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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.

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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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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
Political Thrillers

-Kevin G Shinnick

 

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*Contest now ended *DEATH RACE:BEYOND ANARCHY contest

deathrace

 

UPDATE: OCTOBER 16,2018 . NO MORE ENTRIES. CONTEST HAS ENDED. WE HAVE A WINNER.

CONGRATULATIONS: MICHAEL MARTIN at a APO address. His prize will be sent to him shortly .  Big thanks to UNIVERSAL HOME ENTERTAINMENT. 

Enter for a chance  to win a free Blu-Ray /DVD of UNIVERSAL HOME ENTERTAINMENT‘s newest entry into the successful action sci fi series , DEATH RACE: BEYOND ANARCHY .

Danny Trejo, Danny Glover , Zach McGowan , Fred Koehler , Christine Marzano .

death-race-4-stills-3

No guards, no rules, no track, no fear- only the DEATH RACE .

deaaaaaathrace

Extras on the disc include
*Inside The Anarchy
*Time Served: Lists & Goldberg
*On The Streets of DEATH RACE; BEYOND ANARCHY
*Feature Commentary w/Director/Co-writer Michael Paul and star Zach McGowan

death-race-4-stills-4

UPDATE: OCTOBER 16,2018 . NO MORE ENTRIES. CONTEST HAS ENDED. WE HAVE A WINNER.

CONGRATULATIONS: MICHAEL MARTIN at a APO address. His prize will be sent to him shortly .

To enter :
send an email to scarletthefilmmag@yahoo.com

In the heading put : DEATH RACE BEYOND ANARCHY CONTEST

In the body of the letter , answer this question :

What is the BEST futuristic car film ?

Please add your name and address with your entry so we can notify you if you
win .

                     The winner will be chosen at random on October 15th, 2018 .

 

UPDATE: OCTOBER 16,2018 . NO MORE ENTRIES. CONTEST HAS ENDED. WE HAVE A WINNER.

CONGRATULATIONS: MICHAEL MARTIN at a APO address. His prize will be sent to him shortly .

DEATH RACE BEYOND ANARCHY deathrace
Special features
Includes a digital copy of Death Race: Beyond Anarchy – Unrated Version (Subject to expiration. Go to NBCUCodes.com for details.)
Inside the Anarchy
Time Served: Lists & Goldberg
On the Streets of Death Race: Beyond Anarchy
Feature Commentary with Director/Co-Writer Don Michael Paul and Star Zach McGowan
Product details
Actors: Zach McGowan, Danny Glover, Frederick Koehler, Christine Marzano, Danny Trejo
Directors: Don Michael Paul
Writers: Don Michael Paul, Tony Giglio
Producers: Mike Elliott, Greg Holstein
Format: Color, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
Language: English (Dolby Digital 5.1), English (DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1), French (Dolby Digital 5.1), French (DTS 5.1), Spanish (Dolby Digital 5.1), Spanish (DTS 5.1)
Subtitles: French, Spanish
Subtitles for the Hearing Impaired: English
Region: Region A/1 (Read more about DVD/Blu-ray formats.)
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Number of discs: 2
Rated:
NR
Not Rated
Studio: Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
DVD Release Date: October 2, 2018
Run Time: 111 minutes

deathracecf

Thanks to Universal Home Entertainment 

death_race_4_beyond_anarchy_bexie

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PATIENT ZERO (2018)

PATIENT ZERO (Vertical Entertainment) R -now playing limited theatrical and available as V.O.D. 87 Min. Rated R. horror/science fiction.
patient-zero-2018

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mn-wBZwQdRA

Imagine if you will Bub from Romero’s DAY OF THE DEAD (1985, U.F.D.) were fully cognizant of his situation, and able to have a full conversation about it (MY DINNER WITH BUB? ). Throw in a bit of 21 DAYS LATER (2002, Fox) and you have a pretty good idea of what to expect from PATIENT ZERO.

Filmed in 2015 by Screen Gems, it sadly sat on a shelf until now. Why? Screen Gems opened the abysmal ULTRAVIOLET (2006) wide, and that was nowhere near as good as PATIENT ZERO.

In 2013, Mike Le’s script for PATIENT ZERO was called “the Most Liked “unmade script of the year in the annual Black List poll. A bidding war between several studios took place, with Screen Gems winning the rights to make a feature of the script. Matt Le had prior only worked on a few reality shows and later some forgotten thrillers like AMNESIAC (2014, XLrator) (get it? forgotten? Amnesiac?) and DARK SUMMER (2015, IFC). The frenzy was no doubt due to Paramount’s mega zombie blockbuster WORLD WAR Z that came out that year.
Patient+Zero

Director Stefan Ruzowitzky had directed the German horror thriller AUTOPSY (Sony,2000) and won the 2007 foreign language Oscar for his film THE COUNTERFEITERS (released in the US by Sony)and so there a bit of buzz around his second English language film (his first ,ALL THE QUEENS’S MEN ,2001,Sony,starred Matt LeBlanc & Eddie Izzard ,was a fun little film that came & went).

patient-zero

Adding to the buzz was the casting of Matt Smith (popular from DOCTOR WHO, portraying the character from 2010-13, with a guest appearance in 2014, BBC) and Natalie Dormer (GAME OF THRONES, appearing from 2012 to 2016 in the HBO series) and Stanley Tucci (Oscar nominated for THE LOVELY BONES ,2009, Dreamworks).

The majority of the film was shot in a massive set at Shepperton Studios that was built to resemble an underground military missle silo built into caverns.

In the near future, a new pandemic has broken out, driving people into a bloodthirsty rage. The world is so caught off guard by how quickly this spreads that a large group of survivors, men, women and children, take refuge in said underground military bunkers. There, they work frantically to try and seek some sort of cure, and if they can, discover Patient Zero, the first of the infected (Odd Doctor Who trivia (Matt Smith’s first full episode as the Doctor, “The Eleventh Hour”, he spent a good bit of time looking for PRISONER zero. Back to the review.).

Morgan (Matt Smith, sporting a Midwestern accent) has been bitten but unlike many, has not turned into one of the rampaging creatures (referred to as “the infected”). Instead, he can communicate with the transformed in their own language (that this is never explored in more detail made me wonder if the film had been drastically cut down) as well as using music to set off the murderous victims of the plague.

153694078162355269 Then one day, they bring in The Professor (Stanley Tucci), who not only is unaffected by the music, but also speaks in a calm clear manner. However, we also feel that underneath his demeanor is this seething rage, waiting to get out, and tear out the throats of all around.

The scenes between Smith and Tucci work wonderfully well, as if in a zombie film version of the Clarice /Hannibal Lector scenes from SILENCE OF THE LAMB (1991, Orion).

4E580E2B00000578-5962725-image-m-155_1531838122713

Scientist Dr Rose (Natalie Dormer) is trying to get Morgan to hurry up while trying to placate Col. Knox (Clive Standen, star of the recent NBC Universal series TAKEN (2017-18) based upon Luc Bresson’s films) whose attitude is shoot them all let god sort it out.

Morgan also wants to find a cure, not only for himself but also his wife Janet (model /actress Agyness Deyn). Can they before the bunker is overrun by the ever increasing infected? Plus, watch out for those damn raging rats!!!

I don’t understand the general dismissal of this film. The cast is good, and the production values are decent.

The accent that Matt Smith uses is a bit jarring, and since most of the cast is British, why didn’t they just set the story in the U.K.?

Also, as I mentioned, there are a lot of very interesting ideas brought up but then never fully developed in the finish film, making me feel that there was some drastic editing to the movie.

cPlBjz2
However, once Stanley Tucci shows up, PATIENT ZERO hums along quite nicely, with the exchanges between Morgan and The Professor holding our attention. The idea that the disease is merely releasing the rage contained in all of us is a good one and adds a bit of brains to the usual zombie fare.

I don’t think you will be disappointed if you watch this film without comparing it to films like DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978, UFD). It is a nice variation to the apocalyptic zombie film, with some novel additions.

I do hope that a Blu Ray with commentary track is in its future, as I would love to hear about the behind the scenes of PATIENT ZERO.

Currently, director Ruzowitzky is working on The Last Voyage of the Demeter, which is based on Bram Stoker‘s Dracula . I look forward to his new additions to genre films.

Check out PATIENT ZERO.
Kevin G Shinnick

ZOMBIES
Apocalypse
Matt Smith
Natalie Dormer
Stanley Tucci

Climax

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BOSS (Kit Parker Blu Ray/DVD combo)

BOSS (Kit Parker Blu Ray/DVD combo)
Dimension ,1975 color. Rated PG .87 mins. Region A/1. Release August 28,2018. Also known as BOSS NIGGER; THE BLACK BOUNTY HUNTER

https://www.amazon.com/Blu-ray-Williamson-DUrville-William-Armstrong/dp/B07C5K53N4/ref=tmm_blu_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=.

If you ever wondered what BLAZING SADDLES(1973,W.B.) might have looked like done as a straightforward film, BOSS should give you an idea.

Fred “The Hammer ” Williamson, the former football star’s initial forays into acting were in such films as M*A*S*H (1970, Fox) as well as Diane Carroll’s boyfriend on T.V.’s JULIA (1968-71, Fox/NBC). The Larry Cohen actioner BLACK CAESAR (1973, AIP) featured him as a man who climbs his way up in the underworld, and THREE THE HARD WAY (1974, A.A.) solidified his status as an action star.

 

 

Williamson decided the first film he would co-produce himself would be based upon 20-page treatment he showed to director Jack Arnold (they had worked together on the Warner Brother actioner BLACK EYE,1974). Dimension Pictures decided to release the film and so production began on a town set left over from the big budget Gene Kelly film THE CHEYENNE SOCIAL CLUB (1970, National General) in Santa Fe New Mexico.

 

 THE CHEYENNE’S SOCIAL CLUB set used for BOSS

Boss (Williamson) and his sidekick Amos (D’Urville Martin, who directed DOLEMITE, Dimension,1975) a former slave, are two bounty hunters who decide to become the law in a small town when they save a woman named Clara Mae (Carmen Hayworth) from a pack of outlaws. On one of the men they killed while saving her they find a letter from the mayor of the town of San Miguel that invites the possessor of the letter to become the new sheriff. The bounty hunters also find out that a man they are tracking, Jed Clayton (cult baddie William Smith, best known for playing Falconetti on the miniseries RICH MAN POOR MAN ,1976, Universal TV, as well as the vampire hunting son in GRAVE OF THE VAMPIRE ,1972, Millenium), also spends time in the town and so they decide to escort Clara Mae there.

Boss gives the letter to the mayor (western great R.G. Armstrong) who is forced to accept them as the new law. They set upon their task with zeal as they confront members of Clayton’s gang, killing and wounding several of them.

 

 

The new laws that the bounty hunters post does not make them popular with the racists town folk, resulting in a few well-dressed town folk (including the bank President) having to pay a fine or a stay in the cell in the sheriff’s office. The “N” word is tossed about as readily as at a trump rally, but the two bounty hunters put their bigoted butts behind bars or make them pay for their words. Not everyone is a racist in town, exemplified by local school marm Miss Pruitt (Barbara Leigh, who later co-starred with William Smith in SEVEN,1979,AIP).

 

Things escalate as they always do with a final showdown between boss and Clayton.

Black westerns were nothing new (going back as least as far as Norman Film Manufacturing Co’s CRIMSON SKULL ,1922), but in the 1960s and 1970s, they went from black only cinemas to mainstream theatres. Films like SGT. RUTLEDGE (1960, WB) began to finally acknowledge that people of color made up a lot of the history of the American West. Indeed, the character of The Lone Ranger may have been inspired by the exploits of the first black Marshall Bass Reeves.

The 1970s though allowed black stars to shine and take the lead in a variety of films, including westerns.

No longer the sidekick, black performers were front and center of the action.

Williamson was born to play the action hero, with his good looks and natural athleticism, one could readily accept him facing down the bad guys. He was wise enough to surround himself with familiar western faces like R.G. Armstrong (PAT GARRETT & BILLY THE KID, 1973.MGM, as well as numerous Sam Peckinpah films) and Don “Red” Barry (star of many Republic Westerns, here playing a bad guy).

The direction by Jack Arnold is effective , using creativity to make his film look as exciting as possible. One example was clever editing when a horse was to run over a small child.

 

BOSS was released previously by VCI /Sprocket Vault /Kit Parker in 2008. This Kit Parker BLU RAY has been given a 1080p resolution release, with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The film has been cleaned up, but there are still some color shifts due no doubt from the negative fading. A full restoration for this film probably would have been prohibitively expensive, and the print is quite watchable, and I am sure in much better condition than the worn-out prints shown in many grindhouse and drive in theatres of the period.

The audio is an English 2.0 mono track. It is clear, and the dialogue is easy to understand, along with all the sound effects and music. For the hard of hearing, there is an optional white lettering subtitle in English.

The extras on this Kit Parker BLU RAY release are all ported over from the VCI release.

A CONVERSATION WITH FRED “THE HAMMER” WILLIAMSON with Joel Blumberg. Shot ten years ago, it is amazing that Williamson appears to have hardly aged in the 33 years since he shot the film. He brags that a film he did for Universal ,THAT MAN BOLT (1973), was the first major studio film to have a black action star, forgetting MGM produced SHAFT in 1971. Still, he was among the first, and indeed with his own production company (PO BOY) was able to call the shots that he was the hero and got the girl.

 

A BOSS MEMORY (8 min) with producer/ director & UCLA film prof Myrl A. Schreibman ( he was the associate producer on BOSS).Schreibman got into film working with Jack Arnold .After Arnold had directed BLACK EYE, Arnold brought Schreibman aboard for this film .He talks about their filming the big fight scene between Smith (who as cast because he looked like he would be an equal match in a fight) & Williamson while a dust devil storm raged outside with ho

wling winds.

JACK ARNOLD TRIBUTE by producer Myrl Schreibman– For any fan of 1950s science fiction, Jack Arnold was the go -to guy in the 1950s (CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON,1954, Universal )before he transitioned to TV on such shows as GILLIGAN’S ISLAND ( 1964-1967,CBS).Schreibman lets us know that Arnold began as actor, but when in the Army ,trained in their film division under famed filmmaker Robert Flaherty(NANOOK OF THE NORTH, 1922,Pathe) .Returning to civilian life, he did a documentary called WITH THESE HANDS (1950 ,ILGWU ) about the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. The featurette was Oscar nominated, which led to his career at Universalhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?reload=9&v=1OKcJcJ4TfA

 

The disc also has the original theatrical trailer :  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fWDTw7IjeiI

 

The BLU RAY also has a reversible cover, using the more politically safe version, or the or original poster and art.

This is a fun action adventure and a good addition to any fans of
Westerns
-Blaxploitation
-Fred Williamson.

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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PIRATES OF BLOOD RIVER (Twilight Time Blu Ray

 

PIRATES OF BLOOD RIVER (Hammer/Columbia,1962) Twilight Time Blu Ray. 87 min. Color. $29.95. Region Free (A/B/C). https://www.twilighttimemovies.com/pirates-of-blood-river-the-blu-ray/ Limited to 3,000 copies.

Hammer in the late 1950s had found a popular and financially profitable niche with their now classic horror films. The studio, however, also produced a wide variety of titles in other genres. Powerful War films (YESTERDAY’S ENEMY, Hammer/Columbia 1959), Comedies (WATCH IT, SAILOR! Hammer/Columbia ,1961), even crime dramas ( HELL IS A CITY, Hammer/Warner Pathe ,1960).
They even made movies for the popular family market U certificate films. In England, to get the “U” (Universally suitable for all) certificate, a film was thought generally acceptable for ages four and up.

SWORD OF SHERWOOD FOREST (Hammer/Columbia, 1960) was a surprise hit, and so Hammer decided more swashbucklers would do the same. Hammer had done a Robin Hood film back in 1954 (THE MEN OF SHERWOOD FOREST) but each of their Robin Hood tales were standalone stories. *

Oddly, Hammer waited two years to do another swashbuckler, but what they came up with was a winner. PIRATES OF BLOOD RIVER was paired with the Ray Harryhausen adaptation of Jules Verne’s MYSTERIOUS ISLAND, and upon its release in July,1962, quickly became the highest grossing double bill in the U.K. that year.

To get that important “U” rating, a gory filmed scene had to be excised. In the film, actress Marie Devereux unfortunately flees into a river filled with piranhas, and as the vicious killers swarm around her, she screams as the water around her turns red with blood. This scene was returned in later versions of the film, including its DVD release in a 2-disc set called ICONS OF ADVENTURE (Sony Home Entertainment,2008. The other titles were Hammer’s THE DEVIL SHIP PIRATES (1964), THE STRANGLERS OF BOMBAY (1959) and TERROR OF THE TONGS (1961)). In fact, PIRATES at various times was rated ‘U’, ‘A’ (Those aged 5 and older admitted, but not recommended for children under 14 years of age) and even an “X” certificate (Suitable for those aged 16 and older (enforced by all councils) due to what scenes were edited in or out of a release.

 

The film opens with a stock shot of a 17th Century sailing vessel (anyone recognize from what movie this was lifted,let me know) and then we are told via credit crawl that the island is a refuge for Huguenots fleeing religious persecution and settling upon an island they named Devon. “But in the years to come, the just laws of the Colony began to yield to greed and tyranny. Happiness became an echo of the past. Freedom-just a memory.”

Now Huguenots were mostly Northern French Protestants who fled for their lives after the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of 24 August – 3 October 1572, wherein Catholics killed over 25,000 Huguenots in the country, only to have the murderers granted amnesty, as well as the edict of Fontainebleau in 1685 wherein the beleaguered religious sect had to convert to Catholicism or risk ruin, imprisonment of worse.

Devon is a British Iron age name derived from Dumnonia, so it is an odd name for French Settlers to choose. Then again, none of the islanders speak French nor even with an accent but sound very British indeed. Maybe they were some Huguenots who fled first from France to England and from there to the New World?

They are an island whose location is never exactly placed, but piranhas mostly reside in the Amazon and certain Brazilian or Venezuelan rivers. We can thus guess that this island is supposedly located in that general region. Not a wise area for the groups to settle, as the Spanish and Portuguese who occupied those countries were Catholics nations.

This, however could explain why they chose to remain so isolated, and established their harsh fundamentalist governing system. Then again, I am perhaps over thinking this fun romp, so back to the story.

Jonathan Standing (American actor Kerwin Mathews ,forever to be remembered for Columbia’s 1957 classic THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD ) is found with Maggie Mason (Marie Devereux in her final appearance in an Hammer film ),the wife of one of the town elders Godfrey Mason (Jack Stewart ,who had appeared in the early Hammer film A CASE FOR P.C. 49,1951), The religious leaders, led by Jonathan’s stern father Jason Standing (Andrew Keir, to me the best Professor Quatermass due to his performance in QUATERMASS & THE PIT for Hammer ,1967).They seek to arrest and punish the lovers but the poor Maggie flees into the river, suffering the fate of the piranhas mentioned earlier. Jason says that it is a judgement of God.

Jonathan is tried by the council, who, led by his father, sentences for him to be sent to a penal colony for 15 years. Jonathan’s sister Bess (Marla Landi, so good in Hammer’s HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES,1959) tells her father that the council is using him. It seems that Henry (American actor Glenn Corbett, who had starred in William Castle’s HOMICIDAL the year prior) says sarcastically says that Jason’s grandfather who helped found the colony and whose carved likeness stands above the courtroom, would be so proud. Jonathan asks that Henry, besides watching over his sister with whom Henry is in love, also watch over Jason’s father until the tyranny is brought down.

 

We then see the cruelty of the mining operations wherein the prisoners are forced to work and be tortured, including leaving Jonathan punished by having his hands tied to a cross beam and dangling above the ground (a form of crucifixion Hammer also used in 1965’s THE SECRET OF BLOOD RIVER). Thank goodness this is family friendly?

Jonathan escapes with an older prisoner who drops dead from exertion. Jonathan flees into the swamps and is presumed killed by the guards. He however, was shot in the arm, and is found by Mack (the great Michael Ripper, who appeared in more Hammer films than any other actor) Hench (Peter Arne, THE HELLFIRE CLUB, Tempean Films,1961) and Brocaire (Oliver Reed, right after his starring role in Hammer’s CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF) and a group of pirates. They bring him to their boat (a wonderful Les Bowie glass matte) and to Captain LaRoche (Christopher Lee, who does speak with a French accent). LaRoche is a soft-spoken, intelligent character, adorned with an eye patch and withered arm and Lee makes the most of his performance. Eleven years later , he donned and eye patch once again and demonstrated his wonderful swordsman skills , with Oliver Reed now an international star in THE THREE MUSKETEERS (Salkind, 1973 ).

 

The pirates say that they would travel back to Jonathan’s colony, which has remained hidden for a 100 year, and help Jonathan establish a just rule, in exchange for a haven and a place they can safely refresh their supplies. They trudge through the river (Michael Ripper disappearing briefly below the surface, Lee trudging on, probably inwardly cursing once again being soaked and walking through muck in another film, like his end in THE MUMMY, Hammer ,1959). Brocaire gets into a fight in the water with another pirate, which is stopped by a stare from the Captain. Filmed in brackish water that smelt awful (Black Park), Oliver Reed got inflamed eyes while Lee got a stomach infection.

Of course, the pirates have no intention of a peaceful co-existence, believing that there is a hidden treasure within the colony. Can Jonathan and the settlers rid themselves of their occupiers?

The film is an exciting, thoughtful thriller. The underlying distrust of an oppressive religious leadership is heavy, considering this is again thought of a family film. Hammer would expand on the idea of Religious close mindedness in greater detail in their horror film TWINS OF EVIL (1971). For the most part, though, this is a thrilling and well-made period adventure piece, that once again Hammer’s wonderful technicians make look so much more expensive than their limited budgets should allow. Michael Ripper has a much larger role than many of his films, and you get to see what a truly fine actor he was. When drunk, he foolishly mocks his Captain, satirizing his bad eye and injured arm.

Now TWILIGHT TIME has released a magnificent blu ray of this fun Hammer action adventure.

The previous Sony DVD was fine, and a bargain when released with the other three titles.

This new Blu Ray release, however, is a revelation. A 1080p High Definition / 2.35:1 / Color print really shows off the Megascope cinematography (kudos to Arthur Grant ,who worked brilliantly at Hammer from 1957 to 1972 ). The colors are incredibly rich, and the sharpness makes this look like a new film rather than a 55-year-old movie.

The 1.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio is surprisingly rich, with the dialogue, soundtrack and effects all quite clear and crisp.

As for extras,

the optional English SDH subtitles are clear and easy to read, following the action and dialogue perfectly.

There is an isolated music and effects track, wherein you can really enjoy how much both add to the enjoyment of this film. Composer Gary Hughes seemed to be Hammer’s going to man for their 60s swashbucklers, as he also composed their THE CRIMSON BLADE (1963), THE DEVIL-SHIP PIRATES (1964), THE VIKING QUEEN (1967) and A CHALLENGE FOR ROBIN HOOD (1967). You also appreciate how much care Hammer put into their sound design, with not only gunshots and screams added in, but so many tiny details that perhaps go unnoticed by most moviegoers that subconsciously make the scene stronger. Kudos to Alfred Cox (sound editor) and Jock May (sound recordist). They also knew when to pull back on sound, as during the wonderfully suspenseful scene between Hench and Brocaire, wherein both men are blindfolded and have a sword fight. It is without music, and the sounds are dropped down to those of clashing blades and items scattered during the conflict.

An informative audio commentary runs the length of the picture (taken from a previous DVD release) with film historian Marcus Hearn (THE HAMMER STORY, co written with Alan Barnes, Titan Books, 1997), who keeps things going by dropping in some wonderful facts, and prodding the memories of writer Jimmy Sangster (who passed away in 2011) and art director Don Mingaye (who is as of this writing, still alive at age 88).

 

They discuss their experiences with the studio, writing and budgeting, memories of various actors (look for Desmond Llewelyn, later gain fame as Q in the James Bond series) and crew, and having to write a pirate movie without a ship (save for the opening stock shot and glass matte). They also verify that director John Gilling was while a brilliant craftsman was subject to mood swings wherein he could be quite nasty. Christopher Lee even found him difficult to work with.The commentators attribute this to a head wound that Gilling had, which left him with a large scar. Gilling did give us several horror classics, such as FLESH & THE FIENDS (Regal 1959) and the Hammer “Cornish “horrors, THE REPTILE and PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES (both 1966). They also talk about how surprised Sammy Davis Jr, a huge Hammer fan, was when he visited the set of this film.

Julie Kirgo as always supplies a nice overview appreciation of the film in the booklet enclosed with the blu ray.

Finally, we get the original theatrical trailer.

Today, to do a pirate film costs over $200 million dollar and is CGI crazy to the point wherein the actors often become ciphers to the visual chaos. However, releases like this show you what talent before and behind the camera could do with a very small budget.

Recommended to fans of Hammer, Christopher Lee, and adventure fans of all ages (just watch out for those piranhas!).

-Kevin G Shinnick

 

*-the other Hammer Robin Hood film was A CHALLENGE FOR ROBIN HOOD (Hammer/Warner Pathe ,1967). WOLFSHEAD: THE LEGEND OF ROBIN HOOD was a failed tv pilot from 1969 that Hammer acquired but did not produce, and released theatrically as a B feature in 1973.

 

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