — sometimes a good guy, sometimes a bad guy.

This Critics’ Choice Collection gives you all of the series, except for Mark Of The Whistler (1944), the second picture in the series. Hate this it’s missing, but this is essential, people!

Thanks to Kevin Deany for the news.

8 Comments

Filed under Columbia, Critics' Choice Collection, DVD/Blu-ray News, J. Carrol Naish, Lew Landers, Richard Dix, William Castle

Blu-Ray News #308: Hammer Films – The Ultimate Collection (1958-1971).

I’ve been really impressed with Mill Creek’s Hammer releases. They don’t have the extras we get from someone like Scream Factory, but they look good, they’re often in double bills or sets (with us DVD/Blu-Ray collectors, shelf space is always a concern), and the price is certainly right. 

Mill Creek’s newest Hammer project is the 20-picture Hammer Films – The Ultimate Collection. It’s got some great stuff — some are repeats from previous MC releases, some not. It focuses on Hammer films that were distributed by Columbia in the States. Here’s the lineup:

The Revenge Of Frankenstein (1958)
The Snorkel (1958)
The Camp On Blood Island (1958)
Yesterday’s Enemy (1959)
The Two Faces Of Dr. Jekyll (1960)
Never Take Candy From A Stranger (1960)

Stranglers of Bombay ad.jpg

The Stranglers Of Bombay (1960)
Cash On Demand (1961)
Scream Of Fear (1961)
Stop Me Before I Kill! (1961)

Terror Of The Tongs HS.jpg

The Terror Of The Tongs (1961)
The Pirates Of Blood River (1962)
These Are The Damned (1962)
The Old Dark House (1963)
The Curse Of The Mummy’s Tomb (1963)
Maniac (1963)
The Devil-Ship Pirates (1964)

The Gorgon (1964)
Die! Die! My Darling (1965)
Creatures The World Forgot (1971)

I can’t wait to get my hands on this thing. These films are essential stuff. A few of these I haven’t seen in quite a while — and never on Blu-Ray. It’s coming in November.

4 Comments

Filed under 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1971, Arthur Grant, Christopher Lee, Columbia, Don Sharp, DVD/Blu-ray News, Freddie Francis, Hammer Films, John Gilling, Kerwin Matthews, Mill Creek, Oliver Reed, Peter Cushing, Stanley Baker, Terence Fisher, Val Guest, William Castle

Blu-Ray Review: Hollywood Story (1951).

Directed by William Castle
Produced by Leonard Goldstein
Story and Screenplay by Frederick Kohner and Fred Brady
Cinematography: Carl E. Guthrie
Film Editor: Virgil Vogel

Cast: Richard Conte (Larry O’Brien), Julie Adams (Sally/Amanda Rousseauz), Richard Egan (Police Lt. Bud Lennox), Henry Hull (Vincent St. Clair), Fred Clark (Sam Collyer), Jim Backus (Mitch Davis), Houseley Stevenson (John Miller), Paul Cavanagh (Roland Paul), Katherline Meskill (Mary), Louis Lettieri (Jimmy Davis), Francis X. Bushman, Betty Blythe, William Farnum, Helen Gibson, Joel McCrea

__________

Art imitates life here. Hollywood Story (1951) concerns a producer (Richard Conte) solving an old Hollywood murder mystery, while prepping a movie about that mystery. It was based on the actual 1922 murder of director William Desmond Taylor. This scandalous crime, which created a media circus and plenty of completely fabricated news stories, was never solved.

Conte buys an old movie studio and learns of the murder that took place there. Intrigued, he decides to use it as the basis for his next picture, and he reaches out to a number of people who were working at the studio at the time — from a writer (Henry Hull) to the daughter of one of the studio’s biggest stars (Julie Adams). With that framework, the picture manages to follow the Taylor case fairly closely as Conte pieces together what happened.

L-R: Richard Conte, Francis X. Bushman, Helen Gibson, William Farnum, Betty Blythe.

William Castle directed several entries in Columbia’s The Whistler series, moody mini-noirs starring Richard Dix. They were excellent, and Castle’s same no-nonsense approach can be found here. Hollywood Story was done before Castle went gimmick crazy with his late 5os horror movies, but there’s a gimmick anyway, bringing in a few silent stars — Betty Blythe, Francis X. Bushman, William Farnum and Helen Gibson. Their parts mean nothing to the movie, but their names look good in the ads. (They were paid peanuts.)

This was one of a handful of pictures Castle did at Universal International. He did some cool stuff there — this one, Undertow (1949) and Cave Of Outlaws (1951) — before returning to Columbia, where he’d start working for producer Sam Katzman.

Hollywood Story gives us a great look at early 50s moviemaking, particularly at Universal International. Joel McCrea has a cameo in one of the on-the-set scenes. Judging from his costume, he might’ve been shooting Frenchie (1950) when his brief scene was done. We also visit a number of Hollywood points of interest — such as Jack’s At The Beach, Ciro’s, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, Ocean Park Pier and the old Chaplin Studio (as the scene of the crime).

The cinematography from Carl E. Guthrie is terrific, adding plenty of mood when it’s needed and playing up the bright lights of Hollywood. Universal’s movies from the 50s, whether they were in Technicolor or black and white, have a real sparkle to them, thanks to masters like Guthrie. And that’s what makes this Blu-Ray such a great thing. It presents Guthrie’s work flawlessly. It’s much better than the old DVD. Brighter, with better contrast. It adds a level of depth you don’t see very often, which is really effective in the darker, scenes. 

Hollywood Story is a solid movie, and it’s been given a sterling transfer for Blu-Ray. Mill Creek has paired it with Castle’s New Orleans Uncensored (1955). It looks great, too, and since each picture is on its own disc, the bit rates are quite high. They’re priced right, too. For William Castle fans, this set is an absolute must. More, please!

3 Comments

Filed under 1951, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Joel McCrea, Julie Adams, Mill Creek, Universal (-International), William Castle

Blu-Ray News #283: Hollywood Story (1951) And New Orleans Uncensored (1955).

Mill Creek has another William Castle hi-def double bill on the way. This one’s got a couple of his noir pictures. If you’re like me, anything Mr. Castle touched is worthwhile.

Hollywood Story (1951)
Directed by William Castle
Starring Richard Conte, Julia Adams, Henry Hull, Fred Clark, Francis X. Bushman, William Farnum

William Castle spent a few years working as a contract director at Universal-International, directing cool pictures like Johnny Stool Pigeon (1949), Cave Of Outlaws (1951) and this one, Hollywood Story (1951). It’s based on the murder of the silent director William Desmond Taylor and features a handful of silent stars in tiny parts (probably done as a promo stunt more than anything else). It was shot by the underrated cinematographer Carl E. Guthrie.

Hollywood Story was often paired with Huge Fregonse’s Apache Drums (1951).

New Orleans Uncensored (1955)
Directed by William Castle
Produced by Sam Katzman
Starring Arthur Franz, Beverly Garland, Helene Stanton, Michael Ansara, Stacy Harris, Mike Mazurki

After those years at U-I, Castle moved to Columbia and made a slew of movies in Sam Katzman’s unit. This one has a dream cast — Beverly Garland, Stacy Harris, Mike Mazurki, it’s in widescreen B&W, and it runs a brisk 76 minutes. My kind of movie!

This single-disc set comes highly, highly recommended. Let’s hope Mill Creek has more like this on the way!

9 Comments

Filed under 1951, 1955, Beverly Garland, Columbia, DVD/Blu-ray News, Julie Adams, Mill Creek, Sam Katzman, Universal (-International), William Castle

One Quick Thing.

The second volume of Kit Parker’s Noir Archive series showed up yesterday. In a year filled with really great stuff coming out on Blu-Ray, this might be my favorite so far.

Four of my favorite B directors are here: William Castle, Nathan Juran, Phil Karlson and Fred F. Sears. Some of my favorite actors, too — John Agar, Robert Blake, Mari Blanchard, Timothy Carey, Richard Denning, Faith Domergue, Vince Edwards, Beverly Garland, Brian Keith, Guy Madison, Kim Novack and more.

All nine pictures look terrific — the Columbia transfers are almost flawless. Proper reviews will follow, but I can’t recommend Noir Archives Volume 2: 1954-1956 highly enough.

1 Comment

Filed under 1954, 1955, 1956, Beverly Garland, Columbia, DVD/Blu-ray News, Faith Domergue, Fred F. Sears, John Agar, Kit Parker, Mari Blanchard, Nathan Juran, Phil Karlson, Richard Denning, Sam Katzman, Timothy Carey, William Castle

Blu-Ray News #229: Noir Archive Volume 2: 1954-1956.

The first nine-film, three-disc volume in Kit Parker’s awesome assemblage of hi-def Film Noir hasn’t hit the street yet, and now the second’s been announced. These are coming in July, and it’s another great lineup.

Bait (1954)
Directed by Hugo Haas
Starring Cleo Moore, Hugo Haas, John Agar

Hugo Haas directs himself, Cleo Moore and John Agar in a love triangle involving a lost gold mine.

The Crooked Web (1955)
Directed by Nathan Juran
Starring Frank Lovejoy, Mari Blanchard, Richard Denning

Nathan Juran directed lots of cool stuff, but this is the only one with Mari Blanchard as a waitress. This one involves gold, too, but it’s a stash of Nazi gold. Nathan Juran did some cool stuff — from The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad (1957) to Good Day For A Hanging (1958).

The Night Holds Terror (1955)
Directed by Andrew Stone
Starring Jack Kelly, Hildy Parks, Vince Edwards, John Cassavetes, David Cross, Jonathan Hale

Sort of a combination of The Hitch-Hiker and The Desperate Hours, with John Cassavetes one of the crooks.

Footsteps In The Fog (1955)
Directed by Arthur Lubin
Starring Stewart Granger, Jean Simmons, Bill Travers, Ronald Squire

The only picture in the set in color, this one has Stewart Granger as a killer who chooses the wrong victim, literally.

Cell_2455_Death_Row LC

Cell 2455, Death Row (1955)
Directed by Fred F. Sears
Starring William Campbell, Marian Carr, Kathryn Grant, Harvey Stephens, Vince Edwards

Based on the true story by Caryl Chessman. Director Fred F. Sears is a real favorite of mine.

5 Against The House (1955)
Directed by Phil Karlson
Starring Kim Novack, Alvy Moore, William Conrad, Kerwin Mathews

A team of Army buddies snag a camper trailer and head to Reno to rob the casinos. Phil Karlson keeps things tough and tight. Terrific movie.

New Orleans Uncensored (1955)
Directed by William Castle
Starring Arthur Franz, Beverly Garland, Helene Stanton, Mike Mazurki

William Castle working for Sam Katzman. Beverly Garland. Black and white widescreen. Why haven’t you pre-ordered one already?

Spin A Dark Web (1955)
Directed by Vernon Sewell
Starring Faith Domergue, Lee Patterson, Rona Anderson, Martin Benson

A boxer gets sucked into the London mob, with a little help from Faith Domergue. Vernon Sewell directed lots of B movies in the UK, and this is a cool one.

Rumble On The Docks (1956)
Directed by Fred F. Sears
Starring James Darren, Laurie Carrol, Michael Granger, Robert Blake, Timothy Carey

Fred F. Sears, Robert Blake and Timothy Carey all working on a Sam Katzman movie — and the results are every bit as wonderful as you might be imagining.

To have these nine pictures, in their original aspect ration and high definition, is a real treat. I can’t wait.

19 Comments

Filed under 1954, 1955, 1956, Beverly Garland, DVD/Blu-ray News, Faith Domergue, Fred F. Sears, John Agar, Kit Parker, Mari Blanchard, Mill Creek, Nathan Juran, Phil Karlson, Richard Denning, Timothy Carey, William Castle