CineSavant Column

Tuesday February 5, 2019


For Los Angeles film fans interested in real historical arcana, The American Cinematheque has a very unusual presentation coming this Saturday at 7:30 at the Egyptian Theater. Programmer Chris Lamaire and USC head archivist Dino Everett will be showing some ‘weird short subjects on some weird formats.’ Old 28mm and 9.5 mm projectors will be present to screen rare items from the USC archive, including an essentially-lost Harold Lloyd short called That’s Him, and an English Walter Forde comedy, Walter’s Paying Policy. Some of the prints are over 100 years old. The presentation is called Silent Shorts in Rare Formats. I didn’t even know that 9.5mm film existed until I started reading stories about Kevin Brownlow. If this show goes well, the plan is to move on to screenings of more specialized vintage original archived material, perhaps films made in the arcane Kinemacolor process.

While discussing the new Severin Jack the Ripper release, associate Bill Shaffer wrote in to describe the deluxe sales job for the movie, for which Joseph E. Levine had prepared an oversized pressbook and a saturation media campaign. Bill also mentioned a novelty record he had, a 45rpm item that contained the movie’s main title theme on one side and on the B side a cool song sung by Nino Tempo with lyrics by Steve Allen, Jimmy McHugh and Pete Rugolo. The faux-hip Bobby Darin takeoff was definitely not a hit, but it is pretty funny.

A little while later CineSavant reviewer Charlie Largent found the actual novelty song on youtube: Nino Tempo & Pete Rugolo – Jack The Ripper.    Aw — they at least could have played it as exit music in the theaters.

Movie Tie-in Songs, ‘Novelty’ and Otherwise

I doubt that anyone dreamed of including the song in the movie, as Levine was probably just hoping for a hit to cross-promote his show on AM radio. But tie-in songs must have been some kind of fad. The next year Johnny Horton’s upbeat song for North to Alaska accomplished just that, scoring a radio hit and gracing John Wayne’s movie as well. Horton’s followup ‘country ballad march’ Sink the Bismarck was commissioned for the English movie about the famous naval battle but wisely only used in the trailer. Did Johnny Horton envision a big career turning every film into a country ballad with storytelling lyrics?  Why not Days of Wine and Roses, or Lolita?

We can imagine John Ford nixing a Gene Pitney song for his western The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, but Pitney did claim that Paramount paid for the recording session. Years later a tie-in song with a faux-1933 flavor was prepared for Warners’ Bonnie and Clyde called Have You Heard of Bonnie and Clyde?  It surfaced only on a tie-in record album of soundtrack bits and audio bites. A different Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde by Georgie Fame is the one that hit AM radio. Are there many more obvious tie-in songs I’m unaware of, that actually made a dent in the record charts?  For that matter are there other notables that stayed under the radar?

Scream Factory and Kino Lorber are apparently wasting no time rushing the entirety of Universal’s remaining 1950s sci-fi thrillers to Blu-ray. Recently announced from Kino Lorber is 1957’s The Land Unknown, for April 23. The ‘Lost World’ saga has an impressive production, especially an enormous, beautifully designed miniature setting for a vast tropical valled hidden deep in the Antarctic wastes. The mattes and other trickery placing the actors within the set are top-notch as well, and quite an achievement in CinemaScope. I’ll be eager to re-evaluate them once I see the show in higher resolution — the Japanese solved a similar anamorphic-format problem by shooting miniatures and monsters flat and then extracting a ‘scope image from the negative.

The other reason to check out the disc will be a new commentary hosted by Tom Weaver. Last year he wrote and compiled a book dedicated to Universal’s Sci-fi monsters of the first half of the 1950s, and we’re looking forward to volume two, which will take on The Land Unknown and The Incredible Shrinking Man.

The otherwise impressive picture is let down by some wholly unexciting, unconvincing dinosaurs, a ragged Plesiosaur puppet and the worst man-in-suit-a-saur thing ever cobbled together. Something went really wrong with that job; maquettes of the design look just as hopeless as the finished product. Compare Universal’s Tyrannosaur suit (right) with the less polished but equally inept Ceratasaur from Film Classics’ silly-fun 1948 dino romp Unknown Island (left).

What we really wanted to see were the monsters in the film’s superb poster art by Reynold Brown. Brown interpreted the ungainly dinosaur in an unusual manner, rather than cheat and give potential audiences a monster that would completely ‘cheat’ the one in the movie.

All the interest in the artist Reynold Brown is turning into a birthday subject here at CineSavant — I’m basking in anticipation of an art book of the illustrator’s famous posters, and when it arrives will put together a quick review.

Finally, a fond farewell to a fan favorite of sci-fi aficionados, Julie Adams.

The neat thing about Adams is that she was so obviously a LADY to us voyeuristic, hypercritical kids. Yes, the Creature carries her off, but with RESPECT. She’s not just any blonde burden in a swimsuit, she’s Beauty to the Beast — she ennobles the Creature. Even in Bend of the River, Ms. Adams’ personality prevails: she’s virtuous but not a prude. Arthur Kennedy’s dialogue and attitude say that Adams’ character has slept with him during their stay in Portland, but everything about Adams’ deportment says she didn’t. Amazingly, in the edgy The Last Movie, Adams found herself in Peru in the hands of a director who expected her to perform in several very sleazy situations, that were likely sprung on the actors partly by surprise. She DOES, with enthusiasm, because that’s the professional thing to do even when confronted by non-professional demands. In the final film we never for a moment think that Julie Adams’ status as a class act has been sullied.

Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson