Monday, September 18, 2017

Trinity Twin Pack--Blu-ray Review








Hen's Tooth Video has released THEY CALL ME TRINITY (1970) and TRINITY IS STILL MY NAME (1971) on Blu-ray as a twin pack set. These are two of the most famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view) Spaghetti Westerns ever made.

Italian actors Mario Girotti and Carlo Pedersoli (better known under the names Terence Hill and Bud Spencer) had already been paired before in Euro Westerns, but it was the Trinity films that made them international stars. The blond Terence Hill, with his leading man looks, and the physically imposing Bud Spencer made a great team, and they would continue to make movies together into the 1990s. The writer and director of the Trinity films, Enzo Barboni (working under the name of E.B. Clucher) wanted to send up the Western format, and the movies were massively popular, especially in Europe. Many blame the Trinity films for starting the downward spiral of the Spaghetti Western, but the fact is that by the early 1970s the genre was already being hurt by over saturation of product.

Terence Hill plays ne'er-do-well Trinity, and Bud Spencer is his grumpy brother Bambino. In both movies the two men try to con and scavenge their way across the Old West, but their schemes fall flat as they wind up reluctantly coming to the aid of various folks instead. In THEY CALL ME TRINITY, Hill stumbles upon his brother posing as a sheriff in a backwater town. (The real sheriff was trying to bring Bambino in, but Bambino shot him and usurped the lawman's identity.) The brothers decide to help a group of peaceful religious settlers from being driven out by the town boss (played by Farley Granger, a long long way from STRANGERS ON A TRAIN).

TRINITY IS STILL MY NAME has the brothers visiting their parents (Harry Carey Jr. has a small role as the boys' Dad). The visit prods Bambino into trying to train Trinity as a "proper" criminal, but the duo become mistaken for a pair of federal agents, and they attempt to waylay the plans of a devious gun-runner.

The Trinity films have a legendary reputation, but I must admit that from my perspective, they don't hold up very well when viewed today. I find the movies more amusing than flat-out funny. Terence Hill does have huge screen presence, and while some might find his antics ingratiating, others may consider him exasperating. It's hard to get excited about a character whose main goal in life is to avoid any type of responsibility whatsoever. The main joke about Trinity is that while he's incredibly lazy, he has almost superhuman powers with a gun. Despite this the Trinity movies have very little gunplay (both films are rated G!). Most of the action, such as it is, involves the brothers getting into fistfights with numerous opponents. These fights are almost on a Three Stooges-type of level (the mountain-like Bambino beats up several men at once). I was actually more impressed with Bud Spencer than Hill--especially Spencer's Oliver Hardy-like reactions to all the events happening around him.

The style of the films are very much like the main characters themselves--they sort of meander along, without seeming to be in any of a hurry to get anywhere. Both movies have a running time of nearly two hours, and that's very long for material such as this. Enzo Barboni had been a cinematographer on a number of other Spaghetti Westerns, such as the original DJANGO, but for the Trinity films he leaves the camera on Hill and Spencer and lets them carry the load.

Hen's Tooth Video has put each of the two films in this set on its on disc. Each movie is presented in HD 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, and the transfers look fantastic. The audio on both films is in English (it sounds like it is the original English dubbing). There is not an Italian audio track on these discs, which will no doubt disappoint purists. Both discs feature a short photo gallery for each film. Both discs have an original trailer--the one for TRINITY IS STILL MY NAME is German. It's too bad that audio commentaries for the films were not included. The movies appear to be uncut--but when it comes to Euro Westerns, one can never be too sure.

The Trinity films are certainly not on the level of Sergio Leone--or Sergio Corbucci, or Sergio Sollima, for that matter--but Spaghetti Western fanatics will appreciate having official fine-looking Blu-ray versions of them.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

ERIK THE CONQUEROR On Arrow Blu-ray










Arrow Video delves once again into the work of the Italian Maestro of cinematic fantasy with their release of Mario Bava's 1961 Viking epic ERIK THE CONQUEROR.

A number of Viking adventure films were made in Europe during the 1960s, at the height of the sword & sandal genre known as peplum. Mario Bava had a great deal to do with the development of the peplum film due to his work on the original HERCULES movies, so ERIK THE CONQUEROR was more in accord to his stylistic tastes than one would initially assume. What at first glance this seems to be nothing more than a cheap imitation of the Kirk Douglas vehicle THE VIKINGS becomes a tale worthy of note thanks to Bava's visual talent. Tim Lucas calls ERIK THE CONQUEROR the director's most underrated film, and I'd have to agree with that assessment.

The story begins with a raid on a Viking settlement on the coast of England in the 8th Century. During the raid, the Viking king is killed, and his young sons Eron and Erik are split up--Eron is taken back to his homeland, and Erik is found and adopted by the English Queen Alice. Twenty years later, Eron (Cameron Mitchell) and Erik (George Ardisson) come into conflict with each other, with the added complication of a pair of beautiful vestal virgins, played by the Kessler sisters (German-born twins who were famous in Europe for their cabaret act). 

ERIK THE CONQUEROR has plenty of the action one would expect from the usual peplum film--the opening raid on the Viking village, a battle at sea, and a climatic attack on a English castle. What makes these sequences even more impressive is how little time and budget Bava had to make them. Bava was not just the director here, he was also the cinematographer and co-writer. His visual flair is imparted in every scene in the film, and the result is some truly outstanding widescreen compositions. I could give you several examples of how Bava brought this story up a notch by his staging and lighting, but the main one I will use is what he does with the Vikings' subterranean main hall. Bava turns it into a phantasmagorical realm set next to the roots of a giant tree--the set is more expressive and emotionally stimulating than most of the cast.

Arrow Video has released ERIK THE CONQUEROR on Region A Blu-ray with a brand new 2K restoration of the film from the original camera negative. ERIK THE CONQUEROR was released on DVD by Anchor Bay a few years ago, and I've always thought that version looked pretty good--but this Blu-ray blows it out of the water. This disc features rich, saturated colors and increased detail throughout the film. It's a stunning display, and a prime showcase for Bava's artistry.

This Blu-ray has Italian and English mono audio and newly translated English subtitles. Bava biographer Tim Lucas has revised his audio commentary that was presented on the Anchor Bay ERIK THE CONQUEROR DVD and it is featured here. Lucas does his typically excellent job, and he works in snippets of an interview he conducted with Cameron Mitchell (the entire interview is provided on the disc as a separate extra). A 24-page booklet is included, with a number of stills from the film and an essay on the production by Kat Ellinger. The author makes the case that Bava's forays into the peplum genre have very much in common with his more renowned horror films.

Another fine extra is a short featurette from Michael Mackenzie detailing the similarities between THE VIKINGS and ERIK THE CONQUEROR. The disc package features a reversible sleeve with art from Graham Humphreys--one side uses the Italian title of the film: GLI INVASORI.

I've highly complimented every disc I've bought from Arrow Video, and that is because they are deserving of such praise. ERIK THE CONQUEROR isn't BLACK SUNDAY, or PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES, but this Blu-ray is a must-buy for anyone who admires the visual brilliance of Mario Bava.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Jennifer Daniel (1936-2017)









Another actress who was associated with Hammer Films has passed away recently--Jennifer Daniel, who starred in THE KISS OF THE VAMPIRE and THE REPTILE for the company.

Daniel was born in Wales and spent most of her performing career appearing on stage and television in England. She will be most remembered for her Hammer roles. My devotion (and weakness) for the Hammer ladies is well known, and Daniel was one of my favorites. Many of the Hammer ladies were so spectacular looking that it was hard to even conceive of them doing normal everyday things, but in her two roles for Hammer Daniel exuded a kindly, down-to-earth realism. You could say that she was the domesticated Hammer Scream Queen.

In THE KISS OF THE VAMPIRE Daniel plays Marianne Harcourt, a young wife travelling in Central Europe with her husband Gerald (played by Edward de Souza). The couple's automobile breaks down and they become the prey of Dr. Ravna (Noel Willman) and his "family" of vampires. Daniel's Marianne is not the usual all looks no brains female in danger, despite the fact that she is absolutely stunning in the red dress she wears during a party at Ravna's castle. Daniel firmly establishes Marianne as a sensible, loving wife and a decent person--which makes the scene of her spitting into Gerald's face while under the spell of Ravna all the more shocking. Daniel makes Marianne into someone the audience can truly care about.

In THE REPTILE Daniel plays another loving, sensible wife--Valerie Spalding, who moves to Cornwall with her husband Harry (Ray Barrett). Harry's brother has just died mysteriously, and the couple's investigations lead them to the menacing Dr. Franklyn and his strange daughter Anna (Jacqueline Pearce). Daniel ably portrays Valerie's care and concern for Anna's plight, without realizing that the girl turns into a snake-human hybrid (this is a Hammer movie, after all). THE REPTILE could even be seen as a kind of sequel to THE KISS OF THE VAMPIRE--the relationship between Valerie and Harry is very much like that of Marianne and Gerald, and once again Daniel is put in danger by Noel Willman.




Jennifer Daniel and Jacqueline Pearce in THE REPTILE



The only Jennifer Daniel interview I have ever read was published in Richard Klemensen's LITTLE SHOPPE OF HORRORS issue #10/11. In it she seemed to appreciate her time at Hammer. A few years ago a Region B Blu-ray of THE KISS OF THE VAMPIRE was released, which had an audio commentary featuring Daniel and Edward de Souza. I do not have a multi-region Blu-ray player so I have not heard this commentary, but I would certainly have loved to know what she said during it. Jennifer Daniel was married to actor Dinsdale Landen for over forty years until his death in 2003.

Jennifer Daniel may not have the huge cult following that some of the other Hammer ladies, but she definitely made an impression on me. I'm mystified as to why she didn't have more of a big-screen career, and I'm disappointed that most of her TV work is unavailable in America.




Monday, September 4, 2017

THE 13TH MAN










Not too long ago I met up with my friend Steve Zalusky at a Chicago White Sox game (needless to say, they lost). Steve is a huge film buff, and he suggested that I seek out a 1937 film called THE 13TH MAN. This 70 minute potboiler was the first release from the "new" Monogram Pictures, one of the most famous makers of B movies in the Classic Hollywood era.

A crusading District Attorney is running for re-election, and part of his campaign is a promise to add to the list of 12 public enemies he has put away. The D.A. promises to announce the indictment of a "13th Man" while speaking on newspaper columnist Swifty Taylor's (Weldon Heyburn) radio show. The D.A., along with Swifty, attends a prizefight...and seated in the audience are several folks who are candidates to be the 13th Man. The D.A. drops dead during the fight, apparently from heart failure...but the prosecutor was hit by a poisoned dart in the neck. Swifty is determined to find the killer, especially after his right-hand man, ace reporter Jimmy Moran (Milburn Stone) is also murdered during the investigation. With support from his long suffering secretary Julie (Inez Courtney), Swifty exposes the killer live on his radio show.

THE 13TH MAN features a number of elements that will be recognizable to movie buffs. The leading couple act like they can't stand each other, but they are really in love, there's a seemingly impossible murder, the story includes gangsters, goons, and scenes set in a swanky nightclub, etc. What hurts the film the most is the leading man, an actor by the name of Weldon Heyburn. In the book B MOVIES, the author Don Miller refers to Heyburn as a "Gable look-alike". Personally, I don't think Weldon looked much like the King of Hollywood--he certainly doesn't have Gable's natural charisma. Heyburn's Swifty is far too glib and obnoxious--the actor didn't have much of a movie career after this, and that's understandable.

Inez Courtney comes off far better as Julie. She's very cute and also funny, which makes it even more puzzling why her character would have major feelings for a lug like Swifty. (Courtney played a much dizzier dame in the 1935 THE RAVEN, alongside Karloff & Lugosi.) A very young Milburn Stone, who of course would go on to be best known as Doc on GUNSMOKE, does very well as the doomed Jimmy--Stone would have been a much better choice to play this film's lead. The script drops all sorts of hints that Jimmy is going to get offed--he's scheduled to get married to his secretary, and because the couple constantly talk about their bright future together, you just know that something is going to happen to the guy. (This subplot is a variation on the "police detective getting killed with one week left to retirement" trope.) The rest of the cast is made up of generic character actors that even I'm not familiar with.

THE 13TH MAN isn't an outstanding film, but it does have a few interesting quirks. The best scene by far is the D.A.'s death during the prize fight. As the prosecutor begins to feel the effects of the poison, the referee is counting out one of the fighters in the ring. Every time the ref says a number, we see one of the faces of the D.A.'s enemies who are sitting in the vicinity. When the ref gets to 10, the D.A. slumps over and dies. It's a finely edited sequence that stands out in this type of low-budget fare. THE 13TH MAN was directed by William Nigh, who cranked out dozens and dozens of these types of pictures during his prolific career--his name is mentioned several times in the FORGOTTEN HORRORS series of books. As a matter of fact, THE 13TH MAN is covered in FORGOTTEN HORRORS 2: BEYOND THE HORROR BAN.

The other notable thing about THE 13TH MAN is the climax, which has one of those "Gather all the suspects in a room and reveal the killer" scenes. This one stands out due to Swifty's announcing the murderer live on air in the same room. I actually guessed correctly who done it--but don't worry, I won't give out the culprit's name here. I watched THE 13TH MAN on YouTube--the quality wasn't too bad, but the main titles were missing.

I don't think THE 13TH MAN deserves major reevaluation, but it did remind me of the many TV crime drama episodes I saw as a kid in the late 1970s-early 80s. It's not meant to be an outstanding epic--it was designed to be program filler, and reliable entertainment. For what it is, it's not bad--but Weldon Heyburn and Inez Courtney won't make you forget William Powell and Myrna Loy.


Saturday, September 2, 2017

CROSSPLOT




One of the things about being a film buff is that you have a tendency to pay more attention to the cast & crew of certain movies than you do to the movie itself. A perfect example of this is the 1969 British feature CROSSPLOT, starring Roger Moore.

I saw this film for the first time on television a few days ago, and what struck me was the number of actors in the cast that had cult associations, particularly with Hammer Films. CROSSPLOT has the lovely Veronica Carlson, Francis Matthews, and Bernard Lee, all of whom have co-starred with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee at one time or another in their respective careers. Toni Gilpin, who was the very first victim of Hammer's THE GORGON, has a very small role, and David Prowse--the future Darth Vader--is an extra in a wedding scene! So there is an obvious incentive to view CROSSPLOT from a geek standpoint....but the movie itself is a fun, fast-paced thriller that doesn't take itself too seriously.

Roger Moore plays advertising executive Gary Fenn, and we are first introduced to him as he is making out on the couch with Veronica Carlson. Fenn's alarm goes off, and he realizes he's late for work, so he leaves Veronica rather abruptly, which makes the young lady quite mad (you can understand her frustration when you find out she doesn't have another scene in the entire picture). Fenn is preparing a big ad campaign, and he plans to use Veronica's character as the main spokesmodel. Before Fenn's presentation, Veronica's photo is switched with someone else's, and since the ad campaign is approved, Gary now has to find this mysterious beauty. He does track down the woman--a gorgeous Hungarian named Marla Kugash (Claudine Lange). Gary gets more than he bargained for when he finds out that Marla is unwittingly involved in a vast conspiracy--her Aunt Jo (Martha Hyer) belongs to one of those secretive international groups that cause chaos throughout the world. Gary's investigations lead him to be accused of murder, and while the ad man and Marla are on the run, they unravel a plot to assassinate an African leader in Hyde Park.

The story of CROSSPLOT may seem like a James Bond tryout for Roger Moore, but for me it is more like a lighthearted Hitchcock film. It's very reminiscent of NORTH BY NORTHWEST, though nowhere near that film's scale. Roger Moore has a very Cary Grant-like way about him in CROSSPLOT. He's an ad man, just like Cary Grant's Roger Thornhill was in NORTH BY NORTHWEST. Moore, like Grant, has a wry sense of humor concerning his situation, and he's rather resourceful in dealing with professional killers despite the fact he is not a secret agent. One of the most famous sequences in NORTH BY NORTHWEST has Grant elude his pursuers by acting as obnoxious as possible during a high-class auction--in CROSSPLOT Moore does the same thing at a wedding, but he goes Cary one better by driving off in the couple-to-be's car! In another scene Moore takes a shower fully dressed, just like Grant did in CHARADE, a film very much along the same lines as CROSSPLOT. The "Wronged Man on the run with an uncooperative female" plot is one of Hitchcock's most basic stories, and the climax of CROSSPLOT, which has Gary and Marla trying to stop an assassination in Hyde Park that is timed to coincide with cannon fire, can't help but remind you of the climax of THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH.






This is not a publicity still from a James Bond movie--it's from CROSSPLOT



There are some elements in CROSSPLOT which do anticipate Moore's future as 007. The relationship between Moore and Claudie Lange as Marla--a mixture between flirtation and frustration--is very much how Moore's Bond would behave toward his leading ladies. Gary Fenn is very much the ladies man--whenever he walks into a room all the ladies take appreciative notice of him, even the conniving Aunt Jo. Moore plays Gary Fenn very much like he would Bond--he gets out of jams through a combination of natural charm, wits and sometimes dumb luck. One could say that Moore played all his roles that way--but that was his persona, and when it came to that, nobody did it better than Roger Moore (pun intended). Moore had a likable screen presence that made you buy into whatever situation he was in. If CROSSPLOT does remind you of an elongated episode of Moore's TV series THE SAINT, it is no coincidence--the producer of THE SAINT, Robert Baker, also produced CROSSPLOT, and the movie is very much tailored to Moore's strengths.

Director Alvin Rakoff keeps things moving at fast clip, and he doesn't dwell too much on the plot inconsistencies. The one major action sequence in the film has Gary, Marla, and a associate in an antique car being chased by a helicopter. (It appears to me that some of this sequence was filmed in Black Park--another of the film's connections to Hammer.) The sequence is good, but it is hurt by too much reliance on rear screen projection, and this effect is prevalent throughout the film. One of the movie's subplots deals with a group of peace protesters that Marla is friends with. The attempted injection of Swinging London/Flower Power elements into the plot is one of the movie's weak points--it's fairly easy to discern that none of the cast or crew had any real knowledge of the hippie generation.

Overall, though, CROSSPLOT is a enjoyable film that shouldn't be analyzed too extensively. It's more of a light dessert than a full meal, but it is diverting entertainment with a interesting and notable cast, and it gives Roger Moore one of his best screen roles other than James Bond.


Tuesday, August 29, 2017

BEGGARS OF LIFE On Kino Blu-ray









Kino Lorber continues their classic silent movie releases with a Blu-ray of director William Wellman's 1928 BEGGARS OF LIFE.

I was greatly anticipating this disc since I had never actually seen BEGGARS OF LIFE. The movie is now famous mostly for featuring Louise Brooks, but it is an engaging tale set on the back roads of America. Richard Arlen (who had just starred for Wellman in the director's monumental triumph WINGS) and Brooks play a couple of young wandering souls trying to find some sort of stability in their restless lives.

BEGGARS OF LIFE is a combination of gritty realism and old-fashioned sentiment. The story begins with Louise Brooks' character explaining to Arlen's why she had to shoot her foster guardian in the head! The guardian was trying to sexually assault Brooks, which is shown in flashback, including the man's death (a very grim sequence for the period). Arlen stumbles upon Brooks while looking for a meal, and the two decide to get away by hopping a train out of the area. Brooks puts on men's clothing in an attempt to disguise herself as a young boy. Whenever a female character wears men's clothes in a classic Hollywood film, she winds up looking even more feminine, and that goes for Brooks in this movie. The duo meet up with a group of hobos led by the boisterous Oklahoma Red (Wallace Beery), who tries to claim Brooks as his "property". The situation is made even more complicated by the fact that Brooks is now wanted for the murder of her guardian, and the authorities are hot on their tails.

What makes BEGGARS OF LIFE unique as a "Life on the Road" film is that it is not set during the Great Depression. Wellman does not try to inject any type of social commentary into the story, and there is no message concerning the vagabond's plight. The characters played by Arlen and Brooks (they are listed in the credits as "The Boy" and "The Girl") have obviously led hard lives, but they take a matter-of-fact attitude toward their situation. Brooks gives a very modern, low-key type of performance. Her natural beauty and charisma are still more than apparent, even under her unusual wardrobe. With all respect to Clara Bow, Louise Brooks was a true "IT" girl--she was blessed with a magnetism that made you watch her every move whenever she is on the screen. BEGGARS OF LIFE gave her a chance to play a very different type of role. She spends most of the movie in a state of wary apprehension--which is understandable, since it is very obvious what the hobos would do to her if they got the chance.

Richard Arlen is okay, but he gets all but pushed off the screen when Wallace Beery shows up. His Oklahoma Red is the type of character Beery would play over and over again at MGM in the 1930s and 40s--the menacing blowhard who turns out to be a softie in the end. Beery makes the most of the role, and even though this is a silent movie, you can't help but hear the actor's voice in your head whenever Oklahoma Red's dialogue is presented on an intertitle.

BEGGARS OF LIFE is a great film for train buffs, and it's amazing now to see the lead actors gallivanting about fast-moving rolling stock. William Wellman definitely achieves a sense of time and place, and despite the sentimentality the movie doesn't feel phony. I'm really glad that Kino decided to release this title on Blu-ray, because now more silent film fans will have a better chance to see it.

The print used on this Blu-ray was digitally restored from 35mm film elements preserved by the George Eastman Museum. It has some wear but it looks very fine--and most important, it doesn't have the over processed look of some silents on Blu-ray. The score was performed by the Mount Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, and it is presented in 2.0 DTS stereo.

Two audio commentaries are provided--one by William Wellman Jr. (which I have not listened to yet) and the other by Thomas Gladysz from the Louise Brooks Society. Gladysz's talk is an excellent one, going into all the relevant details of the production and the various adventures Louise Brooks had during the making of the film.

A 12-page booklet is also included, which has stills from the film and analysis from Nick Pinkerton. The Blu-ray has a reversible cover sleeve, with Louise Brooks featured on one side and Wallace Beery on the other (I'd rather look at Louise).

Monday, August 21, 2017

My Twenty Favorite Film Actresses Of All Time





Here is the list of my favorite film actresses of all time. I will absolutely admit that how much I am attracted to these ladies plays a large role in who got picked. Is that politically incorrect? Oh well...you can bring down my statue if this bothers you.

Having said that...acting ability does matter here. Just because you've been on the cover of MAXIM doesn't mean you're a great actress. And I know somebody out there is going to say, "Most of these women are dead!!" So be it.


1. Carole Lombard
Favorite Film Role: Hazel Flagg in NOTHING SACRED

2. Ingrid Bergman
Favorite Film Role: Alicia Huberman in NOTORIOUS

3. Barbara Stanwyck
Favorite Film Role: Sugarpuss O'Shea in BALL OF FIRE

4. Kim Novak
Favorite Film Role: Judy Barton in VERTIGO

5. Uma Thurman
Favorite Film Role: Beatrix Kiddo in KILL BILL VOL. 1

6. Thelma Todd
Favorite Film Role: Connie Bailey in HORSE FEATHERS

7. Maureen O'Hara
Favorite Film Role: Mary Kate Danaher in THE QUIET MAN

8. Joan Blondell
Favorite Film Role: Carol King in GOLDDIGGERS OF 1933

9. Marlene Dietrich
Favorite Film Role: Lola Lola in THE BLUE ANGEL

10. Linda Darnell
Favorite Film Role: Netta Longdon in HANGOVER SQUARE

11. Jean Arthur
Favorite Film Role: Clarissa Saunders in MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON




My favorite actor, Peter Cushing, and my favorite actress, Carole Lombard, in VIGIL IN THE NIGHT



12. Dorothy Malone
Favorite Film Role: Abigail Parker in ARTISTS AND MODELS

13. Barbara Steele
Favorite Film Role: Katia Vajda/Princess Asa in BLACK SUNDAY

14. Madeleine Carroll
Favorite Film Role: Pamela in THE 39 STEPS

15. Kumi Mizuno
Favorite Film Role: Miss Namikawa in GODZILLA VS. MONSTER ZERO

16. Carrie Fisher
Favorite Film Role: Princess Leia Organa in STAR WARS

17. Eva Green
Favorite Film Role: Vesper Lynd in CASINO ROYALE

18. Louise Brooks
Favorite Film Role: Lulu in PANDORA'S BOX

19. Ziyi Zhang
Favorite Film Role: Jen Yu in CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON

20. All of the Hammer Ladies (I can't pick one over the others because I come into contact with some of these women every so often)

Sunday, August 20, 2017

My Twenty Favorite Film Actors Of All Time





Recently my friend Troy Howarth (who has been contributing audio commentaries for several Blu-rays) listed his favorite actors on his Facebook page. This inspired me to finally come up with a list of my own...it's an idea I've been thinking about doing since I started this blog.

I decided to limit the list to twenty names. I could easily have gone to a hundred--there's plenty of great actors I admire. For this particular list the subject's entire body of work counts greatly--if a performer appeared in a number of films I happen to like, he's going to get more of a shot at gaining my admiration...hence the prevalence of so many monster movie guys.

I must point out that just because I did not put a certain actor on this list does not mean I don't appreciate that person. Whenever I do one of these lists, people seem to react more to who isn't on this list than who is. I also need to point out that this isn't my choice of the twenty greatest actors of all time, it's my personal favorites.

I've also decided to include my personal favorite movie role of each actor selected. A list of my twenty favorite film actresses will be coming soon.



1. Peter Cushing
Favorite Film Role: Dr. Van Helsing in THE BRIDES OF DRACULA

2. Christopher Lee
Favorite Film Role: Count Dracula in HORROR OF DRACULA

3. James Stewart
Favorite Film Role: Jefferson Smith in MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON

4. Clint Eastwood
Favorite Film Role: The Man With No Name in THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY

5. Steve McQueen
Favorite Film Role: Capt. Virgil Hilts in THE GREAT ESCAPE

6. Buster Keaton
Favorite Film Role: Johnnie Gray in THE GENERAL

7. Alec Guinness
Favorite Film Role: Colonel Nicholson in THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI

8. Lon Chaney
Favorite Film Role: Erik in THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA

9. John Wayne
Favorite Film Role: Capt, Nathan Brittles in SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON

10. Cary Grant
Favorite Film Role: Roger O. Thornhill in NORTH BY NORTHWEST

11. Spencer Tracy
Favorite Film Role: John J. Macreedy in BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK

12. Boris Karloff
Favorite Film Role: The Monster in FRANKENSTEIN

13. Bela Lugosi
Favorite Film Role: Murder Legendre in WHITE ZOMBIE

14. Vincent Price
Favorite Film Role: Dr. Anton Phibes in THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES

15. Lionel Atwill
Favorite Film Role: Ivan Igor in MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM

16. Claude Rains
Favorite Film Role: Alexander Sebastian in NOTORIOUS

17. Lee Van Cleef
Favorite Film Role: Col. Douglas Mortimer in FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE

18. Liam Neeson
Favorite Film Role: Dr. Peyton Westlake in DARKMAN

19. Gary Oldman
Favorite Film Role: Lee Harvey Oswald in JFK

20. George Zucco
Favorite Film Role: Dr. Alfred Morris in THE MAD GHOUL

Saturday, August 19, 2017

THE MANSTER On Blu-ray









Shout Factory, under their Scream Factory label, releases yet another weird vintage horror film on Blu-ray--the 1962 production THE MANSTER. This movie was filmed in Japan, with a mostly Japanese crew--but the directors, producers and writers were American. No matter who was behind it, the result is indeed a strange concoction.

An American newspaper reporter working in Japan named Larry Stanford (Peter Dyneley) travels to a remote laboratory based on a mountain to interview a scientist (Satoshi Nakamura) about his experiments dealing with human evolution. The duplicitous doc slips Larry a mickey, and while the reporter is passed out he is injected with a mysterious serum. Larry soon becomes an irritable drunk, and even though he is married, starts to enjoy the Tokyo night life with the scientist's gorgeous assistant (Terri Zimmern). There's a bigger reason for Larry's irritability than a mid-life crisis--the serum has caused a being to start growing inside of him! The being also drives Larry into sporadic killing urges. Larry's condition worsens, to the point where he has a new head growing out of his shoulder (in this case two heads are not better than one). It all leads to a frantic climax at the scientist's laboratory, backed by an exploding volcano of all things.

A written description of THE MANSTER simply can't do it justice. It has a number of elements which make it stand out from the typical monster flick of the 1950s-60s. First, there's the fact that even though the lead character is American, the film is set in Japan, which brings even more of an outsider quality to his plight. The movie has a very seedy quality to it--the opening scenes show three lovely Japanese bathing beauties attacked by a shadowy creature, and Larry's partying ways play a major role in the plot. The scientist eggs Larry on to pursue his beautiful assistant--their nudge nudge wink wink conversation on how "friendly" the lady can be is a hoot. The scientist really wants the woman to keep an eye on Larry--and she even winds up falling for him, despite the fact that he acts like a total jerk most of the time.

One could say that there's a reason why the character of Larry Stanford acts like a jerk, since he's been injected with an experimental serum that causes a uncontrollable being to grow inside him. But even before his affliction, Larry carries a self-satisfied smirk on his face, and he comes off as an arrogant American. It's hard to feel sorry for Larry because of this, and especially since the married man develops a taste for the Japanese club scene. My Facebook friend Dan Smeddy says that actor Peter Dyneley, as Larry, looks like Lon Chaney Jr., and sounds like Alan Ladd. That's an apt description, and Larry's travails do resemble those of Lon Jr's Larry Talbot (except that Lon Jr. was much more sympathetic). If Peter Dyneley's voice does sound familiar to you, it may be due to the fact that he provided the speech for the puppet of Jeff Tracy in the British cult TV series THUNDERBIRDS. By the way, the character of Larry's wife is played by Jane Hylton (who also appeared in CIRCUS OF HORRORS), and she and Peter Dyneley were married in real life.

Satoshi Nakamura is a bit too low key as the scientist--this part calls for the manic intensity of a Lugosi or a Atwill. The viewer finds out that the doc has experimented on his brother and wife as well! (The wife, who has become a pitiful monstrosity, is kept in a cell--every movie mad scientist's laboratory has to have a cell to keep failed experiments or gorillas). Terri Zimmern brings an exotic quality to her role of the scientist's assistant. I tried to find out more information on her through the internet, but apparently THE MANSTER was her only confirmed movie role--I find that surprising considering her striking good looks. She doesn't even have a Wikipedia page!

The most memorable aspect of THE MANSTER is the idea of Larry having an extra body growing out of him. Larry's condition was a major inspiration for a famous sequence in Sam Raimi's ARMY OF DARKNESS, and elements of it would later be found in such films as THE THING WITH TWO HEADS and THE INCREDIBLE TWO-HEADED TRANSPLANT. I'm sure many might find the whole idea laughable, but it is the main reason THE MANSTER has any notoriety at all 55 years after its production. The movie does have some slow spots, especially in the soap opera-like aspects of Larry's problems with his wife, but for most of its 72 minute running time it gives classic monster movie fans what they want, and it even injects some black & white noir elements into the proceedings.

Shout Factory presents THE MANSTER in HD 1.66:1 black & white anamorphic widescreen. The print looks fine, and the DTS-HD mono audio is very robust. The only extras are a trailer and a still gallery, which shows advertising for the film featuring an alternate title, THE SPLIT. It's too bad that Shout Factory wasn't able to provide an audio commentary for this--I would love to know more about the making of this production and the people who were behind it.




Monday, August 7, 2017

THE UNCANNY









The latest entry in my YouTube Theater viewings is THE UNCANNY, a anthology horror film filmed in Canada and England in late 1976. The movie tries to be on the level of more famous multi-part terrors as DR. TERROR'S HOUSE OF HORRORS and THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD, but it falls way short.

THE UNCANNY was co-produced by Milton Subotsky, and he provided the stories for Michael Parry's screenplay. Subotsky was the co-founder of Amicus Productions, the company that made the films I mentioned in the first paragraph of this post. Subotsky had parted ways with his Amicus partner Max Rosenberg, and set up THE UNCANNY as an independent production. Like his earlier Amicus horror tales, Subotsky gathered up a number of notable actors for his new venture, such as Peter Cushing, Ray Milland, Joan Greenwood, Donald Pleasence, Samantha Eggar, and John Vernon.

By 1976, however, the English Gothic film had all been rendered extinct (the movie that Peter Cushing had worked on earlier in that year, STAR WARS, just about finished the genre off when it was released). THE UNCANNY seems stale and old-fashioned, even when compared to the Amicus films Subotsky worked on only a few years before.

The linking story of THE UNCANNY deals with Wilbur Gray (Peter Cushing), a strange character who is trying to get his new book published by Frank Richards (Ray Milland). Gray's work purports to show that the common cat is actually a danger to humans all over the world. Gray proceeds to tell Richards three stories that will supposedly back his claims.

The first story takes place in England, 1912. A rich old woman (Joan Greenwood) plans to change her will and leave her fortune to her many. many cats, instead of her nephew. The old lady's maid (Susan Penhaligon) is in love with the nephew and tries to steal the new will while her mistress is asleep. The woman wakes up and the maid suffocates her...only to have the dead woman's voluminous collection of cats take revenge by besieging the maid in the old woman's home and attacking her.

This is probably the best of THE UNCANNY's three tales (which isn't saying much). It occurred to me that this story is basically a retread of Hammer's SHADOW OF THE CAT (that's more fuel to throw on the fire of the rivalry between Subotsky/Amicus and Hammer).

Gray's second example takes place in 1975 Quebec. A young girl named Lucy, who has lost her parents in a plane crash, is taken in by her Aunt and Uncle. Accompanying Lucy is her cat, named Wellington. Lucy's Aunt doesn't like cats, and Lucy's spoiled cousin Angela is jealous of it. Angela blames the cat for her own trouble making, and her mother decides to get rid of it...but Wellington returns, and encourages Lucy to take revenge through use of the occult, which she does by shrinking Angela to the size of a mouse. The scenes of the spellbound Angela vs. Wellington are very reminiscent of THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN. What's most interesting about this tale is that Chloe Franks plays Angela. In THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD, Franks played a role very much Lucy--here she's the victim of black magic instead of the perpetrator.

The final tale is set in 1936 Hollywood. An egotistical actor (Donald Pleasence) "accidentally" kills his wife during the filming of his latest horror movie. The actor's mistress (Samantha Eggar) immediately fills in, at the studio and at home...but the devious couple have failed to reckon with the late wife's cat, who brings about a grisly comeuppance for both.

This story attempts to be satirical, in the manner of the climax of THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD, which also happened to feature an egotistical horror movie actor (who was played by Jon Pertwee). I say "attempts"...because it just isn't funny. The story resembles a skit from the Carol Burnett TV show--except it isn't as entertaining. You'd think the one thing a horror satire would get right is making fun of actual horror movies, but the 1936 setting doesn't jibe with the Edgar Allan Poe-Roger Corman style movie being made.

In the end, THE UNCANNY isn't very uncanny. The whole point of the movie is that cats are plotting against us...but in the stories being shown, the only people harmed by the felines are nasty folks who deserve to "get it". The cats appear to be dishing out a form of cosmic justice instead of targeting the innocent. There may be some out there who are afraid of cats, but I'm sure there's many more cat lovers. The average house cat just doesn't seem all that scary. Director Denis Heroux spends a lot of time showing various cats in close-up, and there's a lot of shots of the critters leaping about, but despite all of that there isn't a real sense of menace.

Peter Cushing doesn't have much screen time in THE UNCANNY, but he does enough to convince the audience of Wilbur Gray's bizarre beliefs. Cushing's Gray is a trembling, worried man, and a bit disheveled (as I've mentioned on this blog before, when Cushing's hair is in disarray, you know things are not going too well). If there is a reason to see THE UNCANNY, it is for Cushing, despite his small role.

As I've mentioned, every story in THE UNCANNY reminds me of a much better film. It's as if Milton Subotsky had scraped the bottom of the barrel for ideas and made a few adjustments on earlier stories. The horror anthology film has a lot of promising possibilities, but too many of them follow the same old pattern of using the EC Comics/Robert Bloch format of disreputable characters getting supernatural just desserts.

Friday, August 4, 2017

The British Invaders Blogathon: The Dr. (not Doctor) Who Films









This is the fourth annual British Invaders Blogathon, and I believe I've taken part in every single one of them. For this one I decided to focus on a subject that is as British as you can get--but with a twist. The BBC television series DOCTOR WHO is a worldwide entertainment phenomenon, with over 50 years of history....but this post will be covering the two films based on the character. DR. WHO AND THE DALEKS was made in 1965, and DALEKS--INVASION EARTH 2150 A.D. was produced the very next year. Both movies starred Peter Cushing as the Doctor--or more accurately, "Dr. Who", which is what the character was called in the films. The difference between Dr. and Doctor is a subtle, but telling one. Cushing's "Dr. Who" has very little in common with "The Doctor" of the famed TV series.

Perhaps the Dr. Who films should be referred to as the Dalek films. The evil aliens had been a sensation since they were introduced on the DOCTOR WHO TV show in late 1963, and executive producer Joe Vegoda joined forces with Amicus' Max J. Rosenberg and Milton Subotsky to make a feature film taking advantage of this popularity. The Daleks are the real stars of these films--Dr. Who himself takes a backseat in the movies' advertising (just look at the original posters below). Amicus wanted the Daleks to be the main attraction since the character of the Doctor was only known in England, and these films were meant to be seen all over the world. (Amicus assumed that robotic-like creatures with a penchant for destruction would grab the attention of kids rather than a grouchy mysterious old man, which was how the Doctor was then played on TV by William Hartnell.) DR. WHO AND THE DALEKS was based on Terry Nation's multi-episode story "The Daleks", which introduced the aliens on TV.




Peter Cushing as Dr. (not Doctor) Who


Milton Subotsky's screenplay for DR. WHO AND THE DALEKS follows the original TV story closely for the most part. The big difference is how the Doctor is portrayed. Instead of a crotchety alien, this film's Dr. Who is a kindly, absent-minded human professor who has invented a device called TARDIS, which can travel throughout space and time. Note that I did not call it the TARDIS--in these films the device is called just TARDIS. The eccentric Dr. Who, along with his granddaughters Susan (Roberta Tovey) and Barbara (Jennie Linden), and Barbara's clumsy boyfriend Ian (Roy Castle), takes flight in TARDIS and bumbles his way to the Daleks' home planet, where the group helps the native Thals fight the robot-like creatures.






In DALEKS--INVASION EARTH 2150 A.D., Dr. Who is joined by Susan (Roberta Tovey again) and niece Louise (Jill Curzon). A London constable named Tom (Bernard Cribbins) inadvertently enters TARDIS, thinking it to be a real police call box. Soon Dr. Who & company arrive in the year 2150 (where everything looks suspiciously from the mid-1960s). They find that the Daleks have taken over the Earth, and the group joins forces with other rebels to defeat the aliens and save the planet.

DALEKS--INVASION EARTH 2150 A.D. is the better of the two films, with much more action and special effects, including Dalek spaceships. Milton Subotsky once again wrote the screenplay, this time based on the TV serial "The Dalek Invasion of Earth". This second Dr. Who feature was not as financially successful as the first, and Amicus decided not to make further films based on the character or the Daleks.





I believe that the Dr. Who films are nice, Saturday matinee-type adventures. Both films were in color and in widescreen, which was a major selling point when the films were originally released (the DOCTOR WHO TV show at the time was shown in black & white). Gordon Flemyng was the director on both films, and he keeps things at a rapid pace. The fact that both movies were condensed versions of multi-episode TV stories works in their favor....if you have seen enough classic DOCTOR WHO stories you know that much of the action involves the Doctor and his companions being captured, and escaping, and being captured and escaping, over and over again. The Dr. Who movies eliminate extraneous plot devices.

Many people look back on the films today and find them disappointing, mainly because the character of the Doctor differs so greatly from the TV show. But one has to place the films in their proper context. The movies were made for a mostly children's market, and sci-fi action was the major highlight. One has to consider that much of the extensive mythology surrounding the character of the TV Doctor had not yet even been created yet (the Doctor had not even had his first regeneration when these movies were made). The producers were trying to ride the wave of Dalekmaina, and they were not all that concerned about keeping continuity with a children's TV show that had only been on the air for a few years. The films have to be looked on as a separate entity from the television show--especially the 21st Century version of the program, with its overly complicated plots and soap opera-like elements involving the Doctor's companions. I'm sure that no one involved with the Dr. Who movies thought that they would be still discussed and debated 50 years later.

Peter Cushing's performance as Dr. Who has come under some major fan controversy. Bring up the Dr. Who feature films on any Peter Cushing groups on the internet and you're bound to get some strong reactions. There are some Cushing devotees who can't stand it when the great actor tries to be comic. I have to admit that Cushing lays the "funny old man" routine on a bit thick during the Dr. Who movies....but these films were made for a younger audience, and Cushing felt that this was the way to go. He certainly wasn't going to do a William Hartnell impression. The Dr. Who films give no backstory on the character (we don't even find out how such a muddled person can invent something like the TARDIS, let alone how he got the money to finance such a thing), so Cushing didn't have much to work with. He decided that these movies called for a more lighthearted portrayal than one was accustomed to getting from the actor in his many horror roles. His Dr. Who may frustrate some of his fans today, but Cushing enjoyed working on these films and getting away (if briefly) from the terror genre. I wouldn't want to see Cushing's "funny old man" routine in film after film, but in the Dr. Who movies I think for the most part it works.

I feel that the best way to appreciate the Dr. Who movies is to look on them as being part of an alternate universe. This is science-fiction, after all...who's to say that Cushing's Dr. Who isn't just part of a different time stream. The Dr. Who films are not part of the official continuity of the Doctor Who character--the BBC doesn't even have the rights to the films (Studio Canal does). Obviously the BBC is not going to go out of their way to bring attention to these movies. The result is that the Dr. Who films now reside in a type of limbo. They're based on DOCTOR WHO...but it's not really DOCTOR WHO. Cushing is not considered to belong among the constantly growing group of actors who have played the Doctor. (I can't tell you how many times I've mentioned to someone that Peter Cushing played Dr. Who in the movies, only to have that person respond with absolute surprise.)

However you define Peter Cushing's Dr. Who, the two films made around the character are worth seeing. Both movies are colorful, lighthearted, fast-paced adventures which were made to be enjoyed--not obsessively nit-picked over like so much of the Doctor Who Universe is today.

Monday, July 31, 2017

BATMAN: MASK OF THE PHANTASM On Blu-ray









A REAL Batman movie has just been released on Blu-ray from the Warner Archive. BATMAN: MASK OF THE PHANTASM (1993) was produced by the folks behind the wonderful BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES. That TV show--and this movie--are far more truer to Batman's comic book roots than any of the character's live-action appearances.

Major gangsters are being killed in Gotham City, and the Batman is being blamed for it. The Caped Crusader's investigations of the murder wave lead him to some painful memories--mainly a broken relationship with the beautiful Andrea Beaumont, a woman that Bruce Wayne almost married. Andrea may have a connection with the gangland killings through her father. Batman's pursuit of this new vigilante--the Phantasm--also puts him in the path of the nefarious Joker, with devastating revelations for all concerned.

Clocking in at a compact 76 minutes, this movie might be mistaken as just an extra-length episode of BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES, but it's much more than that. MASK OF THE PHANTASM carries a PG rating, but it is a very dark story. The Phantasm does kill people, after all, and much of the story takes place during rain-soaked night scenes. During a flashback concerning Bruce Wayne's romance with Andrea Beaumont, the millionaire crime fighter feels guilty that if he marries the woman, he is turning his back on his vow to avenge his parent's deaths--which leads to Bruce having a breakdown in front of his parents' graves. This sequence has more emotional resonance than all the live-action Batman movies combined.

Usually when there is a romance for Bruce Wayne in a Batman movie, it comes off as contrived. Here it's totally believable, due to the earnest vocal performances by Kevin Conroy (who has portrayed the Dark Knight more than any other actor) and Dana Delany (who would go on to provide the voice of Lois Lane in Warner's Superman animated series). The Bruce Wayne-Andrea Beaumont relationship gives MASK OF THE PHANTASM a layer of dramatic weight that the "real" DC movies do not have.

The Joker has a only a supporting role in this film, but it's an important one, and Mark Hamill is dangerously funny as the Clown Prince of Crime. We also get to hear such character actors as Stacy Keach, Abe Vigoda, and Dick Miller. I would be remiss if I did not mention the droll subtlety of Efrem Zimbalist Jr. as Alfred.

BATMAN: MASK OF THE PHANTASM comes to Blu-ray in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.78:1 widescreen. The movie is also presented in the 1.37:1 aspect ratio. The movie looks much brighter than the old DVD version, but it retains the classic animated look, which I prefer to today's too-perfect and too-sterile computer animation. The sound is presented in DTS-HD 2.0 stereo, and it is a booming mix, showcasing the action scenes and Shirley Walker's haunting music score.

I've always felt that BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES was the best representation of Batman in any medium other than DC comics. MASK OF THE PHANTASM was made during the series' height, and I can truly say that the only better Batman movie that has been made since is BATMAN BEGINS. If you think that animated means "kids stuff", you would be totally off the mark concerning MASK OF THE PHANTASM. It is a Batman movie for true Bat-fans. I do have to point out that it might be too dark for very young children.




Tuesday, July 25, 2017

DUNKIRK










I've always admired Christopher Nolan's film making abilities. He is a master at putting together intense, thrilling action sequences. I just haven't been able to love his movies as much as others. I've found his films to be overlong, overly complicated, and filled with too many climaxes.

With DUNKIRK Nolan has found the perfect subject for his considerable talents. Focusing on one historical incident brings out the best in the writer-director. The real-life saga of the British Expeditionary Force trapped on the coast of France in late spring of 1940, and facing utter annihilation from the German military, has enough dramatics on its own without Nolan inventing more. The actual timeline of the event keeps the film at a crisp 106 minutes, and Nolan has the audience on the edge of their seats during the entire time.

The film has three main points of view--an ordinary British soldier trying to get off the beach, an English civilian sailing his personal boat to Dunkirk to help in the evacuation, and a Spitfire pilot in the skies above. Nolan switches back and forth between the three subplots, compressing and stretching time, never letting the viewer catch a breath. There's no downtime in this film--Nolan strips away the usual war movie cliches. There's no scenes of wives and girlfriends waiting anxiously back home, or meetings of the German High Command, or shots of Winston Churchill staring pensively at a map. We're right in the thick of things with the protagonists in the sea, the air, and on the beach. The overall effect is riveting--and Nolan pulls it off without copious amounts of CGI gore.

We get no background information whatsoever on the characters in this film--for most of them we don't even get to learn their names. Some may find this annoying, but I think in this instance it works. Because we don't really know the characters we don't know how they will react to the various situations inflected on them--thus increasing the drama. There's no obvious war movie types here--the overall situation is more important than any one single character.

DUNKIRK is very much a visual experience--the images of real Spitfires soaring through the skies are awe-inspiring--but the sound design is noteworthy as well. Mention must be made of frequent Nolan collaborator Hans Zimmer, who contributes not so much a classic music score, but a driving tonal effect that ratchets up the tension.

It would be very easy for me to go on and on about DUNKIRK--but I would much rather have you see the film for yourself than spend time reading my opinion on it. I wonder if the movie will find the wide audience it deserves--at the screening I attended for it I was the youngest person in the theater, and I'm in my mid 40s. I hope DUNKIRK does not get branded as a "old white persons" story. The Second World War was the most monumental event in modern history--and in 2017 it's very easy to take for granted that the Allies won. If the BEF had been wiped out on the beaches of Dunkirk, or captured, the United Kingdom very well might have had to sign a treaty with Germany--and if that happened, where would have the D-Day invasion been staged from? DUNKIRK is a brilliantly made spectacle concerning human courage and tenacity, and it deserves to be seen by as many people as possible, no matter what their backgrounds or ages may be.




Saturday, July 22, 2017

SHALAKO










Movies don't get much more offbeat than SHALAKO. The 1968 Western was filmed in Spain, directed by a man who came out of the Hollywood studio system, and stars a collection of international actors. SHALAKO has just been released on Region A Blu-ray by Kino Studio Classics.

Sean Connery is SHALAKO--this was one of the first films he made after his initial retirement from the role of James Bond. The movie was based on a novel by Louis L'Amour, and a text introduction by the author states that throughout the 19th Century, European elites would take excursions into the American frontier in search of adventure and excitement. Connery's Shalako, a frontier scout, encounters a group of such aristocrats in the American Southwest. The group, which includes a Countess (Brigitte Bardot), a Baron (Peter Van Eyck), an English couple (Jack Hawkins and Honor Blackman), and a former U.S. Senator (Alexander Knox), has been led into Apache territory by their unscrupulous guide (Stephen Boyd). Shalako tries to warn the group of the danger that they are in, but they refuse to take him seriously, leading to the Apaches attacking and the embattled party having to work together to survive.

During the beginning of this film it takes some getting used to seeing Connery decked out in cowboy gear and riding a horse, but he does rather well in the role and the period. The actor is certainly masculine enough to put across the idea that he's someone well versed in the ways of the frontier. The characters of the hunting party are basically arrogant fools, and one wonders why Shalako would risk his life for them. Shalako is interested in the Countess, for obvious reasons (she's played by Brigitte Bardot, after all), but it's hard for a viewer to make a connection with her because Bardot's accent is so thick it's almost impossible to understand what she's saying. (Bardot also spends the entire movie wearing enough eyeliner to punch a hole in the ozone layer). Shalako may go out of his way to save the aristocrats for the Countess's sake, but it's doubtful the two characters could have a lasting relationship.

The leader of the band of Apaches is man called Chato, and he's played by Woody Strode. Apparently Chato is the same character played by Charles Bronson in CHATO'S LAND (talk about your shared cinema universes). Strode makes a powerful impression with very little screen time, but the big showdown between Chato and Shalako at the end of the film is something of an anti-climax.

A couple of other Bond veterans were part of the SHALAKO crew--cinematographer Ted Moore and stuntman/stunt arranger Bob Simmons. Simmons was kept pretty busy on this film (lots of folks fall off of horses in this story), but director Edward Dmytryk handles the action sequences in a generic fashion. (Dmytryk, who is more notorious for his involvement in the Hollywood blacklist controversy of the early 1950s, made a far better Western called WARLOCK.) As for Moore, his photography is hindered by the arid, depressing Spanish locations (if you've seen a number of Spaghetti Westerns, you might actually recognize some of them).

The Spanish locations, and the international cast, reminds one of a Spaghetti Western--but SHALAKO is nowhere near as outlandish or stylish as a typical outing from that genre. The movie will be most appreciated by Sean Connery fans and film buffs.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING









The Marvel Cinematic Universe steamroller continues with SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING. Tom Holland made a fine debut as the Web Slinger in CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR, and he capably handles the responsibilities of being the main star of a major comic book film.

Holland is the third big-screen Spider-Man in the last 15 years. At this rate, in a couple of decades from now, there will be as many Spideys as Doctor Whos. Hopefully Holland will stick around for awhile, because he's appealing and believable as a misfit teen aged Peter Parker. This new Spider-Man film spends a lot of time dealing with Peter's high school adventures, so if you are like me and don't look back too fondly on those years, you might get somewhat impatient during these scenes.

But there is plenty of requisite comic book movie action. Remember that now the movie Spider-Man is an official part of the MCU, which thankfully broadens the character's scope. Spidey's taste of action in CIVIL WAR leaves him hungering for more, and badgering Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr of course) for a shot at the big time. Stark provides Peter with a special tripped-out Spidey suit, and the young hero is able to "communicate" with it. This comes very close to the Iron Man-Jarvis dynamic....but Peter's gadgets are taken away from him before the finale, which sets up a variation of the "with great power comes great responsibility" motif, provided by Tony Stark, of all people.

Despite Holland's fine performance, the real standout of the film is Michael Keaton as Adrian Toomes, aka "The Vulture". Many of the Marvel Films' villains have wound up being underwhelming, but Keaton's Toomes breaks the mold. Keaton's Vulture isn't a powerful being with an outlandish scheme for global domination--he's an ordinary guy who feels he's doing what he needs to support himself and his family. He's someone that you could believe might really exist, and Keaton's interactions with Holland are some of the best hero-villain confrontations in comic book movie history.

I do have to point out that the major plot revelation in this film might be too much of a coincidence...but I still wouldn't put it in the "My mother's name is Martha" category. This movie is also definitely skewed toward the younger crowd, with all the high school hijinks. But old fogeys like me will enjoy it--I certainly did. I was kind of surprised that Marisa Tomei's Aunt May didn't have more of a major part in the proceedings, but that's probably because she's being set up for an important role for the next Spider-Man film (watch HOMECOMING and you'll know why I think that). SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING is fun and enjoyable, and it's a comic book movie you can take kids to see.

Friday, July 14, 2017

HELL IN THE PACIFIC On Kino Blu-ray









One of the most unusual war films ever made comes to Region A Blu-ray courtesy of Kino Lorber. HELL IN THE PACIFIC (1968) is about as stripped down a film as you can get--if features Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune as two soldiers stranded on a small island in the South Pacific during World War II, and the duo make up the entire cast.

The movie was directed by John Boorman, a man who has one of the most diverse and intriguing resumes of any living filmmaker. Filmed on location in the Palau Islands, HELL IN THE PACIFIC makes no allowances to its audience whatsoever. We are given absolutely no backstory on the two men fighting for survival--we don't even learn their names. The duo start out trying to outwit and outfox the other, but eventually come to a grudging unspoken agreement to work together in getting off the island. Even toward the end there's no "special moment" in which the men connect--they always remain alien to one another, and they barely communicate. The story has very little dialogue, but when Toshiro Mifune does speak his words are not subtitled--Boorman did this to make viewers appreciate the characters' plight.

Suffice to say, the artistic highlights of a film like this are probably lost on those used to 21st Century entertainment. I suspect that many who saw this picture when it first came out were puzzled by it as well. Boorman doesn't go the easy route and make either Marvin or Mifune an obvious "good" or "bad" guy--they are just two men trying to deal with circumstances and with each other. The duo are not super warriors or emotionless iron men, but they are not men to be trifled with, either. The best thing about this film is the casting of Marvin and Mifune. Both actors didn't have to act tough--they were real tough guys, the type of men who could say more with a steely glance than by spouting a couple pages of dialogue. (Both men were also actual veterans of the Second World War.) Marvin and Mifune were perfect for this story.

The other highlight of HELL IN THE PACIFIC is the majestic cinematography from the legendary Conrad Hall, who makes grand use of the beautiful desolation of the South Pacific. (By the way, the camera operator on this film was none other than Jordan Croenweth, who would become a renowned DOP in his own right on such films as BLADE RUNNER.) The outstanding visuals are much needed on a story that does not have many action scenes. If you are expecting Marvin and Mifune to engage in an out-and-out lengthy slugfest, you will be disappointed. HELL IN THE PACIFIC runs 103 minutes, and after a while one gets the feeling that Boorman was working hard in coming up with things for the characters to do without killing each other and bringing the tale to an end. This Blu-ray features two different endings, and both of them are very anti-climatic. In my opinion, HELL IN THE PACIFIC is an admirable effort, but it is not a movie for all tastes, and it definitely is not a mainstream war picture.

Kino does its usual excellent job on this Blu-ray, with superior visuals and sound. A brand new interview with John Boorman is provided, and the director delves into the many difficulties involved in making this offbeat production. Boorman reveals that his biggest challenge was Toshiro Mifune--the Japanese cinema legend went out of his way to cause all sorts of problems. (Lee Marvin and Mifune, however, got along great--the two spent most of their off-camera time together getting drunk.) There is also an interview with art director Anthony Pratt, who shares his experiences working on the film.

An audio commentary is provided on this Blu-ray featuring Travis Crawford and Bill Ackerman. Both men give out numerous details about the film, including the many connections between much of the behind-the-camera talent and Toho Studios....but the duo also spend a lot of time talking about John Boorman's other directorial efforts, and they sound much more enthusiastic while doing so. The Blu-ray case sleeve is reversible, and the alternate cover image makes the film look like a typical 1940s Hollywood WWII flick.


Saturday, July 8, 2017

Book Review: TOP 100 COMIC BOOK MOVIES








In the early 2010s, IDW in association with Fantastic Press released a series of books on what might be considered the best films from three distinct genres. The books were TOP 100 HORROR MOVIES, TOP 100 SCI-FI MOVIES, and TOP 100 FANTASY MOVIES. All the volumes were written, edited, and designed by Gary Gerani (who is the main force behind the many STAR WARS Topps trading card books). The latest book in the series is TOP 100 COMIC BOOK MOVIES.

I have all the books in the TOP 100 series. They have a colorful, clean design, with several stills from the movies discussed. Gerani gives a concise overview of each film, and includes basic cast & crew information and a very brief (thankfully) plot summary. He then goes into why he has included the film into the book's top 100. The books are for more of a mainstream audience than hard core film buffs, but I appreciate that tack--by doing this the author avoids being pretentious and he also brings up films that are not one of the "usual suspects" when it comes to lists like this.

TOP 100 COMIC BOOK MOVIES continues in the same vein as the other volumes in the series. The one drawback of this book is that the way these comic book adaptations are being churned out, Gerani may have to rewrite the whole thing about three years from now. That being said, the author does not strictly deal with only major comic character films made in the past couple decades. Movies that have been adapted from newspaper comic strips qualify for this list, so we get films such as the FLASH GORDON serials, the 1982 ANNIE, and a 1931 tale called SKIPPY starring a very young Jackie Cooper (who of course went on to play Perry White in the Christopher Reeve SUPERMAN movies).

I have to say that out of all the TOP 100 books the comic book entry is the one on which I disagree with the author the most on the placement of certain films. I think he has both X-MEN and WATCHMEN too low, and he has the recent DC films way too high. I don't have any major problems with the book overall though. If you love the 21st Century big-budget spectaculars, you'll find many of them here--and the Marvel Cinematic Universe is well-represented. (Gerani's take on some of the various MCU entries is quite unique.) I'm not going to reveal what the author believes is the No. 1 comic book movie, but if you are a purveyor of Geek Culture, you can easily figure it out on your own.

At the end of the book Gerani gives a quick appreciation of several comic book movies that failed to make the list, and he names his Top 10 Comic Book Movie Makers. The book also has a very welcome index.

A few folks may not like to admit it, but the fact is that films based on comic book material are basically driving and sustaining the entertainment industry. I think that ignoring this, or treating comic book movies as unworthy of proper analysis and discussion, is a mistake. TOP 100 COMIC BOOK MOVIES is a fun, colorful, easy to read book that is a step in the direction of treating these films as a separate genre that deserves articulate and thoughtful critical interpretation.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

ISLAND OF TERROR On Blu-ray












The 1966 British science-fiction/horror film ISLAND OF TERROR has finally been given a Region A Blu-ray release courtesy of the good folks at Shout Factory. Directed by Terence Fisher and starring Peter Cushing, the movie has gained some new fans in recent years due to it being shown by Svengoolie on his MeTV program.

Terence Fisher is best known for his mastery of English Gothic cinema, but he did helm more than a few science-fiction features. ISLAND OF TERROR is the best of that group. Eminent doctors Brian Stanley (Peter Cushing) and David West (Edward Judd) travel to a small island off the east coast of Ireland to investigate the discovery of a body without any bones. The two men learn that research at a mysterious laboratory on the island has caused the creation of creatures called "silicates"--creatures that were supposed to destroy cancer cells. The silicates are now running (well, actually, moving slowly) all over the island, attacking any beings in their path. The creatures are seemingly indestructible, and Stanley and West must find a way to stop them, despite the fact that they are stuck on an island with very little resources and very little time.

What makes ISLAND OF TERROR work is Fisher's concise, get-to-the-point directorial style. The story moves quickly, and suspense is built up due to the characters being trapped in a remote location. Peter Cushing gets to play a contemporary, "normal" person (if you consider a distinguished pathologist normal), and he's obviously enjoying himself here, bringing to the role a dry sense of humor. Cushing is helped out by the underrated Edward Judd. Judd always brought a slightly cynical, let's get on with it type of attitude to his fantastic film roles such as FIRST MEN IN THE MOON and THE DAY THE EARTH CAUGHT FIRE, and he and Cushing make a great monster fighting team. Their realistic approach as actors to an outlandish situation adds immeasurably to the film.

Every good monster movie has to have a Scream Queen, and Carole Gray capably fills that role here. The only reason she is in the movie is because she's young, attractive, and female--her character could have easily been written out of the script with no effect to the story whatsoever--but hey, I'm not complaining. Several of the locals on the island are played by veterans of other British fantastic films, such as Niall MacGinnis, Eddie Byrne, and Sam Kydd.

Probably the most memorable--some would say the most notorious--characters in ISLAND OF TERROR are the silicates themselves. I would describe them as a cross between a large mutated turtle shell and a disfigured rock. They can suck the bones out of humans or animals just by contact--but they're not exactly the fastest monsters in the world (they make Lon Chaney Jr.'s Kharis the Mummy seem like Rickey Henderson). But they do have the ability to climb trees! When the silicates divide, they leave a residue that looks like chicken noodle soup--another reason why ISLAND OF TERROR sticks in the memory of so many Monster Movie fans.

A Region A Blu-ray of ISLAND OF TERROR has been long overdue--as a matter of fact, the movie never even got an official Region 1 DVD release. I've seen ISLAND OF TERROR a number of times, and the color has always looked pale and yellowish. This Blu-ray is without doubt the best I have ever seen the movie look. The visual quality is sharper, brighter, and definitely more colorful--if you have bootleg copies of this title on disc, you don't need them anymore. The movie is presented in anamorphic 1.78:1 widescreen, and the audio, which is full and vibrant, is in DTS-HD Mono. I must point out that this Blu-ray features the uncut version of the film--which means you'll get to see in all of its glory the infamous sequence where Edward Judd uses extreme measures to save Peter Cushing from the silicates.

The Blu-ray has some nifty extras as well. A new audio commentary is provided by Dr. Robert J. Kiss. It's an excellent one, as Kiss offers up pertinent detail on all aspects of the production and still finds time to give some critical analysis. He also gets in some droll comments as well (thankfully he doesn't take the movie too seriously). About halfway through the film, Kiss takes a back seat and allows Rick Pruitt to provide his memories on what it was like to view ISLAND OF TERROR at an American drive-in during its original U.S. release. A five-minute still gallery is also included, and it has some stunning stills of Carole Gray. There's also a very worn-looking original trailer. The Blu-ray has a reversible disc cover, and in my opinion the best image is the one in the picture above.

An official American DVD or Blu-ray release of ISLAND OF TERROR has been long overdue. Why Universal never got around to doing it is a mystery, especially since the film's star is a legend like Peter Cushing. Thankfully, Shout Factory under its Scream Factory label has given the movie the home video treatment it deserves.




Monday, July 3, 2017

Book Review: A WEREWOLF REMEMBERS--THE TESTAMENT OF LAWRENCE STEWART TALBOT









I'm sure most of you are aware of the so-called "Dark Universe"--the attempt by Universal Studios to have their own Marvel-like multi-feature storyline featuring legendary classic monsters instead of comic book characters. I don't have too much confidence in this idea--but if Universal was smart, they'd hire author Frank J. Dello Stritto right away as a production consultant. His new book A WEREWOLF REMEMBERS--THE TESTAMENT OF LAWRENCE STEWART TALBOT is a unique and fascinating examination of the Universal Monsters legacy in the form of a "biography" of Lawrence Talbot, the character played by Lon Chaney Jr. in five films, and better known as The Wolf Man.

The author starts out with the supposition that Lawrence Talbot disappeared after the events of ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN, and Talbot's steamer trunk was left behind in an apartment house. The landlord of the house was the author's Uncle, and after his passing Talbot's journals were found inside the trunk. Dello Stritto "reveals" the contents of the journals.

The result is a Old Monster Movie Fan's dream. This book is not written as a joke, or a gimmick. The author has obviously spent a lot of time thinking about the Universal Monster series, and he creatively fills in several of the "blanks" that exist in the Universal Monster timeline. One of the things that has always bothered me about the original THE WOLF MAN is the idea that Claude Rains and Lon Chaney Jr. were supposed to be father & son. Dello Stritto explains why the two could be so different yet so closely related by delving into the history of the Talbot family, and ingeniously using stills of Rains and Lon Jr. from other films to represent other members of the clan. The author also goes into what happened to the Wolf Man when he was supposedly "dead" in between his film appearances. We also find out why Talbot was back to his wolfish self in A & C MEET FRANKENSTEIN when he was apparently "cured" at the end of HOUSE OF DRACULA.

Dello Stritto doesn't just limit himself to Universal horror films. Many characters from other thrillers made in the 1930s-1950s pop up in the narrative...and quite a few fictional folks from non-horror films of the period as well. I don't want to reveal who some of these characters are, simply because I want the reader to be as pleasantly surprised by these cameos as I was. Most of these characters will be familiar to above-average film buffs, but even I had to check on IMDB to figure out who some of them were.

These classic film references are not just a film geek's crazy theories haphazardly thrown together. Dello Stritto weaves pop culture signposts in and out of the tale with the touch of an assured novelist. The overall story never seems contrived, or ridiculous....and I dare say it holds together far better than the scripts of the films that the author was inspired by.

I really enjoyed this book--in fact, it even exceeded my expectations. The creativity shown in it is astounding--I can't tell you how many times I stopped reading and said to myself, "I wish I had thought of that!" I've spent most of my life watching the Universal monster movies, and the various other films referenced in this book, and I know them like the back of my hand. Seeing them presented this way--as if they actually happened in history, and that their stories and characters overlap with one another--is pure catnip for movie geeks.

I do have to say that your enjoyment of this book will be directly related to how much of a film buff you are. It was published by Cult Movie Press, and it has a very attractive design. It runs over 500 pages, so you are certainly getting your money's worth. I believe it is one of the best movie books I have read in the last few years. I could go on and on about this book, and what's in it, but I don't want to, because it needs to be read, instead of blogged about. Here's hoping that Frank Dello Stritto winds up writing a series of these books--maybe next there will be a look at the life of Baron Victor Frankenstein, as played by Peter Cushing?


Monday, June 19, 2017

FRANKENSTEIN: THE TRUE STORY





The latest issue of Richard Klemensen's LITTLE SHOPPE OF HORRORS magazine (issue #38) is dedicated to a complete examination of the 1973 television production of FRANKENSTEIN: THE TRUE STORY. The issue features Sam Irvin's incredibly detailed account of the making of the film, including several interviews with members of the cast & crew. The magazine also has a stunning array of artwork inspired by the production, from such talents as Mark Maddox, Bruce Timm, and Neil Vokes. It is one of the best issues of LSOH ever.

When I heard that LSOH was going to do a special issue on FRANKENSTEIN: THE TRUE STORY. I decided I should watch the film myself. I had never seen it, but I was aware of it--it was mentioned in almost all of the monster movie books I had read as a kid. Those books didn't seem to impressed with it--the consensus was that it certainly wasn't the "true story" according to Mary Shelley's novel. I acquired the film on DVD from Edward R. Hamilton Booksellers for only $5. This DVD contains the complete original three-hour presentation of the film, in two parts. I watched the DVD a few months ago, and viewed it again after completely reading LSOH #38.

Producer Hunt Stromberg Jr. planned for FRANKENSTEIN: THE TRUE STORY to be a mammoth, ambitious project. The script was written by acclaimed playwright Christopher Isherwood and his partner Don Bachardy, and Stromberg tried to get as much big name on and off screen talent for the film as he could. Sam Irvin relates all of this in LSOH #38 including the various (and noteworthy) names attached to the production at one time or another. The result is that FRANKENSTEIN: THE TRUE STORY winds up being unlike any other Frankenstein film--or any other horror film, for that matter. It's definitely unlike any other TV movie I have ever seen. The budget for FRANKENSTEIN: THE TRUE STORY was huge--so huge that the movie makes the Hammer Gothic theatrical movies made at the same time seem tawdry by comparison. The production design, the English locations, the costumes, the esteemed cast--this is more of an event instead of a Frankenstein movie.

Because it is so unique, and so unlike anything I have seen before, it is hard for me to put it into context with other Frankenstein adaptations. I can't compare it with another horror film--heck, I can't even compare it with any other TV movie or mini-series.

The film was originally broadcast on the NBC Television network in two parts. Part One begins in the early 1800s, as young doctor Victor Frankenstein (Leonard Whiting) witnesses the accidental drowning of his younger brother William. (This sequence is handled so quickly and abruptly that it dilutes the impact it is supposed to have on Victor.) Frankenstein is so unnerved by this incident he determines to continue his medical studies, with the ultimate goal of bringing life from death. The young man meets the misanthropic Dr. Henry Clerval (David McCallum), and the pair are soon constructing their own grand experiment--a perfect body to give life to. Frankenstein's loyalty to Clerval disappoints his fiancee Elizabeth (Nicola Pagett). Clerval introduces Frankenstein to a former "colleague", a mysterious older man named Dr. Polidori (James Mason). Before Victor and Clerval can finish their experiment, Clerval dies--which leads Victor to put Clerval's brain into their creation and give it life.

The Creature (Michael Sarrazin) is so handsome that Victor describes him as "beautiful". Victor teaches the Creature basic social skills, and even dresses him up and takes him to the opera. But Victor soon finds out that the Creature is slowly reverting back to its once-dead form. The Creature's fine features are now deteriorating, and Victor now no longer wants to have anything to do with him. The Doctor apparently can't help his creation, and he can't put it out of it's misery. The saddened and hurt Creature throws himself off of a cliff into the sea....but he survives.

Part Two has the Creature wandering in a forest and coming upon an old blind man (Ralph Richardson). The Creature befriends the blind man, and pays visits to the man's cottage, but manages to avoid being seen by the blind man's beautiful granddaughter Agatha (Jane Seymour) and her husband. The Creature observes Agatha from afar, and falls in love with her. When the Creature is revealed to Agatha and her husband, tragedy ensues--the husband, treating the Creature as a monster, attacks him and is killed, and Agatha, while fleeing in terror, is run over by a horse-drawn carriage. The heartbroken Creature takes Agatha's body to the old house where he was created by Victor. Dr. Polidori has taken over the place, and he coerces the now married Victor into helping create a new creature using Agatha's body. This new experiment, called Prima (also played by Seymour), is alluring, but heartless. Victor and Polidori try to destroy the Creature, but fail--and the being barges in on Prima's debut party into society and literally rips her head from her body. In the aftermath Victor and Elizabeth flee on a ship to America--but Polidori and the Creature are on board as well. The enraged Creature kills Polidori and causes the crew to leave on lifeboats, leaving only himself, Victor, and Elizabeth on the ship. The Creature steers the vessel north to the Arctic, where he and his creator meet their fate.

At three hours long, FRANKENSTEIN: THE TRUE STORY presents the viewer with a lot of material. It's a sprawling story that needs more than one viewing to appreciate it. It incorporates several elements from the Shelley novel, but also many incidents from the early classic Frankenstein films made by Universal in the 1930s. Michael Sarrazin is a magnificent Creature, and you can't help feel sorry for him. Frankenstein is proud of him when he is first "born", but he treats him like a dress-up doll. As soon as the Creature begins to lose his looks, Victor basically abandons him (you don't need to know that the producer and screenwriters of this film were gay to figure out the subtext here). Sarrazin is helped out by a excellent makeup design from Harry Frampton.

Leonard Whiting doesn't get much of a chance to shine as Victor Frankenstein, but that's not the actor's fault. As I see it, Victor in this story comes off as weak and indecisive. Whether he is working with Henry Clerval or Polidori, Victor definitely acts like the junior partner. His scientific accomplishments seem more the result of luck and his associates' knowledge than of his own doing. (To be fair, it has to be said that the Dr. Frankenstein portrayed in Mary Shelley's novel isn't the most dynamic guy in the world either.) Instead of a brilliant and ground-breaking scientist. Victor in this tale is a young man way over his head. Even his wife Elizabeth has more gumption than he does (Nicola Pagett is very good in what is usually a boring role). Whiting as Victor reminds me of those handsome young actors who played the assistants to Peter Cushing's Baron in the Hammer Frankenstein films.






The fantastic triple cover for LITTLE SHOPPE OF HORRORS #38, by Mark Maddox





James Mason as Polidori dominates every scene he is in--he makes every line of dialogue he utters sound like a droll witticism. (When there is a scene with just Victor and Polidori, poor Leonard Whiting doesn't stand a chance.) Polidori's adventures with Prima are intriguing, but they also put Victor and the Creature off to the sidelines. Jane Seymour makes a huge impression as the strangely beguiling Prima, and her destruction at the hands of the Creature is without doubt the most thrilling moment of the story. (In the DVD I have of the film, there's nothing gory about it, but I'm still amazed this was allowed to air on early 1970s American network TV.)

Hunt Stromberg Jr. went out of his way to cast several star cameos--among the names he gathered were Agnes Moorehead, Michael Wilding, and John Gielgud. It's great to watch these legends at work, but as with the Prima scenes, the cameos have a tendency to distract from the main characters.

FRANKENSTEIN: THE TRUE STORY has many outstanding individual moments. The creation sequences are unlike any shown in a Frankenstein film. The Creature comes to life from solar power--no dark & stormy night here. Prima seems to be created through Oriental mysticism instead of science--this sequence is highlighted by colorful chemicals and lava lamp-type effects. The climax of the story is superb, featuring a violent storm and finally an ice-caked ship stuck in the eerie frozen wastes of the Arctic (the production design here is magnificent). Director Jack Smight does a fine job, and he's immeasurably helped by crack cinematographer Arthur Ibbetson. Producer Stromberg wanted a bigger name than Smight as director, but that probably wouldn't have been to his liking--as Sam Irvin makes very clear, Hunt Stromberg Jr. was the main creative force behind the production.

FRANKENSTEIN: THE TRUE STORY is an unusual film, and a intriguing one. I think the project would have been better served with a shorter, more concise script--or maybe it needed to be longer to adequately explore all the many pathways the story takes. (A shorter version of the film was released overseas as a theatrical feature--I've never seen it but it has been generally dismissed by critics.) Edward R. Hamilton is still selling it at $5, and it is worth adding to any classic horror film fan's collection. It is also worth picking up a copy of LITTLE SHOPPE OF HORRORS #38 and delving into Sam Irvin's authoritative account of the making of the film--an account which is plenty thrilling and adventurous itself.