Monday, September 13, 2010

It’s a MOD MOD MOD MOD world

Both Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings and 50 Westerns from the 50s have mentioned Sony Pictures’ new “manufactured on demand” website—a place where you can order those elusive classic movie titles the company just can’t seem to justify releasing on DVD the old-fashioned way, much in the manner of the Warner Archive, Universal, Fox/MGM, etc. The titles they have available right now are a bit scanty but since they’re just out of the gate that’s to be expected, I suppose. I will, of course, take a pass on the myriad Hart to Hart reunion films Sony is assuming that the DVD-buying/purchasing public is clamoring for…they’re also offering 10 Rillington Place (1971), a first-rate crime drama that’s already available on Region 2. (And when did they do a sequel to To Sir, With Love? I must have been napping.)

Here’s a few films that caught my eye as possible TDOY archive purchases…providing they don’t turn up on The Greatest Cable Channel Known to Mankind™ (ka-ching!) in the near future. (Warning: clicking on these links will take you to the information on each film, but there’s also a movie clip with loud audio included.)

711 Ocean Drive (1950) – Here’s one of my favorite movies starring “the sweatiest man in noir,” Edmond O’Brien—Ed plays a telephone repairman who uses his electronics acumen to make bookie Barry Kelly a wealthy man by tapping into various communication centers for instant racetrack results. I haven’t seen this one in ages, but as I remember it’s not too shabby, with a memorable finale set at Boulder Dam. The film, directed by journeyman Joseph M. Newman, also features Joanne Dru, Don “Gidget’s dad” Porter, Howard St. John and Robert Osterloh.

Cell 2455, Death Row (1955) – This is one I’ve wanted to check out for some time—a fictionalized account of a good-boy-gone-wrong who’s waiting to walk the last mile based on a book by real-life inmate Caryl Chessman, whose story was also told in a 1977 TV-movie with Alan Alda entitled Kill Me if You Can. William Campbell plays the kid who’s destined to fry, with a cast that also includes Kathryn Grant and Vince “Ben Casey” Edwards.

A Study in Terror (1965) – In a film whose plot later turned up again in 1979’s Murder by Decree, the world’s greatest detective, Sherlock Holmes (John Neville) goes up against the world’s craftiest serial killer—Jack the Ripper! Donald Houston is a non-bumbling Dr. Watson, with Robert Morley as brother Mycroft Holmes and Frank Finlay as Inspector Lestrade. John Fraser, Anthony Quayle, Barbara Windsor, Adrienne Corri and a young Dame Judi Dench round out the cast. This one was shown on TCM during their Sherlock Holmes Christmas Eve festival last year but I missed recording it. (Of course, I got my mother’s Rathbone-Bruce collection in trade, so sacrifices sometimes have to be made. This one was released on Region 2 as well back in 2005 but I believe it's now OOP.)

Storm Center (1956) – I haven’t seen this one, but here’s the description: “A small town librarian stands up to local pressure to remove a controversial book from the shelves—on principal [sic], not out of sympathy for its perspective.” Yeah, it sounds fairly tame…but Bette Davis plays the librarian, so you just know there’ll be cigarette smoking and scenery-chewing aplenty! Center also stars Brian “Family Affair” Keith and Kim Hunter.

Saddles and Sagebrush (1943) – This one sounds like your typical B-western shoot-‘em-up starring Russell “Lucky” Hayden…but I’m curious to check it out for the presence of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys—particularly since Bob has a meatier role in this one, even helping Hayden rounding up the bad guys. And what bad guys—some of the best B-western/serial villains around, like Wheeler Oakman, Edmund Cobb and Jack Ingram. Throw in Dub Taylor as comic relief, and B-movie femme fatale Ann Savage as the love interest—Saddles sounds impossible not to like.

Pygmy Island (1950), Fury of the Congo (1951), Jungle Manhunt (1951) and Jungle Moon Men (1956) – Columbia/Sony has been promising to release the Jungle Jim movie series to DVD almost as long as Warner has promised the Bowery Boys films, so it’s nice to see the studio finally “put up,” even if it is only MOD. Of the four, Manhunt is the only one I’ve seen and while it’s no great shakes it’s delirious B-movie fun. In Moon Men, Johnny “The Good Tarzan” Weissmuller has to play a character named “Johnny Weissmuller” because producer Sam Katzman had sold the rights to the Jungle Jim character for a TV series (that also starred Weissmuller) and he couldn’t continue calling his hero by that moniker in the flickers.

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Jeff Overturf said...

Gotta love the DVD on demand...
Gotta hate the fact I'm broke!

Great to see all these great titles and hope for more!

Scott said...

I wonder if Cell 2455 shows the Chessman character's death, since it was made five years before he actually went to the gas chamber (and he might not have died then; after receiving something like 8 stays of execution, another was granted at the last minute, but the governor's secretary dialed the wrong number, and wound up reaching the warden seconds after they'd dropped the poison pellet into the acid. He explained there was no way to vent the gas in time, and Chessman spent his 9th stay of execution asphyxiating on hydrogen cyanide).

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

I wonder if Cell 2455 shows the Chessman character's death

Having not seen the film, I certainly can't comment--perhaps someone else out there in Yesteryear Land can fill us in. I'd be amazed if they did let the character live past the end of the movie, since it was a rarity for any kind of killer not to get his just desserts (oftentimes Jell-O) onscreen back then.

Scott said...

Was he depicted as a killer in the movie? The real-life Chessman was the so-called "Red Light Bandit," who would pull motorists over in lonely areas, then proceed to rob, and sometimes rape them. Bad enough surely, but not a capital crime in California. But because he had dragged a female victim a few yards away from her car before demanding oral sex, he was charged with "kidnapping," which some people felt was an overly creative use of the statute by prosecutors. So far as I recall, he was never accused of murder, which is the primary reason his death sentence was so controversial at the time.

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

Was he depicted as a killer in the movie?

Excellent question -- here's the synopsis, as supplied by Sony Home Video:

Based on the autobiographical book by Caryl Chessman, this fictionalized account of how a boy becomes a brutal criminal is both shocking and sensational. William Campbell plays Whit Whittier, who begins with petty crime, escalating to violence, and finally convicted on charges of robbery and rape, is sent to San Quentin’s Death Row. While awaiting execution, Whittier studies law and manages to successfully represent himself in appeal after appeal.

It doesn't mention him as having killed anyone, so I'm clearly wrong about this...but in my defense, I haven't seen the film so it's only natural my preconceived notions would be a bit hinky. To rectify this situation, I have filled out an application for an endowment from World O'Crap in order to obtain the necessary funds to purchase the DVD. I expect to hear something from that generous philanthropic organization any day now. :-)

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

As a postscript, I noticed that the parole guy featured in the clip for this film on Sony's website is played by character great Forrest Lewis. Lewis' OTR roles were quite numerous, including a character on I Love a Mystery that sounds so much like Peter Lorre Warner Bros. pitched a fit, fearing that audiences would think it really was Lorre.

Scott said...

A natural assumption. Who, after all, walks the last mile but desperate killers. It was the prosecution's attempts to apply the death penalty in a non-capital case (along with his literary flair) that made Chessman both a cause celebre, and partly responsible for the long interregnum in executions in California.

William Campbell plays Whit Whittier

If I recall correctly, Chessman's middle name was Whittier, and I always wondered if he was from my birthplace, or descended from the Quakers who founded it, because who wouldn't love to come from a town whose two most famous native sons were Caryl Chessman and Richard Nixon?