CineSavant Column

Saturday October 10, 2020


Many thanks to Trailers from Hell’s Charlie Largent for fabricating this new banner and its slogan. Our previous Covid banner anticipated the Second Wave, and it or something worse might still be on the way … but I wanted to Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the positive as much as possible, without being too flippant… or grim. This banner is ‘busier’ than the other so I’ll probably shrink it down in size after a couple of weeks. Thanks Charlie!

I know I’m spoiled but where is my favorite movie? department.
The announcement last Tuesday that the disc boutique The Film Detective is working on a Giant from the Unknown disc opened a filmic can of worms — more discussion of hotly desired classic-era fantasy features unnecessarily out of circulation. That gave correspondent Matt Martell the impetus to send along a snapshot illustrating the state of affairs for collectors of ‘fifties American-International pix. Matt:

“It’s the main reason I still have a high-end VCR in my entertainment center.”

I fully understand. I no longer have a VHS player but I still have my pre-record of It Conquered the World from the same ‘Drive In Classic’ set as Teenage Werewolf and Teenage Frankenstein.

Next up,
Gary Teetzel found this trade ad for Hammer’s 1959 The Mummy. Compared to the average ‘our movie is raking in the cash so book it now’ ad come-on for exhibitors, this one is actually pretty clever. I guess it also appeals to me because I saw it new and was thrilled beyond words. It was a couple of years before I learned that the earlier classic Hammers even existed, thanks to Famous Monsters of Filmland.

It appears that after the initial run of Horror of Dracula, Universal sold its distribution rights to Warners, so Warners could double-bill it with The Curse of Frankenstein. Warners also paid a pretty penny for The Mummy, which was originally a Universal-International release as well. Those sales say something about the popularity of the Hammer brand, but it is also true that Universal-International was financially on the ropes right about that time. Yet it held onto its upcoming The Brides of Dracula, which must have been a separate deal that included eight future Hammer productions. Universal-International didn’t completely become just plain ‘Universal’ again until early in 1963. (Actually, this is a simplified version of events — the ‘Seven Arts’ company works in the middle of this timeline, too…)

— with a second dose of old Boxoffice reviews, I remember clearly why I pulled each of these particular five notices. They’re trade reviews, which are supposed to tell exhibitors whether or not an individual film will attract audiences, not necessarily whether it’s any good or not. As with all the graphics in this Column, the blurbs are more easily read when opened in a new window.

Any questions as to why Val Lewton’s The Seventh Victim made little or no impact in 1943 are answered in this notice, which can’t make head or tails of Val’s ode to moody depression and despair. True, narrative clarity isn’t the movie’s strongest suit but time has turned it into an unique classic. I like the way the reviewer can’t get past the very quality that makes the picture so good. I care what happens, even if if Hugh Beaumont can’t seem to get worked up about anything.

The coverage on Sam Katzman’s anti-matter superbird epic The Giant Claw reads as if it were written yesterday, as it’s exactly what every fan review and scholarly takedown has said about the movie from day one … all that’s missing is the ‘Are we sure this isn’t supposed to be a joke?’ query. The reviewer knows his stock shots and is hep to the big-bird jive: ‘bigger-than-a-battleship!’

For a long time it seemed impossible to gauge reactions to Robert Aldrich / A.I. Bezzerides’ Kiss Me Deadly. Many ‘nice’ reviewers and publications skipped it and the Kefauver Commission singled it out as unhealthy and un-patriotic. This is a fair assessment, I’d say, of the general reaction to the new level of violence — I think the writer wants to call it obscene and leave it at that. But he goes into so much detail it’s obvious that he’s fascinated. Last thought: those bland taglines on the bottom can’t be serious.

Here’s another moody, wispy horror-mystery show that trade reviewers can be forgiven for not writing critical raves. Frank Wisbar remade and re-thought his earlier German film into a PRC special, a movie so fog-shrouded that the ‘swamp’ is represented on a dry-for wet set, all covered by movie smoke. The boats must be on wheels. Strangler of the Swamp would be a favorite, we think, if we could just see a good copy. It stars Ming the Merciless, and Blake Edwards when he was an actor.

And we always like reviews that reinforce our own unpopular opinions. This blurb thinks Universal’s cut-price The Leech Woman is just fine, which is okay by me. Note how the reviewer is fully aware of the ‘femme relatives’ in the movie’s double bill co-feature. He must have liked the movie, as he refers to its many minutes of safari stock footage as a plus factor. If I had a new horror movie on the way, I’d look up this writer and take him to lunch.

I’ve got one more pack of these reviews to come … thanks for the positive notes about them.

Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson