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FORGOTTEN & OVERLOOKED : SKULLDUGGERY (Universal,1970)Burt Reynolds, Susan Clark)

FORGOTTEN & OVERLOOKED will be a series of articles on science fiction ,horror, mystery ,and fantasy films that have somehow either been overlooked and /or not been made easily available for viewing . I am open to other suggestions and indeed other writers/creators who might wish to contribute to this series.

Contact Kevin at ScarletTheFilmMag@yahoo.com

Skullduggery – a forgotten Universal science fiction film

SKULLDUGGERY – 1970 Universal – A forgotten science fiction adventure film that has a lot of ideas behind it, even if the execution is a bit muddled.

A scientist ,Dr Sybil Greame ( Susan Clark ,COLOSSUS:THE FORBIN PROJECT, Universal, 1970) ,and a pair of guides, Douglas and Otto (Burt Reynolds, two years before his break-out star making turn in DELIVERANCE ,WB,1972 and Roger C. Carmel ,forever to be known as rascally Harry Mudd from his two appearances in the original STAR TREK television series,Paramount ,1966-69) go into the wilds of the New Guinea jungles (a few stock shots, then the rest mostly filmed on location in Jamaica), where they discover a skull of a half human -half primate throwback ,or the missing link.

 

Going further in the primeval forests, they come across a tribe who guide them to The Tropis. The Tropis are a small humanoid group (mostly played by college students from the University of Djakarta), a friendly primitive tribe of hirsute people. Childlike, the tough Douglas becomes very protective of them. Otto, however, develops a strong attraction to one of the females, Topanzia (Pat Suzuki, who starred in the original Broadway production of FLOWER DRUM SONG).

The rest of the “civilized” people look to exploit the Tropis. Father Dillingham (Chip Rafferty ,MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY, MGM,1962) wishes to baptize the Tropis until someone mentions it might be a blasphemy if they are not human, while Dr Greame’s boyfriend and financial backer Vancruysen (Paul Hubschmid ,THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS, WB,1953) figures that by he can exploit the creatures into near slavery to work in a mind that he has found .

Things take a dark turn when Topanzia gives birth to a still born child. After Douglas at first confesses to possibly killing the infant, he is put on trial, which brings in the idea of defining what humanity is.

Topanzia is kept in a cage in the courtroom, while a local District Attorney (magnificently played by William Marshall,BLACULA,AIP,1972) tries the case.

The project was based upon the 1952 French novel,” Les Animaux denatures” (First edition publ. Album Michel)) ,written by Jean Bruller under the pseudonym,”Vercors”. Bruller, who had fought in the French resistance, wrote several science fiction themed novels, as well as historical works.

 

The novel was translated into English by Rita Barrisse, and released under the name “YOU SHALL KNOW THEM” (aka “Murder Of The Missing Link” ;1953, Boston: Little , Brown) . The reviews were quite favorable at the time but it has become a rather overlooked work. One of the main differences between book and novel is that the baby is DELIBERATELY killed so that the case will be brought to trial.

 

Bruller adapted his work into a stage play called ZOO that was produced in Paris, and still is performed by many amateur groups(https://vimeo.com/272149857) . Director Otto Preminger (LAURA,Fox,1944) optioned the stage rights ,and hired Nelson Gidding to write a screenplay, that became  known as “The Case Of The Troublesome Topis”,dropping the “r” from the hominids name while making the story sound like a forgotten Perry Mason tale.

Gidding  finished the screenplay, but Preminger got busy in other projects, and so it seemed like it would end up as one of the many unproduced scripts in Hollywood.

 

However, producer Saul David had bought the novel rights, and brought it to Universal, after a misunderstanding with the newly formed ABC Pictures resulted in their dropping the project. Gidding, who adapted the 1969 Robert Crichton novel “The Andromeda Strain “(Knopf) into the classic Robert Wise film of 1971 for the studio, got his screenplay to the producer’s desk.

 

Burt Reynolds took the leading role, which required him to turn down a part in the motion picture M*A*S*H (Fox, 1970).

 

Filming began on January 6, 1969, under the direction of Richard Wilson (INVITATION TO A GUNFIGHTER, U.A.,1964). However, after just one day, producer Saul David (who had produced FANTASTIC VOYAGE, Fox,1966, and later LOGAN’S RUN, MGM,1976) fired the director. This would be the last project Wilson worked on, save for some contributions to the documentary IT’S ALL TRUE (Paramount,1993).

David brought in director Gordon Douglas, with whom he had worked on IN LIKE FLINT (Fox, 1967).

Karl Malden was considered for the role of Otto, but was deemed to thin (in the screenplay, the character was described as a heavy man). Roger C. Carmel was cast, only to have him arrive on set much thinner, having lost weight for the role!

Also in the cast were Edward Fox ( a year before he won a Best Supporting actor BAFTA for THE GO-BETWEEN ,Columbia,1971) , Alexander Knox (the title role in WILSON, Fox,1944) and the ever popular character actor Wilfred Hyde-White(Col. Pickering in the classic W.B. film adaption of the musical MY FAIR LADY, 1964).

 

The Tropis look was created and applied by Jack H Young (who had done make up for Bert I Gordon’s WAR OF THE COLOSSAL BEAST, AIP,1958) Marvin G. Westmore (uncredited in this film, who had also worked uncredited on PLANET OF THE APES, Fox,1968 ) and Bud Westmore (DARK INTRUDER, Universal,1964). One suspects that Marvin was brought in due to his work on PLANET OF THE APES.

Indeed, the success of that film may have had some impetus in his being hired, as Fox also created a sequel to that film (BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES) in 1970. Interestingly,  PLANET OF THE APES was also based upon a Fremch novel , Pierre Boulle‘s  1963 “ La Planete des singes “(  First Edition :Editions Julliard).

 

IMDB claims that the estimated budget for SKULLDUGGERY was $4.5 million which seems a bit high (THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN cost  6.5 million, and was a far bigger picture).

 

When the film was released,the reviews were mixed, and the box office was not strong, so the film quickly ended up on some bottom bills at drive ins.

Burt Reynolds never talked badly about the film and indeed blamed the studio for not knowing how to sell the picture. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CWoxl2KYUcM .

 

Oddly, the film was never released to home video in any format, and while it was shown on television in an edited version (brief nudity in a GP film), it has remained mostly unseen for nearly 50 years.

images (2)

SKULLDUGGERY is by no means a classic, and at times quite dated, but at other times the ideas behind it seem very timely.

Issue 1,Vol 1 of CINEFANTASTIQUE review

 

When films like BILLY THE KID MEETS DRACULA (Embassy ,1966) now getting the Blu Ray Special Edition treatment, perhaps Universal (or SHOUT! Factory, who have been doing a bang-up job on Universal’s genre films) might wish to release the picture to home video finally, so this missing link in Burt Reynold’s career will be missing no longer.

 

-Kevin G Shinnick

 

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MEA CULPA – (correction  11/2/2019) -the original posting of this article listed CANDY Clark in the heading,

even though in the body of the article, SUSAN Clark was properly credited for her role in the film.

My apologies  to these two fine actresses.

 

CANDY CLARK  (AMERICAN GRAFFITI )

 

SUSAN CLARK (COLOSSUS THE FORBIN PROJECT)

 

I have properly chastised myself for this error.

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TWO EVIL EYES (Blue Underground Blu Ray 3 Disc Limited Edition)

TWO EVIL EYES (Blue Underground 3-disc Ltd Edition Blu-Ray/4K Restoration) $49.99 Special Edition Release Date October 29,2019 Region A.

Original Theatrical release U.S.A. -Taurus Entertainment ,1990.

Color.  120 mins.
https://www.amazon.com/Evil-Eyes-Blu-ray-Harvey-Keitel/dp/B07VGTYMKB/

 

  • Warning -review illustrated with gruesome effects shots. No animals and we suspect few actors were harmed

 

When TWO EVIL EYES came out, George Romero had just worked with a major studio on MONKEY SHINES (Orion,1988) but had a bad experience wherein his work was edited without his permission. *

Argento ‘s last feature OPERA (aka TERROR AT THE OPERA) was a huge success in his native Italy but was denied a theatrical release in the U.S. by Orion, instead letting the small video company Southgate release the film in an R and Unrated version.

The two filmmakers decided to go independent again to retain control of the final product and picked two different Edgar Allan Poe tales to adapt.

 

 


Romero chose “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar” (published simultaneously in The American Review and Broadway Journal ,December 1845) . The story had been adapted previously in an Italian short film (Il caso Valdemar,Italy,1936 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U3qGwCPKhdI ) as well as segments in the portmanteau films MASTERWORKS OF TERROR (Argentina ,1959, redubbed and released by Jack H Harris as MASTERS OF HORROR ,1965) ,Roger Corman’s TALES OF TERROR (AIP,1962) and on the Spanish horror series Historias para no dormir (Stories to Keep You Awake, Televisión Española 1966). It also is one of the stories in the recent EXTRAORDINARY TALES (Mélusine Productions 2015 ).

a 1969 Japanese Illustration, inspired by TALES OF TERROR

 

The Black Cat by Alphonse Legros 1860

Argento chose “The Black Cat” (first published August 19, 1843 in The Saturday Evening Post). The story has been adapted with varying degrees of faithfulness, starting in 1934 with both Universal’s THE BLACK CAT as well as MANIAC (Roadshow), Universal again in 1941, AIP’s TALES OF TERROR again, the 1966 THE BLACK CAT (Falcon) ,Lucio Fulci’s 1981 version(Italian Int.) and recently a marvelous independent short in 2012 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GKN_I6ouswg .

 

The film :

Warning -turn your sound down for the opening credits of Pino Donaggio’s dissonant title theme.


The film opens with a succession of quick shots of Edgar Allan Poe’s statue, one of the great author’s home and burial plot, as a narrator intones: “To Edgar Allan Poe, whose stories have inspired this motion picture.”

 

We then immediately go to

THE FACTS IN THE CASE OF M. VALDEMAR (screenplay by Romero ; Dir of Photography  Peter Reniers, who has worked on such television series as LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT, Dick Wolf /Universal ,1999- ).


Jessica Valdemar (Adrienne Barbeau, returning to work with Romero again after CREEPSHOW, Laurel/WB ,1982) is hoping to inherit the money from her mortally ill husband Ernest (the wonderfully named Bingo O’Malley ,who also appeared in CREEPSHOW, and sadly in real life passed away June 2 ,2019).

 

To that extent, she gets Dr Robert Hoffman (Ramy Zada, tv’s DARK JUSTICE, Lorrimar,1991) to hypnotize the sickly Ernest to better control him. Dr Hoffman is most willing to do so, partly from a past relationship with Jessica, and partly from the desire to share in the millions that she will inherit. The problem is that Jessica has been taking money from Ernest’s account, so much so that if anything were to happen to her husband over the next three weeks, the police will surely investigate the wife.

E.G. Marshall as a lawyer warning Barbeau

Of course, Ernest dies, and the pair dump his body into a basement freezer. During the night she hears moaning and discovers that due to the hypnosis, the spirit of her dead husband is trapped between worlds, and that other entities wish to use his corpse to enter our sphere!

 

THE BLACK CAT (Screenplay by Argento & Franco Ferrini, who worked together on OPERA ; director of Photography Beppe Maccari, who was the camera operator on the Visconti classic THE LEOPARD, Titanus 1963)-
Argento’s take on the famous tale is a delirious and trippy over the top gorefest that references several other Poe tales.

Keitel in a Corman-like dream sequence with an Argento touch

 

 

Rod Usher (Harvey Keitel, TAXI DRIVER, Columbia,1976) is a police crime scene photographer who we first meet when he is taking pictures at a murder scene. This killing  was a bit extraordinary, since it is a scene of a nude women bifurcated by a huge pendulum blade. To Usher, it is just work as usual, and he tries to frame the scenes with a sense of aesthetics that belie the horror of the scene.

 

At home, his girlfriend Annabel (Madeline Potter ,THE SUICIDE CLUB, Angelika Films ,1988) has brought in a black cat that Rod takes an instant dislike to. This mutual hatred comes to its zenith when Rod viciously and cruelly strangles the animal during a photo shoot. Rod, however, in a sort of A BUCKET OF BLOOD (AIP,1959) moment, decides that the murder deserves to be the over of his newest photo collection.

Sally Kirkland has a new kitty for Rod .

When Annabel sees the cover some time later in a store window, she realizes what has happened, and rushes home to confront Rod. Rod , in the interim , has been given a cat that is identical to the one he killed ).He takes the animal home to destroy it once and for all, but Annabel comes home ,saves the creature but she herself is killed gruesomely.

Rod conceals the body behind the wall, but suspicion continues to grow against him, resulting in more murders and gore before Rod receives poetic justice.

John Amos as a detective who grows suspicious of Usher

 

A huge title assures us that none of the animals were harmed in the making of the film as the picture’s end credits roll.

The film, which reportedly cost over $ 9 million to make,  opened in only 150 theatres throughout the U.S. for just one week, taking in only $349,000.

 

It was released on VHS through various companies (Anchor Bay, budget label Video Treasures) as well as DVD and Blu Ray previously by Blue Underground.

Now , Blue Underground has gone back to the original camera negatives and given it a 4K 1080p restoration. The colors, especially in the Argento segment, really seem to jump out.

 

Martin Balsam  & Kim Hunter,Spanish Lobby Card

The audio is available in either English: 7.1 DTS-HD, or to duplicate the theatrical release sound, English: 2.0 DTS-HD (or in French: Dolby Digital Mono). Again, watch that opening bit of music in the beginning!
Optional subtitles are English SDH, French or Spanish.

Where this becomes the must have edition of TWO EVIL EYES is the immense number of extras, some ported over from BLUE UNDERGROUND’s previous release of the title, but many brands new and exclusive to this limited edition.

Extras include

Disc One Blu Ray- a brand new audio commentary by Troy Howarth (author of the upcoming book “Murder By Design: The Unsane Cinema of Dario Argento “). Troy has done audio commentaries on other Blu ray releases, and his love and well researched talks always have the feel of a well-informed fan joyfully sharing his thoughts and insights throughout the running time of a film, and this one is no different.

Theatrical Trailer

Poster & Still Gallery

Disc 2 Blu Ray
Two Masters’ Eyes – Interviews with Directors Dario Argento & George Romero, Special Make-Up Effects Supervisor Tom Savini, Executive Producer Claudio Argento, and Asia Argento. These are ported over from the 2003 Blue Underground 2-disc Blu Ray release.

Savini as a Poe like character who digs up corpses to steal teeth.Or is it just his character from THE RIPPER (United Ent.,1985 ) reprised?

Savini’s EFX – A Behind-the-Scenes look at the film’s Special Make-Up Effects. Also, from the 2003 release, Savini takes us on a behind the scene tour of how some of the effects work was done.

At Home With Tom Savini – A personal tour of Tom Savini’s home. From 2003, this segment is not only a master of his craft but also a fan sharing with fellow fans.

Adrienne Barbeau on George Romero.- From 2003. The still lovely and charming actress shares her thoughts about working with the director.

Tom Atkins makes a horrific discovery

 

NEW! Before I Wake – Interview with Star Ramy Zada. The actor talks about his career and working with Romero.

NEW! Behind The Wall – Interview with Star Madeleine Potter. The very busy actress, who shuttles back and forth from the U.S. and London to perform, talks about Harvey, Dario and cats.

NEW! One Maestro And Two Masters – Interview with Composer Pino Donaggio. Subtitled. The composer talks about his career

NEW! Rewriting Poe – Interview with Co-Writer Franco Ferrini, who has often worked with director Argento, as well as upon the screenplay ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA (W.B.,1984) .

NEW! The Cat Who Wouldn’t Die – Interview with Assistant Director Luigi Cozzi (who also directed the cult hit STAR CRASH, New World, 1978).

 

NEW! Two Evil Brothers – Interview with Special Make-Up Assistant Everett Burrell (who has worked with Savini several times, as well as Greg Cannom, and Kevin Yagher.).

NEW! Working With George – Interview with Costume Designer Barbara Anderson who worked with Romero from KNIGHTRIDERS (Laurel/UFD, 1981) up to THE DARK HALF .

Finally,

Disc 3-A CD of Pino Dinaggio’s score. This alone might be enough for some to wish to buy this collection, as this soundtrack it seems has never been issued legitimately before. It is a sharp moody score, which fits the film perfectly, but many pieces can be listened to and enjoyed on their own.

 

Adding to the welcome extras is an informative booklet by Michael Gingold, who was one of the guiding forces of Fangoria magazine from 1990 (when the film came out) until 2015.

Fango #95 ,which covered the film 

 

Once again, BLUE UNDERGROUND has put to shame many major studios Blu Ray releases, due to the care and multiple goodies adding entertainment, value and collectability for horror film lovers.

RECOMMENDED
For fans of
ROMERO
ARGENTO
EDGAR ALLAN POE
BLU RAY EXTRAS!

-Kevin G Shinnick

*-right after filming TWO EVIL EYES, he worked upon THE DARK HALF for Orion, which sat on a shelf for two years.

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NOIR ARCHIVE 9 Film Collection Volume 2 (Mill Creek Blu ray)

NOIR ARCHIVE 9 Film Collection Volume 2 (Mill Creek Blu ray) Region A/1 $35.99 b&w / color 907 minutes

https://www.amazon.com/Noir-Archive-1954-1956-Collection-Blu-ray/dp/B07PNK9W7D/ref=asc_df_B07PNK9W7D/?tag=hyprod-20&linkCode=df0&hvadid=366315610017&hvpos=1o4&hvnetw=g&hvrand=2671436127413592497&hvpone=&hvptwo=&hvqmt=&hvdev=c&hvdvcmdl=&hvlocint=&hvlocphy=9067609&hvtargid=aud-802037562948:pla-783588578090&psc=1&tag=&ref=&adgrpid=75136391966&hvpone=&hvptwo=&hvadid=366315610017&hvpos=1o4&hvnetw=g&hvrand=2671436127413592497&hvqmt=&hvdev=c&hvdvcmdl=&hvlocint=&hvlocphy=9067609&hvtargid=aud-802037562948:pla-783588578090

The second collection (out of three, as of this writing) of classic noir style films released through Columbia Pictures between 1954 -1956. Mill Creek and Kit Parker Films have licensed a collection of Columbia titles that are rarely screened, even on classic film channels like TCM. Many are B titles (co-features for bigger budget films) some have a bit more production value, a few are British (with one, FOOTSTEPS IN THE FOG,1955, the only color film in the collection) but all are entertaining and well worth your discovery of them.

 

 

BAIT (1954, not to be confused with Ed Wood’s JAILBAIT, Howco, that same year) was co- written, produced, and directed by Hugo Haas (1901-1968). A famous Czech performer, he was forced to flee from his home country when the Nazis invaded. In the U.S., he became a character actor, who, in the 1950s went the independent film route and make his own B pictures, making nearly a dozen films through the decade. He wanted to return home to his home country but was denied this when the Russians invaded. He died in 1968 in Vienna. BAIT has The Devil (Sir Cedric Hardwicke (ROPE, WB,1948) introduce the story of Marko (Haas), who asks Ray (John Agar, THE BRAIN FROM PLANET AROUS, Howco,1957) to help him find a gold mine. Ray accepts with the promise of an equal share.


When Ray does find the mine after several weeks, Marko tries to renege on the deal. Marko trick local waitress Peggy (Cleo Moore, who would star with Agar in HaasHOLD BACK TOMORROW, Universal, the following year), whom Ray is attracted to, into marrying him.

Marko then manipulates the two as all three are isolated in a mountain cabin during the winter. He hopes to catch the two in an intimate encounter so Marko can kill them, claiming a jealous rage. Marko is so low; he even kills Ray’s dog (boo!).

The film gains points for casting Bruno VeSota (himself a triple threat on FEMALE JUNGLE, A.R.C.,1955), a character actor in many early AIP films, as a bartender in an early scene. However, it is odd that John Agar asks if the bartender knows a “heavy fellow with a mustache” when VeSota is …. a heavy fellow with a mustache! An odd little film.

 

THE CROOKED WEB (1955) has Frank (Richard Denning, who had appeared in the 3D feature THE GLASS WEB ,Universal,1953)desperately needs money to take care of some debts, and so tries to get his Stan (Frank Lovejoy,HOUSE OF WAX, W.B.,1953 ) to aid him . Stan gets intrigued, hoping it will help him make enough money that he can marry waitress*Joanie (Mari Blanchard, ABBOTT & COSTELLO GO TO MARS, Universal ,1953), the sister of Frank.

Don’t poke his eye out…

The film has a lot of major surprises that still work today, and so I will refrain from describing more of this wonderful little gem. Suffice it to say, that many of the characters are not what they seem, and just when you think you know, they pull the rug out from under you again. The cast really make the most of these roles in a juicy script by Lou Breslow (CHARLIE CHAN AT THE RACETRACK, Fox, 1936), and the direction is by Nathan Hertz Juran ,a director of some of Ray Harryhausen’s best 1950s films, as well as fun schlock like THE BRAIN FROM PLANET AROUS.

Produced by Sam Katzman, a producer so frugal he would make Roger Corman seem extravagant. Still, he produced a lot of films well-loved today (IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA, Columbia ,1955) while major films of the era are forgotten, so maybe Katzman knew best.

CELL 2455 DEATH ROW (1955) has William Campbell (most famous for his wonderful appearance as The Squire Of Gothos on the original STAR TREK series, Paramount, 1966-9) portrays Whit Whittier. Real life criminal Caryl Chessman wrote the book (Prentice Hall,1948) upon which the film is based, Whittier being his middle name. The real-life Chessman was found guilty of robbery, kidnapping and rape. Acting as his own lawyer, he appealed 8 times to delay his execution, finally going to the gas chamber in May 1960. By a horrible comedy of errors, a court secretary misdialed the prison number, and so a stay of execution was delivered too late.

 

In the film, Whittier shows that bad company and bad decisions had him end up on death row. Along the way, there are bad girls who lead him astray (Kathryn Grant, the Princess from THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD, Columbia,1957) and bad company that gets him to be a driver. This leads to a spectacular stunt scene, where evading a roadblock, their gas tank explodes into flame as they continue to race away, the police in hot (I couldn’t resist) pursuit. After a stint in prison, he continues his criminal ways until his arrest and trial as “The Red-Light Bandit”. He defends himself but ultimately is found guilty on 17 of the 18 charges against him.

Former actor turned director Fred F Sears keeps the film moving at a fast clip, wasting none of its 72-minute running time. Sears is perhaps best known perhaps for the flying monster turkey THE GIANT CLAW (Columbia 1957) but he also was a director of skill with films such as this and THE WEREWOLF (Columbia,1956). Sadly, he died in 1957 at only age 44, directing 20 various tv shows as well as 34 films and serials in just a ten-year period!

 

5 AGAINST THE HOUSE (1955) is more a caper film, with 4 friends stopping in Reno for some quick gambling. Two of them get caught up by the police when someone tries to rob the casino, but after they clear themselves of the crime, they get an idea to commit a perfect crime. What they plan and what happens of course are two different things.

A good cast that includes Kerwin Matthews (now and forever Sinbad from THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD) in his first starring film role, Kim Novak (VERTIGO, Paramount,1958) in her third featured film, William Conrad (famous as the T.V. detective  CANNON, Quinn Martin, 1971-76), Guy Madison (1954 Golden Globe Award Special Winner-Best Western Star), Alvy Moore (best known as “Hank Kimball “on the television series GREEN ACRES, Filmways,1965-71) and especially Brian Keith. Keith may best be known for his more loveable roles in films like the father in Disney’s THE PARENT TRAP (1961) as well as the family friendly T.V. series FAMILY AFFAIR (Don Fedderson ,1966-71) will be blown away by his tortured character here. The screenplay is by Stirling Silliphant (Oscar winning screenplay adaptation of IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT, UA,1967) based upon a novel by Jack Finney (most famous for his serialization and then novel THE BODY SNATCHERS, 1955).

THE NIGHT HOLDS TERROR (1955) is based upon a true event from 1953 wherein Edwards Air Force Base worker Gene Courtier picked up a hitchhiker that led to his wife and two children being held captive by James Canigan, Leonard Mahon, and an A.W.O.L. marine named Donald Hall.


The film follows the true events accurately until final third. The movie was shot in 18 days on a $78,000 budget (according to Time Magazine, August ,1955) around where the actual events took place. The flick was produced, written, directed and edited by the husband and wife team Andrew & Virginia Stone (who produced another hostage family film in 1958 called CRY TERROR! For MGM and later Andrew directed the big budget SONG OF NORWAY, ABC Pictures,1970).


In the picture, Gene Courtier (Jack Kelly, Brother Brett in the tv series MAVERICK, WB,1957-72) picks hitchhiker Victor Gosset (Vince Edwards, pre-BEN CASEY(BCP,1961-6) fame. Interesting note, while the family’s real name is used, the rest of the names are changed in the picture)who pulls a gun and has the driver pick up Robert Batsford (John Cassavetes ,later world renowned for his indie films like FACES,Continental,1968 ) and Luther Logan (David Cross, later one of the “clickers” in THE CREATION OF THE HUMANOIDS (Emerson,1962).

The trio plan on killing the good Samaritan, but Gene convinces them to go to a town where he will sell his car. The dealership, however, only gives him a few dollars and a check, and so the crazed criminals go to the Courtier home and terrorize the family until the morning.

The dialogue is typical tough guy gangster stuff but the villains, in particular Cassavetes, who seems to be on the edge of gleeful sadism even when standing, make it truly suspenseful.

 


NEW ORLEANS CONFIDENTIAL (1955) is a pre – ballyhoo William Castle (HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, AA,1959) drama. Castle had made many serviceable and entertaining films in various genres since he began directing in 1939.
Dan Corbett (Arthur Franz, MONSTER ON THE CAMPUS, Universal, 1958) needs money to buy a boat he plans to live and work upon, and so he begins to work for crooked Zero Saxon (Michael Ansara , HARUM SCARUM ,Paramount 1965) which leads him to get involved in smuggling and even murder. Also, in the cast was Beverly Garland(NOT OF THIS EARTH, AA ,1957) but most of the roles, shot mostly on location, featured real dockworkers and local politicians. Some of the flat line readings from the locals makes you wonder why Castle didn’t just budget for some quick dialogue looping, but that’s part of the tribulations of low budget filmmaking.

 

 

 


FOOTSTEPS IN THE FOG (1955) is probably the biggest budgeted and best-known film in the set, as well as the only picture in color. I first became aware of the picture when the late lamented fanzine PHOTON mag used it on the cover of issue 21.

 

FI.T.F. was based upon the short story “THE INTERRUPTION” that was printed in Colliers Magazine (July 4,1925). The rights were bought by director Arthur Lubin, who intended to make the picture in 1949 but instead was hired to direct FRANCIS THE TALKING MULE (Universal,1950)!


After several different cast and title changes were announced but never started, producer Mike Frankovich finally got the production going, with Lubin directing. The director said that leading man Stewart Granger didn’t care for him, but that the final product was a good film. I agree.


Stephen Lowry (Granger,KING SOLOMON’S MINES,MGM,1950) has poisoned his wife for her money and he is blackmailed by his maid Lily (Jean Simmons,Academy Award winner for HAMLET,Rank/Universal,1948). Stephen decides he must do away with this new woman complicating his life, and during a London fog, attempts to do so in a most violent fashion.

To tell more would be to remove the many wonderful twists and turns of this delightful gaslight era little thriller, populated with so many wonderful British character actors, like a pre-Doctor Who William Hartnell and many more. This is probably my favorite film in the collection. Sadly, the film is often ignored, perhaps due to it not being a hit when it was first released.

 


SPIN A DARK WEB (1956 aka SOHO INCIDENT, its original U.K. title) was another British made thriller produced by American born (adopted son of comedian Joe E. Brown) producer Mike Frankovich. Director Vernon Sewell (CURSE OF THE CRIMSON ALTAR, AIP/Tigon,1968) shot on location in seedy parts of London to make this noir picture, making the film interesting for those who wish to see how the city has changed over the decades.

 

A down and out boxer (a profession that pops up in many of these films) named Jim gets involved with Rico Francesi’s (Martin Benson, THE STRANGE WORLD OF PLANET X ,Eros, 1958 )gang ,which leads him to become involved with the murder of another fighter as well as the pleasant though dangerous act of becoming the object of amour by Rico’s sister, Bella (Faith Domergue,THIS ISLAND EARTH Universal,1955). Domergue really is the focus of this picture and dominates the production until its rather weak ending.

Fred F Sears and Sam Katzman pop up again with RUMBLE ON THE DOCKS (1955) in a film that seems to want to cash in on the previous year’s ON THE WATERFRONT (Columbia,1954),though on an even lower budget that that picture, using rear projections and stock shots for the New York local ,as well as some San Pedro locations. James Darren (TV’S TIME TUNNEL, Irwin Allen ,1966) makes his film debut as Jimmy, the leader of a local gang. Jimmy’s father Pete (Edgar Barrier,an original member of Orson Welles Mercury Theatre,he was  Banquo in the 1948 Republic MACBETH) a former longshoreman until the mob broke his back now runs s mall shop, one day, he turns down a bribe from Joe Brindo (Michael Granger,CREATURE WITH THE ATOM BRAIN ,Columbia 1955), who was responsible for crippling Pete. Jimmy cannot understand why his father doesn’t take the money which angers his father and his mother (Celia Lovsky ,a former wife of Peter Lorre, known as the deaf Mrs. Cheney in MAN OF A THOUSAND FACES, Universal,1953).

Brindo tries to use Jimmy to use as leverage against his father. The film thus becomes also an ersatz REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE (WB,1955) with a lot less self-indulgence by Darren as he is being “torn apart” by his real father’s morals and the easy money offered by Brindo. With his natural charm and talent.

The Region A three-disc Blu Ray set all look fine, considering their age and rarity. While there is no mention of restoration, the print quality on all is sharp, with DTS-HD Mono Audio, and optional English subtitles. There are no other extras, but the collection and price point for 9 films makes this a minor quibble.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

For Classic Film Lovers

Mysteries
Noir Fans
1950s Movies

-KEVIN G SHINNICK

*The moral of Noir films- AVOID WAITRESSES AND SERVANT GIRLS.

 

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“Ligeia” Elizabeth Shepherd’s CD ,Redfield Arts

“Ligeia” Reborn: A Review of Elizabeth Shepherd’s CD recording of Edgar Allan Poe’s “Ligeia”

by Robert Klimowski

LIGEIA $13.99 . 55 minutes Audible https://www.audible.com/pd/Edgar-Allan-Poes-Ligeia-Audiobook/1645551318?fbclid=IwAR1ZGKAzN85VzgDNrNmIc7yETcLf8WDc2n6BisOaSBUNPFKSQUeowaDNIxY

 

How does one properly evaluate an oral interpretation of a written work? The first qualification, of course, is an intimate knowledge of the work itself, but preferably from an actor’s point of view. A scholarly knowledge of the text alone does not enable one to perceive or appreciate the vocal nuances required “to bring the work to life.” As the actor reads the text, she faces an unrelenting flow of choices that must be made in the service of efficient, but deeper comprehension. The critic or reviewer, few of whom are actors, must also be familiar with such choices when evaluating a performance. Critics and audiences agree that the actor who consistently perceives the most suitable interpretive choice, and then successfully executes their intention, is the actor most worthy of praise.

 

Actor Elizabeth Shepherd has just released a new recording of Edgar Allan Poe’s story, “Ligeia,” through Redfield Arts Audio(RedfieldArtsAudio.com). In 1964, she starred with Vincent Price in the Roger Corman film version of the tale, TOMB OF LIGEIA  (A.I.P.1964), and played a double role as both the deceased Lady Ligeia, and as her pert successor, the Lady Rowena Trevanion, of Tremaine. She has been deservedly remembered and recognized for this superb performance, and so brings a wealth of experience to her reading.

 

But Robert Towne’s screenplay to TOMB OF LIGEIA, faithful as it is to the spirit of Poe, is not, of course, Poe’s original text. In this recording, Ms. Shepherd has had to radically shift gears to inhabit an entirely different character: the nameless male narrator of Poe’s “Ligeia.”

Some may hesitate, at first, to accept the viability of a female actor portraying a male writing his remembrances of his deceased wife. But such apprehension immediately proves itself groundless. We accept the gender switch unconsciously and instantaneously due primarily to Ms. Shepherd’s intense and utter immersion in the obsessed persona of the narrator, aided by her marvelous facility in the lower vocal range.

Before commenting further on Ms. Shepherd’s performance, however, it’s important to first consider the nature of this story that Poe himself considered his “best tale.”

 

Unlike the first-person narrators of “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Cask of Amontillado,” and “The Pit and the Pendulum,” the narrator of “Ligeia” is explicitly writing, rather than speaking his story (“And now, while I write, a recollection flashes upon me…” [paragraph 1]). By its very nature as a written document, then, Ligeia is inherently more reflective than Poe’s more orally inclined tales. And as such, “Ligeia” requires a different type of delivery – an “internal narration,” if you will, in which the actor speaks the thoughts of the narrator in the process of writing them on paper. In short, it’s the difference between reading a diary aloud and reading dialogue aloud. The first is inward-oriented, while the latter is outward-oriented. And while these distinctions may appear subtle in print, they are much easier to detect in performance. Ms. Shepherd’s performance succeeds, in large part, due of her recognition of the narrator’s literary, rather than conversational, mode of communication, and the resultant intense, yet intimate, “internal narration” she so convincingly delivers.

 

Those who journal regularly well know that the very process of penning one’s thoughts tends to prompt unexpected connections, and in “Ligeia”such unforeseen realizations and speculations by the narrator are frequent. In an oral performance, then, we would expect these moments to seem as surprising and fresh to the actor as they are to the narrator, and Ms. Shepherd does not disappoint on this count. Her delivery is very much “present” and “in the moment” rather than “retrospective” in character. Let’s examine now some of the more specific aspects of Ms. Shepherd’s performance, restricting ourselves to the story’s first paragraph, both for ease of reference and as representative of her artistry throughout the story’s telling.

 

 

From the outset, Ms. Shepherd begins her narration forcefully and abruptly, in a state of exasperation (“I cannot, for my soul, remember…”), as if the lapse of time and “much suffering” have robbed the narrator of memories once so dear. By foregrounding this frustration, Ms. Shepherd immediately suggests that the narrator is mentally impaired. It is, after all, unusual for someone to forget how, when, and where they met the very person they so idolize. So, by initially assuming a forceful vocal attitude of vexation, Ms. Shepherd emphasizes the fact that we are listening to the thoughts of an unreliable narrator and signals the listener not to accept everything that he relates at face value.

As the story progresses, we learn the probable cause of the narrator’s disability: he “had become a bounden slave in the trammels of opium” and “was habitually fettered in the shackles of the drug.” And as he writes this account of poignant mania, Ms. Shepherd’s reading leads us to suspect that he still is.

 

Identified and footnoted below, are six “creative pauses” Ms. Shepherd makes in her narration of the first paragraph. These pauses are motivated purely by character concerns rather than what punctuation or natural phrasing would suggest. And it is just such touches as these (which the actor often unconsciously employs) that lift a performance from the adequate to the engrossing. The footnotes attempt to explain the reasons behind Ms. Shepherd’s creative choices.

 

 

“I cannot, for my soul, remember how, when, or *[1] even precisely where, I first became acquainted with the lady Ligeia. Long years have since elapsed, and my memory is feeble through much suffering. Or, perhaps, I cannot now bring these points to mind, because, in truth, the character of my beloved, her rare learning, her *[2] singular yet placid cast of beauty, and the thrilling and enthralling eloquence of her low musical language, made their way into my heart by paces so *[3] steadily and stealthily progressive that they have been unnoticed and unknown. Yet I believe that I met her first and most frequently in some large, old, decaying city near the Rhine. Of her family — I have surely heard her speak. That it is of a remotely ancient date cannot be doubted. Ligeia! Ligeia! Buried in studies of a nature more than all else adapted to deaden impressions of the outward world, it is by that sweet word alone — by *[4] Ligeia —that I bring before mine eyes in fancy the image of her who is no more. And now, while I write, a recollection flashes upon me that I have never known *[5] the paternal name of her who *[6] was my friend and my betrothed, and who became the partner of my studies, and finally the wife of my bosom.”

One could catalog many more instances of Ms. Shepherd’s expressiveness in this recording. Suffice it to say that 55 years after her tour de force performance in TOMB OF LIGEIA, she has significantly widened the scope of her accomplishments in the Poe-interpretation sphere.

Note: The reviewer strongly recommends comparing Ms. Shepherd’s reading with that of Vincent Price’s 1977 recording of “Ligeia” on Caedmon records – a rare and fortunate opportunity to hear the stars of a film adaptation independently interpreting its literary source text.

Robert Klimowski is a retired school teacher from Des Moines, Iowa, currently researching the life and works of Edgar Allan Poe.”

 

This is Robert’s first piece for SCARLET ,but we hope not his last-Kevin

 

 

[1] This pause in a series (“how, when…”) suggests the writer’s own surprise at his failure to remember details which, especially regarding significant relationships, are usually indelibly imprinted on one’s consciousness.

[2] Another pause in a series (this time of descriptive phrases) which may be intended to highlight the narrator’s initial difficulty in describing Ligeia’s “singular yet placid cast of beauty,” or simply to emphasize it.

[3] A pause intended to emphasize the subtle nature of Ligeia’s growing influence.

[4] A pause to emphasize “that sweet word alone.”

[5] This pause signals the narrator’s sudden surprise on realizing that he has “never known“ Ligeia’s last name. This pause, however, comes after the italicized phrase is spoken, not before.

[6] This pause may reflect the narrator’s temporary difficulty in trying to sum up his rich and various relationships with Ligeia.

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Want to write or illustrate for us?? Write to Kevin at Scarletthefilmmag@yahoo.com

 

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A BUCKET OF BLOOD (Olive Films Signature Blue Ray)

A BUCKET OF BLOOD (Olive Films Signature Blue Ray) released 2019. B&W. 66 minutes. 1.85:1 Aspect Ratio. Original Theatrical Release. October 21, 1959. AIP. $39.95 limited to only 3500 copies

https://olivefilms.com/product/a-bucket-of-blood-olive-signature-blu-ray/

 

Back in 1959, Roger Corman (THE PIT & THE PENDULUM, AIP,1961) made a five-day quickie for $50 grand, that was different from his previous productions. While it still fell into the horror genre, it was also a dark comedy. The film went on to make back profits of  almost quadruple its production cost, leading Corman to try two more with the same writer, Charles B Griffith (who had written many of Corman’s early films, and later wrote the cult classic DEATH RACE 2000 (New World ,1975);LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (Filmgroup, 3 days, plus pick up shots, $34,000, not a success upon its original release) and CREATURE FROM THE HAUNTED SEA (Filmgroup, 1959, released in 1961, shot on location in 5 days, a failure upon its original release).

 

Corman thus stayed away from comedies until a segment of his TALES OF TERROR (AIP,1962) and THE RAVEN (AIP ,1963).

A BUCKET OF BLOOD works mostly because of the wonderful work by Dick Miller. When ABOB was released, it was unique, being a time capsule of the beatnik era.

 

“Beat Generation” was a phrase first popularized by author Jack Kerouac to describe the counterculture developing in post war New York, particularly in the bohemian Greenwich Village. The word was basically a way for Kerouac and others of the time to describe the beaten down and off beat. “Beatnik “was first used in 1958 in a news column as a derogatory term. The phrase stuck, however. ‘Beatniks” slowly morphed into what are now better known as “hippies”, or the counterculture movement of the 1960s.

 

Until the beginning of this century, one could still find in the Greenwich Village several coffee shops and bookstores that had been part of the Beat Generation of cool, all slowly removed and replaced by Starbucks and sterile chain stores.This film gives a glimpse of how similar the beat culture was on both coasts.

 

OLIVE FILM’s SIGNATURE series release of A BUCKET OF BLOOD goes all out on this little gem, something we wish that every film would get.

First off, the 4K scan print is amazing, especially considering how many bad to downright unwatchable P.D. prints have been circulating for years. Olive Films had released a bare bones Blu ray version (still available for $14.95 https://olivefilms.com/product/a-bucket-of-blood-dvd/) but I am sure that even that print pales in comparison to this new version.

The mono sound works fine for the film, being almost hiss free, with dialogue, sound effects, and music clear and distinct, even with lines that formerly had sounded a bit mumbled.

 

The extras are the reason that make me prefer Blu Rays over streaming films, and what a nice collection of goodies that Olive Films has added.

CREATION IS, ALL ELSE IS NOT! *- 93-year-old Roger Corman reminisces about the making of ABOB. The man shows that his memory is clear about a film made 60 years ago, and it is remembered with great affection.

CALL ME PAISLEY – a 2018 interview with Dick Miller (who died January 30,2019 at age 90) and his wife Lainie. His voice is hoarse but Dick Miller was still lively, and a wonderful raconteur , prompted by his Lainie. The movie has extra importance to Lainie, as she met Dick when he was beginning production of the film, and they were married by year’s end just as the picture was being released. There are some marvelous home movies of Dick wrestling with tigers and lions. As he states, they are not trained but wild, that have been fed, and have no reason to attack humans unless hungry or aggravated to attack. Miller speaks of how he knew Jonathan Haze and Bruno VeSota prior to working for Corman, and how Corman formed his little stock company of players.

 

The Cabinet Of Professor Bondi ? How does this German retitling of HOUSE OF WAX tie in with ABOB?Read on.

-Audio Commentary by Elijah Drenner, director of the wonderful documentary THAT GUY DICK MILLER (Autumn Rose Productions, End Films,2014). Elijah enthusiastically shares his information about Miller and this film with an infectious enthusiasm for his subject. When not commenting directly on the action of the film ,he pulls out illumination on the film location (the studio were it was filmed was formerly The Chaplin Studios and now is the home of Jim Henson Productions .) and the people involved both in front and off camera. At the end, you almost feel that Drenner wishes the film were longer, as he seems to have so much knowledge on the production to share.

http://blog.thatguydickmiller.com/p/dick-miller-store.html

 

-Archival Audio Interview with screenwriter Charles B Griffith. The screenwriter (who passed away in 2007) speaks clearly and with clarity about how he got involved in the business due to Myrtle Vail, a relative who helped create the radio soap opera in 1932(!)and who played the landlady Mrs. Swickert in ABOB. An amazing recollection from the subject, and a real bonus finds we should be grateful that Olive Films found and added this.

 

 

 

 

Griffith & Vail  Sounds like a Vaudeville Act ?

Well , Vaudeville was in their family blood .

 

 

 

BITS OF BUCKET – a comparison of the shooting script to the final product. Since an average of 1 minute of screen time is one page of script, the 66-minute feature need to trim a lot from the 95-page screenplay. It results in a few lines cut here and there, as well as some character development. It is interesting to see, and kudos for the effort (the original shooting script was titled “THE YELLOW DOOR’, which is the name of the club in the film), but the movie in it’s current state is quick ,and wastes no time. Would adding and shooting these bits have added to the film, or just slowed it down? An interesting alternate shot exists of Paisley’s hanging scene from the end, where his eyes are open, staring right at the camera. Was the other take used as the image was considered too gruesome?

 

Rare Prologue from the German Release . – This alone should make you rush out and buy this disc. In his commentaries, Elijah Drenner mentions the odd way a German distributor tried to tie ABOB to THE HOUSE OF WAX (aka DAS CABINETT DES PROFESSOR BONDI, THE CABINET OF PROFESSOR BONDI ,WB,1953)!!! To do this, a black and white prologue was filmed with an unknown German actor in heavy makeup going into a long speech about his wax experiments (so we are to assume that this is the Vincent Price character ,who somehow survived the finale of HOW)rambling on about his techniques, and only his relation Walter Paisley can carry on! You will probably want to re-watch this immediately after seeing it to make sure that you are not imagining it! Picture and sound quality are quite good, especially when one considers its rarity. AKA – THE LEGACY OF PROFESSOR BONDI (Das Vermächtnis Des Professor Bondi )

 

Not only did they try to tie A BUCKET OF BLOOD with HOUSE OF WAX,they even stuck a vampire on their poster, which seems to be “borrowed “from the French poster of BRIDES OF DRACULA !

 

-Super 8 Silent Version– one of those old silent 8 abridgements of films, with burnt on subtitles. Ken Films (a Fort Lee N J company that ceased production in 1981) released the film for home use. For those only know easy access streaming as the norm, there was a time when it was quite difficult to get your favorite films in any form, so these abridgements were as good as we could get. The Super 8 version begins with the murder of Detective Lou (Bert Convy, later a likeable staple on tv game shows) and goes to the murders following, a highlight reel that makes ABOB look like no more than a mad killer flick.

 

 

Theatrical Trailer US

Theatrical Trailer Germany (see my earlier comments about the prologue)

-A slide show of rare Production Stills.

 

-Inside the  Disc case , you will find an enclosed booklet Essay (“OH GIVE ME THAT BUCKET OF BLOOD “** by Caelum Vatnsdal, author of YOU DON’T KNOW ME, BUT YOU LOVE ME: THE LIVES OF DICK MILLER , Arbeiter Ring Publishing ,2018). Informative and illustrated with some rare on set production shots.

                                             Not with the Disc , but worth seeking out 

 

The plot of the film  has waiter Walter Paisley (Dick Miller, the first of many times his characters during his long career would be referred to as “Walter Paisley” ) working in a beatnik club fall in love with hostess Carla (Barboura Morris, whose whole film career seemed to be for AIP ,save her last role, in the T.V. movie HELEN KELLER & HER TEACHER (1970), with Ms. Morris playing Annie Sullivan. Ms. Morris died tragically young, one day after her 43rd birthday in 1975).

 

When he accidentally kills a cat, he covers in sculpting clay, including the knife still sticking out of the poor beast. He suddenly shows off his “creation” and is hailed as a true genius. However, to keep his masterpieces coming, he needs to keep getting a fresh supply of bodies.

 

The movie was released as a co-bill with ATTACK OF THE GIANT LEECHES (AIP,1959) ,which also featured actor Bruno VeSota. One wonders how audiences reacted at the time or were even aware that it was the same performer in both pictures.

 A BUCKET OF LEECHES with two Brunos for the price of one

 

A BUCKET OF BLOOD was one of Roger Corman’s old scripts that he had reworked for Showtime’s ROGER CORMAN PRESENTS, that ran from 1995 until 1997. The 1995 remake was later released to VHS under the title THE DEATH ARTIST (Concorde,1995). This retelling is 17 minutes longer, in color, starring Anthony Michael Hall and Justine Bateman as Walter and Carla respectively, and is more brutal but a lot less fun. The biggest recommendation for seeking it out is to see a young Will Ferrell in a small role https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8mUqaNaaPhY as well as Paul Bartel and Mink Stole as two art lovers.

 

Stick to the original.

Get this OLIVE FILMS Blu Ray release.

HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION.
Recommended for fans of
Classic Horror
Horror Comedies
Dick Miller
AIP
Roger Corman

-Kevin G Shinnick

 

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*-a line said by the pompous poet Maxwell H Brock (Julian Burton)

**-Dick Miller mock singing at the idea of a musical version of ABOB, like THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS.

 

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THE PRESIDENT’S LADY (Twilight Time Blu Ray)

THE PRESIDENT’S LADY (Twilight Time Blu Ray) – August 2019. original Release: Twentieth Century Fox ,1953. 96 minutes. B&W. Blu Ray Limited to only 3,000 copies. 1080 High Definition transfer .1.33:1. Region Free. $ 29.95 https://www.twilighttimemovies.com/presidents-lady-the-blu-ray/

“When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”- Carleton Young, THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE (Paramount,1962)


Twilight Time has once again released a beautiful Blu-ray of a classic film, though on a subject that may draw some controversy.

Andrew Jackson (March 15, 1767 – June 8, 1845), the seventh President of the United States from March 4, 1829 to March 4, 1837, was and is a controversial figure. A lawyer who served in both the House and Senate, as well as a Justice on the Tennessee Supreme Court, he became a General who fought in the Creek Wars against indigenous Natives, as well as the War of 1812 against the British (1812-1815).

Jackson was a slave owner, which, along with his harsh treatment of the American Indian Populace has led to the current controversy about removing his likeness from the $20 bill. Indeed, his treatment of his slaves was keenly cruel, beating them, once a brutal public whipping of a woman he felt was “putting on airs” and when one escaped, he offered an extra $10 (about $200 in today’s dollar value) for every 100 lashes given! He also opposed any policies that would outlaw slavery in the expanding Western territories.

Jackson also pushed through the INDIAN REMOVAL ACT, which resulted in the forced displacement of nearly 50,000 Native Americans whom he viewed as savages. This led to the infamous ‘Trail of Tears”, wherein over 4,000 Cherokee died in forced marches, and the displacement wherein the ancestors of these tribes are still suffering in poverty.

 

 

Most of this is whitewashed, overlooked, or non-existent in Irving Stone’s biographical novel, THE PRESIDENT’S LADY (Doubleday, Hardcover, 1951). Stone first gained fame for his brilliant LUST FOR LIFE (Grosset & Dunlap,1934), still one of the best and most well-known books about the tortured genius Vincent Van Gogh. He followed it up over the years with seven more biographies of historical political figures and artists, before writing THE PRESIDENT’S LADY.

 

 

The novel covers the early years of Jackson’s life, but concentrates heavily upon the at the time scandalous romance between Jackson and his love, Rachel.

It was quickly optioned by Twentieth Century Fox, becoming the first of Stone’s works adapted into a film (LUST FOR LIFE was adapted in 1956 by MGM, and his 1961 novel THE AGONY & THE ECSTASY (Doubleday,1961) was adapted by Fox in 1965).

 

Fox assigned Sol C Siegel (PANIC IN THE STREETS, Fox, 1950) to produce and John Patrick (MR MOTO TAKES A CHANCE, Fox,1938) to write the screenplay, which focused heavily upon the romance /scandal aspects of the tale. Director Henry Levin (CRY OF THE WEREWOLF, Columbia,1944) Director of Photography Leo Tover (THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, Fox,1951), makeup artist Ben Nye (THE GHOST & MRS MUIR, Fox,1947) also joined the team.

 

In 1789, Andrew Jackson ( 30 year old Charlton Heston, in his fifth Hollywood film)rides into the frontier town of Nashville (some sources say 1788) to become a boarder to a family friend, the widow Mrs. Donelson (Fay Bainter, THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY, Goldwyn ,1947).There he meets her daughter Rachel Donelson Robards           ( Susan Hayward, DAVID & BATHSHEBA ,Fox,1951) . They start getting close and even dancing that evening at a family gathering until interrupted by her jealous husband.

 

The film follows their tumultuous courtship and scandal that nearly destroyed his career, even as he became known as a major general and politician who would achieve the position of U.S. President.

A sumptuous historical drama,  the picture is well researched and well-acted, concentrating upon their love story that leads up to tragedy just as he ascends to the highest office in the land.

Twilight Time has given the film a REGION FREE 1080p High Definition 1.33:1 release, with rich blacks and marvelous shadings of gray that never muddy.

The English 1.0 DTS-High Definition Master Audio is crisp and pop free, with cannons seeming to have an extra ring when fired.

Extras include

English subtitles

-An isolated Audio track of Alfred Newman’s score as well as sound effects. The score goes from bombastic military to classic Newman romance (as well as period sounding music for the dances). It really is a wonderful example of how music helps underline the dramatic storytelling of film.

 


The President’s Lady Radio Show– back in the 1940s and 1950s, many major films were adapted for radio, often using the original film stars to recreate their roles. Often, they would be truncated versions of the films, with narrators filling in gaps. The Lux Radio Theater had started as a Sunday afternoon radio show in 1935 that adapted popular stage plays but soon moved into doing the same weekly for various films, ending after 906 episodes in 1955. The programs were performed live before a studio audience of about a 1,000 people, with a full orchestra and sound effects.

The September 28,1953 broadcast had Heston reprise his role, with Joan Fontaine taking on the role of Rachel. The 55:22-minute drama is a highlight version of the film, with narrator Paul Frees deep tones a bit over dramatically telling us what happens between scenes. Screenwriter John Patrick also worked upon this adaptation, as well as playing a small role. It is a fascinating addition to the disc, and Twilight Time is to be commended for seeking it out.


Original Theatrical Trailer

Booklet– once again, Twilight Time provides a lovely booklet with photos from the film, as well as an overview on the film.

Limited to 3,000 copies, the film is well-recommended to fans of

Historical dramas

Charlton Heston (who later reprised the role of Andrew Jackson in THE BUCCANEER, Paramount ,1958)

Susan Hayward.

-Kevin G Shinnick

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One of the tie-ins to the film NOT included was an interesting recording by Jackie Gleason and his Orchestra.

A 7″ 1953 Capitol Record ,45 rpm,
side one THE PRESIDENT’S LADY
side two WHITE HOUSE SERENADE

https://archive.org/details/78_the-presidents-lady_jackie-gleason-and-his-orchestra-alfred-newman_gbia0043493b/The+President’s+Lady+-+Jackie+Gleason+and+His+Orchestra.flac

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CRUISING (Arrow Video Blu Ray)

CRUISING (Arrow Video Blu Ray) – released August 20,2019 Color. 102 min.
$39.95 U.S. REGION A/1 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1aezm39HOBY

Original Theatrical Release February ,1980 Lorimar /U.A. (production cost estimate: $11 million .domestic gross – $19,784,223) Rated R.

 

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Ten years after directing THE BOYS IN THE BAND (National General ,1970), director William Friedkin took on another controversial gay themed subject, CRUISING. In the years since THE BOYS IN THE BAND, Friedkin had established himself as a director of thrilling films, such as THE FRENCH CONNECTION (Fox,1971) and the box office mega-hit THE EXORCIST (WB,1973).

 

At first, when producer Philip D’Antoni (THE FRENCH CONNECTION) broached the idea of a film based upon reporter Gerald Walker’s 1970 novel, CRUISING (Stein & Day, hardback), the director was not interested. D’Antoni then tried to interest an upcoming new director called Stephen Spielberg, but who finally also gave the project a pass.


The novel deals with an undercover cop named John Lynch (renamed Steve Burns in the later movie adaptation). Lynch is asked to go undercover into the leather bar s&m scene of the gay bars in Greenwich Village. We learn that a serial killer who cruises the leather bars has already killed four men. A straight male who is repulsed by the gay lifestyle, he sees the assignment as one that can help him advance in his career quickly, so he accepts.

The Stonewall Riots were less than a year old at the time, and before then, homosexuality had been treated as a perversion, with police regularly rounding up homosexuals . Indeed, it wasn’t until 1980 that the NY Court of Appeals abolished laws against private consenting homosexual conduct between adults (New York v. Onofre). That this was the same year as CRUISING was released probably added to the tension/controversy of the film but more of that later.

Lynch has a relationship with a woman, but while he is undercover, he starts to develop feelings for one of his gay neighbors. Will he be able to solve the murders and prevent further killings, while he deals with his own personal confusion?

As a mystery, CRUISING the novel let’s us know who the killer is early on so it is just a matter of when Lynch will cross the murderer’s path. Also, Lynch seems to be a bit of an Archie Bunker, with a lot of stereotypical comment by our “hero” against Gays (“fags”), Puerto Ricans, blacks, etc. The picture it paints of New York City seems to be the same one that Travis Bickle would cruise in his vehicle years later in TAXI DRIVER (Columbia ,1976).


Indeed, New York had begun a decline that it took several decades to climb slowly back out from. Drugs, murders, homelessness, prostitution, rape, and urban flight caused the city that never sleeps to become what many viewed as Hell On Earth, an image not helped by films like DEATH WISH (Paramount ,1974).

 

The rights next went to agent turned producer Jerry Weintraub (NASHVILLE, Paramount, 1975) who approached Friedkin with the work. This time, the director was more receptive to a cinematic re-imagining of the novel.

In the intervening years, a series of murders of homosexual men had occurred in New York that were chronicled in The Village Voice by reporter Arthur Bell.

Friedkin was acquainted with undercover police detective Randy Jurgenson (who acted as a consultant on THE FRENCH CONNECTION). Jurgenson, a purple heart awarded veteran who had fought in the battle of Pork Chop Hill in 1953, told the director that he had served uncover investigating the gay culture of New York.

Another odd co-incidence was that Paul Bateson, a doctor’s assistant who appears in THE EXORCIST (the hospital exam scene, which many find more frightening than the more supernatural occurrences) was charged in the murder of Variety Reporter Addison Verrill.

Friedkin worked upon the screen adaptation himself in consultation with Jurgenson and Salvatore “Sonny” Grosso (whose exploits with Eddie Egan inspired THE FRENCH CONNECTION, on which they also provided consultation). Both detectives  took small roles in the film . The writer-director, along with several of his team, made several trips to the various notorious hardcore gay clubs ,such as the Mineshaft and the Anvil, both located in the meatpacking district of the city. It was known as that as during the day that is where beef and other meats were delivered, while at night it became an area that most people stayed far away from. The clubs were closed during the height of the AIDS crisis in the Mid- Eighties, and now the district is gentrified and high priced shops, restaurants and hotels.

  The Liberty Inn now occupies the space of the infamous Anvil. 

 

 

Friedkin says all the details was accurate, no matter how far fetched they may have seemed. Friedkin gave camera operator James A. Contner (THE BRINKS JOB) his first chance to be Director of Photography. Contner wanted to shoot the film in black and white but drained the color down in most of the scenes in the clubs while shooting at night nearly accomplished the same effect.

Friedkin also brought on editor Bud S Smith (with whom he worked on SORCERER (Universal/Paramount ,1977 and THE BRINKS JOB (DeLaurentiis /Universal, 1978). An under acknowledged part of filmmaking is casting. Friedkin turned to Louis Di Giaimo who had worked with the director in the past. He presented the director with a short list of actors who he felt would be right for the roles, and Friedkin seemed to agree with the choices of mostly stage trained New York performers for the featured speaking roles. The people who are members of the club scenes are actual people who frequented the clubs, and as Friedkin said, they realized the filmmaker was not being judgmental but merely working almost as a documentarian in those scenes. The sex scenes were to give the MPAA and the filmmakers major headaches when it came to a rating.

The filmmakers had originally wanted Richard Gere for the lead role, probably due to his role in the 1979 Broadway production of BENT, wherein Gere had portrayed a gay man in a concentration camp. Al Pacino expressed interest and finally won the part. This would lead to some problems for the filmmaker, as he felt that Pacino came to set unprepared. It might have been that Pacino wanted to approach each scene like the character, surprised by what he experienced.


Filming was often disrupted by protests. Arthur Bell, whose articles had somewhat shaped the events within the screen play, somehow got a copy of the script and he urged the gay community to protest. To this end , production was disrupted by loud noises, requiring massive ADR work (dubbing). This may have worked to the film’s advantage, as several suspects and characters were dubbed by the same actor, helping to throw off audiences guesses as to who the killer was. Also, the sounds of keys and leather were amplified, both items of importance in this sub section of gay culture.

 

Several times there was need of police protection and escort for the actors to get to and from locations. Luckily, though there were a few arrests, there is no record of any violence or injury to anyone involved.

 

The plot involves several body parts found floating in the Hudson River. Fingerprints from one of the hands found leads them to discover that the killings are of several gay men. The police decide to send an officer deep undercover to see who is killing these men. Officer Steve Burns (Al Pacino) an ambitious officer sees this as a chance for advancement when he is picked for the assignment.

He moves down to the Village, and sets up a false persona, becoming friends with his next door neighbor, Ted (Don Scardino, SQUIRM, AIP ,1976).One of the people that Burns suspects of being a suspect gets brutalized by the police. Burns almost quits, but his captain (Paul Sorvino, THE BRINKS JOB). convinces him to stay and chastises all who harassed the hapless falsely accused man.

What Burns discovers during his investigations starts to play games with his mental well being ,as well as hurting his relationship with his girlfriend ,Nancy (Karen Allen, who would leap to international recognition for her starring role alongside Harrison Ford in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK ,Paramount ,1981).to whom he cannot tell what his assignment is or what it entails.

The film drops a lot of suspects and clues, but many find that the ending is a cop-out, leaving many frustrated as to who indeed is the killer. Revisiting the film again ,I now find that the ending is a perfect finish for this unique production

The cast includes a fine selection of character actors, including Joe Spinell (the same year he would also make New York extra creepy as a psychopath killer in MANIAC (Analysis,1980),appearing here as a cop who abuses the transvestites ; Ed O’Neill (tv’s long running MODERN FAMILY, ABC,2009- still running as of this writing) ,here as a detective, James Remar ( Dexter’s father on the long running tv series DEXTER ,Showtime, 2006-2013), portraying Ted’s abuser lover ; and Powers Booth (SIN CITY, Miramax ,2005) as a store owner who explains the significance of certain handkerchiefs and how they are worn in the gay world. Except for Karen Allen, women hardly exist in this society.

The attacks upon the film didn’t end with the end of production, as the MPAA kept slapping the film with an X, a kiss of death at the box office. Friedkin submitted about 40 minutes of graphic sex that he knew the MPAA would want cut, so he cut keep the majority of what he wanted as a compromise. There are subliminal flashes of gay sex during the murder sequences, with the idea of sex and the knife melded into one (two forms of penetration).

 

The critics also for the most part savaged the film, with few exceptions ,so it is surprising that the film, that cost nearly $11 million to make, nearly doubled its cost, making it, if not a hit, at least not a money loser.

It is also interesting that 1980 was also the year that Brian DePalma mixed sex and violence in his DRESSED TO KILL(Filmways/Orion). While there were protests about the combination in this film, audiences were more willing to be titillated by heterosexual love mixed with slashing, becoming an international hit, making about 5 times it’s budget.

By the way , did anyone ever notice that the 1982 Paramount film PARTNERS , written by Frances Verber, who created the original LA CAGE AUX FOLLES (French ,U,A,,1978) seems to be a buddy picture reworking of the plot of CRUISING?  In PARTNERS ,Ryan O’Neal is a straight cop assigned to go undercover to find a killer targeting homosexual men , only here he is paired with an actual gay officer ,played by John Hurt channeling Kenneth Williams.

 

Over the years, opinions have changed upon how the film is viewed, with many feeling it is among Friedkin’s best works.

It was released to VHS and seen widely at video stores, first released in a large box, and then a small box when it was reissued.

 

It became perhaps viewed when it was released to HBO cable, showing at midnight or later.

Finally, in 2007, it was released on DVD by Warner Brothers (who had acquired Lorimar) in a special edition version with extras like
• Commentary by director William Friedkin
• The History of Cruising
• Exorcising Cruising
• Theatrical trailer

and then later a burn on demand without extras from Warner Archives in 2013.

 

Arrow Video has now given us what may be the definitive version of this film.

First off, this is a Director Approved Special Edition with a 4K Scan H9 Def (1080p) Blu-ray of the original camera negative, supervised and approved by William Friedkin .

 

The sound has also been given a newly remastered 5.1. DTS-HD Master Audio track again supervised by Friedkin.

 

Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing. This follows the dialog and indicates sounds quite accurately for those wishing to use this captioning.

A new audio commentary with Friedkin and film critic Mark Kermode. Friedkin is very frank about the film, talking about how the opening title card has been removed for this release, since it was only put on as a sop for those who might have been squeamish or offended by the film. Kermode knows the director’s body of work pretty well, and prompts quietly the conversation, often commenting on actions on screen while diverting effortlessly of the behind the scenes problems and joys of the production.

Friedkin mentions that he felt Pacino would arrive seemingly unprepared for the day’s set ups, while talking about how he tried to keep the actors unbalanced and on their toes. It could be that Pacino, method actor that he was, wanted to go into the scenes with the same wide-eyed innocence that his character would feel walking into the strange new world that has such people in it.

Also original to this release is an enclosed booklet with an excellent overview by film historian F.X. Feeney, who talks about seeing the film on it’s opening day.

Reversible Blu Ray cover

Ported over from the 2007 DVD release are

An archival audio commentary by William Friedkin. It is interesting to compare the two commentaries. The original is fact filled but a bit dry, while the newer one as stated the director seems a lot more engaged and relaxed. Both are definitely worth listening to, so kudos for Arrow for making the extra effort.

The History of CRUISING -interviews with several of the people involved in the film such as Friedkin, Grosso, and many others.

Exorcising CRUISING -examines the controversy and aftermath of the film’s release. Many of the same people from the previous featurette appear, as well as actors like actor Richard Cox.

 

Original Theatrical Trailer- the trailer tries to avoid mentioning the homosexual aspects of the film, which makes the film seem more like a generic police procedural (though with lots of leather!).

CRUISING is not a film for everyone. It is a challenging film on a subject that many people will not wish to explore. The film’s ending is not an easy clear cut one, open to debate as to its meaning .

Those reason though also make the film Highly Recommended to those who appreciate films that challenge you and your perceptions .

In an age of superhero franchises, CRUISING is a film that no major studio would even consider creating, making it all the more unique and worth seeking out.

Another Arrow Video must buy release.

For fans of
AL PACINO
WILLIAM FRIEDKIN
POLICE PROCEEDURALS
NY BASED THRILLERS
ORIGINAL,THOUGHT PROVOKING FILMS

-Kevin G Shinnick

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