WALK A CROOKED MILE (Gordon Douglas, 1948) WALK EAST ON BEACON! (Alfred Werker, 1952) PUSHOVER (Richard Quine, 1954) A BULLET IS WAITING (John Farrow, 1954) CHICAGO SYNDICATE (Fred F Sears, 1955) THE BROTHERS RICO (Phil Karlson, 1957)
And still they keep on coming… Indicator’s fourth sampling of Film Noir according to Harry Cohen’s Columbia kicks in at the point where the genre (though as previously discussed, there those who would dispute that “Noir” is a genre) became contaminated with Cold War paranoia (scant years after Hollywood was lionising Uncle Joe and our Russian allies in the War against Fascism). Shoring up an older alliance, as if in compensation, Walk A Crooked Mile prioritises America’s allegedly special relationship with the Brits, importing Scotland Yard man Philip “Scotty” Greyson (Louis Hayward) to help Federal Bureau Investigator Daniel F. O’Hara (Dennis O’Keefe) nail the source of atomic secrets leaking from the Lakeview Research Centre. Danny Boy (pictured above with Scotty and screaming broad) probably needs all the help he can get, given that one of his agents discounts one suspect as a possible spy / murderer because he was wearing a dog collar when bumping off one of their leads. Surely they can’t miss perpetual hovering heavy Raymond Burr in his cute little Lenin beard, though…
Released the same year as Jules Dassin’s The Naked City, Walk A Crooked Mile makes similarly telling use of its (San Francisco rather than New York) locations and also deploys a voice over narrator (in this case Reed Hadley) and “cast study”approach , devices that feature again in Walk East On Beacon! (and what better trajectory to take after you’ve walked that crooked mile?) The Commie sleeper cell in this one (who’ve kidnapped the son of missile scientist Finlay Currie) is located in Boston and Jim Belden (George Murphy) is the Fed charged with busting their nefarious activities wide open. The performances here are a little more pedestrian and veteran Alfred Werker’s direction is, er, workmanlike throughout (which is to say that his picture is a significantly less compelling proposition than Gordon Douglas’s) and over reliant on endless voice over / caption reminders that J. Edgar Hoover is the only thing standing between law abiding American patriots and the Reds under their beds. We even get stock footage of Hoover thrown in at apposite moments. Maybe it’s not Werker’s fault… I mean, who wrote this thing? (* checks IMDB *)… Jeez, Hoover even gets a co-writing credit. Maybe the filmmakers figured that, like LBJ, they’d be happier with ol’ J. Edgar “inside the tent pissing out rather than outside, pissing in”.
We’re back on more familiar, indeed textbook Noir turf with Pushover… nary a Bolshevik in sight but Kim Novak (in her first credited screen role, as Lona McLane) provides more than adequate recompense. Fred MacMurray has been here before, of course (in Billy Wilder’s classic Double Indemnity, 1944) but obviously didn’t learn his lesson… a pushover indeed, once again embarking upon the primrose path to perdition at the behest of a femme fatale. Oh what a tangled web Fred’s Detective Paul Sheridan weaves as he tries to make off with both Lona and the proceeds of a bungled bank heist. Philip Carey plays Rick McAllister, the cop colleague on his case. Moral ambiguity has always fuelled the finest Noir and Pushover provides it in spades. Roy Huggins’ screenplay was fashioned from two separate novels (Thomas Walsh’s The Night Watch and Bill S. Ballinger’s Rafferty) so hey, they didn’t even require any script input from J Edgar Hoover on this one.
The boundaries of Noir are again being tested in A Bullet Is Waiting, a film that deviates from the classic template in terms of its plotting, rural setting and most disoreintatingly, Franz Planer’s colour cinematography. We’re thrown straight into the action, the aftermath of a plane crash which strands Sheriff Munson (Stephen McNally) and Ed Stone (Rory Calhoun), the alleged murderer he was transporting to custody, in a remote wilderness. There they encounter sassy, androgynous Cally Canham (Jean Simmons), whose father David (absent for much of the picture but played, when he does turn up, by Brian Aherne) has brought her out here on some kind of Walden Pond kick. As the plot thickens, Cally’s struggle to work out whose side she should be on coincides with her blossoming from tom boy into beautiful young woman… you really couldn’t get away with stuff like that these days!
Things are firmly back in the Noir groove with Chicago Syndicate, with its hectoring voice over and city locations transplanted from The Naked City to the Windy City. Dennis O’Keefe is back (but this time with no plucky Limey sidekick) as mild mannered account Barry Amsterdam (!), whom the Feds want to help them bring down crime kingpin Arnie Valent in the same way they got Al Capone. Though initially reluctant, Bazza takes to his dangerous mission like a duck to water… I guess you can’t help being dynamic, growing up with a name like Barry Amsterdam! Allison (Fifty Foot Woman) Hayes and exotic nightclub chanteuse Abbe Lane (fronting Xavier Cugat’s hot mambo combo) keep things simmering nicely and Joseph Hoffman’s dialogue frequently crackles. If you think Jimmy Cagney’s Cody Jarrett in White Heat (1949) is the final cinematic word on mother-fixated gangsters, watch the climax of this one and think again. All it’s missing is Al Jolson singing Mammy…
Just two years later, director Fred Sears would be making The Giant Claw!
Richard Conte’s Eddie Rico (above, left) is another mob accountant (or formerly was), now living the straight life, only to be drawn back in by the exploits of his brothers Gino and Johnny (Paul Picerni and James Darren, above) in The Brothers Rico. It’s easy to see how the moral shadings of this one (its story courtesy of Georges “Maigret” Simenon) appealed so much to Martin Scorsese (who provides a brief introduction to the picture), also fascinating to observe how Karlson’s direction pushes at the limits of the Hays Code with its depictions of both violence and Eddie’s passion for his wife Alice (Dianne Foster)… conducted across separate beds! The film’s “happy”, righteous ending seems to indicate that Hays had the upper hand for the time being, though Otto Preminger was already in the process of demolishing it. Ace Noir cinematographer Burnett Guffey shot The Brothers Rico.
All the films look and sound just spanky in their remastered World BD premieres. With the exception of Walk A Crooked Mile, they come with commentary tracks (from Frank Krutnik, Alexandra Heller-Nicholas / Josh Nelson, Barry Forshaw / Kim Newman, Toby Roan and Jason Ney respectively). Douglas’s film is complimented with the 1946 short Routine Job: A Story Of Scotland Yard (1946) and March of Time episodes have also been selected for their thematic links with the main features. Likewise the Three Stooges shorts that we have now come to expect in this series. If you’ve ever struggled to get your head around the concept of Fake Shempery, check out here how 1949s Dunked in the Deep mutated into Commotion On The Ocean, seven years later (makes those “Bela Lugosi” scenes in Plan Nine From Outer Space look like a smooth piece of work!) All of the films are complimented by image galleries and half of them (Pushover, A Bullet Is Waiting and The Brothers Rico) with their original theatrical trailers. In further featurettes, Glenn Kenny examines the collaborations of director Richard Quine and Kim Novak, Josephine Botting discusses Jean Simmons’ transition from British actress to Hollywood Star and Nick Pinkerton appraises the two-fisted directorial style of Phil Karlson. The limited (to 6,000 numbered units) edition of this box packs an exclusive 120-page collector’s book comprising new essays by Beth Ann Gallagher, Bob Herzberg, Sophie Monks Kaufman, Omar Ahmed, Jen Johans, Monica Castillo and Jeff Billington, archival articles and interviews plus full film credits.
MASSACRE TIME (Lucio Fulci, 1966) MY NAME IS PECOS (Maurizio Lucidi, 1966) BANDIDOS (Massimo Dallamano, 1967) AND GOD SAID TO CAIN (Antonio Margheriti, 1970)
Vengeance Trails, Arrow’s new Spaghetti Western roundup (hopefully the start of a series) kicks off in grand style with Lucio Fulci’s Massacre Time (aka Colt Concert / The Brute And The Beast)… time, then, to bin that ropey, grey market DVD that’s been place holding on my shelf for so many years. This film was a significant release for its principal participants. For Franco Nero it followed hot on the heels of Django (1966) and consolidated his success in that Sergio Corbucci landmark, both of those constituting baby steps in his ascension to Hollywood Stardom. It was also future giallo icon George Hilton’s first substantial role in Italy, after serving as stooge to the comedy stylings of Franco & Ciccio in Giorgio Simonelli’s Two Mafia Guys Against Goldginger, the previous year. For Fulci, this tough Spagwest represented his own ticket out of Franco & Ciccioville (though there remains ill-judged knockabout stuff in the on screen relationship between Nero and Hilton’s characters) and an opportunity to start exploring the dark personal preoccupations that would ignite (after some well documented personal tragedies) in his later gialli and horror opera. The seeds are all here… Massacre Time opens with a fugitive being hunted down by dogs (“Attack, Dicky, attack!)… elsewhere there’s a horsewhipping scene that prefigures massacre times in the likes of Don’t Torture A Duckling (1972) and The Beyond (1981)…. and is it going too far to identify the Scott brand that disfigures every landmark in Laramie Town as a precursor to the mark of Eibon? Probably is, yeah…
Prodigal prospector Tom Corbett (Nero), summoned back to his hometown by a cryptic note, finds the old family homestead occupied by the Scotts, a ranching dynasty nominally headed by Giuseppe Addobbati’s weak-willed Patriarch but effectively answerable to his deranged, sadistic son Jason aka Junior (a supremely twitchy Nino Castelnuovo). Tom’s brother Jeff aka Slim (Hilton), together with their childhood nurse Mercedes (Rina Franchetti), has been evicted into an adobe hovel where, despite his former sharp shooting prowess, he now spends his time getting drunk and hypnotising chickens (no, really!) Despite Slim’s active discouragement, Tom pops over to Mr S’s hacienda to query the current arrangements, arrives during a posh social do and is horsewhipped by Jr for his trouble. But it takes the murder of Mercedes to finally sober up Slim, setting up some fairly guessable family revelations before the climactic showdown…
Massacre Time’s screenplay (adapted by Fulci and Fernando Di Leo from the latter’s original story) is freighted with plot holes that wouldn’t hinder the passage of a speeding stagecoach (if, for one thing, Slim’s such an ace gunman, how did he allow the Scotts to spirit away his patrimony?), ostentatious and improbable displays of marksmanship and the aforementioned comedy hangovers (also involving a stereotypical Chinese undertaker / saloon pianist played by Tchang Yu) but Fulci handles everything with his accustomed technical proficiency and it’s becoming clear by this point that he’s a director with something to say. What he’s saying here is something about sibling rivalries, Oedipal angst and how corporations hijacked the American dream of rugged individualism. Another harbinger of Fulci things to come… if people are being whipped in the face (as here) or having sharp objects forced into their eyes (stay tuned), none of them ever seem to raise their hands in the most elementary and reflexive attempt at self-protection!
Massacre Time’s overwrought main theme and incidental music comes courtesy of Lallo Gori, who also scored Maurizio Lucidi’s My Name Is Pecos, the same year (and in doing so, flattered The Animals’ rendition of House Of The Rising Sun most sincerely). Lucidi, himself a director more than capable of psychological insights and social comment (witness his extraordinary giallo / Strangers On A Train knock off The Designated Victim, 1971) eschews any such approach here, outside of a perfunctory depiction of the casual racism which confronts protagonist Pecos Martinez (Robert Woods, his eyes contorted into pantomime ethnicity in a way that makes Lee Van Cleef look like Alexandra Daddario) as he sets out to hold the murderers of his family to account. The bad guys in his way dismiss him as a “greaser” (among other endearments) but he makes sure to tell them his name (hence the film’s title) just before or after gunning them down. This one’s a fair-to-middling Spagwest that did well enough in its day to spawn a sequel (Pecos Cleans Up, 1967, again with Lucidi directing and Woods in the title role). Watch out for versatile Umberto Raho’s great turn in the original as slimy preacher / gravedigger Morton.
Massimo Dallamano brought some serious Spaghetti Western pedigree to his fiction feature directing debut Bandidos (1967), having served as DP on the first two instalments of Sergio Leone’s legendary “Dollars Trilogy”. Expectations are inevitably high, which inevitably (and sadly) works against this film. There are innumerable beautiful widescreen shots in it, as you’d expect from a DP-turned-director collaborating closely with another classy cinematographer, Emilio Foriscot. Operator Fernando Guillot, likewise, renders sterling service in the realisation of Dallamano’s more imaginative camera moves. The screenplay (worked up by Romano Migliorini, Giambattista Mussetto and Juan Cobos, from Cobos and Luis Laso’s original story) picks up a plot point from Django and runs with it, but Dallamano wastes little time developing its broad brush themes, characterisations are thinly drawn and some of the performances distinctly run-of-the-mill. Enrico Maria Salerno is a stand out, honourable exception as protagonist Richard Martin, a renowned sharp shooter whose hands were shattered by his star pupil-turned-bad guy Billy Kane (Venantino Venantini). Reduced to MC-ing a travelling trick shot show, he thinks he’s hit upon the instrument of his vengeance when he discovers Ricky Shot (Terry Jenkins) but the obviously pseudonymous Mr Shot has motivations of his own. English actor Jenkins (debuting here) looks the part (and like everybody else on this box, has surprisingly good teeth for a denizen of the Wild West), though this never translates into actual screen presence. After some TV work and an appearance in Paint Your Wagon (1969), Terry’s screen career had run it course.
The box concludes in strong style with Antonio Margheriti’s And God Said To Cain (1970), in which the Wild West gets appreciably wilder. The film opens with Mr Acombar (Peter Carsten) and his clan lording it over a small town… but a storm’s coming. In fact two storms are coming, a literal tornado and the return of Gary Hamilton (Klaus Kinski), whom Acombar framed for the heist that made his fortune and who wants to pay his former partner back for ten years breaking rocks. He’ll probably want to have to have a quiet word with his former girlfriend Maria (Marcella Michelangeli) too, concerning the role she played in fitting him up…
Acting on hints from Giulio Questi’s Django Kill, 1967 and Sergio Garrone’s Django The Bastard, 1969 (hints so heavy that they would still be resonating in Clint Eastwood’s High Plains Drifter, 1973), producers Giovanni Addessi (who co-wrote AGSTC with its director) and Peter Carsten thought that it might be a good idea to press Margheriti’s impeccable Gothic Horror sensibility into the service of a Spaghetti Western… and hot dignity dang if they weren’t absolutely right! Reconciling the requirements of the two genres might seem like a tall order but trust Antonio Margheriti to deliver the goods. Casting Klaus Kinski as a sympathetic (ish), improbably named and even more improbably dubbed lead is a good start (he’s so supernaturally elusive, it makes you wonder how they managed to confine him in that quarry for a decade). Then obliterate all that Southern sunshine with stormy skylines, moodily shot by Margheriti’s go-to DP, the ill-fated Riccardo Pallottini (who also lit Massacre Time to beautiful effect). Throw in a Carlo Savina score that’s quite bonkers, even by the general standards of these things (and an anguished main theme emotively rendered by one Don Powell… not the former Slade drummer, I imagine)… all of this plus sinister organ music and bells that strike up of their own accord, a tunnel to an underground Indian burial place, and a climactic Cormanesque conflagration, into which Margheriti also manages to insert a “hall of mirrors” quote from Orson Welles’s The Lady From Shanghai (1947). Whatever your favourite genre, nobody’s going to come away from And God Said To Cain feeling they’ve been short-changed.
This limited edition set is characteristically well packaged by Arrow and each film has been restored in 2K from the original 35mm camera negatives. Bandidos has sustained brief cuts for horse falls. Commentary tracks come courtesy of Howard Hughes, Kat Ellinger and C. Courtney Joyner (with Henry Parke on Massacre Time, Robert Woods on My Name Is Pecos). Italian film historian Fabio Melelli contextualises each film in a collection of featurettes. Interviewees include Franco Nero and George Hilton (interesting to hear their contrasting takes on each other), Pecos cinematographer Franco Villa, Bandidos assistant director Luigi Perelli and (audio only) Marcella Michelangeli (who seems to have been the Italian answer to Jane Fonda). The interview time allotted to “George Eastman” (Luigi Montefiori) seems more in proportion to his physical presence than the minimal screen time he gets in My Name Is Pecos, but this guy always gives value for money and here (when not being upstaged by his dog’s dick) he reminisces amusingly about that film in particular and his amazing career generally. Fellow cast member Lucia Modugno shares her own memories of the production and (among other things) being tricked into getting her norks out for a Norman J.Warren film. Gino Barbacane (Bandidos) adds to the our growing inventory of Lucio Fulci anecdotes and serenades us on accordion, while Antonio Cantafora (And God Said To Cain) hints at the darkness in Klaus Kinski’s private life. Also included, an illustrated collector’s booklet including new writing from Howard Hughes, a fold out double sided poster and original / newly commissioned (from Gilles Vranckx) sleeve art options.
THE SHADOW OF THE CAT (John Gilling, 1961) CAPTAIN CLEGG (Peter Graham Scott, 1962) THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (Terence Fisher, 1962) NIGHTMARE (Freddie Francis, 1964)
As Indicator continue to tidy up the disparate strands of Hammer’s eclectic filmography for another of their impressive blu-ray box sets, I imagine it will get increasingly difficult for them to dream up appropriate catch-all titles. Volume 6 (limited to 6,000 units) goes out under the handle “Night Shadows”, not bad for a collection comprising b/w efforts Shadow Of The Cat and Nightmare, plus the lushly colourful brace Captain Clegg (which you get the option of playing as “Night Creatures”, its US release title) and Phantom Of The Opera (the title character of which, I guess, spends a lot of time lurking in the shadows before whipping off that mask to reveal his problem complexion).
John Gilling’s Shadow Of The Cat is yet another twist on Edgar Allan Poe’s much adapted The Black Cat, albeit a more traditional one than a title recently reviewed in these pages, David Lowell Rich’s Eye Of The Cat (1969). In contrast to that one’s “Les Diaboliques goes swinging ‘60s” approach, Gilling’s film proceeds along more traditional “Old Dark House” gothique lines, with the eponymous feline witnessing its rich mistress, Ella Venable (Catherine Lacey) being bumped off by her acquisitive and irascible husband Walter (Andre Morell), in cahoots with a couple of their servants. Those guys are immediately installed on Tabitha’s death list and soon joined there by various other grasping relatives that Walter calls in to kill it off and locate any embarrassing wills that Ella might have secreted around the property. Also arriving is Ella’s blameless and beloved niece Beth (Barbara Shelley), true beneficiary of the old lady’s estate. Beth gets on just fine with Tabitha, and wonders what grudge it could possibly hold against the house’s other occupants…
One of the points I pondered in that Eye Of The Cat review was the impossibility of making cats look scary onscreen. Special visual FX ace Les Bowie contributes some effective feline POVs here but Tabitha mostly spares us the “menacing prowl” schtick and just cracks on with killing people, generally luring them into pursuits that conclude with heart attacks, immersion in swamps, tumbles down the stairs, falls from battlements, etc… suffice to say that everybody in this picture, including Beth, gets everything that’s coming to them. When all that’s been resolved, stay tuned for a blackly comic coda. The film is as compellingly directed as you’d expect from the veteran Gilling, with a screenplay by George Baxt, who had written additional (uncredited) dialogue for Hammer’s Revenge Of Frankenstein (1958) and also scripted Circus Of Horrors and City Of The Dead (both 1960). He subsequently wrote the 1962 brace Night Of The Eagle and Tower Of Evil. Ten years later he was also contributing (though once again uncredited by Hammer) to the screenplay of Vampire Circus. Hammer didn’t even see fit to credit themselves on Shadow Of The Cat, which went out as a BHP Production. There’s much discussion among the bonus materials here as to why this might be.
1961 proved to be something of a watershed year for Hammer with the release of two Jimmy Sangster scripted productions, Seth Holt’s Taste Of Fear following Anthony Bushell’s Terror Of The Tongs and signalling Sangster’s desire to move away from graphic physical horror and into psychological thriller territory, an approach that yielded the subsequent likes of Freddie Francis’s Paranoiac, Michael Carreras’s Maniac (both 1963) and by 1964, Francis’s Nightmare. Killer cats are out for this one but the spectre of Les Diaboliques is back and looming pretty large. Jennie Linden (who substituted for a Billy Liar-bound Julie Christie at the last minute, filling her shoes admirably) plays disturbed schoolgirl Janet, haunted by the legacy of her insane mother and tormented by nightmares of joining her at the funny farm. Things go from bad to worse when she’s returned to the bosom of her loving (?) family and starts to hallucinate terrifying apparitions involving a mysterious scar faced woman (Clytie Jessop). Already half out of her mind, when Janet is introduced by kindly guardian Henry Baxter (David Knight) to his wife, who turns out to be a dead ringer for the scar faced phantom, she totally loses it and stabs the unfortunate woman to death. Two major twists follow. Think Mission Impossible. Think gaslighters gaslit. It’s engaging stuff for thriller fans, though 25 year old Linden playing a schoolgirl is among the easier things to swallow in one of the most credulity-stretching plots ever derived from Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques (1955). Thankfully, Hammer would go on to make much more feasibly plotted, kitchen sink dramas involving alien insect invasions, pitting cavemen and women against dinosaurs and portraying Reg Varney and Bob Grant as irresistible babe magnets.
Perhaps you enjoy having your credulity stretched (they can’t touch you for it, Missus)… but how do you feel about a protagonist who goes round slitting people’s ears and cutting out their tongues? How far can an anti-hero go before he becomes and out-and-out villain? Peter Cushing’s unassuming country parson Reverend Blyss was, in an earlier life, the eponymous Captain Clegg, another of Hammer’s patented, budget-cutting shipless pirates. Yeah, I know the script plays this as a surprise reveal but really, you’d have to be irredeemably dense not to spot it coming a nautical mile off. Having seen the light, the Rev has renounced his wicked ways (a tad too late for the benefit of the guy whose face he mutilated) and now mostly concerns himself with the souls of his parishioners, though as a sideline he does run a nice little earner smuggling spirits, his gang discouraging nosey intruders by dressing themselves and their horses in luminous skeleton suits… and they would have gotten away with it, if it wasn’t for meddling Revenue Man Captain Collier (Patrick Allen, backing up that official End Of The World voice with real beefy presence)! Meanwhile Michael Ripper chews the scenery as a rum running funeral director and Oliver Reed woos Yvonne Romain (who played his Mum in Terence Fisher’s Curse Of The Werewolf, 1961). Director Peter Graham Scott never made it onto the upper perch of the Hammer Pantheon alongside Fisher, Francis and Gilling (his subsequent successes were mostly in TV Land) but buckles some serious swash here with the gleeful assistance of Cushing, memorably dropping his hymnal, when required, to swing from a chandelier.
Peter Lom’s Professor Petrie also gets in a spot of chandelier swinging (which he combines with the mandatory and iconic mask dropping scene) during his titular turn in Fisher’s Phantom Of The Opera. This character emerges from Tony Hinds’ screenplay as a much more ambiguous figure than in previous screen adaptations of Gaston Leroux’s 1910 novel, if not exactly a milquetoast kind of guy. Hinds adds a vertically challenged sidekick (played by Ian Wilson) to bump off the Phantom’s enemies for him and although the latter doesn’t seem overly concerned with stopping this kill spree, he’s significantly more focussed on coaching deputy diva Christine Charles (Heather Sears) into perfecting her performance in the opera that larcenous Lord Ambrose D’Arcy (a supremely slimy Michael Gough) has stolen from him. Legend has it (a legend examined and assessed in various extras on this disc) that Cary Grant himself was keen to appear as The Phantom (prompting some of the liberties Hinds took with Leroux’s text, the better to suit Grant’s Star persona), only for his agent to talk him out of it and the role to devolve to Lom. Director Fisher had little control over this kind of stuff (and had far more disagreeable studio demands to contend with in e.g. Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, 1969), making it difficult to sustain the once popular argument for him being some kind of auteur. What he is, is a supreme craftsman, guiding his crew (notably DP Arthur Grant, makeup master Roy Ashton, production designer Bernard Robinson and composer Edwin Astley) through a rattling gothic romp, highlights of which include the aforementioned chandelier swinging mask drop and a hanged stage hand bursting through the scenery to alarm Liane Aukin in mid recitative.
These spanky restorations are ably supported by a stirring chorus line of extras, as follows…
THE SHADOW OF THE CAT (UK BD premiere).
Kim Newman’s introduction to the film. Audio commentary by Bruce G Hallenbeck. In-depth interview with Barbara Shelley, filmed shortly before the legendary and charming genre icon’s death. Assistant costume designer Yvonne Blake and Peter Allchorne from the property department reminisce. Short audio interview with assistant special effects artist Ian Scoones. Lucy Bolton profiles actress Freda Jackson. David Huckvale appraises Mikis Theodorakis’ score. An overview of the film by Hammer buffs lan Barnes, Marcus Hearn, Denis Meikle, Jason Morell and Jonathan Rigby. Double-bill TV spot (with Curse Of The Werewolf). Image galleries of promotional and publicity material. Limited edition exclusive 36-page booklet with a new essay by Craig Ian Mann, excerpts from original press material, an archival interview with Shelley, overview of contemporary critical responses and complete film credits.
Kim Newman introduction. Audio commentary from Constantine Nasr. The BEHP Interview with Peter Graham Scott. Josephine Botting profiles prolific Hammer wardrobe mistresses Molly Arbuthnot and Rosemary Burrows. In the featurette Peter Cushing: Perspectives, Derek Fowlds, Judy Matheson and Madeline Smith look back on their experiences acting alongside the great man. David Huckvale on Don Banks’ score and the influence of Hammer’s music honcho, Philip Martell. Actor John Carson and film historian Wayne Kinsey look back on the making of Captain Clegg. Kinsey discusses the contributions of transport historian and collector George Mossman to Hammer productions. Trailer and image galleries. Limited edition exclusive 36-page booklet with new essays by Frank Collins and Kieran Foster, extracts from original press materials, an overview of contemporary critical responses and full film credits.
THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA.
Optional 1.66:1 and 1.85:1 presentations of the original theatrical version (85 mins). Alternative TV cut (99 mins)… extended version with unique scenes, presented open matte in Standard Definition. Kim Newman introduction. Audio commentaries by Steve Haberman / Constantine Nasr and Troy Howarth / Nathaniel Thompson. Special effects artist Brian Johnson’s memories of the production. Rachel Knightley profiles Liane Aukin. Richard Klemensen, editor and publisher of Little Shoppe of Horrors, revisits the career of Hammer giant Tony Hinds. David Huckvale on Edwin Astley’s score. C Courtney Joyner shares personal memories of time spent with Herbert Lom. Romantic lead Edward de Souza presents a featurette on the making of POTO, including interviews with film historian Richard Golen and sound recordist Alan Lavender. Original theatrical trailer with optional commentary by Brian Trenchard-Smith. Image galleries. Limited edition exclusive 40-page booklet with a new essay by Adam Scovell, Terence Fisher on The Phantom Of The Opera, extracts from original press materials, an overview of contemporary critical responses and full film credits.
Kim Newman introduction. Audio commentary by Jonathan Rigby and Kevin Lyons. The BEHP (audio) Interview with Freddie Francis. Jennie Linden interview. Pamela Hutchinson on Moira Redmond. David Huckvale on Don Banks’ score. Alan Barnes, John J Johnston, Kevin Lyons and Jonathan Rigby revisit the production. Wayne Kinsey’s “Making Of” featurette includes interviews with Jennie Linden, Jimmy Sangster and art director Don Mingaye. Trailer and image galleries. Limited edition exclusive 40-page booklet with a new essay by Emma Westwood, extracts from original press materials, an overview of contemporary critical responses and complete film credits.
Long before his death in 2015, Christopher Lee had become a leading contender for the mantle of “Greatest Living Englishman”. In the early ’60s though, even after his dynamic impact in Hammer’s Curse Of Frankenstein (1957), Dracula (58) and The Mummy (59), the British film industry didn’t know quiet what to do with him, if not cover him in scars and stitches or wrap him up in bandages. Even exposed as his handsome self in Dracula, the half-Italian (and intimidatingly tall) Lee was considered too “exotic” to be a British leading man, He didn’t even make it to second billing in a series of subsequent productions which often starred his pal Peter Cushing but whose credits privileged the names of e.g. André Morell, Anton Diffring, Paul Massie and Hazel Court (Lee’s Curse co-star) over his own. In response, like some young 18th Century gentleman embarking on a European Grand Tour to complete his English Aristo credentials, he undertook a series of EuroHorror assignments, many of them now collected and celebrated in yet another epic Severin box set (just when you thought your groaning shelves could take no more), The Eurocrypt Of Christopher Lee Collection. I’m currently penning a larger piece on Lee’s Euro credits that you’ll soon be able to read (should you wish to) in a certain esteemed Horror organ, but couldn’t let this splendid release go unmarked in these pages.
While Lee’s Bava brace, his turns as non PC krimi orientals and his bemused dalliances with Jess Franco have been extensively covered elsewhere, over these 9 discs the Sevsters focus on some of the less heralded but no less significant outings on Lee’s Satanic rite of Europassage. Things kick off entertainingly enough with Warren Keifer’s Castle Of The Living Dead (Italy / France, 1964) in which the great man plays the emaciated Count Drago… the Gunther Von Hagens of his day. Never satisfied with the amount of plastinated people and animals adorning his gothic pile, the Count welcomes an itinerant troupe of comedy performers (including sexy Gaia Germani and a young Philippe Leroy) to Castle Drago, engineers the “accidental” death of one of them and sets about petrifying the rest with the aid of sinister side-kick Mirko Valentin. The shades of Riccardo Freda, Mario Bava and Antonio Margheriti hang heavily over the proceedings but equally obvious is the debt owed to Roger Corman’s Poe cycle (even though Keifer had to do without the candy coloured cinematography to which Rog – and by this point Bava – had access). Indeed, Corman’s Masque Of The Red Death was released earlier the same year. Watch out for Donald Sutherland in the dual roles of the buffoonish Sergeant Paul and a gnarly old witch…. and yes, Warren Keifer did exist (why would Sutherland name his son after an imaginary person?) and did direct this picture, Italian film scholar Roberto Curti authoritatively quashing the claims made for other film makers (including Michael Reeves, who was still learning the ropes on this one) during an informative featurette.
Giuseppe Vegezzi’s Challenge The Devil aka Katarsis is a whole other bubbling kettle of ketamine, with the most laughable collection of hipster kids (notably Giorgio Ardisson) outside of Godzilla Vs. The Smog Monster seeking a night of thrills in a dilapidated castle (where else?) and discovering Lee in gnarly old dude make up, claiming to have sold his soul to The Devil (though there are plentiful hints that he might actually be Old Nick himself). As the plastic beatniks navigate a succession of heav-y symbolic scenes in the castle’s cellars, it becomes apparent that the collective influence of Freda, Bava and Margheriti has been displaced here by the presiding spirit of Ed Wood Jr and the biggest challenge to The Devil might well be unravelling Vegezzi’s original vision from the series of re-edits and added footage with which panicking producers sought to save their investment. Presumably they kept all of Lee’s footage… all ten minutes of it. If Vegezzi had made a bunch of these things, all existing in multiple alternative versions, he might well have one day merited a box as sumptuous as Severin’s recent Al Adamson Masterpiece Collection, but instead he jumped out of a high window after the film’s star Lilli Parker rejected his romantic overtures, survived that and retired to Piacenza and a life of eccentric left wing activism (as related in another Curti featurette, which includes interview footage with the elusive Vegezzi himself).
Things take an upturn in quality with Crypt Of The Vampire (aka Crypt Of Horror, 1964), originally intended for Antonio Margheriti but ultimately handled (and very capably, too) by Camillo Mastrocinque (who also directed Barbara Steele in An Angel for Satan, 1966). Lee racks up significantly more screen time too as Count Ludwig Karnstein, who spends most of it fretting (in his own voice, for once) over daughter Laura (Adriana Ambesi), whom he fears is the threatened reincarnation of witchy ancestor Ciro (wot, no “Carmilla”?), seeking vengeance for her execution (conveyed via a nifty, Black Sunday-esque flashback). The Count calls in bibliographer Friedrich Klauss (José Campos) to scour the Karnstein archives and find a likeness of the witch, but what they eventually turn up takes everybody by surprise… It’s obvious that this Italo-Spanish production is trying to keep up with Hammer (the Iberian side of the enterprise is represented by “Hispamer films”!) but it ends up actually anticipating the turn that Carreras and co subsequently took for Sheridan Le Fanu, though the sapphic relationship between Laura and her pal Ljuba (Ursula Davis) crackles along in understated style, as opposed to all the heaving bosoms that bedeck Hammer’s Karnstein trilogy. Ah well, can’t have everything…
Lee gets a yet meatier role in West German-French-Italian co-production Sherlock Holmes And The Deadly Necklace (1962), which reunites him with Hammer legend Terence Fisher, who had directed him (as Sir Henry B) in Hammer’s Hound Of The Baskervilles three years earlier. Here Lee’s promoted to the titula Tec (which must have come as some consolation for the conspicuous false nose he’s required to wear) in an adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle’s Valley Of Fear, whose screenplay came courtesy of Universal veteran Curt Siodmak. The film’s an interesting amalgam of Fisher’s style and contemporary West German production / post production values. Its titles sequence, for example, must be one of the most boring ever committed to celluloid. No worries, though, things pick up as Lee’s Holmes (played like the prickly git that Doyle actually wrote… not much of a stretch for CL, by some accounts) dedicates himself (with the assistance of the ever dependable Thorley Walters’ Doctor Watson) to keeping Cleopatra’s necklace out of the clutches of Professor Moriarty (whose name seems to have grown an extra syllable here). Hans Shönker’s “Napoleon of Crime” might seem a tad underplayed for those brought up on the histrionics of Andrew Scott but works just fine here. The production’s apparently troubled circumstances thankfully don’t read on screen but to Lee’s ongoing chagrin, the rub (as it so often did) lies in the dub.
While he was still trying to establish himself back in Blighty, Lee was already sufficiently highly regarded in Europe for producers to shell out for one or two days of his box office-boosting presence. This series of nice little earners reached its cushy conclusion in the milieu of TV drama. For the 1971-2 Polish series Theatre Macabre (Film Polski’s adaptations of various dark literary classics, with episodes directed by the likes of Andrzejs Wajda and Zulawski) all that was required of him was to turn up at Columbia’s Wardour Street studio for a couple of days and film wraparound sequences (with director Ben Kadish) in the gallows humour style of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Boris Karloff’s Thriller. I vividly recall seeing a handful of these, randomly scattered through Granada TV’s graveyard slot at various points in the ‘70s and am looking forward to checking out all 24 surviving episodes (of 26) over discs 5 and 6 of the Severin set.
Aside from that Polish series, the only colour production among the main features is Krimi kingpin Harald Reinl’s The Torture Chamber Of Dr. Sadism (1967). Also known as Die Schlangengrube Und Das Pendel and (for its UK theatrical release) Blood Demon, this West German production gets off to a lively start with the execution of “Count Regula” (guess who) for the blood sacrifices of twelve village maidens, by which he had hoped to secure eternal life. First, a spiked metal mask is hammered onto his face (Bava’s Black Sunday continuing to cast its long shadow over Eurohorror) then he’s torn limb-from-limb by galloping horses. 35 years later, Roger Mont Elise (Lex “Tarzan” Barker) turns up in town, seeking clues to his obscure family history. He soon wishes he hadn’t bothered, as he and his new love interest Baroness Lilian von Brabant (Natalie Wood look alike and Mrs Reinl, Karin Dor) are drawn into a plot to revive the Count, for whom the Baroness will make an ideal 13th victim in pursuit of his undying quest, conducted in an underground lair whose interior design owes much to Hieronymus Bosch. Meanwhile reckless Roger gets the full on “Pit and the Pendulum” treatment. All of this no doubt sounds distinctly sepulchral, but the overall tone is that of an enjoyably upbeat adventure romp, enhanced by the James Last-like score of Peter Thomas, possibly the most inappropriate musical accompaniment to a horror film since the closing moments of Erle C. Kenton’s Island Of Lost Souls (1932).
Disc 8, dubbed Relics From The Crypt, is a glorious grab bag of Lee-themed odds and sods, including a first release of any description for Horror!!!, the recently unearthed 20 minute Swiss TV documentary from 1964 which includes interviews with CL, his erstwhile co-star and next door neighbour Boris Karloff, Vincent Price, Roy Ashton and Roger Corman, also boasting behind-the-scenes footage from The Gorgon and Masque Of The Red Death. Lee Remembers Karloff in Behind The Mask, a new edit of the Ian Rough documentary left unfinished in 1991. In another featurette, writer Ernesto Gastaldi, assistant director Tonino Valerii and film historian Fabio Melelli discuss the making of Crypt Of The Vampire. Colin Grimshaw interviews Lee in 1975 and from 10 years later there’s an audio interview by David Del Valle, accompanied by DDV’s video introduction and stills from his archive. Lee’s baritone vocal stylings are aired in video clips for his duets with Gary Curtis and we are also privy to his rapturously received appearance and Q/A session at University College, Dublin in 2011. The venerable Horror star discusses To The Devil A Daughter and Theatre Of Blood, among others, in outtakes from David Gregory’s 2001 interview sessions with him to promote the Blue Underground releases of those films. As if all this weren’t enough, we accompany Gregory’s co-honcho Carl Daft on a visit to the renowned critic Alan Frank, who I’d like to think of as Carl’s second favourite grizzled genre pundit.
The discs are scattered with the expected profusion of trailers, galleries and interviews, e.g. with legendary producer Paul Maslansky, Karin Dor (audio only) and Giorgio Ardisson. Grilled in 2009 and just before his death in 2014, the engaging Giorgio comes across as quite a character and has plenty of amusing anecdotes to relate. There are audio commentaries from the ubiquitous Kat Ellinger and the dynamic duos of Nathaniel Thompson / Troy Howarth and Kim Newman / Barry Forshaw. The films look more gorgeous than you had any right to expect B movies of this vintage to look, in 2K scans from their negatives (or a fine-grain 35mm master print in the case of Crypt Of The Vampire)… apart from Castle Of The Living Dead and Torture Chamber Of Dr. Sadism, which were scanned in 4K! TTCODS also comes with a restoration slideshow, not to mention not one but two Super 8 digest versions. The whole package is beautifully boxed and comes with Jonathan Rigby’s extensively researched and handsomely illustrated booklet, which you might well enjoy while listening to disc 9 (Angelo Lavagnino’s OST for Castle Of The Living Dead) and enjoying a glass of virgin’s blood… hm, probably better make that a full blooded red wine, eh?
Indicator continue to dish up the Film Noir goodies with a third selection of Columbia’s finest hours in that field. The box kicks off with Robert Rossen’s directorial debut Johnny O’Clock (1947). Dick Powell in the title role demonstrates how far he had come since his juvenile lead days in Busby Berkeley musicals and his versatility serves him well in the role of a cynical gambling house operator, staying on just about the right side of The Law. The murder of hat check girl Harriet Hobson (Nina Foch) sparks in him a crisis of conscience / moral awakening comparable to that undergone by Bogart’s Rick in Casablanca (1942). It’s a nicely nuanced performance, in which Powell is solidly supported by an able cast… special mention for sexy Ellen Drew (below) as spurned gangster’s moll Nelle Marchettis. Hell hath no fury…
Nina Foch gets her turn as bad girl in Rudolph Maté’s The Dark Past (1948), a “home invasion” effort which anticipates the plot of William Wyler’s more celebrated The Desperate Hours (another Bogart vehicle), released seven years later. Psychotic prison escapee Al Walker (William Holden), his girl Betty (Foch) and criminal entourage billet themselves on unwilling hosts the Collins family. Unfortunately for Al (and anyone in the audience with an aversion to simplistic, would-be Freudian insights) Doctor Collins (Lee J. Cobb) is a pipe-sucking Professor of Psychiatry who adeptly diagnoses Walker’s personal problems and dilutes his threat by treating them… just like that! Similarly pat psychoanalytical conceits played a significant and regrettable part in the plot of Hitchcock’s Spellbound three years earlier, so we can’t lay all the blame at the door of erstwhile cinematographer Maté, who made his most impactful contribution to the Noir canon with the superior D.O.A. in ’49. Foch, who also appeared in Budd Boetticher’s Escape In The Fog (1945) among others, is the subject of an informative career appraisal by Pamela Hutchinson on this disc.
If you start experiencing a pronounced sense of deja vu while watching Henry Levin’s Convicted (1950), that’s because this is yet another Columbia screen adaptation of Martin Flavin’s stage play The Criminal Code, perhaps most notably filmed under that title by Howard Hawks in 1930 (from which Levin has recycled budget-saving footage of discontent among the yardbirds). A useful featurette deploys split screen techniques to point up the similarities and discrepancies between several film renderings of the Flavin yarn. This time out Glenn Ford takes the role of the inadvertent Homicide bunged up in jail, trying to keep his nose clean and win the heart of Dorothy Malone, daughter of warden Broderick Crawford, before his dreams of rehabilitation are clouded by the murder of a snitch and his unwillingness to break the criminals’ code of silence. The strength of Flavin’s source material and sheer calibre of the cast assembled here make for a pretty compelling picture, though it suffers in comparison with the Hawks version from 20 years earlier, for which Phillips Holmes, Constance Cummings and Walter Huston just seem like better casting choices… Jeez, Hawks even had Boris Karloff in a scene stealing supporting role!
The term Film Noir only caught on widely, of course, after the style had largely run its course. These films were categorised in their day as “Crime Melodramas”, a description which certainly fits Between Midnight And Dawn, directed by Gordon Douglas in 1950. During a bonus appreciation of Douglas’s variable career on this disc, Kim Newman claims that his James Cagney vehicle Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye from the same year is only marginally inferior to Raoul Walsh’s White Heat (1949)… high praise indeed! BM&D certainly can’t be bracketed with those but it’s solid, entertaining stuff. Wisecracking patrol car duo Dan Purvis (Edmond O’Brien) and Rocky Barnes (Mark Stevens) compete for the affections of radio operative Kate Mallory (Gale Storm) but Kate, remembering how her Mom was widowed, doesn’t fancy a relationship with either of them or any other cop. When she does finally fall for Rocky, her darkest misgivings turn out to be all too well founded. Thereafter she and Dan are on the trail of his killer, the unhinged hood Ritchie Garris (Donald Buka)…
Director Edward Dmytryk was one of the Hollywood Ten, threatened with jail on account of their non co-operation with Joe McCarthy’s Senate Committee on Un-American Activities. He subsequently flip-flopped and fingered several former Lefty associates, ultimately queering his pitch on both sides of the argument. Nevertheless his The Sniper (1952) is highly regarded in certain quarters, not least by Martin Scorsese who gives it an enthusiastic introduction here. Aside from a few oblique hints, neither Dmytryk nor co-writers Harry Brown and Edna and Edward Anhalt waste much time on explaining the misogyny of title character Edward Miller (Arthur Franz), sidesztepping the kind of wannabe psychological profunidty that hamstrings e.g. The Dark Past. Franz gives a strong central performance as a serial killer who desperately wants the police to stop him from further venting his irrational obsessions and Dmytryk handles the film’s suspenseful set pieces with aplomb. This is yet another Noir that makes the most of San Francisco’s unique cityscape… and you might well think that Hitchcock saw it and took note of its extraordinary closing shots before discussing the title sequence for Vertigo (1958) with Saul Bass.
Snipers and spree shooters provoke urban anxieties to this day, though dwarfed now by existential threats such as the one at the centre of Irving Lerner’s City Of Fear (1959), which closes the box with a bang. Psychotic San Quentin escapee Vince Ryker (Vince Edwards from Lerner’s Murder By Contract, 1958 and Kubrick’s The Killing, 1956) thinks he’s made off with a pound of “snow” (here signifying heroin) but is frustrated by his inability to open the canister that contains it… a lucky break for everybody else in LA because, as a freaked out nuclear scientist explains, that canister is actually stuff to the brim with “Cobalt 60 in granular form… the deadliest thing in existence!” As Ryker physically degenerates under the accelerating effects of radiation poisoning, the authorities desperately attempt to track him down before he can unleash the contents of Pandora’s box on The City of Angels. No doubt you’re thinking that this one would make a great double bill with Robert Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly (1955) and you’d be right. As an extra treat, Jerry Goldsmith racked up one of his earliest OST credits here.
All of the films have been restored / remastered in Hi-Def and in addition to the extras we’ve already mentioned there are audio commentaries from the likes of Jim Hemphill, Eloise Ross, Bryan Reesman, Eddie Muller, Adrian Martin and the dynamic duo of Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson. Complimenting these are shorts made by the core crew of many a Columbia Noir, a radio adaptation of the James Warwick play upon which The Dark Past is based and Christopher Nolan on the abiding influence of Noir plus the mandatory trailers and image galleries. A limited edition, exclusive 120-page collectors’ book comprises new essays by Peter Stanfield, David Cairns, Michał Oleszczyk, Adam Scovell, Fintan McDonagh, Andrew Nette, Jeff Billington and Ramsey Campbell, plus archival articles / interviews and full film credits…
… all this plus the Stooges shorts we’ve come to expect with these sets: Curly, Larry and Moe in Whoops, I’m An Indian (1936), So Long Mr. Chumps (1941), Dizzy Detectives (1943) and Three Pests In A Mess (1945); 1948’s Shivering Sherlocks (with Shemp replacing Curly) and Oil’s Well That Ends Well, a 1958 effort featuring Joe Besser as third man. N’yuk, n’yuk, n’yuk!
Larry, Moe and co get a most unexpected mention in Ridley Scott’s Someone To Watch Over Me (1987), the film where that director reacted against the FX-heavy orientation of Alien (1979), Legend (1985) and indeed the most neon infused (and biggest money losing) Neo Noir of them all, Blade Runner (1982). His stated intention was for the actors rather than the technicians to be vying for Oscars. Said thesps include Tom Berenger as the Queens cop detailed to protect Manhattan socialite Mimi Rogers (the only witness to a murder) and Lorraine Bracco as his wife, who’s not too impressed by the developing relationship between the uptown, uptempo woman and her downtown, down beat guy. Scott’s faith in his cast is repaid in spades with some fine ensemble playing but inevitably it’s once again the technical stuff that lingers in the mind as, between them, Scott, DP Steven Poster and production designer Jim Bissell contrive a 106 minute Chanel commercial vision of Noir (looking fine here in a 2K restoration) for the same studio celebrated in the above mentioned box set, making a fascinating exercise in compare and contrast with the classic Noir look so often rendered by Burnett Guffey.
Poster discusses how closely he collaborated with Scott in a bonus featurette disc and there’s another one in which we hear from screen writer Howard Franklin. Jim Hemphill kicks in with an audio commentary, you get the original theatrical trailer plus an image gallery of promotional and publicity materials, plus a limited edition exclusive 32-page booklet comprising new essay by Jamie Graham, archival interviews with Steven Poster and actor Mimi Rogers, an overview of contemporary critical responses and film credits.
One of the things I most enjoyed about STWOM is that Scott managed to coax a cameo appearance out of the legendary Nina Simone. Elsewhere the Gershwin standard that gave this film its name is performed by Sting. Talk about “from the sublime to the ridiculous”…
FRAMED (Richard Wallace, 1947) UK BD Premiere 711 OCEAN DRIVE (Joseph M Newman, 1950) UK BD Premiere THE MOB (Robert Parrish, 1951) World BD Premiere AFFAIR IN TRINIDAD (Vincent Sherman, 1952) UK BD Premiere TIGHT SPOT (Phil Karlson, 1955) World BD Premiere MURDER BY CONTRACT (Irving Lerner, 1958) World BD Premiere
Following hard on the shit heels (*) of Indicator’s Columbia Noir #1 set, what we have here (predictably enough but no less welcome for that) is another six disc sampling of deadpan dicks, duplicitous dames, deadly frames, double crosses, crime bosses, relative morality and all the rest of it. So don your trench coat, light up a Lucky Strike, set your venetian blinds to maximum Expressionist effect and let’s check out the lineup…
(* “Shit heel”: pulp fictional variant on the term “gum shoe”, denoting a private investigator… but you knew that, right?)
Mike Lambert (Glenn Ford) makes one hell of an entrance in Richard Wallace’s Framed (aka Paula, 1947), the brakes on a crappy lorry supplied to him by his stop gap employers having failed. If he looks more like a mining engineer than a truck driver that’s because he is a mining engineer, looking for an opportunity to ply his trade. As luck would have it, old prospector Jeff Cunningham (Edgar Buchanan) is looking for a mining engineer to help him work a new seam of silver he’s just discovered. Just to make it unanimous, blonde bombshell Paula Craig (Janis Carter) is looking for a sap whose charred remains will pass for those of her smoothy boyfriend Steve Price (Barry Sullivan) after they’ve cleaned out the Savings & Loans where Steve works. Lambert’s exactly what she’s been looking for and although he wonders what such a swell broad is doing behind the bar in a shabby drinking dive (Jeez, this burg could do with a decent careers office!) he’s too dazzled by her alleged beauty to join up the dots. But can Paula follow through with the plan when she starts falling for Mike? And could he stand to see an innocent man take the fall for her ? It’s taken as read that Ford is irresistible to the opposite sex but there are plenty of other plot contrivances (courtesy of Ben Maddow, who adapted John Patrick’s original story to the screen) that will require you to spend your disbelief from a great height… if you can manage that, you’ll enjoy Framed just fine.
Gorgeous Glenn’s back (as Steve Emery) in Vincent Sherman’s Affair In Trinidad (1952) but he’s barely off the plane before he’s walked into another frame-up. The brother he came to visit has “committed suicide” and Chris, the sister-in-law he never knew he had (Rita Hayworth, previously romantically teamed with Ford in Charles Vidor’s The Lady In Question, 1940, Gilda, 1946 and The Loves of Carmen, 1948) hasn’t allowed so much as a respectful interlude to pass before she’s cozying up to smarmy socialite Max Fabian (Alexander Scourby). Steve’s a much brusquer fella than Mike Lambert was and responds to this breach of etiquette by handing Chris a slap.
What she’s not allowed to tell him, unfortunately, is that she’s been working undercover for the cops to dig up dirt on Fabian and his connections with sinister foreign agents (though every so often she takes time out of from this important mission to perform a sexy song and dance routine). Nor does Chris feel at liberty to convey to Steve (you guessed) her growing feelings for him. No prizes for guessing that all these romantic complications are ultimately resolved along with that sinister foreign agents’ fiendish plot… which turns out to be an alarming anticipation of the Cuban Missile Crisis, a full decade before it actually unfolded!
Edmond O’Brien’s Noir star eclipses even that of Ford, given his appearances in the likes of Robert Siodmak’s The Killers (1946), Rudolph Maté’s D.O.A. and (alongside Jimmy Cagney) Raoul Walsh’s astonishing White Heat (both 1949). In Joseph M Newman’s gripping 711 Ocean Drive (1950) his character Mal Granger makes the transition, via his telecommunication skills, from a working stiff who enjoys placing an illegal bet here and there to a big wheel in a horse racing racket. His story, told in flashback by a member of Uncle Sam’s “Gangster Squad”, demonstrates in no uncertain terms the slippery slope that inexorably led him from minor peccadilloes to brutal amorality and begins with a caption claiming that the actors and crew needed police protection from gangland elements intent on disrupting this film’s shoot. That must have taken some doing during the dramatic Boulder Dam finale (a sequence worthy of Hitchcock) where Mal finally succumbs to his fatal character flaw, a fondness for a rival mobster’s woman. Femmes fatales inevitably spell doom for would be wise guys, a motif we see again and again in annals of Noir and elsewhere on this box set.
There’s crime film Royalty (Ford, O’Brien et al) and then there’s Edward G. Robinson… from chewing the scenery as Mervyn LeRoy’s Little Caesar (1931) to pursuing a dodgy insurance claim with proto-Columbo doggedness in Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity (1944), Robinson’s impact on this genre has probably only ever been surpassed by that of Cagney himself. In Phil Karlson’s Tight Spot (1955) he’s District Attorney Lloyd Hallett, trying to convince flibbertigibbet jailbird Sherry Conley (Ginger Rogers) to take the stand against Benjamin Costaine (Lorne Greene) her Mr Big former boyfriend… all this based, by some accounts, on Senator Estes Kefauver’s efforts to secure Virginia Hill’s testimony against her mob associates. Sherry’s going to take a lot of convincing, given the recent heavy lead intake of other prospective witnesses. Maybe the romantic attentions of her protection detail Vince Striker (Brian Keith, living up to that hunky handle) will prevail where the DA’s civic duty lectures failed? But Vince is concealing a thing or two himself… Proving (as if their wasn’t abundant other proof on her resume) that she wasn’t “just” Hollywood’s greatest female Hoofer, Rogers steals the show here with a sassy, spirited screwball performance.
Robert Parrish’s compelling The Mob (1951) begins with off duty cop Johnny Damico (Broderick Crawford) trying to buy a wedding ring for his girl when he stumbles onto a crime scene and makes a complete hash of it, allowing a murderer posing as another cop to get away scot free. Johnny’s suspended from the force, only to be secretly deployed (under a new alias) on NYC’s docks, to gather info on gangland interests in that crucial economic sector. Mean streets, mean docks… Johnny can’t trust anyone, the existential angst and all pervading paranoia hitting Philip K. Dicklike levels when the Mob hires Johnny to carry out a hit on himself! The ultimate revelation of the big cheese’s identity is kind of “corny” (to quote the character himself) but the suspenseful, hospital based climax concludes things in satisfying style. There’s a great supporting cast in this one, including up-and-comers Ernest Borgnine and Neville Brand… Charles Bronson (who gets a couple of lines but no screen credit)… and Jean Alexander (no, not THAT Jean Alexander!) The Mob and Affair in Trinidad were both shot by multiple Oscar nominee Joseph Walker. Two time Academy Award winner (for From Here To Eternity, 1953 and Bonnie And Clyde (1967) Burnett Guffey served as Cinematographer on Framed, Tight Spot and Joseph H. Lewis’s The Undercover Man (1949) and perusal of their collected work across existing and pending Columbia boxes (which also highlight the OST contributions of George Dunning) provide useful insights into the essence (which had always been more about a vibe than an adherence to any hard and fast rules) of High Noir…
By 1958 the movement was dissolving in waves of cross-genre contamination and few films illustrate this tendency better than Irving Lerner’s Murder By Contract (1958). Vince Edwards plays Claude, an upwardly mobile dude who covets a des res and calmly figures that the quickest way to accumulate the necessary readies is to become a hit man. We follow his monastic preparation and rapid rise through the ranks, until he is flown to LA to rub out a heavily guarded witness on the eve of a major trial. His Zen-like approach to the job winds up Marc (Phillip Pine) and amuses George (Herschel Bernardi) but Claude, who has flipped from taciturnity to rambling expositions of his Nietzschean personal philosophy, completely loses his cool when he learns that his target is a woman. He rationalises his reservations along “deadlier than the male” lines but when obliged to see the job through, he bungles it via apparently Oedipal apprehensions and (spoiler alert!) dies in a drain. Memorable for a nifty jazz guitar accompaniment (courtesy of Bing Crosby’s long time musical director, Perry Botkin) and a firm favourite of Martin Scorsese, Murder By Contract is nicely posed on the cusps of Noir and Nouvelle Vague, anticipating much American “underground” Cinema of the 1960s with its satire on the American business ethic and the blunt black comedic edge to its violence…
… speaking of which, Indicator continue the admirable practice here of beefing up their Columbia boxes with Three Stooges mayhem… and that’s got to be better than a poke in the eye. Each disc contains a Stooges short, selected for some affinity to the film it supports. Violent Is the Word for Curly (1938), for instance, affords an early DP credit to the prolific Lucien Ballard, who later shot Murder by Contract. Nor is it too hard to work out the thematic pertinence of Three Sappy People, Saved by the Belle (both 1939), Idiots Deluxe (1945), Up in Daisy’s Penthouse (1953) and Hot Stuff (1956) to their respective main features. Any chance, I wonder, of a Stooges box (or series of boxes) from Indicator?
While we’re waiting and hoping for that, let’s consider the other extras on this set. Alongside the expected trailers and image galleries, audio commentaries come courtesy of Imogen Sara Smith, Glenn Kenny, Gina Telaroli, Lee Gambin, Nora Fiore and Farran Smith Nehme. The Steps of Age is a short 1951 docudrama written and directed by Framed writer Ben Maddow, depicting the challenges of ageing through of the eyes of a retired widow. Joseph M Newman’s 1945 short Diary of a Sergeant tells the story of Harold Russell, a soldier who lost his hands during World War II and subsequently won an Oscar for his performance in William Wyler’s The Best Years of Our Lives (1946). You get two interviews with Ernest Borgnine and one in which Peter Ford discusses the life and career of his father Glenn. Caribbean (1951) is a Crown Film Unit short depicting life and culture in the West Indies, British Guiana, and British Honduras. Irving Lerner’s Oscar-nominated Swedes In America (1943), presented by Ingrid Bergman, concerns the life of… well, work it out for yourself. Martin Scorsese contributes an enthusiastic review to Murder By Contract. If you enjoyed the excerpts from Joe Valachi’s Senate subcommittee testimony on Indicator’s recent release of The Valachi Papers, no doubt you’ll appreciate (on the Tight Spot disc) an hour or so’s worth of extracts from unedited telerecordings of another (1951) Senate hearing into organised crime, originally compiled by the British Film Institute and presented in four parts, including footage of the aforementioned Virginia Hill. Limited edition includes a 120 page book.
Like its predecessor, this box showcases many different aspects of the multi-faceted Film Noir phenomenon… and box 3 is in preparation! Bring it on.
ESCAPE IN THE FOG (Budd Boetticher, 1945) THE UNDERCOVER MAN (Joseph H Lewis, 1949) DRIVE A CROOKED ROAD (Richard Quine, 1954) 5 AGAINST THE HOUSE (Phil Karlson, 1955) THE GARMENT JUNGLE (Vincent Sherman and Robert Aldrich, 1957) THE LINEUP (Don Siegel, 1958)
Indicator’s characteristically lush inaugural trawl through Columbia’s Noir and Noirish output makes for an eclectic and immersive box set experience.
Escape In The Fog (directed by Budd Boetticher before he carved out a comfortable niche for himself in Western territory) is a “B” movie in the truest sense of the term, a second feature clocking in at scarcely more than an hour and consequently rattling along at a fair old lick so that Boetticher and writer Aubrey Wisberg can pack their tale of WWII espionage with nasty Nazis, snappy guys, sexy dames tied up in cellars, dirty double crosses and a surprise supernatural element…. all this plus a “blink and you’ll miss her” appearance by the young Shelley Winters.
The MacGuffin that drives this one along is an unspecified “special plan” to end hostilities early (and just four months after Boetticher’s film hit American cinemas, the Enola Gay released its payload over Hiroshima) but the plot turns on the ineffable moment in which recuperating army nurse Eileen Carr (Nina Foch), out for an insomniac stroll across the Golden Gate Bridge, witnesses Barry Malcolm (Willian Wright) being duffed up by some German agents, which turns out to be a (very fortuitous) premonition of something which hasn’t happened yet. As an inquisitive cop tells her: “You never can tell what will walk out of the fog”. What never emerges from that nebulous bridge, however, is any attempt at an explanation for this rum turn of events, which all the participants just seem to take in their stride. Perhaps we’re meant to infer that Divine Providence really was rooting for the Allies or maybe Boetticher was just copping himself a bit of the then-voguish “inner sanctum” action (a mystery series that has continued to exert its influence as recently and controversially as in Brian De Palma’s Femme Fatale, 2002). EITF’s moody meditation on death and destiny, played out in San Francisco, might even have been on Hitchcock’s mind when he shot Vertigo in that city, 13 years later…
Nina Foch fanciers are further served in this box by the Dutch actress’s appearance in The Undercover Man. Here she’s Judith, devoted wife of dedicated IRS agent Frank Warren (Glenn Ford), who’s aiming to bring down Chicago’s “Big Fellow”, after all else has failed, by establishing tax evasion. Although the film never makes this explicit (beyond its vague prologue paean to the unsung heroes of crime cracking), the allusion to the real life and crime story of a certain Alphonse Capone is unmistakable. The principle obstacle to Warren and his tenacious team (below) getting at the truth, of course, is the understandable reluctance of those involved in the numbers, protection and various other rackets to break their silence but ultimately it’s a plucky little granny from the old country who speaks up to settle the crime lord’s hash.
The characterisations in Lewis’s morality play are perhaps more cut and dried, black and white, than is customary in this genre, but the art direction of Walter Holscher, Burnett Guffey’s compositions and low angle photography, plus the slick montages of editor Al Clark, are all out of the Classic Noir playbook. Just who is that “undercover man”, though? Warren whips his warrant card out and starts waving it around at the drop of a hat. Maybe the title character is actually “The Big Fellow”, who conducts his nefarious activities so clandestinely that we never get to see him or even hear his real name.
Glenn Ford played Frank Warren-type roles more times than Posh Spice has had hot dinners but in Drive A Crooked Road (co-written with director Quine by Blake Edwards) we find Mickey Rooney trying to bust out of his goofy nice guy straightjacket and succeeding admirably in the role of Eddie Shannon, a short arsed nobody of a car mechanic who just happens to drive like the clappers. Identifying him as the guy they need to beat police roadblocks after the bank heist they’re planning, cynical hipsters Steve Norris (Kevin McCarthy) and Harold Baker (Jack Kelly) lure the hapless schmuck into their scheme, using sexy Barbara Mathews (Dianne Foster) as the bait in their honey trap. When Babs’ conscience starts troubling her, murderous complications arise. Owing much to the plot of Robert Siodmak’s seminal The Killers (1946), DACR emerges as a strong slice of Noir in its own right and gets an enthusiastic introduction here from Martin Scorsese…
… presumably the director of Casino (1995) is also well aware of 5 Against The House. Phil Karlson’s heist movie features the oldest college students seen on cinema screens until Grease (hang on, they’re Korean War veterans studying on the G.I. Bill… still looking a bit to old to fit even that chronology though, if you ask me) including hunky Al Mercer (Guy Madison), his post traumatic stress-disordered former comrade in arms Brick (Brian Keith) and smart alec Ronnie (Kerwin Mathews), who comes up with the whimsical student wheeze of robbing a casino, just for the fun of it and returning the money. What could possibly go wrong? Enough, potentially, for Al to pull out but he tags along anyway so he can marry his girl Kay (Kim Novak, on the verge of the big time) in Reno. Unfortunately the increasingly deranged Brick won’t stand for anybody punking out and he has no intention of returning any money. Bang bang goes Al and Kay’s honeymoon…
The ensemble acting in this one is pretty strong, though the constant would-be wise cracks from debutant screen-writer Stirling Silliphant quickly wear out their welcome. Never mind (as we’ll shortly see), Silliphant went on to pen some sterling stuff. Kerwin Mathews also gets his first big screen credit, after an anonymous earlier 1955 appearance in Fred Sears’ Cell 2455, Death Row, a thinly veiled dramatisation of the notorious Caryl Chessman / “Red Light Bandit” case. Watch out for a pre-“Cannon” William Conrad too, handling the money in that casino.
Kerwin Mathews is back as Alan Mitchell (above left), another Korean War vet, in The Garment Jungle, returning to take his place in the family fashion business but finding it scarcely less of a battlefield. His father Walter (Lee J. Cobb) has become embroiled with the mob (personified by Richard Boone’s aptly named Artie Ravidge) in an attempt to keep the union out of his shop and takes an eternity to figure out that this attempted cure is actually way more harmful than the perceived illness. He doesn’t seem unduly concerned about union supporting employees being roughed up, organiser Tulio Renata (Robert Loggia) being murdered, nor even his partner / best mate dying in an elevator “accident” but Alan eventually… finally… opens his eyes and takes on the hoods while simultaneously romancing Renata’s widow Theresa (the silver screen’s sexiest Sicilian scouser, Gia Scala). This is another forceful effort, with exactly the level of performances you’d expect from such a standout cast. The script was adapted by Harry Kleiner from newspaper articles in which Lester Velie documented the real life struggles of sweatshop workers. As detailed by Tony Rayns in a bonus featurette, Robert Aldrich shot much of the picture but left it to be completed by Vincent Sherman when his desire to emphasise the Jewish experience in Manhattan’s rag trade was thwarted… by producer Harry Cohn (go figure!) As evidenced by the poster below, Columbia would ultimately take a very different tack in the marketing of the film…
Indicator save the best till last on this set, with the great Don Siegel’s The Lineup, on which the aforementioned Stirling Silliphant proved that he had developed into a film writing force to be reckoned with. The action kicks off at San Francisco International Airport, where an apparently bog standard luggage theft escalates into a shootout that leaves a cop and a taxi driver dead. The police discover that a statuette in the purloined case contains heroin, but recognising that its owner is an unwitting dupe, release it back to him, with an innocuous powder substituted for the skag, while they wait to see who tries to pick it up. Enter the intense Dancer (Eli Wallach), his cynical handler Julian (Robert Keith) and their alcoholic driver, collecting from their unwitting mules until they discover that a cute little girl has used all the dope secreted in her dolly as face powder for it, at which point the brown stuff really hits the fan…
As amply demonstrated here (and Anthony Hopkins, please take note) it’s not necessary to chew on the scenery when playing a psychopath. Wallach’s portrayal of the madness simmering away just below his character’s stone cold surface is masterly stuff and when he finally does blow… oh boy!
As underlined in a short accompanying video essay, Siegel’s film makes exemplary use of its locations (many still standing, some of them long gone). But again, why is it called The Lineup? There is a police lineup in it (more than one, actually) but also plenty more noteworthy stuff, including a climactic car chase that (even without the participation of Mickey Rooney) makes for truly thrilling stuff and predates the more celebrated one in Bullitt by a full decade.
All six films are handsomely presented here, for the first time on UK Blu-ray (with The Undercover Man and Drive a Crooked Road making their world Blu-ray premieres). This set also boasts a 120-page book, and is strictly limited to 6,000 numbered units. There are audio commentaries from the likes of Pamela Hutchinson, Tony Rayns, Nick Pinkerton and David Jenkins. On The Lineup you get a choice of two commentary tracks (or you could spoil yourself and listen to both), one courtesy of legendary crime writer James Ellroy with the Film Noir Foundation’s Eddie Muller and a more recent one featuring film historian David Del Valle and author / screenwriter C Courtney Joyner. Supporting the main feature on each disc you’ll find apposite bonus materials such as Boetticher’s The Fleet That Came To Stay, compiled from original combat footage captured during the Battle of Okinawa and released shortly after Escape in the Fog; Joseph H Lewis’s 1945 short Man on a Bus, a PR job for the fledgling state of Israel starring Walter Brennan, Broderick Crawford, Ruth Roman and yes, Lassie. There are also archival interviews of various vintage with Kim Novak, Robert Loggia and Mickey Rooney (also a brief bit of publicity puff in which Rooney watches an earlier bit of publicity puff, featuring his childhood self, with a couple of his Columbia pals!) Director and Noir buff Christopher Nolan delivers a quickfire appreciation of the genre. You also get three half hour episodes of the early fifties radio series The Lineup: The Case Of Frankie And Joyce, The Candy Store Murder (written by Blake Edwards) and The Harrowing Haggada Handball Case (co-written by Edwards and Richard Quine).
The expected Image galleries and trailers are present and correct but what really puts the cherry on this cake is that Indicator have taken it as the pretext to trot out a bunch of their Three Stooges acquisitions from the Columbia vault, each amusingly reflecting the subject matter of the main feature whose disc they share. Titles are You Nazty Spy (1940), Higher Than A Kite (1943), Rip, Sew And Stitch and Tricky Dicks (both 1953), Income Tax Sappy (1954) and the decidedly odd (atypically so) Sweet And Hot (1958). Plenty there for fans of Larry, Moe, Curly, Shemp and, er, Joe.
“God save Fu Manchu, Moriarty and Dracula”. The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society, 1968.
Now that everything pre-Millennial is being rigorously combed through for possible retrospective violations of an ever tightening political correctness code, with particular reference to actors playing characters of a different racial heritage from their own (i.e. acting), it’s an “interesting” time for Indicator to release a characteristically epic BD box set devoted to five Fu Manchu films produced in the ‘60s by the notorious Harry Allan Towers and starring Christopher Lee as the “Devil Doctor / Yellow Peril incarnate”… that’s “interesting” as in the old Chinese curse: “May you live through interesting times” (am I, as an occidental dude, even allowed to reference that one anymore?)
First things first… the fourteen Fu Manchu novels of Sax Rohmer (1983-1959, aka Arthur Sarsfield Ward, but known to his Mum, when he was growing up in Birmingham, as Arthur Henry Ward) are unashamedly Sinophobic, cashing in on contemporary (well, it’s never really gone away) hysteria over “The Yellow Peril” swamping Western, Christian, capitalist culture. The books are enthusiastically anti-Semitic, into the rotten bargain, but early comic strip, radio and film adaptations emphasised the Sinophobia, reaching a peak with MGM’s The Mask of Fu Manchu (1931), in which Boris Karloff (an actor who did have Asian heritage) as the title character, orders his minions to enslave white men and rape their women. Charles Brabin’s film was so “screamingly racist” (in the words of Christopher Frayling during a bonus interview here) that it was pulled from distribution after official complaints by the Chinese government and VHS copies were being cut as late as the 1980’s. During WWII the American State Department ordered Republic Pictures to shoot no more FM serials after Dreams of Fu Manchu (1940) for fear of offending China, then an ally against imperial Japan.
The series produced by Harry Allan Towers (above), though, are an entirely different kettle of koi carp. For one thing, after the author died (of… get this… Asian Flu) that inveterate adaptor of vintage literature bought the character rights rather than the story rights for the Fu Manchu novels from Rohmer’s widow, saving himself a savvy packet and simultaneously divesting his series of the novels’ racist baggage by penning new stories under his trusty “Peter Welbeck” non de plume. Here, the Doc is less of a ranting maniac and more of a Chinese nationalist, honourable after his own fashion and certainly (until a certain Spaniard got his busy hands on him) a man of his word (even if most of the words he speaks concern his ambitions for world domination, exceeded only by his desire for revenge on his ongoing nemesis… Assistant Commissioner of Scotland Yard, Sir Dennis Nayland Smith). Then there’s Christopher Lee, who obviously brings real physical presence and gravitas to the title role. Lee had already played orientals to impressive effect in two 1961 efforts, Hammer’s Terror of the Tongs (1961) and Rialto Film’s Edgar Wallace adaptation The Devil’s Daffodil, directed by Akos Rathonvi. Lee’s Fu Manchu is no Benny Hill “Cooky Boy” caricature, more a Blofeld-like supervillain. The influence of the early Bond films is unmistakable, though instead of 007, Fu’s up against Rohmer’s answer to Holmes and Watson, in the shape of Smith and his loyal companion Dr Petrie (played in all of these films by Howard Marion-Crawford). The series’ other ever present is Tsai Chin as the Doc’s daughter Lin Tang, an inscrutable chip off the fiendish old block.
With Don Sharp (“a lovely, make-do-and-mend director” in the words of assistant Ray Andrew) calling the shots, ably assisted by equally dependable DP Ernest Steward, inaugural entry The Face of Fu Manchu (1965) also benefits from a castload of such krimi regulars (the film is a UK / West German co-production) as Joachim Fuchsberger, Karin Dor and Walter Rilla alongside seasoned British pros like James Robertson Justice (“You can’t leave the museum littered with dead Chinese!”) Dublin doubles for London and indeed the Chinese courtyard where we find Nayland Smith (played by Nigel Green) attending the judicial decapitation, for “crimes beyond number” of the title character. Not for the last time in this series, reports of the Doc’s demise would turn out to have been seriously exaggerated…
Back in “London”, Nayland Smith is bored with his desk job, thirsting for action. He tells his friend Petrie of his nagging doubt that Fu Manchu is still alive and of course he is, having substituted a brain washed doppelgänger for himself on the chopping block. As you do. Before you can say “Evil plan to take over the World”, not entirely inconspicuous Burmese dacoits in martial arts outfits are kidnapping scientists and strangling people with Tibetan prayer scarves all over the capital. Fu’s got himself a Limehouse cellar HQ, very handy for drowning his enemies and leaving them floating around in the Thames. Dr Muller (Rilla) is forced to help the villain synthesise a deadly biotoxin from the black hill poppy (ironic stuff, considering the history of the Opium Wars) when Fu kidnaps his daughter Maria (Dor). Karl Jannsen (Fuchsberger) collaborates with our boys to try and save the Mullers but soon Fu is demonstrating the power of his dreaded lurgy by wiping out the population of seaside town Fleetwick, trailered in one of the ominous radio broadcasts he seems to favour. Meanwhile Lin Tang tops Myrna Loy’s Fah Lo See in Mask of Fu Manchu for sheer unabashed sadism, though she is frequently pulled up by her iron-disciplined father, a firm believer in the adage that violence is a tool rather than a toy. The explosive conclusion in Tibet is a little abruptly arrived at and concluded but by the time Fu Manchu has uttered his soon to become familiar threat that the world will hear from him again (and it usually does), all but the most demanding viewers will consider themselves well served by this satisfying Saturday matinee type romp.
Douglas Wilmer replaces Nigel Green as Nayland Smith in Brides of Fu Manchu (1966) another ripping yarn shot partly in Dublin but mostly studio bound, played out in the dungeons where Fu has made his new HQ and keeps his collection of kidnapped / hypnotised eminent scientists’ daughters. Their dads are thus obliged to chip in with their expertise on his project to build a sonic death ray which, after a decoy threat to Windsor castle, disintegrates a British battleship at sea. Westminster Abbey, stuffed with world leaders, is next on the Doc’s hit list but the BBC collaborate on blocking his deadly radio waves and the French foreign legion join an attack on his base, which blows up after Fu cranks the power too high, over the objections of his technical advisor Burt Kwouk. The UK film industry’s most prolific Chinese thesp is joined by familiar British character actors (e.g. Rupert Davis) and this being another co-production with West Germany, a further krimi contingent in the shape of Heinz Drache and Joseph Furst.
With Sharp otherwise occupied on IRA thriller The Violent Enemy and Towers’ Rocket to the Moon, Vengeance of Fu Manchu (1967) was directed by the similarly stalwart Jeremy Summers. Reflecting developments in the ongoing Bond franchise, this one’s a bit more self-consciously modern, edgy, violent and gimmicky than its predecessors. Seeking the leadership of international organised crime (represented by Horst Frank as an oddly accented American racketeer), Fu comes up with his most fiendish plan yet, to weaken world wide law enforcement by either bumping off or discrediting its major practitioners. Wilmer’s Nayland Smith is kidnapped and replaced with a surgically engineered, brainwashed ringer who promptly strangles his maid and is sentenced to death. With the real Assistant Commissioner out of commission, his associates (principally Peter Karsten’s Kurt) have to do most of the sleuthing and foiling. Maria Rohm, Towers’ long time companion, adorns the proceedings as Shanghai dive chanteuse Ingrid, though she’s actually lip-synching to the voice of Samantha Jones.
Received critical wisdom has it that after the solid “Hammer-looking” Face, this series declined markedly with each successive entry and it’s been suggested that Towers spent progressively more of each film’s budget on wining and dining himself and favoured members of his cast and crew. In point of fact, the first three entries are roughly comparable in quality and Vengeance, shot partly in Ireland but also at the Shaw Brothers’ studios in Hong Kong, arguably tops the claustrophobic Brides in terms of production values, scenic locations and thrills / spills. Summers was initially signed up to make another three Fu Manchu epics for the producer but when contractual undertakings clashed, Towers had an oven baked (maybe half-baked) alternative ready to go. Depending on your cinematic tastes, its arguable that the rot really set in with Blood of Fu Manchu (1968)… what’s indisputable is that the series now took a sexadelic swerve into a completely parallel universe, the unparalleled universe of Spanish cult director extraordinary, Jess Franco. Towers had already called Franco in to rescue The Face of Eve (1968) when Summers left that one uncompleted. Did dear old Jess ever really rescue a picture? He’s certainly finished off more than a few. Whatever, with him safely ensconced in the Fu Manchu directing seat, this series would never be quite the same again. Blood… is unrecognisable as the work of the director who made e.g. Succubus, the same year. Despite some sub-Bava lighting effects and signature shots of scantily clad women suspended in chains, there are no pretensions to auteurism here, just Jess taking the money (surreptitiously spending much of it shooting scenes for several other movies he’s got in development) and running. Though “Peter Welbeck” remains the writer of record (and Towers was no doubt happy to pay himself for writing it), this one bears the unmistakable stamp of a thousand other Franco screenplays jotted down on the back of a fag packet. One of Daniel White’s more listless scores does nothing to help.
Now based in some Amazon ruins, Fu has resynthesised an ancient Inca poison that will be administered to world leaders via the kisses of beautiful women whom he has kidnapped and brain washed (this one was released in The States, to general indifference, as Kiss and Kill, increasing suspicion that the Fu Manchu brand was losing its box office allure). Nayland Smith (now played by Richard Robin Hood Greene), having copped a mouthful of poison, is incapacitated and unseen for most of the picture (though he re-emerges with a blazing machine gun during its alleged climax). In another wage-bill cutting move Lee’s Fu, having set all this dastardly shit in motion, also disappears for much of its running time. Lin Tang is brought so far to the fore that she’s even seen sitting on Fu’s throne at one point (she’s following her father’s footsteps, she’s following her dear old Dad!) Nor does he discourage her from enjoying the whipping of captives, as he did in the first film. Shirley Eaton apparently never knew that she’d been cut into this one from footage shot for The Girl from Rio (another Franco / Towers Rohmer adaptation released in 1969) so she never got paid for it. Maria Rohm and Franco himself pop up in the cast and during the protracted absence of Lee and Greene from the screen, much of the narrative centres on the oafish antics of bandit Sancho Lopez, another questionable racist stereotype played by Ricardo Palacios (who looks like a refugee from a bad Spaghetti western, though he actually appeared in some of the very best ones). Marion-Crawford’s Dr Petrie is present and correct but he’s been reduced to a bumbling comic relief character, hacking his way through the Brazilian jungle in search of a nice cup of tea. When he does occasionally show, Lee brings something less than 100% conviction to the delivery of his lines, but with doozies like: “Let him wait like an ant on an anvil!”, who can blame him?
The world did hear from Lee’s Fu Manchu one more time, in Castle of Fu Manchu, but it’s anyone’s guess if they knew WTF he was on about. Scrabbled together with finance from the UK, West Germany, Italy, Spain, Lichtenstein and Turkey (anywhere but The States, which Towers was studiously avoiding while he waited out a vice charge) this one was largely filmed in Istanbul. As ever, Franco demonstrates skilful deployment of his “more bang for your buck” locations, but narrative wise this one makes its wobbly predecessor look like The Magnificent Ambersons. The general idea is that Dr Fu has cracked the formula for freezing large expanses of water instantaneously, threatening world shipping routes. He demonstrates this by freezing “the tropical waters of the South Atlantic” (er… are you sure about that, Doc?), something conveyed to the viewer by stock footage copped from Roy Ward Baker’s A Night to Remember (1958). Elsewhere he causes a massive dam to burst, rendered by further footage theft, this time from Ralph Thomas’s 1957 effort Campbell’s Kingdom. At least Burt Kwouk’s scenes have been pinched from an earlier entry in the Fu Manchu series, if not one that Franco himself directed. The active ingredient in Fu’s ocean-freezing formula is (what else?) opium (is there nothing that stuff can’t do?) and to secure a sufficient supply of it, the Doc goes into partnership with Turkish dope mogul Omar Pashu (Jose Manuel Martin) whose evil henchwoman is played by a Fez-wearing Rosalba Neri (we don’t see enough of her but hey, can you ever really see enough of Rosalba Neri?) It’s not much of a spoiler to tell you that Nayland Smith (Richard Greene again) ultimately thwarts these megalomaniacal shenanigans. This time the mandatory closing promise / thereat that the world would see Fu Manchu again rings hollow. Despite planning for a sixth entry, Harry Alan Towers decided that Jess Franco had singlehandedly achieved what nobody else ever managed… to kill off Fu Manchu (though no doubt the penny-pinching producer himself had a significant hand in the Doc’s untimely demise).
Could the world’s cinemas feasibly hear from Fu Manchu again in these more “woke” times? One imagines some kind of major revamp would be in order. As a pragmatic jobbing actor, Burt Kwouk was always cool regarding his appearances in this and similar fare. Tsai Chin later said that she felt she’d let her race down by appearing in the Fu Manchu flicks, though no doubt if an occidental actress had played her character, that would now be seriously frowned upon as well. You can’t win, really… just ask that perennially underachieving would be world dominator, Dr Fu Manchu. No matter… his cinematic crusade to rehabilitate the international prestige of Chinese would be achieved (and then some), scant years later, by a certain Bruce Lee.
All films have been handsomely restored from 4K scans of the original negatives. The first three are international BD premieres, the Franco films making their first UK appearances on blu here. Each film is introduced by the BFI’s Vic Pratt. Audio commentaries come courtesy of Stephen Jones / Kim Newman, David Flint / Adrian Smith and Jonathan Rigby. There are archival audio interviews with Don Sharp, Ernest Steward and Jeremy Summers, video ones with Lee (including with the Guardian’s David Robinson and a short piece from the Dublin location of Face), also AD Anthony Waye and clapper loader Ray Andrew on their never-a-dull-moment experiences working for the late Harry Alan Towers. There’s also an entertaining experience with the man himself, who owns up to a “confused” love life (apparently his long-standing partner Maria Rohm sanctioned or disallowed his one night stands on the basis of the proposed conquest’s star sign!) The wonderful Rosalba Neri (below) also talks enthusiastically about working with Franco, whom she remembers as “a genius”.
Kim Newman reflects on Rohmer’s Fu Manchu novels, Jonathan Rigby on Christopher Lee’s early career, Stephen Thrower on the Franco / Towers collaborations and Christopher Frayling outlines the whole “yellow peril” controversy attaching to Fu Manchu on screen. Two silent Stoll Picture shorts from 1923/4, starring H. Agar Lyons as the Doc – The Fiery Hand and (renewed topicality, here) The Coughing Horror – also included here as extras, illustrate just how far back the arguably dishonourable tradition extends (and each is presented with an optional new score by the band Peninsula). If you need the mood lightening a bit after that little lot, this set also includes Jeremy Summer’s Children’s Film Foundation short The Ghost of Monk’s Island… what, no Sammy’s Super T-shirt?!? You do get the requisite shedload of trailers, TV spots, alternative credits and titles, image galleries plus Super 8 presentations and colour test footage of Lee and Tsai Chin from Blood of Fu Manchu. The limited (to 6,000 numbered units) edition also packs an exclusive 120-page book with a new essay on these films by Tim Lucas, appraisals of the eventful lives and careers of Sax Rohmer and Harry Alan Towers, an examination of the work of Fu Manchu creator, new writing on The Ghost of Monk’s Island Stoll Pictures’ silent Fu Manchu serials, archival newspaper articles, pressbook extracts, contemporary critical responses and full film credits, also an exclusive double-sided poster and five replica production stills.
Whenever the manifold personal qualities of the extraordinary Alejandro Jodorowsky are discussed, modesty and humility are conspicuous by their absence. True to form, El Jodo opens this documentary presentation of Psychomagic (the therapeutic method he has evolved through his life and films) by comparing / contrasting himself to / with Sigmund Freud. Whereas Psychoanalysis is a talking cure that bans touching, he tell us, Psychomagic is an active cure to which physical contact is fundamental. No doubt Jodorowsky is a sufficiently cultured man to realise that he is here revisiting the schism that eventually sundered Freud from one of his longest serving, ablest and most fondly regarded lieutenants, Sandor Ferenczi (1873-1933).
“Cheer up, Sigi and gimme a cuddle…” Ferenczi and Freud in 1917.
Reasoning that at some level, all of his patients were (or perceived themselves to be) insufficiently loved, Ferenczi began to believe that their analyses could be more readily expedited with the judicious application of kisses, hugs and caresses. Horrified by the implications of this for Transference (the process by which the client reveals important clues about their relationships with significant others by visiting them upon the blank canvas of the emotionally remote analyst), not to mention the potential ethical pitfalls (nobody was worrying about Coronavirus in those days), Freud cried foul. No doubt his prosthetic jaw would have dropped and his ubiquitous cigar fallen to the floor if he had lived to see where Jodorowsky has taken Ferenczi’s heresy.
The Holy Mountain, 1973
As well as one-on-one and group massage sessions (in such case studies as those entitled “Brothers Competing For Mother’s Love” and “A Man Abused By His Father, On The Verge Of Suicide”), AJ’s prescriptions include theatrical (and often public) ritual. The abused guy on the verge of suicide, for example, is buried alive (with provision made for him to breathe) while vultures pull apart carcasses laid on his grave. Dug up and “reborn”, he attaches a picture of the abusing parent to a balloon and lets it float away.
“An Australian In Paris, Angry Against His Family” is seen smashing pumpkins (hey, that would be a good name for a band, right?) on the streets of France’s capital while screaming: “Why won’t you listen to me?”, then mails the pieces to his unsupportive family in Oz. “A Mexican Woman Whose Fiancé Committed Suicide On The Eve Of Their Wedding” (by jumping out of their window in her presence) goes through a funeral ceremony for her wedding dress then jumps out of a plane (El Jodo generously allows her the use of a parachute). “A 47 Year Old Man Who Wants To Stop Stuttering” feels like a child so AJ lets him loose in a Disney-style kids’ park wearing a sailor suit and silly hat (a concerned mother hustles her daughter away from him). Then Jod takes him to a church and squeezes his bollocks, telling him: “In this Holy place I will pass Manly energy on to you… because I am The Father Archetype!”
As if all this wasn’t enough, the guy is then painted gold and sent to walk down the street in his skivvies… and yes, he finally stops stuttering. “An 88 Year Old Woman In Deep Depression” probably isn’t up to some of the energetic and bold stuff described above but does seem to benefit from pouring water on the roots of a massive tree every day. In “Coming Out Of The Closet” an actual closet is burned during a gay wedding ceremony and during “The Walk Of The Dead In Mexico City, 2011”, participants chant “Psychomagic against violence!” to protest casualties of the country’s drug wars. In the section “Birth Massage”, a young woman frightened of bearing children is given therapeutic massages by a pair of Psychomagic practitioners and is later shown proudly displaying a beautiful baby bump. “A Couple In Crisis” decide to separate, but on amicable rather than antagonistic terms.
All of the episodes are illustrated with apposite clips from Jodorowsky’s films and intercut with his sage pronouncements, delivered in front of a corny “psychedelic” background. Their titles are presumably intended to evoke such classic Freud case studies as “The Wolf Man” and “The Rat Man”, though “Is Menstruation A Problem?” (in which El Jodo advises a cellist to daub her instrument with period blood) is more reminiscent, at least to this viewer, of the cod Krafft-Ebing in Woody Allen’s Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex * But Were Afraid To Ask (1972).
Jodorowsky claims that the shortcomings of classical psychoanalysis “obliged” him to create Psychomagic, a name that (given his cooky reputation) offers hostages to wise cracking fortune. He cites the Tarot, rather than any conventional therapeutic discipline, as the foundation of his method, which blends a frisson of Ferencszi, a jolt of Janov and perhaps a soupcon of snake oil. El Jodo is a charismatic individual and although we see apprenticed Psychomagic practitioners applying his ideas at various points in this film, one wonder how the discipline will fare when he’s gone. Innumerable studies have proven that those in therapy benefit from human company and attention, also (yes, Sandor) from tactile comfort. Jodorowsky has always been an expert manipulator of emotion (a manifestly cool and together lady who accompanied me to The Scala to watch Santa Sangre was reduced to tears during the scene of the elephant’s death) and some of the case studies here are genuinely moving, though I can’t entirely dismiss the suspicion that some of the patients just might be shills. Then I think I’m just being an insensitive heel…
The thing that troubled me most about Psychomagic, A Healing Art, was the section in which AJ’s helping a cancer sufferer come to terms with her illness and prognosis… fair enough, but entitling this episode “Can Cancer Be Cured?”, in an age of rising quackery (tied in with conspiracy theories, the “post truth” media landscape, Gwyneth Paltrow’s vaginal candles, et al ) seems, to me anyway, to be a seriously questionable move.
Health warning. Embrace Psychomagic. With caution.
THE WHOLE TOWN’S TALKING (1935) UK BD premiere. THE LONG GRAY LINE (1955) World BD premiere. GIDEON’S DAY (1958) UK BD premiere. THE LAST HURRAH (1958) UK BD premiere.
The pictures John Ford made on loan (from RKO, Fox, Argosy, wherever) at Columbia (over quite a period of time) are often considered minor, even aberrant fixtures in his monumental legacy but this Indicator box reveals consistent auteurist preoccupations alongside many incidental bits of fun.
Given what he achieved in The Searchers just a year later, it’s intriguing to learn that Ford initially baulked at shooting The Long Gray Line in CinemaScope. Adding insult to injury, the picture was subsequently released States side in black and white… and cut! Such is the fate of “minor” films, even those of major directors. But this biopic of West Point stalwart Marty Maher (played by Tyrone Power), from “straight off the boat” eejit to pally audiences with President Eisenhower is thematically much of a piece with the recognised classics of the Ford canon… humour, humanity, sadness, stoicism, mortality, compassion… the passing parade of life and death.
While not as outright anti as e.g. Jack Garfein’s The Strange One, The Long Gray Line evidences shadings of ambivalence towards the military and notions of patriotism, tradition and the like. A more personally felt battle, against the anti-Mick stuff, is only lightly touched upon here…
… but more pointedly in The Last Hurrah, a story of old school paternalistic American politics (if, indeed, such a thing ever existed) being supplanted by plastic personalities and PR spin (I was watching this one on the very day that the current occupant of the White House suggested shooting up disinfectant as a cure for Coronavirus). The giants are leaving the stage here, and what screen presence could be more gigantic than that of Spencer Tracy as Frank Skeffington, standing for re-election as mayor of “a New England town”? Ranged against him are the vested interests of old money WASPs, represented by Basil Rathbone and John Carradine, the latter a J. Jonah Jameson type newspaper proprietor who harbours a historical grudge on account of an ancient run in with Skeffington’s mother. Ford himself wasn’t above pursuing such vendettas, as Donald Sinden has related in his memoirs concerning the making of Mogambo (1953).
In our more cynical times, it’s easy to get snotty about sentiment verging on sentimentality but (just as with Spielberg, who learned so much from Ford) you see the big emotional punches coming, you know how much contrivance went into them and they still get you every time (even when, for instance, Skeffington’s very last hurrah is signalled by some ripe old over acting from Jeffrey Hunter as his nephew…)
The other two titles here are regarded as the real departures from “orthodoxy” but you don’t have to poke too far into them to find familiar Fordian concerns and anyway, the ways in which they do differ from more canonical material make for some of the most interesting and entertaining viewing on this set. Gideon’s Day (Gideon Of Scotland Yard in the States and released in the same year as The Last Hurrah) is a very English affair, adapted from the novel by John Creasey, written by T.E.B. Clarke (who also penned, among so many others, the Ealing classics Hue And Cry, Passport To Pimlico, The Titfield Thunderbolt and The Lavender Hill Mob), shot by David Lean’s favourite DP, Freddie Young and starring the redoubtable Jack Hawkins, whom Ford described as the best actor he ever worked with (what John Wayne thought of this is not recorded). For all its Englishness, that country’s upper classes don’t get away without the expected kicking. The story is pretty much “what it says on the tin” and beyond that I’m not going to say too much, as I’m meditating a separate posting devoted to this (and another) film.
The Whole Town’s Talking is the earliest and probably most atypical of this bunch. Milquetoast office clerk Arthur Ferguson Jones (Edward G. Robinson) yearns hopelessly for sassy Wilhelmina (Jean Arthur) until he is mistaken for public enemy number one “Killer” Manion (Edward G. Robinson) with predictably riotous consequences. Robinson had of course established his crime kingpin credentials beyond debate in Mervyn LeRoy’s Little Caesar (1931) but proves here, if such proof were needed, his dramatic range (Robinson had already essayed a dual role in Archie Mayo’s distinctly odd The Man With Two Faces, the previous year) … kudos to for DP Joe August for split screen process shots, some of which have you wondering: “Hang on, how did they do that?”
Nobody ever stole the show or so much as a scene from Edward G. Robinson (let alone two Edward G. Robinsons) but Jean Arthur holds her own against both in the kind of feisty female role that provided the model for Daria Nicolodi’s performance as Gianna Brezzi in Deep Red (1975). Ford, having given Arthur her screen debut in Cameo Kirby (1923), here established her in the persona that would see her through several subsequent screwball comedies for Frank Capra.
Extras on this box set
THE WHOLE TOWN’S TALKING
Original mono audio
Cymbaline (2020): a new video essay by Tag Gallagher, author of John Ford: The Man and His Films
Leonard Maltin on ‘The Whole Town’s Talking’ (2014): archival appreciation by the film critic and historian
Sheldon Hall on ‘The Whole Town’s Talking’ (2020): new appreciation by the film historian
Pamela Hutchinson on Jean Arthur (2020): a look at the life and career of the acclaimed actor
Image gallery: promotional and publicity materials
New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
Limited edition exclusive booklet with a new essay by Farran Smith Nehme, an extract from the W R Burnett’s Jail Breaker, Edward G Robinson on The Whole Town’s Talking, an overview of contemporary critical responses, and film credits
UK premiere on Blu-ray
THE LONG GRAY LINE
Original mono audio
Audio commentary with film historians Diana Drumm, Glenn Kenny and Farran Smith Nehme
Living and Dead (2020): a new video essay by Tag Gallagher, author of John Ford: The Man and His Films
Leonard Maltin on ‘The Long Gray Line’ (2014): archival appreciation by the film critic and historian
The Red, White and Blue Line (1955): rare promotional film, featuring the principal cast of The Long Gray Line
Original theatrical trailer
Image gallery: promotional and publicity materials
New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
Limited edition exclusive booklet with a new essay by Nick Pinkerton, archival interviews with John Ford, Maureen O’Hara on The Long Gray Line, an overview of contemporary critical responses, Anthony Nield on The Red, White and Blue Line, and film credits
World premiere on Blu-ray
Original mono audio
Alternative feature presentation with the US Gideon of Scotland Yard titles
Audio commentary with film historian Charles Barr (2020)
Milk and Sugar (2020): a new video essay by Tag Gallagher, author of John Ford: The Man and His Films
Leonard Maltin on ‘Gideon’s Day’ (2014): archival appreciation by the film critic and historian
John Ford’s London (2020): new appreciation by Adrian Wootton, Chief Executive of Film London
Interview with Elaine Schreyeck (2020): the continuity supervisor recollects her work on the set
John Ford and Lindsay Anderson at the NFT (1957): rare silent footage of Ford visiting London’s National Film Theatre during the production of Gideon’s Day
Original UK theatrical trailer
Image gallery: promotional and publicity materials
New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
Limited edition exclusive booklet with a new essay by Robert Murphy, an interview with producer Michael Killanin, Jack Hawkins on Gideon’s Day, Lindsay Anderson on John Ford, an overview of contemporary critical responses, and film credits
UK premiere on Blu-ray
THE LAST HURRAH
Original mono audio
True Blue (2020): a new video essay by Tag Gallagher, author of John Ford: The Man and His Films
Leonard Maltin on ‘The Last Hurrah’ (2014): archival appreciation by the film critic and historian
Super 8 version: original cut-down home cinema presentation
Original theatrical trailer
Image gallery: promotional and publicity materials
New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
Limited edition exclusive booklet with a new essay by Imogen Sarah Smith, John Ford on Spencer Tracy and The Last Hurrah, screenwriter Frank S Nugent on John Ford, an overview of contemporary critical responses, and film credits
UK premiere on Blu-ray.
Pity they couldn’t find room for the notoriously icky Sex Hygiene, the VD awareness film that Ford made for the US armed forces in 1942.
The Long Gray Line’s Betsy Palmer is probably best remembered by our regular readers for her appearance in another film…