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Kitchen Mechanics (1949)
A few minutes of footage from HERE COME THE CO-EDS
In the pre-home video days of 8mm, Super 8 and 16mm, many studios offered tiny reels of highlights from some of their more popular features. (I still have a ton of these.) This particular title is a sequence from one of Abbott & Costello's classic comedies, HERE COME THE CO-EDS, and might be more appropriately listed in the "alternate version" section of that film's entry. Most of these 3 - 7 minute digests tend to be listed under the appropriate film's "alternate versions" area, which is one of the reasons for that option. But, occasionally, a handful of these shorts end up getting listed on their own instead, creating an inconsistency in format on the IMDB and scattering information in several locations when it could be presented in a more concise fashion.
Rocket Ship (1936)
This is not the TV movie, but an earlier film from the same serial
ROCKETSHIP is frequently confused with a second (and very similar) film cut from the original 1936 FLASH GORDON serial, the 1966 TV movie SPACESHIP TO THE UNKNOWN. (While SPACESHIP contains most of the material found in ROCKETSHIP, that second film has a longer running time.) As with MARS ATTACKS THE EARTH (a feature made from the 1938 chapter-play FLASH GORDON'S TRIP TO MARS that hit theaters soon after Orson Welles' infamous WAR OF THE WORLDS panic broadcast), ROCKETSHIP was playing the big screens before the small screens become a household staple.
Curiously the third/final Flash Gordon serial, FLASH GORDON CONQUERS THE UNIVERSE, did not result in a theatrical feature from Universal. When the decision was made to make new features from the old serials in the mid-Sixties, CONQUERS THE UNIVERSE yielded no less than two instant TV movies, THE PURPLE DEATH FROM OUTER SPACE and THE PERIL FROM PLANET MONGO. (The new film made from FLASH GORDON'S TRIP TO MARS was called THE DEADLY RAY FROM MARS.)
Recycling the TWILIGHT ZONE
The Stephen King story "Word Processor of the Gods," which forms the basis for this episode of TALES FROM THE DARK SIDE, seems to have borrowed its basic premise from an old episode of the 1950s/1960s TWILIGHT ZONE, and given it a face-lift to make it more in keeping with current technology. (The TWILIGHT ZONE episode in question is Richard Matheson's "A World of His Own," featuring Keenan Wynn.) The TWILIGHT ZONE tale is about a writer who dictates material into a tape recorder, only to find that his recorded words become reality. The TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE outing substitutes the more modern computer for the dictaphone, and tells the tale of a writer who finds that the descriptions he enters into the word processor become reality.
The Shaggy Dog (1959)
This was NOT Disney's first live-action feature
The "Wild & Woolly" DVD edition of 1959's THE SHAGGY DOG (and some product reviews and posts found here) claim this film is the "first live action movie ever produced by Walt Disney!" I guess all those other live action features Walt produced PRIOR to THE SHAGGY DOG (such as 1957's OLD YELLER or 1954's Academy Award-winning 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA, among others) didn't count? (One comment posted here stated that 20,000 LEAGUES, like TREASURE ISLAND, was one of the films done for Disney in England because of studio funds tied up there. Not true; when not filming on location, 20,000 LEAGUES was shot on the sound stages at the Disney Studio in California...information supplied to me by the studio while I was researching & writing a magazine article on the making of the film.) I can see how some reviewers might make such a mistake, but for the claim to appear on the packaging that was approved by the Disney staff takes some serious explaining. (As does the differences in running time for the two versions of the film, with the B&W version being the full cut of the movie, while the colorized version is missing about 10 minutes of material.) Don't get me wrong,this is a great comedy and well worth having...it just deserved a bit better treatment for its fans.
Flight to Mars (1951)
Good DVD, but overpriced for such a poor print
Before I start being critical, let me point out that Image has released some excellent transfers of 1950s sci-fi from the Wade Williams/Corinth Films library on DVD. Because of their past track record, I went in with high hopes for this film, only to find that while the color looked pretty good for a Cinecolor film from this time period, the print used for the DVD was full of scratches, dust specks and splices...splices that made sections of conversation inaudible. Adding to the disappointment is that Image is charging about $10 more for this than most of their other Wade Williams titles. Part of the price may stem from the extras, which include two 25 minute interviews with leading man Cameron Mitchell by David Del Valle, which are a welcome addition to the package. But the quality of the overall presentation makes the higher cost seem like a questionable pricing practice.
A surprise to find this is even listed on IMDb
There are a number of films in Hollywood history that went into preproduction, even actually shot test footage for a presentation reel, only to be shelved by the studio for various reasons. Usually such ventures are forgotten to all but a few film fans & scholars, let alone actually listed on the Internet Movie Database. So it was very surprising (but a pleasant surprise!) to find Willis O'Brien's CREATION actually given a full listing here, especially since less than a full reel of film still survives. When JURASSIC PARK came out, there were dozens of bargain bin tapes on dinosaur movies that popped up to cash in on the interest in dino-films of the past, many of which included the CREATION footage in their collection of clips. Perhaps, when the DVD of the original KING KONG finally gets its years-overdue release, the CREATION footage will be restored and included among the extras.
The Man in Half Moon Street (1945)
An overlooked little jewel
THE MAN IN HALF MOON STREET (later remade by Hammer Films as THE MAN WHO COULD CHEAT DEATH) is an overlooked and under-appreciated little horror-fantasy. Sometimes compared with Oscar Wilde's PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY, unlike many genre efforts of the era, the film rarely seemed to get the same airplay on late night TV or on any of the "Shock Theatre" programs that were so popular in the pre-cable/pre-VCR days of the 1960s & 1970s. With so many of the classic horror films of the '30s and '40s now on DVD, and since Paramount produced THE MAN IN HALF MOON STREET (as well as handled distribution for the Hammer Films remake), it would be nice to see this released to DVD (possibly as a double feature with the Hammer Film production).
How About a DVD Double Feature?
THE MAN WHO COULD CHEAT DEATH (the Hammer Films remake of 1945's THE MAN IN HALF MOON STREET, based on the play by Barre' Lyndon) seems to be a forgotten fantasy-thriller. Often compared with Oscar Wilde's PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY, this film rarely seems to get the same airplay on late night TV or on any of the "Shock Theatre" programs that many of the other Hammer horror hits did, and has yet to receive a home video release. With so much of the Hammer library now out on DVD, and since Paramount handled Hammer's distribution for this (as well as having produced the 1945 original), it would be nice to see the two films released to DVD as a double feature. (Much like the HOUSE OF WAX/MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM or the Frederic March and Spencer Tracy versions of DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE.)
The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932)
THE MASK OF FU MANCHU has recently had several minutes of missing material restored to it, footage that has not been seen in decades. This longer cut of the film is currently enjoying a limited theatrical release, and it would be nice to see that followed by a DVD release. Probably one of the best of the films to be based on author Sax Rohmer's stories (along with FACE OF FU MANCHU and DRUMS OF FU MANCHU), it would be nice to see a potential DVD release possibly include commentary by Boris Karloff's daughter, Sara, or a look at the making of the film. Karloff commented in interviews that MASK was a troubled production, with constant changes to the script throughout the filming. In spite of that, the final film manages to capture the feel of the pulp tales that inspired it.
Long overdue for DVD release
While it's been encouraging to see a number of George Pal's sci-fi and fantasy classics finally come to DVD, THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF THE BROTHERS GRIMM is one of many still waiting to debut in the digital format (along with HOUDINI, ATLANTIS: THE LOST CONTINENT, a complete PUPPETOONS collection, etc..) With Terry Gilliam's new THE BROTHERS GRIMM film in theaters, it would seem like the timing would be perfect for such a release.
Although available on VHS for some time, the tape doesn't do the film justice. GRIMM was shot using the three camera/three projector Cinarama process. With cast and crew members such as Russ Tamblyn (who provided commentary for Pal's TOM THUMB DVD) and stop-motion animator Jim Danforth still around, it would be nice to see Pal's fairy tale film get the deluxe DVD treatment, with the insight of surviving participants giving us a behind the scenes look at the making of the movie.
Doctor X (1932)
A film deserving of the DVD treatment
This is one of two Technicolor films to pair Fay Eray and Lionel Atwill with director Michael Curtiz (although Wray and Atwill would appear in the horror film VAMPIRE BAT, without the benefit of Technicolor or Curtiz). With DOCTOR X's companion film, MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM now out on DVD (it's one of the bonus features on the Vincent Price version of HOUSE OF WAX), it would be nice to see this early Technicolor horror classic on DVD as well. They could double it up with the Black & White version filmed simultaneously. (Unlike HOUSE OF WAX, whose B&W print was taken from the same negative as the color version, DOCTOR X actually shot an alternate black and white version at the same time the color version was being filmed...a fact that annoyed Technicolor. A comparison of the two films shows various differences in camera angles, etc.) Perhaps, if there is room, they could even throw in the obscure Warner Brothers' RETURN OF DOCTOR X, notable as being Humphrey Bogart's only horror film.
Real Movie Magic
One of the first extensive documentaries to be made about stop-motion maestro Ray Harryhausen, this light-hearted look at his work is almost the video equivalent of Ray's "Fantasy Film Scrapbook." It's a shame that this video has been out of print for so long, and it is long overdue for a DVD release. While not as comprehensive as THE HARRYHAUSEN CHRONICLES (which has been released as a special edition DVD, as well as been included as an extra by Columbia on nearly every one of their Ray H. DVDs), it does give us an extended on screen look at Harryhausen, himself, discussing his films, plus on screen comments by Ray Bradbury about his life-long friendship with the animator. I don't know who currently holds the rights to this film, but there seems to be enough interest in it to warrant it being reissued in the digital format.
An Amazing Animation Anthology
This double DVD set of Harryhausen's early work is a great collection. DVD 1 gives us all of Ray's fairy tales, including the recently completed TORTOISE AND THE HARE, and all have been restored (both in terms of picture quality and, in some cases, length), allowing us to see the complete versions of each short, with richer detail and color than ever before. In addition, we are also treated to early animation tests and experiments (some never before shown to the public). DVD 2 contains interviews, stills and art gallery, a reunion of Ray's Harryhausen & Bradbury, along with Forrest J. Ackerman, and footage showing Ray receiving his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. All in all, about 4 hours of material for stop-motion fans. Now if only someone would release the 1986 Harryhausen documentary ALIENS, DRAGONS, MONSTERS & ME.
Der Stern von Bethlehem (1921)
A Holiday Surprise
This past Christmas, I was glancing through a bargain bin of DVDs and found a compilation of Christmas shorts. While several of the titles in the collection turn up on numerous other compilations (the hazards of public domain!), I was surprised to find that one of the shorts was Lotte Reiniger's STAR OF BETHLEHEM. This is, perhaps, one of three titles by her still available. The only other early cut-out animation from this pioneer of the process is the excellent DVD of THE ADVENTURES OF PRINCE ACHMED, which not only contains that Arabian Nights feature, but a documentary on Reiniger, as well as an animated silent theatrical commercial by her for a popular bath soap. It's a pity that a more comprehensive compilation of her fairy tales has not been put together.
Nu hei xia Huang Ying (1992)
Better known as LADY BLACK MASK
Nearly every English language home video version of this film (NE HEI XIA HUANG YING/DEADLY DREAM WOMAN) uses the title LADY BLACK MASK. Yet, for some reason, if you type that title into the Internet Movie DataBase, it cannot find a match. (This film has no connection to the Jett Li thriller BLACK MASK, or its sequel, by the way, but is still an entertaining martial arts thriller.) When female mercenary Nightingale Wong is knocked unconscious during a fight, she awakens with amnesia in a brothel. Sensing an opportunity, the establishment's madam welcomes the newcomer into her happy little family. Needless to say, they do not live happily ever after, especially when the Nightingale's memories begin to come back to her after crossing paths with old enemies.
Kairyu daikessen (1966)
Another defective DVD?
Recently picked up the Retromedia DVD double feature of RETURN OF THE GIANT MONSTERS/THE MAGIC SERPENT, the third classic Japanese sci-fi volume from this company. As with the previous two DVDs, the transfers looked pretty decent, and for what you get the price is nice. However, like the two previous Retromedia Gamera releases, this one has the same playback problems that plagued the earlier DVDs--one of the features wants to freeze up while it plays. In this instance, THE MAGIC SERPENT freezes up about 10-15 minutes into the film. I have seen various reviews complain about this kind of problem on all 3 of Retromedia's Gamera titles (yet none of their other releases seem to suffer from this). After the problem was brought to their attention with their first Japanese sci-fi release, DESTROY ALL PLANETS/ATTACK OF THE MONSTERS, it would seem something could be done to correct/prevent any further such occurrence.
RetroMedia Playback Problems
Recently picked up the Retromedia DVD double feature of RETURN OF THE GIANT MONSTERS/THE MAGIC SERPENT, the third Gamera volume from this company. As with the previous two DVDs, the transfers looked pretty decent, and for what you get the price is nice. However, like the two previous Retromedia Gamera releases, this one has the same playback problems that plagued the earlier DVDs--one of the features wants to freeze up while it plays. In this instance, the second feature (THE MAGIC SERPENT) freezes up about 10-15 minutes into the film. I have seen various reviews complain about this kind of problem on all 3 of Retromedia's Gamera titles (yet none of their other releases seem to suffer from this). After the problem was brought to their attention with their first Gamera release (DESTROY ALL PLANETS/ATTACK OF THE MONSTERS), it would seem something could be done to correct/prevent any further such occurrence.
Beyond Tomorrow (1940)
Colorized and cut up
Fox Home Entertainment has once again attempted to improve upon a classic. Last year it was THE GREAT RUPERT, which the studio decided to colorize and release under the title THE Christmas WISH. (Fortunately, the B&W original--with the new title, alas--was included as a bonus.) Now, BEYOND TOMORROW gets similar treatment. However, in addition to colorizing and retitling the film (BEYOND Christmas), the company has also chopped out about 5 minutes of material from the movie. (Made even more obvious by the fact that the footage shows up on TV and on all previous VHS & DVD versions, including the bargain bin copies.) Granted, they include the material in the Extras as "deleted footage," but that only begs the question, "What was the point of deleting it at this time, to begin with?" Some of the deletions, such as the sequence where Arlene Terry's ex-boyfriend clashes with her new leading man, destroy the emotional impact of the showdown between the two men and Arlene during the film's finale. To first-time viewers unfamiliar with the film, the jilted lover's appearance at the end comes almost out of the blue, causing confusion as to who he is. In spite of these alterations/deletions, the box proudly announces the film is fully restored. Sorry, Fox, but the term "restoration" does NOT mean alteration or condensation. (For those wanting to see the complete film as it was meant to be seen, check out the VCI DVD.) And with the various advances in such technology, it is amazing to see how artificial the colorization still looks, at least on this film. (To this day, perhaps the most realistic colorization remains the process used on select episodes of Walt Disney's ZORRO TV series from the 1950s. If colorization is a process that has to still be practiced, then it needs to be perfected. There is no excuse for the color quality on this, especially considering how long ago it was that Disney colorized ZORRO and some of the early Mickey Mouse shorts, to convincing effect.) On a more positive note, however, the Fox release does include some vintage theatrical Christmas shorts, such as Bob Hope and Bette Davis pitching Christmas Seals.
New DVD is a revelation
Even though it's not due in stores until next week, I found the new Universal DVD release of this actually on shelves a week early. Nice transfer, photo gallery, 40 minute "making of" and director commentary all really enhanced my enjoyment of the film. I had heard complaints about the color balance in the laser disk and previous DVD that was released by Image.
According to Badham, on the new DVD, this was intentional. He had hoped to be able to drain out the color from the film in post-production prior to the theatrical release, but the only equipment in existence to do that was--in 1979--residing in Red China, making it unavailable. Only years later, in the laser and digital era, was the director able to create the effect he wanted. My only complaint about this 2004 DVD release is the studio was a bit stingy, not bothering to include the trailer or even an insert listing chapter stops. (This DVD has 18, the Image release had 16.)
A Missing Marvel Masterpiece?
I recall stumbling across this to rent on the shelves of a Video Towne store in the mid-1980s, and the cover caught my eye. I took it home, popped it into the machine, and immediately experienced Deja Vu. This cartoon was based on Marvel Comic's monthly color series, "Tomb Of Dracula," from the early 1970s. (Which is when and where the character of Blade made his debut appearance.) I even still have the issue(s) used as the springboard for the story. My memories are a bit dim, but it seems as if the box for this was sketchy on details, and I don't recall any mention of Marvel being made on the packaging. Too bad this is out of print, as it would be neat to see it again and see how it holds up. Maybe it could be reissued under the Marvel banner and given better promotion, as the film seems to have slipped by unnoticed. It's so obscure, even die-hard fans of Marvel and/or Japanimation/anime' often have never heard of it.
Flashbacks in a box!
Hard to imagine so many childhood memories could be contained in such a small box, but that's certainly the case with the STINGRAY boxed set. Until they turned up on the Sci-Fi Channel a few years back, I had never seen these in color, so the contemporary reality seemed almost as vivid as the memory. (Too bad Sci-Fi is not still running such vintage viewing these days.) Great boxed set, packed with extra goodies for fans, and all on only 5 DVDs. I had a slight problem with DVD #5, when it came time to view the final episode, "Aquanaut of the Year." When selecting that episode from the main menu, the chapter stop menu for the episode came up, then the DVD stopped playing (even though I had not hit the stop key). I tried repeatedly to watch this episode, and finally found that the only way I could get it to play was to go to the episode before it ("The Lighthouse Dwellers"), and select the last chapter of that episode. Once it started playing, I then had to use the Chapter Advance button on my remote to manually skip to the start of "Aquanaut." Other than that, the rest of the set worked perfectly. The last line of the last episode was a great way to end the show: As Troy Tempest is the subject of a new "This is Your Life," an emergency breaks out and the Stingray crew scramble into action. Commander Shore looks into the camera to end the "This is Your Life" broadcast--and the STINGRAY series itself--with these words: "Thanks for a great show, but I'm afraid--whether you like it or not--this has got to be the end." Current shows, for adults and kids, should have such class.
With the rest of the Beach Party films having made their digital debut, THE GHOST IN THE INVISIBLE BIKINI deserves the same consideration. True, we don't get Frankie and Annette, but we do have A.I.P. regulars Tommy Kirk, Deborah Walley, Harvey Lambeck, Bobbi Shaw, Susan Hart, plus Nancy Sinatra, Boris Karloff and Basil Rathbone. Even though this is not the best of the Beach bunch, the cast alone makes it worth watching. Granted, the film's not a major motion picture, but it was FUN (which is more than can be said for a lot of other titles, old & new.) Since last few Midnite Movies from MGM have been double feature DVDs, maybe this could be paired up with DR. GOLDFOOT AND THE GIRL BOMBS film, which has also yet to see DVD release. (They could even throw on the obscure TV outing, THE WILD WEIRD WORLD OF DR. GOLDFOOT, as an extra.
Tale of the Mummy (1998)
Good cast, curious script
I took a chance on this, based on the cast (Christopher Lee, Honor Blackman, Sean Pertwee, Lysette Anthony, etc.) and because I liked some of the director's previous films (HIGHLANDER, THE SHADOW). But this was definitely a film where the parts were greater than the whole. It had some good moments (and, like many mummy movies, the early scenes in Egypt were among the highlights), but overall the film's plot unraveled faster than the mummy's wrappings. (I would recommend one of Hammer's classics, be it the 1959 MUMMY or 1971's BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY'S TOMB, over this.) I have to admit I have only seen the version released here in the U.S., which is 88 minutes compared to other running times of 115 and even 122 minutes, so maybe the longer cut would help. Would like to point out something, however: Throughout many of the reviewer comments made about the film on IMDB, it is repeatedly stated that writer/director Russell Mulcahy must be an American because of all the mistakes the movie made when it comes to London lifestyles...sorry, folks, but Mulcahy is from Melbourne, Australia.
The Great Rupert (1950)
The New DVD
Although released to DVD by Image a couple of years ago, Fox has reissued the film to DVD just in time for the 2003 holiday season...under a new title, A CHRISTMAS WISH. While a nice marketing move for the Christmas season, it is a little misleading, since the last half of the film is not holiday-oriented. Otherwise, a decent DVD offering the film in both original B&W, as well as a colorized version, all on the same DVD. (The colorized version also offers us a chance to hear co-star Terry Moore talk about the film on an optional soundtrack. While we hear about the tricks used with the live-action squirrels during production, little mention is made of the stop-motion technique in several key sequences with the title character of Rupert the Dancing Squirrel.) While the colorization process is not quite as good as that of, say, Disney's ZORRO or Laurel & Hardy's MARCH OF THE WOODEN SOLDIERS, it is better than many other attempts to "improve upon" black and white imagery. There are a couple of spots where the colorization process slips, however. Watch, in the soda shop, as one customer tells the clerk to "Cut me in on 40% of the winnings." The red Christmas stocking in the background suddenly reverts back to its original black and white image by the end of the line. Still, this overlooked fantasy--producer George Pal's first feature--may finally find a more mainstream audience, courtesy of Fox Home Video.
Tales of Washington Irving (1970)
Whatever happened to this atmospheric animated special? Back in the early 1970s, it was a television tradition to run this between Halloween and Thanksgiving. Briefly available on home video from MGM years ago, it seems all but forgotten today. Artwork using autumn colors told the tales of the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle. Like the Chuck Jones production of A CHRISTMAS CAROL from around the same time, this showed animation's potential at being more than just routine kiddie fare. (And, unlike many current cartoons, it was not a 30 minute commercial for some name brand toy disguised as a special.) And look at some of the names in the cast list. This really deserves a revival, if not on TV then certainly on VHS or DVD.