Tuesday, May 31, 2022



This is a Jimmy Stewart film that I had never seen. The title of this film, which was produced by Warner Bros. in 1940, is somewhat ironic, because in my opinion there's not a lot of comedy in it. 

NO TIME FOR COMEDY is a film adaptation of a successful Broadway play that starred Laurence Olivier. Believe it or not, James Stewart plays the Olivier role--that of a playwright with the florid name of Gaylord Esterbrook. Before shooting, Warners had the Epstein brothers rewrite the story in order to suit Stewart better. (The main reason that Stewart was making this film for Warners is that David O. Selznick had an option on the actor, and he traded it to WB in exchange for Olivia de Havilland to play Melanie in GONE WITH THE WIND.) 

Stewart's Esterbrook is a naive fellow who comes to New York from Minnesota to help out in the preparation of the staging of a play he has written. The play becomes a hit, and Gaylord falls in love and marries the leading lady, Linda Page (Rosalind Russell). Gaylord writes four hit comedy plays for Linda in a row, but his success has stagnated his creative energies, and he's suffering from writer's block. At a party Gaylord meets a rich banker's wife named Amanda (Genevieve Tobin) who convinces him that he needs to write meaningful drama. Esterbrook starts spending more time with Amanda than his wife, and Linda starts to think that her marriage is doomed....but the fate of Gaylord's new serious play settles the situation for everyone involved. 

The way that NO TIME FOR COMEDY starts out, it might as well have been called MR. SMITH GOES TO BROADWAY. Gaylord is a folksy guy who is a fish out of water in the world of the high-class American stage (at one point he even goes chasing after fire engines like Longfellow Deeds). After the opening night success of Gaylord's play, he and Linda fall in love very quickly. In the second half of the film, Gaylord becomes an unlikable mope, worried about being a serious artist, and ignoring Linda. Needless to say, it's not enjoyable to see Stewart act in such a manner. 

As to be expected from an adaptation of a play, this is a very talky movie, with most of the scenes taking place in immaculate drawing rooms. Despite the star power and likability of Stewart and Russell, the characters are not very engaging (nearly every domicile in this story has a maid or a butler). 

One big problem is the idea that Stewart's Esterbrook would have any interest in the flighty woman played by Genevieve Tobin, especially when he's married to someone as sensible and assured as Russell's Linda. It's hard to have much concern over whether the Esterbrook's marriage will last. 

The supporting cast has plenty of familiar faces, and Charlie Ruggles gets the biggest laughs as Amanda's husband. Director William Keighley handles things efficiently, and the movie isn't terrible--but it lacks a certain spark. The poster above makes it seem like a screwball comedy, which it most decidedly is not. 

I'm sure that James Stewart enjoyed working with Rosalind Russell, but I'm also sure he probably wished that Warner Bros. had given him a better production to star in. It's too bad that Stewart and Russell were not able to appear together as a couple in a story that would have really given them a chance to shine. 

Monday, May 30, 2022

VIOLENT CITY On Blu-ray From Kino


VIOLENT CITY is a 1970 Italian crime drama starring Charles Bronson and Telly Savalas. I had never seen the film, and didn't really know anything about it...but when I found out that Kino's Blu-ray release of it was going to feature three versions of the movie, I figured why not take a chance? 

First of all, it has to be said that this not a typical "Bronson plays a loner tough guy who gets violent revenge on a bunch of scumbags" flick. This isn't a Cannon movie from the 1980s. VIOLENT CITY was directed by Spaghetti Western legend Sergio Sollima, and among its many screenwriters was Lina Wertmuller, of all people. This film is considered an example of the Euro Crime genre, but I would call it more of a "Euro Noir". There's plenty of action here, but characterization and plot are also very important. 

Charles Bronson plays professional hit man Jeff Heston, who at the beginning of the story is enjoying himself in the Virgin Islands with his girlfriend, model Vanessa (Jill Ireland). While there Jeff survives an assassination attempt by a former employer, who goes away with Vanessa. Jeff spends two years in jail, and after getting out he makes plans to get revenge on those who set him up. But his plans are upset by a crime boss (Telly Savalas) who wants to use Jeff's talents as a killer, and the seductive Vanessa. Jeff learns that despite his supposed independent status, he's been a pawn all along. 

VIOLENT CITY starts out with a impressively executed ten minute dialogue-free car chase, at actual locations on the Virgin Islands. The story then moves to various unique locations in New Orleans and Louisiana, and Jeff even ventures to the Michigan International Speedway in his quest for revenge. Sergio Sollima makes great use of these real-life sites, giving the entire production a notable look. Sollima's handling of the climatic sequence--also without dialogue--is superb. (I have to say I felt this sequence had a giallo type of feel to it.)

Charles Bronson plays what would be considered a usual role for him. The exception here is that Bronson's taciturn efficient killer thinks he's in control of the situation, when he isn't by far. Telly Savalas doesn't show up until about an hour in the film, and he doesn't get a lot of scenes, but he does give an enjoyable slant to what would normally be just another big shot gangster. 

It is Jill Ireland's Vanessa who the story really revolves around. In most of the films in which Ireland appeared with her husband Bronson, one got the feeling that she was grafted onto the production just to please her spouse. Here, Ireland's character is very important, and she's very sexy as a femme fatale, showing lots of skin (or at least her body double does). 

VIOLENT CITY also features a fantastic score by Ennio Morricone. The ominous music lays the foundation for all the deceit and betrayal to come, and I was so impressed with it I bought the CD of the score. 

As mentioned before, there are three versions of VIOLENT CITY on this two-disc Region A Blu-ray from Kino. The first disc has a full-length version of VIOLENT CITY, with English titles and a English voice track, with a few scenes in Italian with English subtitles. This version is 109 minutes, and the picture and sound quality is very good. 

Disc Two has the Italian version of the film, CITTA' VIOLENTA. The entire voice track is in Italian, with English subtitles (hearing Bronson and Savalas speak in dubbed Italian is a strange experience). The running time is also 109 minutes, but the colors on the print of this version are very bold and colorful--so much so that at times they look unnatural. 

Disc Two also features a 1973 American version of the film, re-titled THE FAMILY. This was an attempt to cash in on THE GODFATHER--the font used for the new title in the credits even resembles that used for Coppola's blockbuster. (The thing is, VIOLENT CITY is not a standard organized crime tale). This version runs 96 minutes, it has mediocre sound & picture quality, and it has some very choppy editing. All three of the versions of VIOLENT CITY included in this release have a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. 

The main extra, found on Disc One, is a new audio commentary by Paul Talbot, who has written multiple books about Charles Bronson's movie career. Talbot gives out plenty of info on the cast and crew, and the making of the film, but he also has a tendency to describe exactly what the viewer is already seeing on the screen. 

A 2002 short interview with Sergio Sollima is also included, in which the director gives some interesting details on the making of the film. There's also a number of trailers for other movies released by Kino that star Bronson. 

The Blu-ray comes with a cardboard sleeve (see picture above) while the disc case has a reversible cover--the other side features the title THE FAMILY. 

I enjoyed VIOLENT CITY very much. Its European origins give it a different vibe than the typical crime-revenge thriller. VIOLENT CITY has a few elements in common with Charles Bronson's later THE MECHANIC, but it is a much more stylish and better made film. The inclusion of three versions of the movie makes this is a worthy release from Kino. 

Friday, May 27, 2022

Rating The Hammer Dracula Films Starring Christopher Lee


Today marks the 100th anniversary of Christopher Lee. I've decided to mark this occasion by ranking the Hammer Dracula films which starred Lee. The format is much the same as yesterday's ranking of the Hammer Frankenstein films starring Peter Cushing. 

One aspect of the Hammer Draculas that doesn't get discussed enough is the small amount of screen time that Christopher Lee actually had during the series. Many fans would have loved to have seen more of him as the Count, but Lee's Dracula has a lot in common, I think, with Darth Vader. Both characters are at their best when their scenes are short and full of impact. They both do not require a lot of dialogue to make an effect, and if you gave these characters more to do, the higher chance they would have of either looking ridiculous or out of place. 

This list does not take into account THE BRIDES OF DRACULA (in which Lee didn't appear) or THE LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES (in which Dracula was played by another actor) or Lee's portrayal of the Count in Jess Franco's COUNT DRACULA, or Lee's vampiric cameos in ONE MORE TIME and THE MAGIC CHRISTIAN, or Lee's scenes as the Count in the kind of-documentary IN SEARCH OF DRACULA, or Lee's appearance in the French farce DRACULA AND SON. (Whew! Did I get to everything??)

As in the Hammer Frankenstein Cushing list, my picks for best and worst were most definite, and the rest of the list is quite interchangeable. 


What more can I even say about this movie by now?? Well, Jimmy Sangster should get some credit for taking a novel with a very complicated structure, condensing it down to the bones, and still making it an effective story. 

And the scene where Dracula attacks Jonathan Harker...Lee has such a unearthly, demonic look on his face, you can't help but be shocked, no matter how many times you've seen it. I'll even say it's the most frightening scene in Hammer Films history. I can only imagine how people reacted to the scene when the film was originally released.

And you've got one of greatest climaxes in overall cinema history, and the greatest all-time Van Helsing in Peter Cushing. Hammer's best overall film. 


I think this gets my second position more for nostalgia value than anything else--it was on TV constantly when I was a teenager. There really isn't much to the plot of this film, but Terence Fisher makes the most of it (sadly, this would be the director's last chance to helm a Dracula movie). Lee doesn't show up until about halfway through, and he has no dialogue, but he didn't need any here. Special mention goes to Barbara Shelley for her standout role as the vampirized Helen. 


Freddie Francis handles the direction here, with a script by John Elder (aka Anthony Hinds). This has more of a fairy tale quality to it, with Veronica Carlson perfect as the innocent damsel in distress. It also has a more religious aspect to it, as the Count literally goes up against (and takes revenge upon) the representatives of the Catholic Church. As for young hero Barry Andrews....you wouldn't want to take him along on a vampire hunt. One of Hammer's more popular outings, it does have some visually arresting sequences. 


This is the only Hammer Dracula film actually set in Victorian England. Peter Sasdy takes over the directorial reins here, and he does very well, with a John Elder script that has three upper-class hypocrites inadvertently resurrecting the Count. Lee has very little to do here--Ralph Bates' debauched Lord Courtley winds up stealing the film, and he's backed by one of the best supporting casts in a Hammer horror. 

5. DRACULA A.D. 1972 (1972)

The debate will never end on how good or bad an idea it was for Hammer to bring the Count into the modern times--but it happened, and this goofy (but entertaining) film was the result. Peter Cushing makes a welcome return to the series as the grandson of the original Van Helsing, and his two different confrontations with Lee's Dracula (in two different time periods) make this entry worthwhile. 


For years my perception of this film was colored by the fact that one had to view it from shoddy, edited public domain versions. The recent Blu-ray release of this title from Warner Archive does allow one to appreciate it more--but it still feels more like a grungy Michael Winner-style crime thriller instead of a proper Hammer horror. This would be the very last time that Cushing & Lee would face off against each other as Van Helsing and Dracula. 


This isn't just my pick for the worst Hammer Dracula film--it's my pick as one of the worst Hammer films ever. It has a nasty, brutal vibe to it, with some very shoddy effects work and surprisingly subpar sets. Lee's Count has a bit more to do here than usual, but his violent tirades serve no purpose. One wonders what director Roy Ward Baker and writer John Elder were thinking about during the making of this one. 

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Ranking The Hammer Frankenstein Films Starring Peter Cushing


On this day in 1913, Peter Cushing was born. I usually write a Cushing-themed post on this day, and for this year I decided to rank the six Hammer films in which the actor portrayed Baron Frankenstein. 

Playing Victor Frankenstein in Hammer's first color Gothic film, THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, changed Cushing's life--you could also say it sealed his fate. The thing about the Hammer Frankenstein series of films is that other than the first two entries, there is no story continuity. Most of the series appears to take place in the 1850s-1870s, but the last film, FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL, seems to be set in the 1830s-40s. The Baron himself also acts somewhat differently in each film. I've often wondered how such a fastidious actor as Cushing reconciled himself to all the various inconsistencies in the series. 

This ranking does not take into account Hammer's HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN, which starred Ralph Bates as the Baron. If it did, that film would come in last. 

The movies are ranked in order of preference. I must point out that this isn't meant to be a serious critical observation--my thoughts on this list might change a couple weeks from now. The movies at the top and the bottom of the list were easy to pick, but the other films on this list could change positions quite easily, depending on how I feel at the moment. 


This truly is a horror film, with Cushing at his most chilling and cunning as the Baron. It's as if all his other experimental failures have driven Frankenstein to the brink--he's now willing to kill or ruin any one or any thing in order to perfect his attempts to "serve" humanity. This is one of Terence Fisher's best directorial efforts, with a number of standout sequences. I'm totally biased when it comes to the subject of Veronica Carlson, but she gives one of the best performances of any leading lady in any Hammer film. Freddie Jones, as the Baron's pathetic "patient", as a standout as well. Bert Batt and Anthony Nelson Keys deserve mention for their work on screenplay (with contributions from Fisher). 


A direct sequel to THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, and, in my opinion, a better film. Jimmy Sangster's screenplay is much tighter this time around, and he also sets up what would be the main theme of the Hammer Frankenstein series: what is the true identity of a person who is the subject of a brain transplant? Francis Matthews is the best of the Baron's assistants, and he's also the only one in the entire series that succeeds in a major experiment. Michael Gwynn does a fine job as Cushing's creation. 


The film that started it all. It's not as refined as the other Hammer Gothics, but it's an impressive first attempt at this genre, with the gathering of what would be known as the Hammer Gothic team (director Terence Fisher, writer Jimmy Sangster, producer Anthony Hinds, cinematographer Jack Asher, composer James Bernard). For Cushing's part, you feel when watching him here that he had already been making horror films for years. Christopher Lee still doesn't get enough credit for his version of the monster, and Hazel Court and Valerie Gaunt provide some glamour to the proceedings. Robert Urquhart is saddled with one of the worst parts an actor can play with the role of the annoying Paul Krempe. 


This is one of Anthony Hinds' (billed as John Elder) better scripts for Hammer, as he attempts to explore the definition of a soul. The Baron transfers the essence of a wrongly executed young man into his girlfriend (Susan Denberg), while at the same time using surgery to change the girl into a voluptuous beauty. Director Terence Fisher makes it work by presenting it as a tragic romance. Cushing's Baron and Thorley Walters' befuddled Dr. Hertz make a wonderful team. 


A elegiac air hangs over this last entry in the Hammer Frankenstein series, as the company itself was nearing its end of making decent product. The Baron is hiding out in an insane asylum, which is appropriate considering that by now all his experiments seem pointless. Cushing is still as precise and charismatic as ever, while Terence Fisher gets as much out of Anthony Hinds' script as he can. David Prowse is buried under the most outlandish makeup in the entire series, but he is still able to inject some pathos in the role of this entry's monster. 


This entry is the outlier. It was directed by Freddie Francis instead of Terence Fisher, and it reboots the Baron's adventures, giving him a different backstory than that detailed by THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN. It also feels more like a black & white Universal monster rally instead of a color Hammer Gothic. Kiwi Kingston's monster is the most generic of Cushing's creations. It must be pointed out that Francis does try to give some visual energy to the production, with an impressive laboratory sequence. If you want an old fashioned monster flick, this is the Hammer Frankenstein movie you want to watch. 

Saturday, May 21, 2022



The Mexican legend of "La Llorona", or the Crying Woman, has been the basis of several films. THE CURSE OF THE CRYING WOMAN (original title LA MALDICION DE LA LLORONA) is an excellent black & white 1961 Mexican film dealing with the character. 

The movie starts with a pre-title sequence that Mario Bava would be proud of. A horse-drawn coach travels through a forbidding forest in the middle of the night. The driver and the three passengers are murdered by two strange beings. After the opening credits, another coach arrives at a remote large house, carrying a young woman named Amelia (Rosita Arenas) and her new husband Jaime (Abel Salazar). Amelia has been asked to come to the house by its occupant, her aunt Selma (Rita Macedo). Amelia is unnerved by the house's weird atmosphere, and by her aunt's servant, a club-footed disfigured hunchback. Selma soon reveals the real reason why she asked her niece to arrive: she and Amelia are direct descendants of the Crying Woman, and Amelia is to be used in a midnight ritual to revive the horrible creature, whose remains happen to be in the house's cellar. As the clock moves toward 12, Amelia tries to fight off urges to carry on the legacy of the Crying Woman, while trying to save herself and her husband at the same time. 

Devotees of classic Gothic horror will find plenty to enjoy here, with an expressionistic haunted wood, a creepy-sounding organ, rats, bats, cobwebs, an imposing bell tower, and a climax that literally brings the house down. Rita Macedo gives a rip-roaring performance as Selma, a woman determined to gain ultimate power by bringing the Crying Woman back to life. She reveals the Crying Woman's history in an eerie sequence where the picture is in negative image, and Selma has also reduced her husband to a bestial wretch who is kept chained in a cell (of course he manages to get out). 

Director Rafael Baledon keeps things hopping--the entire story takes place in one night. Not only did Abel Salazar play a major role in the movie, he also produced it (by this time he had plenty of experience with south of the border Gothic horror). 

Rosita Arenas played the damsel in distress in THE WITCH'S MIRROR, and she does the same thing here--but at least she didn't have to suffer as much. The art direction and cinematography are up to par with many more famous American and English Gothics made during the same period. 

This was the first time I had viewed THE CURSE OF THE CRYING WOMAN, and like THE WITCH'S MIRROR, I was very impressed with it. The Mexican Gothic horrors made during this period have a energetic quirkiness all their own, and while they certainly have a unique take on traditional elements, they're never boring. If you think you've seen everything when it comes to classic monster movies, a few examples of Mexican Gothic will broaden your horizons. 

Thursday, May 19, 2022



THE WITCH'S MIRROR is a 1960 Mexican Gothic horror film, directed by Chano Urueta (who had an important acting role in THE WILD BUNCH) and produced by Abel Salazar (who starred and produced in the incredible THE BRAINIAC) . The film's original Mexican title is EL ESPEJO DE LA BRUJA. 

I bought a discounted DVD of this film, and it was a first-time viewing for me. Like many Mexican horror-fantasy films of the 50s, 60s, and 70s, it's filled to the brim with all sorts of classic terror tale elements, and it has enough plot for two or three movies. 

The story appears to be set during the 19th Century. A middle-aged woman named Sara (Isabela Corona) is a maid to a Dr. Ramos (Armando Calvo). Sara is also a witch, and a acolyte of Satan. Through a magic mirror Sara discovers that her goddaughter Elena (Dina de Marco) is fated to be murdered by Ramos, who happens to be the girl's husband. Sara pleads with the forces of darkness to help save Elena, but this is not allowed. This doesn't stop Elena from plotting revenge after Dr. Ramos fatally poisons Elena. Some time later Ramos brings home a new wife, a young woman named Deborah (Rosita Arenas). Sara uses her dark powers to call upon the spirit of Elena to haunt Ramos and his new bride. Ramos' attempt at smashing the mirror causes a fire which severely burns Deborah's face and hands. Ramos makes it his mission to restore Deborah's health and beauty by using human cadavers--but Sara and Elena's revenge is far from complete. 

That's a lot of plot for a 75 minute film, but THE WITCH'S MIRROR keeps things flowing. The beginning immediately shows Sara and Elena looking into the magic mirror, even before the viewer even knows who these characters are. After Elena is quickly dispatched, the movie starts to feel like REBECCA, with a bit of THE TOMB OF LIGEIA thrown in, as a beautiful young woman feels overwhelmed by the presence of her husband's late first wife. After Deborah's brutal burning, the story goes into "obsessed doctor tries to restore the beauty of his disfigured loved one" mode, as Ramos and his assistant venture into morgues and graveyards to find material for his experiments. Ramos even comes upon a prematurely buried woman, and decides that a living subject will be even better than a dead one. 

The movie gets a bit nasty when Ramos starts his quest to restore his second wife. Deborah's burn makeup is rather gruesome, and bandages are wrapped around her head in a way that makes her appearance even more grotesque. A number of surgically removed hands feature in the climax, including a pair that are beyond Deborah's control--bringing to mind of course another classic horror tale, THE HANDS OF ORLAC. 

Not only does THE WITCH'S MIRROR offer up plenty of elements favored by Gothic fans (such as most of the story taking place inside Dr. Ramos' residence, which resembles an old castle), it also offers up a few twists on the typical good person-bad person characterizations. Sara is an avowed devil worshiper (which doesn't seem to bother Elena), but she is the one that takes up the fight against Ramos and his evil actions. The most put upon character in the entire movie is Deborah, and she's only guilty of making a bad choice in a husband. 

THE WITCH'S MIRROR is in black & white, with a full-frame aspect ratio. For the most part Chano Urueta's direction is quite basic, but there's a few times where an atmospheric shot sneaks in (such as the one pictured below). What this film really needed was a more charismatic performer as Dr. Ramos. Armando Calvo is just too ordinary to play a wife murderer who steals corpses and experiments on them. The role calls for a Lugosi-Atwill type. (One can say that type would be hard to find in 1960 Mexico--but what about German Robles, who played El Vampiro?)

I enjoyed THE WITCH'S MIRROR. There's a weirdness and a wildness to classic Mexican fantastic cinema that makes the films in that category seem familiar yet also fresh at the same time. 

One of the more expressionistic shot compositions in THE WITCH'S MIRROR

Thursday, May 12, 2022



On my latest excursion to Half Price Books, I picked up this little paperback item for $3. ROGER MOORE'S JAMES BOND DIARY was written to coincide with the theatrical release of LIVE AND LET DIE, the first Bond film that Moore starred in. 

I assume that Moore had some ghostwriting help on this...but having listened to a few audio commentaries featuring the actor, I have to say the writing style matches his persona perfectly. He comes off as a witty, charming fellow who doesn't take life (or himself) too seriously. 

Without getting too technical or detailed, Moore charts the production history of LIVE AND LET DIE, starting in the fall of 1972 with location shooting in Louisiana and Jamaica, to interior sets at Pinewood Studios in England, and back to America for more locations in New York City. 

At times, Moore makes it seem that he's on a bizarre vacation instead of playing the leading role in a major feature film franchise. He spends a lot of time going over what he had for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and how it was served. He also goes into great detail about his living conditions at each location. 

Ironically, Moore has very little to say about his approach in playing 007, or even how he feels about the character (he constantly refers to Bond as "Jim" or "Jimmy"). If you are expecting a intimate examination of how one performs Ian Fleming's hero on the screen, or a thorough analysis of the script, you won't find it here. (Needless to say, Daniel Craig wouldn't have written this type of book.)

This book reveals that much of Moore's average working day was taken up by posing for publicity photos and doing interviews. Even 50 years ago, the press coverage for a Bond film--and a new Bond--was immense. One of the running gags of the book has Moore trying to figure out how many ways he can answer the question "How will your Bond be different than Sean Connery's?" 

Despite the trials and tribulations he had to endure as the new 007, Moore still found a way to keep up with his social obligations. The actor drops plenty of famous names who happen to be his friends or acquaintances (among the many are Sir James Carreras and Christopher Lee). Moore confides that he prefers to be at home with his wife and children, but he never seems to actually spend much time there. 

There's not much dirt or gossip to be had in this diary--Moore was too much of a gentleman for that--but it one reads between the lines, it seems there was a bit of tension between Yaphet Kotto, who played the villain, and director Guy Hamilton. Moore certainly exudes a sardonic sense of humor here, but for the most part he keeps things PG rated. (Some folks, however, might raise a Roger Moore-like eyebrow to his nickname for co-star Gloria Hendry.) 

One has to remember that the main reason for this book was to sell the film, and sell Roger Moore as the new 007. He certainly wasn't going to give a "warts and all" expose of the Bond series, and he certainly wasn't going to write anything that might get him removed from his new job. 

All in all, this was a fun, breezy read, and James Bond movie fans will find a lot of interesting details in it. My feelings about Roger Moore have changed a number of times over the years. He was the James Bond of my childhood (for a while I considered him the James Bond, because he was the first one I saw in the role). When I became a teenager and started actually reading the Ian Fleming novels in the mid 1980s, I began to feel that Moore was too old and too goofy for the role. 

My feelings for the Bond movies that Moore starred in haven't changed--most of them are very mediocre. But in the ten years or so my appreciation for Moore has grown. He believed his main job was to entertain the audience--and he certainly did that. I also admired the fact that after he left the role he didn't seem embarrassed to discuss it, and he never acted as if 007 was beneath him. One other factor is that my friend Veronica Carlson, who knew and worked with Moore, absolutely adored him. 

A new edition of this book was published a couple years ago (I assume that it has the same text as the original version). Whatever edition is available, I highly recommend it. 

Monday, May 9, 2022


The 27th of this month marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of the legendary Christopher Lee. During my time writing this blog I've done plenty of posts on Lee's films--there's plenty to choose from. 

One of Lee's more obscure movie appearances is a 1961 German-Irish-British production called THE DEVIL'S AGENT. One would assume that this is a German Krimi story, since the leading role was played by Peter van Eyck, and the executive producer was Artur Brauner (both men were veterans of the genre). It is, however, a mediocre spy drama, set in 1950 Europe. 

George Droste (van Eyck) is a Austrian wine merchant who lives in Vienna. Droste is coerced into spying for the Americans after he is informed that an old friend who is a German aristocrat (Christopher Lee) is an agent for the Soviets. Droste travels to Hungary, Hamburg, and back to Vienna, attempting to use both the West and the East in an effort to enrich himself and provide a better life for his son. Droste's schemes catch up with him in the end. 

THE DEVIL'S AGENT isn't a badly made film, but it's a very lackluster Cold War thriller. Droste isn't a James Bond type--he doesn't really want to be a spy, and he's not very enthusiastic about what he does. Peter van Eyck is much better as a villain than a leading man, and even the twist ending doesn't make the viewer care much about Droste's fate. 

The movie has a very notable supporting cast, with such performers as Macdonald Carey, Billie Whitelaw, and Niall McGinnis. The problem is that those three have very little screen time, and very little chance to make an impression. Christopher Lee only shows up at the very beginning and the very end, and his role could have been played by just about any actor. A very young Jeremy Bulloch (the original Boba Fett) is Droste's teenage son. 

Marianne Koch (who played Marisol in A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS) plays a woman who escapes from Hungary with Droste, and becomes his love interest. She brings some much needed charisma to the story, but it isn't enough. 

One other famous name attached to this film is Peter Cushing. The question is whether he actually worked on it, or whether the scenes he did work on were cut out. Numerous sources have mentioned how press reports of the time stated that Cushing was signed for the production, but no one seems to know what he did on it, if anything (even Cushing himself apparently didn't remember it). If Cushing did shoot some scenes for it, it made no sense at all to cut him out of the picture, as his name could have been added to the roster of all the other notable actors involved. And...if Cushing had been in this movie, it would have made THE DEVIL'S AGENT an official Cushing-Lee film, and it probably would have gotten a special edition home video release by now. 

THE DEVIL'S AGENT was directed by John Paddy Carstairs (brother of Anthony Nelson Keys) and the crisp black & white cinematography was by Gerald Gibbs. The British technical proficiency by these men is welcome, but what this movie could have used was the weird wildness of the German krimis. Christopher Lee fans will not be impressed by his tiny part. 

Christopher Lee and Peter van Eyck in THE DEVIL'S AGENT

Saturday, May 7, 2022

The VCI Santo Blu-ray Box Set: Disc Four


I finally got around to viewing the fourth and final disc of VCI's Santo Blu-ray box set, which contains two cinematic adventures of the Mexican masked wrestler. 

SANTO AND BLUE DEMON VS. FRANKENSTEIN (1974) has a lot in common with SANTO VS. FRANKENSTEIN'S DAUGHTER. Once again Santo (along with fellow masked wrestler Blue Demon) fights a member of the Frankenstein family--this time, it's the original Dr. Frankenstein's grandson. The grandson, who is named Irving (seriously), also has developed a youth serum like his aunt, and he also kidnaps Santo's girlfriend, and he has created a muscular being to fight the heroes. 

This movie is a typically wacky affair for Santo to be involved in, but the various sub-plots and ideas are not carried out properly. The story establishes that Irving Frankenstein has killed 12 different women due to practicing brain transplants on them (the doc states he is perfecting his technique, but considering that all these women died, maybe he should change tactics?). These victimized women then become murderous zombies, controlled by Frankenstein, but this idea unfortunately doesn't go anywhere. 

Irving Frankenstein, as played by Jorge Russek, acts more like a crime boss than a scientist--he has a pack of thugs who constantly get beat up by Santo and Blue Demon. At the climax the doc decides to use his creation, which he calls Golem, as an actual wrestler so he can fight and kill Santo in the ring, that way it will be "legal". The doc even puts on a mask and poses as Golem's manager--putting this Dr. Frankenstein on the same level as Bobby Heenan. (What would Colin Clive think of this?) 

Miguel M. Delgado directed this outing, and one wishes he brought some more flair and inventiveness to the proceedings. 

THE REVENGE OF THE CRYING WOMAN (1974) was also directed by Miguel M. Delgado. This outing deals with La Llorona, the "Crying Woman", a Mexican legend about a lady who after a tragic death roams about wailing over her lost children. This time Santo is teamed up with Cuban boxer Jose "Mantiquella" Napoles, who was the world welterweight champion at the time the film was made. (This means that not only do we get to see the usual wrestling matches involving Santo, we also have to watch one of Napoles' boxing matches.) 

The legend of La Llorona has been dealt with in numerous (and much better) movies. Here a professor has researched the legend, and has found evidence of where the actual woman was buried. He asks Santo and Mantiquella to help find the grave, and the map of a treasure that is supposed to be entombed with the woman. Santo and friends find the grave, but they inadvertently revive the Crying Woman, while a group of gangsters (led by Mexican movie legend Rene Cardona Sr.) scheme to make off with the treasure, which Santo intends to give to a children's hospital. 

Ironically Santo never actually personally confronts the Crying Woman--the scenes involving her feel as if they come from another movie. The Crying Woman here is impressively realized--she's quite creepy--and she's accompanied by a black-garbed young woman who is an emissary of the devil. I have to admit this film would have been much better if it focused on the Crying Woman and left Santo and Mantiquella out of it. 

There are no extras on this disc, but as in the rest of the set, Mexican movie expert Dr. David Wilt gives informative introductions to both films. Both titles on this disc appear to be in the 1.85:1 ratio, and the colorful transfers are very good. Both movies have the same mediocre English dubbing as the rest of the titles in this set do. 

Overall I enjoyed this VCI Santo box set, despite the silly-sounding English dubbing. The movies are certainly diverting enough, although it would be a good idea to spread out your viewing of them (all the story lines follow a basic pattern). I also appreciated the introductions by David Wilt, and the booklet included with the set, which was written by Wilt, and which gives a quick look at all eight movies. I do wish that at least one of the films here had an audio commentary--watching these Santo adventures made me want more info on the man and his cinematic career. 

If you enjoy movies that involve the weird, strange, and fantastic, and you're looking for something different, this Santo box set is a great introduction to the wild world of the famed masked wrestler.