The shortest month of the year didn’t slow me down and for a change I even joined the masses by binging on some shows that were streaming which for me is a real rarity. Why you might ask? Well I watched two shows for different reasons. I caught Only Murders in the Building because it starred both Martin Short and Steve Martin and I had a very good time joining them in a hunt to solve a murder. I must say Selene Gomez was quite impressive as the third lead assisting them in the mystery.
Secondly after reading twenty plus books by Lee Child, I was happy to see a new version of Reacher. One without Tom Cruise who to be honest just doesn’t fit the role. This time the character is portrayed by the massive Alan Ritchson who I thought did it justice. I hope I’m not alone when I say fans of the novels should enjoy this as well as the newbies who haven’t picked up one of the books just yet.
On to the movies….
Daughter of Shanghai (1937) TCM Airing.
I got more than I bargained for in this Robert Florey directed effort for Paramount. The story revolves around human trafficking and not three minutes into the movie I’m witnessing a young Anthony Quinn letting six immigrants fall to their death from an airplane so he can evade questioning from a gov’t plane shadowing him. Didn’t see that coming. The film stars Anna May Wong going undercover alongside secret agent Philip Ahn to bring an end to the reign of Quinn, Buster Crabbe and headman, J. Carrol Naish, who are in the slave trade market. Ahead of it’s time and quite brutal. Great to see Philip Ahn in a heroic role and getting the gal.
Spooks Run Wild (1941) TCM Airing. Bela Lugosi meets The Dead End Kids at Monogram. Should have been far better than it is with Bela a possible blood sucker that Leo and Huntz are sure is going to come after them and the gang. Bela even has little Angelo Rossitto in tow. I for one think Bela’s next go around with the gang, Ghosts On the Loose, to be a far better film.
Return of The Ape Man (1944) Imprint blu ray. One of the Lugosi/Monogram programmers.
Man Alive (1945) TCM airing.
This proved to be a little gem that starred Pat O’Brien as the supposedly dead husband of Ellen Drew. When Rudy Vallee quickly moves in on the supposed widow, Adolphe Menjou, aids O’Brien in haunting the family home. Screwball comedy from RKO on the B circuit may run out of steam but the premise is a winner.
Valley of the Zombies (1946) Imprint blu ray. More of a vampire tale than a one of Zombies. A long thought dead man has returned and requires blood to maintain his existence. All that’s missing is Bela Lugosi. Fun B of it’s type.
At War With the Army (1950) Kino Lorber Studio Classics blu ray. Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis got out from under producer Hal Wallis for this one but in the end it might be their weakest effort. Stage bound military comedy is O.K. but look elsewhere for the duo’s finer moments. However I must say that Jerry’s comedic impression of Barry Fitzgerald is spot on and the movie’s highlight. Military comedy? Paging Glenn Ford.
Million Dollar Mermaid (1952) TCM Spotlight Esther Williams Vol. 2. DVD.
The famed swimmer stars as real life swimmer Annette Kellerman in the early 1900’s who even starred in a dozen silent films. (I had no idea). Esther is good but the romance with Big Victor Mature as a P.T. Barnum type doesn’t come off well and it’s David Brian in the Ralph Bellamy role who should have got the girl.
Foxfire (1955) Kino Lorber Studio Classics blu ray. Ages ago when just starting Mike’s Take I put the spotlight on this Jane Russell/Jeff Chandler feature and a new blu ray edition had me tuning in for a revisit.
The Vikings (1958) Kino Lorber Studio Classics blu ray. Old fashioned adventure doesn’t get much better than this one. Star power rules!
Dinosaurus! (1960) Kino Lorber Studio Classics blu ray.
A familiar tale of a long “dead” dinosaur coming back to life after a deep sea explosion. This one proves to be lighthearted thanks to the emergence of a stone age man accompanying the dino proving once again that a fish out of water story always delivers some hearty laughs. From the folks who also gave us The Blob.
The Ipcress File (1965) Imprint blu ray.
Michael Caine’s first go around as British spy, Harry Palmer, is almost made to look like the anti-Bond flick. That’s not meant as a negative. It’s a slow moving spy tale involving Caine attempting to unveil a double agent within the organization. Superior of it’s type from director Sidney J. Furie and would spawn two sequels in short order.
The Appaloosa (1966) Kino Lorber Studio Classics blu ray. No where near as grandiose as Brando’s early western, One Eyed Jacks, this Sidney J. Furie directed effort is a slow paced winner that pits Brando against a Mexican bandit played just this side of being over the top by John Saxon and yeah I think Saxon steals the show from Brando’s underplaying of the hero, the Americano who wants his prized Appaloosa back from Saxon’s bandit. Low key but well worth the effort.
As the month came to close I dove into the recent Indicator blu ray box set of the Fu Manchu cycle featuring all 5 of the Christopher Lee films that were made by producer, Harry Alan Towers.
The Face of Fu Manchu (1965) Easily the best film of the 5. Directed by Don Sharp, the film moves at a rapid pace and Nigel Green makes for a solid Nayland Smith, Fu’s arch nemesis. He’s easily the best of the series and sadly this was his one and only go around as Nayland. Tsai Chin stars as Lee’s evil daughter and Howard Marion-Crawford also stars as Green’s very Dr. Watson-like partner. Both Chin and Marion-Crawford would appear in all 5 films with Sir Christopher.
The Brides of Fu Manchu (1966) Lee is back as promised at the end of the first film to once again attempt to conquer the world using a bevy of beauties to do his bidding. This time Douglas Wilmer steps into the shoes of Nayland Smith while Don Sharp returns to direct a second time. Not bad.
The Vengeance of Fu Manchu (1967) Lee is back as was promised at the end of the second film and it’s an improvement with Lee once again facing off against Douglas Wilmer’s Nayland Smith. For those familiar with the productions of Harry Alan Towers, you’ll recognize actress Maria Rohm who frequented his films and would eventually marry him. Jeremy Summers directs.
The Blood of Fu Manchu (1968) Lee is back as was promised at the end of the third film. The series hits rock bottom in this one and the blame surely must be placed on the shoulders of exploitation director Jess Franco who takes over the series. So expect scantily clad women in chains being subjected to punishment via the whip. More Maria Rohm and this time Richard Greene takes over the role of Nayland Smith though he has very little to do.
The Castle of Fu Manchu (1969) Lee is back as was promised at the end of the fourth film. Thankfully it’s a better outing from Franco this time even if he did bring his zoom lens and recycle some footage from an earlier Fu film. With sexy Rosalba Neri appearing it had to be better. Would you believe Lee is trying to conquer the world once again? He’s just got to outwit Richard Greene who returns for a second go around as Nayland Smith.
While Lee promised to return once again at the end of the fifth film it wasn’t meant to be. Say whatever you will about the films but this box set is a must for Lee’s fans and scholars of the horror/exploitation genre. There’s a wealth of knowledge and bonus materials included in the set making it invaluable. I’ll close my look at the Fu films with a piece of worthless trivia. Lee starred as Sir Henry Baskerville in the 1959 version of the Holmes story for Hammer. His co-star Richard Greene played the same character in the 1939 classic that introduced the world to Basil Rathbone in his most famous portrayal.
Deep Red (1975) Arrow Video blu ray.
I’m sure Dario Argento fans will debate all day long which is his best giallo but for me this one stands tall above the rest. David Hemmings stars with Daria Nicolodi as the pair go about piecing together a gruesome murder that only leads to more scenes of gory bloodshed. All style and one hell of a soundtrack from Goblin make this one a must see. Even for the squeamish.
Crippled Avengers (1978) Arrow Video Shawscope Vol. 1 blu ray. aka The Return of The Five Deadly Venoms. I don’t make the connection to the earlier film but for marketing purposes I guess it works. In this Shaw Brothers effort a five pack of brutally disfigured men learn the art of Kung Fu to seek vengeance on a domineering warlord. Some astounding fight choreography in this one if the genre is to your liking.
The Barbarians (1987) Scorpion Releasing blu ray.
The muscle bound twins David and Peter Paul star as the Conan like title characters. Put into slavery by the evil Richard Lynch they’ll grow to become behemoths that will make for invincible gladiators. Sorcery, scantily clad women and swordplay follow with the twins playing it for laughs more often then not which probably works best considering their less than stellar acting skills. Why bother? Cause Richard Lynch always makes for one entertaining bad guy.
Spellcaster (1988) Vinegar Syndrome blu ray. When a game show hosts a million dollar treasure hunt in a European castle, the gore quotient is going to be on the rise in this low budget yet imaginative at times video age horror flick.
Party Line (1988) Vinegar Syndrome blu ray. At times this tale of psycho siblings committing murder is somewhat laughable while at other times it works fine. The pair are using a telephone party line to lure unsuspecting men to their deaths. At least Richard Roundtree turns up as a senior detective on the force to lend some professionalism to the whole thing. Surprisingly watchable and in the end enjoyable if you like the days of the VHS rentals.
I did a feature on 5 actions films of the 80’s and 90’s entitled Action Stars and Movies You May or May Not Recall. Have a look.
Dracula : Dead and Loving It (1995) Scream Factory blu ray. Mel Brooks returns to the Universal Monsters stable with this sometimes hilarious spoof of the Lugosi/Oldman versions of the Stoker novel. Leslie Nielsen was riding high at the time and was the logical choice to take on the role of Count Dracula. Brooks is a hoot as Van Helsing as is Harvey Korman as Dr. Seward. I find this one gets better with age.
as of late ….
Werewolf : The Beast Among Us (2012) Universal DVD. Another lame attempt to recapture the magic of the 1940’s Lon Chaney series from the studio that gave is the Lawrence Talbot character. Ho-hum.
Unhinged (2020) Netflix.
I think what resonated with me about this Russell Crowe thriller is I can see it happening. Russell plays nasty when road rage overtakes him following the breakdown of his marriage. He makes life a living hell for a single Mom who gives him the horn at a stoplight and delivers a powerful performance as the heavy. Speaking of “heavy”, Russell is clearly headed towards the Brando period of his career.
Being the Ricardos (2021) Disney Channel. Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem take on the roles of Lucy and Desi during the days of the I Love Lucy Show. Admirable attempt to bring them both back to life and at the present time, both players are up for Oscars as is J.K. Simmons for his turn as character actor William Frawley. I like the film. Perhaps appreciate might be a better word. Still, there is one screwup that drove me crazy while watching it. The film falsely proclaimed that in 1942 the only reason Lucy got the role opposite Henry Fonda in The Big Street is because Judy Holiday wasn’t available. Excuse me? Judy Holiday was not even on the scene and not really a factor in Hollywood until 1949’s Adam’s Rib. I know most viewers won’t notice that gaff but us buffs do and it’s a real put off. Don’t these screenwriters know better? The information is out there and easy to doublecheck and confirm. Anyway, a good movie and one that hopefully sparks some interest in the careers of Lucy and Desi with a new generation.
I also found the time in February to conduct an interview with writer Dwayne Epstein on the career of Lee Marvin I’d encourage you to have a look at and also my “epic journey” with Charlton Heston might cause a smile or two.
31 Films Seen
14 new to me
The most enjoyable revisit proved to be a tough selection and I just can’t do it such is my love for classic films but I will point to The Vikings, The Ipcress File, Deep Red and Dracula : Dead and Loving It. Can’t go wrong with any of them.
Of the newbies I’d recommend Daughter of Shanghai for a classic era title and Being the Ricardos for a recent title.
Give us a shout and let us know your score. By us I’m referring to a slim and trim Brando.
Stellar round-up as always Mike, very eclectic viewing choices there. I remember seeing parts of Dracula: Dead and Loving it when I was a kid and thinking it was interesting, but had no desire to revisit it until recently. I have the Shout Factory Blu Ray too. I’ve never seen any of the Christopher Lee Fu Manchu films, I’ll have to get the Indicator single releases at some point. I missed seeing the Lugosi-Dead End Kids film, looks like a lot of kooky fun.
The Fu Manchu films are racist by nature but of course as a youngster I didn’t know the difference and just saw Lee as another villain bent on taking over the world. There passable overall and had the budgets been better might have been better received. All about Lee’s presence anyway to today’s audiences. Lugosi is always worth a look even if the film’s are not all that good.
Another great eclectic collection. What will you do when you run out of the Dead End Kids et al…start all over? Anna May Wong was a bit star back in the day. You are certainly getting your fill of Fu Manchu. I watched Brides and Face recently. Hemmings very underrated, did some excellent work not just in horror but in small dramas and I’m reviewing Alfred the Great shortly. Oh The Barbarians, a bit more muscle and Russell Crowe could have joined them so venomous was he in Unhinged.
That Anna film was a real jolt. Almost played like a pre-code. I was never a big Hemmings fan but that might have more to do with the fact that he wasn’t in the kind of movies I gravitated towards as a youngster like Caine, Connery and co. were in.
Hemmings was a different type of star to other Brits for sure, more of a French or Italian actor in his style. Made a great thriller Fragment of Fear in 1970. Worth a look.
Seen that one. I like Gayle Hunnicutt as well and didn’t know till recently that the two were married back at that time.
She was an interesting actress. They were often fine together.
I’ve seen four from your list – Dinosaurus, The Ipcress File, Dracula: Dead and Loving It, and Deep Red – and I’m very interested now in seeing Castle of Fu Manchu, simply for…you guessed it, the delicious Rosalba Neri!
And I too have read all the Lee Child ‘Reacher’ novels, and though I was never bothered by Cruise in the role, I’m curious to see how the new guy does. Someday, if I ever have access to the series, I’ll give him a try.
By the way…have you seen the two sequels to The Ipcress File? If so, how do they stack up to the first?
Ah the Rosalba factor. Yeah I know what you mean. I didn’t mind the first Cruise film but at that point had never read a Reacher story. Thought the second film was mostly a waste of my time. I’ve seen the first Caine/Palmer sequel ages ago and looking to watch it this month. Never saw the third so will rectify that as well thanks to this box set I snagged from Imprint with all three titles and plenty of bonus materials.
Very interested to see your comments on Reacher, read all the books too and the movies are ok but always wished for better casting. Last I saw Ritchson was in a fun grindhouse tv series called Blood Drive, kind of a Death Race 2000/ Road Warrior mashup.
Man Alive looks fun. Never seen any of the Fu’s! This is the 3rd time this week that The Vikings has come randomly across my path so it’s a sign to finally check it out. Also have not seen as much Anna May Wong as I could.
Recently saw Roundtree in Firehouse with Vince Edwards, interesting 70’s tv pilot that went nowhere. Good Stuff and plenty of ideas as always.
If I recall I started to read those Lee Child books on your recommendation and they’re addictive. LOL. So am I to believe you’ve never seen The Vikings? That comes as a big surprise. I should look for more of those Anna May Wong thirties efforts. I might have a few tucked away thanks to TCM. I vaguely remember that Firehouse TV flick. Off to investigate….
I think you might be right on that, or at least I recall us talking about them! They’re like comic books for grownups lol. I hang my head in shame for I have not seen the Vikings, I need to get on that asap.
random suggestion: the latest Severin FIlms Podcast is fantastic, all about the upcoming vol 2 of Eurocrypt of Christopher Lee, some hilarious stories and tons of background you’d be sure to enjoy
thanks for the lead, i just bookmarked it and should make for some nice background noise while I’m at the office. I have my order in for vol. 2
Alan Ritchson was great as Reacher but tbh I thought the series is way overrated. It just got sillier and sillier. I did watch it all, good brain shut off stuff. I do very much want to watch “Only Murders in the Building” that does sound fun and the nice short episodes to fly through.
I spied Foxfire only today as I looked through Jeff Chandler movies filmography.
The Ipcress File is one of my favs. Michael Caine is perfection in that role. Love the theme tune too.
They’ve just made a TV series of it here in Blighty. Not seen it. Not sure I want too but at same time I’m compelled to have to?!?!
Oh man my score this time is 3 yep just 3! The Barbarians is one of them LOL
Daughter of Shanghai (1937) definitely going on the list.
I had no idea there was new Harry Palmer on the scene. Thanks for the tip. Have fun with Only Murders. Three! What the (&%**+ LOL. Shanghai was a nice discovery for me and yeah, I gotta go dig up some more. Jeff Chandler movies are usually potboilers but they’re hard to ignore. A great what if…. he died far too young.