POSSESSOR is a 2020 science fiction psychological horror film written and directed by Brandon Cronenberg. An international co-production of the United Kingdom, the United States, and Canada, the film stars Andrea Riseborough, Christopher Abbott, Rossif Sutherland, Tuppence Middleton, Sean Bean, and Jennifer Jason Leigh.
Using brain-implant technology, corporate assassin Tasya Vos , using brain implant technology m takes control of other people s bodies to execute high-profile targets. As she sinks deeper into her latest assignment, Vos becomes trapped inside a mind that threatens to obliterate her.
POSSESSOR -104 minutes Color . Well Go USA Entertainment Language: English with English SDH REGION “A”
Blu Ray Extras BONUS FEATURES: Deleted Scenes Behind the Scenes Trailers
Review “This sleekly executed work is of its time, exhibiting the chilly aesthetic and psychotropic overlay seen in some of the best indie sci-fi/horror films of recent years.” —Hollywood Reporter
“mind-melting visual impact and an elegantly cruel atmosphere” —Screen Daily
“Brandon Cronenberg s ultra-violent thriller is unlike anything you’ ve ever seen before” —SlashFilm
Now here is how you can enter for your chance to win one of three copies of the Blu Ray of this sci fi thriller.
Send an email to ScarletTheFilmMag@yahoo.com
In the subject line write “POSSESSOR Contest“
In the body of the email Put in you name and address
Then answer this question :
What is you Favorite Canadian Horror ,Science Fiction, or/and Mystery Film .
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Only One Entry Per Person .
Include your name and mailing address so winners can be notified and their prize mailed.
DEADLINE is December 7,2020 . Entries received after that date will not be counted.
Winners will be drawn randomly and then notified December 8, 2020, with their prizes sent out soon after .
Only one entry per person. No purchase is necessary. Void where prohibited. All federal, state, and local regulations apply. You must be at least 18 to enter. You must live in the United States or Canada. All prizes are awarded “as is.” Prizes are nontransferable and cannot be exchanged. No substitute prize will be awarded to a winner who declines to accept a prize. Three(3) winners will be selected randomly.
Back before we had non stop reality show and true crime recreations , including entire T.V. networks and podcasts dedicated to same, there were a lot of films released in the late 1960’s and 1970’s that dealt with shocking murders, a few being made by Hollywood, but more often rushed and amateurish , concentrating on salacious details to pad out the running time, or just making things up around the few details that were known at the time.
THE BOSTON STRANGLER (Fox,1968) and IN COLD BLOOD (Columbia,1967) were two of the big budget studio pictures that set the tone about true crime recreations, having the benefit of big budgets and major studio backing. Independent filmmakers were not going to leave such a profitable subgenre go unmined.
THE ZODIAC KILLER (Adventure ,1971, which has been restored and released on Blu Ray by AGFA/Something Weird) was made with the idea that it might even capture the infamous murderer , making it quite unique , though wildly conjectured . GUYANA: CRIME OF THE CENTURY (1979) was another quite inaccurate and exploitive film based upon the Jim Jones/Jonestown massacre, that got distribution by a major studio (Universal).
Somewhat in between is THE OTHER SIDE OF MADNESS, now being released on DVD and Blu Ray by Film Detective in a 50th Anniversary Edition. The film was possibly the first* to deal directly with the CharlesManson cult , the savage murder of a pregnant Sharon Tate and four others in her home, and then two other murders soon after ( all taking place between August 8-10,1969). So savage and senseless were the killings , that it became an international fixation on the police search and eventual arrest and trials of Charles Milles Manson (né Maddox) and his insane cult followers.
Manson had spent at least half of his life in and out of institutions, he ended up in California in 1967. The changing mores and the urge of many to question authority as well as explore alternative ideas was perfect for a con artist like Manson. People who feel adrift often join gangs or cults to feel that they belong to something greater than themselves, and Manson was obviously able to convince several people, mostly women, that he was the solution.
Manson’s dogma was a Doomsday Cult that would result in a Race War (Manson was a White Supremacist), that would somehow end up with Manson and his true believers leading the remnants of the human race. A failed musician, he read dark meaning into the Beatles song ‘Helter-Skelter”. In British English, a helter- skelter is a fairground attraction consisting of a tall spiral slide winding round a tower, but the phrase can also mean chaos and disorder . The murders were supposed to start the war. Later, Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, another cult member tried and luckily failed to assassinate President Gerald Ford.
On July 15, 1970, the trials of Manson, Leslie Van Houten, Susan Arkins and Patricia Krenwinkel began (Tex Watson was tried later). One of the people who was fascinated by the case and attended the actual trials was producer /film collector Wade Williams. Williams was so fascinated by the case that he somehow even got to interview Manson in prison, even buying the rights to two of his songs. He chose first time director Frank Howard(who also was the cinematographer and editor on this, his only credit) to helm the script written by J.J. Wilke Jr. (screenplay), Duke Howzer (additional dialogue). They gathered a cast of unknowns for whom the majority that this film would also be their only known film credit.
The film was shot in black and white to give it the look of a documentary, as had been used in IN COLD BLOOD or THE HONEYMOON KILLERS (Cinerama, 1970). The film chooses to jump back and forth from the courtroom (using actual court transcripts) to the events leading up to the murders, wherein Manson gathers his followers. There is a surreal moment wherein we are shown what to expect when the projected race war happens, with black militants murdering everyone in the suburbs(one wonders if this film was viewed by donald trump ?) , but it is rather clumsily staged.
The director fades into color for a brief sequence about Sharon Tate’s acting career. The costumes used are obviously referencing Polanski’s THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS (MGM ,1967). Interestingly, since the trials were still going on while the film was being made, the real names were not used , and thus Tate is only referred to as ‘The Starlet “. Debbie Duff, the actress who portrayed her, certainly has a resemblance to Sharon Tate. Duff is one of the few performers who had more than one credit (HONKY, Getty & Fromkess Pictures Corp,1971). The name Charlie is used several times, though actor Brian Klinknett (who appeared in SLIME TOWN BLUES, NB Releasing,1974) is only referred to as “Killer “in the credits.
The actual murders, which, while not gory, are staged with almost fetishistic attention to details. The poor acting detracts from the frisson that the film works so hard to create. One character, after escaping from his bonds, stiffly walks toward the insane killers saying, ‘What the hell is going on?” before being shot dead is a prime example. The film often has stretches without dialogue (which, given how bad some of the actors are, is a bit of a blessing), with the court room scenes doing most of the heavy lifting in that area.
Much of the score is by Sean Bonniwell ,but Charles Manson himself is heard singing his composition “Mechanical Man “, a monotonic recitation with twangy guitar joined halfway through by mournful chanting ,showing Manson was also delusional about his dreams of being a rock star. The new Film Detective release has a bonus CD of “Mechanical Man “and “GarbageDump” for you to listen apart from the film to judge for yourself.
The film ends with a credit crawl that makes one think of REEFER MADNESS (G& H, 1936) with its warning about the need to control drugs, which completely avoids the complexity of cults.
In a 1970 Box Office article, producer Williams stated that the film was in post-production for a November ,1970 release. The film’s production company, Auric Ltd, had announced it would be in “Auramation”, a “special cellular film treatment designed to heighten or depress the emotions …by subliminal monochromatic suggestions.”. Checking out the Blu-Ray, I saw no subliminal effects, so it may have been either ballyhoo or dropped.
Of note is that some parts of the film were shot on the actual Spahn Movie Ranch, where the Manson Cult had lived from 1968-69. Indeed, some of the remaining Manson followers appear in the footage. Shortly after the scenes were shot, the Spahn Ranch burnt to the ground. The ranch, established in 1947, had been used in several films, including THE CREEPING TERROR (Crown Int.,1964). Spahn was 80 years old, going blind and living at his ranch when he allowed the Manson Family to move in, rent-free, in exchange for labor .He was unaware of their nefarious activities.
The film was submitted to the MPAA in October ,1971 and slapped with an “X’ rating. To give it a chance for wider distribution, some further cuts were made to the film, garnering a re-release an R Rating. No record of what was cut, but the film went from an announced 91 minutes at a Cannes screening to its present length of 81. The film’s original rating may have hurt its box office originally, so the later R rating probably was too little too late. In 1976, the film was retitled as THE HELTER SKELTER MURDERS. For a time, the film was banned outright in Los Angeles.
Released theatrically by Prestige Pictures (BLACKENSTEIN,1973), it sat virtually unseen after it is 1976 reissue until the ever- hungry video market was born, which was desperate for product, any product. Media HomeEntertainment released it on VHS as THE HELTER-SKELTER MURDERS (1989) before Wade Williams took it back, releasing it on his Englewood Entertainment label in both VHS and DVD.
Now, Film Detective has made a new deal with Wade Williams to release his vast library in brand new restored versions for the current DVD /BLU RAY market. THE OTHER SIDE OF MADNESS is their first release to mark it is 50th Anniversary in 2021.
First off, they have gone back to the original 35mm camera negative, they have given a clean up and a new 4K transfer that is a vast improvement over the previous home video releases. Sound is in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. Optional subtitles are available in either English or Spanish.
Then there are the extras
There is the already mentioned CD of Manson performing “Mechanical Man” & “Garbage Dump”, taken from the original 7” vinyl soundtrack.
Ballyhoo Motion Pictures has created two original featurettes for this release:
– ‘The Other Side of Manson: An Interview with Producer Wade Williams”-an interview with the producer.
– “Mechanical Man: Wade Williams Meets Manson” – the story of how he got to have a meeting with the madman.
Two Trailers: the original release and as THE HELTER SKELTER MURDERS.
A 12-page booklet packed in the case with liner notes by filmmaker Alexander Tuschinski (MISSION CALIGULA ,2018) examining the film and its history.
THE OTHER SIDE OF MADNESS is of interest to those who wish to study the infamous history of Manson and his followers, especially from the context of it’s closeness to the actual crimes and trials, as well as use of actual songs by the master monster himself and footage of the Spahn Ranch.
-Kevin G Shinnick
*-A film called THE COMMUNE (1970) was purportedly the first to deal with the actual crimes, but I can find no information about this picture .
If TRAIN TO BUSAN (2016) was comparative to ALIEN (Fox,1979) with it’s characters trapped aboard a speeding bullet train, then PENINSULA would be their ALIENS (Fox ,1986). As we are experiencing the second wave of COVID-19 at the time of writing this review, these films about a fast spreading deadly infection seem to have more reverberance within the viewer. Sadly, said current pandemic limited many people’s ability to experience this horror action thriller on the large cinema screen.
That said, WELL GO USA has once again done a beautiful job with their home video release of these films.
Four years after the original film, things have gotten exponentially worse. Marine Captain Jung-Seok ( Gang Dong-won ,HAUNTERS, 2010 ) is still guilt-ridden by actions he had to take during the original outbreak . Now ,having escaped South Korea and living in Hong Kong , he and his brother in law Chul-min (Kim Do-yoon, THE WAILING, 2016) who also survived are approached by Chinese Mobsters to go back into the restricted infected areas to bring over a truck full of money. If they succeed they would get half of the $20 million inside .
Jung-Seok and Chul-Min are joined by two other Koreans and brought over at night via boat to the restricted area. After that , they are on their own to survive and bring back the truck full of bounty .
They find the truck , but of course , things are not going to go easy for them, as the zombie hordes are hot in pursuit .As if things are not difficult enough , they are ambushed by a group of rogue survivors. Two of the party are killed, with Jung-Seok rescued by two sisters. Chul-min, unfortunately is trapped inside the truck ,which is brought to the militia’s headquarters.
Jung-Seok once again is confronted by his decisions from four years back, while Chul-min has to take part in some freaky Fight Club meets Thunderdome survival games of humans versus zombies. Some of the militia discover the money and plan on sneaking off with it. So, who will survive and who will end up with the millions ?
Director Yeon Sang-ho returns to direct this sequel in this more expansive story ,yet never forgets the human story lines. Kudos to original screenwriter Park Joo-Suk who teams up with Yeon Sang-ho for this expansion on the story .
You can tell that the team really love the genre , with influences and imagery that make one think of 28 DAYS LATER (Fox,2002) as well as films like THE CHURCH (La chiesa ,ADC ,1989,) , yet make it their own . The action scenes are spectacularly filmed, with a sense of urgency and pulse pounding movement that makes you really fear if any of the characters will survive.
Well-Go USA Entertainment delivers a beautiful Blu-Ray DVD combo pack . The two disc set has been beautifully mastered ,with the muted colors marvelously reproduced as well as deep blacks where by anything can (and often does) leap out at you from all angles.
The sound design is superb in Dolby Digital 5.1 in both English dubbed and Korean. The English dubbing is good , though I preferred the original voices . Luckily, the optional subtitles are clear and easy to read , and do not interfere with the non-stop action .
Also on the discs are a making of featurette ,interviews with the creatives and actors(in Korean) as well as trailers.
Even if you have not seen the original , you will enjoy PENINSULA. If you have seen TRAIN TO BASAN, you will really enjoy it.
–Kevin G Shinnick
Note: Train To Busan Presents PENINSULA is also available on DVD as well as a 4K UHD Blu Ray .
Set 4 years after the original, a former soldier returns to the peninsula on a secret mission . When his team encounters survivors, their lives depend upon whether the best- or worst – of human nature prevails.
WELL GO USA ENTERTAINMENT has graciously given us twoBlu Ray /DVD combo copies of this smash ( $37.8 million world wide) action horror film for another contest . < 11.20.2020 update : CONTEST IS NOW OVER AND WINNERS HAVE BEEN NOTIFIED >
It is being released for purchase on November 24th, but you can possibly be one of our two winners picked at random . CONTEST IS OVER. NO MORE ENTRIES. WINNERS HAVE BEEN NOTIFIED.
Then, in the body of the letter, tell us what your favorite Zombie film is .
Add your name and address so if you are a winner , you may be notified and the prize mailed.
You will be automatically entered into our contest.
Winners will be drawn at random on November 20th ,2020.
Include your name ,email , and mailing address so winners can be notified and their prize mailed.
DEADLINE TO ENTER : Thursday November 19,2020 . Contest ends on that date. Entries received after that date will not be counted.
update :CONTEST CLOSED
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Only one entry per person. No purchase is necessary. Void where prohibited. All federal, state, and local regulations apply. You must be at least 18 to enter. You must live in the United States or Canada. All prizes are awarded “as is.” Prizes are nontransferable and cannot be exchanged. No substitute prize will be awarded to a winner who declines to accept a prize. Two (2) winners will be selected randomly.
Please allow 4-8 weeks to receive the prize.
Aspect Ratio : 2.35:1
MPAA rating : NR (Not Rated)
Director : Yeon Sang-Ho
Media Format : Dolby, Subtitled, Surround Sound, Widescreen
Run time : 1 hour and 56 minutes
Release date : November 24, 2020
Actors : Gang Dong-won, Lee Jung-hyun, John. D Micheals
Subtitles: : English
Language : English (Dolby Digital 5.1), Korean (Dolby Digital 5.1)
Ray Bradbury often felt his only science fiction story was FAHRENHEIT 451. “I use a scientific idea as a platform to leap into the air and never come back.” Most of his stories were not hard science fiction, but just the launching point for the story that he wished to tell. SILENT RUNNING is quite like that. While filled with wonderful imagery of a future world of spaceships and androids, the story is more an allegory of our relationship with our planet and our need to protect it.
The story of SILENT RUNNING is that in the near future (a voice over tells us that “at the beginning of a new Century” ),Earth has launched all their remaining forests and surviving species into space in the hope of preserving them .
Among the Fleet is the Valley Forge, run by a crew of four with support by various Droids. It seems that they have been in space for quite a while, and boredom has set in among three of the crew. They race around the ship with reckless abandon. The fourth, Freeman Lowell (Free man, sort of on the nose), played by Bruce Dern, is introduced to the audience swimming among what appears to be a forest, but is within one of the domes. He dons a robe, giving him more of a Christ like image as he cuddles a rabbit.
The fleet receives word that they are to destroy the domes and return the space crafts to commercial service.
Lowell snaps and kills his three coworkers, then plunges his ship through the rings of Saturn to make it appear that his ship is lost. He then programs the three remaining droids (whom he names Huey ,Dewey ,and Louie) first to perform surgery on his injured leg and then ,as his isolation sets in, to interact with him in such things as playing cards. Lowell starts feeling the loneliness again and takes to speeding around the station like his former co- workers did, smashing into one of the droids.
The forests also begin to die, and he does not know what he can do to help them. Then, he gets a radio message that the fleet has found his location and are racing to save him.
Realizing that the forests need more light, he rushes about to install lamps to correct this problem. He then jettisons the forest into space and to prevent it being followed, he commits suicide by destroying the Valley Forge with one of the nuclear bombs aboard. The final shot is the forest floating and flourishing in space, cared for by Dewey.
Back in the 1970s, the studios were looking for films that would appeal to young movie goers. EASY RIDER (Columbia 1969) was a film that made oodles of money, and the suits could not figure out why. Their solution was to give up and coming filmmakers a limited budget and see what they could come up with. Warner Brothers gave George Lucas financing to expand his student film ELECTRONIC LABYRINTH: THX 1138 4EB into a full length feature.
Universal seemed the most willing to risk money on filmmakers, setting budgets of $1 million dollars and creative control. They even thought that bringing in two of the EASY RIDER actors would guarantee better returns. Dennis Hopper went off in many ways with his money for THE LAST MOVIE (Universal,1971), a financial and critical disaster. Peter Fonda directed a more traditional western, THE HIRED HAND (Universal ,1971) was also a flop, playing in many areas as the bottom half of THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS (Universal,1971).
Another young filmmaker who was given a chance to go off and create something for a million dollars was Douglas Trumbull. Trumbull had been instrumental in the mind-boggling visuals and effects seen in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (MGM,1968). After doing some of the effects for Robert Wise’s adaptation of THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN (Universal,1971)*, Universal was so impressed as to offer him a chance to direct a sci- fi film.
Douglas had the original outline ,which was expanded into a screenplay by Steven Bochco ( later a T.V. industry unto himself ,with such shows as HILLSTREET BLUES (MTM,1981-87)) Deric Washburn (an off- Broadway playwright turned screenwriter), and Michael Cimino (later to co-write with Washburn the classic THE DEER HUNTER ,Universal , 1978, and direct films like the film that sank United Artists, HEAVEN’S GATE ,1980) , Trumbull was able to stretch his budget by film aboard Korean War aircraft carrier USS Valley Forge (LPH-8), which was docked at the Long Beach Naval Shipyard in Long Beach, California. The domes were filmed on a studio set in an aircraft hangar in Van Nuys, California.
The film was basically a showcase for an actor, and he wisely took a chance on Bruce Dern. The stage trained performer was mostly cast as villains in films, so this was a great change of pace for the actor. The three other visible performers were Cliff Potts (who was a Universal contract player at the time),Ron Rifkin (who is currently a recurring character on LAW & ORDER: SVU ,Universal 1999-present) , and Jess Vint III (Dern recommended him for the role in SILENT RUNNING after seeing his work at an Actors Studio class . Since then Vint has worked as an actor, director, screenwriter for both major studios and indies) .
Two voices heard over the radio belong to Roy Engel (President Grant on the tv series WILD WILD WEST ,CBS,1966-69) and Joseph Campanella, who seemed to appear in every T.V. series during the 1960s and 70s (including playing different characters in IRONSIDE,Universal,1969-75) .
The most brilliant bit of casting was for the four droids. To get away from the man in the suit look, the droids’ design led many to believe that they actual working AI. In fact, the four suits were worn by 4 amputees (Mark Persons, Steven Brown, Cheryl Sparks, and Larry Whisenhunt) with the casings built to accommodate them. That they were able to imbue the blank shells with personality is a credit to the performers inside, Dern, and the director.
The cinematographer Charles F Wheeler had worked a lot with specials effects films (like TORA! TORA! TORA! Fox,1970) and this was one of the first films to use fluorescent lights for a film, since they were filming on an actual aircraft carrier. Wheeler later did similar duties on STAR TREK: THE MOTIONPICTURE (Paramount, 1979).
Another big plus was the music by Peter Schickele (best known for his brilliant comedy albums as P.D.Q. Bach). Indeed, I still own the Green Vinyl Varese Sarabande album.
Joan Baez ,who had worked with Schickele provided two songs to the film’s soundtrack.
The film was released in the U.S. on March 10, 1972 to mixed reviews and disappointing box office. Over the years, the film has gained a well-deserved cult following, due to its various television showings, as well as video and DVD releases.
Now, Arrow Video gives us the best presentation of this movie that we have ever seen.
The movie has been given a 2K restoration supervised by Trumbull himself in 1080p Hi Definition. The film is flawless, with beautiful color.
The sound is presented in crisp DTS-HD mono. The effects, music, and dialogue are clear.
The optional white English subtitles are clear and easy to read.
Arrow also packs the release with several extras.
First off, there are TWO commentary tracks.
The first is carried over from the 2002 Universal DVD release, featuring Dern & Trumbull. You can hear their deserved pride in the film and friendly banter as they watch the film .
The second and new to this release track features Kim Newman (the author of the wonderful ANNO DRACULA books) and Barry Forshaw (BRITISH GOTHIC CINEMA book). This track, I must admit, annoyed me quite a bit. Both are knowledgeable on film and literature, but they seem to talk around the subject of the film rather than about it. They also do not seem to regard the film too highly. They seem to miss that the film is more allegory than hard science fiction. One wishes that Arrow had gotten someone with more respect for the film, like Mark Kermode, who lists it as among his favorite movies, and even wrote a book about it.
Also new to this release is an isolated music and sound effect track, for those who do not have the o.s.t. album of Schickele’s score, plus one can see how much the sound effects of forest and mechanics sounds mix to make the film work .
NO TURNING BACK -A short 14-minute featurette with Movie Music historian Jeff Bond discusses the importance of Peter Schickele’s score to the film.
FIRST RUN -Another short featurette examines the script and how it changed with the input of the various writers.
A Theatrical trailer is included, which makes the film look more like an action sci-fi adventure, plus plugs Joan Baez’ contributions.
A photo gallery is also available .
Other extras carried over from the 2002 DVD are :
THE MAKING OF SILENT RUNNING – A promotional film made to promote the film prior to it’s release , showing the actual Valley Forge , and the behind scenes of making the film, including the robot concepts ,designs and actors working within the molds.
SILENT RUNNING BY DOUGLAS TRUMBULL –Trumbull looks back on the film.
DOUGLAS TRUMBULL THEN & NOW –Trumbull examines his career, including his ideas on theme park rides video games, and his Showscan process. Trumbull directed the four-minute film for the BACK TO THEFUTURE ride at the Universal Theme Parks, which he says is how to bring the audiences into the action. It is not mentioned here, but back in 1895, inventor and early effect film maker R.W. Paul had a remarkably similar idea, to be based upon H.G. Wells’ THE TIME MACHINE that had been published the previous year. People would get into an enclosed ride box, where it would be tilted and moved as various projections were shown inside.
A CONVERSATION WITH BRUCE DERN -the actor discusses his role in the film and its importance to his career.
First Pressing Only: An Illustrated collector’s booklet written by Barry Forshaw and Peter Tonguette (PICTURING PETER BOGDANOVICH) .
SILENT RUNNING is a unique film ,whose message of ecological preservation has become more important today, as we have experienced political leaders who have rolled back dozens of hard won protections of our air and water, and we are rushing toward ecological disasters with the world heating up and ice caps melting.
We are very pleased to tease a chapter on an upcoming new book to be published by BearManor Media in the near future , 40s UNIVERSAL MONSTERS: A CRITICAL COMMENTARY .
The Invisible Man Returns (1940)
Universal’s “Great Horror Revival” of the 1940s actually began in January of 1939, when the Frankenstein Monster – his post-explosion treatment and therapy having been successful – arose from the comfort of his stone slab and began exploring the architectural wonder that bore his father’s name.
As it was Karloff’s Monster who had followed Lugosi’s Vampire into the hearts and minds of Great Depression audiences only months after the release of Dracula in mid-February 1931, it was only fitting that Boris and Bela would join forces to lead their fellow grotesques – and the genre, itself – back into theaters now filled with patrons seeking escape from the dread of what appeared to be impending (and inevitable) war.
Son of Frankenstein was a resounding success – audiences were grateful for shudders that portended nothing more than a couple of sleepless nights, and Universal was grateful for the audiences – so it seemed reasonable to expect that the next move would be from Castle Frankenstein to Carfax Abbey to witness the imminent resurrection and subsequent predations of everyone’s favorite thirsty count.
Alas! The King of the Vampires would have to wait until 1943 for his next cinematic gig, and how he must have felt, what with his being beaten back to the screen by the Mummy (and not the one he had rubbed box-office elbows with earlier, either!), the Phantom of the Opera, the Wolf Man, the Frankenstein Monster (again!) and Ygor (Are you kidding?), some sort of Man-Made Monster, the Wolf Man (also again!), the Frankenstein Monster (for the third time!), a Wild Woman held Captive, and that second Mummy, once more.
And, for the love of Mike, by the Invisible Man, an Invisible Woman, and even an Invisible “Agent.”
To be fair to Count Dracula, his chagrin at coming in last may have been diminished a tad had he realized that – save for the Wolf Man and Ygor – not one of that ‘40s company bore the face of his original impersonator and not one of the horrific “reappearances” noted above featured the same actor twice. And – given his bandages, over-sized sunglasses, and total transparency – on the…errr…face of it, determining that the Invisible Man who returned was, in fact, an entirely different guy than the one who had expired in bed some seven years earlier was theoretically impossible.
Granted, Claude Rains had gone on to diversify quite substantially since his sound-film debut back then, but he was “The Invisible Man,” no? And even if we admit that we realize we’re talking about the character and not the actor here, the title blatantly states that “The Invisible Man” is the returnee here, so our finding out that we’re not about to… errr… not see Jack Griffin, but, rather, some nobody except Sir Geoffrey Radcliffe makes the more grammatically-anal among us a bit disconcerted.
Anyhow, with bits and pieces of some Tower ofLondon interiors still on the back-lot – and having earlier bought the film rights to the character from Herbert George Wells – Universal determined that having a titled Brit take the heat (and the injection) might add a bit of fresh blood (and English box-office revenue) to the mix. With genuine-Brit Rains over at the Brothers Warner for the nonce, ersatz-Brit Vincent Price (late of both The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex and the aforementioned Tower of London) filled the bill quite nicely. Price’s voice was as mellifluous and distinctive as was Rains’s and, what with his standing 6’4” tall, there was zero need to place the Missouri-born Price on a box whilst interacting with his onscreen fellows. Another advantage to using Price as the protagonist was that he could facilitate for the rest of the cast and crew director Joe May’s semi-incoherent instructions. As quoted in Universal Horrors, Price explained: “May was difficult to understand, as he spoke no English. I had something of a rapport with him because of my knowledge of German.”(1)
The most intriguing idea raised by all this is the claim (promoted and supported by the advertising of the release and subsequent re-release[s] on VHS/DVD/Blu-Ray of all the ’30 & ‘40s films + the ‘50s Creature trio) that the Invisible Man is one of Universal’s “Classic Monsters.” Really? Over the two decades or so that separated the character’s initial adventures from his run-in with Abbott and Costello, the recipients of Jack Griffin’s research had changed personage, motive, allegiance, and gender. We’d run the gamut from an appreciation of Wells’s original (married, so to speak, with Philip Wylie’s The Murderer Invisible) to a tale of anger and retribution (see: The I.M.’s Revenge) on the part of Robert Griffin, a psychopath in his own right who just happens to share coincidentally nomenclature with principals in the first two series’ entries. Come on… does every Griffin mess with invisibility juice, the way every Frankenstein pines to see Uncle Heinrich’s pride-and-joy at the peak of his powers? (Has any of this occurred to Seth MacFarlane?) All this, whilst we pause to consider the role of an unseen patriot in wartime and to picture – with our mind’s eye – that naked lady running about, unnoticed, in our midst. Come the ‘50s, “The Invisible Man” became a hero (of sorts) on the small screen, battling spies and generic bad guys seeking to do… well… whatever it was they had planned to do. Classic figure? Perhaps. Monster? Uh-uh.
Still, there is that moment late in Returns when a rain-soaked bobby speculates on the nature of the Invisible Man with his superior. “You’ll know soon enough,” advises his boss, “when he leaps on your back and starts sucking your blood.” Now it takes a fairly awkward bit of ratiocination to lump the unseen Radcliffe in there with such feral types as the WereWolf (of London, natch) or Dracula (late of Carfax Abbey), especially when the accounts of local boy Jack Griffin’s misadventures had earlier filled the British press and neither gymnastic feats nor intimations of vampirism has figured into Griffin’s megalomaniac delusions. But here, just after a series of off-camera transfusions from a batch of friendly collieries workers and just prior to the clench-and-close as the end-music swells, Dr. Frank realizes aloud that “The new blood itself is the antidote!” to all that went wrong with his pal. Perhaps had his older brother chomped down on an artery or two when those chuckle-headed townsfolk at Iping wouldn’t give him a moment’s peace, most – if not all – of the subsequent violence and destruction might not have taken place. Who can say for sure?
The Invisible Man Returns is the only picture in any of the runs of any of those “Classic Monsters” to acknowledge onscreen that it is a sequel. This confession undoubtedly was a requisite codicil to the paperwork that gave Universal the screen rights to Wells’s transparent protagonist. That brief flash of a snapshot of Claude Rains in the Scotland Yard file on Jack Griffin also served to tie-in the current offering directly with the 1933 production, which had almost immediately been considered a masterpiece by everyone except for Mr. Wells, who reportedly was less than thrilled with the picture because the screenplay turned his protagonist “into a lunatic.” The picture regurgitates a couple of bits from its 1933 Pater Familias. Like Dr. Frank’s brother, Geoffrey Radcliffe goes unseen throughout the entire film and is restored to full opaqueness only at the denouement whilst abed, up to his chest in bedclothes. The unwrapping of the head (before a mirror) likewise had been done earlier, as is the scene in which the bandaged protagonist rather operatically foresees a despotic future for himself while in the company of the woman he loves. We note en passant that while FrankGriffin has not packed a false nose in the suitcase left for the fleeing (and buck-naked) Radcliffe, neither had he pack any undies. One can imagine well enough the suffering one must endure, battling the English countryside during a cold spell whilst nude, without having to deal with the chafing that needs occur when one’s privates negotiate directly with the trousers of a tweed suit. That snippy attitude affected by Radcliffe fairly early on may not be due entirely to the invisibility solution.
The plot begins with an invisible Geoffrey Radcliffe escaping his prison cell to hunt down the man who had murdered his brother (Geoff himself is set to be executed for the crime) while trying mightily not to go mad a la the invisibility solution Dr. Frank Griffin has injected into him. Obviously as guilty as hell at first glance – without the savvy moviegoer even needing to know opportunity or motivation – is Richard Cobb, cousin to the Radcliffes and apparently heir to their “collieries” (ahem… coal mines and assorted buildings associated with them) should the brothers somehow be removed from the scene. Geoff chases after Willie Spears, a newly-minted (but perennially tipsy and wildly unqualified) foreman at the mines, rightly figuring Spears’ promotion was given in exchange for keeping his mouth shut. Spears fingers Cobb as the murderer, and Geoff – having sequestered Spears – captures Cobb, whom he brings at gunpoint to be confronted by Spears. Cobb escapes and runs into the collieries, but he is fatally injured when, battling the invisible Geoff, he falls from atop a coal cart emptying its load; luckily, he confesses to the murder before expiring. Geoff, who was shot during the struggle with Cobb, is restored to visibility and Helen’s embrace following a blood transfusion.
Interspersed through all this are several scenes in which 1) Geoff’s descent into madness and megalomania seems to be accelerating; 2) Scotland Yard’s Inspector Sampson – armed with knowledge of the misadventures of Geoff’s older brother and a cache of cigars – gets closer and closer to capturing the Invisible Man; 3) Frank Griffin putters around his lab, juggling test tubes, retorts and hypodermic needles as he works around the clock to find an antidote; and 4) legions of smartly-caped bobbies, hot on the case, are engulfed in smoke and rain. Again, while it’s true that the basic plot of the picture (Invisible Man is chased by police, chaos ensues, he is shot and becomes visible again) and a good bit of filler (experimentation to find a way back, expressions of love and regret to the skirt, bad guy in roadster speeding off with unseen passenger) were first onscreen in 1933, there are enough new details to keep one’s interest from flagging for the 81 minutes the picture is on the screen.
At one point, for example, Frank reveals that all that awful business with his brother had occurred some nine years prior to the mishegas concerning Geoff and the murder accusation. Some of us might wonder why Frank – who had been sitting on the invisibility solution for darn near a decade – waited only until after he had injected his good friend with it to begin working seriously toward an antidote. We might regard as facile the notion that adding colored powder to blood drawn from Geoff’s arm would make it visible but not affect adversely in any way the scientific conclusions to be drawn. We might tip our hat to blatant villain Cobb, who, having killed the lights in Spears’ house, shouts that now he is just as invisible as Geoff, as the two begin to throw the furniture about. We doff said hat completely in respect for and admiration of the lyric scene in which Geoff addresses a scarecrow in a field while simultaneously dressing himself in its clothing and then bidding it adieu. And one final question: Following his massive blood transfusion (how did Frank Griffin gauge the precise amount of blood needed, anyhow?), Geoff takes a moment to gaze gratefully at his arm. Under “normal” conditions, can the Invisible Man see himself?
As had Claude Rains, Vincent Price demonstrated a good bit of self-effacement for the body of the picture in the interest of a dramatic bonus at its end: for Rains, the movie-going public’s first glimpse at an actor who would captivate them for decades to come; for Price, an extended medium close-up that gave a much better look than audiences had been afforded via Tower of London or Elisabeth and Essex with their period hair appliances. The cinematic careers of both men would be lengthy and eclectic, yet each would be associated with a role or three in the genre we love so much. Whereas Rains had escaped from the Laemmles’ ongoing series of moody atmospheric thrillers after The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1935), within a lustrum he was to be tapped as Sir John Talbot in The Wolf Man and later signed on to do the titular honors in the TechnicolorPhantom of the Opera (1943). Other than the film at hand, only The House of the Seven Gables (1940) and his brief, comic cameo as the Invisible Man in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) mark Price’s collusion with this volume.
With nearly three times the film credits of Rains, Price saw his involvement with the horror genre begin in earnest with 1953’s House of Wax, pick up steam through the rest of that decade, and then come into its own – thanks mostly to Roger Corman – in the ‘60s. The actor does quite well here as the ever more unstable Radcliffe, and his towering above most of his fellow cast members adds more than a hint of the physical menace that would be compounded by transparency.
Among the last pictures that featured Sir Cedric Hardwicke before filming began on Returns were RKO’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame and M-G-M’s On Borrowed Time (both 1939). Sir Cedric was the villainous Frollo in the former and Death himself in the latter; little wonder the Worcestershire-born actor would be tapped to be the murderer of Sir Michael Radcliffe. Both the screenplay and the direction of Returns make it bloody obvious from the get-go that Roger Cobb is a creature of barely-concealed emotions, or that all of them are bad. Knighted in 1934 for his work on the British stage and screen (right between his appearances with Boris Karloff in The Ghoul and with Conrad Veidt in Bella Donna – both films being shot in Great Britain), Hardwicke as Cobb seems to be playing to the back row, as the dour expression on his face leaves little doubt as to where he stands in re: Nan Grey’s Helen. The picture offers no plot surprises – does anyone really believe that Geoff Radcliffe and Helen Manson will not end up in each other’s arms? – so with John Sutton’s Frank Griffin the only other “main” character in the mix, Cobb’s the man.
Unless you count 1939’s Wuthering Heights (a toss-up at best), Returns is Cecil Kellaway’s first venture into the genre. His Inspector Sampson is Johnny-on-the-spot with his file on Jack Griffin – a “Maniac-Murderer” readeth the description – some stogies with which to spot the invisible one’s outline, and more coppers than can be seen at the Policeman’s Ball. Granted, the inspector is still under the impression that Geoffrey Radcliffe is as guilty as all get-out, but his putting two and two together vis-à-vis the escape from the prison cell in the twinkling of an eye is impressive. Nine years after most of Britain was befuddled by the very idea of an invisible man, the local representative of national law enforcement takes his existence just for starters. And although neither Sampson nor that army of police appears to be within earshot of Roger Cobb as he whispers his confession, the subsequent hospital-bed drama attests that they’ve taken the word of Frank and Helen as to Geoff’s innocence, even though the entire movie is predicated on the fact that no one has taken anyone’s word on Geoff’s innocence at any time. While Kellaway brings his uniquely “semi-serious” take to the role, the gleeful resolve with which his character approaches the investigation is believable because of his certainty in the methodology he is following. There is more on Mr. Kellaway in the essay on The Mummy’s Hand.
Alan Napier, whose most memorable role may have been that of Alfred, Bruce Wayne’s butler and confidant, in the hit-‘60s television series, Batman, offers a memorable job here, as well. Physically, his Willie Spears is a bit taller and a lot grimier than anyone else in the cast, while behaviorally he is just filled with himself, as the former night-watchman revels in his newfound title and status. The British Napier would go on to a long and varied career and took full advantage of the job opportunities offered later in life by the introduction of the boob tube, appearing in dozens of TV series (including Thriller, The Twilight Zone, Night Gallery, and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour) apart from his stint at “stately Wayne Manor.”
Holdovers from Tower of London include John Sutton and Nan Grey (plus Price, of course, and contract players like Ivan Simpson, Ed Brady, Cyril Thornton, et al). Most genre aficionados immediately think of Grey as the soulful victim of Gloria Holden in Dracula’s Daughter (1936), but the lovely Houston native had already wet her genre toes with an uncredited bit in the 1935 version of The Great Impersonation, and the Crime Club entries The Black Doll and Danger on the Air (both 1938). She and Vincent Price (and Cecil Kellaway and Alan Napier) would share the screen again in 1940’s The House of the Seven Gables, but Grey would retire from the screen a year later, her last role coming in Columbia’s rather exploitative Under Age (1941). Her Helen Manson hasn’t much to do but wring her hands and bite her lip, but Grey wrings and bites quite well. The only “flaw” in the portrayal is the actress’s noticeable lack of any “Englishness” in her delivery; going up against that gang of “born-elsewheres” (besides the Britons listed above, Kellaway was from South Africa, Forrester Harvey from Ireland, Sutton from India [!], and Price… well, he was Vincent Price), her lack of “vocal lilt” sort of stands out.
The aforementioned Mr. Sutton – born in Rawalpindi of British parentage – had quite a number of “uncredits” before stepping into the shoes of Jack Griffin’s younger (and taller) brother. The actor was in most of the Bulldog Drummond series, whether credited or “un-,” and he, too, was in The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, albeit without enjoying the sight of his name in the cast crawl. Sutton managed to avoid following Returns with an armful of other, similar films and spent most of the ‘40s making a name for himself at 20th-Century Fox, usually in secondary roles. His Frank Griffin certainly goes through enough of the motions one would expect from a dedicated scientist under the most desperate of deadlines, although – even given the common elements of both “Invisible” pictures – it’s a tad difficult picturing Frank and brother Jack sharing a crumpet together.
The film got some good press, perhaps a bit because the 1933 picture had made such a positive impression, but quite enough on its own merits. Philip K. Scheuer, writing in the 16 February 1940 edition of the Los Angeles Times, opined:
People who look askance at sequels may safely relax in the current instance, for this follow -up to the original production from the pen of H.G. Wells is, although the work of two other fellows, fully as amusing, unexpected and pulsating an affair. … It will … give you a delightfully jittery 81 ½ minutes … As in the preceding film, no opportunity for imaginative humor has been neglected. The invisible one’s passing-by is the occasion for all sorts of whimsical horseplay, to which the trick camera responds nobly.
Sheuer’s colleague-in-criticism, Edwin Schallert, had recorded his approval in that paper more than a month earlier…
The Invisible Man Returns rates headline attention as an entertainment novelty. Portions of the picture may seem far-fetched and overly theatrical, but the technique is splendid, and the production keeps up its spell of excitement. It will take rating along with the first Invisible Man, which had Claude Rains is [sic] the ‘unseen’ personage of the plot, while James Whale directed… 10 January 1940
In the Times that was more familiar to folk on the East Coast, Frank S. Nugent mixed his opinion with a quite interesting fact:
Universal makes no peace offering, in the form of a credit, to Mr. Wells, for the non- appearance of his disembodied semi-phantom. One Joe May is billed as author, and among his adapters we find the name of Cedric Belfrage, who once wrote, as though in prophecy, a tome called ‘Away from It All, the Notebook of an Escapologist.’ Ghostly, isn’t it? … Somehow, we were not as astonished as once we were… This camera hocus-pocus still has its fascination, of course… but the script is annoyingly unoriginal…And for the sheer absurdity of the thing, we don’t suppose there has ever been a sequence to match the one in which Sir Cedric is being hustled along by the collar, with a pistol prodding him in the back, and not a soul in sight (except Sir Cedric). The New York Times, 16 January 1940
Belfrage, a socialist scribe who was co-founder of the National Guardian weekly newspaper, started his career as a part-time film critic for England’s Kinematograph Weekly in 1924. Although his name will ring more bells for political activists than movie buffs, Belfrage occasionally helped vet scripts at Universal. It was probably not because of his activity at the Big U that he was deported from the United States in 1955.
Joe May and Kurt Siodmak shared the “original story” credit (Mr. Belfrage went uncredited) for Returns and, as noted above, there’s not really all that much original about it. Still, reviewer Richard L. Coe, writing for the Washington Post, did note that “The present scenarists have created a background of realism and a story of mere murder [emphasis ours] as an accompaniment for the incredulous circumstances of the disembodied one” (3 February 1940). May, of course, also directed the project, and Siodmak, soon to be “Curt,” reveled in reviving the notion that Jack Griffin’s “Monocaine” (yclept “Duocaine” herein; after all, it is its second time around) would lead to madness. Much of Siodmak’s published fiction and many of his screenplays dealt with abnormalities to and/or hyper-extensions of rationality and, with Returns, he was just getting his brain wet.
In his autobiography, Wolf Man’s Maker, Siodmak speaks briefly of his contribution to the film: The Return of the Invisible Man [sic] did not need much imagination. The subject of ‘invisibility’ was not new to me since my last novel written for the German market, The Power in the Dark, dealt with it… The theme of The Return of the Invisible Man was the seemingly inevitable corruption of power. The wish to be invisible is deeply ingrained in the human mind. To observe but not to be seen contains a temptation to misuse that potential… Since return was nominated for an Academy Award because of its special effects and was also a financial success, I had to write every one of Universal‘s ‘Invisible‘ pictures. (2)
Well, other than 1944’s The Invisible Man’s Revenge and the 1951 pastiche, that is.
Siodmak‘s German-language novel deals with a scientist who becomes transparent in order to commit acts of aggression/destruction against nations who are on the verge of starting a war between themselves in order to frighten them into different behaviors. Calling his book’s theme “prophetic,” the novelist claimed “The same thing on a small scale I used for my assignment,” namely, The Invisible Man Returns. Perhaps that might have been Siodmak‘s original intention, but Geoffrey Radcliffe indulges in megalomaniac blather only whilst at table with Dr. Griffin and Helen Manson; otherwise – despite his fear of succumbing to the mental lure of Duocaine – he stays pretty close to the road to revenge on Richard Cobb. Academically, at least, it might prove quite interesting to see the extent to which screenplay-collaborator, Lester K. Cole, may have altered Siodmak‘s thematic diminution so as to give us the picture we have today.
Joe May (like Kurt Siodmak) had emigrated from The Fatherland to the USA, although May hopped about Europe first before settling into the Hollywood lifestyle. Signing up with Universal in 1939, May quickly demonstrated the kind of flair he had shown during the Silent Era was just what the studio was looking for: he helmed The House of Fear (1939), Returns, and TheHouse of the Seven Gables back-to-back-to-back. His vision in Returns was nothing extraordinary, but – as may be seen in Richard Coe’s comment, above – most audiences (and critics) of the time were more than willing to accept a fairly mundane Whodunit when spiced with a bit of exotica. May’s poor English and authoritarian manner with his coworkers did not lead to an extended contract with Universal, though, and the Vienna-born director ended his film career a few years later at Monogram. More on May will be found in our essay on House of the Seven Gables.
First of those “classic monster” movies to hit the screen after the ‘30s called it quits, The Invisible Man Returns reworked the original formula to its credit. A bit of head-scratching here and there – Whatever happened to the contents of your stomach taking a while to invisible-ize? Or why would a research scientist who works with guinea pigs have a couple of sets of manacles lying around the house? – but that comes with sequel territory, no? Best of the more serious of the invisible follow-ups, the picture boasts more advanced SPFX than the original – check out the inside of the bandaged head or the bit where Cecil Kellaway’s cigar smoke does its job – and an equally strong cast. Even if The Invisible Man didn’t make it back a second time, his gauze and goggles were worn (and his clothes tossed about the floor) by a worthy “understudy.”
The Invisible Man Returns – 12 January 1920 – 81 minutes (ST) CAST: Sir Cedric Hardwicke as Richard Cobb; Vincent Price as Sir Geoffrey Radcliffe; Nan Grey as Helen Manson; John Sutton as Dr. Frank Griffin; Cecil Kellaway as Inspector Sampson; Alan Napier as Willie Spears; Forrester Harvey as Ben Jenkins; Harry Stubbs as Constable Tewksberry; Frances Robinson as Nurse; Ivan Simpson as Cotton; Edward Fielding as Prison Governor; Leland Hodgson as Chauffeur; Mary Gordon as Cook; Billy Bevan as a Warden; Bruce Lester as Chaplain; Matthew Boulton, Frank Hill, Cyril Thornton and Ed Brady as Policemen; Paul England and Raoul Freeman as Detectives; Dave Thursby as Bob; Louise Brien as Dr. Griffin’s Secretary; Rex Evans as Constable Briggs; Frank Hagney as Bill; Jimmy Aubrey and Colin Kenny as Plainclothesmen; George Hyde, George Kirby, George Lloyd, Edmund MacDonald, Harry Cording, Ellis Irving, Dennis Tankard, Chet Brandenburg as Miners; with Mary Field, Stanley Blystone, Charles Brokaw, William Newall, Sidney Grayler, Boyd Irwin, Berry Hayes, Frank Colleti CREDITS: Director: Joe May; Associate Producer: Ken Goldsmith; Screenplay: Lester K. Cole and Kurt Siodmak; Original Story: Joe May, Kurt Siodmak and Cedric Belfrage (uncredited); Based on characters and situations from TheInvisible Man by H.G. Wells; Director of Photography: Milton Krasner; Art Director: Jack Otterson; Associate Art Director: Martin Obzina: Special Photographic Effects: John P. Fulton, Cleo E. Baker (uncredited); Special Effects: David S. Horsley (uncredited); Film Editor: Frank Gross; Assistant Director: Phil Karlstein [Karlson]; Set Designer: Russell A. Gausman; Music Score H.J. [Hans] Salter and Frank Skinner; Musical Director: Charles Previn; Sound Supervisor: Bernard B. Brown; Technician: William Hedgecock; Gowns by Vera West
Shock Theater Catalog No. 711: “A whole city cried stop him, but how can you stop something you can’t see? Don’t miss the sensational ‘The Invisible Man Returns,’ the Shock feature film presentation starring Vincent Price and Sir Cedric Hardwicke on this channel (day) at (time). – JTS
Thank you to the authors of this upcoming book from BEARMANOR MEDIA.
We look forward to it’s appearance .
(photo choices are only for this preview and may differ in the published book)
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Several years after their son’ s disappearance, a grieving couple adopts a feral boy, who begins to eerily resemble their child more with each passing day. While the mother believes they have found their son, her husband is certain he died. As strange accidents begin happening around the boy, the pair soon wonders whether they’ve adopted something not entirely…human.
Language: 1. Russian 2. English (dubbed) Subtitles: English subtitles
BONUS FEATURES: Trailers
Actors: Elena Lyadova ( Leviathan (2014), Elena (2011), The Geographer Drank His Globe Away (2013), and Orlean (2015) , Vladimir Vdovichenkov, Sevastian Bugaev Directors: Olga Gorodetskaya (Gone Away (2014) and The Dive (2015).)
Format: NTSC, Subtitled, Dolby, Surround Sound, Widescreen Language: Russian (Dolby Digital 5.1), English (Dolby Digital 5.1)
Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only.) Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Number of discs: 1 Not Rated Well Go Usa DVD Release Date: September 8, 2020 Run Time: 90 minutes $24.98 msrp
THE SIN OF NORA MORAN is a pre-code above average programmer probably mostly known for it’s beautiful poster by Alberto Vargas. The beautiful artwork really has nothing to do with the film, but oh does it draw your interest.
That said, THE SIN OF NORA MORAN is an entertaining drama from the early 1930s. At times, while watching it, I kept thinking of I WANT TOLIVE (U.A.,1958). The film is told in flashback form to tell the tragic story of Nora, played by Broadway actress Zita Johann. This was one of the seven films that she made between 1931-34, the best known being THE MUMMY (Universal,1932).
Nora ‘s early life was filled with tragedy, so when the star struck woman gets the chance to join the circus as part of a lion taming act for Paulino (John Miljan) she accepts. Paulino is a sadistic bastard, whose act it seems to consist of whipping and even punching a lion! It is no surprise then that Paulino is not above raping the poor woman. She survives and goes onto becoming a dancer in a small night club. There, she meets D.A. John Grant (Alan Dinehart). Things look like they are going better for her at last. Alas, it was not to be. It seems that Nora will die because of love.
The film is very daring for the period, with a woman who seems to be suffering from the aftereffects of the sexual attack upon her. Add to that, the unique jumping from present to past and back again in telling her story is quite unique. It had been done before (Griffith’s INTOLERANCE, Triangle, 1916) but very rarely, and I cannot recall any other sound films of that period doing so. The Griffith connection continues with the casting of with Griffith regular Henry B Walthall as Father Ryan, as well as Johann herself who appeared in THE STRUGGLE (U.A. ,1931).
Writer Willis Maxwell Goodhue had written several Broadway shows, mostly comedies. The film claims to have been based upon a Broadway play, but I can find no record of it playing upon the Great White Way. I suspect it is based upon an unproduced script of his called “Burnt Offering”. Filmed under the title of THE WOMAN IN THE CHAIR, its publicity claimed that it took five months to make the picture, a claim that I find a bit hard to believe. KING KONG (RKO,1933) took EIGHT MONTHS to make, and that was due to its extensive effects.
Majestic Pictures was a poverty row studio that was active from 1930 until 1935, when it and several other studios were absorbed into RepublicPictures. During their time, they produced THE VAMPIRE BAT (1933), perhaps their best-known picture, as well as THE SCARLET LETTER (1934). Larry Darmour, the founder of Majestic, had begun releasing the Mickey McGuire shorts in 1927, starring an incredibly young Mickey Rooney. After Majestic folded, Darmour went on to take over Columbia Pictures serial unit from 1938 until her passing in 1942.
Producer /Director Phil Goldstone worked in the industry from 1920 until 1942. His best-known contributions were as a producer for both WHITEZOMBIE (uncredited; Halperin/ UA ,1932) and THE VAMPIRE BAT (Majestic ,1933). His most infamous title as director seems to be DAMAGED GOODS (Grand National,1937), a film about sexually transmitted diseases.
It is therefore quite surprising to witness his adventurous camera set ups and editing tricks of playing around with the timeline as he does. A scene near the end reminds one of Hitchcock whereas we see from a character’s point of view as he commits suicide by pistol (though not as successfully as the Master, it is indeed impressive for a small indie of the period).
The film fell into obscurity for many decades until film historian and filmmaker Sam Sherman (editor of the late lamented SCREEN THRILLSILLUSTRATED ,and head of Independent International Pictures) was shown a 16mm print of THE SIN OF NORA MORAN and became fascinated with the picture. He even went so far as to get a print for himself and tracked down the lead Zita Johann, who was at that point already retired and living in West Nyack NY. She herself did not care for the film’s playing with time, preferring the original straightforward narrative that had been planned. Over time she began to appreciate the ambition of style that the film possessed. She even briefly came out of retirement to appear in a cameo in one of Sherman’s I.I. titles.Sherman also was able to repackage the film under a new title for tv distribution, VOICE FROM THE GRAVE, making it sound more like a horror film.
Now, thanks to Sam Sherman, film preservationist David Shepard, The Film Detective, and the UCLA FILM & TELEVISION ARCHIVE, an original 35 mm camera element was found, and a new 4K print was struck.
This release from The Film Detective is the definitive version of this film. Unlike other prints found elsewhere, the film is incredibly sharp and clear. The cinematography by Ira H. Morgan (who also filmed THE DEVIL BAT and DAMAGED GOODS, as well as working on Chaplin’s MODERNTIMES(!) (U.A.,1936) is as clear as many a major production of the era, with strong blacks and clear levels of gray shadings. The mono sound has been cleaned up and was as far as I noticed crackle free. Dialogue, sound effects and music did not blur or overpower each other as many indie films of the period do.
There are optional English subtitles for the dialogue.
The music by Heinz Roemheld is uncredited. In fact ,it seems that for most of his career, his music was written for stock music libraries ,being used into films into the 1960s. One of the films he did receive screen credit was for THE MONSTER THAT CHALLENGED THE WORLD (U.A.,1957) . The unusual thing about his score here is that it is used throughout the films entire 65 minutes running time.
Many films of that period were still coping with sound, and many used music sparingly, if at all. KING KONG (RKO,1933) was a major film that same year that showed a running musical score could work with a film’s storytelling.
Roemheld’s score is no where near as memorable as Max Steiner’s classic compositions. Indeed, at times it sounds a bit like music one would hear in an Our Gang short of the period, especially in a sentimental moment. At other times, it is quite sparse and effective.
As a bonus on the disc, Ballyhoo Pictures put together a nice 20 minute documentary, ‘The Mysterious Life of Zita Johann” (“mysterious” being misspelled on the back cover of the case )wherein Samuel M. Sherman talks about Johann and his connection to the film and the actress.
Inside the case there is also a booklet written by Sherman and illustrated with some rare movie clippings, lobby cards and photos.
All and all, a nice little collectable of a by gone era of filmmaking.
If that is not enough, for the limited edition blu ray release (1500 copies) ,within one of the packages will be a special certificate for one lucky purchaser to win a free 27” x 41” hand pulled lithograph of the Vargas poster , printed on Coventry 100% cotton archival paper with a certificate of authenticity .
No, it was NOT me.
the original Vargas sketch (here in a Lithograph) was more undraped
Kudos for all involved for the extraordinary amount of care given to this picture. Would that every movie be given this kind of treatment.
A comedy duo (officially since DUCK SOUP, Roach,1926, even though they had appeared together in THE LUCKY DOG, 1921,Sun-Lite) who remained friends until Oliver Hardy’s passing in 1957,and who will forever be linked in the minds of film fans as a tandem force.
Their films can be watched and enjoyed by all ages, due to their child like innocence as well as their constant battles with everyday events.
Now, a collection of their works has been restored and presented to both new and old fans alike in a release that should please all. The shorts are well represented, with some odd omissions. For example, they do a magnificent job on the one silent presented, THE BATTLE OF THECENTURY (Roach/MGM,1927),but skip their first talkie (UNACUSTOMED AS WE ARE, Roach/MGM ,1929),as well as many other classics . Were there legal issues or lack of acceptable elements, or just the ones that UCLA has restored so far? Perhaps if this set sells well, we might expect a second edition, or even a third that would include their silent (yes please).
The restorations of these films are nothing short of miraculous. New 2K/4K masters have been made from the best elements available, and while they still have a few specks here and there, plus the sound is variable due to the technology of the time , one is doubtful one will ever see these classics in any better presentation.
THE BATTLE OF THE CENTURY (Roach /MGM ,1927), on Disc One, to me, made the disc a special delight. Robert Youngson used the remaining footage available in his 1965 compilation LAUREL & HARDY’s LAUGHING 20s (MGM,1965). For years, that tantalizing footage had fans wishing to see the entire short.
In the 1980s, most of the first reel was discovered. Missing still is a sequence wherein Eugene Pallette (best known as Friar Tuck in THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD, WB,1938) is an insurance agent who sells Ollie a policy ,wherein if Stanley sustains injury, there will be a nice payout. This footage is set up nicely with a few remaining stills and a title card explaining the set up. It then jumps to Ollie dropping banana peels to make Stan fall, only to have it backfire and make long suffering foe Charlie Hall as a pie man topple, leading up to the huge street filling pie fight. In the extras, Anita Garvin identifies herself as the woman who falls and sits upon a pie, stands, and tries to regain her dignity. She did this brilliant comic gem of a moment in an unpaid appearance during her lunch break as a favor to Stan!
Also, on Disc one, there is BERTH MARKS (Roach/MGM,1929) their SECOND talking picture. Even though sound had just become popular and wider used just two years earlier, the team was already using it and drawing attention to its humorous potential. Notice how they use the stationmaster (Pat Harmon, a familiar face in films ,often in unbilled roles) who yells out the train destinations in an incoherent though loud way, then asked if Pottsville is one of the stops, he yells louder and even less coherently!
BERTH MARKS is available in two versions on this disc ; the 1929 release version with original sound, as well as the 1936 re issue with added music and different sound effects. The 1929 version has not been seen for 84 years so it is a real significant find.
The brilliant fourth L&H feature, SONS OF THE DESERT (Roach,MGM ,1933) was called “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the U.S. Library of Congress in 2012 and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry. Once you watch this pre-code comedy, you will see why. The print is so much sharper than previous releases, with nice shades of gray and good sound.
There are extras galore on this and the other discs .
There are fact filled running commentaries by either Randy Skretvedt or Richard W. Bann on the various shorts and films. Seriously, you will learn about where certain sequences were shot, actors who appear, often as uncredited extras, just a wealth of information.
Also included are video interview from the 1980s.
Actress Anita Gavin (1906- 1994) gushes with real affection for her time at Roach, and of her working with Stan.
Producer/actor/director Joe Rock (aka Joseph Simberg,1893-1984). Rock basically saved Stan from an unhappy marriage that was ruining his career. Freed of her, Stan starring silent vehicles included the wonderful spoof DR PYCKLE AND MR PRIDE (Selznick,1925). It is too bad that the sound is so terrible in this interview, with a buzz so loud that words are often drowned out.
Roy Seawright (1905-1991) was Hal Roach Studios Head of Animation , the man responsible for all of those animated effects in the films, as well as the stop motion in BABES IN TOYLAND /MARCH OF THE WOODEN SOLDIERS (Roach /MGM ,1934) .
(not from the blu ray, but an interesting bit of film history below )
A shipboard interview with Oliver Hardy (1950). This was when the boys were going with such high hopes to film ATOLL K/UTOPIA (1951), a disastrous final film for the comedy team.
The only known existing original trailer from SONS OF THE DESERT (Spanish).
A plug for Skretvedt’s book (which appears on several of the discs.)?
That is just the first disc!
Extras on Disc 2 include audio interviews with many associated with the comedy team, while disc 4 has several of the comic duos’ feature trailers, as well as music tracks from Marvin Hatley (1905-1986), best known for his work for the team.
There are also thousands of rare photos posters, scripts, and production notes from their many shorts and features.
(TWICE TWO ,1933 )
Disc 2 also has BRATS (1930, available in two versions) ,HOG WILD (1930) ,COME CLEAN (1931), ONE GOOD TURN(1931),and ME & MY PAL (1933) ,all Roach/MGM releases , all looking vastly sharper than they have in other releases.
Disc 3 has 8 shorts, including THE MUSIC BOX (Roach/MGM,1932), winner of the FIRST Academy Award for Best Short Live Action (Comedy) and was preserved in 1997 in National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.
The other shorts on Disc 3 are HELPMATES(1932) , THE CHIMP (1932) ,COUNTY HOSPITAL (1932) ,SCRAM! (1932), THEIR FIRSTMISTAKE(1932) ,THE MIDNIGHT PATROL(1933) ,and BUSY BODIES (1933) (all Roach /MGM ).
Disc 4 has the feature WAY OUT WEST (Roach/MGM,1937). This is the comedy which will have your sides ache in the sequence where they chase each other around the room with a purloined deed. This is the film that is referenced so perfectly in the beginning of STAN & OLLIE, with an exact copy of their dance.
It also has three other Hal Roach produced shorts(TOWED IN A HOLE(Roach/MGM 1932) ,TWICE TWO(Roach/MGM 1933),THAT’S THAT(1937 , a private reel of out-takes compiled for Stan’s birthday and was not publicly distributed), as well as their only existing professionally shot color footage in TREE IN A TEST TUBE, a 1942 short made for the U.S. Dept of Agriculture!
The packing really beings up my one tiny nitpick – the case has a flip book to hold the various discs, which often shift making the box hard to close. Be careful so as not to scratch or damage the discs.
This is hours and hours of entertainment and information in a well-made release. Hopefully, it will be a success so that we may see 4 K releases of their other Hal Roach films (including the silent era) to Blu Ray.
Stan: What do you want? Policeman: I don’t want you. I want that other monkey. [Stan whistles to Ollie] Ollie: What? Stan: He doesn’t want me! He wants the other monkey! [Ollie looks around] Stan: You! Ollie: Oh. -from THE MUSIC BOX
You don’t want that other monkey. You want this collection!! Must own.
JAKE SPEED is a super fun action adventure film that never takes itself too seriously and lets you in on the joke. Indeed, the whole film is based upon the idea of “What if the heroes we read about in pulp fiction existed”? This flick makes the whole premise work.
A young woman, Maureen Winston (Becca C Ashley in her only theatrical role) is abducted while she is in Paris by white slavers (a plot later used in the better known TAKEN, Fox,2008). Her family back in the United States are understandably upset. Maureen’s parents (Monte Markham, PROJECT X, Paramount 1968, and Millie Perkins, THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK, Fox,1959) blame Maureen’s sister Margaret (Karen Kopins, ONCE BITTEN, Goldwyn,1985) for encouraging her to go out and see the world.
Margaret’s crusty grandfather (Leon Ames, THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE, MGM,1946) says that there are very few real men anymore, such as Remo Williams, or Jake Speed. He feels Jake Speed would be the best man to handle this.
The thing is Maureen discovers that Jake only exists in a series of pulp novels that her grandfather reads. Or does he?
A note is slipped under Margaret’s door that instructs her to go to a bar at the San Pedro Docks at midnight if she wishes to find her sister. Going along is her friend, Wendy (Donna Pescow, SATURDAYNIGHT FEVER, Paramount, 1977).
The bar is the type of dive that might make pirates feel unsafe. They are soon joined by Desmond Floyd (Dennis Christopher, BREAKING AWAY, Fox,1979) and Jake Speed (writer producer Wayne Crawford, who also co-wrote /co-produced the indie hit VALLEY GIRL, Atlantic, 1983) himself.
It seems that they base their pulp stories upon actual events and that Margaret’s story connects with a case that Desmond and Jake are pursuing , involving white slavers in Africa and Jake’s arch-nemeses, the gleeful Sid (John Hurt, ALIEN,Fox,1979) and his somewhat foppish brother Maurice (Roy London, one of the top acting teachers in Hollywood ,who died in 1993 at only age 50).
London was the subject of a 2005 documentary
What follows are a series of wildly over the top adventures that Margaret becomes part of as a struggling country’s different faction fight a Civil War all around them. John Hurt looks like he is having the time of his life playing the baddie, and he never takes his character too seriously (though when he slits the throat of an innocent civilian near the end, it is a bit of a shock).
Shooting in Africa gave the picture much grander production values than a medium budget picture of the time would have had filming elsewhere. Plus, as we learn from the disc extras (more later in the review), they were given use of actual military vehicles, troops and helicopters, mixed in with some amazing Australian stunt people.
Watch for one little editing boo boo near the end at the airport, where all the background extras behind John Hurt stand perfectly still and then start moving as if they got their cue late .
The film was released by New World Pictures while COBRA (WB) and TOP GUN ( Paramount) were dominating the U.S. box office in May 1986. JAKE SPEED was not a successful picture, making most of it’s money on it’s release to video and cable. There were plans to make more but the failure to find a wide theatrical acceptance put an end to that idea.
New World did do a clever bit of promotion for the film, releasing an actual paperback on June 1,1986 by Gold Eagle/Harlequin, under the pseudonym Reno Melon, which is the fake name Jake and Des’ author their pulp novels in the film. The thing is, they should have released the book in advance of the film, not after it had disappeared from theatres.
A vinyl LP was released of Mark Snow’s score by sound track by Varèse Sarabande . The very 80s synth score is very infectious and the flute sound adds a sense of whimsy to the theme.
I have to admit that I have been a fan of this film since it first came to video on the old New World Video. This new Arrow Video Blu Ray is an incredible improvement over any prior release on this film. Arrow Video has gone back to the original 35mm interpositive prints and given it a 2K Hi Def (1080p) clean up that makes this picture look even more impressive. The stunning African vistas and colors show that more care was given to this movie than one would assume from prior prints.
The mono sound from prior releases has been cleaned up and given a lot more audio punch (2.0 stereo), with the crashes, punches, gunfire and music all jumping out at you while still never overpowering the tongue in cheek lines as the film zooms along.
There are optional English subtitles that are easy to read and follow the action and dialogue quite accurately.
Other Extras include –
PAPERBACK WISHES, CINEMATIC DREAMS– a brand new Ballyhoo Motion Pictures interview with director Andrew Lane. Ballyhoo Motion Picture extras on any disc are always top notch and this one keeps the fine record by the company.
Lane and Crawford worked together since 1977 (starting as a writing producing team on the 1977 Dimension Pictures’ TOMCATS). Their idea was to make each succeeding picture just a little bit better, culminating with JAKE SPEED. They worked upon a few more films after this, but none seemed to be as personal as this picture.
THE HARD WAY READS BETTER-Another made for this release Ballyhoo Motion Pictures extra, this time producer William Fay offers his insights into making JAKE SPEED, including budget restraints, and other problems of having to bring practically all equipment into the country to make the picture.
The Blu Ray Sleeve has a reversible cover, with newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys, whose magnificent work has graced several other collectible Arrow Video releases.
This is a fun independent action adventure that merely asks that you relax and have a good time.