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Earth vs. the Flying Saucers / The Werewolf; July, 1956
Topic Started: Mar 20 2016, 09:31 AM (446 Views)
Laughing Gravy
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Earth vs. the Flying Saucers: Dir. Fred F. Sears
The Werewolf: Dir. Fred. F. Sears

This week's twin-bill features a pair of low-budget shockers from the director of The Giant Claw and Don't Knock the Rock, but, well, it's also one of our favorite double-features ever. Just somethin' about these movies, the juxtaposition of interstellar special effects and good old fashioned movie man-to-beast transmogrification, and that premier 1950s monster movie tendencies to show science as both a savior and destroyer of humanity.

First up: Hugh Marlowe and Joan Taylor are a husband-and-wife team of rocket scientists (they have great sex, I'll bet) but their stupid rockets keep blowing up - they're 0 for 11 so far - when one day they're buzzed by a flying saucer while driving to work. They can't decipher the message (it was something like, "Hey, we're going to drop by tomorrow for a friendly chat, mmkay?") so the next day when a ship lands at the missile base our Army - using the same gentle, friendly acts of persuasion we'd use a decade later in Vietnam - opens fire with heavy artillery. Pretty soon the saucers are knocking over all the buildings in Washington DC. Can Hugh 'n' Joan devise a weapon to stop them? Well, probably, once they figure out how to interfere with a magnet.

Oh, your typical fun 1950s sci-fi low-budget movie that we've all no doubt seen more than once. The ships and some of the destruction are animated by Ray Harryhausen, and well-done, too, but watching the film again on Blu-ray I was surprised at just how much of the running time consists of stock footage of rockets, WW2, and older sci-fi movies. Paul Frees, the voice of the Haunted Mansion in Disneyland, is the voice of the alien; they have a brain-picking device called an "infinity-indexed memory bank"; it looks like a wadded-up piece of used tissue. I think what we have here is what we'd like to call a "shoestring production" that spent its money on Mr. Harryhausen.

Million-dollar Dialog:

"When an armed and threatening power lands uninvited in our capital, we don't meet it with tea and cookies!" - General Morris Ankrum

A delight on all counts, and a must-see 1950s sci-fi film, despite the typical silliness: the aliens, who look like raisins with noses, but not the kind that sing and dance to Motown hits, wear "armor" that, we're told, is impenetrable to anything the Army has tried to throw at it - yet simple bullets take down two of the darn space critters while they wear it.

Next up was another typically lousy Popeye cartoon of the era, Cooking with Gags, 1954, with Bluto and Olive Oyl teaming up to play mean April Fools Day pranks on Popeye, who in this cartoon is so stupid he keeps falling for them. Dummy. Let's move on to The Werewolf, a film I've always liked very much, shall we?

Steven Ritch is Duncan March, turned into a werewolf by a pair of mad scientists. He escapes and heads up to a mountain resort town, which is where the film opens. After that, whenever he gets angry, he gets all hairy and snarly and drooly. Nice-guy sheriff Don McGowan, his pretty nurse girlfriend, a sourpuss doctor who speaks every line as if he's diagnosing terminal cancer, and a drunken townsman who opines that there's an ART to setting leg-hold traps all conspire to capture the werewolf 'cause they kinda feel sorry for him. The two mad scientists want to kill him before he can talk. Mrs. Marsh and Duncan, Jr. lurk around town crying and whining. It all ends badly for everybody.

Like most good werewolf pictures, it oozes pathos. The makeup is swell (seems to be the same makeup the werewolf wore in Return of the Vampire 14 years earlier). Most of the cast wears matching Elmer Fudd hats and checked hunting coats.

Million-dollar Dialog:
Grumpy-ass Doctor: "It's a PITY that people can't get themselves KILLED and CHEWED UP during the DAYTIME. A man my age needs his sleep!"

Ritch is excellent as Marsh/Werewolf, and the film simply ignores movie werewolf rules and turns the guy into a werewolf whenever it damn well pleases; in fact, he usually is a werewolf in broad daylight (including chased across a dam, just like the Amazing Colossal Man!), which is disconcerting to say the least; it takes away some of his scariness, definitely, although it's the best look at werewolf makeup you're gonna see in movies. There's a genuine horror moment when he kills two guys who have entered his jail cell; amidst a lot of snarling and screaming, the camera stays on the shadows on the wall. Very effective, actually. This movie has its scary moments.

Oh, and lest I forget, we had a trailer for next week's million-dollar movie, Satellite in the Sky. Hmmm. I mean, Wow!
"I'm glad that this question came up, because there are so many ways to answer it that one of them is bound to be right." - Robert Benchley
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A great double bill. I really enjoy both of these movies, perfect examples of 50s sci-fi and horror done well.


Always be yourself! Unless you can be Batman...then always be Batman!
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Laughing Gravy
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The topic of werewolf pictures from Columbia was being discussed by and with Mr. Randy Skretvedt, Laurel & Hardy author, over on Facebook and Michael Schlesinger was asked if it weren't true that he (Michael) was responsible for the Sony release. His reply:

"Their planned Halloween release wouldn't be ready, so I suggested the Katzman set, knowing full well they'd say, 'Who? Are you crazy?' To my utter astonishment, they said, 'Okay,' and off we went. Needless to say, they gave it no promotion and saw it as a write-off, and were stunned when the pre-orders were almost double what they'd projected lifetime sales to be. They were further gobsmacked when the warm reviews were published. But in retrospect, it was a long-term mistake, because instead of being pleased at how well it sold, they felt pissed off that the 'old B&W shit nobody wants' did so well, and they didn't like being 'shown up'--even though all I was doing was my goddamn job."

Randy's reply: "Michael, not to cast aspersions on the fine folks working at Columbia/Tri-Star Home Video, but in 1995 Rob Ray and I went to a 'meet-and-greet-the-studio-folks' event at Dave's Video, a laserdisc store. At the time I was publishing 'Past Times,' a magazine which promoted video releases, books and CDs relating to entertainment from the 1910s through the 1940s. Someone from Columbia/Tri-Star introduced me to a young lady who was supposed to be the company expert on vintage films. I said, 'Frank Capra's centennial is coming up in a year or so; are you planning to release any of his rarer titles, like 'Platinum Blonde' or 'Dirigible' or 'American Madness'?" She looked blankly at me and said, 'Are any of these in color or widescreen?' I said, no, these were films from the '30s and would be in black and white and in 4:3 ratio. She did me the favor of writing down those titles. Then she said, "We have a really exciting older title coming up -- we've got 'WILLOW'!" This was some sort of fantasy film from about six or seven years earlier. I'm sure I looked as blank to her about this as she did to me about Capra."
"I'm glad that this question came up, because there are so many ways to answer it that one of them is bound to be right." - Robert Benchley
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Thanks for the depressing post of the day, LG.


Always be yourself! Unless you can be Batman...then always be Batman!
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Frank Hale
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I think from a film fan's perspective, though, that's outdated information, because the vintage-film DVD business model has pretty much switched over to e-tail only, leaving the marketing people, at least to some extent, out of the equation.

Columbia has been sending a lot of Blu-Ray titles Kino's way (including a number of former pricey Twilight Time releases) and Mill Creek has been releasing some serials and those ridiculously cheap 10-film collections like the Durango Kid, which I just started.

The prints I've seen have all been very nice, which I presume is thanks to their restoration wizard / perfectionist, Grover Crisp.

So IMO the current situation is not bad at all, unless you want to start complaining about the lack of Crime Doctor films or some such.
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Laughing Gravy
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Never saw a Crime Doctor, but where th' heck are the Boston Blackies?

And as for the "situation" being not bad at all... well, in some ways you're right: the release these past several months of so many of the Hal Roach rarities is certainly a game-changer, even if the prints and transfers of some have been mediocre (tonight, we watched The Housekeeper's Daughter, 1939, which we enjoyed very much: but the pedestrian look of the DVD was annoying). On the other hand, the AIP films, much of the Paramount/Universal stuff, and other things I'd very much like to have are simply out of sight.
"I'm glad that this question came up, because there are so many ways to answer it that one of them is bound to be right." - Robert Benchley
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Frank Hale
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I was talking strictly Columbia.

I agree, there are a lot of missing Paramounts, etc. I would like to see, and I'm concerned what's going to happen to the TCF library when Disney gets its money-grubbing paws on it.

However, Kino and the Warner Archive keep me pretty busy, and it's not like I'm going to run out of stuff I haven't seen anytime soon. I worry more about staying alive long enough.
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CliffClaven
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Laughing Gravy
Feb 9 2018, 09:48 PM
Never saw a Crime Doctor, but where th' heck are the Boston Blackies?
On the Boston Blackies, Sony has dribbled out a few individual titles at regular feature prices. Likewise Jungle Jim. A quick check of Amazon yielded only a bootleg of the Crime Doctor, with this as part of the product description:

"These films were originally produced long before the advent of High Definition TV, therefore they are best viewed on a small screen. HD TVs tend to stretch and skew the picture. Set your HD TV on 4:3 aspect ratio. (That was the old TV format). Please do not expect DVD or Commercial level DVDs from these films."
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Frank Hale
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Based on the one entry I saw on NYC TV decades ago (The Millerson Case), the Crime Doctor was a pretty anemic series, with star Warner Baxter dealing in real-life with failing health.

However, the IMDb-type people seem to think that film was OK, and there were at least 10 in the series, so....who knows? Might be just the thing for a Mill Creek collection, as would the Blackies, Jungle Jims, Blondies etc. I certainly didn't expect a Durango Kid set.

Actually, considering the total oddities that have turned up in the last few years, very little in video-land surprises me anymore. I just enjoy what I can.
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