Saturday, December 31, 2022

My Top Five Blu-rays of 2022


It's once again time for my annual top five Blu-rays of the year list. 

This list might have been much different if a couple of releases had not gotten delayed until 2023...but that's a story for another post. This year, the top two spots were very easy to pick, but the rest of the list was a bit of a tossup--it could have gone a number of different ways. 

I also need to point out the entries on this list are discs that I have actually purchased and watched. Nobody sends me any screeners (and I certainly don't expect any). 


Another fantastic set from Arrow, containing four somewhat obscure Italian chillers that had not been given an official Region A release. Stacked to the gills with extras. I wrote a full review of the set in November. 


Severin honors the great cinema legend again with this follow-up to their first Lee-Eurocrypt set from last year. The movies in this set are not as notable as what was in the first one, but the extras and the overall presentation more than make up for it. My blog post on this was written in June. 

3. DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE from Warner Archive

Warner Archive continues to delve into 1930s Hollywood Gothic with this magnificent presentation of Rouben Mamoulian's 1931 version of the classic tale. The picture and sound quality has been brilliantly restored. My review of it was posted in October. 

4. THE BRAIN FROM PLANET AROUS from The Film Detective 

A goofy movie, but, in my opinion, a fun one....and that's exactly how The Film Detective presents it on this disc, with all sorts of great extras. My post on this one was in July. 


I reviewed this documentary in August--but this Blu-ray release of it is notable for having two hours of alternate footage--you basically get two excellent full-length documentaries about Boris here. 

Saturday, December 24, 2022

PANIC (1963)


In the new issue of MIDNIGHT MARQUEE magazine, there's an excellent article detailing the life and acting career of Milton Reid. The brawny, bald Reid made several memorable appearances in numerous cult films made in the 1960s and 1970s, and Christopher Gullo's article shines some much-needed light on the man. 

Most of Reid's screen roles didn't give him a lot of screen time, or much dialogue--his size and menacing personality were usually what filmmakers were after. Most of Reid's roles had no dialogue, and even if there was any, it was almost always spoken by the dubbed voice of another actor. 

In Christopher Gullo's article he mentions a British film called PANIC, originally released in 1963. Gullo details that in this movie, Reid isn't a threat...and he even gets to use his own voice! This caught my attention, so I wound up looking for the film on YouTube, and I was able to find it and view it. 

PANIC is a low-budget black & white suspense tale, with plenty of noir elements. Overall the movie reminded me of the type of productions made by Hammer Films in the early 1950s, before they found their niche with science-fiction and Gothic horror. The Hammer comparison also extends to the cast & crew. The director and screenwriter of PANIC was John Gilling, who made this picture in the middle of a run of work for Hammer. Among the cast are plenty of faces familiar to Hammer fans--the aforementioned Reid, Marne Maitland, Duncan Lamont, and Phillip Ray. 

The main character in the story is Jan (Janine Gray), a young Swiss woman living in London who works at a diamond exchange. Jan's no-good boyfriend Johnnie (Dyson Lovell) uses information from her to plan a robbery at the exchange after hours. Johnnie's two accomplices who actually commit the crime kill Jan's boss (Phillip Ray), and also knock Jan out. When she comes to, she's in shock, and she's suffering from a loss of memory. She wanders about London, trying to figure out who she is and what happened, while the police and Johnnie are also searching for her. 

Jan winds up meeting several eccentric and shady people during her experience. After she leaves the diamond exchange in a daze, she eventually checks into a seedy hotel. It's there that Milton Reid appears. At first, due to his appearance it seems that Reid wants to take advantage of Jan...but he winds up saving her from the lascivious attentions of the hotel manager (Marne Maitland). Reid speaks his lines softly, but his voice is clear and his words are easy to understand. Unfortunately after this sequence neither Reid or Maitland appear again in the film. 

Jan also shows up at a cafe, where she's accosted by a group of beatniks. A kindly, past-his-prime boxer named Mike (Glyn Houston) comes to her rescue, and decides to help Jan in her quest to find out what is going on (by this time she's now wanted for questioning in two different murders). At this point Mike almost becomes the main focus of the story--he agrees to a fight he can't possibly win, just to raise money so he can get Jan out of London. Mike is obviously attracted to Jan--he sadly explains to her at one point that his wife walked out on him--but he doesn't try anything on her. (One does have to wonder, though, whether Mike would go to all this trouble if Jan wasn't young and pretty.) All this leads to an ending that is rather abrupt--it's as if the movie reached the end of its budget. 

PANIC is an okay film, but it's a very mild thriller. The fact that it is only about 70 minutes long, and in full frame ratio, makes it seem like a TV episode instead of a full-fledged feature film. One problem is that the audience is one step ahead of Jan all the way--she's searching for info that we already know. The story should have focused more on her instead of Mike, and the machinations of Johnnie and his accomplices. It might have been better if the movie started with Jan waking up at the diamond exchange, with a dead body next to her, and the viewer not knowing any more than she does. 

John Gilling and cinematographer Gregory Faithfull try hard to give PANIC a noir-like feel. They do, however, use plenty of close-ups--maybe this was an attempt to make Jan's plight more intimate, or maybe it was due to the low budget. Gilling was used to dealing with unusual material, and he was quite proficient at getting the most out of very little to work with, but I have to say that PANIC isn't one of his better films (or scripts). 

PANIC is very much a "It's late at night, and I can't get to sleep" type of movie. There is enough here to interest Hammer fans. As for Milton Reid, he once again makes a large impression with a small role. In all honestly Reid should have played the part of Mike--PANIC would have been more notable if he had. 

Friday, December 23, 2022

Book Review: OF MICE AND MEN--Mental Enfeeblement, Racism, and Mercy-Killing In 1939 Hollywood


This is Greg Mank's third book released this year--and it's just as great as the other two. OF MICE AND MEN--Mental Enfeeblement, Racism, and Mercy-Killing In 1939 Hollywood--thoroughly examines the classic film directed by Lewis Milestone and produced by the Hal Roach studios. It also covers the famed John Steinbeck novel upon which it was based. 

Steinbeck's tragic story was truly a trending topic in 1930s America, and the controversies surrounding the dark elements involved in the tale made it an enticing but difficult subject for Hollywood filmmakers. Mank goes into detail on how OF MICE AND MEN got to the screen, and the complicated steps that were involved. 

Particularly intriguing are the various actors that Mank reveals were considered for the lead roles, such as James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart as George. The eventual stars of the 1939 OF MICE AND MEN--Burgess Meredith, Lon Chaney Jr., and Betty Field--seem perfect for their parts now, but there was much discussion and haggling before the final cast list was set. The author also gives a day-by-day report on the actual shooting and post-production of the film, with a look at scenes that didn't make the final cut. 

Mank's book will be of great interest to Lon Chaney Jr. fans. Lon Jr. is now best known for his classic horror film roles, but Mank shows that the making of OF MICE AND MEN was a pivotal and important moment in Chaney's life. As detailed by Mank, the positive critical and audience response to Chaney's striking performance as Lennie gave the actor, for a brief moment, mainstream respect and acceptability. 

The author also goes into how the year of 1939 affected OF MICE AND MEN's chances for awards and citations. 1939 is now known as classic Hollywood's greatest year, and the competition OF MICE AND MEN was up against was staggering. There's also a look at how another Steinbeck adaptation, THE GRAPES OF WRATH, wound up overshadowing OF MICE AND MEN. 

The book, published by Bear Manor Media, is a fast-paced read illustrated by several behind-the-scenes photos. In his usual style, Mank interweaves the real-life personal issues of the people involved in the making of the film with the dramatics shown on screen. Other stage, TV, and screen adaptations of the novel are briefly touched upon as well. 

I was assigned to read OF MICE AND MEN while in high school, and my English class was shown the 1981 TV version of the story (which I barely remember). Back then I just thought of it as another book to read. I have a much better appreciation of it now, and Greg Mank's fine book inspired me to watch the 1939 version again. I do believe it is the best adaptation of the story, mainly due to Lon Chaney Jr's performance and the fact that it is a 1930s story filmed in the 1930s, after all. Lewis Milestone, the main driving force behind the production, created a haunting, authentic, and hard-hitting story that was faithful to the source material and still within the confines of classic Hollywood--a feat many thought impossible. Greg Mank's work here is a tribute to the film and a fascinating report and analysis of it. 

Saturday, December 17, 2022



This film version of Emily Bronte's novel is covered in John Hamilton's book on the English productions of American International Pictures, WITCHES, BITCHES AND BANSHEES. The book inspired me to seek out the film and watch it. 

I have to say that I've never read Emily Bronte's novel, and I've never even been all that impressed by the famed 1939 film adaptation that was produced by Samuel Goldwyn and directed by William Wyler. WUTHERING HEIGHTS is the type of story I'm not all that interested in. The 1939 version is well done, but it also has too much of a "Hollywood English" type of feel to it. 

At first glance WUTHERING HEIGHTS seems a bizarre choice for a AIP project. The studio was much more familiar with Poe than the Bronte sisters, and the exploitative instincts of Samuel Arkoff & James Nicholson have little in common with classic English literature. AIP was hoping to appeal to the youth market by promoting WUTHERING HEIGHTS as a romance between two young rebels, and they were also hoping to expand into a more mainstream field. 

The choice of director for AIP's WUTHERING HEIGHTS, Robert Fuest, also now seems bizarre. Fuest is best known for the two DR. PHIBES films and for THE DEVIL'S RAIN. These movies had a decidedly off-kilter visual and storytelling style that matched Fuest's personality--he's now considered something like a 1970s Tim Burton. One must remember that Fuest made WUTHERING HEIGHTS before the Phibes films, and he handled a dark love story set in late 18th Century England very well. 

This version of WUTHERING HEIGHTS was filmed in Yorkshire, and Fuest and cinematographer John Coquillon take great advantage of the dreary, cloudy, windswept locations. The look of this production perfectly matches the grim characters--it feels more real, and more natural, than the 1939 version. 

AIP didn't cast big stars in the lead roles of Cathy and Heathcliffe (the company couldn't have afforded to cast big names anyway). Young (and at the time little-known) actors Anna Calder-Marshall and Timothy Dalton were cast. The two are certainly not Merle Oberon and Laurence Olivier, but for this particular version perhaps that's a good thing. What hurts their performances as the complicated couple is that, at least from my perspective, they come off more as brother and sister than as passionate lovers. The script for this version even suggests that Cathy's father sired both of them (and I'm sure that influenced my outlook on the relationship between the characters). 

For me Anna Calder-Marshall's Cathy was just too low-key, and lacking in personality. You can understand why she's obsessed with Heathcliff, but you don't necessarily believe this Heathcliff would be obsessed with her. Dalton's Heathcliff is more sullen and jealous than lovelorn (he also spends almost the entire first half of the movie covered in dirt). Dalton makes a dashing figure, but he's also more of a rebellious bad boy. (Ironically Dalton would go on to portray a couple more legendary literary figures made famous by other actors: James Bond and Rhett Butler.) 

Hilary Dwyer, who played Cathy's upper-class sister-in-law Isabella, was already a AIP veteran, having already appeared in WITCHFINDER GENERAL, THE OBLONG BOX, and CRY OF THE BANSHEE. Dwyer, who looked absolutely exquisite in period costume, has far more screen presence than Calder-Marshall, and her scenes with Dalton's Heathcliff have far more passion. (Heathcliff marries Isabella mainly to spite Cathy.) I think Dwyer would have made a better Cathy than Calder-Marshall. 

WUTHERING HEIGHTS does have a very notable supporting cast, with Julian Glover, Hugh Griffith, Ian Ogilvy, Harry Andrews, and Peter Sallis. For my money, the most notable performance is given by Judy Cornwell as the loyal maid Nellie. Unfortunately most of the supporting players get very little screen time, and very little chance to make much out of their characters. 

One main reason for this is that, according to John Hamilton, Robert Fuest's original cut of the film ran over two hours, and AIP edited it down to 104 minutes. There are times in this film when the plot seems rushed, and various characters pop in and out briefly. Fuest's original cut might have given more depth to the story, and more understanding to the motivations of the people involved in it. 

AIP also came up with an ending that suggested Heathcliff and Cathy were reunited in the afterlife. I don't think this has much of an impact, simply because this Heathcliff and Cathy are not very appealing. AIP had high hopes for their WUTHERING HEIGHTS, and they were even considering a run of classic literary adaptations also starring Timothy Dalton. The movie's critical and box office reception was underwhelming, and AIP decided to stay away from any other similar tales. (Reading some of the critical responses to the film in John Hamilton's book, it seems as if the reviewers were more angry at the fact that it was made by AIP than how it actually came off.) 

Personally, I thought the 1970 WUTHERING HEIGHTS was better than I expected--once again it's not the type of story I would seek out on my own. The look and the settings of it impressed me the most, along with Michel Legrand's music score. I also gained a greater appreciation for the directorial talents of Robert Fuest. This WUTHERING HEIGHTS and THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES are as different as two movies could be--yet Fuest helmed both of them quite effectively. 

Saturday, December 10, 2022



The 1975 caper film INSIDE OUT is a English/German production, filmed mostly in Berlin, dealing with an attempt to loot some hidden Nazi gold. 

30 years after the end of WWII, a swindler (Telly Savalas), an ex-con (Robert Culp), and a retired German military officer (James Mason) hatch a scheme to break out a notorious Nazi bigwig named Reinhard Holtz out of "Siegfried Prison" in Berlin. The motley group is convinced that Holtz knows where a large cache of Nazi gold is buried. As expected, various complications ensue, and the group has to improvise at the drop of a hat to carry off their fantastic plot. 

Telly Savalas already had some experience in going after Nazi gold in KELLY'S HEROES. Here Telly seems to be having a great time, reacting to every obstacle with a well-placed quip. The entire movie, in fact, has a lighthearted air to it. INSIDE OUT isn't a intense suspenseful thriller--it's rather tame for being an international production made in the 1970s. It's rated PG, and it has a very TV movie type of feel to it, especially since Savalas and Robert Culp were long-time American small-screen stars. 

INSIDE OUT was capably directed by Peter Duffell (THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD), and the Berlin locations look fine due to John Coquillon's cinematography. But even for a caper film, the story line is rather far-fetched. Why are Telly and his gang so convinced that an old Nazi will remember an incident over thirty years ago, and why are they so convinced that the large amount of gold will still be where it is supposedly buried? They seem to be taking a major chance over a huge long shot, but this is, after all, what characters do in these types of movies. 

As part of their plan, one of the minor members of Telly's group pretends that he is Hitler in order to convince the drugged-up Holtz to give up the info on the gold's whereabouts. (Nazi gold and fake Hitlers have been elements and a surprisingly high number of features.) Rienhard Holtz, the old Nazi, is held in a prison all by himself, and he's constantly watched by the military of four different countries. Holtz is obviously meant to remind the viewer of Rudolf Hess--so much so that one wonders why the script just didn't go ahead and call the character Hess. (Were the filmmakers afraid of somehow getting sued?) Ten years after INSIDE OUT was made, WILD GEESE II used Rudolf Hess as an actual character in another story involving breaking the man out of his internment. 

INSIDE OUT is a decent, if not particularly memorable, heist tale. 

Monday, December 5, 2022



Euro Western time again. This one is JOHNNY YUMA, a 1966 German/Italian co-production that has nothing to do with the character of the same name that was played by Nick Adams in the TV series THE REBEL. 

This Johnny Yuma is played by Mark Damon (HOUSE OF USHER), who was already a spaghetti western veteran by this time. Johnny is on his way to his uncle Thomas Felton's sprawling ranch, where he's expected to take charge of the place. Before Johnny gets there his middle-aged uncle is murdered due to the machinations of the young, beautiful Mrs. Felton (Rosalba Neri) and her conniving brother. Johnny plans to avenge his uncle and take his rightful inheritance, while dealing with a mysterious gunslinger named Carradine (Lawrence Dobkin). 

JOHNNY YUMA has plenty of familiar elements, but it also has enough novel twists to make it an above average Euro Western. Mark Damon's Johnny isn't a scruffy loner--when not battling bad guys he's an amiable enough fellow, and he's also definitely a ladies man. A gigantic bar brawl gives Damon a chance to show off his fighting and shooting skills, and it appears the actor does most of his own stunts. 

Damon makes a decent hero, but the main highlight here is Rosalba Neri, Lady Frankenstein herself, as Samantha Felton. Neri's Samantha is a sexy, but cold-blooded femme fatale who is willing to do anything--and use anyone--to get what she wants. Samantha's treachery knows no bounds, and I'll even say that Neri makes her one of the most memorable female characters in spaghetti western history. 

American character actor Lawrence Dobkin's performance as the taciturn Carradine also deserves some mention. Dobkin brings a strong, silent presence, and the relationship between his Carradine and Johnny Yuma is somewhat reminiscent as that between Colonel Mortimer and The Man With No Name in FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE. Carradine also is a former flame of Samantha's, giving the story some added depth. 

JOHNNY YUMA isn't as over-the-top as most entries in this genre, but in the second half of the film there is a very unexpected, very shocking, and very brutal killing of one of Johnny's companions. I personally didn't think this event was necessary, other than giving Johnny even more of a reason to get revenge (as if he needed any). 

Director and co-writer Romolo Guerrieri injects a few inventive camera angles and scene set-ups, and the lively music score was by Nora Orlandi (it was very rare for a woman to score a Euro Western). 

My expectations were not very high for JOHNNY YUMA, and I have to say the movie more than exceeded them. It's well-paced and entertaining, and it's worth watching for Rosalba Neri alone. The movie is available on a number of streaming channels, but I found the sharpest-looking print of it on YouTube. 

Rosalba Neri in JOHNNY YUMA

Sunday, December 4, 2022



One of the things John Hamilton's magnificent book WITCHES, BITCHES AND BANSHEES makes clear is that not all of American International Pictures' British co-productions were horror films. AIP was involved in a 1967 film which was titled THOSE FANTASTIC FLYING FOOLS in the U.S. The movie was called JULES VERNE'S ROCKET TO THE MOON in the U.K., despite the fact it had really nothing to do with the famed author's work. I watched THOSE FANTASTIC FLYING FOOLS on the EPIX streaming channel, and it was a sharp-looking, uncut widescreen print. 

THOSE FANTASTIC FLYING FOOLS isn't a science fiction tale--it's more in the vein of such lighthearted family epics as THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES, THOSE DARING YOUNG MEN IN THEIR JAUNTY JALOPIES, CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG, and THE GREAT RACE. Those movies were on TV constantly when I was a kid in the 1970s--and they would all invariably bore me. They were never as fun as they were made out to be, and they all went on too long. THOSE FANTASTIC FLYING FOOLS follows the same pattern. It literally and figuratively never gets off the ground--it has almost no actual flying in it. 

The story, set in the late 19th Century, revolves around P. T. Barnum (Burl Ives) and a number of eccentrics attempting to build a rocket and send it to the moon. A caddish bounder (Terry-Thomas) and his unwilling accomplice (Lionel Jeffries) conspire to stop the project. 

John Hamilton's book details that Bing Crosby, of all people, was originally announced to play P. T. Barnum. I think this may have been wishful thinking on AIP's part--Crosby wasn't able to do it, and he would have been miscast as the brash Barnum anyway. Burl Ives is much more fitting in the role, and he's surrounded by such capable supporting players as Terry-Thomas, Gert Frobe, Lionel Jeffries, and Dennis Price. The main problem is that these performers are not given anything interesting to do--not matter how funny they try to act, they only wind up being mildly amusing. 

The uncut version of the film is about two hours long, and it moves like a slow-moving river. Troy Donahue, as the stalwart American involved in the rocket project, doesn't help things much, and even the sultry Daliah Lavi as Donahue's love interest isn't able to spice the plot up. 

This movie was produced by the infamous Harry Alan Towers, which is surprising, since it doesn't have any of the notorious aspects of the man's usual work. THOSE FANTASTIC FLYING FOOLS was filmed in Ireland, and director Don Sharp and cinematographer Reg Wyer take great advantage of the outdoor locations. This is one of the best looking-films produced by Harry Alan Towers, and the production design and the costumes are fine as well. One wishes that AIP and Towers had used the cast & crew of this movie on a feature more worthy of their overall talents. 

THOSE FANTASTIC FLYING FOOLS didn't make much of an impact critically or financially in either America or England. Sometime later AIP would cut the film down to 95 minutes and re-release it as BLAST-OFF in order to try and take advantage of the publicity over NASA's Apollo program. (For all I know, that version might play even better.) 

While watching THOSE FANTASTIC FLYING FOOLS, I couldn't help but wonder why so many filmmakers in the 1960s made silly, overlong stories set in the 19th Century filled with numerous British character actors and outlandish contraptions, and why they felt that these productions would be prime examples of "family entertainment". (DOCTOR DOOLITTLE is another title in this strange mini-genre.) I would assume that any family that chose to sit in a movie theater and spend over two hours watching one of these things would have been bored stiff. 

Saturday, December 3, 2022



From LITTLE SHOPPE OF HORRORS magazine comes a magnificent 365-page book called WITCHES, BITCHES AND BANSHEES, written by John Hamilton. 

The subtitle of the book--"The British Films of American International Pictures"--makes things perfectly clear. American International--more fondly remembered as AIP--was the company behind many of the most famous low-budget exploitation movies made in 20th Century. AIP had a long history with producers and distributors across the pond, and John Hamilton fully documents it in an extensive and entertaining manner. 

Among the movies thoroughly examined here are the famous (THE VAMPIRE LOVERS, the only time AIP and Hammer Films directly worked with each other), the infamous (KONGA), and the surprising (a version of WUTHERING HEIGHTS with a very young Timothy Dalton). 

Each film covered gets a deluxe treatment, with plenty of info, rare stills and images, and a review of how each title was marketed and received by audiences and critics. Despite the volume of material, this book isn't just a dry recitation of facts--the author keeps things lively, especially with his sardonic comments upon the plot elements of each feature. 

Hamilton also discusses the lives of the filmmakers behind these titles--a group of renegades and mavericks who seem almost to be like movie characters themselves. James Nicholson, Samuel Arkoff, Herman Cohen, Harry Alan Towers, Deke Heyward, Tony Tenser, Milton Subotsky....the quirks and peculiarities of these men are more intriguing than anything shown in the movies they made. 

Of course the stars of these films are given plenty of attention as well--consider the book's front cover art by Paul Watts, which depicts genre legends Karloff, Price, Cushing, Lee, Steele, and Pitt. They're all here, along with all sorts of on and off set gossip and squabbles. 

The book is lavishly illustrated, with many of the stills and images in color. If you are familiar with LSOH magazine, the book's clean and concise overall design is somewhat similar. 

From my viewpoint, WITCHES, BITCHES AND BANSHEES is an exemplary piece of work (it's almost as if it was written just for me). The effort and detail by John Hamilton is massive. The book also serves as a mini-history of not just American International Pictures, but of the entire English Gothic movie period of the late 1950s to the early 1970s. For me, WITCHES, BITCHES AND BANSHEES is the movie book of 2022. 

*The book can be ordered directly from the LITTLE SHOPPE OF HORRORS website:  

Friday, November 25, 2022



Mae Clarke is best known for two things: her role as Elizabeth in the 1931 FRANKENSTEIN and having a grapefruit shoved in her face by James Cagney in THE PUBLIC ENEMY. She deserves to be known for more than that, though. Clarke was an extremely versatile actress who always managed to make an impression in every film she was in, no matter how small the part. 

She was infinitely tragic in WATERLOO BRIDGE, yet she was also convincing as conniving women in FAST WORKERS and LADY KILLER. Clarke even stole a movie away from Jean Harlow in THREE WISE GIRLS. She could be fragile and demure, but when she had to she could present a Barbara Stanwyck-like spunky attitude--no surprise considering that Stanwyck and Clarke were pals and roommates when both of them were struggling chorus girls in 1920s New York City. 

Clarke shows plenty of that spunk in the 1933 Columbia film PAROLE GIRL. Mae plays Sylvia Day (no relation to me), who gets caught up in an extortion racket aimed at a department store. Sylvia's partner Tony (Hale Hamilton) leaves her to suffer the consequences, which involves spending a year in jail. Sylvia decides to get revenge on the store big-wig who ordered that she be prosecuted, Joe Smith (Ralph Bellamy). Sylvia uses an ingenious plan to get released after only a month, and she proceeds to stalk Joe, take advantage of him during a drunken night out on the town, and convince him that they were married. Complicating the situation even more are Tony and the woman who claims to have married Joe years before (Marie Prevost). 

PAROLE GIRL gives Mae Clarke plenty of chances to show off her versatility. She goes from tearfully pleading to not be prosecuted, to being hard-as-nails and determined to get her hooks into Joe, to acting as a dutiful, loving wife to impress Joe's boss. The script attempts to set up Sylvia as a victim of circumstances, but her ability to take advantage of whatever situation comes up makes a viewer wonder how innocent she really is. 

One expects PAROLE GIRL to be a hard-edged Pre-Code look at female criminality, but it's nowhere near as salacious as one would expect. It has plenty of comic moments, and Sylvia makes it very clear to both Tony and Joe that her relationships with them are strictly business. Ralph Bellamy's Joe has many of the slow-witted, naive elements one would see in the actor's later screwball roles, but Bellamy also gets to do a drunk scene, and he even gets to strike Sylvia at one point. A series of contrivances sets up a happy ending, but one feels there's no way Sylvia and Joe would last as a couple. 

A rather misleading lobby card for PAROLE GIRL

Mae Clarke by far is the main attraction of PAROLE GIRL. She sports a sleek, modern hairstyle, and she gets to wear plenty of fashionable outfits. Personal problems and health issues would stymie Clarke's career just as it was gaining momentum, but I have to say that every time I see one of her performances, my admiration for her acting talent grows. 

Thursday, November 24, 2022



TWO FOR TONIGHT is a 1935 comedy-musical from Paramount Pictures, starring Bing Crosby. It is mainly notable for being the last feature film in which Thelma Todd had a significant role. (It was planned for Todd to have a major part in the Laurel & Hardy movie THE BOHEMIAN GIRL, but after her death her footage was cut down to little more than a cameo.) 

Bing Crosby plays Gilbert Gordon, an aspiring crooner who through unusual circumstances has to write an entire play in a week for a big-shot Broadway producer (Lynne Overman). The play must also be a showcase for the producer's demanding actress girlfriend Lily (Thelma Todd). Gilbert is more interested in the producer's secretary (Joan Bennett), while fending off the advances of Lily. 

TWO FOR TONIGHT tries to be a zany screwball comedy, but Frank Tuttle's direction is uninspired, and the supposed madcap antics don't fit very well with Bing Crosby's laid-back personality. The movie is only an hour long, and there's not much to it. Bing sings five songs--none of them all that memorable--and Joan Bennett (back when she was a blonde) spends most of her time watching Crosby sing. 

The attempts at wild humor include Bing sitting in a tree while a plane crashes into it (don't ask how that came about) and a seltzer bottle fight in a nightclub among dozens of patrons. These sequences are more lackluster than laughable. The main screwball antics are provided by Mary Boland as Bing's ditzy mother. 

This film does serve as a decent summation of Thelma Todd's feature film roles in general. Thelma has a supporting part, she causes complications for the leading man, and despite not having a lot of screen time she manages to overshadow the leading lady. It's the type of role Thelma did over and over again. 

Thelma Todd and Lynne Overman

I didn't think much of TWO FOR TONIGHT, but I expect that Bing Crosby fans will have more appreciation for it. 

Sunday, November 20, 2022



Streaming now on HBO Max is the new documentary SAY HEY, WILLIE MAYS!, directed by Nelson George. 

It is universally acknowledged among sports fans that Willie Mays is one of the greatest baseball players of all time. Yet it seems that writers and the mainstream media are not as obsessed with Mays as they are with the likes of Mantle, Di Maggio, Ted Williams, etc. This film gives Mays some much needed attention. Most of the running time consists of Mays on camera talking about his life and playing career. The Say Hey Kid may be 91 years old now, but he's still very sharp and gregarious, and he appears to enjoy reflecting upon his amazing story. 

The documentary proceeds in a straightforward manner, starting with Mays' upbringing in Alabama, his time in the Negro Leagues, and his immediate impact upon joining the New York Giants in 1951. The film details the Giants' move to San Francisco in 1958, and how it took Mays awhile to gain acceptance in Northern California. There's also plenty on Mays' return to New York in 1972 when he was traded to the Mets. 

SAY HEY, WILLIE MAYS! runs almost 100 minutes, but the subject's personal life is barely touched upon. What is discussed is Mays' choice to avoid making political & social statements, even in the volatile 1960s. It's obvious that Mays would much rather talk about baseball more than anything else. 

Several of Mays' former teammates and contemporaries are interviewed, and much is made of Willie's very close relationships with Bobby and Barry Bonds. (The latter gets plenty of screen time, and he comes off as surprisingly humble when discussing his mentor and godfather.) 

There's plenty of historical footage and audio included, and of course "The Catch" Mays made in the 1954 World Series is analyzed. There's not much here for stat geeks to get into--Mays' fantastic numbers are not really looked at--but this is a story about the man himself. 

Willie Mays doesn't appear to have had the controversies and personal problems surrounding him as did many other baseball legends. That might be why his public profile isn't as large as his playing career was. Or it may be, as this documentary shows, Mays let his play on the diamond do most of his talking. If you do watch SAY HEY, WILLIE MAYS!, I suggest afterwords going on the internet and delving into his baseball stats. You'll have a far greater respect for him. 

Saturday, November 19, 2022



WAR ON THE DIAMOND is a new documentary, based on (or more accurately, inspired by) one of my favorite baseball books, THE PITCH THAT KILLED, written by Mike Sowell. 

The story of both movie and book concerns the tragic fate of Ray Chapman, who was a star shortstop for the Cleveland Indians baseball team in the early 20th Century. On August 16, 1920, at the Polo Grounds in New York City, Chapman was hit in the head by a pitch thrown by the Yankees' Carl Mays. Chapman died later that night, and he remains to this day the only MLB player to have perished due to an incident during a game. 

WAR ON DIAMOND presents the idea that Chapman's death was the impetus for a rivalry between the now Cleveland Guardians and New York Yankees that lasts to this day. I must say that, from my perspective, I've never felt that those two teams were major rivals....if there is a rivalry, it's pretty one sided, in favor of the Yankees. The film compares working-class Midwest Cleveland with high-class, big-budget New York, but honestly just about any other MLB city could make the same comparison. 

The documentary alternates sequences concerning the life and death of Ray Chapman with scenes detailing the contrasting histories of the Cleveland and Yankee franchises. The Indians vs. Yankees sequences have plenty of rare historic footage, and interviews with notable people who are connected with the teams. The Chapman sequences have footage and audio of Ray's sister and Carl Mays himself. 

While the Indians vs. Yankees subplot is well done, I wish the film had been solely about Ray Chapman. His story is far more compelling than any modern baseball tale--especially when one considers what happened to Chapman's wife and child, and the team he was a member of when he died. (The 1920 Indians overcame what happened to their beloved shortstop and went on to win the World Series.) The genial Chapman, the mercurial Carl Mays, the entire 1920 MLB season....all these subjects are more than enough to fill out a feature-length film. 

I understand why director Andrew Billman (who was also one of the many producers) spent time on the Indians vs. Yankees subplot. Most 21st viewers probably wouldn't be all that interested in something that happened 100 years ago, and anything involving the New York Yankees is going to get attention. I would recommend WAR ON THE DIAMOND, but the best parts of it deal directly with Ray Chapman. Mike Sowell's book THE PITCH THAT KILLED is still the source to go to when it comes to the Chapman tragedy. 

Ray Chapman

Tuesday, November 15, 2022



Just about everyone is familiar with, or have at least heard about, the two most famous films concerning the University of Notre Dame football team: KNUTE ROCKNE, ALL AMERICAN, and RUDY. There was, however, another movie based around the Fighting Irish football program that is all but forgotten today--THE SPIRIT OF NOTRE DAME, a 1931 production from Universal Studios. 

As someone who was born in South Bend, and who has spent most of his life living in the surrounding area, I've always been intrigued about this obscure title. I finally got the chance to see it recently on the Xumo streaming channel. 

According to Murray Sperber's outstanding book on the cultural history of Notre Dame football, SHAKE DOWN THE THUNDER, one of the main reasons Irish head football coach Knute Rockne was on his way west during his fateful plane trip in March, 1931, was to meet up with Universal executives about a proposal to appear in a movie adaptation of a play entitled GOOD NEWS. Rockne was to play the role of (what else) a football coach. Rockne died when his plane crashed in Kansas....but agent-promoter Christy Walsh convinced Universal to take advantage of the nationwide publicity about the coach's death and turn the project into a story concerning Notre Dame. 

Universal brought out several former Notre Dame stars to appear in the film, including all of the famed Four Horsemen (Don Miller, Elmer Layden, Jim Crowley, and Harry Stuhldreher). Among the other players were All-Americans Adam Walsh and Frank Carideo. Universal also assigned the lead role in the movie to its #1 male star at the moment, Lew Ayres, who had gotten major attention for his critically acclaimed performance in the studio's smash hit ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT. 

One would assume that Universal wanted THE SPIRIT OF NOTRE DAME to be a blockbuster production--but the results fell far short of that. 

The movie starts out with the Notre Dame Victory March playing over the main titles, then we see footage of Knute Rockne giving one of his famous pep talks. Soon we are introduced to Lew Ayres as Bucky O'Brien, a cocky freshman who arrives at Notre Dame from a small town in North Dakota. Bucky was the BMOC back home, but during his first football practice he learns very quickly that he's got a huge challenge ahead of him to make the varsity. The movie moves forward a couple years later, and Bucky is now the main ball carrier for the Irish. The ND coach (J. Farrell McDonald) decides that he needs Bucky to spend more time blocking, and O'Brien's best friend and roommate Jim Stewart (William Bakewell) starts to gain all the yards, and all the attention. Bucky becomes dissatisfied with the situation, and he's kicked off the team. While sitting in the stands watching Notre Dame's climatic game against Army, Bucky realizes the error of his ways and comes down at halftime to help the Irish. 

THE SPIRIT OF NOTRE DAME is basically a standard generic sports movie--the main thing that stands out about it is the Fighting Irish connection, and the inclusion of real-life ND legends. Lew Ayres looked far more comfortable in the trenches of WWI than he does in the trenches of the gridiron. It has to be said that none of the actors playing members of the team resemble athletes--and that's taking in the fact that football players were much smaller than those days. The movie was shot at Universal Studios instead of on the Notre Dame campus, and due to the ordinary look of the surroundings the story could be taking place at any college anywhere in the U.S. 

The staged football sequences are rather basic, although one gets to see plenty of the famed "Notre Dame shift" in action. There's a lot of actual college football footage crudely edited into the story, but because everything is in black & white, it seems more randomly inserted instead of actually matching up with anything. Much of the movie deals with the light comedic antics of Bucky and his teammates, but they're probably the most boring college football players one's ever come across. The only main female role in the story is played by Loretta Young's lookalike sister Sally Blane, who is romanced by both Bucky and Jim, but she doesn't have much screen time. 

Middle-aged supporting character actor J. Farrell McDonald's "Coach" is never given a proper name (he's also referred to as "The Old Man"), but since McDonald has a certain resemblance to Knute Rockne, it's obvious Universal wanted the audience to assume he was playing the Rock. McDonald's coach is stern, but also kindly and fair (he never shouts or screams at anybody). 

A major subplot of the film deals with eternal benchwarmer Truck McCall, played by Andy Devine. When the dopey Truck finally gets in a game, he winds up puncturing his lung, and approaching death's door on a hospital bed. Truck's situation moves into George Gipp territory, as during the climatic Army game ND's coach implores his boys to come back and win for "Ol' Truck". (I believe the real Gipper wouldn't have appreciated being represented by a goofy hayseed.) 

As for the real-life former Notre Dame stars, they come off surprisingly well (and natural) on camera. The inclusion of these actual gridiron heroes was a big part of the movie's publicity (see poster above). One must remember that back in 1931, other than attending an actual college football game, the only way an ordinary American could encounter college football stars was through the newspapers or radio. Seeing players like the Four Horsemen on the big screen was quite a deal in those days--one also must realize that at the time college football was a much, much bigger sport than the fledgling NFL. 

As a lifelong Fighting Irish football fan, I have to say that while THE SPIRIT OF NOTRE DAME is interesting due to the appearances of so many real ND legends, it isn't much of a fictional story. The true "spirit" of Notre Dame is mostly absent here. 

The print of this film that I viewed on Xumo was very ragged. I'm surprised that, because of the power of the Notre Dame mystique, Universal hasn't attempted to restore this film for proper home video release. (The Fighting Irish connection alone would attract some buyers.) Perhaps there's some rich ND alums in the entertainment industry who could financially help Universal clean up the film? 

Whatever it looks like, THE SPIRIT OF NOTRE DAME will appeal to hardcore buffs of Fighting Irish football history. Just don't expect much of a story....according to sources even the priests that ran Notre Dame in 1931 were not too happy with how the movie turned out. 

Sunday, November 13, 2022



I TAKE THIS WOMAN is a 1931 Paramount film starring Gary Cooper and Carole Lombard. This is a Lombard title I finally caught up with a week or so ago. It was made very early in Carole's tenure with Paramount, and despite the star duo that appears in it, is very lackluster and predictable. 

Carole Lombard plays Kay Dowling, the spoiled daughter of a rich New York family. To avoid being caught up in a newspaper scandal, Kay is sent to a ranch in Wyoming that her family owns. While there Kay alternately annoys and attracts ranch hand Tom McNair (Gary Cooper). Tom and Kay do wind up seriously falling for each other, and over the objections of the young woman's father, the duo get married. Tom has plans to work a small ranch of his very own, but the ultra-modern Kay can't hack it as a plain prairie wife. Kay moves back to New York, but Tom leaves the ranch and goes after her. Need I tell you the two finally wind up together for good?? 

I TAKE THIS WOMAN is competently made, but everything that happens in the movie a viewer can see coming a mile away. The mismatched couple who act as if they can't stand one another, but really are in love, the rich girl having to deal with ordinary hard work for the first time in her life, the mismatched couple running away from each other while at the same time chasing each other, etc. The ending in particular is served up on a plate (when you find out that Tom is now a rodeo rider, and Kay goes to see him perform, you just know what incident will repair their relationship). If this movie had been written and directed better if might have been more entertaining, but it feels by the numbers. 

What makes the film watchable at all is the star quality of Cooper and Lombard (and this was a few years before their respective big-screen personas had been fully formed). Ironically Cooper and Lombard have better chemistry together here than they would a couple years later when they starred in 1934's NOW AND FOREVER. The best sequence in I TAKE THIS WOMAN has the duo spending a poignant Christmas in their simple ranch shack while a winter storm howls outside. The story needed more scenes like this, but instead there's too many contrived ideas to bring them apart. 

Lombard deserves special mention for what she does with the character of Kay Dowling. Kay is really a pain in the neck, a woman who doesn't know what she wants, but Carole is able to avoid having her appear totally unsympathetic due to her natural personality. Lombard also is able to make the viewer believe that a regular low-key practical guy like Tom wouldn't just give up on such a woman. 

The direction of I TAKE THIS WOMAN is credited to Marion Gering and montage specialist Slavko Vorkapich. I don't know how this combination worked together (or even if they did), but the movie does have a montage sequence, even though it's nothing special. 

Kino Lorber has been releasing a number of Carole Lombard films on Blu-ray recently, and I'm surprised they haven't gotten around to I TAKE THIS WOMAN, due to the pairing of Lombard and Gary Cooper. If Kino (or anyone else) does put it out on home video in the future, they'd better add some extras, because the movie itself just isn't notable enough. 

*There's a 1940 film made at MGM also called I TAKE THIS WOMAN, but other than the title, it has nothing to do with the 1931 movie, and it isn't very good either. 

Gary Cooper and Carole Lombard 

Saturday, November 12, 2022



THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL & MR. HYDE is a television adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's famous story that first aired on the ABC network in January 1968. The producer of the movie was Dan (DARK SHADOWS) Curtis, and Jack Palance starred as Jekyll & Hyde. I viewed this production on the Tubi streaming channel. 

It would be very easy to say that Jack Palance could play Mr. Hyde without makeup, but I won't go there. Suffice to say, Palance was a unique pick to play the lead role(s). The actor was not a leading man type like other famed Jekyll/Hydes such as John Barrymore, Fredric March and Spencer Tracy. Palance's Jekyll is a middle-aged, nervy fellow, who seems unsure of himself. (Tellingly, Palance's Jekyll is not engaged to an upper-class beauty, as in other filmed adaptations of the story.) This Jekyll wants to do the usual separation of man's good and evil selves to benefit humanity, but there's a sense in this version that he also wants to see what his other side is like. 

Jack Palance had a reputation for chewing the scenery at times, and he certainly does that with his Hyde. This Hyde isn't so much a hideous monster as he is a bar-brawling lout. Palance's Hyde starts off as exuberant and full of energy--women are not repelled by him, they're intrigued by his outlandish personality. But he soon turns into an obnoxious, violent brute who beats the dance-hall girl (Billie Whitelaw) he's been keeping company with. The makeup for Palance as Hyde is rather bizarre--the actor's chin, nose, and ears have been smoothed over, and in my opinion, it makes him look a bit like Liberace. 

Jack Palance as Mr. Hyde

This version of DR. JEKYLL & MR. HYDE was filmed in Canada, and it was shot on videotape. The sets and production design are impressive, but the now-lackluster quality of the videotape doesn't do it any favors. The production can't help but have a soap-opera type feel to it (Dan Curtis was behind this, after all). The movie (which was directed by Charles Jarrott) is two hours long, and the story feels drawn out as it lumbers on to the inevitable conclusion. Much of the music for this movie apparently came from DARK SHADOWS, and it sounds like it. 

There is a distinguished supporting cast here, with Denholm Elliott, Leo Genn, Torin Thatcher, Oscar Homolka, and Hammer veteran Duncan Lamont as a police inspector. The only main female role is played by Billie Whitelaw, who strangely gets a "and introducing" credit, despite the fact she had been doing major roles in feature films for years by this time. Whitelaw's dance-hall dame is the equivalent of Ivy from the Fredric March/Spencer Tracy versions of Jekyll & Hyde, and the character also reminds one of Whitelaw's performance in the Burke & Hare movie THE FLESH AND THE FIENDS. Whitelaw charms and seduces both Jekyll & Hyde, and she's involved in this movie's most disturbing moment. During a scene where Hyde beats her, a bobby is shown walking outside on the street. The bobby overhears the beating, looks up at the window where the sound is coming from, smirks to himself, and continues on his way. 

THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL & MR. HYDE has several elements from various other adaptations of Stevenson's tale, but there's nothing in it that makes it stand out on its own. The shot-on-videotape look is hard to overcome, but Palance's Jekyll also isn't very sympathetic, and by the climax, he's actually pathetic. Dan Curtis and Jack Palance would be reunited to work on another famous horror story a few years later, with a TV adaptation of DRACULA. That project is better than this attempt at Jekyll & Hyde. 

Monday, November 7, 2022



Erich Maria Remarque's acclaimed novel about World War One, ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT, was adapted into an Academy Award-winning, legendary film by Universal Studios in 1930. This year brings a new movie version of the book, made in Europe and featuring a mainly German cast & crew. I viewed it on Netflix, with the original German audio track and English subtitles. (The actual title of this film is IM WESTEN NICHTS NEUES.) 

The 1930 ALL QUIET is still considered one of the greatest films dealing with war ever made. The 2022 ALL QUIET is in some ways even more impressive. The German cast makes the story more realistic (this is a German tale, after all). The production design is excellent, giving full detail to the mud, blood, and desolation of WWI trench warfare. 

The battle sequences are not CGI-filled tightly choreographed action scenes--they have a raw, graphic intensity. The soldiers doing the killing and being killed are not a bunch of faceless extras--director Edward Berger puts the viewer right into the muck and mire and forces the audience to acknowledge the individuality and humanity of the thousands of men being slaughtered. Berger and cinematographer James Friend also avoid contrived camera and editing tricks, giving the audience ample time to appreciate the many impressive shot compositions. 

Felix Kammerer is affecting and poignant as Paul Baumer, the main protagonist in the story. Paul isn't a hero, or a gallant fighter...he's just a German teenager trying to deal with this harrowing situation as best he can. Albrecht Schuch also deserves mention as the wily Katczinsky, Paul's friend and fellow soldier. 

This version of ALL QUIET has a sub-plot dealing with the armistice negotiations between Germany and the Allies in November 1918. Internet sources say this sub-plot is not in the original novel. These scenes feature Daniel Bruhl as German politician Mattias Erzberger, a real-life historical figure. I assume that these scenes were included to give some background detail about the war for present-day audiences, or maybe they were used as a way to give viewers a break from the trenches, but I felt they were unnecessary. I believe the film should have strictly focused on Paul, since we see everything else through his eyes. 

This new version of ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT is a true historical epic, but it's also a serious adult drama that doesn't spare anything in showing the horrors of close combat. The fact that it stars German actors who for the most part are unknown to English-speaking audiences makes it feel more accurate and immediate. (The only performer here who would be familiar to those in North America is Daniel Bruhl, mainly due to his appearances in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.) Netflix has a English-audio track available for this film, but I chose the original German, because I felt that would be more fitting. I realize there are plenty of folks who don't like subtitles, but the German audio is the one I would recommend. 

I do regret that I was not able to see the new ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT on the big screen. Apparently it has been playing in a few theaters around America, but of course it's not being shown that way around my area of South Bend. (Maybe if it was titled CRAPPY REMAKE PART 2??) If this film is showing in a theater near you, I highly suggest you go see it, or at least watch it on Netflix. 

Saturday, November 5, 2022



Arrow video has released another of their fantastic Blu-ray box sets. This one, GOTHIC FANTASTICO, presents four rare and unique examples of 1960s Italian horror cinema. 

What makes this set special is that it does not deal with the usual suspects associated with the Italian Gothic. None of these films included star Barbara Steele, and none of them were directed by either Mario Bava, Riccardo Freda, or Antonio Margheriti. I feel that this just makes the set more intriguing--out of this quartet I had only seen one of the titles before. These movies may not be very well known (especially to English-speaking audiences), but each of them is worthy of attention. 

The four films are: 

LADY MORGAN'S VENGEANCE (aka LA VENDETTA DI LADY MORGAN): In 19th Century Scotland, a beautiful heiress (Barbara Nelli) marries an older family friend (Paul Muller) after her true love is supposedly killed. The new husband was behind the attack on Lady Morgan's beau, and he has sinister designs on the woman herself. Lady Morgan's spirit, however, will not go easy. This tale has elements of other Italian Gothics such as NIGHTMARE CASTLE and CASTLE OF BLOOD. It also stars Eurocult notables Erika Blanc and Gordon Mitchell. Directed by Massimo Pupillo. 

THE BLANCHEVILLE MONSTER (aka HORROR): This is the one film in the set I had already seen--I even wrote a blog post on it a few years ago. Another beautiful young woman (Ombretta Colli) travels to 19th Century Scotland to be confronted by various family secrets and a mysterious-acting older brother (Gerard Tichy). This film, influenced by the Edgar Allan Poe movies directed by Roger Corman, is the most atmospheric in the set, with a huge amount of footage devoted to nightgown-clad lovelies wandering about in the dark. With Euro Gothic legend Helga Line. The English dub of this title (included on this disc) has the story set in northern France. Directed by Alberto De Martino. 

THE THIRD EYE (aka IL TERZO OCCHIO): This contemporary-set tale deals with the Norman Bates-like Mino (Franco Nero), a mentally-unbalanced young man who is affected by three different women--actually four, since Erika Blanc plays two roles, lookalike sisters. This rather perverse story was directed by Mino Guerrini. 

THE WITCH (aka LA STREGA IN AMORE): Another modern-day story. A ladies man living in Rome (Richard Johnson) gets more than he bargains for when he comes under the spell of a forbidding older woman (Sarah Ferrati) and her extremely beguiling "daughter" (Rosanno Schiaffino). This is a slow-moving, talky affair (at 110 minutes it is by far the longest film in the set). It comes off more like an art film than a standard thriller. It does have a dreamy, insidious feel to it. It also features acclaimed Italian actor Gian Maria Volonte, and it was directed by Damiano Damiani. 

Each of the four films in this set are in black & white, with the correct aspect ratio for each. Overall the movies look and sound excellent--three of the films have both the Italian and English voice tracks, with subtitles (LADY MORGAN'S VENGEANCE only has a Italian audio track.) 

Each film has its own disc, with its own case. The sleeves for the cases have different artwork on both sides. 

As expected, this set has a copious amount of extras. Each movie gets a brand new audio commentary, along with all sorts of featurettes, interviews, trailers, and image galleries. The set comes with a 80-page booklet, illustrated with photos from the films. The booklet features an essay by film historian Roberto Curti detailing the development of the Italian Gothic film genre, and four other essays analyzing each of the films. There's also a double-sided mini poster included, with artwork for THE BLANCHEVILLE MONSTER and THE THIRD EYE. 

Arrow keeps cranking out one amazing Blu-ray release after another (and they keep affecting my credit card balance). This will easily wind up on my top five video releases list at the end of the year. I'm particularly pleased that for GOTHIC FANTASTICO they chose four films that, in North America at least, have almost no history on home video. In this day and age, any past Gothic horrors I have not seen getting a major showcase on Blu-ray is a rare treat. 

Saturday, October 29, 2022

DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (1931) On Blu-ray From Warner Archive


This is another magnificent restoration from Warner Archive. Paramount's 1931 version of Robert Louis Stevenson's famous tale looks (and sounds) as if it was made last month instead of 90 years ago. 

The sharpness and clarity of this disc brings out all sorts of detail, and makes one realize this film was a high-class production all the way--the budget was much higher than Universal's DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN. The makeup and camera effects used to transform Fredric March's polished Jekyll to an apish Hyde are still stunning. 

Director Rouben Mamoulian and cinematographer Karl Struss provide all sorts of other visual tricks to the tale as well. Some of them may be considered self-indulgent, but they do give the story a kinetic energy that other classic horror movies made during the same period lack. 

Of all the versions made of Jekyll & Hyde, this one is by far my favorite. MGM's 1941 adaptation starred two actors I highly admire (Spencer Tracy & Ingrid Bergman), but it has a stately, refined manner. The '31 version has a raw Pre-Code edginess to it, especially in the performance of Miriam Hopkins as the tragic Ivy, who attracts the attentions of both Jekyll and Hyde. Hopkins' Ivy goes from flirty vixen to fragile victim. The scene where Ivy seduces Jekyll during their first meeting is one of the sexiest in movie history, while her palpable fear and hysteria in her dealings with Hyde are genuinely haunting. Fredric March won a Best Actor Academy Award for his fine work, but unfortunately there wasn't a Best Supporting Actress category at the time to reward Hopkins--I believe her Ivy is one of the most memorable characters in classic horror film history. 

Also deserving mention for being in this film are legendary supporting actors Holmes Herbert and Halliwell Hobbes--seemingly every other movie made in the 1930s featured at least one of these two men. And don't forget Edgar Norton as Jekyll's loyal butler. 

This Warner Archives Blu-ray of the 1931 DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE presents the film in its original 1.19:1 aspect ratio, and it is the unedited 96 minute original cut. A brand new audio commentary is included, with Steve Haberman and Constantine Nasr, which I haven't had a chance to listen to yet. The esteemed Greg Mank's commentary, which was prepared for the earlier DVD release of the film, is also here, along with the Bugs Bunny cartoon HYDE AND HARE and a 1950 radio adaptation of Jekyll & Hyde also starring Fredric March. 

It would have been nice to have more new extras on this disc, but the major thing here is how fantastic the movie looks and sounds. The 1931 DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE has long been admired, but it doesn't seem to be placed on the same level as the 1931 DRACULA & FRANKENSTEIN. I think a main reason for that is for years it had been kept in the closet, so to speak, by MGM, who had bought the rights to it when they made their 1941 version. The '31 JEKYLL AND HYDE has also never been commercialized in the way that Universal has done with their classic horror catalog. This Blu-ray gives the movie the premier showcase it deserves. 

Saturday, October 22, 2022

ACE HIGH On Blu-ray From Kino


ACE HIGH (1968) is the middle film in a trilogy of Euro Westerns directed by Giuseppe Colizzi and starring Terence Hill and Bud Spencer. Kino has given it a fine presentation on Blu-ray. 

Bounty hunters Cat (Terence Hill) and Hutch (Bud Spencer) are led on a rambling chase by bandit Cacopoulos (Eli Wallach), who has stolen a large amount of money from the pair. The three men eventually form a tenuous alliance to scam a casino owner (Kevin McCarthy) who betrayed Cacopoulos. 

Most spaghetti westerns are either action-filled violent affairs, or quirky stories with bizarre elements & characters. ACE HIGH falls in between. It's not ridiculous enough to be put in the same category as the Trinity films, and there isn't all that much gun-play. The movie has a tendency to shamble along, without any sense of urgency (despite the large amount of money that is at stake). Every sequence goes on just a bit too long, and most of them seem to exist just to pad out the running time (which is two hours). 

This was only the second film to team up Terence Hill and Bud Spencer, but their main characterizations are already set, even though they're not as silly in ACE HIGH as they would be for most of their big-screen couplings. Hill is laid-back and laconic, while the big, burly Spencer is a grouchy fellow who would rather bop guys on the head than engage in shootouts. 

Eli Wallach gets to make the biggest impression, mainly due to the fact that he gets a number of dialogue-filled scenes that allow him to show off his distinctive acting style. Wallach's Cacopoulos comes off as a close relative of the actor's famous role of Tuco in THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY. Wallach at least gives the story some much needed spirit. 

The other major character role in the film is played by Brock Peters--he's a wire-walker who joins forces with Cat, Hutch, and Cacopoulos. In all honesty Peters' role could have been written out of the story without all that much effect on it. As for Kevin McCarthy, he doesn't even show up until there's about 15 minutes left in the movie. 

I do have to say that the final gun duel (involving a roulette wheel and a waltz!) is very inventive. It's too bad the rest of the film didn't have that creativity. 

ACE HIGH shows up on a number of retro-movie cable channels from time to time--but it's always presented in a terrible-looking pan and scan version (which stopped me from ever viewing it in its entirety on TV). Kino presents on this Region A Blu-ray an excellent-looking 2.35:1 widescreen print, which the company says is from a 4K scan of the original 35mm negative. There are a couple scenes that are a bit ragged, but I assume that is due to the original elements. The only voice track is the English dub, and it is thin at times. 

The only extra (other than an original trailer) is a brand new audio commentary by writer/director (and Euro Western expert) Alex Cox. He deserves some credit for being honest--Cox spends a lot of time discussing the problems with ACE HIGH's plot, and his frustrations at the slow pace of the film are rather humorous. 

Kino has given a number of Euro Westerns fine presentations on Blu-ray in the last decade, and ACE HIGH is one of the best-looking of them. When it comes to story quality and excitement however, ACE HIGH is mediocre. One wonders if the other two films connected to ACE HIGH--GOD FORGIVES...I DON"T, and BOOT HILL--will get the Kino treatment in the future as well. 

Friday, October 21, 2022



The Sprocket Vault & Kit Parker Films return to the world of Hal Roach Studios with this region-free DVD release of the very first sound comedy short subjects starring Charley Chase. CHARLEY CHASE AT HAL ROACH: THE TALKIES VOLUME FOUR 1929 includes six shorts from the very beginning of the sound era. Two of the shorts are ironically without sound--but I'll get more into that later. 

I'm sure some will wonder why the very first Charley Chase sound shorts produced by Hal Roach are in volume four, but Richard M. Roberts explains why in his audio commentaries on this set. These shorts are welcome no matter what volume they appear in. 

When one watches these shorts, one must take into account the fact that the Hal Roach organization was still finding its way when it came to talkies. The six shorts here feel somewhat disjointed at times--eventually all of Roach's comic stars would hit their sound stride. Charley Chase was perfect for the medium--he's using sound gags in his first talkie short, THE BIG SQUAWK. In his second, LEAPING LOVE, he's already showing off his fine singing voice. 

The third short in this set (and the best), SNAPPY SNEEZER, is the very first time Charley is paired with Thelma Todd. Charley and Thelma's on-screen chemistry is immediately evident, and in this story the two wind up on in a wild chase on an "auto coaster". (This was a fairground-like facility that actually existed and was open to the public.) Charley and Thelma are paired again in the fourth short, CRAZY FEET. This one is notable for Thelma wearing a couple of skimpy dancing costumes. 

The fifth short, STEPPING OUT, also has Todd, but unfortunately she doesn't have all that much to do. Charley has been married to Thelma for five years, yet he's bored, and he wants to go out on the town by himself. (If I had been married to Thelma for five years.....never mind.) Thelma lets him, and of course trouble ensues, as Charley encounters a wacky woman played by none other than Anita Garvin. 

The soundtracks for STEPPING OUT and the sixth short on this disc, GREAT GOBS, no longer exist (or at least they haven't been found yet). What the Sprocket Vault has done is provide subtitles for these two shorts, and new music scores by Andrew Earle Simpson. The lack of sound is felt most strongly in STEPPING OUT, due to the fact that Charley drunkenly sings "My Wild Irish Rose" during the climax. The decision to provide these shorts on home video without their soundtracks is, I believe, the right one--the public might never be able to see them otherwise. GREAT GOBS, by the way, is a "sailors on leave" comedy that features Edgar Kennedy as much as Charley. 

As is now expected from the Hal Roach shorts released on DVD by the Sprocket Vault, all six films on this disc have audio commentaries by Richard M. Roberts. His knowledge of early Hollywood comedy is exhaustive, and during these films he also discusses how Charley Chase, Hal Roach, and other notable screen comedians dealt with the transition from silents to sound. One can learn all sorts of things from listening to Roberts' talks. A photo gallery is also included. 

The picture and sound quality on these shorts is good, but the main thing is that they are now available on home video. 

With this DVD, all of the talkie shorts starring Charley Chase that were made at Hal Roach Studios are now on official home video courtesy of the Sprocket Vault and Kit Parker Films. I have all these sets, and they're a must for classic comedy fans. The Sprocket Vault and Kit Parker have also been releasing DVDs of the early Our Gang talkie shorts. As for their plans for any future Hal Roach rarities, my advice is....release anything not currently available that features Thelma Todd. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

BY CANDLELIGHT On Blu-ray From Kino


Kino has released on Blu-ray one of director James Whale's rarest titles: the 1933 Universal light romantic comedy BY CANDLELIGHT. 

Josef (Paul Lukas) is the butler to a playboy European prince (Nils Asther). Josef tries to emulate his master's ladykiller ways by wooing a beautiful woman named Marie (Elissa Landi) that he meets on a train. Josef poses as the prince while with Marie, because he thinks she's a countess--but she's actually a maid. Various complications and misunderstandings ensue until the couple finally learns and accepts the truth about one another. 

BY CANDLELIGHT feels more like a Ernst Lubitsch film made at Paramount than a James Whale film made at Universal. It has a very European atmosphere to it (the three main stars were born on that continent), and the movie is filled with elegant drawing rooms, tuxedo-wearing gentlemen, and evening-gowned ladies. Needless to say, there's no ordinary working-class folk to be found in this tale....but the quirky English eccentrics one usually finds in a film directed by James Whale are missing as well. 

There's not much of a story here--Paul Lukas and Elissa Landi dominate the film--but thankfully they are both appealing enough to pull it off. (I do have to say that from my perspective Landi seemed more comfortable with this material than Lukas did.) The movie only runs 72 minutes, which is good, since the slight plot would have worn out its welcome if it had gone on longer. It helps that Whale keeps the pace up, and from time to time the director and cinematographer John Mescall spice things up with a few notable shot compositions. 

According to James Curtis' excellent biography of Whale, this production was actually begun with Robert Wyler (brother of William) as director. Universal induced Whale to take over the project. Whale started from scratch, deciding not to use any footage already shot. BY CANDLELIGHT may not have been initiated by Whale, but he truly made it "his" film, stamping it with his distinctive sensibility. 

According to Kino, for this Region A Blu-ray release Universal Pictures restored BY CANDLELIGHT in 4K from 35mm original film elements. I have to say that the picture quality is stunning--this is one of the best looking (and sounding) films from this period that I have seen presented on Blu-ray. It makes me wonder what other unearthed treasures Kino and Universal might have for us in the future. 

The main extra on this disc is a brand new commentary by Troy Howarth. Troy's talks are always well-paced and informative, but here he provides much welcome analysis on James Whale's directorial style and overall career. A few trailers for other films from the 1930s released by Kino are also included. 

I wouldn't rate BY CANDLELIGHT as one of James Whale's best films, but it is a diverting light comedy that will best be appreciated by lovers of 1930s Hollywood. (I must say to those who are expecting this film to have all sorts of ties to Whale's famous horror films...there really isn't any.) James Whale's non-horror films have been sorely under-represented on home video, and here's hoping that Kino and Universal have more of them on the way. What really sets this disc apart is the magnificent restoration of the film and the audio commentary. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

MARK OF THE VAMPIRE On Blu-ray From Warner Archive


During the last few years the Warner Archive Collection has been releasing a number of fantastic restorations of classic Hollywood horror films. Now they've brought out on Blu-ray Tod Browning's somewhat controversial MARK OF THE VAMPIRE, made by MGM and released in 1935. 

MARK OF THE VAMPIRE is a sound remake of the legendary now-lost silent LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT, also directed by Tod Browning. But it's also something of a semi-remake of Browning's 1931 DRACULA. In fact there are times where Bela Lugosi (as the notorious "Count Mora") appears even more impressive than he did as Bram Stoker's famed creation in the earlier Universal production. For M ARK OF THE VAMPIRE, the MGM production design department gave Universal a run for their money when it came to cobwebs, fog, and other on-set creepy accouterments. The atmosphere that MGM, Browning, and cinematographer James Wong Howe conjured up for this film is quite impressive. 

The overall cast is impressive as well, with Lionel Barrymore hamming it up mercilessly as the Van Helsing-like Professor Zelen. (It has to be said, though, that Barrymore's approach is very entertaining.) There's also Lionel Atwill, Holmes Herbert, Donald Meek, and Leila Bennett once again doing her scared maid routine. 

Joining Bela as a presumed creature of the night is Carroll Borland as the spooky Luna. This was Borland's only major film role, but her presentation here still has an effect on pop culture nearly 90 years later. (When I wrote a blog post a few years ago listing my favorite all-time movie vampires, Borland's portrayal as Luna made the cut.) 

MARK OF THE VAMPIRE only runs a tight 60 minutes--MGM made some major edits to it before its general release. As Greg Mank points out in his wonderful book HOLLYWOOD CAULDRON, these cuts were for the better--the movie doesn't have the snail-like pacing that Browning's 1931 DRACULA has. 

Mank has also pointed out that MARK OF THE VAMPIRE might have gone down in classic horror film history as one of the greatest examples of that genre--except for the ending. This climax negates almost everything that the viewer has already seen, and it raises more questions than answers. The back of this Blu-ray's disc cover calls the ending "a startling twist"--there's plenty of monster movie fans who would call it something else. 

MARK OF THE VAMPIRE had first been released on DVD earlier this century as part of a box set called the HOLLYWOOD LEGENDS OF HORROR COLLECTION. On this new Blu-ray, MARK OF THE VAMPIRE looks magnificent, with increased sharpness and detail. The sound is much more bolder and distinct as well. 

Other than a few MGM short subjects (which have nothing in common with the film), the only major extras have been carried over from the DVD release: an audio commentary with Stephen Jones and Kim Newman, and the original trailer. The trailer is beloved by film geeks, since it features Lugosi, in full costume & makeup as Count Mora, giving his all in promoting the film. One could even say that this trailer gave Bela more of a showcase than most of the full-length films he starred in. 

I'm happy that Warner Archive decided to present MARK OF THE VAMPIRE on Blu-ray with all the visual splendor that it deserves. I did, however, hope that a 60 minute black & white movie might have gotten some new extras to go along with it, such as a newer commentary, or at least a still gallery (some of the greatest images of Bela ever were taken during the making of this film). In the end, we all must be judges of this eerie conspiracy. 

Thursday, October 13, 2022



THE POOR RICH is a 1934 comedy, produced by Universal, and directed by Edward Sedgwick, a man best known for his work with Buster Keaton. The movie doesn't have all that many laughs, despite the characters acting as silly as possible. It does have quite a notable cast. 

Harriet (Edna May Oliver) and Albert (Edward Everett Horton) are cousins belonging to the once upper-class Spottiswood family. The duo have returned to their family's dilapidated mansion because they are both broke. Harriet comes up with a scheme to revive the family fortune--she goads Albert into marrying the daughter (Thelma Todd) of English aristocrats Lord and Lady Fetherstone (E.E. Clive and Una O'Connor). Before the Fetherstones arrive, Harriet and Albert must quickly restore the family manor. They hire a local bumpkin (Andy Devine) to be the cook, and a mysterious pretty young woman (Leila Hyams) to be the maid. Various complications ensue, with the cousins getting more than they bargained for. 

THE POOR RICH feels like a Hal Roach/Columbia comedy short subject stretched out to feature length. The plot is very familiar--dopey characters trying not to make fools of themselves in front of people they are trying to impress, while failing miserably at the effort. The Three Stooges did things like this all the time, except they accomplished it in a quicker and more enjoyable manner. Edna May Oliver and Edward Everett Horton were legendary in supporting comedy roles, but as leading players having to shoulder a lot of slapstick they appear uncomfortable. 

The story goes off on a wild tangent near the end when it looks as if a murder has been committed, and a loud, pushy detective shows up, played by Edward Brophy. He injects some spirit into the tale, but it's not enough to make the film a laugh-out-loud riot. 

James Whale fans will find it ironic that E.E. Clive and Una O'Connor play a upper-class English couple--did Whale stop by the set during shooting to pay a visit to the duo? What is even more ironic is that a coupling involving Clive and O'Connor supposedly produced Thelma Todd as a daughter. And even more ironic--or head-scratching--is that both Leila Hyams and Thelma in this movie are attracted to Edward Everett Horton. At one point Horton (whose character prefers Leila) turns down Thelma's offer of a massage. (Really, Ed???) 

Leila Hyams actually has much more to do than Thelma does (Hot Toddie doesn't show up until past the halfway point). Hyams does show off some comic chops here, but one gets the feeling that Hyams should have played the aristocratic daughter and Thelma should have been the hired maid....or at least she should have been given more attention. 

Edward Everett Horton and Thelma Todd

Ward Bond and Walter Brennan also have very small roles in THE POOR RICH. Unfortunately the cast is the main reason to watch this film. If it had been edited down to a short subject it would have been much funnier.