Sunday, May 31, 2020

DANGER: DIABOLIK On Blu-ray From Shout Factory

A few years ago, I wrote a blog post on my favorite comic book movies. Included in the list was the 1967 film DANGER: DIABOLIK, which was based on a Italian fumetti character. A few folks thought that was a mystifying choice. But DIABOLIK stills holds up as a great comic adaptation, and it is now on Region A Blu-ray courtesy of Shout Factory.

Produced by Dino De Laurentiis and directed by Mario Bava, DIABOLIK is pure comic escapist fantasy. The movie isn't worried about being realistic or gritty--the story doesn't even reveal what time or location it takes place in. The super-criminal Diabolik (John Phillip Law) isn't given a backstory, or an explanation on why he commits his fantastic robberies. There's no social or political aspect to what Diabolik does--he's in it for his own pleasure, and for the pleasure of his unbelievably gorgeous girlfriend Eva (Marisa Mell, who happens to be the film's best special effect).

The wild world that Diabolik inhabits is a fertile playground for Mario Bava's visual and technical artistry. The movie is bold, colorful, and fast moving, and it's not worried about logic or trying to make sense. The entire production is helped immeasurably by Ennio Morricone's vivid and vibrant music score, one of his all-time best.

DANGER: DIABOLIK was released on Region 1 DVD by Paramount in 2005. The new Shout Factory Blu-ray is in 1.85:1 widescreen. There's been a few people on the internet that have complained about the transfer on this Blu-ray.....personally, I think it looks fine (I think some have been spoiled by the many outstanding-looking Blu-ray releases of Bava's work in the past few years). The soundtrack on this disc features the original American voice dub, and Morricone's music in particular comes out bold and clear.

All the extras that were on the old DVD are carried over to this release, including the audio commentary with Tim Lucas and John Phillip Law. This talk is important in that it contains Law's memories and opinions on the making of the film.

The only extra provided by Shout Factory is a brand new commentary with Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson. Both are Bava fans and experts (Troy wrote the fine book THE HAUNTED WORLD OF MARIO BAVA). They reveal plenty of pertinent info on the making of the film, but they do it in an enjoyable manner--they obviously had a lot of fun talking about this film. They also discuss various aspects of Bava's career and his style.

Just about every film Mario Bava ever directed has been given a major Blu-ray release in the past decade. DANGER: DIABOLIK finally joins the list. It may not have as many new extras as other Bava releases, but any true fan of the director--or of 1960s cult cinema--has to pick it up.

Friday, May 29, 2020


My last blog post covered the release of the new Blu-ray of THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN from Shout Factory. Among the many extras on the disc is the TV version of the film, prepared by Universal Studios for American network broadcast. (Internet sources claim this TV version was first shown in 1968.)

For this TV version, Universal filmed brand new scenes to lengthen the running time to fit into a two-hour TV time slot with commercials. (The TV version on the Shout Factory Blu-ray runs about 98 minutes.) The new scenes detail a backstory for the character listed in the original movie credits as "Beggar Girl", played by Katy Wild.

In the added scenes, the Beggar Girl is shown as a child, and she's given the name of Rena. Her mother and father are shown, along with a village doctor. The scenes detail how Rena was struck deaf and dumb just by seeing Baron Frankenstein's creation stumbling about in the woods. Later it is revealed that Rena's mother has died, and her father has become a useless drunk. The village doctor suggests that the father take Rena to see a man with new ideas about diseases of the mind--a man called Dr. Freud!!

The added scenes are shot in a rather generic style, and the acting is acceptable, under the circumstances. Needless to say, no one at Hammer Films had anything to do with these added scenes.

The big problem with the TV version's backstory for the Beggar Girl is that it doesn't make a lot of sense. One of the subplots of the original film is that the Beggar Girl has some sort of emotional connection to the Monster, and she treats him with sympathy. If the little girl was so terrified by the Monster that she went deaf and dumb, why would she feel pity for it years later?

Not only did Universal add new scenes to the film, they made a few other changes to it as well. In the original film, the main credits run over a sequence where the Baron is removing a heart from a corpse. This sequence doesn't have gory details--we only see the Baron's face and upper body as he's working. But apparently Universal still thought it was too much, for the TV version has the credits running over a solitary shot of the Baron's laboratory. The heart that the Baron removes is barely shown in the TV version.

The other main changes are the scenes where the Monster attacks the Burgomaster and Zoltan--both of these incidents have been shortened.

As I mentioned in my last post, the TV version of the film that is presented on the Shout Factory Blu-ray looks terrible. The colors have faded considerably, and the sound quality is poor. (I do have to say that the shot compositions are framed rather well for a TV version.) It would be easy to whine and moan about what the TV version looks like here, but at least Shout Factory should get some credit for including it at all.

Watching the poor quality TV version of THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN actually brought back some memories for me. You see, when I first starting watching classic horror and science fiction films on TV as a young teenager, they almost always looked as bad, especially the Hammers.

In the 1980s, when I was starting to become a film buff, there wasn't any widescreen TVs, or internet access, or streaming capabilities. Watching any obscure vintage horror film on TV was a treat. Yes, the colors were faded, it was probably edited, and the sound was poor, and it wasn't in widescreen....but back then the important thing was that you were able to see it, period.

There's no doubt in my mind that today's film geeks are spoiled. Every week we get all sorts of super-duper home video releases of films that are not particularly mainstream, and they are filled with all sorts of extras--and inevitably the first thing people do is complain about them. (I'm guilty of this as well). We should be happy that we are able to obtain these films at all--but we obsess over bit rates, aspect ratios, color saturation...yes, these are important, especially with the costs of some of these releases, but when I first saw the majority of Hammer movies on TV back in the day, I wasn't worried about those things.

Watching the TV version of THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN took me back to a time when watching the movie was the main thing, not arguing about the minutiae of it on the internet. It was as if I was a teenager again, enjoying the adventures of Peter Cushing, and it was late at night....the only thing that was missing were commercials for local small businesses.

Monday, May 25, 2020

THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN On Blu-ray From Shout Factory

Another Hammer Blu-ray from Shout Factory--this time it's the third film in the Peter Cushing Frankenstein series, THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN, released in 1964.

THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN is the odd man out when it comes to Peter Cushing's portrayals of the Baron. It is the only Cushing-Frankenstein film not directed by Terence Fisher, and it does not follow the continuity of the first two films, THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN and THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN. The entire affair is something of a reboot, with the Baron given a different backstory and a different monster (he also has a somewhat different manner and attitude).

Freddie Francis was the director for this one, and he concentrates on the visual aspects of the story. There's a great laboratory sequence, and a fiery climax...but Anthony Hinds' script is very disjointed, and the pace drags. Hammer made this film in conjunction with Universal Studios. This is the one Hammer horror film that does feel like it could have been made in America during the 1940s.

Wrestler Kiwi Kingston plays the monster, and Roy Ashton's makeup for the creature does bear a certain resemblance to the famed Jack Pierce design for Boris Karloff. But the makeup for Kingston is mediocre, and it comes off worse in HD. Kingston is more of a Glenn Strange type than Karloff.

Even the Hammer Glamour element is toned down in this one. Buxom Caron Gardner has a small role as the Burgomaster's wife, but the main female character is a dirt-caked mute beggar girl played by Katy Wild. With all the old-fashioned elements--and some very hammy acting by the supporting players--THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN feels like a run-of-the-mill monster flick (not that there's anything wrong with that).

THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN has been released before on Region A Blu-ray, as part of the Universal Hammer horror set that came out a few years ago. I thought the transfer on that set looked great, and this one does as well. The movie is presented here in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, and the sound quality is excellent.

As usual, Shout Factory gives this Hammer release a number of worthy extras. The new audio commentary features Constantine Nasr, and while he appreciates the film more than most, he does point out its weaknesses. Nasr also refers to the film's original script. There's a making of documentary, with appearances by a number of folks who worked on the film.

"The Men Who Made Hammer" series continues, this time with Tony Dalton discussing the life and career of Freddie Francis. It's revealing and informative, and I wish it could have been longer. I can also say the same thing about a new interview with Katy Wild that is provided. She talks about her work on EVIL and has a telling anecdote about Peter Cushing. There's a very short featurette with Caron Gardner (who seems to enjoy her Hammer girl status), and a short interview with William Cartlidge, who was an assistant director on the film (he reveals he didn't get along with Freddie Francis). The pilot to the proposed late-1950s Hammer-Columbia TV series, TALES OF FRANKENSTEIN, is included as well (this is in the public domain and can be found just about anywhere). A trailer and a stills gallery is also on this disc.

One extra that I have to make special mention of is the American TV version of THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN that was prepared by Universal. It has new scenes added by Universal to lengthen the film to fit into a two-hour TV slot. The quality of this TV version is horrible--nearly all of the colors have faded. Yet I have to say that it reminded me of how I first watched many of the Hammer films on late-night TV as a young teenager way back in the 1980s. As a matter of fact I'm thinking about writing a blog post just on the TV version.

Once again Shout Factory has used the talents of artist Mark Maddox to entice Hammer fans to purchase this disc. Those that ordered the Blu-ray direct from the company got an 18x24 poster of Mark's fantastic artwork for the disc sleeve cover (see photo above). The reverse of the disc sleeve shows the original American poster art for the film.

THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN may be the least entry in the Hammer-Cushing-Frankenstein series--but the fact that it is part of that series makes it suitable for multiple viewings. As expected by now, Shout Factory's extras provide the impetus for Hammer fans to purchase this title on home video again.

Sunday, May 24, 2020


Last night, courtesy of the Tubi streaming platform, I watched a film called ESCAPE TO ATHENA. It is one of those many 1970s big-budget action films that feature an international cast and exotic locations. The movie is set during World War II, and it was made by the same company and producers as THE EAGLE HAS LANDED.

ESCAPE TO ATHENA is a strange concoction. The best way I can describe it is that it's a combination of THE GREAT ESCAPE, THE GUNS OF NAVARONE, and HOGAN"S HEROES. The story takes place somewhere in the Greek islands in 1944, with the country under occupation by Nazi Germany. On one particular island a German POW camp doubles as a archaeology site. The camp commandant is a Major Otto Hecht (Roger Moore). The Major happens to be an Austrian art dealer who is more interested in looting ancient treasures than furthering the Nazi cause. Among the prisoners in the camp are a British professor (David Niven), an Italian cook (Sonny Bono), and a American GI (Richard Roundtree). This motley group works with the local native resistance, which is led by Zeno (Telly Savalas). Zeno's headquarters is disguised as a bordello run by his love interest (Claudia Cardinale). Two vaudeville performers with the USO are interred at the camp, played by Elliott Gould and Stefanie Powers. All of the main characters are really interested in the gold plates supposedly hidden in a local mountaintop monastery. But the monastery is hiding something else--a secret Nazi V-2 rocket base. Zeno uses everyone's greed to convince them to attack the monastery and help the resistance.

The first thing one has to discuss about this movie is the casting of Roger Moore as a Wehrmacht officer. If you can't believe Moore in this role, he plays it as if he can't believe it either. Moore uses a slight German accent, but it just makes him sound more comedic. He's still playing "Roger Moore"--complete with his usual 1970s hairstyle and eyebrow raised in bemusement. Moore spends a lot of time trying to charm Stefanie Powers, and much is made of the fact that he's not a Nazi--so you can probably figure out how his character is going to wind up by the climax.

Roger Moore and Stefanie Powers in ESCAPE TO ATHENA

Moore's light approach seems to have affected most of the cast. Nearly everyone else appears to be enjoying their paid Greek vacation, and the scenes in the POW camp come off as silly at times. The camp hi-jinx do not sit comfortably with scenes of Greek partisans being executed by Nazi firing squads. Elliott Gould in particular overdoes the wise-cracking con artist bit. There's nothing wrong with having some fun in an action-adventure war movie. The problem is that the characters played by Gould, Powers, Bono, and Roundtree are set up as goofy, so when the time comes for them to be involved in violent daring-do, their actions feel phony. There's a great motorcycle chase in this film, with the vehicles zooming in and out of narrow back alleys. The chase would have been even more memorable if Gould's character was not on one of the bikes--you can't believe this guy could get on a motorcycle, let alone drive it at hair-raising speeds on unfamiliar terrain. At least Telly Savalas is absolutely serious as the determined resistance leader. (Due to his ancestry, the actor of all people would know how Greece suffered during Nazi occupation.)

The climax involving the rocket base at the monastery has a James Bond-like feel (ironic, considering who the main star of the film is). There's plenty of well-handled action scenes here--the movie's director was George P. Cosmatos, who would go on to make RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II and TOMBSTONE. The stunts were handled by famed co-ordinator Vic Armstrong, and the special effects by John Richardson. The exotic Greek locations are used to full effect by Gilbert Taylor's cinematography. Lalo Schifrin provides an ethnic-flavored music score that at times resembles his work for KELLY'S HEROES.

ESCAPE TO ATHENA has all the trappings of a great WWII action-adventure, but the approach is too inconsistent. Among the highlights--if that is what you want to call them--in this film are Stefanie Powers doing a striptease to distract the Germans while the POWs are taking over the camp, Sonny Bono beating up Waffen-SS soldiers, Telly Savalas and Claudia Cardinale performing a Greek dance, and a brazen in-joke referencing STALAG 17. There's also a disco song during the end credits!

If ESCAPE TO ATHENA had tried to be a all-out serious action story--and if it had a more authentic cast instead of a notable one--it would have been far more effective. The movie was not a box office success--I don't remember ever hearing about it or seeing advertising for it when I was a kid. If one is interested in seeing it, the widescreen print available on Tubi looks excellent.

Saturday, May 23, 2020


The main reason I watched FUGITIVE LOVERS is that the film featured the Three Stooges. I assumed the movie was heavily influenced by the 1933 award-winning IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT, since the two main characters are trying to avoid trouble by traveling on a bus. The influence is there, but instead of being a screwball comedy, the story goes off on some wild tangents. FUGITIVE LOVERS was made by MGM and released in 1934.

Madge Evans plays Letty, who is working in New York City as a chorus girl (the most common profession for young American female movie characters in the 1930s). Letty attracts the amorous attentions of a pushy (but dopey) gangster called Legs, who is played by Ned Pendleton. (The actor would play almost the same exact role in another MGM film of 1934, THE GAY BRIDE--in that one the chorus girl he's chasing after is Carole Lombard.) Letty decides to get away by taking a cross-country bus trip to California, but the annoying gangster gets on with her. While in Pennsylvania the bus literally drives through a prison break (in a rather violent sequence for the time, we are shown convicts being gunned down by guards). One of the escaped prisoners is Paul Porter (Robert Montgomery), who sneaks on the bus. He obliges Letty by keeping her separated from Legs, and the two start to fall for each other. However, the hunt for Porter is quite intense, and despite various ruses the two are tracked to Colorado, where a horrendous blizzard seals their fate.

If you are watching FUGITIVE LOVERS just to see the Three Stooges, you're apt to be disappointed. The trio have very small roles in the film, and they only appear in the first half of the story. The boys play three vaudevillians, and Moe and Larry have normal hairstyles. Moe isn't bossing or even slapping his partners around--as a matter of fact, Curly yells at him! Ted Healy is in this movie as well, but he and the Stooges do not even interact with one another, which is strange, considering that they were still officially connected with each other at the time. Healy plays the role of an obnoxious drunken passenger (which suits him perfectly). MGM was setting up Healy to be a comedic character actor, but it's obvious they had no idea how to use the Stooges in the short time they were under contract to the studio.

FUGITIVE LOVERS starts out as a situation comedy, but then veers off into something different. It's hard to figure what MGM wanted this film to be. Director Richard Boleslawski and cinematographer Ted Tetzlaff use several off-kilter camera angles and extreme close-ups, and the story has many abrupt shifts in tone. The whole production has a very expressionistic attitude to it, and the pace is lightning-fast. Robert Montgomery isn't a lighthearted playboy here--he's unshaven and downcast, constantly darting his eyes to see if anyone is on to him. We find out that Montgomery's character is in jail for manslaughter, but it's suggested that he may have been railroaded and not guilty of the crime. Montgomery is very good and natural here (I've always thought the actor was much better at drama than comedy).

Madge Evans is one of the dozens of young and pretty Hollywood actresses of the 1930s who all seem to look and act alike. Her Letty comes off as too smart and sophisticated to be just a chorus girl. C. Henry Gordon gives good support as a law officer determined to bring Paul Porter in.

What makes FUGITIVE LOVERS stand out is how unusual it winds up being. At the beginning it appears to be a romantic comedy about a bus trip--but then it segues into a determined manhunt, and then at the climax it changes over to heavy melodrama when Porter and Letty have to save a busload of children trapped in a deadly snowstorm. (Five different writers are listed on the movie's credits.) Watching FUGITIVE LOVERS is like watching two or three different movies at once--and you get an appearance by the Three Stooges to boot.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM On Blu-ray From Warner Archive

One of my favorite classic movies is the 1933 MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM. I first saw it on TV as a young teenager back in the mid-1980s, and I've been fascinated by it ever since. The combination of Gothic horror and Depression-era urban American attitude, the otherworldly look of the two-strip Technicolor process, the fantastic performance by Lionel Atwill--all these elements make the film stand out. (I wrote a full blog post on my appreciation of the movie for a Fay Wray blogathon last year).

MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM was in desperate need of major restoration, and it has finally been blessed by one, courtesy of the UCLA Film & Television Archive and The Film Foundation along with Warner Bros. Warner Archive has released the results on Blu-ray, and it is a magnificent restoration.

It is an old cliche to say "It's like seeing the movie for the very first time", but in this case, that comment certainly applies. A French print of MYSTERY was used to fill in gaps and missing snippets of dialogue and sound effects. The visuals have been cleared up, and everything one sees in the film is more distinct, more vibrant, with much more texture and detail. The entire film, and the characters in it, seem more alive (which is ironic considering the film's plot). The visual enhancement does wonders for Anton Grot's expressive art direction and Ray Rennahan's exquisite cinematography.

Usually Warner Archive Blu-rays contain no extras, but this one has plenty--it must be surmised that the company realized how important this release is. There's a charming interview with Fay Wray's daughter, Victoria Riskin, in which she discusses her mother's life and career in the early 1930s. She also talks about her mother's feelings about MYSTERY director Michael Curtiz. A short featurette on the restoration is provided with narration by film historian and archivist Scott MacQueen.

MacQueen is also featured on one of the two excellent commentaries for this disc. He gives out plenty of background detail on the movie, and his talk includes actual audio of Fay Wray and Glenda Farrell. Alan K. Rode, who has written a book on Michael Curtiz, handles the other commentary, and he reveals plenty of facts as well, but he does it in a conversational manner that avoids being dry or dull. Film buffs will particularly enjoy both talks.

I'm pleased that MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM was the recipient of such a stunning restoration, and I'm even more pleased that Warner Archive chose to release it on home video so that the public can get a chance to properly enjoy it. If there is one Blu-ray that I would proclaim to be a must have for film geeks so far in this mad year, it is absolutely this one.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

TARTUFFE On Blu-ray From Kino

Kino Lorber continues its great line of silent cinema home video releases with the 1925 German film TARTUFFE, made by the famed UFA studios and directed by F.W. Murnau.

What makes TARTUFFE notable is the list of people who worked on it, a lineup of many of the most important talents in the German silent film industry. Besides Murnau, the list includes actors Emil Jannings, Werner Krauss, and Lil Dagover; screenwriter Carl Mayer; producer Erich Pommer; cinematographer Karl Freund; and art directors Robert Herlth and Walter Rohrig.

One would assume that with so many major names involved in the production, TARTUFFE would be a large-scale spectacular. The movie is actually rather intimate, running only little over an hour, and it's certainly not as extraordinary as some of Murnau's other films during this period, such as THE LAST LAUGH, FAUST, or SUNRISE.

The story is an adaptation of a classic play by Moliere, which deals with hypocrisy. A framing sequence depicts a conniving maid and her elderly employer. The old man's grandson knows that the maid is after her employer's money, and to prove this, he takes the rather complicated step of disguising himself and posing as the owner of a traveling cinema. The grandson convinces the maid to let him show a film...which just happens to be based on the story of Tartuffe. The film-within-a-film (which appears to be set in the 18th Century) has the acclaimed actor Emil Jannings as Tartuffe, who has a wealthy gentleman played by Werner Krauss under his spell. The gentleman's wife (Lil Dagover) mistrusts Tartuffe, and she goes to great lengths to prove that this supposed simple and saintly fellow is an absolute fraud.

I had never seen TARTUFFE before, and I expected a heavy drama--but it came off to me as lighthearted in certain sections. The acting is somewhat broad at times, and Emil Jannings' appearance and manner as Tartuffe is so disconcerting that it's a bit difficult to believe he could influence anyone to think he is a man of deep piety. (In his fine audio commentary, Troy Howarth suggests that Jannings' Tartuffe has a slight resemblance to Max Schreck's Nosferatu and John Barrymore's Mr. Hyde.)

Kino presents two versions of TARTUFFE on this Blu-ray, and both of them have been restored by Murnau-Stiftung. The German version runs 70 minutes, and it has German intertitles along with English subtitles. It features a new original score by Robert Israel. The American version runs 64 minutes, and it features a newly recorded adaptation of the original score by Giuseppe Becce. As is usual with a Kino silent movie home video release, the visual quality on both versions is impressive. I do think that the American cut is clearer and sharper.

Author and film expert Troy Howarth does a brand new audio commentary, and even though he doesn't have a lot of time, he manages to mention all the relevant details about the film, while still being able to discuss F.W. Murnau and his filmography. It's worth listening to.

I wouldn't put TARTUFFE on the same level as F.W. Murnau's more well-known silent visual epics, but this is a different type of story. Anyone with a serious interest in German silent cinema would do well to obtain this Region A release.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

A Shocking Personal Revelation About THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK

I take pride in the fact that I am an original Star Wars fan. What I mean by that is I was there at the very beginning in 1977 as a little kid.

Because of that status, I get a lot of questions from those who weren't around to experience the original theatrical releases of the first three Star Wars films. One of the main questions is, "What was your reaction when you first watched THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and found out that Darth Vader was Luke's father??"

The thing about that question is.....I already knew Vader was Luke's father when I saw the movie for the first time.

This requires some explanation.....

When I was a little kid, my love of everything Star Wars was decidedly not shared by my parents. To them, it was some dumb movie about outer space--and it caused them to spend money on buying me various toys, games, trading cards, etc.

My parents were not film buffs by any means. They almost never went to the movies themselves...and they almost never took me and my two brothers to any films. When we did go, it was to a drive-in--as a matter of fact that was how I first saw the original STAR WARS.

My parents also had no interest in anything creative. Their main hobby consisted of arguing with each other, or sitting around watching TV while smoking cigarettes. Actually getting out and going to different places, or doing different things, was not on their radar. They would usually say they didn't have enough money to go out and do things, but they just didn't seem all fired up to experience what was going on in the wide world.

It took me a long time just to get them to take us to see the first STAR WARS. When I found out that THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK would be released in the near future, I immediately went to work trying to convince them that I had to see it.

This wasn't easy. My parents seemed to consider a trip to the local movie theater as complicated as mounting an expedition to Mt. Everest. They didn't want to sit for two hours and watch a silly space movie they had no interest in, and they weren't going to just drop me off so I could watch it on my own (I was 10 years old in May of 1980). My parents also felt that spending money to go see a movie in a theater was a waste, because....won't they show it on TV eventually anyway?? (Trust me, the difference between seeing a film in a theater and it being presented on TV, edited and with commercials, along with the wrong aspect ratio, meant nothing to my parents...and it still doesn't. They literally can't tell the difference between HD and standard def cable channels.)

So, needless to say, I did not get to see THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK on its opening week. (There was absolutely no way any of my parents would have waited in line to see any movie, period.) But that didn't stop me from buying the Marvel comics adaptation of the film.

You have to remember that back then, there wasn't any worry about "spoilers"....heck, there wasn't any internet, or geek culture as we know it now. I was a ten year old kid, and I had no idea when I'd be able to actually see the film. I just had to read the comics adaptation. I just had to know what happened in the movie.

So I read it...and found out that Darth Vader was the father of Luke Skywalker. How did I react to this??

Honestly...I don't remember being overly shocked, or traumatized, or anything like that. I'm sure I was surprised....but even at ten years old, it seemed to make sense to me. I accepted it pretty quickly.

One has to factor in the way it was presented in the original Marvel comic (see panel above, which comes from a reprint). In the comic the revelation is done in a matter-of-fact manner--it is nowhere near as dramatic or emotional as it is in the film. If I had first found out about the revelation in the theater, I'm sure it would have made more of an impact.

I certainly didn't go tearing around the house yelling "Darth Vader is Luke's father!!" For one thing, if my parents had found out I knew the complete storyline already, they wouldn't have taken me to see the movie at all. (Their thought process would have been, "If you know what happens, what's the point of going to see it??") Dad finally take me to see it, along with my brother John. (My little brother Robert didn't go, because he wasn't even two years old at the time). We saw it at the theater located in the Scottsdale Mall shopping center. (Scottsdale Mall doesn't even exist a matter of fact, none of the venues I saw the original Star Wars films in exist now.) I believe we must have seen it sometime in June, 1980.

And what was my response to one of the most anticipated moments of my young life??

I certainly enjoyed the experience...but I must admit that, upon my first viewing, I didn't love EMPIRE the way I did STAR WARS. EMPIRE was impressive, to be sure...but as a little kid I found it to be cold and dark. Granted, at ten years of age I certainly couldn't properly articulate my responses to a certain film....but there was something unsettling about it, At the time it felt like a grown-up's version of STAR WARS....and maybe that's why the film is now considered the greatest overall entry in the entire Star Wars franchise.

Did I miss out on a seminal cinematic moment by finding out that Vader was Luke's father before I saw EMPIRE in the theater?? Maybe...but it doesn't change the scope of the moment, or the greatness of the film.

Monday, May 4, 2020


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

40. That thing about Luke's dad.
39. "You do have your moments."
38. Luke's contacting Leia through the Force--a hint that they are related.
37. The fact that it was a hit--because if it wasn't, there probably wouldn't have been any more Star Wars as we know it.
36. The scene in the cave on Dagobah (which creeped me out as a kid when I first saw it)
35. The Rebel snowspeeders.
34. Darth Vader doesn't have a Star Destroyer--he has a Super Star Destroyer.
33. Artoo going on his tippy-toes to look into Yoda's hut.
32. Han's exclamation of pain when the the tools fall on him.
31. Vader holding his lightsaber with one hand--he's basically showing off in front of Luke in order to intimidate him.
30. All the intricate detail of the Echo Base on Hoth.
29. Vader's deflection of Han's laser blasts.
28. Seeing Wedge again.
27. The way Leia looks at Vader when he stops Boba Fett from firing in the carbon freezing chamber.
26. The shot of Vader's uncovered head while he's in the meditation chamber.
25. The Rebel Deck Officer who tells Han his tauntaun will freeze--the poor guy was just trying to do his job.
24. The Millennium Falcon flying through the asteroid field.
23. The Imperial snowtroopers.
22. "I'm sorry too."
21. The fact that when I first saw it, I thought Yoda sounded like Grover from SESAME STREET.
20. The overall sound design.
19. "Apology accepted, Captain Needa."
18. The fact that it is the greatest special effects film ever made.
17. The Imperial March.
16. "Hello, what have we here??"
15. If anything, Luke is more whiny here than he was in the first movie.
14. The way Vader walks away, lost in thought, at the end.
13. The lighting in the carbon freezing chamber.
12. "All too easy."
11. Every single note of John Williams' score.
10. Boba Fett (with his original voice)
9. "This is no cave."
8. The way Vader strides into the Rebel base as if he's the baddest person in the galaxy--because he is.
7. Han's jacket.
6. The fact that John Ratenzberger is in it.
5. The Imperial walkers.
4. General Veers--the only front line Imperial officer that was worth a damn.
3. "Asteroids do not concern me, Admiral."
2. The lightsaber battle between Luke and Vader--my favorite movie sequence of all time.
1. And the No. 1 thing I love about THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK is.....I love EVERYTHING about THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK!!

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Harry Langdon At Hal Roach: The Talkies 1929-30

Kit Parker Films and The Sprocket Vault mine the Hal Roach comedy archives again with this DVD set of eight short subjects featuring Harry Langdon.

The back of the disc case for this set states, "This is Harry Langdon at his most surreal." That has to be the understatement of the year. The shorts in this set are so bizarre, so flat-out strange, that my first reaction to them was astonishment instead of amusement. Even at his best, Harry Langdon is something of an acquired taste. Langdon carries over his usual silent screen persona to these early sound shorts--that of a quixotic, naive innocent who is not able to function in everyday society. Langdon basically exists in a vacuum during these films--everything that is going on around him seems to have no effect whatsoever.

The eight shorts in this set don't have much of a storyline or plot--a basic situation is set up in each, and Harry spends most of his time trying to accomplish what for anyone else would be simple ordinary tasks. Langdon's antics may seem cute to some, but I'm sure many (even those used to classic movie comedy) might find him exasperating.

Thelma Todd gets special billing on the disc cover, and she appears in six of the eight shorts. It does need to be pointed out that in two of those shorts, she doesn't get much to do. In THE HEAD GUY, she's only in one scene, and in THE FIGHTING PARSON, she's among the crowd of saloon patrons, dressed as a dance-hall girl (you definitely can't miss her)--but she has no dialogue! Considering that she was second-billed in these two shorts, I have to wonder if other scenes with her were cut out in both of them.

The first two shorts in the set, HOTTER THAN HOT and SKY BOY, have lost soundtracks, so on this DVD subtitles are provided, along with original music scores by Andrew Earle Simpson. Actually these two shorts come off better than the rest because they are silent. When Langdon does speak in the shorts, it's usually an absurdist babble that at times is almost unintelligible.

HOTTER THAN HOT is in my opinion the best short of the set, due to the fact that Thelma is in it throughout. Todd also gets a showcase in THE KING, in which she is the queen of a fairy-tale like kingdom. Harry (of all people) is the reigning monarch, and Thelma treats him like a small child instead of a husband, at one point putting him over her knees and spanking him. (Believe it or not, that action is one of the more "normal" things that happen in the shorts on this set.)

The eight shorts on this set two-disc set are not in pristine condition, but the fact that they are getting an official home video release period is impressive. (Most of the shorts here were photographed by George Stevens.) The sound quality is variable at times, but one must remember that these were made during the very early talkie period.

Like the other Hal Roach sets released by The Sprocket Vault, this one has plenty of extras. There's a Spanish language version of THE BIG KICK called LA ESTACION DE GASOLINA, along with English subtitles. A very short feature that was made to announce Harry Langdon joining up with Hal Roach is included (this has Thelma Todd in it). There's also a 1963 program detailing an auction involving property on the Hal Roach studio lot (watching this made me wonder what all that stuff would be worth today). A photo gallery is provided as well.

Film historian Richard M. Roberts does audio commentaries for all eight films on this set. Roberts spends most of his time discussing and analyzing Harry Langdon's film comedy style. Roberts is a fan of Langdon's, and he believes that the man has not been properly appreciated. I wouldn't say that Robert's comments on Langdon made me change my mind on his work, but the talks are interesting and insightful, and they are worth listening to.

The Harry Langdon at Hal Roach DVD set is about as obscure as you can get--and because of that, Kit Parker Films and The Sprocket Vault deserve all the credit in the world for putting them out. I must admit that the major reason I bought this was due to Thelma Todd. I much prefer the silent version of Harry Langdon, especially his feature films THE STRONG MAN and TRAMP TRAMP TRAMP. The shorts on this set are far more weird than funny....but they are intriguing from a film geek standpoint.