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.