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THE CHAIRMAN (Twilight Time Blu Ray)

THE CHAIRMAN (Fox,1969) TWILIGHT TIME Blu Ray July,2019. Color 98 minutes. Region Code: Region Free (A/B/C) Limited Edition of 3,000 Units $29.95
https://www.twilighttimemovies.com/chairman-the-blu-ray/

 

The 1960s was a time when spy stories were incredibly popular. James Bond of course became a cultural phenomenon, but also the pop culture reflected the tensions that had been growing since the Cold War began in 1947.

 

Most of the films dealt with the conflict between the United States and the U.S.S.R. Indeed, The Berlin Wall became a physical demarcation line for the cultural and political differences between these two superpowers.

 

Few stories, however, dealt with the other large Communist nation that was at social odds with the West. Red China had become Communist in 1949, and, under the leadership of Mao ZeDong, a cruel regime was established that had millions dying from starvation, or inhumane torture and imprisonment.

One of the only movies to deal with the political tensions between the United States and the People’s Republic of China (which Mao led until his death in 1976) is the 1969 Twentieth Century Fox production, THE CHAIRMAN.

 

 

The novel was written by Jay Richard Kennedy. Kennedy worked as Harry Belafonte’s manager for years, before becoming V.P. of Sinatra Enterprises, as well as a story editor. He began to develop an idea for Sinatra (along the lines of his hit THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, UA 1962) that would film in Hong Kong, and costar Spencer Tracy and Yul Brynner. When that didn’t happen, he turned it into a novel. Kennedy had some inside knowledge of the spy game, as, feeling that Communists were infiltrating certain political groups, he also worked as an informant for the FBI and CIA.

 

Fox picked up the rights to the novel, and a screenplay was fashioned by Ben Maddow (who was Oscar nominated for his work on THE ASPHALT JUNGLE (MGM, 1950) before being blacklisted and forced to work uncredited through a “front” writer until 1958. Producers Mort Abrahams (who began producing early tv sci fi like TOM CORBETT,SPACE CADET,CBS ,1950-1955) and Arthur Jacob were able to bring Gregory Peck (Oscar winner for TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, Universal,1962) into the project (Jacobs’ formerly had a company wherein he had been Peck’s publicist) giving the project some star power.

 

Also added to the cast was Golden Globe nominee Anne Heywood, Tony Award winner Arthur Hill, classic film favorite Keye Luke (number one son to Warner Orland’s Charlie Chan in seven films), Burt Kwouk (Cato in six Pink Panther films),and actor Conrad Yama. Yama had been Mao in Edward Albee’s avant-garde play “Box-Mao-Box,” which premiered in Buffalo and opened on Broadway in October ,1968, which led to his casting in this film. The American actor of Japanese descent even portrayed the Chinese leader for several advertising agencies!

Action director Lee Thompson, who had directed Peck in GUNS OF NAVARONE (Columbia,1961) and CAPE FEAR (Universal,1962), was brought in to direct. Thompson also directed Peck in MACKENNA’S GOLD(Columbia,1969) that same year.

 

Due to the closed society of China and the film’s subject matter, the production team decided to film in Taiwan, with some exterior locations filmed in the rougher terrain of Snowdonia, Gwynedd, Wales! Some other location work was done in London, as well as some sets being built at Pinewood Studios.

The science fiction tinged tale concerns a University Professor, Dr John Hathaway (Peck) being asked to investigate a possible new Chinese discovery, which allows them to grow food in areas formerly considered too inhospitable or harsh to sustain growth prior.

 

A one-way transmitter is implanted into his skull (he can transmit but cannot receive messages) that also can be used as an explosive device to prevent him from falling into Chinese hands, should he be captured.

Peck goes to Hong Kong, under the pretense of visiting an old colleague (Keye Luke). Suspicion abounds, and he is the subject of intense interest by the Chinese and the Russians (who, like the U.S., do not want China to be the only mega-power with this special growth enzyme.). Things get a bit more intense when Mao himself wants to meet with the Professor.


Double crosses and murder follow, leading to a chase leading up to the Russian border.

As I am writing this, Hong Kong is in it’s second week of protests and marches against China ,while  there are also massive marches taking place within Russia against their oppressive government.

This film suddenly has gone from a relic of cold war geo-politics as possibly reflective of what is to come.

When first released, the film was not a financial success, losing to audiences flocking to the flashier ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (UA). Hitchcock’s own political thriller, TOPAZ(Universal) also failed to find an audience in that summer of MIDNIGHT COWBOY (UA) and EASY RIDER (Columbia).

In England, THE CHAIRMAN  was released as “The Most Dangerous Man in the World”, whose title makes you wonder were they referring to Mao or to the character Peck played?

 

The Twilight Time presentation, need I say, is, as always, first rate. The Region Free (A/B/C) 1080p High Definition print is as good as one has come to expect from the company, with the work of cinematographer John Wilcox (GUNS OF NAVARONE) and an uncredited Ted Moore (A MAN FOR ALL SEASON, Columbia ,1966) shown to fill the full 2.35:1 ratio frame ,particularly in shots as the camera pans through the Hong Kong clubs or at the ending during the final chase.


The sound is available in English 2.0 DTS-HD MA or English 1.0 DTS-HD MA .The original Mono sound has been cleaned up, and I noticed no pops or hiss upon the soundtrack, but I noticed very little difference switching back and forth between the two tracks (except for the explosions seemed a bit louder on the 2.0). There is also optional English SDH that follows the dialogue and action accurately.

 

The extras:

Jerry Goldsmith’s score is available on a separate isolated music /sound effects track. Though not as strong as his score for THE SAND PEBBLES (Fox,1966), even lesser Goldsmith is superior to the best work of many other composers. The OST on CD, released in 2011, is now commanding prices of nearly $100, so this alone makes the Blu Ray a bargain.

 

Audio Commentary with Film Historians Eddy Friedfeld and Lee Pfeiffer. The duo has done many other Twilight Time commentary tracks (OUR MAN FLINT, Fox 1966), and, as usual, are very relaxed in tone but informative.

The Chairman Mini-Film – This little oddity is an abridged version of the movie, almost as if it was one of those Super 8mm versions available in the 1980s. I assume it was made to give the press an idea of the film without showing the entire production.

Two Alternate Scenes from the International Version. -Even until 1969, filmmakers were shooting two versions, one for general audiences and for more restrictive markets, and then a bit racier (i.e. female nudity) for certain foreign markets.

Original Film Trailer.

RECOMMENDED for fans of
GREGORY PECK
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-Kevin G Shinnick

 

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Island Monsters from Planet Films

 

 

Planet Films UK produced about 5 films between 1951 to 1967 , the first two being gang/crime films(THE SIX MEN,1951 ;  THE MARKED ONE,1963)  while their last three were horror films   (DEVILS OF DARKNESS,1964, being the  first  of   their terror tales .).

The final two were  both directed by Terence Fisher ( Why they didn’t hire Fisher for there vampire film is a mystery , both had Peter Cushing ,were set upon an isolated island ,and featured short squat monsters. However that is where the similarity ends.

The monster/creatures in ISLAND OF TERROR ( 1966. Other titles considered earlier being The Night the Silicates Came and The Night the Creatures Came ) were terrifying , being giant cancer cells that drained the bones from victims, leaving an empty flesh husk by way of a tentacle which also sucked the essence from one in a very noisy fashion.

 

They even divide like cells,(producing what looks like commissary chicken soup goop ),  increasing their number.

ISLAND OF TERROR got a release from Universal often co -billed with another Universal British pick up ,THE PROJECTED MAN.

 

The 1967 film NIGHT OF THE BIG HEAT was based upon a 1959 novel that had been adapted in 1960 for ITV television).

ITC play of the week NIGHT OF THE BIG HEAT

 

Even though N.O.T.B.H. had Fisher and Cushing ,as well as Christopher Lee ,Patrick Allen , Sarah Lawson ,and Jane Merrow ,the final result was for the most part a rather tamer affair in comparison with it’s predecessor . The threat here was a form of early global warming, with the creatures raising temperatures upon the island. It had a strong story and a good cast, but investors pulled out as the film began production ,which resulted in creatures which were kept hidden for most of the film . It needed a little more blood and thunder ,such as ISLAND OF TERROR possessed.

It was retitled for US release by a small distribution company ,Maron Films, as ISLAND OF THE BURNING DAMNED, and paired as the bottom half of a co- bill with GODZILLA’S REVENGE (Toho).

Later for television, it was retitled once again as ISLAND OF THE BURNING DOOMED, so as not to offend sensitive souls.

In March ,1967, another science fiction blob creature appeared on tv for Desilu/Paramount‘s STAR TREK.

Called “The Horta“. the creature appeared in the episode” The Devil In The Dark“. That creature had a corrosive acid it exuded , and dwelt among silicon nodules.

One wonders if it was the interplanetary futuristic off spring of the two creatures from the Planet Films !

 

ISLAND OF TERROR is currently available on Blu Ray from SHOUT FACTORY,region A only . Odeon Entertainment has released the UK Blu Ray.

NIGHT OF THE BIG HEAT is available from Odeon Entertainment in an All Region Blu Ray .

 

Kevin G Shinnick

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BEDAZZLED (Twilight Time Blu Ray) Fox 1967

BEDAZZLED (Twilight Time Blu Ray) 20th Century Fox,1967 Color. 104 mins. Region Free (A/B/C) $29.95

https://www.twilighttimemovies.com/bedazzled-blu-ray/

“You fill me with inertia !”

 

 

1967 was a year for wonderfully twisted comedies. THE PRODUCERS (Embassy)THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS(MGM), THE GRADUATE (Embassy,1967), and GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER(Columbia) were among the gems released that year.

 

Perhaps the most twisted and yet still funny as all get out film of the bunch was BEDAZZLED. Peter Cook and Dudley Moore were two giants of the boom in British comedy and satire in the 1960s, with anti-establishment humor endearing them to the young of the time

The pair of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore first shot to international fame with their performances in both the U.K. and ten a successful two-year run in NYC in a satirical review called BEYOND THE FRINGE. Also, n the cast was playwright Alan Bennett (the play THE MADNESS OF KING GEORGE) and Jonathan Miller (later to run the Old Vic Theatre).

The four intelligent young men were the heirs of absurdist humor previously popular in England due to programs like THE GOON SHOW (Spike Milligan, a very young Peter Sellers, Harry Secombe, and Michael Bentine) and their creative intelligent wit mixed with surreal silliness made them the forerunners of MONTY PYTHON’s FLYING CIRCUS.

 

Several popular appearances on the BBC, with shows like NOT ONLY…BUT ALSO (1964,1966,1970) helped increase their popularity. The pair also successfully appeared major supporting roles in the big budget comedy THE WRONG BOX (Columbia ,1966), and so studios were open to the idea of pairing them in a starring project.

 

Meanwhile, American director Stanley Donen (who passed away two days after this Blu Ray release) had been MGM ‘s top director of musicals in the 1950s (SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN.1952 and SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS ,1954). After leaving MGM to free-lance at other studios, Donen spent the 1960s living in England, directing and producing several films there.

 

 

After a few box office disappointments, Donen was back on track with CHARADE (Universal,1963), a fun thriller often referred to as “the Best Hitchcock movie that Hitchcock never made”, starring Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn. He followed this with the similar ARABESQUE (Universal,1966) starring Gregory Peck and Sophia Loren, which was nearly as successful as the previous film.

These two hits allowed him to experiment a bit, and so he did TWO FOR THE ROAD (Fox, 1967) and the film under review here, BEDAZZLED (Fox,1967).

 

With a screenplay by Peter Cook (based upon a story by Cook and Moore), director Donen (no stranger to devils, having directed DAMN YANKEES in 1958 for Warner Brothers) gets into the style and mood of the swinging sixties to tell this modern reworking of the Faust legend. Moore and Cook build upon their established persona from previous routines, with Moore being the slower witted, usually taken advantage of by the fast talking, gleam in his eye Cook.

 

Stanley Moon (Moore), a short order cook, moons over Margaret Spencer (Eleanor Bron, most famous for appearing in the Richard Lester Beatles vehicle HELP, U.A. 1965, as well as appearing in Donen’s ONE FOR THE ROAD that same year), a waitress who barely acknowledges his existence at the Wimpy’s Burgers Restaurant at which they both works. Indeed, one of her gentlemen pick her up from work just as Stanley gets the courage to ask her out, driving the Stanley to abject despair.

 

Poor Moon  doesn’t notice the customer with the small sunglasses and wearing an opera cape sitting at one of the tables, watching all this with great intensity.

Returning home, Moon wants to hang himself from a pipe in his ceiling, and only succeeds in breaking the pipe, causing water to fall into his tiny flat. Stepping into the apartment comes the stranger from the restaurant, who identifies himself as George Spiggott (Cook).

 

Spiggott then admits that is but one of the many names he has, for he is the Devil himself. To prove it, he will grant Moon one wish, save for Margaret Spencer. Thinking Stanley asks for an ice lolly. Sure enough, they go board a bus, and, using Stanley’s money, purchases an ice lolly. Not believing that Spiggott is anything more than a looney, Spiggott sighs and with the magic phrase “Julie Andrews”, they are whisked across London to a less reputable part of town, melting the ice lolly in transit. It is here that Spiggott has his seedy club that he works out of.

The bouncer, Anger (Robert Russell, superlative a year later as Vincent Price’s evil sidekick in WITCHFINDER GENERAL; Tigon/AIP,1968), tosses Stanley out, but Spiggott escorts him back in. Within the club, Stanley will also meet among others Envy (Barry Humphries, before he donned drag to gain international fame as Dame Edna. Cook had befriended and even helped support Humphries early in his career), Vanity (Alba), who walks around with a mirror in front of him, and of course, Lust (personified with a Southern Belle accent by Raquel Welch, the actress being featured upon almost all the advertising and posters).

 

Japanese film poster

Basically, Spiggott offers Moon the standard contact of seven wishes upon which to win his true love. Sadly, for Stanley, the Devil is truly in the details, as each attempt at a new life to win Margaret Spencer ends in disaster for the love besotted chef.

 

 

Along the way, it seems that the police believe that Moon has succeeded in his suicide attempt, with Inspector Clarke (Michael Bates, later the sadistic Chief Guard Barnes in the Stanley Kubrick masterpiece, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, WB,1971) starting to woo the young Miss while they try and find Moon’s corpse!

 

The wonderfully whacky film also explores with fittingly fiendish delight the modus operandi of the Devil, whether it be scratching records before they are sent off to sale, or exploring good and evil .Along the way, a strange friendship develops between Moon and Spiggott ,though in the end they both know after the seven wishes granted to Stanley his soul will belong to Spiggott. Spiggott must gain 100 Billion souls to regain his entryway into Heaven and sit again as God’s favorite. The friendship works in a mysterious twist at the end, costing Spiggot to lose is bet with the Almighty. The film ends with an unseen God laughing in a deep voice, almost insanely as the end credits roll. Maybe the Devil indeed has a right to be angry.

 

A few bits from earlier sketches by the pair are woven into the episodic storyline , the most famous and obvious being from NOT ONLY…BUT ALSO , “The Leaping Nuns of the Order of St Berylhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JiO_9UIUx7M .

 

 

 

The film sparkles with wit as well as silliness (to get out of a failed wish, Stanley needs to make a “raspberry “sound) that keeps it moving swiftly over the course of 103 minutes.

 

 

Austin Dempster had been camera operator on ARABESQUE and TWO FOR THE ROAD for director Donen, but BEDAZZLED was his first credit as cinematographer. At one point, the film switches to black and white to recreate an early television studio broadcast (as well as perhaps reference films like A HARD DAY’S NIGHT (UA,1964)). This leads into one of the most fun sequences, where fans including an awe-struck Margaret Spencer go nuts for rock star Stanley (who basically screams “Love MEEEE”), until Drimble Wedge and the Vegetation sing an emotionless version of “Bedazzled “. The fickle fans run to the latest flavor of the moment and abandon poor Stanley ,trying to blow a razzberry as fans nearly trample him to reach their new idol. The music, by the way, for the film was composed by Dudley Moore. Several artists have done covers of the “Bedazzled” song, most notably Nick Cave and Anita Lane: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jPJWkQudhPo .

 

The film when released received mixed reviews but made a profit in the United States.

Since its release, BEDAZZLED has continued to increase its cult following due to late night tv showings as well as various releases on Beta, VHS and in 2007 on DVD by Fox Entertainment.

Now TWILIGHT TIME has released the best-looking release of this film on home media, perhaps even since its original release. Another marvelous 1080p HD transfer, some of the colors are more vibrant than I’ve ever seen in this film, particularly the red of Spiggott’s inner cape lining or Raquel Welch’s tiny bra and panties she wears while hopping into bed with Stanley. Some reviewers have mentioned a slight elongation of the figures, but I didn’t notice any of this when I viewed the film.

 

The disc has two English only audio selections: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 and DTS-HD Master Audio Mono, the sound is clear and clean, with no noticeable sound pops, and does justice to the quippy fast delivered dialogue as well as Moore’s music.

For the hearing impaired, there are clean easy to read optional subtitles.

As an extra, you can listen to the isolated music and sound effects track, so you can enjoy the clever jazzy score and songs.

 

The Blu Ray cover sleeve shows us a photo of Cook as Spiggott (which for some reason reminded me of Peter Cushing in DR TERRORS HOUSE OF HORRORS (Paramount, Amicus,1965).

 

Twilight Time also commissioned a very fun illustration for a cover as well.

Julie Kirgo provides her always welcome liner notes in a separate booklet included with the disc, concentrating a great deal on director Donen.

Extras carried over from the 2007 FOX DVD are

Two trailers for the film,

A 2007 interview with director /comedian Harold Ramis, who directed the unnecessary 2000 remake of BEDAZZLED. Ramis waxes poetic about how wonderful the film and indeed the comic pair of Moore and Cook were.

An excerpt from THE PAUL RYAN SHOW , a 1977 British talk program ,where the pair of Moore and Cook reveal that there were tensions  between them  ,due to their different attitudes on dealing with things (oddly, IMDB.com only lists Moore and not Cook, but since Moore only appeared on the show once, we must assume episode 109 was the one featured here). One wishes there was the whole broadcast of this here, but we are grateful indeed to get a glimpse of this black & white rarity.

 

I cannot recommend this wonderful original comedy enough.

The press run is limited to only 3,000 copies, so get yours now- before George Spiggott makes all of them vanish on you.

Get BEDAZZLED 

HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION .

-Kevin G Shinnick

 

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ANNE OF THE THOUSAND DAYS (Twilight Time Blu ray)

ANNE OF THE THOUSAND DAYS (Twilight Time Blu Ray) Universal 1969 .Color. 145 minutes. English .2.0             DTS-HD MA sound .English Subtitles option . 1080p Hi Definition 2.35:1 REGION FREE(A,B,C). Special Features: isolated music audio track . Original Theatrical Trailer. Booklet.

https://www.twilighttimemovies.com/anne-of-the-thousand-days-blu-ray/

1969 was a year of change and turmoil. Woodstock . Altamont. Man landed upon the moon. The Stonewall riots. The Charles Manson murders. Nixon says that 25,000 troops will be withdrawn from Vietnam . My Lai massacre. Chappaquiddick . Robert R succumbs to a mysterious disease that will later be identified as HIV/AIDS.

 

Movies too were reflective of the changing chaotic times. Big budget Hollywood movies like HELLO DOLLY(Fox), TRUE GRIT (Paramount) and BATTLE OF BRITAIN(UA) were battling for audiences who were flocking to films like EASY RIDER (Columbia) or MIDNIGHT COWBOY (U.A).

 

Fitting into the former category is the epic ANNE OF THE THOUSAND DAYS . Costume spectacles , particularly those dealing with British royalty, seemed to do well both with audiences ,reviewers ,and awards. Films like BECKET (Paramount ,1964) ,MAN FOR ALL SEASONS (Columbia ,1966), and THE LION IN WINTER (Avco Embassy ,1968) , all based upon successful intelligent successful Broadway plays, all found receptive responses.

paperback movie tie -in 

 

Producer Hall Wallis had been Warner Brothers ‘ studio manager back in the late 1920s and early 1930s, overseeing a string of classics like LITTLE CAESAR (1931) to CASABLANCA (1942). He left W.B. to form his own production company ,and continued his movie Midas Touch with films such as SORRY WRONG NUMBER (Paramount ,1948) ,several Elvis Presley and Martin & Lewis films, and screen adaptations of Tennessee Williams’ works.

 

After producing the film adaptation of BECKET , Wallis  and Burton wanted to work together on another historical drama. Burton convinced Wallis to adapt the 1948 Maxwell Anderson blank verse play ANNE OF THE THOUSAND DAYS”.

 

The play ,which opened December 8,1948, was a huge success, running until October 8,1949 at the Shubert Theatre on Broadway. Part of that was due to the dynamic performances between Rex Harrison as Henry VIII and Joyce Redman as Anne Boleyn (I saw Ms. Redman in the superlative 1987 revival of PYGMALION that starred Peter O’Toole and Amanda Plummer, wherein she portrayed O’Toole’s mother). The other was it was considered daring (Anne admitted to having pre-martial sex!) ,a subject that would make the story impossible to get pass the Production Code of the time.

 

 

Polish Movie Poster ANNE OF THE THOUSAND DAYS

 

The late 1960s saw the relaxing of censorship and more daring subjects being brought to the screen ,and so Wallis hired three writers (Richard Sokolove ,adaptation; Bridget Boland and John Hale ,screenplay) to adapt the play for cinematic purposes. Gone was the blank verse, though the dialogue still had a nice dramatic sense of period . One wonders if Burton discussed playing Henry with Rex Harrison when the two filmed STAIRCASE (Fox) that same year ,where the two played not kings but a pair of bickering old “queens”.

 

The production was sumptuous (design by Maurice Carter ,who had also done the same on BECKET; costumes by Margaret Furse who costumed BECKET and THE LION IN WINTER) , with an opulence that truly captured how one felt the court of Henry VIII would feel.

 

Adding to the sweep and majesty was another magnificent score by George Delerue (he had composed the score to A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS, and would later write for Truffaut’s classic La Nuit Americaine (DAY FOR NIGHT,WB,1973)and win an Oscar for his work on the lovely A LITTLE ROMANCE (Orion/WB,1979).

The film was shot at such locations as Penshurst Place and Hever Castle (the childhood home of Anne Boleyn ) as well as on magnificent sets built at Pinewood and Shepperton Studios.

 

Lensing all of this was Arthur Ibbetson (director of photography on Chaplin’s last feature, A COUNTESS FROM HONG KONG, Universal, 1967) and later the childhood classics THE RAILWAY CHILDREN (Universal,1970) and WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY(Paramount,1971).

Director Charles Jarrott

 

Director Charles Jarrott had directed many intelligent productions for television with this being his first theatrical production. It is directed tastefully and without flash ,allowing the performances and story carry the movement. He was so successful that he was later tapped to direct MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS (Universal,1971) with the same finesse.

 

Henry VIII (Richard Burton) is unhappy that his wife ,Queen Catherine of Aragon (Irene Papas,THE GUNS OF NAVARONE,Columbia ,1961) has not born him a son to carry on his lineage. His affair with Mary Boleyn             ( Valerie Gearon, in one of her only four film appearances ) is also losing his interest (even though she is pregnant with his child)when he sees Mary’s 18 year old sister Anne (Genevieve Bujold, so marvelous  in KING OF HEARTS /le roi de Coeur,U.A,1966) at a ball.

 

Mary is engaged but Henry has his “fixer” and Lord Chancellor , scheming Cardinal Woolsey (Anthony Quayle, GUNS OF NAVARONE),break up the engagement. Mary’s father ,Thomas Boleyn (Michael Hordern, A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM,U.A.,1966) is a political climber, willing to use his daughters to advance his own political career and agrees to end the engagement.

Anne is not as easily won as her sister ,and dares to insult the King, a dangerous thing to be sure, for it could mean her family losing it’s position and wealth , and even imprisonment and death.

 

Henry, however is smitten with this fiery woman, who unlike so many others, does not bend to his will. Thomas Cromwell (Canadian actor John Galicos, probably best known for playing Kor in the STAR TREK episode, “Errand Of Mercy”, Paramount, 1967 and then later as the evil Count Baltar on BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, Universal 1978-9) feels the girl can be a problem but Woolsey feels she is but another bauble for Henry to play with use and discard.

 

Anne is slowly seduced , not so much by Henry as by the power he offers. She refuses Henry’s advances, however, as any child that they have would be illegitimate. Henry says he will divorce Catherine so he can marry Anne, and instructs Woolsey to find a way. Woolsey protests , but the King will not be denied. The Pope denies the annulment ,and Woolsey is removed from office, his London palace given instead to Anne and his title given to Cromwell.

Cromwell comes up with the idea that Henry is the embodiment of the Church in England, and that people cannot pledge loyalty to both The Pope & The Church of Rome at the same time it pledges allegiance to a King who is supposed to be God’s appointed. People are asked to choose, loyalty to Henry and the Crown, or dismissal and worse if they do not recognize his new Church.

 

Finally won over, Anne finally makes love to Henry.She tells Henry that she is pregnant and a quick wedding is arranged.

Catherine ,however ,was very popular with the common people (and the Spanish Ambassadors also sew discontent among the masses ) so that Anne finds herself jeered at and called “the King’s Whore” by the masses . Catherine is banished from court ,spending her remaining years(3 years, 1533-36) at Kimbolton Castle, acknowledged as the Dowager Princess.

Henry is disappointed and enraged that once again he is father to another daughter (Princess Elizabeth. His previous wife, Catherine, bore him Princess Mary).

Once again, Henry ,disappointed by the lack of a male heir, starts looking elsewhere. Anne sees him cast his eye upon young Lady Jane Seymour (Lesley Patterson, who seems to have only appeared in one other film ,THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE, Fox,1969),Anne arranges to keep the young woman from court.

Meanwhile ,the loyalty oath to the King continues . Sir Thomas More ( William Squire , Hammer’s A CHALLENGE FOR ROBIN HOOD, 1967) is still opposed to Anne’s claim as legitimate Queen (and thus the rights of Elizabeth to be a successor to the crown). In a rage, she lets Henry know she wants More done away with. A pre-determined trial finds the scholar guilty, and, denied the right to speak at his execution, he is beheaded. Shortly thereafter, like Catherine before her, Anne gives birth to a still born son .

Angrily, Henry turns to Cromwell to find a way for him to divorce Anne and leave him free to have a male heir. Cromwell invents a hideous lie, wherein he accuses Anne of sexual relations with several men, including her own brother. Her music teacher ,Mark Smeaton (Gary Bond, ZULU,Paramount,1964) ,being a commoner, is tortured into a confession by having a Garotte put around his head and tightened.

When they come to arrest her, Anne thinks that they are joking , but the charges are indeed ,deadly serious, amounting to High Treason.

Once again ,however , her intelligence and strong will come to the fore. At the trial, as Henry is hidden away listening, she gets the chance to question the poor tortured Smeaton. He repeats what he has been tortured into admitting, but when he looks upon Anne, he says that he has never been with her in any way but in friendship . The court is in disarray, but Henry enters the room, and tells Smeaton that he is condemned to die either way, so he is free to tell the truth. Smeaton asserts again that she is innocent. The court is in disarray,, as Anne smiles at Henry .Still, as Henry leaves, he says it may still be true.

 

Later,Henry goes to the tower to beg Anne to annul the marriage so he can wed Jane Seymour. Anne once again refuses ,as she says Elizabeth will be one of the great leaders of England, and Anne would rather die rather than deny her daughter her rightful place of history.

Anne is indeed found guilty, and in a tragic scene ,she is led to her death by beheading. Henry ,who was not there, but instead ,out hunting with several groomsmen, hears the cannons in the distance announce her execution. Henry urges his entourage to follow him ,and they set off to Jane Seymour’s home, the hunt once again begun for Henry to get a male heir.

The final shot shows young baby Elizabeth (Amanda Jane Smythe), hearing the cannons roar as well, and wanders sadly ,alone in a garden, as her mothers prophecy about her is repeated

 

“Elizabeth shall be a greater queen than any king of yours. She shall rule a greater England than you could ever have built. My Elizabeth shall be queen, and my blood will have been well spent.”

 

The film was given a wide release by Universal to mixed reviews. All reviewers ,however agreed upon one thing, the magnificence of Bujold’s performance.

It received numerous nominations at the 1970 Academy Awards, winning for Best Costume ; winning Golden Globes for Bujold (Best Motion Picture -Actress-Drama) ,Best Motion Picture – Drama, Best Director-Motion Picture(Jarrot) and Best Screenplay (Boland, Hale,Sokolove)

 

The film did well, though it did not crack the top 20 films for 1970 (it was released in December, 1969, but played throughout the next year ).

Three small  bits of trivia-Burton’s wife at the time, Elizabeth Taylor, made a cameo appearance as a courtesan. However, she is not noticed ,as her character is masked. Miss Taylor, while in costume, wore a gift from Burton, the La Peregrina Pearl ,one of the most valuable pearls in the world.

12 year old Kate Burton also had an uncredited cameo as a serving girl.

The expensive costumes and props were re-used for the 21st(!) CARRY ON film, CARRY ON HENRY (Rank,1971) ,which had an original alternative title of “ANNE OF A THOUSAND LAYS ” ,that sounds more like a porno version than the fun though bawdy film that resulted.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On video, the film was released on VHS in a very flat print that muted the colors and lost information on the sides of the picture ,as well as a flat mono sound.

 

Universal released it to DVD as a co-bill with MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS (Universal,1971)in a slightly improved version.

 

This TWILIGHT TIME release is the must have print to own. The 1080p Hi Definition 2.35:1 transfer is incredibly rich, with solid reds ,blues ,and skin tones. The film has not looked this good since it was originally unspooled theatrically in 1969.

 

The sound has also been upgraded with a 2.0 DTS-HD Master audio track. The sound is incredibly rich in this dialogue driven film, with the score and sound effects also clean and free of hiss or pops .

Extras are few , though one can enjoy Delerue’s magnificent isolated score on a separate track .

The original Decca Sound Track release

Also included is the original theatrical trailer, narrated by Hal Wallis himself. It has not been cleaned up, so you can get an idea of how rough some of the previous releases have looked.

Finally , an 8-page insert booklet with an essay by Julie Kirgo is included within the case.

Subtitles in English SDH are also available.

One would love to have had an audio commentary, perhaps with Ms. Bujold . That said, the magnificent print that TWILIGHT TIME has released is nothing to dismiss.

The film, like most of TWILIGHT TIME collectible releases , is limited to a press run of 3,000.

The film is a superb example of intelligent film-making ,wherein story and acting ruled over C.G.I. and mind-numbing sameness.

Hopefully, TWILIGHT TIME will release the original 1971 MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS (Universal) and perhaps the unjustly overlooked gem LADY JANE (Paramount ,1986) to be proper companion pieces to ANNE OF THE THOUSAND DAYS and  A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS (released by Twilight Time in 2015).

 

I highly recommend this film to people who enjoy historical dramas, as well as superlative acting and thoughtful storytelling.

 

I do wonder, however, now, in this time of the Me-Too Movement, how many will look favorably at the cavalier attitude of the men within this story, and their views of women .

Seriously, how many men would create an entire religion, just to have sex ???

 

Thoughts to ponder.

HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION.
-Kevin G Shinnick

 

 

 

I just wanted to make note of  very  sad news .

NICK REDMAN passed away January 17,2019 after a valiant two year battle with cancer. Mr. Redman co -founded Twilight Time in 2011. Mr Redman also was a film historian,documentarian, and sound track producer.

Our deepest condolences go out to his friends  and family , including his wife  Julie Kirgo  ,his brother, and his children .

 

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BORIS KARLOFF COLLECTION (VCI)

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BORIS KARLOFF COLLECTION (VCI,2 discs, DVD) Released September 2018. Color.  $14.99

https://www.vcientertainment.com/index.php?route=product/product&product_id=1104

Many years ago, when the late great Boris Karloff passed away in February 2,1969, Jim Warren’s and Forrest J Ackerman’s FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND provided two fitting tributes.

One, was issue #56 of FMOF with a beautiful  Basil Gogos cover of Karloff as his most famous role.

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The other was a paperback by FJA called THE FRANKENSCIENCE MONSTER (Ace,1969, a cover not by Gogos but paperback cover artist Verne Tossey.). At the time,before the ability to google, this was the source for any monster news. Many of us though that Karloff’s final film was a classic of modern cinema, Peter Bogdanovich’s   TARGETS  (August 1968,Paramount).

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However, thanks to Uncle Forry , we found out that 80 plus year old Karloff had signed with producer Luis Enrique Vergara and Azteca Films of Mexico (who in turn had a distribution agreement with Columbia Pictures) for a four-picture deal at a salary of $400,000. The actor could have said no to the projects and easily retired, having a comfortable sum saved up over the years. No one could have blamed him, either, as his lungs were barely functional (due to years of smoking as well as damage from pneumonia he contracted in Italy filming BLACK SABBATH,1963,AIP , leaving him dependent on oxygen tanks to aid his breathing) as well as crippling arthritis that made walking difficult.

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Still, as he often said, he wanted to die with his boots on, doing the job he loved if audiences wanted to see him. An example was when he filmed an episode of THE RED SKELTON SHOW (“He Who Steals My Robot Steals Trash” aired September 24,1968, CBS), rather than do the show before the live audience in a wheel chair as rehearsed, he willed himself to walk with the aid of a cane rather than have the people see him so confined.

Thus, the quartet of Mexican horror films were jobs that he readily accepted, feeling fortunate that audiences still wished to see him.

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Difficulties for the productions arose when it was discovered that Karloff’s health would not permit him to film in Mexico, and his sequences were shot in a small studio in Santa Monica, California in April/May 1968, while the rest of the films were completed in Mexico, often with a double for the star.

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The four films were to be made over a 5-week period, so this extra expense of two crews, duplicating sets, and flying up some of the Mexican cast to work with Karloff must have frayed the already low budgets.  Juan Ibáñez directed the Mexican main unit, while cult director Jack Hill (SPIDER BABY,1967, American General) handled the American Karloff unit, as well as contributing to the screenplays.

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Hill it seems was hampered because the producer wanted to use an early form of video playback by tying a primitive video camera to the top of the 35mm Mitchells used to film the movie. Jerry Lewis had pioneered the idea and it is now the common practice, but Hill felt that it slowed down his process.

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With all these problems somehow the four films were filmed and completed. Karloff did not live to see the release of these films, which seemed to have been held back until 1971 for their limited distributions (Cannon also got around to distribute Karloff’s 1967 Spanish lensed CAULDRON OF BLOOD the same year, which got a wider release in the U.S. than the four Mexican thrillers).

 

Over the years, the films have been released on various video labels, including MPI and United American budget label, as well as several of the titles getting a DVD release by Fred Olen Ray’s Retromedia label.

 

VCI has now for the first time put all four films together in an affordable (less than the cost of some single DVD releases) two-disc collection.

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The four titles in the collection are

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(Disc One)

DANCE OF DEATH (aka HOUSE OF EVIL, SERENADA MACABRA)

TORTURE ZONE (edited version of FEAR CHAMBER)

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(Disc Two)

ALIEN TERROR (filmed as THE INCREDIBLE INVASION, Invasión siniestra)

CULT OF THE DEAD (edited version of ISLE OF THE SNAKE PEOPLE, La muerte vivente)

 

The discs seem to be sourced from the old MPI videos, with the same video generated titles (©1987 by the Parasol Group). The prints of the four movies are a bit dark and sometimes the color is a bit off.  The copy  of TORTURE ZONE seemed in the worst condition, with several visible splices.

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It is a shame that they did not seek out the Retromedia or Elite release of FEAR CHAMBER, as both of those are in the original aspect ratio with sharp picture and color quality, as well as extras such as an audio commentary by Jack Hill and a deleted scene.MPI’s TORTURE ZONE is an edited version of this film ,so all of the nudity Is eliminated .

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Only TORTURE ZONE was set in present day, with the rest set at around the turn of the 20th Century. ALIEN TERROR was supposedly the last one filmed, and the only one NOT starring Julissa, giving actress German actress Christa Linder a chance.

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The 2.0 Dolby Digital sound for the films is clear with no noticeable loss in quality of dialogue or the sound effects.

There are no extras to the discs, but again, to get these four films together at such a low price, one should not expect any special edition treatment.

While we would all like to get the best possible and most complete versions, certain films have limited audiences and the profitability is to say the least, narrow.

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One wonders, for example, if VCI had gone out of their way to get new prints, cleaned up and loaded with extras, would fans shell out $29.95 for each of these films?

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DANCE OF DEATH -this film is perhaps the most traditional horror film, with obvious influences of the Roger Corman Poe films. The film even claims to be based upon a Poe story, though none that I am familiar with.hoise of evil                                                  original Spanish language credit

 

Wealthy toymaker Matthais Morteval (Karloff) summons his family to his mansion to discuss how his estate will be divided. Recent murders in the nearby hills has a macabre touch, wherein the victims have had their eyes removed makes Matthais suspect that a member of his family is the killer.

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Karloff has an ancestral portrait that looks exactly like him (these old families have strong genes), and Karloff gets to play huge pipe organ. Matthais supposedly suffers a fatal heart attack half way into the film, and shortly thereafter, one by one his greedy relations die. Keeping with the Corman Poe- like feel, the film ends with a huge fire, as Matthais, obviously not dead, plays his final concerto as the walls burn around him. It is quite amazing that the octogenarian actor is working so close to such huge plumes of flames, controlled or not  .

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Karloff perhaps passed away before being able to loop dialogue, or the final lines were an afterthought , but they are not his voice.

People who dismiss the Karloff Mexican quartet of films have obviously not seen them, as DANCE OF DEATH was quite entertaining.

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TORTURE ZONE – (which in the original titles also claimed to be Poe inspired, though I would say more Lovecraft, like Karloff’s own DIE, MONSTER DIE! 1965 ,A.I.P. ). This one is a bit of a mess, no two ways about it. Psychedelic zooms & colors, and jump cut edits do not make this film any more interesting, and indeed, show how little sense the plot has.  A living rock is discovered within the depths of the earth. Scientist Karl Mantell (Karloff), who spends much of this film either sitting behind his office desk or behind a lab computer table, discovers that the creature feeds on the blood of young women, particularly those who are frightened. Naturally, our loveable scientist and his staff create a fear chamber to terrorize young women who come seeking employment. The rock (no, no that one) starts to grow tentacles, and only then does Mantell seek to stop it.

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Mantell is supposed to be a kindly scientist, but his actions here are in opposition to that appearance. Still, at least, Karloff gets to survive to the end credits. The topless scenes that are edited out of this print were probably shot later, added to try and keep audience attention. Probably one of Karloff’s worst movies, though, as always, he is worth watching.                                                                              .firrreee

Karloff tries to blow up all prints of FEAR CHAMBER .

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ALIEN TERROR– Another period piece, this one is another science fiction/horror hybrid. In an 1890s European country, Professor John Mayer (Karloff) is working on a new power source, when a lab accident sends a pulse off into space, attracting the attention of an alien spaceship passing by. The alien comes across a Jack the Ripper style killer and takes over his body. More killings continue as the alien tries to get to the professor’s invention and destroy it. Mayer uses his invention to defeat the killer, and later, when the alien hops into his niece, he uses the machine again to drive it from her. Mayer lets the machine destroy itself and, in the process, burns down his home.c3f80e4ebb33139abba0d67198ef960c

 

The final shot of the surviving cast members watching the house burn has an obvious Karloff stand in facing away from the camera with hair that looks like it was streaked with shoe polish.

A confusing picture, as if two different scripts were dropped into a blender, yet it held one’s interest and it tried to be original. As mentioned, this was Karloff’s last work in a motion picture.karloff_at_03_dvd

An alien Spaceship, lit and designed to look like a Dario Argento sequence !

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CULT OF THE DEAD – On the island of Korbai, Carl Van Molder (Karloff) is a major plantation owner. A police captain comes to Korbai to try and bring order when it is discovered that voodoo is rampant. This is a much more entertaining film than Karloff’s earlier film VOODOO ISLAND (1957, U.A.), which was one of the only roles I felt the great actor seemed to walk through.

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In this film, Karloff seems fully invested in the part and brings his great screen presence to each scene.  The voodoo scenes are well staged, though once again at the end of the film, a voice not Karloff’s is used for the line: “I’m dying! “followed by some sputtering coughs. The picture ends with a big explosion as the hero and heroine escape with their lives. This too was an entertaining piece of cinema fluff and does not deserve all the scorn heaped upon it.

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To sum up, two of the films (DANCE OF DEATH and CULT OF THE DEAD) I would say are quite entertaining, a third (ALIEN TERROR) is just odd enough to hold your interest with a feeling of “WTF?” throughout and only one (TORTURE ZONE) is close to a complete disaster. Karloff is always giving his all in each work, and for that alone these are well worth seeing.

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Are the prints the best? No.  However, unless some deep pocket cinema collector seeks out original negatives, gives them a 2 K scan and restores them, and licenses the Elite and Retromedia commentaries, this VCI set will be the best way of getting affordable copies of these final films by the Master of Horror, Boris Karloff.

 

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Recommended for – Karloff completists. Fans of Mexican Horror. Cult films lovers.

 

-Kevin G Shinnick

 

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IS IT REALLY HORROR?

 

Universal, it seems ,has not, as previously reported, killed off their DARK UNIVERSE franchise idea. According to Screenrant (https://screenrant.com/dark-universe-monster-movies/ ) producer Holly Goline is still connected to the concept.

Holly Goline had begun as an assistant to actress /director/producer Angelina Jolie ,has worked on films in various capacities until becoming a producer on IN THE LAND OF MILK & HONEY (Sony,2011 ).

So, like the classic monsters of old, there seems to be a spark left in the idea of reviving the collective creatures.

The thing is-should they?? I mean ,are they actually horror films anymore?

The change began with Universal‘s THE MUMMY (1999). Director /writer Stephen Sommers had come to audiences and critical attention with his film DEEP RISING (Hollywood/Disney,1998). That film began as a high seas action adventure story ,with hijackers out to rob a luxury liner, only to end up fighting for their lives against an unleashed monster.

A well written well directed story,with a great cast led by Treat Williams, Famke Janssen, and Kevin J. O’Connor,superb set pieces as well as scares and laughs galore, the film failed to make back it’s estimated $45,000 budget (U.S. box office $11,000) but it did well on home video and cable television .

It was enough to impress Universal  so that they hired him to remake THE MUMMY for a new audience. Columbia Pictures had shown in 1992 that an A budget and all star cast could give prestige and financial rewards with their version of BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA . Though uneven in tone (along with some miscasting and overacting ),the movie was a stylish treat that had both scares and a romance that worked in combination . The film made double its production cost in the United States alone, which made Hollywood take notice.

Columbia tried to have lightening strike twice and revive another classic creature with style , and two years later unleashed MARY SHELLEY’S FRANKENSTEIN . Once again an all star cast was gathered to retell the famous tale, but to this day critics and fans are divided upon this production, and the movie only made back half of it’s production budget for it’s American release . It eventually made a profit overseas and with the home video market .

Universal was undeterred ,and realizing that they had their own original creations that were known and marketable, they decided it was time to make their own monster epic.

With a high budget ( $80 million) , THE MUMMY film clicked with both audiences and critics alike , and made $155,247,825 in the U.S. alone upon its original release, and was a strong seller on video .

But it was the beginning of the slide away from being a pure horror film.

The film had a few jump scares but it was more along the line of a thrill ride , Indiana Jones style. The wonderful pairing of Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz gave us a couple we could cheer on as they went through some exciting adventures set during 1925 (three years after Tutankhamen’s grave was discovered,starting the mania in Egyptian artifacts).  Add to that a wonderful supporting cast including John Hannah and Kevin J O’Connor as comic companions , Odeth Fehr as Ardeth Bay and Arnold Vosloo as the immortal Imhotep  (Bay and Imhotep are the names used by Karloff  in the Universal 1932 THE MUMMY ),and one had a real crowd pleaser.

It resulted in THE MUMMY RETURNS (2001),an animated series that ran for 26 episodes between 2001 & 2003  , THE SCORPION KING(2002) (the last two films truly launching the movie career of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson,with THE SCORPION KING  being a standalone prequel set in the distant past )  and finally THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR (2008).

Each film moved further and further away from horror into more fantasy tinged adventure stories.

Looking at low budget films from the 70s,80s and 90s, I think that the original HALLOWEEN(Compass,1978) and FRIDAY THE 13TH (Paramount ,1980) were a better template for what a mummy movie could have been.   Both figured silent figures who appear invincible and once they decide that you are their target they will not stop until they have killed you, usually in some horrible fashion.  Like  the slower moving Mummy of the Universal classics , MIchael Myers and Jason both strode purposefully ,never running , to overtake their victims , What these films lacked in gloss they more than made up for in suspense and scares ,something that the Mummy series lost more and more as the series went on.

Stephen Sommers only directed the first two Mummy  films (though keeping his hand involved in all of them),prepping instead for an even bigger film . Sommers formed his own production company in 2004 with plans of making an Homeric retelling of the beloved villains.

The result was VAN HELSING (Universal,2004) ,a loud  bloated everything but the kitchen sink major misfire. With a more than generous $160 million production budget (as well as an initially big publicity push ) ,the film was critical disaster, and made only $120 million domestically, luckily for the studio making a profit thanks to overseas box office ( worldwide cume : $300,257,475 ), which was also the start of studios looking for overseas markets to make their movies get out of the red.

 

The film seemed determined to start at 11 (to reference THIS IS SPINAL TAP,Embassy 1984   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4xgx4k83zzc ) and build in shrieking volume.  Almost everyone screams their lines (with poor Shuler Hensley ,who had worked with star Hugh Jackman on Broadway in OKLAHOMA!,being the one directed the most to bellow everything      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rev5Z6Dg91A ). The story is a ghoulish goulash has Gabriel Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman ) as a bounty hunter of monsters for the Roman Catholic church.

He takes on a CGI Mr Hyde and then high tales it to Transylvania ,meets up with fellow monster hunter Anna Valerious (Kate Beckinsdale) and goes after the Frankenstein Monster, the insane Igor (Sommers‘  talisman ,actor Kevin J. O’Connor ),a werewolf who is Anna’s brother (Will Kemp) and Dracula (Richard Roxburgh, who was more frightening in his more  semi -comic role for MOULIN ROUGE (Fox,2001))and his undead brides want to hatch a cavern-full of gigantic Alien -like eggs , which are in fact vampires awaiting to be born(Vampires lay eggs??) .

 

Universal was so sure that they had another hit series on their hands , they kept the sets built in Prague for the film up, which meant they had to keep paying for the land  rental use while they remained.  Upon the movie’s release, however, they decided that a sequel didn’t seem like a financially sound idea.  They also scrapped a planned Transylvania land for the  Universal Studios Theme Parks ,as well as a planned Transylvania tv series.

The film failed to work as either an adventure or a horror film, but became a CGI riddled massive video game that seemed to be designed by a ten year old with A.D.D .(a charge which ,to be fair , now seems to describe the majority of theatrical releases lately).

 

Ten years later, Universal wanted to re- reboot their monsters into the summer blockbuster market . DRACULA UNTOLD (Universal, 2014) was the result.  The film basically goes back to the Vlade Tepes legend ,though instead of a annointed sociopathic Prince with a fetish for driving stakes up the hindquarters of his enemies (which included practically everyone), he is transformed into a fierce warrior,loving husband,father and nobleman  (Luke Evans )who makes a deal with The Master Vampire (Charles Dance ) for his aid in getting his son back from the Turks who have abducted the boy and about a thousand other youngsters.   What he gets ,however, slowly transforms him .

The film is indeed epic in it’s look and design, and handsomely mounted .There is also some very clever sound design and editing which gives the audience a bit of a jump once and awhile.  However, as it was planned for a summer market, the film was PG-13 rated, and the scares toned down for a larger target family audience.  Done on a $70 million budget , the film only made $56,280,355 domestic , $160,843,925 internationally for a final  worldwide tally of  $217,124,280 . The film also underwent some reshoots when Universal felt that this film needed to be tied into its just announced idea of their Dark Universe plans.

The Dark Universe franchise was to be Universal‘s answer to the many superhero films whose main power was siphoning the cash out of a willing public . Not having a superhero of their own (did they forget about DARKMAN (1990)?),they looked to the properties which they did have ,and rather than reviving Francis The Talking Mule (which would literally be beating a long dead horse) they turned instead to their creature creations . https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lfxLdBDr1ww

There had been some talk of Dracula turning up in  a future Dark Universe film only to have executives change their mind again, wanting the Dracula in the series to be different from the one portrayed in DRACULA UNTOLD .Talk about too many mad doctors spoiling the creations!

The “official” first release for the Universal Dark Universe turned out to be –THE MUMMY (2017)!  A re-boot of the reboot (a re-reboot?)of the character again.

                                                             The MUMMY 2017 vs THE MUMMY 1999 -sand bites!

 

With a  $125 million budget  (and an advertising budget said to be at least equal to that),THE MUMMY was slammed by critics and fans, taking in only  $80,227,895 domestically, but being saved by countries where Tom Cruise still opens strong ,taking in a final total  $409,231,607 . The film is considered to have been a failure,due to various costs attached to the project, with as much as a $95 million dollar final loss .

So, Universal decided it was time to quickly kill the DARK UNIVERSE.  Alex Kurtzman and Chris Morgan, who were in charge , left to pursue other projects. By November, 2017 , the idea was considered dead. Only, as I stated in the beginning,rumors of it’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.    

Is it possible to do a proper horror film on a big budget ? The answer is yes.  The thing is to convince fans to come out and see them.

A perfect example is the 2010 THE WOLFMAN . https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZabAU7ySbmE . That movie was a glossy remake of the 1941 classic .  So why didn’t fans like it? A common complaint was that they had seen the story before (but if it had varied from the original ,fans would be crying it varied so much it should not be called THE WOLFMAN ). That the story wasn’t strong ( a bit of tightening perhaps could have been used, but it followed the template fairly closely ).  That it wasnt gory enough, that it used CGI,etc.  Even professional viewers seem to contradict their own opinion . The Huffington Post review said it had cardboard characters, and yet just a few lines down :  “the film spends an obscene amount of time on a twisted father/son dynamic, and not enough time with actual werewolf terror.”  So which is it?

The film certainly looked lavish ,and the make up by the great Rick Baker and Dave Elsey won a Best Make-up Oscar.

 

So where did it go wrong? Benicio de Toro, an avowed fan of the original ,was cast in the lead in 2006 . Andrew Kevin Walker,who wrote Tim Burton‘s love letter to Hammer style horror ,SLEEPY HOLLOW (Fox,1999) ,did the screenplay.

Rick Baker , of course, adhered as much as possible to the classic Jack Pierce creation.

Director Mark Romanek was attached to the film on February 8, 2007. Romanek directed powerful music videos like Johnny Cash’s “Hurt “ video in 2003 as well as the disturbing  thriller ONE HOUR PHOTO (Fox Searchlight 2002).  The budget was set at a  reasonable (for such a big production) $85 million.  After working on the project for a year, Romanek left the project ,using the “creative differences” comment.

Several directors were interviewed including Brett Ratner (no!) ,Martin Campbell (MASK OF ZORRO, Columbia,1998),James Mangold (the  stylish 3:1O TO YUMA remake, Lionsgate, 2007),Joe Johnston (the sadly neglected THE ROCKETEER ,Disney,1991),Frank Darabont (great choice ,a screenwriter of classic horror remakes,as well as directing  some of the best Stephen King cinematic adaptations) and Bill Condon ( another superlative choice . A longtime classic horror fan, he made the James Whale biopic GODS & MONSTERS (Lionsgate ,1998) .

Almost a year to the date that Romanek had first signed on, Joe Johnston took over  to direct on February 3,2008.   Work on the film continued while Johnston brought screenwriter David Self .This was not a good sign to horror fans ,as Self wrote the awful adaptation of THE HAUNTING (Dreamworks,1999) .   Still , changing directors early on and bringing in new writers is not unusual.

 

 Not the 1999 THE HAUNTING ! Gahhh!

 

A month later, filming began in England from March to June ,2008 . Having had only 3 weeks to develop the film,Johnston decided that CGI would help patch over any cracks in the project. Rick Baker expressed his disappointment to that fact, and the increasing use of CGI was the main reason the make up effects ace decided to retire in 2015.

 

The studio began to meddle around with the film ,trying to make a classic period piece and make it a more action packed movie.  Composer Danny Elfman had written his score and left to work on other projects ,and other composers were brought in to bridge the gaps due to retakes and studio demanded edits. The movie ended up losing nearly a half hour of footage ,mostly character scenes.  The Blue Ray restores some of these scenes, and it indeed improves the film.

 

The tinkering went on longer and longer, so the opening date moved from late 2008 to several dates in 2009, only to finally open in February 2010.

 

 

The original 1941  was a modest $170,000 budgeted film that ran 70 minutes.  The newer version ran 102  minutes (though the director’s cut on BLU RAY runs 119 minutes ). The 2010 version  final budget (before advertising costs , ended up totaling $150 million.  Mixed reviews and poor word of mouth had the film fail to recoup even it’s production budget ,taking in only $139 million world wide.

However, I think this film needs to be re-evaluated.  It is a much better film than it’s original reviews led one to believe. It was also a decent remake of the classic film, and it had one thing that several of the other remakes have had, some decent scares. With the idea of the DARK UNIVERSE project, this film was considered a stand alone one-off.

Look also at Del Toro’s beautiful ghost story CRIMSON PEAK (Universal, 2015),not part of the Dark Universe . A feast for the eye with lavish costumes and set designs ,and some actual scares, the film only grossed about $74 million worldwide  on a $55 million budget .  Why did this film not do better?  It was a visual feast for the eye, but it failed to find the audience it deserved. Is it horror fans really now just want more gore and less style?? INSIDIOUS 3(Blumhouse/Focus), released the same year, made over ten times it’s production cost ($11 million).

Perhaps the people now in charge of nursing Universal‘s DARK UNIVERSE concept will reconsider what  made the originals classics and will consider reducing the slam bam action and return to horror.  The original plans were that the “Universe” would be linked by Prodigium, a secret society dedicated to hunting supernatural threats, run by none other than Doctor Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe).  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TCowxWN2c_Q      I am sure that concept is now deader than a vampire staked in sunlight while lying in holy water as rose thorns are floating through it atop a garlic garnish.

Projects that were cancelled due to the failure of THE MUMMY were

THE INVISIBLE MAN to star Johnny Depp.

The cancelling of Bill Condon‘s BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN project was perhaps the biggest disappointment of the announced remake.

THE WOLFMAN .

DRACULA

a VAN HELSING reboot –Tom Cruise was once announced for the role, but I guess he decided upon THE MUMMY instead).

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA

THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME

THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON – this poor creature has been bandied about for decades, with names like John Landis and Guillermo del Toro attached at different times. Guillermo del Toro got tired  of waiting and made his own version ,called THE SHAPE OF WATER ( Fox Searchlight,2017).   One should note that this wonderful film ,even with Oscar wins, only took in  $194,742,801 worldwide,with almost $64 million coming from the U.S.

Perhaps Universal should study that film,as well as on films like GET OUT (Blumhouse/Universal,2017)  and figure on moderate budget films that deliver on the scares.

I think they could also learn from the old Hammer Studio model of designing films to make use of sets ,etc ,while developing their own stock company of stars .

-Kevin G Shinnick

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BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ (U.A.1962) Olive Films Blu Ray

BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ (U.A.,1962) b&w 149 minutes new release by OLIVE FILMS DVD. $18.99 BLU RAY $21.99
https://olivefilms.com/product/birdman-of-alcatraz/

John Frankenheimer (February 19, 1930 – July 6, 2002) is one of my favorite directors of the 1960s. The New York born Frankenheimer first began filmmaking while he was in the Air Force. In 1948, he began as an assistant director at CBS, working his way up to director on the popular YOU ARE THERE series in 1954. He showed himself a fast worker who never sacrificed quality, and soon directed his first theatrical feature in 1957 (THE YOUNG STRANGER, RKO) when he was 26. He had directed the episode “Deal A Blow” for CLIMAX on which it was based two years earlier.

It was a modest success so Frankenheimer returned to television, where he excelled in live dramas. His production of “Turn Of The Screw” (STARTIME, NBC) starred Ingrid Bergman, so he was used to working with star powerhouses.

In 1961, he directed THE YOUNG SAVAGES (U.A.), starring Burt Lancaster and Telly Savalas. Producer /star Lancaster must have liked what he saw, so when he fired British director Charles Crichton from his next pet project, he brought in Frankenheimer to take over BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ.

 

Lancaster was a huge star, and one of the first to create his own production company (Norma Productions, for whom he had begun making films in 1948 with KISS THE BLOOD OFF MY HANDS, Universal). A perfectionist, he was a hard person to work for, as the slightest weakness he would tear into you (thus the departure of Crichton).Luckily, Frankenheimer would prove his mettle with this film, and go on to make classics like THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE(U.A. 1962 ,starring Frank Sinatra in one of the best political thrillers ever made),SEVEN DAYS IN MAY (U.A.1964 with Lancaster again), THE TRAIN (U.A.1964 again with Lancaster) and SECONDS (1966 Rock Hudson’s best performance).

 


All these films were shot in stunning black and white, with Frankenheimer wisely moving his camera as little as possible, letting the performances play out.

Back to BIRDMAN:


The real Robert Franklin Stroud (January 28,1890 -November 21,1963) was a murderer who in 1909 killed a bartender and took his wallet when the victim refused to pay services to a woman Stroud was pimping. Due to his violence (he stabbed an orderly), he was transferred to Leavenworth, Kansas. In 1916, when he was refused a visit by his brother, Stroud stabbed a guard to death. He was sentenced to death and put in solitary confinement while awaiting his punishment to be meted out.

 


His mother succeeded in convincing President Woodrow Wilson to commute the sentence to life, though remaining in solitary confinement. Over the course of 30 years in Leavenworth, he saved sick birds, and wrote books upon their treatment and care, as well as developing medicines for sale.

He married a woman though more to help him keep his birds and business than any real love on his part, as Stroud was a homosexual, and indeed was considered a violently predatory one.

 


When it was discovered that his medical equipment had also been used as a still, he was transferred in 1942 to Alcatraz, ironically without his birds or equipment (I guess BIRDMAN OF LEAVENWORTH has less of a ring to it). He spent 6 years in solitary and 11 in the prison hospital, then in 1959 until his death from natural causes in 1963 he remained in The Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield Missouri. He was never allowed to see the film based upon his life.

Besides the publicity generated over the years by Stroud, his wife, and mother, author Thomas Eugene Gaddis wrote a biography of Stroud, BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ (Random House, NY 1955). Gaddis later wrote KILLER: A JOURNAL OF MURDER (1970) about serial killer Carl Panzram. This story too was adapted for the screen, starring James Wood (Legacy/ Republic ,1995). BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ was a nationwide best seller, which of course brought it to the attention of Hollywood.

The story of Stroud and his birds intrigued Lancaster and screenwriter Guy Trosper (JAILHOUSE ROCK, MGM,1957), who turned the violent Stroud tale into a terrible man redeemed by his love of birds, as well as a story of a little guy who took on the system and, while if he didn’t win, came out better than expected.

 


Lancaster was a lifelong liberal, having grown up poor, and always wanting to make the world better. In this tale, he saw a story of redemption, and indeed Lancaster campaigned unsuccessfully for years to get Stroud released, and for the rest of his life Lancaster was an advocate for prison reform.

Like many cinematic biographies, though following the central story, certain elements were altered to make the main character more likeable (i.e.-General Custer in THEY DIED WITH THEIR BOOTS ON (WB,1941). In this case, Stroud is whitewashed from the sociopath who inspired the tale. The film works on its own strengths, though knowing the facts makes it harder to enjoy. It also does show the dehumanizing treatment in some prison systems, which is also an important issue.

 

 

The plot
Robert Stroud (Burt Lancaster) is a troublemaker prisoner. On the train to prison for a murder that he committed in Alaska (the film dialogue makes it appear he came to the rescue of a woman’s honor, but in real life he was a pimp who killed the man who refused to pay his working girl), he breaks the window in their car, so the other prisoners can get some air.

Warden Harvey Shoemaker (Karl Malden) notes that he will be keeping a special eye upon his newest prisoner during his stay in Leavenworth Prison. He has several points against him when he is told that his mother was turned away for a visit and told to return another time (in real life it was his brother who was turned away. The brother is eliminated from the screenplay, but in real life Stroud’s mother was a major force ).

After trying to convince a guard not to revoke his visitation privileges, the guard berates him in front of everyone in the dining room and tells him to sit down. Angered, Stroud knives the guard ,who slumps to the floor, dead.

 

Now charged with the additional murder, he is sentenced now to be executed. While awaiting the sentence being carried out, he is placed in solitary confinement. His mother (the wonderful Thelma Ritter, who in real life was the real-life mom of John Ritter) pleads with President Wilson’s wife for mercy for her son. Amazingly, her campaign works, and his sentence is transmuted to life in solitary.

 


Prisoners in solitary were allowed one hour into the courtyard alone, and one day, Stroud finds a wounded bird. He takes the injured creature to his cell and begins to care for it. Soon, he has turned his cell into an aviary, and even gets a prisoner in the next cell Feto Gomez (Telly Savalas, who made his film debut in THE YOUNG SAVAGES) to also begin caring for some. He also receives some aid from his guard, Bull Ransom (Neville Brand, on the other side of the bars, after his wonderful performance in RIOT IN CELL BLOCK 11,A.A.,1954)

However, they become ill, and begin dying. Frantic, Stroud scours the library of the prison, and creates a makeshift medicine that seems to cure the birds. The prison doctor (the great Whit Bissell) offers help and suggestions. He publishes a book on his findings and gains some notoriety.

 

One of his fans, Stella Johnson (Betty Field) goes to meet him and Stroud decides that they should go into business. Stella falls in love with Stroud, and they are married. This proves a breaking point for Stroud’s mother, who decides that he has put another woman before her. They never speak again.

 

Stroud gets upset and uses his lab to make some makeshift alcohol. This is what prison officials have been waiting for, and he is sent to the new maximum-security prison, Alcatraz (a federal prison from 1934-1963). Most heartbreaking, he is sent immediately with only the clothes on his back, his equipment and birds they make him leave behind.

At Alcatraz, he finds that his old warden Shoemaker is in charge there. The prison is more modern and the food better, but it is also restrictive of what is allowed. Stroud finds that Feto is also there, now as a trustee. Stroud is visited by Stella, who offers to move nearer so she can still see him, but he tells her that she should find someone else.

Years pass, and Stroud, still rebellious, even manages to help stop a 1946 prison rebellion that became known as The Battle of Alcatraz. The event began when Bernard Paul Coy and five accomplices attempted to escape. Scaling the cages that formed the gallery (known as Times Square and Michigan Ave by the prisoners), Coy also bent some bars with a crude device that he had fashioned. He was able to then get a guard’s Billy club and over power a guard (in the film he uses a gun). Soon he was distributing weapons to other prisoners and the guards were held prisoner.

 

Unable to escape, as one of the guards had hidden the key they most needed, Joseph Cretzer began shooting into the cell where the captured guards were held. The Coast Guard and the marines were called in.


Stroud tried to end the shootout. At 56 years old, he climbed railings and then lowered himself to the second tier, dropping to the floor of D Block. He closed doors to safeguard the wounded, and that there were no weapons now in D block but that if they kept firing the would be killing unarmed guards and wounded prisoners. In the film, he is shown tossing out the remaining weapons, but the battle raged on in another area, with the leader found dead in a guard’s uniform. In real life, two correction officers and three prisoners died, with two others executed together for the murder of a guard, while a third was given an additional 99 years to his life sentence.

It did not seem to do anything to help Stroud, however, and he stayed in Alcatraz until, due to petitions and his failing help, he was transferred to the Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield , Missouri in 1959 .Arriving on the mainland after decades , the handcuffed older Stroud is met by reporters who asks him how it feels to be entering a world so changed. He makes a joke after someone asks him about television (“From what I hear I m not missing much”) then shows how much he has learned, as he looks up to the sky and sees a plane, describes its make and its working specs. He even meets Thomas E Gaddis (played by Edmond O’Brien) who had written his biography. He is going to a facility which will be less restrictive, and he feels free and at peace.

The film received several Oscar nominations :
Lancaster(losing to Gregory Peck in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, Universal ), Thelma Ritter(who lost to Patty Duke in THE MIRACLE WORKER,U.A.) , Telly Savalas (losing to Ed Begley in SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH,MGM) ,Burnett Guffey for cinematography (losing to Jean Bourgoin, Walter Wottiz and Henry Persin for THE LONGEST DAY, Fox) and failing to win a Best Picture or Best Director nod . The film was also not a financial success, though a critical one, which is being appreciated more as time goes on.

BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ had been released in 2014 by Twilight Time, but its 3,000-print run quickly sold out. Olive Films picked up the release to make it available to fans who missed the prior release. It is not quite the same, however, as it has some different extras.

Not having the prior version,  I must say that the Olive Film releases is stunning.


The sound in 1.0 DTS-HD MA is clear and sharp and the dialog and Elmer Bernstein’s score is never overpowering but emotionally effective. 1962 was a great year for the composer, as he also wrote the understated but powerful music for TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (Universal,1962). The prison riot scene I had to lower the sound a bit, but it was not overwhelming, and no fake stereo was added.

The picture quality (1080p/AVC MPEG-4) is sharp and clear, and I found it one of the best presentations of the title which I have ever seen. Some reviewers found the transfer dark, but I had no such quibble.

The optional subtitles (English only) are easy to read and follow the action and dialog precisely.

Where the Olive Film differs from Twilight Time’s release is the different extras.

There is no isolated score track, and the audio commentary is different.

The running audio commentary here is by Lancaster biographer Kate Buford (BURT LANCASTER: AN AMERICAN LIFE, Knopf,2000). Ms. Buford has a radio program on NPR, but here, she seems a bit ill at ease in front of a microphone. Studied pacing and a continuous monotone show the importance of a commentator to not only be knowledgeable but also able to transfer their excitement about the subject. This should not dissuade you from listening, as Ms. Buford delivers a wealth of information about the film as well as the real-life subjects upon whom the film is based. I also liked her opinion that BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ could have worked very well as a silent film, since the acting and direction tells us much without dialog.

The original Theatrical trailer also appears on this disc (as well as the o.o.p Twilight Time).

Extras aside, the main thing is, is this BLU RAY worth adding to my collection. I would wholeheartedly say YES, due to the quality of the film itself, as well as the audio and image quality of the disc.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for fans of prison pictures, true story adaptations, Burt Lancaster, Telly Savalas, and the superb supporting cast, as well as the work of John Frankenheimer.

-Kevin G Shinnick

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