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KISS OF DEATH (Twilight Time Blu Ray)

KISS OF DEATH. (Twilight Time Blu Ray) 20th Century Fox 1947. B&W. 99 minutes. Region Free. $29.95 .Limited to pressing of 3,000 discs. https://www.twilighttimemovies.com/kiss-of-death-blu-ray/

People who have never seen the complete film know of it due to the iconic scene of a giggling insane Tommy Udo (essayed by Richard Widmark in his stunning film debut) pushing a helpless wheelchair bound woman (Mildred Dunnock) down a flight of stairs as she screams in abject horror.

 

KISS OF DEATH is a classic example of film noir that needs to be in every film lovers collection. Dark storytelling with the sense that violence and death permeates the entire story. Shot mostly in New York City at many actual locations (though, in my humble opinion, I think the interior apartment scenes and stairwells are sets, as knowing the size of the old Mitchell 35mm cameras, as well as lights needed, that is a heck of a lot of equipment and people to squeeze into such small spaces, not to mention loading in and out). around the city.

Ex con Nick Bianco (Victor Mature, at the height of his stardom) and three others botch a jewel robbery that results in Nick getting arrested.

Rather than turn on his accomplices, Nick is sentenced to twenty years at Sing Sing Prison. Nick thinks that his accomplices will protect his family, but three years into his stretch, Nick’s wife commits suicide and his two daughters are sent to an orphanage. Nick tries to make a deal with the Assistant D.A. D’Angelo (Brian Donlevy) but too much time has passed to make a deal. However, if Nick will help the A.D.A. on another case, Nick will get paroled.

 

 

 

On the streets, Tommy Udo(Widmark)who served time with Nick, tracks down the mother of Rizzo. Rizzo, who is unseen in the film, was supposed to guard Mrs. Bianco, but instead it was hinted that he raped her, which resulted in her committing suicide. Tommy looks up to Nick (and many critics feel an almost homoerotic passion) and so when Rizzo’s mother (Dunnock) lies to him, we end up with the famous stairwell killing.

Udo tries to show off to Bianco, taking him to various establishments and talks freely about his previous crimes, to impress his “friend”. Nick, however, turns the info over to the Assistant District Attorney, who indicts Udo and grants Nick his pardon.

Nick tries to restart his life on the straight and narrow, marrying friend Nettie Cavallo (Coleen Gray ) who used to baby sit his daughters when he first went to prison. However, despite evidence, Udo is acquitted and wants revenge.

The film when it was first released was not an enormous success, but over the years its status has grown to where it is now acknowledged as one of the great film noirs of all time.

The film has been available on video and DVD in previous releases from Fox Video, but TWILIGHT TIME has really gone all out with its definitive release of this classic piece of cinema.

First off, the 1080p High Definition scan has increased the sharpness of the imagery, showing off the beautiful cinematography of Norbert Brodine. Brodine began working in the silent era (including Lon Chaney’s A BLIND BARGAIN, Goldwyn,1922), and during the early sound period he hopped around from major studios to independents (Bela Lugosi’s THE DEATH KISS, KBS,1932; DELUGE, Tiffany 1933) before finding a home at Hal Roach (TOPPER ,1937; OF MICE & MEN,1939; ONE MILLION B.C.,1939).

By the mid-1940s, he went over to Fox, where he had prior to KISS OF DEATH had lensed the noirish HOUSE ON 92nd STREET (1945).and the overlooked gem SOMEWHERE IN THE NIGHT (1946). His black and white photography has deep blacks and various shades of gray.

The sound is mono (DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0) and there is really no need for surround sound, as the music dialogue and sound effects are crisp and crackle free. David Buttolph’s music is sparse but always efficient when used.

As to extras:

There are two audio commentary tracks that are well worth listening to.

Original to this release are popular Twilight Time Film Historians Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman, who have a more conversational style and while knowledgeable, still have the joy of fans.

Kirgo, for example, points out that she grew up in NYC and recalls how it looked somewhat as the film presented it. They also go into the homoerotic feelings that Widmark’s character may have had for Mature (“Ya can’t have fun with dames about”).and how Widmark originally thought the script hilarious (!) and read the script to friends in the voice he used in the movie. It made me wonder if the erotic undertone was added by Widmark, similar to  what Stephen Boyd did years later to Charlton Heston in BEN HUR (MGM,1959).

Ported over from the prior Fox Film Noir series DVD release is the Audio Commentary with Film Historians James Ursini and Alain Silver has a more scholarly tone but never monotonic while delivering so much information on the making of the film and behind the scenes going ons (for example, Miss Dunnock had to be flung down the stairs TWICE because the cameraman was not ready!). They also discuss the (loose )1995 remake.

The music score is also available on a separate audio track. The trailer features legendary columnist Walter Winchell praising the film with hyperbole that must have made the publicity team go crazy about. The optional white English subtitles are clean and easy to read, and follow the dialogue and action.

Get it and add it to your collection or Tommy may have to visit you!

 

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Kevin G Shinnick

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Riccardo Freda: The Life and Works of a Born Filmmaker

Riccardo Freda: The Life and Works of a Born Filmmaker
Roberto Curti Price: $45.00 40 photos, notes, filmography, bibliography, index
376pp. softcover (7 x 10)McFarland  2017                                                http://www.mcfarlandbooks.com/book-2.php?id=978-1-4766-6970-0

Like many American film fans, my knowledge of director Ricardo Freda was mostly limited to his
Horror films I Vampiri /THE DEVIL’S COMMANDMENT (Titanus,1957),Caltiki il mostro immortale /CALTIKI,THE IMMORTAL MONSTER(Lux,1959),L’orrible segreto del Dr. Hichcock /THE HORRIBLE DOCTOR HITCHCOCK(Panda,1962) and Lo specttro /THE GHOST (Panda,1963).

• However, Freda had a career in cinema that lasted from 1937 (Lasciate ogni speranza /LEAVE ALL HOPE ,Juventus Film) until 1994 (La fille de d’Artagnan /REVENGE OF THE MUSKETEERS ,Canal+ )starting and ending his career as a writer.

• Writer Roberto Curti of Cortona Italy has done a remarkable job tracking down an amazing amount of information on Freda’s life and career.His love for the subject comes though with his very detailed synopses of these rarely seen (outside of certain countries), providing the history behind many of them, production facts, and their success or failure in various territories as well as changes made to them .

Curti uses Freda’s memoir Divoratori di celluloide (Emme Edizioni (1981),164 pages)as a starting point ,but also researching though film magazines and newspapers from several countries, as well as tracking down and watching the titles from the director’s long career. Curti points out that the director could often be petty and recall incidents that might not always match the facts.Curti’s interviews and research sometimes contradicts what Freda put into his book.

• Still ,the Egyptian born Italian director lived La Dolce Vita, being an extravagant personal spender and gambler as well as womanizer. It is ironic that he despised films like Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (Riama,1960) as well as the entire neo-realist movement of films like Ladri di biciclette/THE BICYCLE THIEF(Ente Nazionale,1948).

He was more a storyteller who felt that film should be escapist,and take us out of reality. Not only did he have those skills, he was also able to make limited budgets look richer than they were, due to his understanding of film editing and camera placement ,as well as working with innovators like the great Mario Bava. Indeed, the short tempered Freda walked off the set of a I Vampiri ,leavinng it to be  finished by Bava. We see throughout the book that Freda had a habit of walking off set, much to the detriment of his films and career.  I Vampiri has an important place in Italian horror films ,as it was the country’s first true sound horror film (the first Italian horror film may have been Il monstro di Frankenstein(1920) a now sadly lost silent picture).

Freda had prior to I Vampiri had done a lot of regional comedies ( he cared little for the comics in many of his films ,but put in many physical gags inspired by the likes of Buster Keaton ,historical dramas and swashbucklers . Indeed ,his love of classic novels and adventure tales seemed to have merged into Caccia all’umo /LES MISERABLES( Lux,1952) ,making it more of an action thriller!

His swashbucklers seemed to have broken new ground in storytelling in Italy, being more inspired by American filmmakers than the home grown artisans. His love of tracking shots to get a lot of detail within a long take was developed during this period .Having reviewed the Italian historical drama La cena delle beffe / THE JESTER’s SUPPER* (Società Italiana Cines,1942 ,not by Freda, but by a contemporary),I would love to see more these  rarely motion pictures                (see review at https://scarletthefilmmagazine.wordpress.com/2017/05/07/the-jesters-supper-dvd/ ) .

Freda also was one of the first to leap into the sword and sandal films ,even telling an earlier version of the tale of SPARTACUS(Spartaco(API,1953),released in the U.S. by RKO as SINS OF ROME ). He hopped from genre to genre with various budgets and varying success. Comedy (at which he seemed to have a lot of success),drama ,spy thrillers ,Krimi( he faced off and WON against the antagonistic Klaus Kinski) ,swashbucklers,historicals, and of course horror.

His indifference to some parts of the movies he made show with some sloppy work (in ROGER LA HONTE( Comptoir Francais du Film Production ,1966,one of his later films with a decent budget, he allows a major stunt to show clearly that a “woman” passenger is actually a stunt man since his trousers are clearly visible ),as well as his indifference to actors (he was notorious for using doubles when actors gave him any grief). Yet in staging ,he often surpassed the budget with strong imagery and tracking shots that convey a lot of information .Plus several actors who worked with him praised the director .

Curti’s book makes me want to revisit several of Freda’s films and seek out some of his rarities. Curti has done what any film researcher should do, and that is evaluate and place into historical context the work of the subject.

McFarland is to be commended once again for putting out such a detailed volume about a filmmaker not as well known as perhaps he should be. Each film has b&w illustrations of the film posters or on set photographs, The graphics are sharp and easy to see.

This is a MUST HAVE for lovers of film, especially for those who love Euro-Cinema.

Highly Recommended.

Kevin G Shinnick

 

                  "Acquista il libro o ti farò del male ..."

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The Jester’s Supper (DVD)

SCARLET THE FILM MAGAZINE DVD REVIEW
THE JESTER’S SUPPER (La Cena delle Beffe) 1942 Italy 82 minutes B&W –Historical Drama – $19.95 from CAV Distributing Corp / One 7 Movies. Region 0 DVD available through http://www.oldies.com/product-view/83234O.html as well as Amazon and others.

 

 
Thanks to Turner Classics, I have been on a foreign film binge of late so the arrival of this DVD could not have been better timed.

 

 

 
The film THE JESTER’S SUPPER (la Cena delle Beffe) was an extremely popular costume drama produced during WWII. For those who think Italian Cinema began with the neo- realists after the war, this film will come as something of a revelation. With the output from Hollywood cut off, the Italian populace truly embraced their home grown productions. The Fascist government, under son, Vittorio, realized the power of film, sponsor movies (even constructing Cinecittà studios) but their films were mostly of a propaganda nature. However, they also produced comedies and historical dramas that rivaled American productions with their artistry and skills.

 
THE JESTER’S SUPPER is based upon a popular play by the Italian writer Sem Benelli, which was first staged in Italy in 1909. In 1919 the play was put on in New York City . The play was the basis for an opera La cena delle beffe composed by Umberto Giordano with a libretto written by Benelli himself. It premiered at La Scala Opera House in 1924.

 

 

 

The film was shot at Cinecitta using leftover sets from a previous big budget epic from 1941 La corona di ferro (The Iron Crown). Set in Renaissance era, two aristocratic brothers, Neri (Amadeo Nazzari) & Gabriello (Alfredo Varelli ) Chiaramantesi, have been abusing the people of Florence with impunity due to their power and station. Things begin to change when Neri dares to ravage Ginevera (Clara Calamai) in front of her lover Giannetto Malespini (Giannetto Malespini) then toss him into the river. He survives, and what happens next is a tale of revenge best served Italian style.

 

 
Amadeo Nazzari, usually a hero, was cast against type and played the lecherous villain here. He usually sported a mustache and I could see why .Even clean shaven, here he resembles Errol Flynn. Amazingly, he turned down Mussolini’s request to join the Fascist Party and yet continued to have a successful career during the War years. He played a movie star (!) in Fellini’s classic Le notti di Cabiria/ NIGHTS OF CABRIA (1957).

 
Valentina Cortese, then 19, appearing as Lisabetta, is perhaps best remembered (she is still alive at this writing, age 94!) for her Oscar nominated turn in Truffaut’s La Nuit américaine /DAY FOR NIGHT (1973).

 


THE JESTER’s SUPPER boasts one of Italian Cinema’s first topless nudity scenes, when actress Clara Calamai has her top torn from her by the lustful Neri. In interviews, Calamai had not wanted to do the scene, but felt compelled to by the director. That quick flash of nudity is a reason that people went to see the film again and again. Though often cited as the first bit of nudity in an Italian sound film, Vittoria Carpi showed a bare breast for a moment in THE IRON CROWN/La corona di ferro  (1941)   which was also directed by Blasetti. Horror fans may recall Calamai from Dario Argento’s Profondo rosso /DEEP RED (1975) coming out of retirement to portray the eccentric matriarch, Marta.

A kissing scene and the topless scene both appear in the final montage of CINEMA PARADISO (1988).( http://www.filmsite.org/cinemaparadisokisses.html )
Some of the performers did not live long after WWII. Due to their Fascists leanings, both Osvaldo Valenti and his pregnant mistress Luisa Ferida, who appeared in several movies together, were executed without trail on the streets by partisans.


Director Alessandro Blasetti was called the father of Italian Cinema because he led to the revival of Italian Cinema in the 1930s and becoming one of the leading figures during the Fascist era. He is also known as one of the first directors of what became Italian neorealism with his 1942 film Quattro passi Fra le nuvole /FOUR STEPS IN THE CLOUDS. Amazingly, even though he seemed to have strong ties with the Fascists government, it does not seem to have affected his career, as he is listed as having made films after the War from 1946 to 1969.

 

 
The print used by ONE7 MOVIES is incredibly sharp, with just a little digital artifacting appearing on certain shots. The subtitles (which have an on/off option) are quite easy to read .The sound is clear and the score by Giuseppe Becce sounds rich even in its original mono sound. The only extra is a brief photo gallery that appears to be frame blow ups.

 

 

 
Raccomandato (recommended!).
-Kevin G Shinnick

(originally published on SCARLET THE FILM MAGAZINE REVIEWS FACEBOOK PAGE,May 18, 2015. Updated May 7,2017)

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PANTHER GIRL OF THE KONGO (Republic,1955){Olive Films Blu Ray,2017}

PANTHER GIRL OF THE KONGO (REPUBLIC,1955) {OLIVE FILMS BLU RAY,2017} 2 HRS 48 Min. B&W. DTS-HD Master Audio English. Optional English subtitles. $29.95. https://olivefilms.com/product/panther-girl-of-the-kongo/ (Also on DVD for $19.95

 

Olive Films has done a masterful job of releasing Republic’s penultimate movie serial (the final and 66th one, KING OF THE CARNIVAL, was released later in 1955).

 

Filmed between 16 August and 4 September 1954 as “Panther WOMAN of the Kongo”, the 12-chapter serial was filmed on a budget of $179,341. To put it in perspective, Roger Corman filmed the 69-minute APACHE WOMAN (ARC) that same year for $80,000 and Ed Wood shot his 75-minute BRIDE OF THE MONSTER (Banner) for $70,000.

 

To stretch their budget, Republic had star Phyllis Coates (Lois Lane for the first season of T.V.’s ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN (Motion Pictures for Television,1952) wear the same outfit as Frances Gifford wore in the earlier 22nd Republic serial JUNGLE GIRL (1941) and a lot of footage was lifted from this earlier serial. By the way,14 years earlier the 15-chapter JUNGLE GIRL had cost $177,404!!

Jean Evans is a jungle adventurer who is handy with both a rifle and a camera. Due to a past incident wherein she saved the village, the Utanga tribe refer to her as Panther GIRL (Ms. Coates, who is still alive today at age 90, was 28 at the time.). While out on a photo shoot for a foundation, they spy some very large crustaceans. The natives suggest she get Larry Sanders (Myron Healey in a rare good guy role), a great white hunter.

 

Evil chemist Dr. Morgan (Arthur Space, a nicer doctor on T.V.’s LASSIE (20th Century Fox,1954-71)) has discovered an abandoned gold mine in the area is full of diamonds (when life gives you lemons….) which he covets. To scare of the natives and interlopers, he has developed is “hormone compound “(steroid abuse even then??) to turn ordinary crawfish into the giant ‘Devil Beasts”.

Since the monsters do not scare off Evans and Sanders, Dr Morgan enlists human goons Cass (character actor John Day) & Rand (Mike Ragan, more commonly seen in westerns) who use the personal touch of shooting at, and knock down fights with Sanders, with heroine often knocked out or tied up.

The Lydecker Brothers, wizards of special effects, did what they could to make crawfish look gigantic. Mostly it involved the hard-shelled stars on miniature sets or people against rear screen projections. The interaction involves one giant claw reaching from above rocks of from off frame to grab Panther Girl or some poor native. I wonder if Roger Corman somehow got it and used the claw for his late ATTACK OF THE CRAB MONSTERS(A.A.,1957). Probably inspired by the giant ants in THEM! (WB,1954), these creatures also have a mighty roar. Bert I Gordon must have studied this serial, as many of his effects seem to be inspired by the techniques used here (his first film KING DINOSAUR, Lippert,1955, used a lizard magnified via rear projection and double exposure).

What is interesting for a film of the period is that there is no romance between the two leads. Maybe the studio felt that the youngsters would not put up with “icky kissing” getting in the way of the monsters, fistfights, and perils. The villain, too, is not out to rule the world as many serial villains seemed to be trying to attempt, but was motivated by old fashioned greed.

 

What does date the film in many cringe worthy ways are its portrayal of the natives. Easily frightened and superstitious, they are often reliant on the white actors to protect them. They speak in pidgin English, and another tribe (The Returi) is bribed to attack the heroes after being bribed by an elixir (alcohol!).

Plus, for the title character, Panther Girl seems to spend a lot of time tied up, screaming, or knocked out while Sanders punches and shoots his way out of the situation. She is also grabbed by the claw at one point and later ape handled by a murderous gorilla (ape specialist Steve Calvert). A lot of Jean Evans‘ action are lifts from JUNGLE GIRL of her swinging from vines and riding an elephant. She does save Sanders (the name maybe a reference to “Sanders of The River” by Edgar Wallace (U.K. first edition by Ward, Lock & Co. (1911))?) from quicksand*, so she is not completely unhelpful.

The production has a very studio bound feel to it, like many television productions of the time. Republic, through its subsidiary, Hollywood Television Service, had been involved with the earlier COMMANDO CODY (1953). The 12-part serial had been originally envisioned as a television series with each chapter running about 25 minutes. The serial finally aired on NBC television in 1955, the year PANTHER GIRL OF THE KONGO was released. One wonders if this too was planned as a television series?

During the 1950s up to the 1970s, movie serials, especially those from Republic, were aired on television regularly. In 1966, it was edited into a 100-minute feature called THE CLAW MONSTERS. When Super 8 home theatre came out, it was released in silent and sound edits. In the 1990s, they started to receive less air time. The home video market kept the titles out in front of fans for many years thereafter, but few have been released in their entirety on DVD and Blu Ray.

The print quality is of the high standard we have come to expect from Olive Films. The picture is quite sharp with few blemishes. The sound is DTS-HD Master 2.0, though the sound has not been remixed to make use of the new sound systems but instead is a clear replica of the original track. The optional yellow English subtitles are very legible and follow the dialogue and action.

Oddly, there were no extras, not even a trailer. It is a shame, as the trailer is unique, with the star narrating part of it before an announcer takes over:

 

For fans of Republic Serials or the lovely Phyllis Coates, this is one you will want to add to your collection.

Kevin G Shinnick

*- Coates once recalled in an interview that after filming in the swamp, Healey insisted the two of them go get penicillin shots!

 

 

No animals were harmed during the making of the film, though I assume many of the monsters met a boiling pot of water for the wrap party .

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THE VAMPIRE BAT(Restored)

THE VAMPIRE BAT (1933) –FILM DETECTIVE (BLU RAY ) $19.99. Restored. Release date : April 25,2017 . 63 min. Region 1. B&W with tinted sequences. https://www.amazon.com/Vampire-Bat-Special-Detective-Restored/dp/B01LTIAUJ2/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1490377335&sr=8-1&keywords=vampire+bat+the+film+detective+restored+version

Also available on DVD for $14.99.
Throw out those other public domain videos and DVDs that you may have of this 1933 film. Film Detective has just released a magnificent UCLA Film and TV Archive restoration that reveals details often lost in murky and dark copies of this film. Not only that, there is an hereto unseen (at least by this writer) hand tinted sequence that alone makes this disc a must have.

Majestic Pictures began releasing films in 1925 under the state’s rights system of distribution. Unlike the major studios who had hubs throughout the country ,smaller independents would sell or lease their product on a local, territorial basis . The distributors would each handle a certain region (or sometimes just a certain state) and release the films in that territory.

In 1935, Herbert J Yates, who owned the Consolidated Film Industries film developing laboratories, decided that he wanted to get into direct film production .Six smaller independents were forced to merge under the new Republic banner or face foreclosure on outstanding lab bills. Among the studios that were folded under the new banner was Majestic. Until then, Majestic produced slicker fare than many of their other rivals, using bigger name stars and renting out space from larger motion picture companies.

Among Majestic’s releases were THE SINS OF NORA MORAN (1933) starring Zita Johann (best remembered for starring in Universal’s 1932 classic THE MUMMY), THE WORLD GONE MAD(also 1933, with Pat O’Brien,Evelyn Brent ,and Neil Hamilton (later tv’s Commissioner Gordon on BATMAN) and the first sound version of THE SCARLET LETTER(1934) starring Colleen Moore and Henry B Walthall (a D.W. Griffith stock company star,who had played the same role of Chillingworth in the 1926 silent version). Certain Majestic Pictures were produced by real estate developer Phil Goldstone . Goldstone was wealthy enough that he could invest in movies while the rest of the country was suffering through the effects of the Stock Market Crash and Depression.

That may be one of the ways that he was able to afford to rent the Universal European Street sets (destroyed in a fire in 1967) as well as many studio interior sets, giving their low budget THE VAMPIRE BAT such a polished look. Also helpful was their hiring of such well known stars as Fay Wray and Lionel Atwill (making this their third hiss and scream pairing, the previous being W.B.’s DOCTOR X (1932) and MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM (1933),as well as Dwight Frye (Broadway star now doomed to forever play variations of twitchy half mad characters due to his outstanding performance in Universal’s DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN (both1931) )and Melvyn Douglas (fresh off of Universal’s THE OLD DARK HOUSE (1932) and playing in a similar light disbelieving manner) .

Director Frank R Strayer had been directing films since the mid 1920s and had done the poverty row THE MONSTER WALKS (Ralph M Like Productions,1932) prior to getting this assignment. He directed in a fast ,no nonsense style, but also had some fairly elaborate camera set ups and moves in this picture that are quite effective .

Later, Strayer would direct CONDEMNED TO LIVE (Invincible ,1935 )another vampire film variant that like THE VAMPIRE BAT also at one point used Bronson Canyon.

 

Screenwriter Edward T Lowe,Jr had written the earlier mentioned WORLD GONE MAD and later moved up to bigger studio productions, writing several Charlie Chan and Bulldog Drummond films , before returning to vampires with his one two punch of HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (Universal,1944)and HOUSE OF DRACULA (Universal ,1945).

 

Cinematographer Ira H. Morgan had begun with Gaumont News before switching to lensing features . His sound era films seem all to be for smaller studios like PRC (FOG ISLAND,1945),his last work being for Bert I Gordon,THE CYCLOPS(Allied Artists,1957),filming once again around – Bronson Canyon!! His other work is always competent, but never as assured as it seems to be in THE VAMPIRE BAT.

 

Charles D Hall is credited with art direction, but his work on this project may have been minor, as again it mostly standing sets on the Universal backlot.

 

Set in a fairytale -like Teutonic Village of Kleinschloss (German for small castle,so even the budget affected the name ! ),the setting,like many Universal horror films of the 1930s, is a mix of modern day (the outfits and medical equipment )and unnamed past era (the village and villagers).

 

Several of the local villagers have been found drained of blood with two puncture marks upon their throat. The Burgomeister (Lionel Belmore, the Burgomeister from FRANKENSTEIN, and a council member in SON OF FRANKENSTEIN(1939,Universal),talking of type casting!)and the village elders suspect it to be the work of a vampire. The Police Chief Karl (Melvyn Douglas) pooh poohs these notions . He turns to Dr Niemann (Lionel Atwill) . Niemann does not dismiss the villagers ideas out of hand ,much to Karl’s annoyance. Making it easier is Karl’s romance with the lovely Ruth (Fay Wray).

 

Suspicion falls on village simpleton Herman (Dwight Frye)who has the innocence of a child ,but has an odd habit of keeping bats as pets .

 

Padding the film out to a feature length is (not very) comic relief is Karl’s hypochondriac Aunt Gussie (Maude Eburne,theatre trained actress who often played humorous characters, and appeared in films like THE BAT WHISPERS (United Artists,1930)and the little seen Columbia thriller FOG (1933). Here, you really want the killer to get her,though it is more the writing than her performance.

THE VAMPIRE BAT title is a bit misleading, as the ending veers a bit into a science fiction explanation. Still, it remains a superb example of early Gothic horror,and at a crisp 63 minutes, does not overstay its welcome.

As stated earlier ,the FILM DETECTIVE print comes from a restored fine grain print and it is indeed a revelation.The image is incredibly sharp ,and details often lost in more murky prints now stand out. For example, early in the film, the town lamplighter Kringen (George E Stone) looks up at the rooftops late at night. In the past, we could never see what he was staring at, but now we see a shadowy leap from one roof to another ! Miss Wray is photographed beautifully,with her natural red hair rather than the blonde look so familiar to all from KING KONG (RKO,1933).

 

 

Most interesting is seeing a sequence with the villagers carrying torches ,the flames of which have been hand tinted red yellow and orange. It is quite eye catching and I was unaware that it had ever been done to this film. Hand tinting had been used in other films to give them a bit of punch . Bela Lugosi’s THE DEATH KISS (K.B.S.,1932)hand tinted a few frames of a gun firing for a shock effect . Other films were often tinted for effect, but not so easy was the hand tinting used in these films.

 

Besides the magnificent print, FILM DETECTIVE has also for the first time that I am aware of added a commentary track. They have chosen film historian (he had worked on the film magazine SCREEN THRILLS ILLUSTRATED) and film producer/director Samuel M Sherman (Independent International). Sam is a very nice and knowledgeable man, but he needed a co-commentator to keep him focused. His commentary track is quite monotonic and often sounds as if he is reading from notes ,and for lengths of time does not comment on the action on screen.

 

What he does do is provide incredible research on producer Phil Goldstone (how he generously allowed soldiers to stay gratis in his hotels rather than have them stay on the streets,as well as how he got into film production) as well as who did the actual hand tinting of the film (Gustav Brock).

The other extra is a newly shot featurette with the son of Melvyn Douglas, Gregory Hassleberg.
(Melvyn) Gregory Hesselberg was born in 1926 to Douglas and his first wife Rosalind Hightower .When they divorced, Gregory stayed with his mother and did not see his father for years. Douglas married actress Helen Gahagan (SHE ,RKO,1935)and later Douglas petitioned and won the right for Gregory to live with them . Gregory Hassleberg has fond memories of his father,coming to discover how truly talented he was by watching him perform. It is a nice little insight into the fine actor.

FILM DETECTIVE is to be highly commended for this release, and it deserves to be added to the collection of every classic horror film buff.

Recommended.

Kevin G Shinnick

Don’t forget to vote for SCARLET for this year’s RONDO AWARDS (2016) under category #17, best website or blog of 2016. Thank you.

http://rondoaward.com/rondoaward.com/blog/

 

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THE MAD MAGICIAN (Twilight Time Blu Ray)

 

The Mad Magician 2D/3D (Columbia,1954) Twilight Time Blu Ray $29.95   B&W .72min. https://www.twilighttimemovies.com/mad-magician-the-3d-blu-ray/

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Classic horror fans and Vincent Price fans will want to add this often overlooked film.

Created to cash in on the huge success of HOUSE OF WAX (W.B.,1953), this Columbia film not only used 3-D ,but also borrowed the same star and set their plot in the same period. The decision to shoot the film in black and white may have been a cost saving decision (or as is said on one of the Blu Ray extras, an artistic choice),but it may be why this film is not as popular as Price’s previous period horror film with modern audiences.

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In the film’s favor was a superb cast ,led by Price and a director who knew his way around period thrillers. That director was John Brahm. Brahm had directed two of the best Jack The Ripper inspired films of all time ,THE LODGER (Fox,1944 ) and HANGOVER SQUARE(Fox ,1945),both starring Laird Cregar.

The screenplay was by former actor Crane Wilbur (he had co-starred with Pearl White in the original silent serial PERILS OF PAULINE (General Film Co.,1914)turned playwright and screenwriter.

Wilbur had written a Broadway thriller called OUIJA BOARD in 1920 , but his next play is better known.

THE MONSTER (1922) was later adapted into a Lon Chaney film for MGM . Wilbur hopped back and forth from actor to writer to director on stage and screen before settling down as a script writer. He worked on the screenplay for the spooky thriller THE SPIRITUALIST/THE AMAZING MR X (Eagle Lion,1948) (influenced by his early play OUIJA BOARD?), before working for producer Bryan Foy on the political thriller I WAS A COMMUNIST FOR THE F.B.I. (W.B,1951).

Foy obviously liked his work, as he hired Wilbur to write HOUSE OF WAX . Wilbur wrote for Price one more time with his adaptation of the old stage play THE BAT (A.A.,1959).

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Wilbur may have been responsible for Lenita Lane appearing in THE MAD MAGICIAN, as she was his wife in real life. She also appeared in other screenplays by him. A fine actress in her own right, it is a shame we did not see her in more films (her final appearance was in her husband’s THE BAT, which he also directed).

At the end of the 19th Century, Don Gallico (Vincent Price) works for Illusion Incorporated Company, owned by Ross Ormond (Donald Randolph, later General Mark Ford in THE DEADLY MANTIS(Universal,1957)). The company creates stage effects for magicians, and Gallico has decided that he would like to strike out on his own as an illusionist. He is told, however that even though he created the illusions on his own time ,their contract has proprietary rights to any effects that Gallico creates. Ormond has little respect for his valued employee, having cuckolded Gallico by wooing away his wife Claire (Eva Gabor ,most famous for the tv series GREEN ACRES (Filmways ,1965-71)who had tied of being poor.

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To add insult, Gallico is forced to demonstrate his newest creation, a buzz saw that apparently decapitates anyone placed upon tithe Great Rinaldi (John Emery, who portrayed Dr. Karl Eckstrom in ROCKETSHIP X-M (Lippert ,1950) and in real life was often rumored to be an illegitimate son of John Barrymore!) feels that this is just the piece he wants for his act.

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After Rinaldi leaves, Gallico snaps and kills Ormond with the buzz saw device (the murder is not shown just the insane glee on Price’s face ). Luckily, Gallico is also a master of disguise (and obviously the innovator of slip rubber life masks!) and makes himself up to resemble Ormond to set up an alibi and get rid of the remains.

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When Ormond does not appear after a few days ,the police begin to investigate. By coincidence (or screenwriter Wilbur) Detective Alan Bruce (Patrick O’Neal, later himself to star as the baddie in a HOUSE OF WAX inspired period tv film that was released theatrically, CHAMBER OF HORRORS (WB,1966), who is investigating the mystery, is also the boyfriend of Karen (Mary Murphy, the ‘good girl’ from THE WILD ONE, Columbia,1953) Gallico’s assistant.

Gallico commits a few more murders in various disguises ,disposing of one body in a bonfire (similar to a major sequence in John Brahm’s own HANGOVER SQUARE) . The murders also draw the attention of a plucky female writer ,Alice Prentiss (Lenita Lane).Who will survive the vengeance of THE MAD MAGICIAN ?

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A fun ,quick (72 minutes), there is a strong sense of déjà vu if you had seen HOUSE OF WAX, but the film also solidifies the template for the later Price “Vengeance” horror films like THE ABOMINABLE DR PHIBES(AIP,1971) and THEATRE OF BLOOD(U.A.,1973) with elaborate murders and disguises.

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Price relishes his role, and gives it his all. It is odd seeing Patrick O’Neal as a hero in this his film debut (the Actor’s Studio trained actor had appeared on television prior) but he acquits himself nicely. Lenita Lane is sort of an gay 90s version of Lois Lane . The entire supporting cast fills their roles marvelously .

The direction by Brahm is solid ,though many feel he doesn’t take full advantage of the three dimensional process. I and many others feel he used it sparingly to emphasize certain images by dramatic placement rather than always throwing things into the lens(which he also does ,though, during Price’s magic acts).

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TWILIGHT TIME has done an amazing job with this disc. The 50GB Blu Ray is REGION FREE ,and limited to a pressing of only 3,000 . The 1.85:1 1080p transfer is incredibly sharp in either 2 or 3D. The Grayscale is very rich and compliments the cinematography of Bert Glennon (also from HOUSE OF WAX). The film seems to have strong grain but that appears to be from the original negative . The DTS-HD MA 1.0 mono track sound is clear and hiss free.

There are a lot of extras on this disc :

-First off , as mentioned ,the film can be watched either 3-D(you need a monitor and Blu Ray Player that allows this) or in regular 2-D.

Audio Commentary :There is a wonderful running audio commentary by David Del Valle and Steve Peros   , discussing the behind the scenes production of the film and the careers of many of those involved , as well as the 3-D phenomenon of the era. You can hear in their voices that they are truly enjoying this film (and who can blame them?) .

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Isolated Music Score : You can hear the score by Arthur Lange (composer ,music director ,and orchestrator of over 200 scores, often uncredited) and Emil Newman ( brother of Alfred & Lionel Newman, and composer in his own right on such films as UNDYING MONSTER (Fox,1942)),as well as the Theremin played by Dr. Samuel Hoffman, the former violinist whose eerie playing of Léon Theremin ‘s invention graced the scores of films since SPELLBOUND (Selznick Intenational,1945). Dr. Hoffman’s work appeared in films both big budget (THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, Fox ,1951) to low budget (BILLY THE KID VS DRACULA, Embassy 1966), usually uncredited.

 

51332560aefeb575e790ed3e7429bc17Master of Fright :Conjuring “The Mad Magician”- Ballyhoo Motion Pictures, under direction by Daniel Griffith, have been providing some of the best making of bonus features for Shout Factory. Now , also working for TWILIGHT TIME, they continue the superb must watch documentaries that they are noted for .Between this and the audio commentary, you get a wonderful history of this film.

Two THREE STOOGES 3-D Short subjects : SPOOKS and PARDON MY BACKFIRE (both Columbia 1953)normal-randall-spooks

SPOOKS was the 148th of the 190 short subjects that the comedy team made for the studio. The boys (Moe & Shemp Howard, plus Larry Fine) are private eyes whose search for a missing girl (this was actress Norma Randals largest role of note) brings them into contact with Dr. Jeckyl (character actor Phillip Van Zandt, who was Muller in HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, Universal 1944) and his brutish helper Mr. Hyde (former boxer Tom Kennedy who was often the heavy to comic greats The Marx Brothers, Laurel & Hardy, and Bob Hope, among others). There is also, of course ,a gorilla (an uncredited Steve Calvert)

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PARDON MY BACKFIRE has the team working as mechanics who capture some on the lam convicts that have the misfortune of pulling into their garage .stooges_pardon_my_backfire

Maybe it was the horror connection, but I felt SPOOKS was the more entertaining of the two. Both films work in 2 as well as three dimension (with hypos, bats, fire, water, and knives being hurled at the audience). The picture and sound quality on both are superb.spookstitle2

-The Original Trailer. Lots of Ballyhoo (That” House of Wax” Man).

themadmagician3d_bdbookletcover_highres__47771_1481961658_1280_1280-Booklet: Once again, TWILIGHT TIME provides another well written information booklet (kudos once again to Julie Kirgo).

THE MAD MAGICIAN leaps to the top of the list for any fan of classic film fans. classic horror fans, 3D lovers, and, of course, Vincent Price followers.

I suggest you order ASAP, as I think that this collectible disc is going to sell out fast!

 HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION.

Kevin G Shinnickmad-magician-debonair

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THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN: The Most Incredible Film Ever Made

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The Incredible Shrinking Man
The Most Incredible Film Ever Made

                                                                            By Randolph Thanos

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“I felt my body dwindling, melting, and becoming nothing. My fears melted away and in their place came acceptance. All this vast majesty of creation it had to mean something and then I meant something too. Yes, smaller than the smallest, I meant something too. To God, there is no zero, I still exist!”

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And those were the final words of The Incredible Shrinking Man in Jack Arnold’s incredibly stunning and visually breathtaking film of the same name.

MATHESON 1957 cover of The Shrinking Man

The Shrinking Man

Released in 1957 with a screenplay by Richard Matheson*, THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN(Universal)  tells the story of Scott Carey, an average guy who is exposed to a mysterious cloud while on a boat at sea. Scott’s skin is covered with a glittering substance that he cannot explain. Scott returns home and he begins shrinking and the only medical explanation is that he has become a victim of atomic fallout. Scott soon shrinks so far down in size that his clothes no longer fit him, he is reduced to living in a doll house and he has to fight off a house cat and spider much larger than himself. Now living as a 3 inch tall man, Scott has now become the hunted and has to fight for his survival in a world that he once towered over.

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I first watched this incredible film in 1972 when I was 9 years old. I wanted to stay up late to watch The Big Show of the Week and the film that was being featured that night was The Incredible Shrinking Man. The Big Show of the Week was normally off limits to this young television viewer so I had to sneak down stairs, sit in the adjoining hallway and watch the film through the living room mirror opposite the television. My parents could not see me so they were oblivious to my special seat and therefore could not refuse me admission.

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It was nothing like my eyes had ever seen before. At the Canadian National Exhibition, I watched a beautiful woman turn into a gorilla that year, I witnessed a horrific car accident and the monster from hell, my French teacher who was really really mean but nothing prepared me for the horrors that would face The Incredible Shrinking Man.

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In one scene, he has to fight off his house cat who now is clawing him down in terror, a once normal sized cat who now towers above him in height and that fight with the spider in the basement is one of the greatest fight for survival scenes in the history of cinema. All I could think about was what it must feel like to shrink so far down in size that one’s life didn’t matter anymore, that one’s life had no more meaning?zz-the-iincredible-shrinking-man-spider-fight-shrinkingman2

 

 

As a child growing up around adults who were much larger than me, I could identify with the discomfort and fears that The Incredible Shrinking Man was feeling, feelings of insignificance and anxiety at the vastness of the world before me. The Incredible Shrinking Man didn’t just terrify me, it made me really think about my own place in the world and since then I must have watched it over a hundred times and each time I am amazed by its cinematic wonder.the-incredible-shrinking-man9

 

 

I especially love The Incredible Shrinking Man because the hero of the story never gives up. Sure he is depressed (wouldn’t you be if you were smaller than a house spider?) but for all his bleakness he proves that big things like a heroic spirit, perseverance and fighting strength comes in a small package, a very small package. The other reason I love this film is because it is a humanity tale of how ones stature in life can become diminished and all hope can be abandoned but one can still plot ones future. Things in the world of The Incredible Shrinking Man do not always turn out the way he has planned but this does not mean that life is not worth living and fighting for.

 

 

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Another reason, I love this film is that it depicts the age old lesson that when life deals you lemons, you make lemonade. If you cannot live in a dollhouse, move to a match box as the hero in the story ends up doing. No matter how large or small we become, the universe is always going to be bigger than us and at some point we must face how insignificant we are in comparison but we can still remember that like The Incredible Shrinking Man, we still exist and it is our existence that gives our life meaning.zz-the-incredible-shrinking-man-scott-carey-in-water-in-cellar-bscap00033cs
The Incredible Shrinking Man is not only ripe with philosophical and metaphysical meaning; it is full of amazing special effects for its time. Director Jack Arnold, who made other fantastic science fiction films like, It Came from Outer Space (Universal 1953   ), Creature from the Black Lagoon(Universal 1954   ) and Tarantula (Universal 1955   ), spent almost a million dollars to make The Incredible Shrinking Man. The special effects were not cheap and technicians worked for almost a year on the photography for the special effects alone. Prior to the days of green screen and CGI, the special effects for this time were created by the film makers incorporating a pain staking process of creating and inventing props and camera manipulation to help the audience accept that what they were watching was real. Giant props were incorporated into filming key scenes to make it appear that actor Grant Williams had really shrunk down in size. Many of the props used were actually constructed just for these incredible scenes such as a gigantic 15 foot mousetrap and a sewing needle over 12 feet long and a match box which towered over Williams. These gigantic props were 40 times larger than normal size. A pair of scissors that weighed 40 pounds, a pencil that was 21 feet long was used in the flooded cellar scene was among the incredible props.incredible-shrinking-man-1

 

One of the pivotal scenes involves an exhausting battle between The Incredible Shrinking Man and a spider. The spider used in the film was an actual tarantula named Tamara and was the same spider used in the film Tarantula. Other fun (?) facts about The Incredible Shrinking Man are that Grant Williams almost died during the shooting from key scenes like the flooded basement where he almost drowned and on another scene he almost faced electrocution. And the remember the scene of the water heater exploding, the giant drops you see falling over the Incredible Shrinking Man were created by filling up condoms with water to create the perfect water drops falling in perfect unison.zz-the-incredible-shrinking-man-scott-carey-in-water-in-cellar-bscap00033cs
Many films I have seen as a 9 year old that have special effects have not really held the test of time, many of these effects now appear cartoonish but the special effects in The Incredible Shrinking Man have held up over the past 50 years because of the painstaking effort that went into them to create such memorable movie scenes not to mention the films central themes of isolation, existentialism, survival and loss that are prevalent in today’s world.

 

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The magic of The Incredible Shrinking Man comes from not only these philosophical and metaphysical themes and the special effects but from the power that the Incredible Shrinking Man is a humanity tale for all times, it is a fantasy yet the viewer is left with the question: What If? What if we did become smaller and had to carefully orchestrate our way through the world that we had once taken for granted? Would we find our meaning in life or just let ourselves shrink away into nothingness? That is the real horror we must not only confront in the world of The Incredible Shrinking Man and that we must confront in our reality today. This is why The Incredible Shrinking Man still fascinates and terrifies me today, more than 50 years after its release. The Incredible Shrinking Man is the most incredible film ever made.

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*-based upon his novel ,”The Shrinking Man” (first published in 1956 by Gold Medal04102015p21pha

 

 

 

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           incredible-shrinking-man-photo-1ism4-e1471641323518                                                                                          (There is trouble in the marriage)

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