Monday, June 29, 2020

The Ray Harryhausen Centennial

On this day 100 years ago, Ray Harryhausen was born. Such an occasion deserves a tribute...but being the ordinary guy that I am, how can I properly articulate his greatness and legacy??

Ray Harryahusen was more than just an exemplary special effects artist. He was a creator, a man who inaugurated a series of films that continue to be regularly enjoyed to this day. Harryhausen was not a writer or director, but all the movies he worked on bear his individual stamp. His influence on fantastic cinema is as important as, say, a Mario Bava or a George Lucas.

Harryhausen could have easily used his immense talents to work on just about any project he wanted, but he chose stories and ideas that he personally wanted to see. He wasn't interested in being a gun for hire, or following any current trends--he made the movies he wanted to make. That's the thing that I admire the most about Ray Harryhausen.

Harryhausen was at the top of his form when he and his producing partner Charles Schneer began a series of colorful fantasy adventures in the late 1950s with THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD. Over the next couple decades Harryhausen and his collaborators adapted ancient myths, and the works of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. These films featured exotic locations, distinguished supporting casts, beautiful women, wonderful music scores from the likes of Bernard Herrmann....and of course the fantastic creatures that sprung from Harryhausen's imagination. These tales do not age--they can be watched by any generation, at any time.

The early 1950s black and white science-fiction films that Harryhausen dedicated his talents to are still entertaining as well. As a matter of fact, is there any Harryhausen film that could be considered terrible?? Not from my viewpoint.

Ray Harryhausen truly loved the power of storytelling, the power of imagination, and he devoted most of his life and art to bringing those loves to the big screen for all to enjoy. An untold number of artists and creators have been, and are still being, influenced by him and his work. I'm sure the films that bear the mark of Ray Harryhausen will have an impact for the next 100 years.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

My Favorite Live-Action Performances In The Films Of Ray Harryhausen

June 29 of this year will mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of Ray Harryhausen. I've spent some time thinking about putting together a tribute post for the occasion....but what sort of tribute post? A list of my favorite Harryhausen films? Or a list of my favorite Harryhausen stop-motion creatures?

Those ideas seemed somewhat generic, so I asked my friends Tim Durbin and Joshua Kennedy if they had anything to offer. It was suggested that I write a list of my favorite human performances in the Harryhausen movies.

The more sarcastic would venture to say that Harryhausen's creations were the best actors in the films he worked on (this has been suggested in several books and articles). It's an easy point to make, but I think it's unfair. The films showcasing Harryhausen's work are filled with capable performers, particularly the colorful adventures made in the 1960s and 70s. It's fair to say that at times the leading men in the Harryhausen films were not as dynamic as one would expect, but the titles always featured notable supporting casts that enlivened the productions.

Any actor who was able to make a mark in a Harryhausen film, when having to compete with fantastic monsters, deserves credit. I think if one looks back on the Harryhausen Cinematic Universe, the overall acting is more than proficient.

Here's my list of favorite live-action performances in films featuring the FX work of Ray Harryhausen.

Kenneth Tobey as Pete Mathews in IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA
Tobey was the quintessential sci-fi movie hero of the 1950s--a stalwart, no-nonsense fellow who looked perfect in a military uniform, and who brought a sense of reality to whatever bizarre situation he was involved in. Tobey appeared in THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS, but I appreciate his performance here more, because he's the actual leading man of the film.

Kerwin Mathews as Sinbad in THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD
If THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD is the ultimate Harryhausen film, then Mathews is the ultimate Harryhausen hero. The actor looked like he came out of a storybook. Whenever I see Mathews in a film or TV show that has a modern story, he seems out of place--he just doesn't look right in modern clothing. Mathews also had the lead role in THE 3 WORLDS OF GULLIVER.

Torin Thatcher as Sokurah in THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD
The ultimate Harryhausen villain. A variation on the character of Sokurah appeared in just about every film that featured Ray's work after 7TH VOYAGE. Thatcher has the same fairy tale quality about him as does Kerwin Mathews.

Herbert Lom as Captain Nemo in MYSTERIOUS ISLAND
Lom's Nemo doesn't get as much attention as James Mason's interpretation of the legendary character. But it's a fine performance, with this Nemo being a true loner, without any sort of crew. Lom is as much of a castaway as the people he decides to help, and the actor elevates the entire production.

Niall MacGinnis as Zeus in JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS
Laurence Olivier played Zeus in CLASH OF THE TITANS, but I much prefer MacGinnis' take on the role. MacGinnis' Zeus isn't overpowering or bombastic....he has a bemused, bored attitude towards the mortals he rules over. He appears to realize that the human race isn't really worth bothering with--the whole thing is a game that he's tired of playing. MacGinnis as Zeus defies expectations, which is why he is so memorable.

Nigel Green as Hercules in JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS
This is my all-time favorite performance in any Harryhausen film. Green's Hercules isn't an exaggerated muscle-bound super-being...he's real, with actual emotions and feelings. Green makes such an impact that after his Hercules winds up leaving the main story, the rest of the film feels as if it's missing something.

Nigel Green as Hercules in JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS

Patrick Troughton  as Phineas in JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS
Troughton plays the pathetic Phineas, a man tormented by the Gods and rescued by Jason and his crew. It could easily have been just another "funny old man" role, but the always-excellent Troughton makes it far more than that. Since I'm on the subject of JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS, I might as well point out that it has the best overall human performances of any Harryhausen film--other actors in it such as Douglas Wilmer, Jack Gwillim, and Michael Gwynn could have made this list as well.

Nancy Kovack as Medea in JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS
Jason again! Actually this is my choice for a female representative of the Harryhausen Cinematic Universe. "Hammer Glamour" is a well-known film geek phrase, but what about "Harryhausen Glamour"? The movies Ray worked on were filled with beautiful women, such as Faith Domergue, Joan Taylor, Beth Rogan, Martha Hyer, Raquel Welch, Martine Beswicke, Caroline Munro, and Jane Seymour. I picked Nancy Kovack as Medea mainly due to her sultry and exotic presence in JASON, and the fact that she's actually much more than just a damsel in distress.

John Phillip Law as Sinbad in THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD
Law's Sinbad is more down-to-earth than Kerwin Mathews' portrayal of the character, and the actor infuses the role with some dry humor. Law is still able to be heroic and swashbuckling when he needs to be.

Koura is basically another version of Sokura, but due to Baker's unpredictable and eccentric acting style, the character stands out. Baker lets it rip at times, but he's perfect for a Harryhausen film.

There's plenty of others I could have put on this list, and I'm sure I'll be reminded of that on social media. Whatever your personal choices may be, this list reminds one that the films of Ray Harryhausen had plenty of great human performances to go along with all the FX master's outstanding creations.

Sunday, June 21, 2020


EERIE TALES (also known as UNCANNY TALES, or the original German title UNHEIMLICHE GESCHICHTEN) is a 1919 silent German anthology film, comprising five tales. All five of the stories feature the same three actors playing the lead roles in each: Conrad Veidt, Reinhold Schunzel, and Anita Berber.

I've read about EERIE TALES in a number of books, but it wasn't until recently that I was able to see it. Tim Lucas' Video Watchblog alerted me to the fact that a version of the movie is on YouTube, with English subtitles. This version runs about 97 minutes.

The film was produced, directed, and co-written by Richard Oswald, and it is the forerunner of the many anthology horror features that would be made decades later, such as DEAD OF NIGHT and THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD.

Like those other titles, EERIE TALES has a linking story which introduces all five episodes. After closing time in a bookshop, the figures in three paintings leave their frames and browse through the various tomes. The figures are the Devil (Reinhold Schunzel), Death (Conrad Veidt), and a woman referred to as "The Flirt" (Anita Berber). The first tale is "The Phenomenon", by Anselma Heine. A man (Veidt) saves a young wife (Berber) from her maniacal husband (Schunzel). Veidt and Berber go off together to a hotel, but when Veidt awakens the next day, the woman has disappeared, and the hotel staff deny any existence of her.

This story would be used several times in the future, notably in the British film SO LONG AT THE FAIR and many episodes of numerous TV series. Reinhold Schunzel makes the biggest impression as the mad husband--he gives off a Peter Lorre-type vibe, even though it would be years before Lorre would appear in a film.

Reinhold Schunzel, Anita Berber, and Conrad Veidt in EERIE TALES

The second tale is called "The Hand", by Robert Liebmann. In this one Veidt and Schunzel once again vie for the attentions of Berber, who is a cabaret dancer here. Schunzel kills Veidt, but soon starts to see the man's ghost everywhere. Eventually the "hand" of Veidt takes its revenge.

This entry has some very expressionistic acting by the performers, plenty of creepy closeups of Veidt, and it gives Berber a chance to display her dancing talents.

The third story is an adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Black Cat". While in a cafe a man (Veidt) overhears that a drunken lout's (Schunzel) wife (Berber) is quite attractive. Veidt takes the drunk home and experiences the lout's repulsive behavior and the wife's charm. After Veidt leaves the drunk flies into a rage and kills his wife. After Veidt learns of the wife's disappearance he goes with the police to the drunk's house, but nothing seems to be amiss--until the woman's beloved black cat reveals what has happened.

What's striking about this version of "The Black Cat" is that it's very similar to the adaptation of the story by writer Richard Matheson and director Roger Corman in the 1962 TALES OF TERROR, particularly in the aspect of the love triangle. Because this is a silent film, we of course cannot hear the cat's cries behind the wall constructed to hide the wife's body--the cat is shown clawing a hole out of it instead.

The fourth tale is "The Suicide Club" by Robert Louis Stevenson. A man (Schunzel) stumbles upon an old house, where a bizarre club holds forth. The club's saturnine leader (Veidt) allows the man to join in the festivities, much to his regret.

Veidt is at his creepiest here in the fourth story, which is enlivened by the set design for the club's secret room and the twist ending.

The fifth and climatic story, "The Spook", is a disappointment. In the 18th Century, the wife (Berber) of an aristocrat (Veidt) is annoyed by the fact that her husband doesn't spend enough time with her. A man (Schunzel) who has been injured in a nearby carriage accident stays at the aristocrat's house, and starts to flirt with the wife. The aristocrat engages in some trickery to make his guest think supernatural happenings are afoot.

Director Oswald is credited as the writer of "The Spook", and this entry brings the film to a desultory end. "The Spook" shouldn't have been put at the climax--it probably shouldn't have been in the film period. It's a drawing-room comedy that has nothing in common with the other tales.

Overall, EERIE TALES has more historic than entertainment value. It's shot in a very flat, ordinary manner, and it's nowhere near as atmospheric as the famed German Expressionist films that would follow in its wake. I do have to point out that the version of the movie I watched on YouTube had a very soft picture quality, and it was hard to make out much background detail. I'm sure the film would look much more effective in a restored print.

As expected, Conrad Veidt makes a major impression in all his roles. His tortured physicality is amazing, and he seems even more emaciated here than he did in THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI (which he starred in after EERIE TALES). Veidt is truly a sight to see in the linking story, where his Death resembles a cross between a ghoul and the lead singer of a heavy metal-Goth rock group. Reinhold Schunzel (who would much later wind up in Hollywood as part of the supporting cast of Hitchcock's NOTORIOUS) more than holds his own against Veidt. Anita Berber doesn't get to chew the scenery as much as her male co-stars, but she's alluring as the cabaret dancer in "The Hand" segment. Before EERIE TALES even starts, the audience is visually introduced to actors Veidt and Schunzel, along with Richard Oswald. For some reason Berber does not appear in this prologue.

EERIE TALES is important for setting the template for all the anthology horror films to follow. (Richard Oswald would do a  sound semi-remake, with the same title, in 1932--I haven't seen that one yet.) What hurts this movie is that the five tales--and the linking story--lack the time and story information to make any one of them truly outstanding. A company like Kino or Flicker Alley needs to release a properly restored version of the silent EERIE TALES on home video, with extras that give background info on the production.

Saturday, June 20, 2020


STREET PEOPLE isn't a film detailing the problems of the's a Italian production from 1976 dealing with the Sicilian mob and stolen drugs. What makes it notable are its two English-speaking stars--Roger Moore and Stacy Keach.

A Sicilian-born mob boss, now based in San Francisco, has a giant crucifix shipped from his hometown church to America, supposedly for the benefit of immigrant dock workers. Over a million dollars worth of illegal drugs has been hidden in the cross, and the stuff has been stolen by the three men assigned to protect it. The mob boss assigns his nephew, the half-Italian-half-English Ulisse (Roger Moore) to track down the thieves. Ulisse happens to be his uncle's lawyer, and he's also a fixer for the "Organization" that the uncle is part of. Ulisse calls in an old friend, a professional race car driver named Charlie (Stacy Keach) to help him on the case. The pair cut a violent swath through San Francisco to get to the drugs and find out who is behind it all.

While watching STREET PEOPLE one can't help but feel that Roger Moore somehow wandered onto the set of the wrong production. It's hard to figure out why, in the middle of his run as James Bond, he chose to be in a R-rated, hard-edged Eurocrime movie. The fact that his character looks and acts just like....Roger Moore, is explained by it being stated that Ulisse had an English father, and he had an English education. It's a good try, but having Moore in this story is the equivalent of casting Abe Vigoda in an episode of DOWNTON ABBEY.

Stacy Keach does a bit better in his role as Charlie, although one wonders why a hot-shot race car driver does special work for the mob (maybe he's a lousy hot-shot race car driver??) Keach also provides the film's humor, even though most of it comes off as silly and out-of-place. Charlie's profession allows for plenty of car chases along with plenty of gunplay. The action scenes are handled well, even if they don't have the slickness of big-budget Hollywood features.

Despite being mostly set in San Francisco, STREET PEOPLE is a thoroughly Italian production, with Moore and Keach being the only major English-speaking actors listed in the cast. The version of this film I saw has an English soundtrack, and the dubbing is mediocre at times (most of the male characters sound almost alike). At times the story is hard to follow--the running time of the cut I viewed was around 92 minutes, and IMDB lists longer edits. I assume that there's a longer European version of the movie out there that might clear up some of the plot points.

Then again, a longer cut of the film might be even more confusing. There's two different directors listed in the credits (Maurizio Lucidi and William Garroni), and eight different writers (including Ernest Tidyman). Eurocult expert Troy Howarth informed me that Roger Moore stated he didn't even understand what type of movie he was working on.

STREET PEOPLE tries hard to be a violent crime story (it's no coincidence that it was released in the U.S. by American-International Pictures). It doesn't present a "tourist" look at San Francisco--the city is presented here as grungy and grimy. (One wonders if S.F. was picked as a location in an effort to try to remind viewers of such films as DIRTY HARRY and BULLITT.) It does have a decent music score by Luis Bacalov, and some Sergio Leone-style flashbacks that examine the past of Ulisse and his Uncle. But none of the characters are very appealing, and most of the situations feel contrived. If anything, STREET PEOPLE proves that Roger Moore didn't belong in Clint Eastwood-Charles Bronson-Don Siegel territory.

Sunday, June 14, 2020


I have long maintained that the greatest film director of them all was John Ford. I've seen nearly every one of his films that are available--but it wasn't until this weekend that I was able to watch his final theatrical feature, 7 WOMEN, released by MGM in 1966. 

The decade of the 1960s was a time of great personal and professional crisis for John Ford. He turned 70 before making 7 WOMEN, and he had a number of physical ailments. His last two pictures, CHEYENNE AUTUMN and YOUNG CASSIDY, were not financial or critical successes, and he was depressed over the state of America at the time. It is said that Ford chose the story that 7 WOMEN was based on to prove to critics that he was not just a relic who could only make cowboy pictures. 

7 WOMEN is set in 1935, at a remote Christian missionary post near the China-Mongolia border. The mission is run by an efficient and dour woman, Miss Andrews (Margaret Leighton). The teachers at the post are on edge due to rumors of Mongolian bandits laying waste to the nearby villages. A new doctor arrives at the mission--a very independent-minded woman named Cartwright (Anne Bancroft). Andrews and Cartwright immediately clash, but the doctor is able to stop a cholera epidemic and take care of a high-strung teacher who is expecting a baby (Betty Field). Two British missionaries (Flora Robson and Anna Lee) arrive fleeing from a village that has been ravaged by the bandits. The Mongolians eventually arrive at the post and take over. Dr. Cartwright chooses to make the ultimate sacrifice to allow the other women to get away to safety. 

7 WOMEN is not a Western, but it easily could be rewritten to pass as one. The remote Christian mission could be turned into a lonely frontier outpost, and the Mongolians could be changed into Native Americans. There are no major strong male characters who come riding in to save the day, however. The pregnant teacher's husband, the only white male at the post (played by Eddie Albert) is a milquetoast--he does become courageous later on, but his heroic act isn't even shown onscreen. The strongest character by far is Anne Bancroft as the doctor. She dresses like a man, smokes like a chimney, and has a cynical attitude toward the entire situation. Bancroft takes the part and runs with it, even though it times she seems too modern. The actress' performance does prevent the film from being totally maudlin. 

Anne Bancroft and Sue Lyon in 7 WOMEN

Much of the story deals with the contrast between the repressed Miss Andrews and Dr. Cartwright. The film suggests that Andrews has feelings for the youngest teacher at the post, a pretty girl played by Sue Lyon (LOLITA). Lyon's character in turn starts to admire the outspoken doctor. The rivalry between Andrews and the doctor grows even more when the Mongolians take over. The bandit chief (Mike Mazurki) desires the doctor, and the woman uses this to help out the rest of the group. Miss Andrews, however, sees the doctor's actions as proving her to be a "scarlet woman", and her religious mania grows as her control over the post goes away. 

Margaret Leighton's acting gets broader as the film goes toward its climax, and there's plenty of other broad performances to go with hers. For me this is the big problem with 7 WOMEN. Maybe John Ford didn't have the energy or the inclination to tone people down, but many of the characters are over the top. Betty Field is so shrill and whiny as the pregnant teacher that one winces whenever she's onscreen. Eddie Albert and Anna Lee are very strident at times as well, and the Mongolians, led by the very non-Asian Mike Mazurki and Woody Strode, are portrayed as brutish louts--they're more cartoonish than dangerous. Flora Robson steals the film with her understated acting. Ironically Sue Lyon was paid more than anyone else in the cast--according to various sources MGM thought she was going to be a big star. Lyon doesn't have all that much to do, and she just can't compete with all the other female acting talent. 

Patricia Neal was originally cast as Dr. Cartwright, but she suffered a stroke a few days into filming. Anne Bancroft was brought in as an immediate replacement. Considering the circumstances, Bancroft did quite well, but one wonders if Neal might have made the doctor come off less contrarian. 

7 WOMEN was not a hit with audiences or critics. Many in the press suggested that John Ford didn't fit in with modern cinema. The movie is shot in a very traditional manner, and it was filmed at MGM studios in California, not on any exotic location. Most of the story was shot indoors on the mission post set, and the movie has a cramped, low-budget look about it. In fairness, this wasn't supposed to be a high-energy adventure tale, but that's what the public seemed to expect from Ford. What they got was a slow and talky drama, devoid of humor, concerning the emotional problems of a very unusual group of women. (I do need to make mention of the movie's fine music score by Elmer Bernstein.)

The film still has a mixed status today among John Ford scholars. In his biography on the director, Joseph McBride defends the film, and states that Ford was proud of it, and that he treated the female cast very well. In his book on Ford, Scott Eyman (who didn't like the movie) suggests that the director was disinterested during the making of it.

7 WOMEN isn't among the top tier of John Ford's work, but it's far more watchable--and thoughtful--than the very last films of many other great directors.

Saturday, June 13, 2020


The 1966 British science fiction film THEY CAME FROM BEYOND SPACE has been released on Region A Blu-ray by Kino Lorber. It is an Amicus production, directed by Freddie Francis with a script by Milton Subotsky. 

Somewhere in England, a group of meteorites, flying in a perfect "V" formation, land in a farmer's field. A scientist who has been researching the possibility of extra-terrestrial life, Curtis Temple (Robert Hutton), is asked to investigate, but due to a recent car crash, he is not allowed to go. A team of his colleagues is sent instead, and they are possessed by alien beings. Due to the strange occurrences happening at the landing site, Temple decides to personally find out what is going on. He discovers a conspiracy involving plague, frozen bodies, and secret rocket trips to the moon. 

THEY CAME FROM BEYOND SPACE is based on a novel called, believe it or not, THE GODS HATE KANSAS. For whatever reason the book struck Milton Subotsky's fancy, and his script for the film contains many ideas that resemble themes from other sci-fi movies such as IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE, INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, and QUATERMASS 2. The story, though, is more derivative than engaging. Freddie Francis and cinematographer Norman Warwick try to bring some visual spice to the tale, but they are hampered by a low budget and some mediocre effects work. 

The big problem with THEY CAME FROM BEYOND SPACE is that it feels like it was made in 1956 instead of 1966 (at least it's in color). The 1950s feel is enhanced by having a past-his-prime American actor like Robert Hutton is the leading man. Hutton is okay, but the movie needed someone with a more distinct personality. 

One issue with the story is that the viewer is shown that the scientific team has been possessed early on. This means that while Hutton spends a lot of time trying to find out what is going on, the audience already knows. Hutton is immune to being taking over by the aliens due to his character having a silver plate in his head because of the car accident, and at one point he makes what looks like a coffee strainer for one of his colleagues to wear to avoid possession. Much of the other "futuristic" technology, such as the aliens' ray guns, resembles kid's toys. 

The climax reveals that the supposed plague is just a front for the aliens to use the "victims" as slave labor, and Hutton stowaways on a rocket to come face to face with the being behind it all--Michael Gough in a guest-starring role as the "Master of the Moon". Unfortunately Gough gets very little to do, and the movie wraps up in a very anti-climatic manner (it's as if everyone involved got together and decided "Let's just end this thing and get out of here"). 

The movie does have several connections to Freddie Francis' other features. Robert Hutton would go on to work with Francis a number of times. Leading lady Jennifer Jayne not only worked for Francis often, she even wrote scripts for him. Francis regular Hedger Wallace is here, credited as Geoffrey Wallace. There's also cameos by Katy Wild and Kiwi Kingston, who appeared in the Francis-directed THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN. 

THEY CAME FROM BEYOND SPACE is presented on this Kino Blu-ray in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, and the transfer is very good. The only extra, beside some trailers, is a new audio commentary with David Del Valle and David DeCoteau. The duo mention just about every other Amicus film, and every other British science fiction film....but they don't seem all that interested in discussing THEY CAME FROM BEYOND SPACE. 

This certainly isn't a great film, but it's not as horrible as some would make it out to be. It will be of interest to Amicus and Freddie Francis fans. For some reason this title has wound up on a number of public domain releases. This Blu-ray is now the best version to get, for those that really want it. 

Sunday, June 7, 2020


I recently discovered on the Tubi streaming channel a 1956 British TV production called THE ANATOMIST. The program is based on a play by James Bridie, which deals with the infamous Dr. Knox and his connection with the legendary murderers and body snatchers Burke & Hare in early 19th Century Edinburgh.

THE ANATOMIST is notable due to the names attached to it. The always entertaining Alastair Sim plays Dr. Knox, and Hammer legend Michael Ripper plays Hare. Other actors with later links to English Gothic that are present here include George Cole (THE VAMPIRE LOVERS), Jill Bennett (THE NANNY), and Adrienne Corri (CORRIDORS OF BLOOD). Various sources also list exploitation maven Harry Alan Towers having a hand in it as well, either as co-producer or co-writer. The onscreen credits list Dennis Vance as producer and director. Internet info also claims THE ANATOMIST was theatrically released in America in 1961.

The story of Dr. Knox's involvement with Burke & Hare has been adapted numerous times for the big and small screen. In my opinion the best version is THE FLESH AND THE FIENDS, made a few years after THE ANATOMIST. Both productions have similarities, but THE ANATOMIST is far tamer.

George Cole is a young doctor assisting the renowned Dr. Knox, who must choose between continuing his anatomical studies or going off with his fiancee (Jill Bennett). The fiancee is mistrustful of Knox and his somewhat notorious reputation. After an argument with his betrothed, Cole goes off to get drunk at local pub, where he encounters a sultry streetwalker (Adrienne Corri) and two disreputable cads named Burke (Diarmuid Kelly) and Hare (Michael Ripper). Later that morning Cole discovers to his horror that Burke & Hare have brought in the woman as a corpse to be used for Dr. Knox's anatomy classes. The story then shifts six months later, after Cole's fiancee returns from an extended trip to Europe. The young woman discovers that Burke & Hare have been hanged as murderers, and the public have turned against the unrepentant Knox.

THE ANATOMIST is very much like a stage play instead of a filmed story--much of it takes place in the drawing room of Cole's fiancee. It's also very talky, with much discussion over morality and the pursuit of science. There's no bodies--or violence--shown (we hear about Burke & Hare's activities rather than see them). Thankfully Alastair Sim is on hand as Dr. Knox. He's always worth watching, using his dialogue like a weapon and out-acting everyone in the cast. Because of the story's setting and costumes, one is immediately reminded of Sim's Scrooge in A CHRISTMAS CAROL. Not only does Knox resemble Scrooge to a certain extent, he sounds like him as well (at one point he even calls someone a "humbug"). There's also the fact that George Cole played the young Scrooge in the '51 A CHRISTMAS CAROL.

Burke & Hare have actually have very little screen time here, but the actors portraying them make a major impression, Michael Ripper in particular. This version of Hare is one of the most evil characters Ripper ever played, sporting a battered top hat and flashing a crazed grin. One wishes there were more to do with the detestable duo--their executions are described, but not shown.

Michael Ripper as Hare in THE ANATOMIST

Adrienne Corri brings some passion in her small role (she's playing the same character that Billie Whitelaw memorably portrayed in THE FLESH AND THE FIENDS), but like Ripper, she doesn't have enough screen time. She's also a bit hard to understand, due to the thick Scottish brogue she uses. As a matter of fact, most of the dialogue in the film is not easy to decipher, because the sound quality of the print on Tubi is poor, and most of the actors have heavy Scottish or Irish accents.

THE ANATOMIST is in black and white, and because it was originally made for television, it's not in widescreen. The sets are quite simple and generic, and the film has a flat visual style. The majority of the few close-ups are given to Michael Ripper's creepy countenance.

The production is nothing more than a curio....but there was one thing about it that caught my fancy. At one point, grave robbers are referred to as "Sack 'em-up men".

Sack 'em-up men....isn't that a great description?? I need to figure out how to use that phrase....

Saturday, June 6, 2020


The book IN SEARCH OF DRACULA, by Raymond T. McNally and Radu Florescu, was one I checked out of school libraries multiple times. The book proposed a link between the character of Dracula created by author Bram Stoker and the real-life Transylvanian historical figure Vlad Tepes. In the early 1970s it was adapted into a film of the same name, with appearances and narration by none other than Christopher Lee. Kino has released the project on Region A Blu-ray.

The film IN SEARCH OF DRACULA was directed by Calvin Floyd, who would go on to make a very authentic version of the Frankenstein story (TERROR OF FRANKENSTEIN). The movie had production help from Sam Sherman's Independent-International Pictures, which is why scenes from Al Adamson's infamous DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN appear in it.

IN SEARCH OF DRACULA is another of those productions I had read about for years, but never actually seen. It's something of a haphazard affair, jumping from one aspect of vampire lore to the next. Several atmospheric European locations are used, including a number in Romania that have a personal connection to Vlad Tepes.

Many legends concerning the undead are presented and discussed (some of these sound as if they come from the imaginations of a writer rather than historical research). There's plenty of examples given about Vlad Tepes' cruelty....if the guy really did commit all the atrocities accredited to him in this film, he'd hardly have time to do much of anything else. (One does have to realize that in a project like this, the "juicy stuff" is going to get the most attention.)

After about an hour, the film starts to slack off (apparently it was lengthened to make it a full-length theatrical feature). A sequence from a silent movie starring Theda Bara is shown (for the sole reason that the actress was a famed "vamp"). There's a discussion about how Mary Shelly created FRANKENSTEIN, and then there's another silent film sequence featuring Bela Lugosi, which has nothing to do with vampires. (Even the stills shown of Lugosi here are not of him as Dracula--obviously no one connected with the production wanted to get sued by Universal.)

What makes IN SEARCH OF DRACULA worthy is the presence of Christopher Lee. His narration is efficiently serious, without being bombastic. Lee not only appears onscreen as himself, he also has a few scenes as Stoker's Dracula, confronting a young woman who is apparently playing Mina Harker. (In these scenes, Lee looks very much like he did in Jess Franco's COUNT DRACULA.) Lee also appears as Vlad Tepes, wandering around various locales. In this guise Lee greatly resembles the historical representations of Vlad, and one automatically thinks about what type of movie could have been made with the actor giving a proper portrayal of the Transylvanian nobleman. There's also a few clips of Lee as the Count in Hammer's SCARS OF DRACULA (thankfully the worst aspects of that film are not shown). Considering what Lee had to say about his association with the character in interviews over the years, it's surprising he was involved in this project at all--but the fact that he was gives the film a degree of respectability that it otherwise would not have had. (Lee evens ends the film in a way that will greatly entertain classic monster movie fans.)

This disc has IN SEARCH OF DRACULA in a 1.37:1 aspect ratio. The sound and picture quality is very good, not spectacular (one has to remember that this was a low-budget documentary made up from several different sources).

Kino does offer up a brand new audio commentary, from Lee Gambin and John Harrison. The talk is as haphazard as the film itself. The duo are enthusiastic, but their conversation goes off on several tangents. I wish they had gone more into the production history of the film itself.

The main reason I bought this Blu-ray of IN SEARCH OF DRACULA was Christopher Lee. The actor's fans will not be disappointed in his involvement in it (his onscreen appearances are cleverly spaced out throughout the film). If Lee had not been in this movie, it wouldn't have merited more than a cursory viewing.

Thursday, June 4, 2020


The other film on the Mill Creek "Classic Crime Double Feature" Blu-ray is NEW ORLEANS UNCENSORED, a 1955 Columbia film produced by Sam Katzman and directed by William Castle.

Former Navy man Dan Corbett (Arthur Franz) arrives in New Orleans looking to purchase a military surplus boat in order to start his own business. To earn money for it, Corbett starts working on the local docks, where he finds out that corruption means more than honest effort. Dan becomes friendly with his foreman Joe (William Henry). The foreman is killed on the orders of a crime boss (Michael Ansara) who is the real power on the docks. Dan decides to join up with the city authorities to root out the gangsters, at the risk of his life.

NEW ORLEANS UNCENSORED starts out with narration stating how important the city's port is, along with a recommendation of the story by a Louisiana senator, and a text thanking various officials for their cooperation. It's fairly obvious those behind the movie didn't want to tick off anyone in New Orleans so they could film there--a few real-life city bigwigs, including a labor leader, have roles as themselves in the picture.

Despite all the official a-okays, the movie still tries to act as if it's a hard-hitting expose of the Big Easy....which it really isn't. There's a couple of dock brawls (in which the participants spend most of the time stumbling and fumbling about), and the murder of Joe the foreman is brutal for the time--he gets multiple slugs in the back. Michael Ansara is a quite effective villain, with Mike Mazurki as one of his main goons. But one has to wonder--if New Orleans is really on the up and up as all the real-life officials attest, how was Ansara able to build up such a criminal organization over the years?

Whenever I see Arthur Franz, I think about all the science fiction movies he was in during the 1950s. Even as a good guy Franz seemed to have a pensive quality about him, and he uses it well here. Franz's character impresses the men at the docks with his fighting prowess, but it must be said that the actor throws some very awkward punches here (even though he had already played a boxer in ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET THE INVISIBLE MAN).

Beverly Garland does her usual fine job as Joe's wife, who becomes close to Dan. Her natural manner gives life to the good girl role. The "bad girl" role (even though she isn't that bad) is filled by Helene Stanton, who plays Ansara's moll.

What makes NEW ORLEANS UNCENSORED stand out is the use of actual locations throughout the city, including (of course) the French Quarter. It gives the story a much more refreshing look than the usual studio backlot sets that would normally be used for such a production. The city locations also breathe some life into William Castle's directorial style.

NEW ORLEANS UNCENSORED is in black & white, and it is presented in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. There are no extras.

I wouldn't call either of the films in this Mill Creek "Classic Crime Double Feature" great, but they are decent endeavors with notable performers in each. Both movies also prove that William Castle could handle a "regular" screen story.

Monday, June 1, 2020


Mill Creek has recently released what they call a "Classic Crime Double Feature" on Blu-ray. The gimmick is that both films on it (HOLLYWOOD STORY and NEW ORLEANS UNCENSORED) were directed by the famed William Castle. Before Castle re-invented himself in the late 1950s as a self-proclaimed master of exploitative shock, he helmed several low-budget Hollywood features.

The first film I'll be looking at is HOLLYWOOD STORY, a 1951 murder mystery made by Universal. It concerns a New York producer named Larry O'Brien (Richard Conte), who has traveled to Hollywood to make his first movie on the West Coast. While examining a run-down studio lot, O'Brien finds out that a leading silent film director named Franklin Farrara was murdered on it in 1929. The case was never solved. O'Brien thinks that Farrara's story would make a great picture, and he begins to investigate what actually happened to the murder victim. O'Brien is warned off the case by a number of people, most of them suspects themselves. The producer keeps digging, endangering his own life along the way.

HOLLYWOOD STORY is an okay B picture which will be of interest to film buffs. Many real-life Hollywood locations are used (at one point we are shown a Christmas parade going by Grauman's Chinese Theater). One can't help but think of SUNSET BOULEVARD when discussing HOLLYWOOD STORY, but Castle's approach is far lighter in tone. Four silent film veterans are given cameos here: Francis X. Bushman, William Farnum, Helen Gibson, and Betty Blythe. SUNSET BOULEVARD portrayed leftovers from the silent era as veritable phantoms, but the quartet of past stars in HOLLYWOOD STORY are shown as happy and well-adjusted.

Conte's investigation of the long-ago murder of a silent film director brings to mind the real-life homicide of William Desmond Taylor. Taylor's case had all sorts of tawdry details attached to it, while Franklin Farrara's murder is humdrum in comparison. At one point Conte goes to a screening room to see some of Farrara's movies....and a clip of the 1925 PHANTOM OF THE OPERA is shown. It is stated that it was directed by Franklin Farrara! (This must have been big news to any of Rupert Julian's relations.)

One of the major attributes of HOLLYWOOD STORY is its supporting cast of fine character actors, such as Henry Hull, Fred Clark, Jim Backus, and Paul Cavanagh. The story is much enlivened by the always welcome presence of Julie Adams, who plays the daughter of a silent screen actress who was involved with Franklin Farrara. Richard Egan plays a police lieutenant that acts so shady, you wonder if he had something to do with the murder. Joel McCrea has a cameo as himself (he's working on the set of a movie that Conte happens to be visiting).

I've always thought that William Castle, once you take away his gimmicks, had a somewhat flat directorial style. HOLLYWOOD STORY has a livelier tone than Castle's usual work, but that's probably due to the fact that Castle didn't produce as well. The style here owes more to what Universal was doing at the time than Castle. The actual mystery isn't all that mysterious, due to the fact that there's not that many suspects.

Surprisingly, Mill Creek gives each of the two films on this set its own disc. HOLLYWOOD STORY is in black & white with a standard 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The sound and picture quality are fine, and there are no extras.

HOLLYWOOD STORY is a decent film, and at 77 minutes, it won't take up too much of your time. But don't expect a hard-edged thriller.