Saturday, May 27, 2023

40 Things I Love About RETURN OF THE JEDI


In honor of the 40th anniversary of the original theatrical release of RETURN OF THE JEDI, here are 40 things I love about the movie. These are listed in no particular order, except for No. 1. 

40. The Rancor eating the Gamorrean guard.   

39. The echo of the speeder bikes going through the forests of Endor.

38. "YOU REBEL SCUM!!"                      

37. The memory of my anticipation of seeing this film in 1983.               

36. Blue Harvest (if you know, you know)  

35. The fact that stop-motion animation was used.            

34. "SISTER!!"                       

33. Bib Fortuna.              

32. Ian McDiarmid's performance.            

31. Vader's funeral pyre.                   

30. The TIE Interceptors.                           

29. The Red Imperial Guards.                   

28. Every single note of John Williams' score.                

27. "'s me."                    

26. The Imperial Scout Walkers.                     

25. The nub nub song.              

24. The Imperial Biker Scout outfits.       

23. "It's a trap!!"                       

22. The action sequence above the Sarlaac pit.            

21. "OH NO!! THE RANCOR!!"                            

20. The look on Han's face when Leia tells him that Luke is her brother.   

19. The discussion between Luke and Vader on the Imperial landing platform on Endor.       

18. Wedge being shown during the victory celebration.                   

17. "I am a Jedi, like my father before me."                       

16. The fact that a real forest was used for Endor.          

15. The Emperor's throne room on the new Death Star.          

14. Three climatic storylines going on at the same time.         

13. Boba Fett actually using his jet pack.                              

12. "An entire legion of my best troops awaits them." (Yeeaahhh, right)         

11. Luke walking into Jabba's palace like a bad-ass.         

10. Vader tossing his lightsaber to cut down the catwalk that Luke is standing on during their final duel.    

9. The original Jabba the Hutt--except no CGI substitutes.         

8. The original musical sequence with Sy Snootles and the Max Rebo band.         

7. "Oh...I'm afraid the shield generator will be quite operational when your friends arrive."       

6. The space battle above Endor.           

5. "The Emperor is not as forgiving as I am."          

4. "Well, short help is better than no help at all, Chewie."               

3. Carrie Fisher wears a certain costume in this film.                                    

2. The fact that after the end of this movie, all the heroic characters lived happily ever after, and they never ever had to fight in a galactic war ever again.               

1. And the No. 1 thing I love about RETURN OF THE JEDI is.....I love everything about it!!  

Sunday, May 21, 2023



This is one of the most obscure films that Peter Cushing appeared in, and I finally caught up with it this weekend. The most notable thing about SOME MAY LIVE is that it is a 1967 Vietnam War tale. Almost no fictional movies or TV shows referenced the conflict at that time. Despite that fact, the film is a very routine espionage tale. 

Peter Cushing plays John Meredith, an esteemed foreign correspondent based in Saigon. Meredith is also a communist agent, and he receives information from his wife Kate (Martha Hyer), who works as a decoder for the U.S. military. Kate is conflicted over what she is doing--she's particularly worried about the future of her young son. Kate confesses to Colonel Woodward (Joseph Cotten) about her activities, and he and Captain Thomas (John Ronane) conceive of a plan to use the woman to feed the communists counter-info. Complicating matters is the fact that Kate and Captain Thomas are attracted to one another. 

SOME MAY LIVE isn't much of a war story or a spy thriller. It's a very dry, talky picture, with almost no action. David T. Chantler's script has plenty of clunky dialogue, and director Vernon Sewell presents things in a boring, perfunctory manner. The production was filmed in England, even though it appears there were a few location shots taken somewhere in Asia (I tried to find exact info on this, but couldn't). The overall budget seems to be on the same level of a TV sitcom. In a number of scenes one hears background noises of guns and explosions going off, in an attempt to remind the viewer that the story is set in a war zone, but you never for a moment believe any of the characters are in any danger. 

One has to wonder why Peter Cushing agreed to be in this film--maybe he just liked to have a chance to be in a contemporary story without any horror or science-fiction elements. His John Meredith isn't a very likable fellow--he's cold and pensive, and Cushing looks uncomfortable playing the man (at one point Meredith even strikes his wife). Cushing does try to show Meredith's human side when he is getting ready to leave his wife and son and defect to China, but the actor is let down by Vernon Sewell's flat direction. I'm sure Cushing enjoyed working with Martha Hyer, but unfortunately he has no scenes with Joseph Cotten. 

Martha Hyer is the real star of the film, and she does an effective job of playing a character that acts in a very inconsistent manner (the fault of that is the script, not the actress). Joseph Cotten doesn't get much to do in his guest star role, and way too much of the movie's running time is spent on John Ronane's Captain Thomas and his mediocre attempts at wooing Kate Meredith. Ronane comes off like an overeager teenager chasing a woman who is far out of his league. 

Peter Cushing and Martha Hyer in SOME MAY LIVE

David T. Chantler had written the script for Hammer's version of SHE, which Peter Cushing appeared in, and Alec Mango, who plays a communist spymaster here, acted with Cushing in FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN. Cushing would soon work again with director Vernon Sewell in THE BLOOD BEAST TERROR. That film, at least, is weird enough to be interesting. SOME MAY LIVE is just plain dull. It's a rare title for Cushing fans, but it must be pointed out that the actor isn't onscreen during the climax. 

Saturday, May 20, 2023



SLALOM (1965) is one of the many Eurospy adventures inspired by the James Bond film series. This Italian production features the exquisite Daniela Bianchi, who had already appeared in FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, and Adolfo Celi, who would soon appear as Largo in THUNDERBALL. 

Lucio (Vittorio Gassman) and Riccardo (Adolfo Celi) are two henpecked husbands starting a vacation with their wives at a ski resort in the Italian Alps. Lucio manages to get the wives to go back home for a few days, and he and Riccardo plan to have some real fun. Lucio starts to flirt with a gorgeous blonde (Beba Loncar), but the mysterious woman leads him to what appears to be a murder at a mountain cabin. Soon Lucio is whisked off against his will to Cairo by another gorgeous blonde (Daniela Bianchi). It's all part of a plan by Interpol to stop a plot to ruin the economy of the Western world through a counterfeiting scheme, and Lucio is stuck in the middle of it all. 

The average Eurospy movie is usually as outlandish and outrageous as the typical spaghetti western, but SLALOM is quite tame. There's very little violence in it, and despite all the beautiful women who appear, there's not much hanky-panky either. This movie could have played uncut on 1965 American TV. 

SLALOM reminded me of the average Bob Hope movie, where the comedian plays a nervy guy who gets involved in a dangerous situation that he's no way capable of dealing with, while encountering glamorous ladies at every turn. The difference is that Hope gave more life to his tales than Vittorio Gassman does for this one. Gassman spends most of his time running around while being chased and acting uncomfortable. The wisecracks that he spouts in the English dub of this film are on a sitcom level. 

Daniela Bianchi doesn't have much to do here (she doesn't show up until about 36 minutes into the movie), but at least she gets to have an important part in the climax. Almost all of Bianchi's very short film career consisted of her having brief parts in 007 knockoffs. As usual, she gets to wear all sorts of chic outfits and look lovely, but the story doesn't take full advantage of her presence. Adolfo Celi doesn't have all that much to do either. I expected that Celi's character was going to wind up having some sort of connection to the bad guys, but it doesn't happen. To be fair, THUNDERBALL was released after SLALOM--if the Bond adventure had come out earlier, I'm sure Celi's role would have been much bigger. 

I viewed SLALOM on the Internet Archive, and the print (which was in widescreen) looked excellent, with very vivid color. The dialogue track was an English dub. The locations looked great--director Luciano Sulce and cinematographer Alfio Contini knew how to make the best use of the big screen, and there are plenty of nice shot compositions. The music score was by Ennio Morricone, and it fits the lighthearted atmosphere of the movie perfectly. 

SLALOM is a pretty film to watch, with all the attractive locations and women, but it's as light as a feather. At over 100 minutes, the story, and the leading man, are just not engaging enough to maintain interest for that length of time. The title of something of a misnomer, since most of the action takes place in Cairo, and the climax is set in the middle of the desert. (There's also no thrilling ski sequences.) SLALOM is best suited for hardcore Daniela Bianchi and Ennio Morricone fans. 

Sunday, May 14, 2023



STAMBOUL QUEST is a 1934 spy adventure produced by MGM. It has plenty of famous names involved in it--Sam Wood was the director, the screenplay was credited to Herman J. Mankiewicz, and the cinematographer was James Wong Howe. 

The movie is in the same vein as DISHONORED with Marlene Dietrich and MATA HARI with Greta Garbo. Like those two earlier films, STAMBOUL QUEST is set during World War One, and it concerns the activities of a female agent (Myrna Loy) who must decide between love and duty. 

The movie begins in 1915 Berlin, where a German spy code-named "Fraulein Doktor" (Loy) receives instructions from her superior Von Sturm (Lionel Atwill) to travel to Turkey to find out if a high-ranking officer there is supplying information to the British. Along the way, the Fraulein is followed by a smitten American named Douglas Beall (George Brent). The Fraulein and Beall fall in love, despite the fact that the agent knows this will complicate her mission. The woman goes to great lengths to protect Beall while completing her task.

One expects STAMBOUL QUEST to be much better than it actually is with all the notable talent attached to it. It's not bad, but the story is hurt by the attempt to normalize Myrna Loy's character by having her get in a romance with a "regular" American. I've never understood why George Brent got to co-star with just about every major American movie actress in the 1930s--I've always found him to be rather dull. Here, he tries to be comedic as well, with his character doing the old "I'm going to pester this woman over and over again until she falls for me" routine. Brent's constant annoyance of Loy is supposed to be charming, but it's just....annoying. You don't believe that Loy's determined spy would fall for such a guy, no matter how generically handsome he might be. 

Loy is fun to watch, and it appears she had fun playing the role as well (even though you get the feeling she would have liked to pop Brent upside his head). She also gets to wear plenty of eye-catching outfits. There's a bit of Pre-Code attitude here concerning Loy's espionage tricks. At one point, she disrobes in the bathroom connected to her superior's office, because her clothes contain secrets written on them in invisible ink (and Lionel Atwill takes great glee in examining them). Toward the end of the film, she convinces one of her targets to write secrets in invisible ink on her bare back. 

Lionel Atwill gets a nice role as Loy's superior in German Intelligence. One would expect Atwill to play Von Sturm in a haughty, sinister manner, but he gives the man a well-rounded personality. What's surprising is that Atwill has better screen chemistry with Loy than George Brent does. The movie also features Henry C. Gordon and Mischa Auer as Turkish military officers, and Leo G. Carroll in a small part.

The main reasons to watch STAMBOUL QUEST are Myrna Loy and Lionel Atwill. The movie would have been much better if George Brent's character had been entirely removed from it. 

Saturday, May 13, 2023



This is one of the films included in Severin's DANZA MACABRA: THE ITALIAN GOTHIC COLLECTION box set. The disc case uses the title SCREAM OF THE DEMON LOVER, while the print of the film used on this Blu-ray is titled THE KILLERS OF THE CASTLE OF BLOOD. Jonathan Rigby's book EURO GOTHIC calls this movie IVANNA, while the original Italian title is IL CASTELLO DALLE PORTE DI FUOCO. Got all that?? This is a 1970 Italian-Spanish co-production that pulls a few twists on the familiar Italian Gothic elements. 

The story, set somewhere in Europe in the 19th Century, concerns Ivanna (Erna Schurer), a biochemist who arrives at the castle of a Baron Dalmar (Carlos Quiney). The Baron needs scientific help in order to try and restore his brother, who supposedly was killed in a laboratory accident. While Ivanna tries to find out more about the mysterious Baron and what really happened to his brother, a series of gruesome murders are being perpetrated, with the victims being beautiful young women from the local village. The main suspect is the Baron--and even Ivanna believes in his guilt as well. But she and the Baron have fallen for each other, so she hopes she can "cure" him....but the real menace has been hiding in the shadows all along. 

SCREAM OF THE DEMON LOVER has plenty of the expected tropes of a Euro horror--lush colorful art direction, shifty secretive characters, and bizarre plotting. It also has a JANE EYRE type of situation, with a attractive (though hardly innocent) young woman arriving at a forbidding estate and dealing with a devilishly handsome aristocrat who is harboring a number of secrets. What makes this movie stand out is the character of Ivanna. She's more than just a nightgown-wearing, candelabra-clutching girl in distress. She's a scientist herself, and she has enough strength to not even be affected by the fact that the creepy fellow who gives her a ride to the castle at the beginning of the story tries to sexually assault her when they arrive. 

Ivanna also pursues a relationship with the Baron, despite the fact that she thinks he's a murderer and might even be a werewolf! (Talk about trying to change a bad boy....) Ivanna's strong-willed attitude is unusual for an Italian Gothic damsel in distress, and Erna Schurer brings a lot of spirit to the role. 

Carlos Quiney is well-cast as the brooding Baron (he almost has a young Vincent Price vibe to him), but most film geeks will figure out who the killer is long before the climax. (The ending, by the way, is a fiery one, recalling some of the Corman/Poe and Hammer Gothics.) 

SCREAM OF THE DEMON LOVER (or whatever you want to call it) was directed and co-written by Spaniard Jose Luis Merino. He brings plenty of atmosphere to the story, with several notable shot compositions. He also uses the zoom-in very frequently, so much that one might think Jess Franco had something to do with this. Another reason Franco comes to mind when watching this film is the nudity in it--all three of the main female characters disrobe at some point. The killer's motive for his crimes is rather kinky as well. 

Severin's presentation of this film was taken from a 16mm source (there's one of those "We had to use the best elements we could get" disclaimers on the disc before the movie starts). It's actually much better looking than I expected, especially color-wise (it is shown in 1:85 widescreen). It isn't very sharp, and the overall quality isn't on the same level as other recent Italian Gothic Blu-rays, but it is the uncut version of the film. This is a Region A disc. 

The extras include a brand-new audio commentary with Robert Monell and Rodney Barnett. Monell spends long periods going off on various tangents, while Barnett tries to bring the talk back to the actual movie. 

There's also an excellent discussion of the film by Stephen Thrower, which lasts about 40 minutes. Thrower gives a far more thorough and informative analysis of the movie and its cast & crew than the audio commentary does. 

A new interview with Erna Schurer is here as well. She appears bemused that anyone would want to discuss the film at all, but she seems to enjoy the talk. Her main memory about the shoot is that members of the cast and crew would regularly participate in a seance. She also says that Roger Corman visited the set (his New World Pictures distributed an edited version of the film in the U.S.), and she wasn't bothered by her nude scenes. There's also a French trailer for the film. 

This Blu-ray has an Italian audio track with English subtitles and an English dub track (which isn't all that bad as these things go). 

SCREAM OF THE DEMON LOVER was totally new to me, and I thought it was a well-done Italian Gothic. I wouldn't rate it among the best of that genre--at 98 minutes, it goes on a bit too long, and the who-done-it aspects of the story are easy to decipher. It is a great introduction to Erna Schurer, and it's to Severin's credit that they gave the uncut version of this film a proper Blu-ray release. 

Thursday, May 11, 2023

12 O'CLOCK HIGH--"In Search Of My Enemy"


Those who actually read this blog (I assume somebody out there does) should know by now that I am a huge long time fan of Hammer Films. The number of books, magazines, and articles that I've read about the company has to reach into the triple digits. 

I know far, far more minutiae about Hammer Films than I do of the people I deal with on a day-to-day basis. Yet I'm still finding out new things about the movies Hammer made and the people that worked for them. 

Yesterday on his Facebook page, Tim Lucas (of the late, lamented VIDEO WATCHDOG magazine) mentioned that he recently saw an episode of a mid-1960s American TV series called 12 O'CLOCK HIGH. What made this particular episode notable is that a couple of the guest stars appearing in it were two of the best leading ladies ever to star in a Hammer film--Barbara Shelley and Hazel Court. 

As soon as I read this info I went to see if the episode was available to watch on YouTube, and it is. The name of the episode is "In Search of My Enemy", and it was part of the first season of 12 O'CLOCK HIGH. It debuted on American TV in January of 1965. 

12 O'CLOCK HIGH was based on the successful movie of the same name from 1950 (more proof that even sixty years ago, entertainment properties were being reworked and rehashed). I had never seen any episodes of 12 O'CLOCK HIGH--it never ran on any of my local TV stations during my younger days. That's probably not surprising--the show only ran 78 episodes (usually at least 100 is the magic number considered for major syndication), and it's a program that doesn't seem to have made much of a mark. 

The first season of 12 O'CLOCK HIGH starred Robert Lansing as Brigadier General Frank Savage, who is assigned to a USAAF Bombardment Group based in England during WWII. The executive producer of the series was Quinn Martin, a name quite familiar to retro TV buffs. The show was more about drama than combat action, as Savage has to make hard decisions every single day over the lives of hundreds of men. 

"In Search of My Enemy" opens at a party in London. The hostess of the affair is Liz Woodruff (Hazel Court), who is the current romantic interest of Frank Savage. Liz has invited to the party another beautiful Englishwoman named Ann (Barbara Shelley)--who happens to be a former flame of Frank's. Liz invited Ann to see what Frank's reaction would be...and from the way they look at each other, it's obvious there's some longing between them. Ann is now married to USAAF pilot Major Gray (Steve Forrest, brother of Dana Andrews), and, in typical American TV story fashion, Gray has just been assigned to Frank's unit. Gray learns just how close his new wife and Frank were, and he starts to suspect that Savage (who is in charge of assigning bombing missions) might put him in considerable risk in order to get Ann back. 

Barbara Shelley and Hazel Court in "In Search of My Enemy"

There's no way the lead in a 1960s American TV series would try to have another man killed to get to his wife (a series made now would have no problem doing that), so the viewer knows that Major Gray is overreacting. Frank Savage, however, does admit that the situation has affected his confidence in whether he is making proper decisions. Savage visits Ann to confide in her, and Gray catches them in an embrace, which certainly doesn't help matters. At the end of the show, Savage (despite a knee injury) fills in at the last minute on a dangerous bombing run, and Gray, who is part of the mission, realizes that Savage is more concerned about duty and getting the job done than any sort of petty jealousy. 

Hazel Court and Barbara Shelley actually appeared multiple times on 12 O'CLOCK HIGH. Court played the role of Liz in four episodes, and Shelley showed up later in the series in an episode as a different character. Having the two of them in the same TV episode is a huge deal for Hammer fanboys like me, but they honestly don't have much to do together here. They only appear onscreen together for a few very brief moments at the beginning and the end of the story (I had to do a screen grab just to get the above picture of them in the same shot). Both ladies are as lovely as always, but I have to say their hairstyles and wardrobes are more reflective of the 1960s than the World War II period. 

Barbara Shelley does get the aforementioned scene where her character and Savage try to come to terms with one another, but the majority of the story involves the tension between Frank Savage and Major Gray. If you've seen as much retro TV as I have, you can easily guess how the episode will play out. It's still a decent hour's worth of entertainment. Robert Lansing was an excellent actor, and his understated manner projected more than a dozen showier performers put together. Lansing often played brooding, conflicted, thoughtful men, and the part of Frank Savage was perfect for him (whenever you watch Lansing you feel as if he's got a hundred things on his mind all at once). A number of online sources give various reasons why Lansing's character was killed off after the first season, but I'm sure it didn't do the show any good. 

Steve Forrest's Major Gray is a bit too quick to fly to conclusions, but, considering he's married to someone like Barbara Shelley, you can't blame him. The episode also features Roy Thinnes (who starred in the cult TV series THE INVADERS), and Barney Phillips, a character actor who popped up in just about every classic American television show ever made. 

I'm amazed that I never knew Barbara Shelley and Hazel Court appeared together in the same episode of an American TV series. (I'm even more amazed that "In Search of My Enemy" hasn't shown up yet as an extra on any Blu-rays of Hammer movies). Hazel Court did a lot of American TV after marrying Don Taylor and moving to the U.S., while Barbara Shelley did some other stateside small screen work--including an episode of THE DONNA REED SHOW!! Their meeting on 12 O'CLOCK HIGH wasn't earth-shattering--but for Hammer fans, it's enough. 

Tuesday, May 9, 2023



Last year Arrow Video released GOTHIC FANTASTICO, a four-disc Blu-ray set of Italian Gothic thrillers. This year Severin follows suit with DANZA MACABRA, which has four other Italian horrors on Blu-ray. 

There is a film called DANZA MACABRA (aka CASTLE OF BLOOD), and it happens to be one of the most famous examples of the Italian Gothic.'s not in this set. (Maybe it will show up in Volume Two??) 

What this set does have is four films making either their North American or overall official Blu-ray debuts. Each movie gets its own disc case, and each disc is filled with extras (every title gets at least one audio commentary). There are plenty of new featurettes including talks with various cast & crew members for each production, and, as anyone who is familiar with this genre would expect, there's plenty of footage of nightgown-clad beauties clutching candelabras. (Just check out the box art above. It's taken from an Italian poster for LADY FRANKENSTEIN, but it summarizes "Italian Gothic" better than 200 pages of text ever could.) 

The four films are: 

THE MONSTER OF THE OPERA: I reviewed this movie in 2019 under the title THE VAMPIRE OF THE OPERA. It's something of a follow-up to THE VAMPIRE AND THE BALLERINA. Both movies were directed and co-written by Renato Polselli. A musical troupe of young folks chooses to rehearse in an abandoned old theater, and the expected mysteries & mayhem ensue. 

THE SEVENTH GRAVE: On its disc case Severin touts this film as a long-lost discovery (I had never heard of it, let alone seen it). Directed by one Garibaldi Serra Caracciolo, it comes off like an Italian version of a 1930s-40s low-budget Hollywood old house/mystery story. 

SCREAM OF THE DEMON LOVER: This movie is known by several different titles. Directed and co-written by Spaniard Jose Luis Merino, It's a wild tale that combines elements from films such as REBECCA and JANE EYRE with a Bela Lugosi-Monogram style mad scientist subplot. 

LADY FRANKENSTEIN: This is by far the most famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view) film in this set. Golden Age Hollywood legend Joseph Cotten is Baron Frankenstein, but as soon as he gets his monster up and running, the brute kills him. It's up to the Baron's sultry daughter (Rosalba Neri) to take up the family scalpel--but the lovely Lady has far more than science on her mind. Beloved by bad movie mavens everywhere, LADY FRANKENSTEIN finally gets a much needed official North American Blu-ray release, and it also has the most extras of any film in this set. 

I intend to cover some of the discs included in this set individually, but it's going to take me time to get through all the extras and (especially) the commentaries. When I do look at the films separately I'll go into more detail how they look and sound. 

Some have complained that there's not enough "heavy hitters" in this set, but one has to remember the myriad rights issues involved with titles made in other countries. I think it's a worthy set, and it appears that Severin has some more Italian Gothic releases planned for the future.