Showing posts with label Movie Classics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Movie Classics. Show all posts

Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Return of Charlie Chan

It's been about three years since the last DVD release, but four more late-period Charlie Chan mysteries from Monogram Studios are coming to DVD in a couple of weeks (August 6th), courtesy of Warner Home Entertainment's latest Charlie Chan Collection

I've never seen any of these four particular crime capers - Shadows Over Chinatown, Docks Of New Orleans, Shanghai Chest and The Golden Eye - which were produced on a shoestring by the legendary Poverty Row studio, but as an unrepentant B-mystery & Chan fan, I'm looking forward to adding them to my collection. (Even if three of them star the somnambulant Roland Winters, by far the least-interesting of the actors who portrayed the Honolulu detective.)

They're arriving right in the nick of time, too, as I've just finished watching the last of the Falcon mysteries, starring Tom Conway, and produced by RKO, and I'll be needing some fresh material for my nightly Late Movies.

Pre-order from Amazon: Charlie Chan: Collection

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Ray Harryhausen, R.I.P.

Ray Harryhausen, the undisputed master of stop-motion animation, has passed away at age 92. As others have noted, he didn't create the special effects technique of animating small models one frame at a time, but he perfected it in a series of imaginative motion pictures that, regardless of their other merits (or lack thereof), will endure forever because Ray somehow managed to breath convincing life into his menagerie of mythological and fantastical creations, working in solitude for months at a time. There have been other talented stop-motion animators (including Harryhausen's own mentor, Willis O'Brien), but few managed to imbue their characters with quite as much personality and "soul."

The movies he made will always be remembered, but it is all of the artists and animators, filmmakers and authors that he inspired that will be his true and greatest legacy... and I count myself among them.

R.I.P. Ray. There's considerably less magic in the world today.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

The B-Movie Jungle

I received the new Bomba The Jungle Boy manufactured-on-demand DVD collection from Warner Archives yesterday. I've watched the first four of the six films in the set, and while I'll be posting a real review over on my DVD Late Show site early next week, I wanted to mention here how much I'm enjoying these Monogram B-movies.

While clearly shot on a shoestring budget, and a bit too leisurely-paced for their brief running times, I think these compare rather favorably to the Tarzan films that Sol Lesser was producing at the same time; they're clearly cheaper, but not much cheaper than the Lex Barker Tarzan entries. Johnny Sheffield, while still decidedly boy-ish of face, has a remarkably impressive adult physique worthy of a jungle man, and appears to be doing a surprising number of his own stunts.

In these first four films - Bomba The Jungle Boy, Bomba On Panther Island, Lost Volcano, and The Hidden City - there's a reasonable variety to the storylines, even if they do manage to include almost every convention (or cliché) of the jungle adventure film - and we wouldn't want it any other way. (Haven't seen anyone trapped in quicksand yet, though.)

I'm definitely looking forward to spinning the last couple films in Volume One, and hope that Volume Two will be coming soon.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Bomba, The Jungle Boy

This week, Warner Archive released the first volume of Bomba, The Jungle Boy films on DVD. The films, based on a children's book series published in the 1920s, were produced by the Poverty Row studio Monogram Pictures starting in 1949 as a vehicle for youthful actor Johnny Sheffield, who had just completed his tenure as "Boy" in the Tarzan films produced by MGM and RKO. As Bomba, Sheffield was able to remain in the jungle spotlight for a few more years (until 1955!), in much the same manner as his on-screen father figure, Johnny Weismuller, who moved on to make a series of low-budget Jungle Jim B-movies for Columbia, post-Tarzan.

I've never seen any of the Bomba films, but I love old Hollywood backlot jungle adventures, and look forward to checking these out. This first volume contains six features: Bomba The Jungle Boy, Bomba on Panther Island, The Lost Volcano, The Hidden City, The Lion Hunters, and Elephant Stampede. With luck, I'll be reviewing these for my DVD Late Show site.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Go Go Gorgo

One of my favorite monster movies is Eugène Lourié's, Gorgo. The third of Lourié's triptych of giant monster flicks (following The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms and The Giant Behemoth), 1961's Gorgo is a terrific entertainment, with good performances, a solid script. and excellent "suitmation" (man-in-suit) creature effects and miniatures.

The film tells of an English salvage vessel crew that captures a thirty-foot tall reptilian creature off the coast of Ireland. They dub the beastie "Gorgo" and haul it to London and put it on display. Unfortunately, despite his primeval proportions, Gorgo's just a baby, and it's much, much larger mother of a monster is coming to retrieve her purloined offspring... and all the King's forces are no match for her maternal fury.

I watched the film again a couple weeks ago on the DVD released by VCI Entertainment back in 2005, and while the movie held up to my fond memories of it, the audio-visual quality was atrocious. Colors were faded and blurry, contrast was terrible, and there was a fair amount of wear and tear evident on the source print. To add insult to injury, the 1.78:1 widescreen transfer wasn't anamorphically enhanced for 16x9 displays. Fortunately, I've heard rumors that VCI will be remastering the title in HD from new, much-improved source materials for a new release sometime in 2013. I really hope that's true.

Not only was Gorgo a movie star, but Charlton Comics published an ongoing tie-in comic that chronicled the juvenile lizards further adventures. Several of these stories were drawn by the legendary comics creator Steve Ditko. IDW Publishing has announced a special hardcover collection of these tales, to be released in February, 2013.

Here's their solicitation copy:
The genius artist Steve Ditko is a towering monster of awesomeness, and so is the character he chronicled... GORGO! If you love Godzilla - and who doesn't - you'll love Gorgo, who ravages London, New York City, and HOLLYWOOD! Gorgo goes head to head with the British Navy, atomic bombs, Communists, and aliens from the planet Corpus III! This is the complete Ditko Gorgo, 200-pages of comics, including six pulse-pounding covers all drawn during the height of Ditko's prowess concurrent with his Spider-man and Dr. Strange creative explosions. Scripts are by the fan-favorite writer Joe Gill. Introduction by Eisner award winner Craig Yoe with fascinating insight into the comics and the monster movie that inspired them. Every page is lovingly restored and the book is a large format hardcover to showcase the monstrous Ditko art.
 I'm almost certainly going to want to get this book, even though I only remember Ditko drawing a couple of the Gorgo comic books. I didn't think there would be enough material to fill 200 pages...

In any case, it looks like 2013 might be Gorgo's big year.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

The Eighth Wonder!

A couple of nights ago, I picked up the original King Kong on Blu-ray. Warners did an astounding job on the transfer, which appears to be derived from the same source used on the 2005 DVD, but further tweaked for high definition. I don't know how many times I've seen this film, but watching it again the other night on the 55" HDTV was almost like seeing it for the first time. It was a wonderful experience, and on the big screen TV, I noticed a multitude of details that I never really saw before.

I've owned the movie on VHS and on laserdisc (the 90s Criterion edition) and on DVD. It is, without question, one of my top ten favorite films of all time. I am so pleased to be able to have it on my shelf in this format. I'm also glad that Warner Home Video included all of the supplemental material from the 2005 DVD, particularly the exhaustive retrospective documentary produced by Peter Jackson.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Falcon Has Landed

Today I received the Falcon Mystery Movie Collection, Vol. 1, from Warner Archives, containing the first seven films in RKO's "Falcon" series. The films - which starred George Sanders and then his real-life brother, Tom Conway - are tight little B-mysteries in the vein of the studio's "Saint" programmers.

I guess I know what my next seven midnight movies are going to be...

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Reboot of Mr. Wong

It's interesting that so many people - including myself, on occasion, complain so much about Hollywood's seeming obsession with sequels, remakes and "reboots." The thing is, none of this is new. As I like to point out, John Huston's classic The Maltese Falcon was a remake of a movie made ten years earlier. Reboots - as we call it when filmmakers take an established franchise character, and start over with a new actor, pretending that the previous film installments never occurred - like Batman Begins and Casino Royale, aren't exactly a new phenomenon, either.

Karloff as James Lee Wong
Over the two years of 1939 and 1940, Poverty Row film studio, Monogram Pictures, produced six movies about a Chinese detective living in San Francisco named James Lee Wong. These films were based on some magazine short stories by pulpster Hugh Wiley, and were intended as the low budget "answer" to Fox Studios' popular Charlie Chan and Mr. Moto film series. In the first five films, James Wong was portrayed by Caucasian screen bogeyman Boris Karloff, under some light makeup, as a sly, somewhat sedate, consulting criminologist. His police contact was Lieutenant Street of the SFPD, portrayed by burly character actor Grant Withers, and they were frequently aided/irritated by a pretty young reporter played by Marjorie Reynolds.

These first five entries - Mr. Wong, Detective, The Mystery Of Mr. Wong, Mr. Wong In Chinatown, The Fatal Hour and Doomed To Die - were decent enough B-mysteries, a little lethargically-paced, perhaps, but okay time-wasters. When Monogram began production on their sixth Mr. Wong mystery - Phantom Of Chinatown - Karloff was, for some reason, unavailable. But, instead of casting another Caucasian actor (like Roland Winters, for example), Monogram actually hired Keye Luke - probably best known as "Number One Son," Lee Chan, in the 20th Century Fox Charlie Chan films - to take over the role.

Keye Luke as Jimmy Wong
And, according to most sources, that bold casting choice made Phantom Of Chinatown the first American-made movie since the Silent Era to have an Asian actor in the lead role. Top-billed, no less.

Of course, Luke was in his early 30s at the time, and Karloff was in his 50s, so it seemed unreasonable to expect audiences to believe that Luke's Wong was the same Wong as Karloff's, so the characters call him "Jimmy" and Withers' Lieutenant Street acts as if he's meeting Mr. Wong for the first time. Now, for some reason unknown to me, Phantom was the last Mr. Wong film at Monogram (although the scripts would all be recycled when the studio got their hands on the Chan character a few years later), but it's pretty clear that they were setting things up to continue with Keye Luke in the lead.

Now, there were other film mystery series that replaced lead actors during the 30s-40s - Sidney Toler replaced Warner Oland as Chan at Fox, a couple of suave British actors took turns playing The Saint at RKO before and after George Sanders, Ralph Byrd took over for Morgan Conway as RKO's Dick Tracy after a couple of films, etc. - but there was generally no acknowledgement of the change, and, as far as I can recall, in no cases did they ever just act like they were starting over from the beginning!

Nowadays, "reboots" may be annoyingly trendy and way too common (a Spider-Man reboot? Already?) -- but the idea certainly isn't new.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Happy Birthday Boris Karloff

Happy birthday to the true gentleman of horror, Boris Karloff, born this day in 1887 as William Henry Pratt in London, England. Not every movie he appeared in was a classic, but he was always a class act.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Happy Birthday Bela!

The immortal Bela Lugosi would have been 127 years old today.

Born October 20, 1882, as Béla Blasko in Lugoj, Romania, the handsome actor gained screen immortality as Dracula in the 1931 Universal film of the same name. Although his career had more than its share of peaks and valleys (or, perhaps more accurately, "peaks and chasms"), Lugosi's filmography is an embarrasment of riches for the dedicated horror movie fan.

Regardless of the quality of the production, Lugosi nearly always delivered a memorable performance, and, in potboilers like Bowery at Midnight, The Invisible Ghost, Voodoo Man, Scared to Death, The Corpse Vanishes or Ed Wood's Bride of the Monster, it is often only Lugosi's presence that makes them watchable at all.

With Halloween around the corner, it's the perfect time to pay tribute to the legendary actor by watching one or more of his remarkable performances. May I humbly suggest White Zombie (1932), The Black Cat (1934), The Raven (1935), Son of Frankenstein (1939), The Return of the Vampire (1944), or Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Regarding Tarzan

In the comments to the Tarzan comic book cover I posted yesterday, several people expressed little familiarity with the many Tarzan films made over the years, which surprised me. When I was growing up, even here, in the wilds of rural Maine, with only three television stations, Tarzan flicks (and the Ron Ely teleseries) were a staple of local broadcasting.

Admittedly, they're not shown much these days, and except for the Johnny Weismuller flix from MGM and RKO, most of the ape man's cinematic efforts are unavailable on DVD. (There are a few of the cheaper, independent Tarzan movies – ones that have fallen into the Public Domain – on disc, but they're not among the better ones, unfortunately. Oh yeah, the Bo Derek one is on DVD, too...)

Me, while I adore the Weismuller Tarzans (and Tarzan And His Mate is among the best – maybe the best – jungle adventures ever filmed) I'm also a huge fan of the later films from the Sixties.

Beginning with 59's Tarzan's Greatest Adventure (a bold title, but it lives up to it) with Gordon Scott and continuing through the two Jock Mahoney films and three Mike Henry vehicles, the last seven Jungle King movies from producer Sy Weintraub, are pretty much my favorite film interpretations of Edgar Rice Burroughs' signature character. Though updated to then-contemporary times, they actually portray the character much closer to the Burroughs novels than the any of the earlier films.

Tarzan is portrayed as literate and articulate, he travels the world, and can adapt quickly to any dangerous situation or environment. These films dropped the cinematic baggage that had built up over the years (Jane, Boy, etc.) and were pretty much balls-out adventure films with a badass in a loincloth. The best, IMO, are Tarzan's Greatest Adventure (1959), Tarzan The Magnificent (1960) – both starring Scott and surprisingly adult in nature – and Tarzan And The Valley of Gold (1966). Tarzan's Three Challenges (1963), is very good, too, though I find it uncomfortable to watch; star Jock Mahoney was ill during filming, and he literally wastes away as the movie goes on. Fine Tarzan adventure, though.

If you're interested in the history of the cinematic ape man, the best online resource I've found is the late Matt Winan's Tarzan Movie Guide website. He passed away in 2008, but the site is maintained by friends, and it's incredibly comprehensive.

Now... if Warners would just get around to releasing the Lex Barker Tarzan films on DVD...

Friday, September 19, 2008

Charlie Chan In...

I'm still sick, which means I've been spending my few waking hours wrapped in a blanket in my recliner, alternately sipping Theraflu and/or hot tea from my Femme Noir mug, watching DVDs with the window blinds shut tight.

This nefarious bug has ping-ponged around my body and has now settled in my chest, which feels like it's full of liquid mercury. It hurts to cough, my thinking processes are fuzzy, and my head and neck ache.

Thank god for Charlie Chan.

I received the fifth and final set of 20th Century Fox Charlie Chan films today. I had pre-ordered the set from Amazon, and it was supposed to have been here on Tuesday, but UPS was delayed by Ike. Still, as this flu/cold/whatever looks to be settling in for the weekend, I expect that Mr. Chan and Number Two Son Jimmy will be providing me with satisfactory companionship through the final stages of this viral assault.

I've only seen two of the seven films in this collection – Charlie Chan in Rio and Charlie Chan At The Wax Museum (one of my favorites) – so I'm eager to start spinning these discs. I think I'll start with Castle In the Desert. It's the last Fox Chan film, but its got a great setting (the aforementioned castle) and looks to have a lot of creepy, gothic atmosphere... not to mention the always sinister Henry Daniell.

With their formulaic plots, slick production values, and stock company of familiar Fox Studio contract players, the Charlie Chan films are the cinematic equivalent of comfort food, and feeling as lousy as I do right now, they're just what I need.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

A Slew of Sleuths

Old series mystery films – particularly those of the "B" variety – are fun for me on many levels. For one thing, I like mysteries and my memory's so bad, I can usually watch them several times before I stop forgetting who the culprit is. For another, these old movies are chock-full of familiar character actors and supporting players, and as an old movie buff, it's fun to pick out the lesser-known actors and actresses, especially when they've played memorable roles in other movies.

Well, last night before hitting the sack, I watched Charlie Chan in Reno again, one of the films in the last Chan DVD set from Fox. It was Sidney Toler's second film as Chan. Not only did he do a fine job in the role, the setting of Reno, Nevada – the divorce capital of the world – during the 30's made a fascinating backdrop for crimes of passion. But more than that, this little 1939 B-mystery movie is a virtual treasure trove of cinema crimefighters – nearly all of them playing suspects in the murder case!

First is suave ladykiller Ricardo Cortez, who I know mostly from having played a miscast Sam Spade in the first, pre-Bogie, version of The Maltese Falcon. One of the other suspects is Robert Lowrey, who played the caped crusader Batman (!) in the 1949 Batman and Robin serial. Another suspect is Morgan Conway, who portrayed America's top cop, Dick Tracy, in the first two of RKO's quartet of 40's Tracy B-features!

And finally, the romantic lead is square-jawed Kane Richmond, who played both Fawcett comic book hero Spy Smasher in the classic Republic cliffhanger of the same name and The Shadow in a couple of low-budget features!

So... in one 70-minute film, we've got Charlie Chan, Sam Spade, Dick Tracy, Batman and The Shadow (or Spy Smasher, if you prefer).

I think that's one helluva line up!

Friday, March 21, 2008

"...When The Autumn Moon Is Bright..."

I'm a big fan of the old Universal Monster movies of the 30's and 40's (end even the 50's; i.e. The Creature From The Black Lagoon). I haven't written much about that particular pop culture obsession in this blog because, well, over the last few years, there hasn't been much new and interesting to discuss. All the major films of the cycle hit DVD long ago, and even the collectible market's been kinda thin the last few years. (And even if it hadn't been, I couldn't afford to buy any toys nowadays, anyway....)

When it was announced a year or so ago that Universal was remaking The Wolf Man, well, frankly, I didn't much care.

After The Mummy "remake" turned out to be more of an Indiana Jones knock-off than anything resembling the Karloff (or Tyler or Chaney) original(s), followed by the fetid abomination that was Van Helsing... well, I didn't have much confidence in the studio doing justice to the character and film that's probably my favorite of the original Universal Monsters series.

In recent months, though, I have to admit, I've started to allow myself a little hope. Plot synopses online suggest that this one really is a remake of the original film's storyline, and the casting sounds interesting, with Benicio Del Toro playing the Lon Chaney Jr. role and Anthony Hopkins assuming Claude Rains' role. And further fueling my burgeoning – if cautious – optimisim, this past week, photos were released of Rick Baker's reimagining of the classic Ken Pierce Wolf Man make-up...

... and I like it.

I mean, I'm not surprised that the make-up's great – this is Rick Baker we're talking about, after all – but I'm impressed that they're using make-up at all, instead of going strictly for a CGI cartoon.

I understand that Del Toro's a big fan of the original 1941 film, and is also a co-producer on the remake. Dare I hope that this one will be respectful and be a worthy remake of a legendary – and damned fine – horror classic?

We'll see....

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Our Man Chan

My wonderful wife has informed me that, having become tired of my incessant whining, she has ordered Fox's Charlie Chan Volume 4 box set for me as a "Valentine's gift."

Now, that's true love.

I've written here before about my fascination with and affection for 30's and 40's B-unit series detectives, including Mister Moto, The Falcon, Mike Shayne, Dick Tracy and even Mister Wong. And while Universal's Sherlock Holmes films with Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce are probably my favorites in the subgenre, the Chan films are a close second – and, unlike those Holmes flicks, I haven't seen them all a dozen times!

The three previous Fox sets contained beautifully restored versions of all the surviving Chan mysteries starring Warner Oland. This latest volume moves on to the first four series entries starring Sidney Toler, who assumed the role upon Oland's death.

Now, Oland was the better actor, and his portrayal of Chan is undeniably definitive, but I rather like Toler's sly, slightly acerbic take on the Asian-American detective. He's definitely a bit harder on his offspring, but I really like the secret smile he gives whenever he's gotten a really good dig in, or when a malefactor falls unwittingly into his traps.

I've never actually seen any of the four films in this set – Charlie Chan in Honolulu, Charlie Chan in Reno, Charlie Chan at Treasure Island, and City In Darkness – so, I'm especially eager to get this collection. I've read that Treasure Island has the best script and cleverest mystery in the entire series. I can't wait to finally see it.

When World War II came around, Fox dropped the series. At that time, Toler personally purchased the film rights to the character, and made a deal with Poverty Row studio Monogram to continue the series. Despite the drastically-reduced budgets and increasingly silly scripts, I still enjoy those films. Six of them were released on DVD by MGM a few years ago.

Anyway, according to the missus, the discs should be here in five to ten days. Knowing my luck, it'll be ten. Sigh....

Monday, October 22, 2007

Happy Bela(ted) Birthday

This past weekend marked the 125th anniversary of the birth of silver scream legend Bela Lugosi.

Born October 20, 1882, as Béla Blasko in Lugoj, Romania, the handsome actor gained screen immortality as Dracula in the 1931 Universal film of the same name. Although his career had more than its share of peaks and valleys (or, perhaps more accurately, "peaks and chasms"), Lugosi's filmography is an embarrasment of riches for the dedicated horror movie fan.

Regardless of the quality of the production, Lugosi nearly always delivered a memorable performance, and, in potboilers like Bowery at Midnight, The Invisible Ghost, Voodoo Man, Scared to Death, or Ed Wood's Bride of the Monster, it is usually only Lugosi's presence that makes them watchable at all.

With Halloween around the corner, it's the perfect time to pay tribute to the legendary actor by watching one or more of his remarkable performances. May I humbly suggest White Zombie (1932), The Black Cat (1934), The Raven (1935), Son of Frankenstein (1939), The Return of the Vampire (1944), or Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)?

Happy birthday, Bela!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Vintage Sci-Fi on DVD

For the second year in a row, Universal Home Video has released a set of vintage science fiction thrillers in a DVD set that can only be purchased from the Best Buy chain.... assuming you can find them.

Last year's set included Tarantula, The Monolith Monsters, Monster on Campus, The Mole People, and, the gem of the set, the classic The Incredible Shrinking Man – in its proper widescreen ratio. for the first time on home video.

Although a number of fans hoped that Uni would offer the movies to the mass market soon after, they still have not done so.

So, when this year's set – which includes Dr. Cyclops, Cult of the Cobra, The Land Unkown (my favorite of the batch), The Deadly Mantis and The Leech Woman – went on sale last week, I convinced the wife to let me make the 50-mile drive to the closest Best Buy store to pick it up. (They're opening a new Best Buy store closer next year, fortunately.)

Frankly, this year's set is pretty weak. 1940's Dr. Cyclops, by the guys behind the original King Kong, is kinda fun, and is in three-strip Technicolor. And, I've been fond of 1957's The Land Unknown (cheesy dinosaurs and all) ever since seeing it when I was a kid on Channel Six's "Sci-Fi Theater," which, for several years in the Seventies, ran on Saturday afternoons during Summer vacation. But the rest of them – including the admittedly entertaining Mantis – are among the studio's weakest SF efforts. In a way, it's too bad This Island Earth and It Came from Outer Space had already been released seperately... but at least the studio issued It as a nice special edition a few years back.

Nonetheless, I still prefer vintage sci-fi and fantasy films over 99% of today's genre flicks, and I'm thrilled to have these in my library. The transfers are gorgeous, and it was great to finally see The Land Unknown in widescreen, which allowed me to even better appreciate the marvelous jungle sets and flawless compositing work of the FX crew.

(Now, I'm planning my trip to BB in late October for the exclusive "classic horror" set.)

Anyway, I was also hoping to pick up a couple of the new wave of MGM/Fox "Midnite Movie" releases – I have my eye on The Witchfinder General and Food of the Gods dics, as well as a few of the double feature sets (Return of Dracula/The Vampire, Yongary/Konga, Tales From The Crypt/Vault of Horror)– but the Best Buy in question didn't have any of them on their poorly-stocked shelves. Neither did our local WallyMart or Circuit City ... looks like Deep Discount DVD will be getting my business again.

Ah... the annual Halloween DVD "surge".... I love it, but if they'd release these things gradually over the year, it would be a lot easier on my limited budget....

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Movies!

Even though I'm a huge film fan, I haven't been to the cinema lately. Last film I saw on the big(-ish) screen was Spider-Man 3. Most likely, the next one I'll see is Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, as my wife refuses to miss those. There's a few flicks out now I'd like to go see: Pirates 3, Ratatouille, FF2, Live Free or Die Hard... but I'll probably end up catching them on DVD.

Most of my movie watching is on DVD these days. Among the discs I've spun lately are the Flash Gordon serial, G-Men, At The Earth's Core, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, A Day At the Races, Devil's Den, Stan Lee Presents The Condor, Batman Begins, Sleepers West (again) and Mr. Moto's Gamble.

Last week was my birthday, so I went out to Hollywood Video and rented a few recent discs. Saw Brick (which I thought was great), Ghost Rider Extended Cut (which – God help me – I liked), Smokin' Aces (which was a lot of fun), and Bridge to Tarabithia (which wasn't at all what I expected, and made me cry, dammit).

There's a lot of great stuff coming out on DVD now and in the near future (MGM has rebooted the "Midnight Movies" line for Halloween! Huzzah!), but the discs I'm most anticipating are: Flash Gordon: Saviour of the Universe Edition, The Monster Squad 20th Anniversary Edition, From Beyond Unrated Director's Cut and Charlie Chan Vol. 3, which includes the last of the surviving Warner Oland Chan films, including The Black Camel, co-starring Bela Lugosi. I hope Fox continues on with the Sidney Toler Chan films – I know it's borderline heresy, but I personally find Toler's acerbic take on the character to be more fun than Oland's admittedly charming, but restrained interpretation of the role.

I've already pre-ordered The Monster Squad (due out later this month), Chan and Flash (both due in August), and I'm eager to finally get my hands on a good, properly framed copy of From Beyond, which, for my money, is the best of director Stuart Gordon's Lovecraft canon. (Can't say I'm digging that cover art, though...)

But, as much as I love DVD, I do wish that we could get out to the theater more and that the experience wasn't always such a pain in the ass...

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

I'll bet ya $23.80!

So... what manly pastime have I been indulging in lately? Would you believe – watching Nancy Drew?

No, not the new movie with Eric Roberts' little girl, though I'll probably check it out on DVD one of these days, but the original Warner Brothers Nancy Drew B-movies from the Thirties, with bouncy Bonita Granville as the irrepressible girl sleuth (pictured above with Frankie Thomas as sidekick/boyfriend Ted Nickerson)– and the late 1970's Glen Larson (Battlestar Galactica, Knight Rider)-produced Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries, with Pamela Sue Martin (and, at the end, cute-but-bland Janet Louise Johnson).

Universal sent me the second season of Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries on DVD, and I just recently finished watching all the episodes. When the series premiered in '77, the show alternated episodes featuring the Hardy brothers and the intrepid Miss Drew. But ratings on the Drew episodes were consistently lower than on the Hardy episodes (I'm guessing that young boys watched the Hardy Boys episodes while skipping the Drews, while little girls watched them both, thanks to teen idol Shaun Cassidy as Joe Hardy), so in Season Two, Nancy was teamed up with Frank & Joe for several two-part episodes, while her solo outings were reduced to just a small handful of episodes. Unhappy with the new situation, pretty Pamela Sue Martin – who, as Nancy, was a little wooden, but always seemed smart, mature and competent – left the show and was replaced by the cute but unmemorable Johnson.

I know I watched the show as a kid, but I think I enjoyed it more this time around. Being a Glen Larson-Universal production, the economically-produced series is loaded with familiar TV guest stars of the era, plenty of opportunities for Cassidy to sing his trademark bubblegum pop, and – in one memorable 2 part episode – cameos by the stars of most of ABC's '78 prime time line-up in a story that's basically just a huge plug for the studio's then-new back lot tour!

But even better are the Bonita Granville Drews. All four entries in the short series – Nancy Drew: Detective, Nancy Drew: Reporter, Nancy Drew: Trouble Shooter and Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase – have just come out on a 2-disc set from Warner Brothers. Each film is about an hour long, briskly-paced, atmospheric and funny. Granville is an enthusiastic, cunning Nancy, who can twist her attorney father and boyfriend Ted ("Ned" in the books) around her little finger. Just 15 when she made the films, she's a little fireball – less cerebral than the later, more mature, TV incarnation, but still possessing the intelligence and courage of the literary character.

But, while I liked the films themselves, I guess I've been spoiled by Fox's excellent restoration efforts on their Charlie Chan and Mr. Moto mystery sets. Compared to those, the Warners Nancy Drew set is really disappointing. The films do not appear to have been restored or cleaned up at all and are plagued with omnipresent print damage, missing frames, dirt and debris. The audio is noisy and scratchy. The only extras are the original theatrical trailers.

Nonetheless, I recommend them. They're a lot of fun, and great examples of the B-mystery genre.

The Thirties' teen lingo is interesting, too (i.e. the title of this post).