Sunday, August 31, 2014


D: Rene Cardona.  Maura Monti is a busty, big-haired Italian beauty who became popular in the spicy wild world of Mexican genre films.  Monti stars as the curvy crime fighter/wrestler known as the Batwoman who is called in to solve the mystery of dead wrestlers washing up on the usually pristine Acapulco beaches.  In no time at all, Batwoman traces the beached hombres to a mad scientist with the less than sinister name of Dr. Williams, and his goofy lackey Igor, in the grisly quest for glands to create a super race of radio-controlled, red bug-eyed gill men.  Nothing, it seems, is too big and bad for Batwoman to handle except her single phobia- mice!

Among the film’s many exploitable elements, you’ll notice more than a nod to the CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, gratuitous acid disfigurement, karate, judo, lucha libre, wet lingerie, bikinis, big hairdos, a laboratory and a snappy twist jazz score.  The underwater photography is surprising effective and the colorful locations are a visual plus.  A stand out sequence is the underwater fight scene where  Batwoman wards off the attack of an amorous gill man that culminates in a gasoline-fueled water fire!  It's well-done and predates the memorable deep sea zombie attack in Lucio Fulci’s ZOMBI (1979).

Monti added some wholesome sex appeal to muchas peliculas in the wrestling, spy, sci-fi and horror genres during the 60s and 70s where she shared the screen with such legends as El Santo, Mil Mascaras, Blue Demon and even Boris Karloff!  It’s odd that this fast-paced actioner was never snatched up for U.S. distribution.  An enterprising distributor like K. Gordon Murray could have made a box office killing with some cheap dubbing and lurid advertising.  The VCI DVD is 4x3, in the Spanish language un-subbed with a soft but colorful image.  You can watch BAT WOMAN in its entirety on YouTube with decent fan subs.  Cardona’s son, Rene Jr., went on to become a prolific director in his own right.

MEN IN WAR (1957- U.S.) Olive Films Blu-Ray

D: Anthony Mann.  A bleak, hard-boiled Korean war drama starring the always interesting Robert Ryan (ON DANGEROUS GROUND) as Lt. Benson leading a rag-tag battle-fatigued team of platoon survivors through enemy territory. All the men are paranoid and irritable as hell while traveling sniper infested terrain when they encounter a shell shocked, speechless colonel (Robert Keith) and his trigger-happy aid, Montana (Aldo Ray).  As the men continue on, the enemy  is rarely seen  and each man must wage battle with both the snipers and their own personal demons.  Post WWII  Hollywood films, starting with the Korean conflict and continuing with Viet Nam, became increasingly disillusioned, morally vague and apocalyptic.  Filmmakers like Mann and Fuller would further explore the darker psychological aspects as opposed to the triumphant, heroic and strategic victories of previous war movies. The film ends on a suitably strong but ambiguous note.

Originally released through United Artists, MEN IN WAR showcases a solid ensemble cast of rugged, weary faces including Vic Morrow (THE LAST SHARK), Aldo Ray (THE NAKED AND THE DEAD), James Edward (Kubrick’s THE KILLING), L.Q. Jones (THE WILD BUNCH) and Victor Sen Yung among others.  Ray is a stand out as a brute survivor who knows how the enemy thinks (“you shoot or you die“) much to Ryan’s horror.  Morrow was just a few years away from starring in TV’s COMBAT.  The Chinese actor Yung plays a Korean sniper and is best remembered as Charlie Chan’s son in the Sydney Toler run of the detective series.  Stark and psychologically grim, Mann creates a quiet, dusty and desolate vision of hell expertly aided by the dynamic monochrome compositions of veteran cinematographer Ernest Haller (GONE WITH THE WIND) and a sparse but powerful score by Elmer Bernstein (MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, ROBOT MONSTER).

Sunday, August 24, 2014

MAN HUNT (1941 - U.S) Twilight Time blu-ray

D: Fritz Lang.  A big game hunter named Thorndike (Walter Pidgeon of VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA, the movie) has the leader of the Third Reich in his rifle scope's cross-hairs and is about to pull the trigger!  This is the startling opening sequence to one of Lang's lesser known pre-WWII noir thrillers.  Soon the hunter becomes the hunted in a riveting thrill ride obstacle course through war torn London that echoes elements of Richard Connell's THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME.  The story was probably innovative for its time and the plot twists and turns are still captivating due to the dynamic visuals.  Joan Bennett (SUSPIRIA), soon to become a noir femme fatale, co-stars as Jerry, a street-wise young woman, who romantically falls for the safari hunter and takes great risks to aid and hide him from his ruthless pursuers.
Producer Daryl Zanuck and the Fox studio brass tried to reign in the German refugee director's strong anti-Nazi sentiments since the U.S. was not yet at war with the Fuehrer.  Bennett's character was also toned down to be more vague and appear less blatantly streetwalker. Although this would change by the time Bennett returned to the same on-screen occupation in Lang's WOMAN IN THE WINDOW (1944) and SCARLET STREET (1945).  Bennett would work with Lang again in 1947's SECRET BEYOND THE DOOR.  The top-notch supporting cast includes George Sanders (PSYCHOMANIA), Roddy McDowall (PLANET OF THE APES), John Carradine (BILLY THE KID VS. DRACULA), Lester Matthews (WEREWOLF OF LONDON) and Ludwig Stossel (HOUSE OF DRACULA).  Pidgeon and the young Roddy would co-star together the same year in Zanuck's HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY.  The archtypal Germanic character actor Stossel would appear in at least two other Hitler related movies- HITLER'S MADMEN and THE STRANGE DEATH OF ADOLF HITLER, both in 1943.

The Twilight Time BD is a limited pressing (3,000 copies) and is a monochrome wonder to behold.  The film's grain is very fine with deep black levels, a rich gray scale and razor sharp focus.  The package, including scholarly extras and a booklet, make this a good value for serious noir connoisseurs and Lang completists.

Available here:

DEEP END (1970- U.K./Germany) BFI blu-ray

D: Jerzy Skolimowski.  An under-appreciated, little known art house oddity from Polanski 's script collaborator on KNIFE IN THE WATER.  John Moulder-Brown (VAMPIRE CIRCUS) is gangling, hormone-wracked Michael, a freakish puberty-impaired boy who gets a job at the local bath house where he is relentlessly teased by his slightly-older mod, mini-skirted, flame-haired co-worker, Susan (Jane Asher of MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH).  Abused by the middle-aged female clientele and driven to delirious desire and jealously over Susan's two unworthy boyfriends, Michael tries to get a grip on his raging sexual urges.  One of the film's many highlights includes Michael funny, trippy and infernal trip through the sleazy Soho subculture of strip clubs, hookers and hustlers. A series of erotically bizarre, humorous and disturbing events leads to a sexually dark climax that will challenge your emotions in a revealing way, although many initial viewers were not so pleased.  If you give yourself up to Skolimowski's vision, you will have a great time wallowing in the DEEP END.
All the performances are stellar.  Also features Christopher Sanford (DIE SCREAMING MARIANNE), Dieter Eppler (SLAUGHTER OF THE VAMPIRES) and a stand out, mostly improvised ,cameo by bloated ex-sex bomb, Diana Dors.  Keep an eye out for Burt Kwouk (Cato of the original Pink Panther series) as a hot dog salesman.  The score consists of a Cat Stevens main theme and contributions by kraut-rock band CAN and Richard Wagner.
The quality of this U.K. 1.85, all-zone/region BFI restored blu-ray/DVD combo is excellent as well as the generous extras and profusely illustrated booklet.  An odd bit of trivia is revealed in the featurette is that art director Anthony Pratt is the nephew of Boris Karloff and proves it by proudly displaying an autographed photo!  The Paramount print has been shown uncut a few times on Turner Classics but has never had an official U.S. video release.  Asher was probably more famous for her long-time romance with Paul McCartney than her rather extensive film, TV and modeling career.  Moulder-Brown dialed up the freak factor in Skolimowski's more overtly comical follow-up, KING, QUEEN, KNAVE (1972) with David Niven and Gina Lollobrigida and currently not on DVD.


D: Andre De Toth.  Robert Ryan (THE NAKED SPUR) is Blaise Starrett, a cranky rancher who lives among a small community of disgruntled ranchers in a lawless, snowbound wilderness.  Starrett gets into a petty disagreement over a barbwire fence with a fellow stubborn rancher  that results in verbal death threats. Surprisingly, the rancher's wife (Tina Louise of TV's GILLIGAN'S ISLAND) offers her smokin' body to Starrett in exchange for the sake of her husband's life and to keep the peace.  As tensions and tempers mount, things only get worse when a psychopathic posse led by the cold-blooded Bruhn (played by usually jovial Burl Ives  of TV's RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER) who gallops into town and declares new rules.  One of the crazy new rules demands that the ranchers' wives be available to Ives and his posse on demand!  This is one of the final straws that force the ranchers to set aside their petty differences to plot and dispose of the despicable mini-despot.  In typical noir style, things get much worse as the suspense and body count mounts.

As usual, Ryan is excellent as the perpetually pissed Starrett and he's more than adequately supported by a colorful cast of B thespians that include Elisha Cook Jr. (THE MALTESE FALCON), Betsy Jones-Moreland (CREATURE FROM THE HAUNTED SEA), Alan Marshall (William Castle's THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL), David Nelson (TV's OZZIE & HARRIET), Lance Fuller (THIS ISLAND EARTH), Helen Westcott (MONSTER ON THE CAMPUS) and a few other familiar faces.  Ives is good in an atypical sinister role that is similar to the novel use of Sebastian Cabot (FAMILY AFFAIR's mannered Mr. French) in Joseph H. Lewis' TERROR IN A TEXAS TOWN (1958).  The terse hard-boiled dialog is courtesy of veteran scribe Philip Yordan (JOHNNY GUITAR).  From the eye-patched director of Vincent Price's 3D classic HOUSE OF WAX (1953).  The image is 16x9 framed at 1.78, from a pristine but grainy print.  Quality is fine for a triple feature, single disc budget-price DVD.  The MGM single DVD is out of print and pricey.   Here's the amazon link but the disc can be found even cheaper at liquidators and dollar stores.