APES ON FILM: Mr. Roberts and The H-Man Battle In Outer Space!

Posted on: Feb 8th, 2021 By:

by Anthony Taylor
Contributing Writer

 Welcome to Apes on Film! This column exists to scratch your retro-film-in-high-definition itch. We’ll be reviewing new releases of vintage cinema and television on disc of all genres, finding gems and letting you know the skinny on what to avoid. Here at Apes on Film, our aim is to uncover the best in retro film. As we dig for artifacts, we’ll do our best not to bury our reputation. What will we find out here? Our destiny.

 

 

 

ISHIRO HONDA DOUBLE FEATURE: THE H-MAN & BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE (1958-59)
3.5 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Yumi Shirakawa , Kenji Sahara , Akihiko Hirata  / Ryô Ikebe , Kyôko Anzai , Minoru Takada
Director: Ishiro Honda
Rated: Unrated
Studio: Eureka!
Region: B
BRD Release Date: November 16, 2020
Audio Formats: LPCM 2.0 Mono
Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Resolution: 1080p HD
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Run Time: 79/90 minutes
CLICK HERE TO ORDER

If you’re a fan of giant monsters stomping Japanese cities flat, then you know the name Ishiro Honda, the man who directed GODZILLA, RODAN, MOTHRA, THE WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS, and most of the rest of Toho Companys’ kaiju faire from the 1950s up through the year 2000. Now two of Honda’s other pictures for the studio have gotten the Masters of Cinema Blu-ray release treatment from Eureka! Video in the UK. One is a monster film of a different stripe, the other a sci-fi actioner whose tropes were later refit for a beloved British children’s television series.

THE H-MAN is essentially a proto-psychedelic noir/procedural about radioactive snot monsters invading Tokyo and dissolving the population. Hey, who doesn’t love a good snot monster, am I right? Starting at sea and moving into the city via the sewers, the snot gives the local gendarmes a run for their money but are (of course) defeated in the end. Or are they? This was 1958, before that particular trope was so overused as to have become offensive. I feel that cinematographer Hajime Koizumi’s highly-saturated color motifs may well have influenced Mario Bava, at a nascent point in his directing career but already well-respected as a cinematographer himself. A few of the sequences look as though they might have been shot by Bava himself – an impossibility, of course. Though director Honda and special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya were already masters of the visual, the lack of suspense during a slog of a second act brings the film down a notch in comparison to much of their kaiju work.

BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE has much to recommend – Tsubaraya’s effects are front and center from frame one, and rightfully so. Compared to much of the American sci-fi cinema of the time, the model work here is of the highest quality and the recipient of Koizumi’s deep, colorful lighting, making it stand above the pack. Strip-mined for premise as well as art direction by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s CAPTAIN SCARLET AND THE MYSTERONS (1967) television series, the film is honestly a joy visually, but suffers a similar fate as THE H-MAN when the second act unfolds. Both films are stuffed with what author and film commentator David J. Schow calls “shoe leather;” unnecessarily long shots of mundane action, dialog that could easily be excised, etc. Essentially, padding to expand the running time of the film which adds nothing to the viewing experience. BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE does accelerate once the U.N. forces reach the moon and attack the alien base there, however.

I do recommend this set, even though both films would benefit from the editor having a stern talking-to by say, Akira Kurosawa. It comes in an “O” card slipcase for the first 2000 copies and includes both Japanese and English versions of each film, presented across two Blu-ray discs. Other extras include a brand-new audio commentary with authors and Japanese sci-fi historians Steve Ryfle and Ed Godziszewski on THE H-MAN, as well as one on BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE with film historian and writer David Kalat. Further, included are stills galleries and a collector’s booklet featuring essays by Christopher Stewardson and Japanese cinema expert Jasper Sharp.

The Masters of Cinema package by Eureka! is definitely worth a pick up if you’re in the UK or Ireland, or have a region-free player.

 

 

MISTER ROBERTS – 1955
5 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Henry Fonda, James Cagney, William Powell, Jack Lemmon
Directed By: John Ford, Mervyn LeRoy
Studio: Warner Archive Collection
BRD Release Date: December 15, 2020
Region: A, B
Rated: Unrated
Audio Formats: DTS HD-Master Audio 5.1 – English (48kHz, 24-bit)
Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Resolution: New 2020 1080p HD Remaster from 4K Scan of Original Negative
Aspect Ratio: 2.55:1-16×9 LETTERBOX
Run Time: 121:00 Minutes
CLICK HERE TO ORDER

Some films are classics because of writing, some because of their performances, or direction, or cinematography. MISTER ROBERTS is a classic for all these reasons and more. Based on the play by Thomas Heggen and Joshua Logan  (itself based on Heggen’s novel), the film is simply a masterpiece of cinema and of storytelling.

A character study of a man desperate to be a part of something bigger than himself and to make a real difference in the Second World War, the film features Fonda‘s pitch-perfect performance as Lt. (j.g.) Douglas Roberts, stuck aboard a dreary naval cargo ship in a Pacific backwater, far from the fighting. At constant odds with his Captain (Cagney in bravura performance of pure, hilarious evil), Roberts takes solace in his relationship with Powell’s Doc, a sympathetic veteran too tired to complain any longer, and his bunkmate, Ensign Frank Pulver (Lemmon), a braggadocious schemer who never quite follows through on his plans. Executive officer of the boat, Roberts is also popular with the crew for his passive-aggressive war with the Captain, who terrorizes them regularly.

It’s hard to imagine what it must have been like on the set of this movie, but man…what an amazing place it must have been. Fonda was on the upper curve of his peak, with 12 ANGRY MEN a mere two years in the future; Lemmon gives his breakthrough performance as Pulver. Powell, Cagney, and Ward Bond  were all on the downward slide and past their leading man days but give wonderful performances…and imagine the tales they had to tell. Rounding it all out is a cadre of young actors playing the ship’s crew, many of whom were on the way to distinguished careers, like Ken Curtis , Tige Andrews , Buck Kartalian, and a wide-eyed and fresh-faced Nick Adams , whose future looked very bright, but would fall short of his expectations and end tragically. Rumor has it that director Ford was replaced after socking Fonda in the jaw during a heated discussion, though it was more likely due to emergency gall bladder surgery.

Warner Archive Collection’s Blu-ray presentation is absolutely breathtaking. Remastered from a new 4K scan, the picture is truly one of the best I’ve ever seen in this format, with little to no film grain visible throughout, colors balanced and saturated well, and deep blacks supporting a generous midtone range. The only flaws I saw were minimal focus issues near the vertical screen edges occasionally, artifacts of the original CinemaScope projection process most likely. Sound is also above expectation, and a real joy in 24-bit 5.1 surround. Extras include the original theatrical trailer and a scene-specific audio commentary by Jack Lemmon, carried over from a previous release.

Honestly, this is the best restoration I’ve seen all year on a film that I recommend everybody should own. Do yourself a favor and grab it while Warner makes it available. You never know when they might decide to go to an all-streaming model and ditch traditional media sales.

 

 

 

Anthony Taylor is not only the Minister of Science, but also Defender of the Faith. His reviews and articles have appeared in magazines such as Screem, Fangoria, Famous Monsters of Filmland, SFX, Video*WatcHDog, and more.

 *Art Credit: Anthony Taylor as Dr. Zaius caricature by Richard Smith

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APES ON FILM: Frankenstein -vs- Jimmy Stewart!

Posted on: Jan 4th, 2021 By:

by Anthony Taylor
Contributing Writer

 Welcome to Apes on Film! This column exists to scratch your retro-film-in-high-definition itch. We’ll be reviewing new releases of vintage cinema and television on disc of all genres, finding gems and letting you know the skinny on what to avoid. Here at Apes on Film, our aim is to uncover the best in retro film. As we dig for artifacts, we’ll do our best not to bury our reputation. What will we find out here? Our destiny.

 

 

 

THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (2 Disc SE)- 1957
4.5 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Peter Cushing , Hazel Court, Robert Urquhart , Christopher Lee
Director: Terence Fisher
Rated: Unrated
Studio: Warner Archive Collection
Region: A
BRD Release Date: December 15, 2020
Audio Formats: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono (48kHz, 24-bit)
Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Resolution: New 2020 1080p HD Restoration Masters from 4K Scans of Preservation Separation Elements
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1, 1.67:1, 1.85:1
Run Time: 83 minutes
CLICK HERE TO ORDER

It’s the holiday season, and a great time to make a gift of your current disc copy of Hammer FilmsTHE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN. Not to a friend, but to an interested acquaintance or an amiable stranger – share the gift of a wonderful classic film in an adequate digital presentation and give yourself (and a friend) a gift by ordering the new, restored version of the film from the Warner Archive Collection. After viewing this presentation of the film, you’ll never be able to go back to the current disc in your collection, whether DVD or Blu-ray. For a taste of what I mean, click the title link above to see a comparison video of the restored vs. unrestored version.

Warner Archive’s new two-disc special edition lovingly gives this film the attention it deserves, including not one, not TWO… but THREE different prints in varying aspect ratios as released in theaters. It also includes a great slate of supplemental features produced by Constantine Nasr, a man who knows his mid-century British horror movies. He’s assembled a set of in-depth featurettes that include context, history, and opinions from the likes of Dick Klemensen, publisher of Hammer-centric fanzine Little Shoppe of Horrors, Sir Christopher Frayling, who provides an excellent history of gothic literature and how Hammer’s films were affected by it as well as how they affected it, David J. Miller, who contextualizes fellow director of photography Jack Asher’s work on the film and his subsequent work at Hammer, and composer Christopher Drake on the film’s score and it’s composer, James Bernard. Nasr and historian Jack Haberman also provide a new audio commentary. The film’s original trailer has also been restored and is included.

As for the film itself, it looks and sounds better than it ever has. One of the cornerstones of Hammer’s success, THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN was very much a gamble when the company undertook it’s production. Horror movies were at a low ebb in the mid-1950s, and the company was under scrutiny not only by the British Board of Film Classification but by Universal Studios, who wanted to make sure they weren’t appropriating any copyrighted material or designs from the 1930s films. Writer Jimmy Sangster created a totally new take on the story, focusing on the evil Baron Frankenstein rather than the monster, and injected a bit of Jane Eyre to play up the gothic aspect. Add blood, cleavage, and one-strip Eastmancolor film stock and you have a perfect storm which kicked off a decade’s worth of profitable releases for Hammer and their competitors.

If you’ve never seen it and aren’t a big fan of this type of movie, you might want to hold off on buying this set – an acquaintance or amiable stranger may be giving you an earlier disc release of it in the near future. If you are a fan, order now – this is essential viewing, and should be in any horror fan’s library.

 

THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER – 1940
4 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Margaret Sullavan , James Stewart , Frank Morgan , Joseph Schildkraut
Directed By: Ernst Lubitsch
Studio: Warner Archive Collection
BRD Release Date: December 22, 2020
Region: A
Audio Formats: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono (48kHz, 24-bit)
Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Resolution: 1080p
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
Run Time: 99 minutes
CLICK HERE TO ORDER

What would the holidays be without an annual viewing of that timeless Jimmy Stewart classic? You may think I mean IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, but I’m talking about THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER, a deeper dive and totally worth adding to your Christmas movie viewing list. Remade in 1998 as YOU’VE GOT MAIL starring Tom Hanks  (well, who else could carry Stewart’s mantle?) and  Meg Ryan , with the original outshining the remake on all counts. The cast is perfect; Stewart, Sullavan, and Morgan essay their characters well, dodging and parrying each other with jabs and lunges of Runyun-esque dialog provided by writer Samson Raphaelson. Lubitsch’s direction brings it all in dramatically as well as comedically, making for a tender and frustrating love story between two headstrong people trying to define themselves through the eyes of others. We know in the end they’ll come together, but the journey is the satisfying part of this film, not the destination.

Warner Archive’s presentation seems sourced from a new 2K scan of the original interpositive materials and is a marked improvement from past releases. The picture is sharp and gray tones and blacks are well defined throughout. Audio is also improved, especially in regard to dialog, which is tossed about like hand grenades by the cast – fast, furious, and much more in evidence than musical cues. Supplemental materials include a vintage MGM promotional film, THE MIRACLE OF SOUND, a Screen Guild Theater radio broadcast (Sept. 29, 1940) with Margaret Sullavan, James Stewart and Frank Morgan, as well as the Lux Radio Theater broadcast (June 23, 1941) with Claudette Colbert and Don Ameche, and the remastered original theatrical trailer for the film.

Don’t look for a plot-heavy story here–this is all holiday fantasy, and the focus is on the characters. If that appeals to you, then make sure you get this disc and keep it handy every year around this time. It’s worth the watch.

 

Anthony Taylor is not only the Minister of Science, but also Defender of the Faith. His reviews and articles have appeared in magazines such as Screem, Fangoria, Famous Monsters of Filmland, SFX, Video*WatcHDog, and more.

 *Art Credit: Anthony Taylor as Dr. Zaius caricature by Richard Smith

Category: Retro Review | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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