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Classic Coming Attractions by Barrie Maxwell

Barrie Maxwell - Main Page

Classic Reviews Round-Up #40 and New Announcements

Welcome to the latest installment of Classic Coming Attractions. This edition is a little shorter than usual, but I wanted to cover a trick-or-treat bag of releases in time for Hallowe'en (Fox's The Fly Collection and Fox Horror Classics, Sony's Sam Katzman: Icons of Horror Collection, and Universal's Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Season 3). As usual I also run down the latest classic announcements (not a lot to report on this time).


Reviews

Fox Horror Classics offers three films stylishly directed by John Brahm and from the early 1940s. Included are two A films starring Laird Cregar - The Lodger (1944) and Hangover Square (1945) - and the 1942 B film The Undying Monster.

Fox Horror Classics

Brahm was one of the many German directors who made their way to Hollywood in the wake of the Nazi rise to power in Germany in the early 1930s. After a stint at Columbia, Brahm signed on at Fox where he had a successful decade of work during the 1940s, directing a wide variety of films including those above as well as the likes of Orchestra Wives, Tonight We Raid Calais, Four Jills in a Jeep, and The Brasher Doubloon. He was loaned out to RKO where he also made The Locket. As with many of his German compatriots, he was schooled in the expressionistic techniques of the 1920s and that is very effectively reflected in his work on all three titles in this new Fox set. The other chief benefit of the set is the inclusion of two of Laird Cregar's best performances. Cregar's star shone very brightly in the early 1940s and he demonstrated a great capacity for a variety of menacing roles. Two larger than life performances in Blood and Sand and Heaven Can Wait are worth seeking out in addition to the two films in this set. Unfortunately, Cregar aspired to be a leading man and developed serious health issues as a result of rapid and massive weight loss, leading to his unexpected death at age 32. In The Lodger, he plays a splendid Jack the Ripper while he is even better as the composer with a dual personality in the set's best film, Hangover Square. Cregar's unsettling performances are nicely suited to Brahm's brooding and atmospheric staging of the stories and one is well rewarded by the tightly-paced films, both of which clock in briskly at well under an hour and a half. George Sanders provides solid support in both films while Merle Oberon and Linda Darnell are Cregar's chief victims respectively. The Undying Monster is more standard werewolf horror fare as an old English family suffers a series of attacks from some unknown being. There is a flavour of "Hound of the Baskervilles" to the film. The cast is workmanlike in nature (James Ellison, Heather Angel, and John Howard star), but the staging is above average for a B film. Fox presents all three films full frame as originally shot and The Undying Monster and The Lodger particularly look very good with crisp images sporting good contrast and deep blacks. Hangover Square is a little weaker with occasional softness and a vertical line that intrudes on the centre of the image from time to time. The mono sound on all is in good shape. Supplements, as usual for Fox are very good. They include a very informative and entertaining audio commentary on The Lodger from Alain Silver and James Ursini, and an almost equally engaging one by Richard Schickel on Hangover Square. The latter film also sports a good second commentary by film historian Steve Hagerman and actor Faye Marlowe. New featurettes include a making-of for The Lodger and profiles of Laird Cregar (on the Hangover Square disc) and John Brahm (on The Undying Monster disc). Various advertising and stills galleries, a vintage radio show version of Hangover Square, lobby card inserts with each disc), and a trailer for The Undying Monster round out the set. The three titles, each packaged in its own slim case, are only available in the set. Highly recommended.

Sam Katzman: Icons of Horror Collection

Sony finally demonstrates that it may have finally started to get the message on how to deal with classic titles. Mind you, we haven't exactly got the crème de la crème in Sam Katzman: Icons of Horror Collection, but the set's four films are enjoyable time-passers that have been well transferred and appropriately supplemented with vintage material. Included are The Giant Claw (1957) and Creature with the Atom Brain (1955) as one double bill on one disc in its own slim case and Zombies of Mora Tau (1957) and The Werewolf (1956) as a second double bill similarly packaged. All four films were produced by B film specialist Sam Katzman and directed by either Edward L. Cahn or Fred F. Sears. Katzman had a long career in films ranging from independent producing companies such as Puritan and Liberty in the 1930s where he produced several series of Tim McCoy westerns to East Side Kids/Bowery Boys films for Monogram in the early to mid 1940s, numerous serials for Columbia in the 1940s and 1950s (Adventures of Sir Galahad, Atom Man Vs. Superman, Mysterious Island, for example), science fiction/horror thrillers for Columbia in the 1950s (as represented by this set), and Elvis Presley films for MGM in the 1960s. Creature with the Atom Brain is the most enjoyable title in the new Sony set. Sure the story is hokey (a criminal tries to re-establish his power by reanimating dead thugs with the aid of an ex-Nazi scientist), but it's told with obvious relish and well endowed with familiar faces from serials. Richard Denning has the lead role. The film is presented full frame, but is likely an open matte presentation of a film that probably got projected both at the old Academy standard of 1.37:1 as well as the newly-introduced wider 1.85:1 standard of the time. The transfer is crisp with very good contrast. The Werewolf is a nice surprise. It's one of the atomic thrillers of the time, this time focusing on scientists who experiment on a car-crash victim with a vaccine to combat nuclear fallout. Unfortunately the vaccine has some annoying side effects. Joyce Holden, Harry Lauter and Don Megowan star in this tautly directed and attractively shot film. Lesser fare is offered by The Giant Claw (a ridiculously bad-looking giant bird menaces Earth - Jeff Morrow stars but this is no This Island Earth) and especially by Zombies of Mora Tau (diamonds on a sunken ship are guarded by a crew of zombies - at least the likes of B western faces Morris Ankrum and Ray Corrigan are around as a diversion). Still, I can see how both could be guilty pleasures for some enthusiasts. All three of the latter films sport 1.85:1 anamorphic transfers that look very attractive with sharp images and very good image detail. The mono sound on all four films is quite strong. Supplements include chapter 2 of Katzman's 1951 serial Mysterious Island, a Mr. Magoo cartoon, a comedy short from the mid-1930s entitled Midnight Blunders, and trailers for each films. The only obvious omission is some sort of featurette focusing on Sam Katzman. Many people won't have a clue who he is and as things stand now, they go away from the set little the wiser about him. Despite that, this set is an easy recommend.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Season Three

Universal has already given us the first two seasons of Alfred Hitchcock Presents on DVD and now we have Season Three as well. Season One had some issues with the image quality, but these were adequately addressed on Season Two which gave us the entire set of shows on five discs. Season Three now offers more of the same - five discs containing 39 episodes, all presented full frame as originally shown and neither cut nor time compressed as far as I could tell. The images are generally very strong in terms of sharpness and black level. Contrast is also strong. The mono sound is more than acceptable. There are no supplements. As usual, the episodes are a rich source of performances by guest stars, this time including Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy, Vincent Price, Fay Wray, E.G. Marshall, William Shatner, and Peter Lorre. Virtually every episode is entertaining with personal favourites including The Deadly (before there was "Desperate Housewives"!), The Percentage (a gangster's conscience gets the better of him), On the Nose (a woman tries to repay her bookie before her husband finds out), The Right Kind of House (a woman seeks more than market value for her house), and Bull in a China Shop (a twist on "Arsenic and Old Lace"). Recommended.

The Fly Collection

George Lagelaan's 1957 novella "The Fly" has inspired two separate big screen adaptations and a total of three sequels. While some people prefer the intense but somewhat graphic 1986 version of The Fly with Jeff Goldblum, most fans (including yours truly) agree that the 1958 version with Al (David) Hedison and Vincent Price is the one to see. The 1986 version occasioned one unmemorable sequel, while the 1958 version led to two sequels. Fox has now released the 1958 The Fly along with its two sequels [Return of the Fly (1959), The Curse of the Fly (1965)] in a new set entitled The Fly Collection. Each film gets its own disc packaged in a separate slim case. In The Fly, scientist Andre Delambre (David Hedison) invents a machine capable of transmitting matter through space, but when he attempts to test the device on himself, the presence of a fly in the chamber results in two horrible mutations that find Andre with the head and one arm of the fly and the fly with Andre's head and arm. Failing to reunite the two mutations, Andre turns to his disbelieving wife for help. The film was quite a success upon release, partly because it was accorded the trappings of a major release - colour and CinemaScope. The script, by James Clavell, is intelligent and the film is nicely paced with a well-executed conclusion, resulting in a genre film above the norm for its type. Vincent Price has an important role, but this was before he assumed the status of a horror icon. The film was previously available on DVD in a decent 2.35 anamorphic transfer. This new transfer improves on the old one somewhat in the areas of sharpness and colour fidelity. A 4.0 surround audio mix is offered, providing some good front separation effects but very limited and then only subtle use of the surrounds. An audio commentary featuring David Hedison is an entertaining and informative adjunct to the film. Return of the Fly (which might well have been titled "Son of the Fly" since the son of Andre Delambre [played by Brett Halsey] attempts to recreate his father's work) is for the most part a successful sequel. There's no colour this time, but there is CinemaScope and a plot line that moves efficiently and with some good suspense. Vincent Price returns as Andre's brother. Price has been quoted as saying he finds the sequel superior to the original. It certainly stands up well on its own and at 80 minutes in length never overstays its welcome. The film was also previously available on DVD in a 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer and again, the new transfer provides some improvement in sharpness and colour fidelity. The mono sound does its job effectively. The Curse of the Fly is certainly the least of the three films, but still a decent entertainment in its own right. Filmed in England with some American stars (Brian Donlevy for one) and a lower budget than either of the first two films, it focuses on the grandson of Andre Delambre and his family who are still dabbling in disintegrator/integrator experiments though more bizarrely than ever. The film is well written, and is moodily directed by Don Sharp, helping to overcome some of its rougher edges (acting and special effects). Available for the first time on home video, the black and white film is presented in a 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer. It's not quite as sharp as the other two, but looks very nice nonetheless. The mono sound is quite serviceable. The box set also contains an insert pamphlet of background production notes and a fourth disc of supplements, including the A&E Biography of Vincent Price, a standard making-of featurette Fly Trap: Catching a Classic, and for each film a package of trailers, stills, poster art, and pressbook material. Recommended.


New Announcements

Just a quick remider: The Classic Coming Attractions Database has been updated with the latest announcement news.

Criterion's January plans include the previously expected The Naked Prey on the 15th and three additional releases on the 22nd: Alf Sjoberg's Miss Julie (1950), Lindsay Anderson's This Sporting Life (1963, a 2-disc set), and 4 x Agnes Varda (Le Bonheur [1965], Cleo from 5 to 7 [1962], La Pointe Courte [1956], and Vagabond [1985] - all new transfers). January 15th will also bring Eclipse Series 7: Postwar Kurosawa, which will include I Live in Fear (1955), The Idiot (1951), No Regrets for Our Youth (1946), One Wonderful Sunday (1947), and Scandal! (1950).

Grapevine Video has new releases for October available now (grapevinevideo.com). There are five silent releases: Harry Langdon Comedies (Saturday Afternoon/Soldier Man, 1926), In the Tentacles of the North (1926, starring Gaston Glass and Alice Calhoun), The Man from Beyond (1922, with Harry Houdini), The Whirlpool of Fate (directed by Jean Renoir, 1925), and A Woman in Grey (1920, complete 15 chapter serial). The sound releases are a murder mystery double bill (Murder on the High Seas with Jack Mulhall, 1932/The Sunset Murder Case with Sally Rand, 1938) and a zombie double feature (Revolt of the Zombies with Dean Jagger, 1936/King of the Zombies with Mantan Moreland, 1941).

Lionsgate has a four-disc Cary Grant box set scheduled for January 8th. The titles included are: Indiscreet (1958), Operation Petticoat (1959), That Touch of Mink (1962), and The Grass Is Greener (1961). Given the recent track record, these are likely just reissues of Artisan's previous mundane transfers of these films.

MGM will have In the Heat of the Night: 40th Anniversary Edition on January 15th and a John Frankenheimer Gift Set on January 22nd. The latter will contain The Manchurian Candidate (1962), Ronin (1998), The Train (1964), and The Young Savages (1961). There's no indication whether The Train will be an upgrade from the old laserdisc-based, non anamorphic transfer. In the Heat of the Night already received a nice DVD treatment from MGM a few years ago, so it'll be interesting to see what may be added.

Paramount will have Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C.: Season 3 on December 11th and Rawhide: Season 2, Volume 2 on December 18th.

Restored Serials is currently working on four serials - Young Eagles (1934), The Return of Chandu (Bela Lugosi, 1934), Son of Tarzan (1920), and The Three Musketeers (John Wayne, 1933) - for release over the next few months and into early 2008.

In addition to its December 4th release of 20 Million Miles to Earth, Sony will issue the Ray Harryhausen Gift Set containing 20 Million Miles to Earth, Earth Vs. the Flying Saucers, and It Came from Beneath the Sea on the same date - all colourized so buyer beware (although the B&W versions will be included too).

Universal plans a number of double and triple features for release on February 5th. Most appear to be reissues including the two versions of Imitation of Life (1934, 1959), but new is a Lana Turner double of Portrait in Black (1960) and Madame X (1966) as well as a Tammy Trilogy [Tammy and the Bachelor (1957, with Debbie Reynolds), Tammy Tell Me True (1961, with Sandra Dee), and Tammy and the Doctor (1963, with Sandra Dee)]. Whatever happened to the Universal Classics series that was to appear with a new wave of four titles every quarter?

VCI will have two serials for release on December 4th - White Eagle (1941, with Buck Jones) and Battling with Buffalo Bill (1931, with Tom Tyler).

Warner Bros. will release Martin Scorsese Presents Val Lewton: Man in the Shadows on January 8th as a separate disc in addition to reissuing The Val Lewton Collection with the disc included in it. The studio has also finally announced the long-awaited Joan Crawford Collection: Volume 2 for February 12th. There will be five films - A Woman's Face (1941), Flamingo Road (1949), Sadie McKee (1934), Strange Cargo (1940), and Torch Song (1953) - accompanied by new featurettes, vintage short subjects, radio shows, and trailers. The press release doesn't note whether the titles will also be available separately, but I'd be surprised were that not the case.

In high definition news, Warners has announced a delay in its HD and BD release of the That's Entertainment! trilogy from November 13th to December 18th.

Well, that's it for this outing. See you all again soon!

Barrie Maxwell
barriemaxwell@thedigitalbits.com
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