Sunday, December 31, 2023

My Top Five Blu-rays Of 2023


It's time for another end-of-the-year best Blu-rays post. As usual, I tried to cut back on my home video purchases, and, as usual, I failed miserably. But it's my life. 

I must point out that all the choices were releases that I actually bought and watched in 2023. If you are wondering why there are no 4K releases on this list, it's because I don't have a 4K player. If you good folks want me to start writing posts on 4K discs, then I suggest you buy me a 4K player--and while you're at it, get me a 4K monitor and a region-free player too. 

Anyway, here's the list: 


Anyone who has any personal knowledge of me is well aware of the fact that Peter Cushing is my favorite all-time actor, so of course this set is going to be No. 1. There's been some internet griping about the films contained in the set, but the title isn't CUSHING STUFF THAT HAS BEEN RELEASED BEFORE MULTIPLE TIMES. I wrote a full post on this last month. 

2. LAUREL & HARDY: YEAR ONE from Flicker Alley

The beginnings of the world's most famous big-screen comedy team, with plenty of rare treats that most folks have never seen. Here's hoping there is a LAUREL & HARDY: YEAR TWO forthcoming. I wrote a post on this in September. 


I haven't written a full post on this set yet, but I intend to. Tod Slaughter was an English stage performer who had a larger-than-life acting style, and he made a number of melodramas that are considered the beginnings of the English Gothic movie genre. This set contains eight of Slaughter's films, remastered and restored, with all sorts of extras and an info-packed booklet. 


Three films from the master of classic Hollywood macabre, including a restored THE UNKNOWN with Lon Chaney, the very rare THE MYSTIC, and the notorious FREAKS, with all the expected Criterion bells & whistles. 


Two magnificently restored silent films, made and starring a true icon of the pre-talkies age. I wrote a full post on this in November. 

Saturday, December 30, 2023



I recently received another batch of discount movies from Edward R. Hamilton, and among them was a DVD of the 1973 British-Italian co-production HITLER: THE LAST TEN DAYS, with Alec Guinness in the title role. 

Any film dealing with Hitler now has to be compared with DOWNFALL, starring Bruno Ganz. DOWNFALL in my opinion is by far the best cinematic representation of the Nazi regime, and while HITLER: THE LAST TEN DAYS covers essentially the exact same material, it falls short of being either historically dramatic or notable. 

Most of the film is set (as expected) in Hitler's bunker during the waning days of the Third Reich in April 1945. This version of those events is a dreary affair, as most of the scenes have the supporting cast listening to Hitler's bizarre observations and rants. Unlike DOWNFALL, the supporting characters are barely sketched out--it's as if they are around mainly to give Hitler an audience. 

HITLER: THE LAST TEN DAYS feels more like a stage play instead of a movie, with a main element being the heavy atmosphere of the cramped and stuffy bunker facility. I realize that this is an important part of any story dealing with the last days of Hitler, but DOWNFALL was able to overcome this by showing what life was like outside in war-torn Berlin. THE LAST TEN DAYS sprinkles in a few scenes of black & white newsreel footage from time to time, but these scenes seem inserted almost at random. 

Alec Guinness is one of my favorite actors, and the very idea of him playing Adolf Hitler has to pique the interest of any film geek. I have to admit that while watching THE LAST TEN DAYS I didn't feel if I was seeing Hitler--I felt that I was seeing Alec Guinness trying to be Hitler. Guinness puts a lot of emphasis on the Fuhrer's gestures and mannerisms, but I felt he was at his best when he kept perfectly still and reduced his expression to a cold glare. Guinness' Hitler also seems far too healthy and mentally alert to be the wreck of a man trapped in a bunker while his supposedly beloved Germany goes up in flames above him. 

As with just about any British historical film made in the 1960s-70s, this has an esteemed supporting cast, with Simon Ward, Julian Glover, and Joss Ackland. Due to this being a part-Italian production, Adolfo Celi and Gabriele Ferzetti are in the cast as well. Celi in particular feels out of place here--he was one of the most well-known Italian actors, and he's dubbed by Robert Rietty, who also did Celi's voice as Largo in THUNDERBALL. Seeing Celi in this film makes one wonder if he was supposed to be a representative of Mussolini, or if SPECTRE had somehow infiltrated the German High Command. Doris Kunstsmann is a glamorous Eva Braun, and Angela Pleasence, daughter of Donald, has a cameo. 

The story perks up a bit when famed pilot Hanna Reitsch (Diane Cilento) arrives with General von Greim (Eric Porter). This leads to a strange sub-plot in which Reitsch is jealous of Eva Braun. This diversion isn't enough to give the film momentum, as the viewer merely waits for Hitler to come to his well-known end. 

Despite being mostly filmed in England, HITLER: THE LAST TEN DAYS was directed (and co-written) by Italian Ennio De Concini, a man who has his name on the writing credits of a number of notable European productions. It's not a bad attempt to portray the last days of the Third Reich, but unfortunately a number of scenes border on being unintentionally funny, especially the ones showing the relationship between Hitler and Eva Braun. (This is a problem that any movie and TV show portraying Hitler has to deal with--it's something Mel Brooks understood quite well.) Despite his mammoth talents, I don't think Alec Guinness was particularly suited for the role of Adolf Hitler. 

Sunday, December 24, 2023



This is another of the many crime-mystery movies Terence Fisher directed for Hammer in the early 1950s. MANTRAP (known in the U.S. as MAN IN HIDING), released in 1953, has the advantage of a fine cast including Paul Henreid, Lois Maxwell, and Kay Kendall. 

The story literally begins with a man on the run, as one Mervyn Speight (Kieron Moore) escapes from prison and makes his way to London. Speight's wife Thelma (Lois Maxwell) fears that he's looking for her--after her husband was sent to prison for murder she changed her name and started a relationship with another man. An old friend of Speight's convinces lawyer Hugo Bishop (Paul Henreid) to look into the case. Intrigued, Hugo makes contact with Speight and Thelma, and decides to find out the truth. 

MANTRAP is somewhat livelier than the usual Hammer crime dramas made during this period. The notable cast helps, along with a storyline that has enough elements to keep the viewer interested (Terence Fisher was actually credited as co-screenwriter on this picture, along with Paul Tabori). 

Paul Henreid makes Hugo Bishop a breezy and urbane character--it's the type of role that would have been perfect for William Powell in the 1930s. Kay Kendall plays Hugo's secretary/girlfriend, and the two have such a rapport that you get the feeling that Terence Fisher would have been much happier to just focus on them. 

Lois Maxwell of course will always be remembered as the definitive Miss Moneypenny of the James Bond film series, but she was a very striking and talented actress who does very well with the role of Thelma, a woman constantly (and understandably) on edge. Kieron Moore, with his dark brooding looks, is perfect as a man on the run after being convicted for a crime he didn't commit. Hammer fanatics will be happy to know that MANTRAP happens to be the first film that Barbara Shelley appeared in for the company, although she's only onscreen for a few seconds, and she's billed in the credits under her birth name, Barbara Kowin. (She can be seen at the very beginning of a fashion show that Lois Maxwell is attending.) 

The interior scenes for MANTRAP were filmed at Bray Studios, but there's plenty of location shooting in London as well, opening up the story a bit. There's a number of red herrings in MANTRAP, but I did manage to pick out who was the real murderer, although that was more of a lucky guess than any insight on my part. 

MANTRAP is a better-than-average entry among the film noir-type productions made by Hammer and Terence Fisher before the company and the director went down the English Gothic route in the latter part of the 1950s. 

Sunday, December 17, 2023

TENDER DRACULA On Blu-ray From Severin


So it's finally come to this. The most notorious title in Severin's CUSHING CURIOSITIES Blu-ray box set is the 1974 French film TENDER DRACULA, also known as LA GRANDE TROUILLE. 

TENDER DRACULA is known among Peter Cushing fans for being the strangest, and possibly the worst, movie in the actor's entire career. I had tried watching this film on YouTube a couple times, and I either fell asleep or gave up completely on it. Did finally watching it all the way through in a restored and remastered version cause me to rethink my thoughts about it? a matter of fact it just made me wonder even more why it was made in the first place. 

The film's set-up (I hesitate to define anything in this story as an actual plot) involves two screenwriters (Bernard Menez and Stephane Shandor) and two young women (Miou-Miou and and Nathalie Courval) traveling to the castle of a horror actor named MacGregor (Peter Cushing) in order to convince him to keep working in the genre that made him famous. What happens next is totally inexplicable, as a series of bizarre incidents occurs. 

Nothing in this movie makes any sense, even if you accept the excuse that it's French. MacGregor keeps making statements about "the death of horror", yet he dresses like the Bela Lugosi version of Dracula, he every so often sports fangs, and he lives in a spooky old castle with a torture chamber. MacGregor's wife (Alida Valli) acts even weirder than he does, and most of the four visitors are supposedly killed and brought back to life. The two women even break into song at various times. 

Along with some gore effects, there's also a lot of nudity in TENDER DRACULA, but it appears to exist just as a way to get the audience's attention. I assume that all the eccentric stuff in this film is supposed to "mean" something, and I'm not sophisticated enough to understand it--personally I find it to be meaningless. 

The biggest mystery about TENDER DRACULA is why Peter Cushing agreed to be in it in the first place. You could say that he must have been intrigued by the script--but was there even a script to begin with?? Cushing looks great in his Lugosi-like getup, but for some reason he shouts a lot of his dialogue, and he gives some very (for him) broad reactions to what is going on around him. For all the Cushing fans who wished that the actor had been able to really do something different--you can't get any more different than this. 

Severin has presented this film in the best manner possible. Both picture and sound quality are excellent (the movie is in a 1.66:1 aspect ratio). What this proves is that the movie isn't technically bad--most of the shooting locations and sets are atmospheric. If anything, this makes the film even more disappointing--something much more better could have been made out of the resources at hand. 

There is an English and a French voice track available on this Blu-ray. The English track features the actual voices of Peter Cushing and Alida Valli, while the rest of the cast gets some mediocre overdubs. I haven't listened to the French dialogue track yet. Would the French track help the movie make more sense? I doubt it. 

The extras include two short interviews with director Pierre Grunstein and actor Bernard Menez. Both men spend more time talking about their personal careers than TENDER DRACULA, and if you're hoping they will somehow explain what the movie is about, they don't. (Bernard Menez, by the way, co-starred with Christopher Lee in another French horror farce, DRACULA AND SON--which means he can always say he acted with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.) 

There's also a new audio commentary with Jonathan Rigby and Kevin Lyons. The two men get way more enjoyment out of TENDER DRACULA than the average person would, and Rigby gets to show off his facility with the French language. An original trailer for the film is also included. (This disc is Region A.) 

Is TENDER DRACULA the worst film Peter Cushing acted in? I haven't seen HITLER'S SON, or A TOUCH OF THE SUN, so at this present moment I can't fully say that it is--but it's definitely one of the worst. Some might defend it as a unique European erotic fantasy, but I just see it as a project that was ridiculous just for the sake of being ridiculous. Does it deserve to be given the high-class treatment on home video that was provided by Severin? I never thought TENDER DRACULA would ever get any type of decent home video release at all, and I give credit to Severin for not taking the easy route and just re-releasing one of Cushing's better known Hammer or Amicus titles. Every major Peter Cushing fan should at least see TENDER DRACULA at least once, that way they can truly declare, "Yes, it really is that bad." 

Sunday, December 10, 2023

BLOODSUCKERS On Blu-ray From Severin


Included in Severin's CUSHING CURIOSITIES Blu-ray box set is BLOODSUCKERS, one of the weirdest English Gothic entries ever made. 

BLOODSUCKERS is also known as INCENSE FOR THE DAMNED, and it also has an alternate title of FREEDOM SEEKER. There's a number of different versions of this movie on the internet, and Severin claims that the one on this disc is the longest available. The fact that this production has different titles and versions does not bode well--and BLOODSUCKERS, or whatever you call it, is a mess. 

The movie is based on a novel by Simon Raven called DOCTORS WEAR SCARLET (and that was considered as a title for the movie as well). A rising young Oxford scholar named Richard Fountain (Patrick Mower) has disappeared while doing research in Greece, and due to his upper-class connections, an official effort is made to find him. Richard appears to have been taken over by a mysterious cult that might be practicing a modern form of vampirism--and after his friends bring him back to Oxford, Richard himself starts showing strange and disturbing habits. 

BLOODSUCKERS had several behind-the-scenes problems during its making, and director Robert Hartford-Davis was fired before the end of production. The result is that while the movie has some fine visuals (the cinematographer was Desmond Dickinson) it makes very little sense. Did Richard willingly join this cult, or is he being controlled? Does the sultry Chriseis (Imogen Hassall), who has Richard under her thrall, really have supernatural powers, or is it all due to drugs? Why is Richard so angry at his future father-in-law, Oxford provost Dr. Walter Goodrich (Peter Cushing)? 

This may be the longest version of BLOODSUCKERS, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's the best one. The version of the film on this disc has a orgy sequence that lasts nearly ten minutes. It goes on, and on, and on.....and instead of being titillating and provocative, it's just tawdry and ridiculous. Apparently it was shot in an attempt to fill the running time out, and to attract the youth market, but the film would have been much better if it had been cut out altogether. 

There's also a sequence where a Van Helsing-like academic played by Edward Woodward explains how vampirism is something of a sexual fetish. This sequence feels as if it's from a different movie, and also appears to be another attempt to pad out the running time. 

One big problem with BLOODSUCKERS is that the viewer just isn't engaged enough in Richard Fountain and his situation. For most of the film Richard is in a dazed state, so the viewer doesn't get to know him, and his big speech at the end where he calls out all his Oxford colleagues as dangerous hypocrites seems to come out of left field. It's hard to sympathize with Richard's "rebellion" against his upper-class life--this is a guy who is being groomed for an important position at an esteemed institution, and he's expected to marry a beautiful young woman, played by Madeleine Hinde. (Patrick Mower played another upper-class young man being ensnared in an evil cult in the much, much better Hammer classic THE DEVIL RIDES OUT.) 

BLOODSUCKERS does have a cast worthy of attention to English Gothic fans, with Cushing, Mower, Woodward, Alex Davion, Patrick Macnee, and Imogen Hassall. Valerie Van Ost (who also appeared in the Peter Cushing films CORRUPTION and THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA) can be seen in the background of most of the Oxford scenes (in all honestly she would have been much better as Richard's girlfriend). 

Peter Cushing doesn't have a lot of screen time (a common occurrence in the CUSHING CURIOSITIES box set). Even with only a few scenes, Cushing is still able to put over the idea that his Dr. Goodrich is a self-satisfied person that wants things done his way, but one gets the feeling that there was more to his character that somehow didn't get into the film. You would think that after Cushing had worked with Hartford-Davis on the notorious CORRUPTION, he'd have known better about BLOODSUCKERS. 

BLOODSUCKERS does look impressive on this Severin all-region Blu-ray--it's much more colorful and sharper than any of the versions of the film on YouTube. Severin gives this film a number of extras, including a new audio commentary with Jonathan Rigby and Kevin Lyons. The two men compare the movie to the novel upon which it was based, and they go into the life and career of Robert Hartford-Davis and the state of English genre cinema at the time the film was made. 

Also included are short new interviews with Robert Hartford-Davis' daughter, who chats about her father's life and claims that Peter Cushing adored him; actress Francoise Pascal, who only appeared in the orgy segment, and who states that this sequence was more realistic than viewers realize; and sound recordist Tony Dawe, who worked on the production. 

There's also a featurette where genre expert John Hamilton gives an excellent and thorough examination of Robert Hartford-Davis' early career and the making of BLOODSUCKERS. A 1961 short film called STRANGER IN THE CITY, written & directed by Hartford-Davis, is also on this disc. The short, in black & white and without dialogue, is about a day in the life of various folks in London, and it has a couple of elements of interest to English Gothic fans: one of the main characters in it is played by Hammer regular Sydney Bromley, and at one point a young woman checks out a front-of-theater display for the Baker-Berman film JACK THE RIPPER. A trailer and a title sequence with the FREEDOM SEEKER moniker are also included. 

BLOODSUCKERS is another rare Peter Cushing title that Severin has gone out its way to showcase. The makers of it deserve credit for trying to do something contemporary and different with the vampire genre, but unfortunately those filmmakers didn't seem to know what they really wanted. The movie does have nice Oxford and Cyprus locations, and a notable cast, but it doesn't make a whole lot of sense, even for a horror film. 

Saturday, December 9, 2023



This is the first part of a major production adapting Dumas' famed novel. There have been several Three Musketeers films over the years, and this new one has the advantage of being filmed in France, and featuring a French cast & crew. 

Richard Lester's two Musketeer films in the 1970s had the same concept as this one does--breaking the novel down into two parts. D'ARTAGNAN actually ends at about the same point as Lester's first Three Musketeers movie did. but the approaches to the material between the two productions are very different. 

D'ARTAGNAN is a faithful and realistic version of the legendary tale, following the young, earnest D'Artagnan (Francois Civil) as he travels to Paris to seek his goal of becoming one of the King's musketeers. D'Artagnan almost immediately insults--and then befriends--three accomplished musketeers: Athos (Vincent Cassel), Aramis (Romain Duris), and Porthos (Pio Marmai). The four become involved in various conspiracies dealing with the Queen of France and the conflict between French Catholics and Protestants. Behind it all is the scheming Cardinal Richelieu (Eric Ruf) and a mysterious femme fatale called Milady de Winter (Eva Green). 

This version is a fairly straightforward adaptation, a bit more serious than most, with a somewhat grimy-looking early 17th Century Paris. The movie has impressive costumes and settings, energetic camerawork, and plenty of atmospheric photography, and director Martin Bourboulon keeps things hopping--the only time the story slows down a tad is when D'Artagnan woos the demure Constance (Lyna Khoudri). The action scenes have a loose, helter-skelter attitude about them, and there's none of the outlandish elements one would expect from a Hollywood telling of the tale. One thing that makes this THE THREE MUSKETEERS stand out is that it pays more attention to the religious battles in France during the period of the story, an element most other adaptations stay away from. 

Francois Civil is quite good as the impetuous D'Artagnan, and the Three Musketeers themselves are given very distinct personalities. Eva Green, a longtime favorite of yours truly, is perfect as Milady. Her magnificent screen presence allows her to command every scene she is in, even if she doesn't have any dialogue. 

Speaking of the dialogue.....the version of this film available to rent on Vudu has English credit titles and an English dub voice track. I wish I had been able to watch it in the original French with English subtitles (the main reason this movie is notable is that it is a truly French version of a classic French story, after all). The English dub is decently done, but most of the voices sound plain, especially the one for Cardinal Richelieu. 

I had hoped that THE THREE MUSKETEERS: D'ARTAGNAN would get a theatrical release in the area that I live in, but so far no such luck. The film was released throughout the world last year, and the story's second part, THE THREE MUSKETEERS: MILADY, is in theaters overseas right now. I would really love to see D'ARTAGNAN on the big screen, with the original French voice track someday....but even at home through streaming this is an impressive adventure, and much better than the brand-name American popcorn movies made recently. 

Monday, December 4, 2023

THE MAN WHO FINALLY DIED On Blu-ray From Severin


THE MAN WHO FINALLY DIED (1963) shares a disc along with SUSPECT in Severin's CUSHING CURIOSITIES Blu-ray box set. 

The movie is based on a British TV serial, and both projects were directed by Quentin Lawrence. A man who calls himself Joe Newman (Stanley Baker) arrives in a town in Bavaria, Germany. Newman was born in the town, but he left as a child when his mother took him to England. Joe's father served in the German military in WWII, and Newman is seeking information on him. No one in the town, however, wants to give him any straight answers--including his father's friend Dr. von Brecht (Peter Cushing). Joe finds out his father's identity is being used in an international plot. 

THE MAN WHO FINALLY DIED is a black & white mystery with a few noir elements. Much of the story consists of an impatient Stanley Baker trying to find out what really happened to his father while nearly every person in the town puts obstacles in his way. It's a very talky film, and the revelation of what is actually going on isn't exactly earth-shattering. After seeing the climax, one realizes that if one of the characters had just taken Joe Newman aside and calmly explained the entire situation, a lot of trouble would have been avoided (and the movie would have been about five minutes long). 

Stanley Baker is decent enough as Joe Newman, but the character isn't very engaging, and he has a bad temper (although it has to be said his anger here is justified). Peter Cushing doesn't have a lot to do, and honestly his role here isn't as good as the one he had in SUSPECT. The main thing that can be said about Cushing's Dr. von Brecht is that he's very suspicious--but everybody in this movie acts suspicious, including Stanley Baker. 

The movie is helped by a fine supporting cast, including Niall MacGinnis, Eric Portman, Mai Zettering, and Nigel Green. Quentin Lawrence (who also directed Peter Cushing in one of his best roles in CASH ON DEMAND) does what he can to open up the story and make it cinematic, but it's obvious this production was not filmed in Germany. (As a matter of fact, the exteriors of good old Oakley Court are used in a couple scenes.) 

Severin presents THE MAN WHO FINALLY DIED in an excellent-looking 2.35:1 widescreen transfer. The only extra is a new audio commentary with Kim Newman and Barry Forshaw. The duo spend most of their time talking about Stanley Baker's acting career, and how the movie compares with other British films and TV shows of the period. It's a conversation worth listening to. 

I had never seen THE MAN WHO FINALLY DIED, and while it is a competently made feature, there aren't enough interesting moments in it to cover the 100 minute running time. It is a rare title for most Peter Cushing fans, and it's good that the company decided to include it in its Cushing Blu-ray box set. 

Sunday, December 3, 2023

SUSPECT (AKA THE RISK) On Blu-ray From Severin


The 1960 film SUSPECT (also known as THE RISK) is included on Severin's CUSHING CURIOSITIES Blu-ray box set. The movie shares the same disc with THE MAN WHO FINALLY DIED. 

SUSPECT is a very effective low-budget realistic espionage tale produced and directed by the Boulting Brothers. A research team of British scientists led by a Professor Sewell (Peter Cushing) is working on a way to end plague epidemics. Sewell desperately wants to share the team's findings, in hopes that it will serve humanity, but a government minister (Raymond Huntley) fears the information may be used to produce a biological weapon. Sewell and his team are ordered by the government not to share or discuss their results, and this leads the younger members of the research group to take matters in their own hands and get involved with some shady characters. 

When it comes to espionage, SUSPECT is more in the way of John le Carre than Ian Fleming. The story (adapted from a novel by Nigel Balchin) is still an intriguing one, with the ensemble of characters each reacting a different way to the situation at hand. The conflict between those trying to help the public and government officials who believe they are trying to protect the public is still very relevant today--SUSPECT could easily be remade and updated to the 21st Century. The movie succeeds in giving each side of the discussion its viewpoint without making one appear good or bad. 

Peter Cushing doesn't have a lot of screen time in SUSPECT, but he gets across the idea that Professor Sewell is a quietly determined man who truly wants to help society. Cushing doesn't play the Professor as an eccentric--when Sewell finds out about the government's decision on his work, he's not happy about it at all, but he accepts the situation and deals with it the best he can. Cushing is playing a man older than what he was at the time, and Sewell, with his grey hair and mustache, very much resembles Cushing's personal appearance in the early 1970s. SUSPECT was made right near the end of Cushing's first great Hammer horror period, and one assumes that the actor was glad to play a "normal" role in a contemporary story, and  get a chance to work with the Boultings. 

In SUSPECT Cushing is surrounded by an esteemed group of British character actors, most of whom he had worked with or would work with in the future. The cast includes many people familiar to Cushing fans, such as Raymond Huntley, Thorley Walters, Donald Pleasence, Sam Kydd, Kenneth Griffith, and Geoffrey Bayldon. Spike Milligan even has a comic relief role. It is the overall cast that really elevates SUSPECT from other low-budget British films made during the same period--most major English features didn't have an ensemble like this. 

Severin presents SUSPECT in a 1.66:1 widescreen aspect ratio, and the black & white picture quality is very crisp. The only extra for this movie is a brand new audio commentary by Jonathan Rigby and Kevin Lyons. It's an excellent one, as the two men are quite enthusiastic throughout, discussing various details of the film and how the Boultings, while making this picture, tried to elevate what was essentially the British version of a "B" movie. The disc that contains SUSPECT and THE MAN WHO FINALLY DIED is Region A. 

SUSPECT was one of the few Peter Cushing films I had never seen, and I was very impressed with it. It's a nice little film, a thinking person's Cold War spy story, and it's enlivened by a very notable cast. Peter Cushing doesn't have a huge role in it, but I'm sure his fans will appreciate seeing him in a realistic portrayal as opposed to the many English Gothic characters he was playing during this period. 

Saturday, December 2, 2023



GODZILLA: MINUS ONE isn't just a great Godzilla film, it's a great film, period. Writer-Director Takashi Yamazaki's kaiju tale strikes the right balance between FX spectacle and human drama, and it's far more memorable than any brand-name franchise movie made in the last five years. 

It must be pointed out that this is a real Godzilla film, made in Japan by Toho Studios. It has no connection whatsoever with the American-made Monsterverse, or Monarchverse, or whatever they call it. GODZILLA: MINUS ONE is a standalone story, with the title character appearing at the end of World War II, instead of his historical debut in the 1954 original Godzilla feature. 

The main human character in MINUS ONE is a young man named Shikishima (Ryunosuke Kamiki), who was trained as a kamikaze pilot, but failed to carry out his mission. At war's end Shikishima returns to a devastated Tokyo, and tries to rebuild his life with a young woman named Noriko (Minami Hamabe) and an orphan child. But the young man is suffering from survivor's guilt, and haunted by having experienced an attack on Odo Island by a giant dinosaur-like creature. That creature (Godzilla of course) soon returns, larger and more powerful, and proceeds to rain down destruction on a country already reeling from a catastrophic military defeat. Shikishima, sensing a chance to redeem himself, joins up with a group of regular citizens who decide to fight the monster on their very own. 

There are plenty of scenes of awesome destruction in MINUS ONE--the Godzilla presented here may be the most horrible and threatening yet--but there's also plenty of heart as well. The two young human leads are likable, believable characters, and the viewer is truly interested in their plight. Unlike recent American popcorn movies, MINUS ONE avoids dopey attempts at humor, contrived approaches at being trendy, and drawn out action sequences that steadily become more and more ridiculous. There's a simplicity to the style of MINUS ONE that is refreshing when compared to the bombastic attempts by the big-name entertainment companies to overwhelm today's audiences. The idea of a group of ordinary citizens coming together to battle a major threat is one that would have been heartily endorsed by original Godzilla director Ishiro Honda. 

If Disney, Marvel, or Warners/DC had any sense--which is highly doubtful at this stage--they would hire Takashi Yamazaki as quickly as possible, and let him work on whatever project he deems fit. What Yamazaki has done is make a brand-name genre entry that is entertaining and moving--and he did it without any major human stars, and on a $15 million dollar budget!! GODZILLA: MINUS ONE is the best new theatrical film I have seen in 2023. 

Sunday, November 26, 2023



If you have read this blog for any amount of time, you are well aware of the fact that Peter Cushing is my favorite actor of all time. It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that when Severin Films announced a six-disc Blu-ray set based around Cushing, I pre-ordered it as quickly as possible. 

The CUSHING CURIOSITIES Blu-ray box set contains five rare films featuring Peter Cushing, and the six surviving episodes of the 1968 Sherlock Holmes BBC TV series in which Cushing played the title role. Each disc is filled with extras, audio commentaries, and vintage interviews with Cushing. 

The set also contains a heavily illustrated 200 page booklet on the actor, written by ENGLISH GOTHIC author Jonathan Rigby. This is a fantastic volume, worthy of purchase on its own (Severin should seriously consider releasing a larger, hardcover version of this booklet). The booklet is almost a mini-biography of Cushing, with Rigby providing perceptive analysis on the man's personal life and professional career. 

Among the films in the set are three black & white contemporary dramas made in the early 1960s. CONE OF SILENCE has Cushing as an officious airline pilot in a story about problems concerning a new jet airliner. In SUSPECT Cushing plays a scientist who has his findings suppressed by the British government. THE MAN WHO FINALLY DIED, a noirish tale set in post WWII Germany, has Cushing as the suspicious key to a Cold War mystery. 

BLOODSUCKERS, a film made in 1969, and known by other titles and versions, is a very strange vampire story with Cushing in a small role as an Oxford don. 

The final film in the set is TENDER DRACULA, a 1974 French farce that might be the worst feature Cushing appeared in (depending on your point of view). In the past I tried to watch TENDER DRACULA a couple times on YouTube, but it was so outlandish and ridiculous I couldn't get through it. The version of it on this box set is supposed to be fully restored, but I'll still be saving it for last. 

The six episodes of the 1968 Sherlock Holmes TV series are making their Blu-ray debut on this set, and each episode gets an audio commentary. 

I've read some internet remarks mentioning how obscure the five feature films in this set are, and how Peter Cushing isn't the main star in any of them, except for TENDER DRACULA. I admit that is true....but these are a collection of films that have never gotten a proper home video release (at least in North America). I realize this set doesn't have any of Cushing's famous Hammer or Amicus appearances, but those films have gotten multiple releases already in most cases. If you are a hardcore Peter Cushing fan, wouldn't you want to spend money on something brand new? 

I heard the same type of complaints about the choice of movies when Severin's wonderful EUROCRYPT OF CHRISTOPHER LEE sets were released. I believe Severin should be given thanks for releasing such material in high-end editions with important extras. The home video market shouldn't be just about re-releasing the same clickbait titles over and over again. 

I'm far from getting through the entire CUSHING CURIOSITIES set--with all the material it's going to take me a while. The films that I have viewed in the set so far have excellent picture & sound quality. I intend to write blog posts on some of the individual titles themselves eventually. 

Obviously the CUSHING CURIOSITIES set is a must for major fans of Peter Cushing. I would recommend this set to anyone in any event--but I do need to point out that the titles here are somewhat obscure, and you are not going to see Cushing as Dr. Van Helsing or Baron Frankenstein. As for me, I'm sincerely hoping Severin has plans for a CUSHING CURIOSITIES Volume 2. 

Saturday, November 25, 2023



Ridley Scott's NAPOLEON makes the mistake of trying to tell the entire story of Napoleon Bonaparte's mammoth life and conquests in a single film, and even at 158 minutes, it just isn't long enough to properly do so. 

The result is the movie feels like a list of Napoleon's Greatest Hits, with plenty of famous incidents that could have filled out a 158 minute running time all by themselves. You don't have to be a history major to watch Scott's NAPOLEON, but if your life revolves around trending topics this isn't the film for you. 

The major problem I had with NAPOLEON was Joaquin Phoenix in the title role. Phoenix gives his usual off-kilter performance, and I just didn't buy him as Napoleon at all. (Some of Phoenix's acting choices caused chuckles among the audience at the screening I attended.) One of the main elements of the film is that Napoleon's drive and determination spring from his obsession with Josephine (Vanessa Kirby). Because of this, Josephine winds up being a stronger and more charismatic figure than Napoleon--something I don't think Ridley Scott meant to happen. (Vanessa Kirby is the best thing in this production.) 

NAPOLEON is also hampered by some very ripe dialogue (which also got an audience reaction). The battle sequences and costumes are well done, and there's plenty of big screen spectacle....but for me the movie didn't show what made Napoleon such a titan upon the world stage. 

Apparently there's a four-hour cut of this film that may be shown later on AppleTV, and that might fill in some of the gaps the theatrical version has. Judging from what I saw in the theater, Ridley Scott's NAPOLEON doesn't reach a David Lean-Stanley Kurbrick epic level--it's more like a Cecil B. DeMille show. 

Friday, November 24, 2023

RAWHIDE--"Incident Of The Dowery Dundee"


Earlier this year I wrote a blog post on an episode of the 1960s American TV series 12 O'CLOCK HIGH, which featured Hammer horror stars Barbara Shelley and Hazel Court as guest stars. Hazel Court appeared on a number of classic TV shows in the sixties after she married actor-director Don Taylor and moved to the United States. Court was a guest star in such shows as THE TWILIGHT ZONE, BONANZA, and THE WILD, WILD WEST. I didn't know until recently, however, that Court appeared in an episode of RAWHIDE. 

That particular episode was titled "Incident of the Dowery Dundee". It begins with trail hands Rowdy Yates (Clint Eastwood) and Quince (Steve Raines) discovering a Scottish woman named Kathleen Dundee (Hazel Court) traveling by all be herself on the prairie, along with her four bulls. Kathleen tells Rowdy that a man she was engaged to be married to treated her badly, and is now after her and her dowry. Rowdy, feeling bad for her, invites her to tag along with the cattle drive, much to the consternation of trail boss Gil Favor (Eric Fleming). It turns out that Kathleen is actually married to the man she said she's running from--and she's pregnant. 

"Incident of the Dowery Dundee" is one of the more lighthearted episodes of RAWHIDE. Kathleen Dundee isn't just Scottish--she's really Scottish, in a way that would give James Doohan's Montgomery Scott from STAR TREK a run for his money. Kathleen is feisty and spunky, and Court plays her in a broad but entertaining manner. The idea of Kathleen Dundee and her obsession over her dowry is basically a variation on THE QUIET MAN, and that movie's Mary Kate, played by Maureen O'Hara. (Many of the plots for episodes of classic American TV series were influenced by famous films). 

Hazel Court in the RAWHIDE episode "Incident of the Dowery Dundee"

It's fun to see Hazel Court show some comedic chops, and it appears she enjoyed playing this character. Kathleen Dundee is a far cry from most of the Gothic ladies Court typically portrayed, and while the actress isn't as dolled up as usual, she still looks quite fetching in her plaid outfit. The rough-and-ready cattle drive hands are charmed by Kathleen, but she does nothing but annoy Gil Favor, what with her bulls constantly spooking the herd. (Eric Fleming is very sarcastic and dour in this episode.)

"Incident of the Dowery Dundee" premiered about halfway through RAWHIDE's sixth season, in early 1964. It's a decent enough episode, but there really isn't much to it, other than Hazel Court's performance. Kathleen's husband doesn't show up until the latter part of the show, and he's played by long-time bad guy Lyle Bettger. As soon as the husband does show up, it's easy to predict that Kathleen will start to go into labor, and she and her husband will make up after the baby is born. (It needs to be pointed out that Court is one of the most un-pregnant looking pregnant women in the history of television.) The comedy in the story is more silly than amusing--even Clint Eastwood winds up taking a pratfall. 

What "Incident of the Dowery Dundee" does do is show how talented Hazel Court was. She gives a performance way beyond the English Gothic roles she's best known for. I've long believed that classic American television gave many notable actors much more of a chance to be versatile than the theatrical films that made them famous. The various TV series appearances of several great stars are almost ignored, and that's a slight that needs to be rectified. I've tried to do that a few times with this blog. 

Saturday, November 18, 2023



I didn't get a chance to see THE LAST VOYAGE OF THE DEMETER on the big screen--it didn't stick around too long in the theaters in my area. I did finally catch up to it this week. 

LAST VOYAGE has the ultimate horror high concept--it's based on the chapter in Bram Stoker's novel of DRACULA that deals with how the Count, along with his numerous boxes of native soil, was transported to England from Transylvania on the merchant ship DEMETER

The movie injects some modern elements into the chapter, such as a black man (Corey Hawkins) who studied medicine at Cambridge being part of the crew, the ship captain's 9 year old grandson, the boy's dog, and a young woman discovered inside one of Dracula's boxes of earth. 

One of the creepiest things about the chapter in DRACULA dealing with the DEMETER is that the crew has absolutely no idea why they are being killed off by a mysterious force. In LAST VOYAGE, the young woman serves as a sort of "cheat sheet" to the crew in their travails, but she doesn't really wind up helping them all that much. A major plot point is that Hawkins' character considers himself a rational man of science, who has to face a totally irrational threat (despite all his learning, he doesn't contribute much to the situation either). 

LAST VOYAGE basically winds up being another multiple characters being stalked and killed in a closed-off locale scenario. Director Andre Ovredal provides a few effective moments, but there's a lot of talk in between the many sequences where the characters (and the camera) prowl about the ship, and the jump-scare moments are easy to anticipate. The design of the DEMETER is well done, although I must say the vessel is far larger than the ship I pictured when reading Stoker's novel. 

The Dracula presented here is a foul, unearthly being--the best way I can describe him is that he's a supercharged version of Nosferatu. Dracula's appearances are kept to a minimum, and they have an impact, but I still felt the creature was too CGI-ish for my tastes. 

THE LAST VOYAGE OF THE DEMETER should get some credit for putting a twist on a famed Gothic tale that has been adapted innumerable times. The ship's crew, however, are not interesting enough to sustain a nearly two-hour running time. The film's premise would have worked much better as a 70-minute black & white B movie made decades ago. 

Sunday, November 12, 2023

A Douglas Fairbanks Musketeer Double Feature On Blu-ray


The Cohen Media Group and Kino Lorber have released a magnificent silent movie double feature on Blu-ray, featuring the legendary Douglas Fairbanks. THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1921) and THE IRON MASK (1929) are on this Region A disc, and the sources for both films are from recent major restorations. 

Alexandre Dumas' D'Artagnan was made to order for Douglas Fairbanks. The character's earnestness, swagger, and overall bravado perfectly matched Fairbanks's screen persona. But these Musketeer films are much more than just Fairbanks. These were major productions in every way, with opulent sets, settings, and costumes. In all the historical adventures he was involved with, Douglas Fairbanks made sure to give audiences a fantastic experience. 

These restorations of the silent THE THREE MUSKETEERS and THE IRON MASK show how much money, time and effort were spent on each production. Both films look amazing on this Blu-ray--I'd say THE IRON MASK looks a bit better, but one has to remember that THE THREE MUSKETEERS is over a hundred years old. 

This disc also provides great music scores for each film by esteemed composers--THE THREE MUSKETEERS has music by Robert Israel, and THE IRON MASK has a score by Carl Davis. The scores are presented in 5.1 and 2.0 DTS, and they fit the tone of the films like a glove. 

If you have never seen these films, and are wondering how they hold up today, I'd say they hold up very well. Both films are presented at the proper frame speed, and they are both wonderful classic adventures that can be enjoyed by anyone. The action sequences are still impressive, and you can't help but be energized by Fairbanks--he has so much vitality that he can barely keep still. 

THE THREE MUSKETEERS is a very close adaptation of Dumas' story, and it has Adolphe Menjou as King Louis XIII and Eugene Pallette of all people as Aramis. THE IRON MASK was made 8 years later, and it was the last silent feature to star Fairbanks. THE IRON MASK, while still fun, is a darker, more expressionistic film, and it's also moving at times, with several major characters meeting tragic fates. The poignant climax has Fairbanks saying farewell to his brand of derring-do in his own particular way. 

A few actors other than Fairbanks appeared in both of the features on this disc, including Marguerite De La Motte as Constance, Nigel De Brulier as the scheming Cardinal Richelieu, and Leon Bary as Athos. 

This is a great double feature from Cohen and Kino--my only quibble is that there are no extras or audio commentaries to give background and info on these films. Any silent film fanatic or lover of grand adventure will want this disc in order to see these films given the best presentation possible. This disc and these movies are a tribute to the star quality and the film making talents of Douglas Fairbanks. The large-scale adventures Fairbanks made in the 1920s are the equivalent of Marvel movies today. 

Saturday, November 11, 2023



THE DISEMBODIED (1957) is another film in which its characters are referenced in my friend Frank Dello Stritto's latest book PATRON SAINTS OF THE LIVING DEAD. There's only one real reason to watch THE DISEMBODIED, and that's Allison Hayes, the sultry femme fatale of 1950s low budget sci-fi/horror films. 

Somewhere in the jungles of Africa (I think), lives a middle-aged European scientist named Dr. Metz (John Wengraf). Metz is (improbably) married to a gorgeous younger woman named Tonda (Allison Hayes). Tonda happens to be the local voodoo queen. Three American men--Tom (Paul Burke), Norm (Joel Marston), and Joe (Robert Christopher) show up at Metz's compound seeking help. Joe has been mauled by a lion, but Tonda uses her voodoo powers to heal and revive him. Joe is now in the thrall of Tonda, but the conniving woman has her devious sights set on Tom, hoping to force him to kill her husband and take her back to civilization. The voodoo queen winds up getting her just desserts. 

THE DISEMBODIED is a very cheap black & white jungle tale filmed entirely on indoor sets. It comes off as a trashy soap opera instead of a voodoo-influenced thriller. The film's best special effect is Allison Hayes, a woman who was built like the Great Wall of China. Despite living in a remote jungle location, her Tonda manages to have perfect hair and makeup at all times, and she also has a different outfit for nearly every scene she's in. Hayes' acting here is about as subtle as a slap to the face--Tonda goes out of her way to seduce every male within her vicinity--but she's fun to watch, and there's nothing wrong with a generous serving of eye candy. (Hayes also gets to do some bumping & grinding during a couple of voodoo ceremonies.) 

There isn't much to say about the rest of the cast. For whatever reason, in her films Allison Hayes was usually paired with men who were as boring as dry toast. What makes THE DISEMBODIED worthy of discussion is the numerous plot points that are not explained. What, exactly, is Dr. Metz doing in the middle of the jungle? How did he wind up meeting--and marrying--the younger and statuesque Tonda? The three American men who stumble upon Metz's camp say they were shooting film footage in the jungle--but why do they not have any camera equipment? Why do the "natives" appear to be a mixture of several different nationalities? 

The very character of Tonda deserves some kind of backstory. Despite her exotic name, she's obviously a white American. How in the heck did she become a voodoo queen, and with her looks, why couldn't she have found a better situation for herself?? Trying to come up with answers to all these dangling plot threads may be a waste of time, but it's something film geeks like me love to do. Frank Dello Stritto's PATRON SAINTS OF THE LIVING DEAD gives a much better background on the characters of THE DISEMBODIED than the actual movie does. 

THE DISEMBODIED was made by Allied Artists, and it was directed by Walter Grauman. It was Grauman's directorial debut, and it shows--even at only 66 minutes, the movie drags and lacks style. Grauman did later on direct the fine WWII film 633 SQUADRON. 

Fans of Allison Hayes will love THE DISEMBODIED, but there isn't much else to it. 

Monday, November 6, 2023



Director Martin Scorsese's latest film, KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON, is based upon an historical incident, a series of murders which took place in 1920's northern Oklahoma. 

What makes these murders particularly stand out is that most of the victims were members of the Native American Osage Nation, a tribe which had become rich due to the oil deposits found on their land. KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON may not be a gangster story in the traditional sense, but it certainly deals with a form of organized crime (although disorganized might be the more proper term for the lowlife perpetrators in this tale). 

Leonardo DiCaprio plays Ernest Burkhart, a WWI veteran who goes to his uncle's ranch in Oklahoma looking for work. Ernest soon begins to woo Molly (Lily Gladstone), an Osage woman who, along with her sisters, has a share of the local oil riches. Ernest and Molly get married, while members of her family and other Native Americans are being murdered. Ernest supposedly loves Molly, but he's really in the thrall of his uncle, William "King" Hale (Robert De Niro). Hale is a local bigwig and a presumed "friend" of the Osage, but he's really out to get their oil rights by any means necessary. 

KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON is about three and a half hours long, the same approximate length as THE IRISHMAN. KILLERS, in my opinion, isn't as energetic as THE IRISHMAN, and the pace starts to lag at times. It doesn't help that the major character in the story is Ernest, a guy who is basically a dim-witted redneck who is Hale's henchman, and isn't the type of person one wants to spend over three hours watching. Leo gets plenty of chances to do his now-patented "Look how intense I am" routine, but I thought Lily Gladstone as Molly gave the better performance (this is really Molly's story, after all). 

Robert De Niro, as expected, makes the most out of the role of William Hale, a man who puts on a beneficent facade behind his spectacles while using his cunning and guile to orchestrate a number of heinous events. (De Niro's eyeware deserves a chance at a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award nomination.) 

Despite the fact that the movie could use some tighter editing, there's plenty of notable shots due to Rodrigo Prieto's expert cinematography, and there is some dark humor sprinkled in. (As a matter of fact, Hale and Ernest have an almost Abbott & Costello-type of relationship at times.) 

Overall, I'd rate KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON as very good Scorsese instead of great. The director has made a number of acclaimed lengthy films, but this one, for me anyway, didn't seem to have enough in it to fill out the time. There's also the way that Scorsese chose to wrap up the story, a way which struck me as....unusual, to say the least. Still, very good Scorsese is much better than just about anything else that's been put out in the theaters recently. 

Sunday, November 5, 2023



VERTIGO is one of my favorite films of all time. You could say that I'm as obsessed with it as James Stewart was obsessed with Kim Novak in the actual film. It wasn't until recently, however, that I read the original novel upon which Hitchcock's classic work was based upon. 

The novel D'ENTRE LES MORTS (translated to English as FROM AMONG THE DEAD) was written in the mid-1950s by two Frenchmen, Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac. The duo had already written the novel which was the basis for the internationally acclaimed film LES DIABOLIQUES, and this had brought them to the attention of Alfred Hitchcock. 

Contrary to popular legend, D'ENTRE LES MORTS was not written specifically in hopes that it would be made as a Hitchcock movie. One can certainly see why Hitchcock was taken by the novel. I always assumed that Hitchcock and the writers he worked with made major changes to the story when adapting D'ENTRE LES MORTS to the screen, but most of the basic plot elements are in the novel. 

D'ENTRE LES MORTS begins in France, during the spring of 1940. A former detective named Roger Flavieres is asked by an old schoolmate named Gevigne to keep an eye on his wife, Madeleine. The woman has been showing signs of odd behavior, and Gevigne is worried some harm may come to her. Roger starts to secretly observe Madeleine, and starts to become infatuated with her. Roger winds up saving Madeleine after she throws herself into the Seine River, and the two fall in love. Due to a past incident in which Roger saw a fellow police officer fall from a rooftop, he is unable to stop Madeleine from going to the top of an old church tower and throwing herself off of it. Roger is absolutely distraught, and leaves Paris just as the Nazis invade. After the liberation of France, Roger returns from abroad, and while viewing a newsreel in the cinema, sees what he is convinced is Madeleine. Roger eventually tracks down and finds the woman, who says she knows nothing about him or Madeleine. The woman calls herself Renee Sourange, and Roger contrives to get her to go away with him. Roger persists in trying to get Renee to admit she is Madeleine, and even tries to make her over in the supposedly dead woman's image. Finally, Renee admits the truth--the woman who died at the church tower was the real Madeline, killed by Gevigne. Renee posed as Madeleine in order to fool Roger into being a convenient witness. This information causes Roger to snap, and he loses his "Madeleine" once again. 

As anyone with a fair knowledge of VERTIGO can see, the story structure of the film is all there in the novel. The major difference of course is that the novel is set in 1940s Paris, while the film is set in 1958 San Francisco. WWII also plays a part in the novel, though not a major one. 

The novel's Roger Flavieres is no Scotty Ferguson. Roger has a lot in common with the Scotty character in the film, but Flavieres is much more of a dreary loner, a man who doesn't even have a Midge character (the role played by Barbara Bel Geddes in the film) to confide in. Roger's obsession over the book's Madeleine seems to stem from the fact that he is at loose ends--he's now a not very successful lawyer, and he feels guilty over the fact that he's no longer able to be a detective. 

The novel's Madeleine, while described as attractive, isn't the dreamlike version played by Kim Novak in the film. (The novel does mention her at one point wearing a gray suit.) Roger and Madeleine are much more ordinary people in the novel, and after reading the book one can see how much Hitchcock and his writers changed the two main characters to suit the star personas of James Stewart and Kim Novak. 

Nevertheless, many of the important ideas in the movie can be found in the book--such as an explanation for Roger/Scotty's quitting the police force and suffering from vertigo, Madeleine falling from a church tower, Roger/Scotty's overwhelming obsession over a woman he thinks is dead, and a antique necklace giving away Renee/Judy. 

The revelation of the murder plot and the fake Madeleine is not revealed until the very last pages of the book. Hitchcock chose to reveal the truth in about the middle of the film--a decision that is constantly debated and analyzed to this day. Is one choice better than the other?? Due to my bias towards the film, I can't really say. I do think having the revelation in the middle of the film makes all the scenes after it much more intriguing, because every interaction between Scotty and Judy takes on a double meaning. (The ending of the film is also much more fitting than the ending of the novel.) 

The copy of the novel (which I recently purchased from the Edward R. Hamilton discount book catalog) is translated into English from the original French, and is only 189 pages long....and, as you can see from the picture above, has been re-titled to match the movie. The book is a quick read--there's no flab in it--and I think if the novel itself was accurately filmed, it would only be about an hour long story. 

Still, it would be interesting to view a faithfully adapted filmed version of the novel. It would have to be set in 1940s France, with native actors, and, I think, it would be much more fitting if this version were to be in black & white. (The novel reads more like a film noir than a Hitchcock story). It wouldn't have much suspense to it, since just about everyone knows what the story's main twist is. But it would certainly be a challenge to any creative filmmaker. (And it would be much more fitting to do a true adaptation of the source novel instead of remaking the film--remember that ridiculous PSYCHO remake a few years ago??)

For me always the movie VERTIGO will be much, much better than the novel it was based on. D'ENTRE LES MORTS is still a worthy read, especially if you have an obsession with VERTIGO, and a fascination with how the scripts of classic films are shaped and adapted from the source material. 


Saturday, November 4, 2023

THE UNKNOWN On Blu-ray From Criterion


A major highlight of Criterion's TOD BROWNING'S SIDESHOW SHOCKERS Blu-ray set is a restored version of the 1927 MGM film THE UNKNOWN. 

THE UNKNOWN is also a major highlight of the careers of director Tod Browning and actor Lon Chaney. It's a disconcerting, memorable tale that is one of the most unusual productions ever released by a major American movie studio--although that could also be said about any film directed by Browning. 

Set in "Old Madrid", the story concerns a circus performer billed as Alonzo the Armless (Lon Chaney of course). Alonzo's gimmick is that he performs all sorts of feats with his feet....but the man really does have arms. He pretends he doesn't because he's wanted by the police, and his double thumb would give him away. 

If you think that strapping yourself into a tight corset and pretending to be an armless circus entertainer to avoid the law is a bit extreme, that's nothing compared to what Alonzo does for love. The man is smitten with the gorgeous assistant in his act, Nanon (a very young Joan Crawford). The thing is, Nanon has a phobia against being touched by men....and the reason she treats Alonzo kindly is that she believes he can't touch her. Alonzo decides to take the incredible step of having his arms amputated....only to later find that while he was away recuperating from the operation, Nanon has lost her phobia due to the attentions of circus strongman Malabar (Norman Kerry). After finding out about this situation, the stunned Alonzo plots his ultimate revenge. 

Needless to say, this scenario conjures up all sorts of intriguing insights. especially about Browning, Chaney, and their onscreen work. Contrary to popular belief, Chaney did not perform any tricks with his feet (a double who actually was armless did these), but this is still one of the most important roles of his career, due to the amazing (and at times feral) intensity he brings to the part of Alonzo. Chaney's reaction when Alonzo finds out that Nanon and Malabar are planning to be married is a disturbing wonder to behold. 

As with most silent features directed by Tod Browning, THE UNKNOWN has a simple narrative, without any visual flourishes. But this is a story that doesn't need any unnecessary complications. There's a sense of dread throughout the running time, and Alonzo's line about having "lost some flesh" is more skin-crawling than anything shown in a modern horror film. 

The version of THE UNKNOWN that is presented on this Criterion set is one that was recently restored by the George Eastman Museum. This version is about ten minutes longer than the one most widely available. The added footage doesn't significantly change the storyline--the main difference is that the circus sequence at the beginning of the film is longer. The restored version does have a better flow to it, and it appears that the camera lingers a bit longer on some close-ups. The visual quality isn't brilliant, but the main thing is that this version exists at all, and is now available on a major home video release. 

A new music score by Philip Carli accompanies this restored version of THE UNKNOWN, and it's an excellent one. The score works with the movie instead of trying to overshadow it. There's also a new audio commentary by Tod Browning biographer David J. Skal. Skal goes into the backgrounds of both Browning and Chaney, and he also spends a lot of time on the Freudian aspects of the story (as well he should). 

THE UNKNOWN is a must for fans of Tod Browning, Lon Chaney, and unusual cinema. It's more proof that the silent era was far more provocative and perverse than one usually believes. The fact that the restored version of this film is on the Criterion Tod Browning Blu-ray set makes that release an even more enticing purchase. 

Sunday, October 29, 2023

My Ten Favorite Hammer Movies (Part Two)



The most famous Hammer film of them all. What can I say about this that hasn't already been said?? Well, can we give some love to Barbara Archer, who plays Inga the barmaid? After all, she's the one who gave Jonathan Harker's diary to Van Helsing. 

THE MUMMY (1959)

Nearly all of the major contributors to Hammer Horror--in front of and behind the camera--are here, and Christopher Lee in my opinion is the greatest movie mummy ever. 


I didn't see the original British TV miniseries that this is based on until last year, but I still think the Hammer version is superior. Nigel Kneale adapts his own original script into a tighter and much more focused sci-fi thriller that gives the viewer plenty to think about. 


Why do I admire this film so much? The accompanying photo provides all the explanations needed. 


The true beginning of Hammer Horror, this adaptation of Nigel Kneale's first Quatermass tale reduces it to a taut and suspenseful 82 minutes. Kneale didn't like Brian Donlevy's no-nonsense, get out of my way version of the title character, but I do. Richard Wordsworth (as the eventual creature) gives one of the creepiest performances in any science fiction/horror movie. 

Saturday, October 28, 2023

My Ten Favorite Hammer Movies (Part One)


Earlier this year, a Facebook friend and Twitter follower of mine, Jeff Duncanson, suggested that I do a list of my ten favorite Hammer movies. This was an idea that I had been mulling over from time to time, but I just never got around to doing it. One reason why is that I thought such a list would be made up of nothing more than the usual suspects....what more could I bring to it? 

There's also the chore of trying to limit the list to ten titles, and what titles to choose. Whenever I make up one of these type lists, I always look back on it weeks later and think "Why didn't I do it this way??" And invariably, whenever I post a top ten list, the reaction I do get (if any) is "Why didn't you put so-and-so on the list??" 

Anyway, here's the list, which I originally posted on my personal Facebook page earlier this month. The list will be broken up in two parts, and I'm presenting it as a Halloween special. After each title I'll give a brief reason why it made the list. The grouping of titles isn't in any particular order, except for the very first one, which is my favorite Hammer movie of all time. 


Not only is it my favorite all-time Hammer film, it's my all-time favorite performance by my all-time favorite actor, Peter Cushing. I'm well aware of the fact that this movie does not feature Dracula, or Christopher Lee, but for me BRIDES is Hammer at its ultimate peak when it comes to English Gothic cinema. 


An outstanding adaptation of Dennis Wheatley's novel, with Christopher Lee battling Satanic forces in one of his best roles. Excellent work by director Terence Fisher and screenwriter Richard Matheson. 


This movie does not feature most of the regular Hammer Horror cast & crew, but it's an effective and atmospheric Gothic tale that is better than most of the company's Dracula entries. 


I picked this more out of nostalgic familiarity more than anything else. When I was a teenager in the 1980s and just starting to become a Hammer fan, this movie was on television constantly, especially the Chicago broadcast stations. 


Probably Hammer's darkest and most truly horrific tale. Peter Cushing is at his most determined and cunning here, and in my very biased opinion, Veronica Carlson gives one of the best performances of any Hammer leading lady. I have to say that after getting to know Veronica personally, it's not easy to watch what she has to go through in this film. 

Sunday, October 22, 2023



In the mid-1960s, American actor Nick Adams went to Japan and appeared in three films for Toho Studios. Two of those films, FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD and INVASION OF ASTRO-MONSTER are well-known among movie geeks. The third, THE KILLING BOTTLE, is basically forgotten due to the fact that it has never been available to North American audiences. 

This is a movie I've wanted to watch for years, due to the fact that it also stars the lovely Kumi Mizuno, who also appeared in the other two Nick Adams Toho films. I recently discovered THE KILLING BOTTLE on the Internet Archive, and the widescreen print is of Blu-ray quality, and it has a Japanese voice track with English subtitles. 

THE KILLING BOTTLE is an entry in a series of films made by Toho detailing the adventures of members of the International Secret Police, a spy organization. One of the International Secret Police films, KEY OF KEYS, is known for being redubbed by Woody Allen into the comedy WHAT'S UP TIGER LILY? These films are lighthearted adventures rather than hard-edged thrillers--from my viewing of THE KILLING BOTTLE, I'd compare them to the Roger Moore 007 movies of the Seventies. 

The title THE KILLING BOTTLE refers to a new method of assassination, a large squeeze bottle that emits a foamy substance that expands thousands of times its size, and crushes and suffocates anyone it envelops. This substance has been invented by an organization called ZZZ, and their latest plot is to kill the Prime Minister of a Asian country called Buddhabal. Agents Kitami (Tatsuya Mihashi) and John Carter (Nick Adams) are assigned to stop the scheme, and they are helped--and hindered--by a mysterious beautiful young woman (Kumi Mizuno). 

THE KILLING BOTTLE is a colorful action-adventure which doesn't take itself too seriously. Kitami and John Carter have a friendly rivalry with each other, and the two men report to an "M"-like boss who of course becomes exasperated by them. There's a few nifty gadgets, but this movie isn't as technologically obsessed as the Bond films are. The action isn't too overly violent, and the overall tone isn't nearly as outlandish as the many Euro spy pictures made during this period. The climax takes place in a Disneyland-type amusement park.

If you are a Toho Kaiju movie fan, you'll see plenty of familiar faces here, such as Akihiko Hirata, Jun Tazaki, and Yoshio Tsuchiya. The producer of THE KILLING BOTTLE was Godzilla series creator Tomoyuki Tanaka, and the screenwriter was science-fiction/kaiju veteran Shinichi Sekizawa. 

Tatsuya Mihashi is a decent enough leading man, although he's no Sean Connery. Nick Adams gives his agent a bit of an attitude by constantly wearing weird sunglasses and having a toothpick in his mouth. What impressed me about Nick Adams and his Japanese sojourn is that he gave his all in the movies he appeared in for Toho, and he was never dismissive of the company or what he was doing. Adams appears to be enjoying himself in THE KILLING BOTTLE, and he even gets to engage in some martial arts. 

As for Kumi Mizuno, she gets to show off her range by being a cute comedic pest for most of the story, but, as expected, her character turns out to be much more. Surprisingly, Mizuno doesn't wind up having a romance with either of the leading men in the story (that was something Nick Adams reportedly wanted to have with her in real life.) A sultry actress billed as Anne Mari plays a femme fatale working for ZZZ, and she gets to perform a couple of musical numbers as a nightclub entertainer. 

I enjoyed THE KILLING BOTTLE, but as a Toho Kaiju fan, I'm part of the audience that would most appreciate it today. I'd love to see this movie get an official North American home video release, but I doubt that's ever going to happen--there's no giant monsters here, and the film is almost subdued when compared to the many other spy spoofs that came out during the same time. The best chance for those interested in seeing it would be to go on the Internet Archive before it gets pulled due to a rights issue. 

Saturday, October 21, 2023

THE MYSTIC On Blu-ray From Criterion


Just in time for Halloween Criterion has released a two-disc Blu-ray set called TOD BROWNING'S SIDESHOW SHOCKERS, containing three films directed by the man called the Edgar Allan Poe of the screen. 

The set contains two of Browning's most famous features: FREAKS, the ultimate cult movie making its Blu-ray debut, and the disturbing THE UNKNOWN. Today I'll be discussing the third title in the set, a 1925 silent called THE MYSTIC. 

THE MYSTIC was the first movie Tod Browning directed after his smash success THE UNHOLY THREE. Both of those films have a number of things in common. THE MYSTIC is also reminiscent of other Browning tales such as THE WHITE TIGER and THE SHOW. 

As with most of Browning's silent films, the plot of THE MYSTIC is quite simple. An American con man named Michael Nash (Conway Tearle) encounters a troupe of Hungarian circus performers while in Europe. Nash is convinced that their act will be a big hit in the States. Nash sets up the exotic Zara (Aileen Pringle) as a mysterious psychic who can communicate with the dead. Soon the group is fleecing an innocent young heiress, but Nash starts to regret this decision, causing a rift between him and the Hungarians, who have become used to the American high life. 

I had never seen THE MYSTIC before, and I have to say that it's one of the lesser Browning efforts that I have viewed. It doesn't have enough of the weird eccentricities of the director's usual work. Conway Tearle is no Lon Chaney--he's supposed to be playing a notorious con artist, but Tearle looks and acts more like a businessman. THE MYSTIC also has a happy ending that doesn't jibe with the rest of the story. 

The best scenes in THE MYSTIC by far are the seance sequences. They're creepy, despite the fact that Browning makes sure to show the viewer the tricks involved to accomplish them. Aileen Pringle shows plenty of spunk as Zara, and she gets to wear a number of bizarre costumes, which were designed by famed artist Erte. I believe the story would have been better served if Pringle had gotten more to do than Tearle. 

The visual quality of THE MYSTIC on this Criterion Region A Blu-ray disc is fine, although the picture is a bit soft at times. This movie is given a new score by Dean Hurley. It's a score that I have to admit I'm not a fan of. It's very avant-garde and obtrusive, and it also includes a number of sound effects that draw too much attention to themselves. 

The other two films in this Tod Browning set have new audio commentaries, but THE MYSTIC does not. There is an introduction by Browning biographer David J. Skal that gives background info on the movie. 

Even though I wasn't all that impressed with THE MYSTIC, I give Criterion credit for including a lesser-known example of Tod Browning's work on this set. THE MYSTIC isn't terrible, I just feel that there's plenty of other Browning features that have far more interesting and notable elements. The TOD BROWNING'S SIDESHOW SHOCKERS set is still a great purchase, and I intend to write a blog post on the restored version of THE UNKNOWN included on it in the future. 

Monday, October 16, 2023



THE SEA OF GRASS is a 1947 MGM production starring the legendary duo of Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. 

This was one of the few Tracy-Hepburn pictures I had not seen. I had always wondered why this film never got much attention, or was not shown on TV very much. After watching it I can understand why it doesn't have much of a reputation--it's one of the weaker Tracy-Hepburn outings. 

The story starts out in 1880, as the aristocratic Lutie Cameron (Katharine Hepburn) travels from St. Louis to New Mexico to marry cattle baron Colonel Jim Brewton (Spencer Tracy). Lutie finds out that Brewton has a bad reputation among the locals, especially an idealistic attorney named Brice Chamberlain (Melvyn Douglas)  who is determined to use the law to curtail his power. Lutie isn't comfortable with the Western lifestyle, and she and Brice start to become closer. She eventually goes back to St. Louis, but returns to the West when she hears her now-grown son (Robert Walker) is in trouble. 

At first glance one would assume that THE SEA OF GRASS is a sprawling Western epic, but it's actually more of a talky soap opera. According to internet research, director Elia Kazan was eager to go on location, but most of the outdoor scenes are stock footage, with characters so far away you can't really see them. When Tracy & Hepburn are supposedly out on the range, they're quite obviously in front of a projection screen, negating the sweeping scope the film was aiming for. Kazan tries to make up for this by setting up several expressionistic shot compositions. 

I feel Tracy & Hepburn worked best when they were in a contemporary story that allowed them to freely interact with each other. In THE SEA OF GRASS their natural chemistry is missing--even when their characters are getting along there's very little warmth between them. The two acting legends don't even get a lot of screen time together here. Despite the fact that he's a hard-charging independent-minded powerful landowner, Tracy is very subdued as Jim Brewton--he would later play a much more colorful cattle baron in BROKEN LANCE.

Melvyn Douglas's lawyer is supposed to be a classier alternative for Lutie, but he comes off as somewhat of a prig. One expects a major one-on-one confrontation between the lawyer and the Colonel, but it never happens. One also expects a battle between Tracy and all the homesteaders he constantly complains about, but that never happens either. 

Robert Walker doesn't show up until about 90 minutes in the story, and after only a few scenes he's on the run from the law. The young Brewton is a wild troublemaker, but despite Walker's hammy performance it's hard to care about his fate, since the viewer barely gets a chance to know him. There's a plot element suggesting that Walker is actually the son of Hepburn and Douglas, but this never gets resolved one way or the other--at least it wasn't resolved to my satisfaction. 

While the movie briefly focuses on Walker Hepburn all but disappears. She and Tracy are reunited in the end, but the climax is abrupt and underwhelming. 

Being a MGM production one knows that THE SEA OF GRASS will be technically well-made, with a glossy look to it. It also has a fine supporting cast, with the likes of Edgar Buchanan, Harry Carey, Robert Armstrong, Morris Ankrum, and Glenn Strange. But the film is a draggy two hours, and even Tracy & Hepburn can't do much to inject some life into it. Research states that THE SEA OF GRASS was, believe it or not, the most financially successful MGM Tracy & Hepburn film at the box office. I doubt even the most dedicated fan of the duo would enjoy the movie very much now. 

Monday, October 9, 2023

NEVADA (1927)


NEVADA is a 1927 silent Western from Paramount, starring three actors who would go on to have notable careers: Gary Cooper, William Powell, and Thelma Todd. 

Jim Lacy (Gary Cooper) breaks his friend Cash (Ernie Adams) out of jail, and the two go on the run, looking for a quiet place to settle down and change their ways. During a stop at what appears to be a sleepy town, Jim and Cash come to the aid of an English cattleman named Ben Ide, and the man gives them jobs on his large ranch. Jim goes by the alias "Nevada", and he's assigned to look after Ide's beautiful sister Hettie (Thelma Todd). Jim and Hettie start to fall for each other, while a gang of rustlers causes trouble on the Ide ranch. Jim decides to infiltrate the rustlers, and this puts him into conflict with another rancher named Dillon (William Powell), a man who also desires Hettie. 

NEVADA is based on a Zane Grey novel, but it's a very standard Western. Nearly everything in it is familiar or predictable: the good bad man who wants to go straight, his comic relief sidekick, the rancher's daughter who at first acts haughty and proud towards the hero, and the man behind all the cattle rustling supposedly being a respectable member of the community. The main reason to watch NEVADA are the three stars. This film was made very, very early in Gary Cooper's career, but he already has tons of screen presence, and he looks and acts as if he's been riding the range his whole life. William Powell is essentially the bad guy, but he plays the role in a disarming, self-assured manner. 

As for Thelma Todd, NEVADA was one of her first important film roles, and just like Cooper she already shows plenty of onscreen charisma. It goes without saying that she's also gorgeous, and she appears to know how to handle a horse. Cooper and Thelma have a typical classic movie "At first they act like they don't like each other, but they really do" relationship--at one point Cooper ties her to a tree to keep her away from harm. Cooper and Todd make an extremely handsome couple--director John Waters (no, not that John Waters) smartly gives the two of them several long close-ups. 

William Powell, Thelma Todd, and Gary Cooper

One major problem with watching NEVADA today is that the version of it available on a number of internet sites is in very poor condition. Due to this one isn't able to fully appreciate the outdoor locations used for the film. Completely restoring any silent picture is a costly and time-consuming process, but it's surprising that up till now someone hasn't attempted to do so for NEVADA--the three stars of the movie alone would attract interest from film geeks. 

NEVADA was such a formulaic Western, it was remade twice during the sound era. (I have not seen the other versions.) The 1927 NEVADA is a decent enough film, but it's the starring trio that makes it worthy of attention. One wishes a much better looking print of it was out there somewhere. When you realize how good Gary Cooper and Thelma Todd look in this movie, you can only imagine how attractive they would be in a restored print.