Monday, March 27, 2023



There's been a number of films over the years that have been titled BEYOND THE LAW. This one is a Euro Western from 1968, starring Lee Van Cleef. It's one I had never seen before, and one that should get more notice among Van Cleef fans. 

Van Cleef plays Cudlip, a drifter and small-time thief, who, along with his partners (Lionel Stander and Al Hoosmann) steal a payroll meant for a mining community. The person who was supposed to bring the payroll in is a earnest young European immigrant named Ben Novack (Antonio Sabato). Cudlip takes a shine to the fellow, and becomes something of a mentor to him. Cudlip even winds up inadvertently helping Ben obtain another payroll, making the would-be robber a hero in the mining town--he's even appointed temporary sheriff, to the consternation of his partners. With his new job, Cudlip has a chance at a new life--if he can stay on the straight and narrow, and survive an attack on the town by a gang of bandits led by the deadly Burton (Gordon Mitchell). 

Lee Van Cleef is by no means playing his typical "Colonel Mortimer"-type character in BEYOND THE LAW. Cudlip is scruffy, talkative, and not particularly clever. He and his partners think they can use the new-to-the-west Novack to get info on the mine's operations, but the young man has more to him than the supposed con men think. Once again Van Cleef is paired with a younger, more traditionally handsome leading man, and Antonio Sabato is very good as the not-so-naive Novack. It's never really explained why Cudlip goes out of his way to help Novack--is it because Cudlip appreciates the fact that Novack is a truly decent person? Or is it because Novack is taking a path that Cudlip should have chosen a long time ago? The story constantly shows that Cudlip isn't too enamored with a life of crime--he doesn't even want to shoot people if he doesn't have to. 

Van Cleef's character arc is the best thing about BEYOND THE LAW. When Cudlip becomes temporary sheriff, he buys some fancy new duds, and even makes a tentative move to romance a beautiful young woman living in the town played by Graziella Granata (SLAUGHTER OF THE VAMPIRES). But Cudlip soon realizes he's not good enough for her. It's rare that Van Cleef got to play someone who had ordinary wants and needs like most people--and in a Western, no less--but he shows by his facial expressions that Cudlip desires a "normal" life, and knows that his vagabond ways are getting him nowhere. 

BEYOND THE LAW isn't a grand, epic, action-packed Western--for the most part it has a lighthearted tone, and it tends to meander a bit. Things get more serious during the climax, and the change in attitude is somewhat abrupt. The movie is well-made, and it uses several Spanish locations that will be quite familiar to Spaghetti Western fans. Riz Ortolani provides a sweeping score. 

The supporting cast includes Bud Spencer as a mine executive--I'm never seen the actor so clean and neat-looking than here. Ann Smyrner (REPTILICUS) plays a saloon hall entertainer, and Gordon Mitchell gets the viewer's attention as the grim-faced, black-garbed main villain. Lionel Stander handles most of the comic relief as Cudlip's associate Preacher, so called because he's constantly quoting scripture (even though he never lives up to any of it). 

The director (and co-writer) of BEYOND THE LAW was one Giorgio Stegani. (One of the other co-writers was Warren Kiefer, director of CASTLE OF THE LIVING DEAD). 

I wouldn't call BEYOND THE LAW a great Euro Western, but it's a decent one, and it doesn't have the bizarre theatrics and over-the-top violence that defines most entries in the genre. The main reason to watch it is the chance to see Lee Van Cleef do something a bit different with a "good" bad guy role. BEYOND THE LAW can be found on YouTube and multiple streaming services, in various versions. This movie desperately needs a major official home video release. 

Saturday, March 25, 2023



I finally caught up with this film recently--it was one of the very few post-1956 movies made by Hammer Films that I had not seen. THE SECRET OF BLOOD ISLAND (1965) is a follow-up to Hammer's notorious WWII POW tale THE CAMP ON BLOOD ISLAND (1958). THE SECRET OF BLOOD ISLAND also has more absurdities than any Hammer movie featuring a supernatural creature--it makes THE CAMP ON BLOOD ISLAND seem like a documentary in comparison. 

The story's lead character is a British woman named Elaine (Barbara Shelley), who, in September of 1944, is flying over Japanese occupied territory in Southeast Asia on a secret mission. Her plane is shot down, and she conveniently bails out near a POW camp somewhere in Malaysia. She's found by one of the prisoners (Jack Hedley), and she's taken back to the camp and hidden. Her appearance puts the commanding officer of the POWs (Charles Tingwell) in a quandary--Elaine has vital information that she must deliver in Kuala Lumpur, but the Japanese officers running the camp have been alerted that she was shot down nearby. The POWs are told that if they do not give any information about Elaine, many of them will be tortured and executed. The prisoners try to come up with a plan to get Elaine safely out, while wondering if she is really worth the risk. 

Needless to say, THE SECRET OF BLOOD ISLAND isn't the most historically accurate movie in the world. The idea of a woman, all by herself, flying over hundreds of miles of occupied enemy territory is one thing....but to take that woman, place her in a POW camp where the prisoners and guards have been used to each other for some time, and expect her not to stick out?? The POWs do give Elaine a haircut, and an old uniform to wear--but she still looks like Barbara Shelley. And no Japanese guard is going to notice her red hair?? I realize this is just a movie, and a Hammer movie at that...but even I have my limits. THE SECRET OF BLOOD ISLAND is so unbelievable that it is something of a precursor to the RAMBO and MISSING IN ACTION series of films. 

It doesn't help that most of the film was shot at Hammer's favorite outdoor location, the forest in good old Black Park. You don't think for one second that the story is taking place in a matter of fact you keep expecting a horse-driven carriage to rumble by at any moment. 

Upping the unbelievable factor is the casting of Michael Ripper and Patrick Wymark as Japanese officers. Ripper had actually played a Japanese soldier in THE CAMP ON BLOOD ISLAND, and here he gets a promotion (although not much of one when you consider the results onscreen). Wymark plays the camp commandant. Both actors look and sound ridiculous--although to be fair to the two men, it has to be pointed out that they were put in an extremely difficult situation. I don't think any Caucasian actor could have been able to play their roles and pull it off (Marne Maitland must have been busy elsewhere when this film was being made). Wymark's facial makeup in particular makes him look more like an alien from outer space than Japanese--it isn't one of FX artist Roy Ashton's best moments. An actor named David Saire shows up for one scene as a Kempeitai agent, and he's even more outlandish than Ripper or Wymark. 

I do have to say that Barbara Shelley, Jack Hedley, and Charles Tingwell play their roles in a totally sincere manner. (Shelley and Tingwell, along with fellow cast member Phillip Latham, would soon be reunited on Hammer's DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS, where they would all spend even more time in Black Park.) James Bernard provides a music score that is more exciting than what is on the screen, and the color cinematography is by Jack Asher, although this type of film wasn't worthy of his talents. (This was actually the last Hammer film Asher would work on.) 

THE SECRET OF BLOOD ISLAND was written by John Gilling, but he surprisingly didn't direct it--that job went to Quentin Lawrence, who had helmed Hammer's CASH ON DEMAND. Gilling, or Don Sharp, might have been a much better choice as director--Lawrence was mostly a TV veteran, and despite all the supposed brutality and exploitation elements, THE SECRET OF BLOOD ISLAND has a lot of talky scenes. 

THE SECRET OF BLOOD ISLAND, as far as I know, has never been given a major home video release. I'm sure that has to do with all of the politically incorrect elements included in it. It was Hammer's last war film, which is just as well (one can only imagine how a POW tale made by the company could have turned out in the more lenient 1970s). THE SECRET OF BLOOD ISLAND is one of the lesser Hammer efforts. It's not nearly as brutal as one would expect (Barbara Shelley's "questioning" by the Japanese thankfully happens off-screen), and the casting of the lead Japanese characters is a major distraction. Considering all the traditional Hammer names involved in the project, it still would be interesting to see a restored decent-looking print of the film, or at least have one available on home video. 

Sunday, March 19, 2023



There's been numerous books written about the James Bond film franchise, especially lately, with the recent 60th anniversary of the release of DR. NO, the first Bond movie. In WHEN HARRY MET CUBBY, author Robert Sellers takes a look at the two producers who instigated the most successful film series of all time. 

Albert "Cubby" Broccoli and Harry Saltzman didn't even know each other when they joined forces in 1961 to attempt to make films based on the James Bond novels written by Ian Fleming. The two men had been individually producing films for a few years before their partnership, but neither of them were considered part of the top echelon of filmmakers at the time, and most people in the industry had very little confidence that a James Bond picture would work. Needless to say, the Bond films would go on to rule the 1960s, and Broccoli and Saltzman became rich, powerful men. 

Robert Sellers starts this book with early biographical detail on Broccoli & Saltzman, giving a chapter to each man's life before they met each other. The main theme of the book is that the two men were very different people, but the first chapters reveal that the two men actually had a lot in common. They both had hardscrabble upbringings, they both worked numerous jobs before getting into the film industry, and they both were North Americans who wound up producing films in England. 

Sellers makes the case that in their partnership, Broccoli was the "good cop" and Saltzman was the bad one. Broccoli wanted everyone on his cast & crews to be happy and get along, and he went out of his way to avoid and solve problems. Saltzman was a more complex figure, a wheeler-dealer that, according to Sellers, lacked the social graces and tact to be looked upon fondly by those who worked with him. 

Because of Saltzman's complicated nature, he gets much more coverage in the book than Broccoli does. Saltzman also was a much more adventurous producer than his partner, even though Sellers details that much of his projects and plans never amounted to much. (Broccoli just wanted to focus on the Bond series, knowing that was the most important thing to deal with.) 

Of course most of the book details the making of the Bond films during the Broccoli-Saltzman era (Saltzman sold out to Broccoli after THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN). If you are a major James Bond fan, a number of the stories about the franchise in this book will be familiar, but there's plenty of info that I was not aware of. 

This is a solid, concise look at both Broccoli & Saltzman (the book is only 250 pages minus the footnotes and index). Sellers has a clear, get-to-the-point writing style. There's more than a few juicy anecdotes to be found here, but this is not a gossipy tell-all. 

After reading this book, one may wonder why Broccoli & Saltzman stayed together as long as they did (much mention is made of how they didn't get along very well). The main reason isn't surprising--the Bond films were making an incredible amount of money, and neither man wanted to get off the gravy train. Despite their individual quirks, the two men do deserve credit for initiating the James Bond film series and making a huge impact on pop culture. 

Robert Sellers' book is a nice, quick look at two important producers and the film series they began. I must admit that I bought this book at a discount, and, in all honesty, I don't think I would have paid full price for it. 

Saturday, March 18, 2023



If you know what the title of this blog refers to, then you know that I am a lifelong hardcore fan of the Chicago White Sox Major League baseball team. One thing that all White Sox fans have in common is an eternal chip on the shoulder--we Sox followers are convinced that the team has never gotten, or ever will get, the appreciation, respect, and attention that it deserves. 

That's what makes LAST COMISKEY (produced and directed by Matt Flesch) such a wonderful program. It's a three-part YouTube documentary on the 1990 White Sox season, and it is unapologetically biased toward the franchise and its fans. 

The 1990 Chicago White Sox were not a championship team--they didn't even make the playoffs. But the 1990 season was one of the most notable and dramatic in White Sox history. It was the last season the team would play in venerable Comiskey Park, and it was a season that saw the Sox go beyond low expectations and challenge the defending champion Oakland Athletics for supremacy in the Western Division of the American League. 

The scrappy Sox of 1990 didn't have overwhelming stats, or a roster filled with All-Stars--their most famous player was 42 year old veteran catcher Carlton Fisk. The team only hit a total of 106 home runs (their leading power hitter was Fisk, with only 18). But they played a brand of baseball that focused on "Doin' the Little Things" (the team's slogan for that year). The team also had budding young stars Robin Ventura, Jack McDowell, Ozzie Guillen, Sammy Sosa, and Frank Thomas, who made his Major League debut that season. 

The exciting division chase between the White Sox and the Athletics coincided with the season-long celebration of the original Comiskey Park, a legendary ball yard that sadly didn't get its proper respect until it was getting ready to be torn down. 

LAST COMISKEY covers all of this in spectacular and entertaining fashion, by featuring talks with Sox players, team & stadium employees, fans, and local journalists who covered what went on in the 1990 season. The series gives a "regular guy" view of what happened with the White Sox in 1990, along with recreating the sights, sounds, and ambiance of Old Comiskey Park. 

The 1990 White Sox season wound up ushering in a mini-era of success for the franchise on and off the field. With a new ballpark, trendy new uniforms, a winning team, and the acquisition of legend Bo Jackson, the White Sox started to get national attention, until the 1994 players strike brought all the momentum to a crashing halt. But that's another story--one, hopefully, that the makers of LAST COMISKEY might consider looking at in the future. 

Despite its "unofficial" status, LAST COMISKEY can hold its own with anything produced by MLB Network. It's filled with rare photos and footage, and plenty of fascinating stories from its participants. In total the three-part series runs around two hours. 

LAST COMISKEY was made by White Sox fans, for White Sox fans, but I'm sure anyone interested in baseball will enjoy it. The rare footage alone makes it worthy for baseball buffs, and those who were around following MLB in 1990 will certainly have reason to watch it. 

It's fitting--and ironic--that LAST COMISKEY is debuting right before the 2023 MLB season, since this year MLB has instigated a series of rules designed to move the sport away from its 21st Century obsession with home runs and strikeouts. Essentially, MLB is trying to bring back a style of play that the 1990 White Sox were very proficient at. Unfortunately, no one can bring back Old Comiskey Park, or what it felt like to watch the young 1990 White Sox and be excited about the team's future. LAST COMISKEY happens to be the closest approximation to bringing that time and atmosphere back. The only complaint I have about LAST COMISKEY is that I never wanted it to end. 

The 1990 Chicago White Sox

Thursday, March 16, 2023



In his newest film, Joshua Kennedy ventures into Lovecraft territory with THE INNSMOUTH SCHOOL FOR GIRLS. 

Basing a movie on one of H.P. Lovecraft's most famous tales, "The Shadow Over Innsmouth", is a tremendous task for anyone. Just the name "Innsmouth" in the title lets most of the audience know what they are in for, but this movie still delivers the goods, despite the fact that most of the cast is made up of very modern iPhone toting young females. In my opinion it is Joshua Kennedy's creepiest and most subtle film yet. 

Roberta Olmstead (Hilda Sofia Bautista) arrives at the Innsmouth School for Girls, as a new and soon perplexed student, trying to fit in and understand all the various mysterious things going on. Classmates Suzi (Stefanie Jo Saenz) and Lori (Mitzi Venus) join Roberta as she tries to get to the bottom of the school and its weird history....but the girls soon find out that what is happening at the school truly is from beyond. 

A dark, damp, and moldy atmosphere permeates throughout THE INNSMOUTH SCHOOL FOR GIRLS--there's not a sunny scene in the entire picture. It may have been filmed in Texas, but a New England Gothic tone is present at all times, augmented by Reber Clark's moody score. It's not all gloom and doom....Gooey Films fans will be happy to know that there's an obligatory shower scene, and a catfight. 

There's also some very winning performances among the three leading ladies. Newcomer Hilda Sofia Bautista joins a long list of notable Gooey Films heroines. Bautista's Roberta isn't a naive innocent--she has plenty of spunk and sass, and she interacts well with Stefanie Jo Saenz and Mitzi Venus. Bryan Martinez shines in a very Michael Ripper-like role, and writer-producer-director Joshua Kennedy himself plays the strange headmaster of the school, the true shadow over Innsmouth. 

This film has a number of impressive practical effects, but Kennedy uses them in a efficient and judicious manner. The result is that the viewer is given a taste of some strange entities without becoming familiar with them, keeping the suspense intact. 

With THE INNSMOUTH SCHOOL FOR GIRLS, Joshua Kennedy proves once again that you don't need explicit gore & content, or a $200 million dollar budget, to make a proper, effective, and entertaining classic horror film. 

Sunday, March 12, 2023



Earlier this month I wrote a blog post about a low-budget Western called TWO-GUN LADY. One of my readers (yes, I actually have a few) made a comment on the post that the director of that film also helmed and starred in another Western called THE SILVER STAR, which also featured Lon Chaney Jr. Being that this was a Lon Jr. outing I had never heard of, I decided to seek it out. 

THE SILVER STAR is another 1955 B Western, with many of the same cast & crew as TWO-GUN LADY. It also happens to be influenced by HIGH NOON. THE SILVER STAR starts out with a plaintive ballad as the main credits roll, and this ballad is heard frequently throughout the rest of the film (just like Tex Ritter's famous song in HIGH NOON). 

THE SILVER STAR also deals with a sheriff facing a deadline from three gunmen who want to kill him. This sheriff is far from being a Gary Cooper type, however. Gregg Leech (Earle Lyon) has just been elected sheriff of a small town. Leech, however, isn't all that excited about his new position--he'd rather settle down with his lady love Karen (Marie Windsor) instead of live with the threat of violence every day. The main reason that Leech was elected in the first place is that members of his family were notable lawmen--and they all died in the line of duty. Three gunmen ride in, hole up in the main saloon, and send out word that Leech must leave town by 8 pm or be killed. Leech spends most of the day wondering if he should just avoid the situation, while the former sheriff (Edgar Buchanan) and Karen remind him of his duties and responsibilities. 

What makes THE SILVER STAR different is that the main character of the sheriff doesn't want to do his job. This also makes the movie frustrating for the viewer. Leech comes off as weak and indecisive instead of troubled and conflicted, and it's hard to feel sympathetic toward his plight. It doesn't help that Earle Lyon (who was also producer of the film) isn't the most charismatic person onscreen. (Lyon spent more time behind instead of in front of the camera--one of his other few acting roles was as the hot-headed villain in TWO-GUN LADY.) When Leech finally does get the gumption to do something, his change of attitude isn't very believable. 

Marie Windsor, as always, makes more of the generic role that she is given. (Her character would have been a far better sheriff than Leech). Edgar Buchanan is introduced sleeping on a front porch--just like he often would be in the PETTICOAT JUNCTION TV series. Buchanan isn't comic relief though--he winds up showing more courage than Leech. Director (and co-writer) Richard Bartlett plays the soft-spoken leader of the three gunmen, and he has better acting chops than producer Lyon. Veteran character actors Barton MacLane and Morris Ankrum also appear. 

As for Lon Chaney Jr., he doesn't have much screen time, even though his character is supposed to be behind all the trouble. Usually when Lon Jr. was in a Western, he played either desperadoes or ramshackle Lennie types. In THE SILVER STAR he plays an outwardly affable, well-dressed attorney who has plans to take over the town. The movie would have been better served if Lon Jr.'s role had been expanded--it's the type of person that Chaney would usually be working for in a movie. 

Richard Bartlett should get some credit for having THE SILVER STAR attempt to be a different take on the HIGH NOON type of Western, but like TWO-GUN LADY, it doesn't adequately follow thru on its premise. 

Wednesday, March 8, 2023



This two-disc set from Indicator includes the very first films featuring El Santo, the legendary masked Mexican professional wrestler. The two films are SANTO VS. EVIL BRAIN (SANTO CONTRA CEREBRO DEL MAL) and SANTO VS. INFERNAL MEN (SANTO CONTRA HOMBRES INFERNALES). 

The story behind the making of Santo's first big-screen adventures is far more adventurous and compelling than anything in the actual movies. A group of Mexican producers decided to make two films back-to-back in Cuba, and they convinced El Santo to take part. The films were shot mostly in and around Havana in late 1958, as the Cuban revolution was underway. The cast & crew managed to leave in January 1959, just in time to avoid Fidel Castro's entry into Havana. 

Due to the rushed circumstances, both films were not fully completed. The producers had to make do with what they the result is that both pictures have a haphazard, lackluster quality to them. They're both around about 75 minutes, but even what that there's a lot of padding, such as numerous scenes of characters slowly driving to whatever destination they are going to. The two movies even share some of the same footage, and they both have multiple musical numbers that seem randomly inserted. Their storylines are confusing (obviously due to certain scenes not being filmed). The majority of cast & crew worked on both films. 

El Santo isn't even the main star of these features....he's more like a special guest who pops in and out from time to time. He's already in his expected bad guy busting mode, but he's not presented to the best of his advantage (the villains more than hold their own against him). 

SANTO VS. EVIL BRAIN serves as a blueprint for what the Silver-Masked Man's adventures would ultimately become. The "Evil Brain" is a scientist who is, from what I can figure out, experimenting with cell disintegration (it's never made clear in the story). For most of the movie, the scientist has Santo under his control, until another masked wrestler called El Incognito comes and saves the day. (While in this zombified state, Santo staggers about as if he was drunk.) 

SANTO VS. INFERNAL MEN has the wrestler and an undercover agent go up against some smugglers. It must be noted that there's very little action in both films, and there's very little that makes sense plot-wise either. The best comparison I can make to these first El Santo films would be the most mediocre product made by PRC and Monogram during the 1940s. 

Both movies do look good, though....Indicator states that they are original 4K restorations from the original 35mm camera negatives. One can tell, however, from the choppy editing and the inconsistent sound quality that these are half-realized productions. The two films are in black & white and have a 1.66:1 aspect ratio. Each film comes on its own disc, and both discs are included in one case (the disc cover sleeve is reversible, with artwork for each film on different sides). 

Indicator has given this set a boatload of extras. Both discs have a number of extra features, such as actor Joaquin Cordero reminiscing about working on both films, and the Masked Critic discussing the background and history of El Santo and the film series that he starred in. 

The two major extras are the full-length documentary PERDIDA, a film by Viviana Garcia Besne, who is the granddaughter of Jorge Garcia Besne, who co-produced the first two Santo films. She is also the great-granddaughter of Jose Calderon, who, with his three sons and other family members, dominated the distribution, presentation, and production of Mexican films for most of the 20th Century. This is a expertly made film with all sorts of rare photos and footage, and an intriguing behind-the-scenes examination of a part of cinema history that most know nothing about (I certainly didn't). I would go as far to say that PERDIDA is the main highlight of this set. 

There's also a 30-minute program in which Vivian Garcia Besne travels to present-day Havana to search for locations used in the first two Santo films. It's a poignant journey, especially considering most of the shooting sites are now much the worse for wear (watching this doesn't give you much confidence in how Cuba has been run in the last 60 years). 

An 80-page booklet also comes with the set, filled with photos and various articles giving background detail on El Santo, the masked wrestler phenomenon, and more info on PERDIDA. A double-sided mini-poster (see below) is also included. This set is limited to 6,000 units. 

The first two Santo films are more of a novelty item than anything else. They are nowhere near as outlandish (or as entertaining) as the later features that would come to define the Silver-Masked Man's big-screen persona. Indicator should get a thumbs-up, though, for giving them such a stellar presentation--if nothing else, they have important historical value. Film buffs will really appreciate this set just for PERDIDA alone. 

There are rumors that Indicator is planning a whole line of future releases of El Santo movies. I certainly hope so--I'd love to see what they could do with a "proper" Santo outing. 

Monday, March 6, 2023



TWO-GUN LADY is a black & white 1955 Western, produced and directed by journeyman Richard Bartlett. 

Peggie Castle plays famed sharpshooter Kate Masters, who rides into a small town in order to perform at the local saloon. The reason why such a talented woman would appear at such a backwater spot is that she is planning to get revenge on the town boss, a powerful landowner who killed her family years ago when she was a child. Kate is joined in her quest by an undercover lawman (William Talman) who is on the trail of the landowner's son, a wanted criminal. 

Throughout her acting career Peggie Castle had a long affiliation with Westerns--after this film she later played the Miss Kitty equivalent in the underrated TV series LAWMAN. She does very well as the determined Kate Masters, but TWO-GUN LADY has a lot of plot and characters for a 70 minute low-budget B movie. The result is that Castle is relegated to the sidelines much too often. 

William Talman (best known for being the mediocre D.A. on TV's PERRY MASON) gets as many scenes as Castle here. Talman is an unlikely choice for a Western hero, and he's an even more unlikely choice as a romantic interest for Castle. Future Three Stooges member Joe Besser, of all people, plays Kate's assistant in her trick shooting act. (If you ever wanted to see Joe Besser act drunk, TWO-GUN LADY gives you your chance.) Barbara Turner plays the landowner's teenage daughter, a quirky, barefooted tomboy who winds up making an important contribution to the proceedings. 

Marie Windsor also doesn't get enough screen time as a conniving saloon girl who is in love with the landowner's son. While watching TWO-GUN LADY, one has the expectation that Castle and Windsor are going to face off against each other, but it sadly never happens. Both actresses could have easily handled the other's role. 

Other than the main character, there isn't much to set apart TWO-GUN LADY from any other minor Western of the period. One notable detail is that the murderous landowner's son is driven crazy by the noise of the sheep!

The intriguing premise of TWO-GUN LADY isn't developed adequately enough, and charismatic performers like Peggie Castle and Marie Windsor aren't giving enough chances to shine. 

Marie Windsor in TWO-GUN LADY 

Wednesday, March 1, 2023



Michelle Yeoh is a tending topic right now, due to the much-deserved kudos she is receiving for EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE. It needs reminding though that Yeoh has been kicking ass on-screen for over thirty years. A prime example of that is the 1987 WWII adventure MAGNIFICENT WARRIORS, recently released as a special edition Blu-ray from 88 Films. 

In this movie Yeoh plays Fok Ming-Ming, a whip-wielding aviator and martial arts expert who works as an agent for the Chinese army battling Japanese occupiers during World War II. Ming-Ming is sent to the outskirts of China to make contact with the lord of a small city. The man has information that the Japanese want to build a factory there to make chemical weapons. Ming-Ming, along with such comrades as a secret agent and a con-artist, takes the fight to the Japanese stationed there in just about every way possible. 

MAGNIFICENT WARRIORS (also known as DYNAMITE FIGHTERS, among other titles) is wild, full-tilt, exciting and entertaining action-adventure tale that barely takes a breath during its 92-minute running time. There's stunts involving horses, jeeps, planes along with a martial-arts sequence about every five minutes. While watching this picture, one needs to realize there was no CGI used here--there's obviously some wire-work but for the most part everything you see was done in front of the camera. Director David Chang (and the expert Hong Kong action technicians who worked on this film) infuses this story with a breathless energy that the even the mega-budget comic book epics of today can't match. 

This film is a grand showcase for the then very young Michelle Yeoh, and she more than makes the most of it. (On the print of the film used on the Blu-ray, she's billed in the main credits as Michelle Kheng, and on the English opening credits included on this disc as an extra, she's billed as Michelle Khan.) Yeoh's exuberance and charisma are off the charts here, along with her physical prowess (she performs a few stunts that would make Buster Keaton wince). Her character isn't hard-bitten or cynical--despite all the violent happenings Ming-Ming has a positive smile on her face for most of the time, and at some moments she even looks cute. But make no mistake, she can handle herself in any situation. The so-called "strong independent women" of 21st Century cinema pale in comparison to Yeoh's talents in this movie. 

This Blu-ray was the first time I had purchased a product from 88 Films, and I was suitably impressed. The print used is uncut, and very colorful, with a bold sound mix that shows off the many explosions very well. There's a Cantonese audio track with English subtitles, along with an English dub track (which isn't too bad as far as those things go). 

This release also comes with a 35-page booklet, filled with stills from the film and a essay about the production by Matthew Edwards. A double-sided poster is also included as well. The disc cover sleeve is reversible too. 

The Blu-ray also features a new commentary by Frank Djeng, who gives out all sorts of info on the making of the film and the careers of those who worked on it. There's short vintage interviews with Michelle Yeoh and the movie's stunt coordinator Tung Wai. (Yeoh states that MAGNIFICENT WARRIORS was one of the toughest films she ever worked on--coming from her, that says a lot.) As mentioned, an English main credits sequence is included, along with trailers for the film, and an extensive stills gallery. 

MAGNIFICENT WARRIORS is a fun, action-packed picture that goes by in a flash...just don't expect a serious fact-based examination of the Japanese occupation of other Asian cultures during WWII. For those folks who want to know more about Michelle Yeoh's film work, it's a great introduction to the earlier part of her career. 88 Films has filled this Blu-ray release with all sorts of very welcome bells & whistles.