APES ON FILM: DOCTOR X Builds a Creature while BABYDOLL Gets Scandalous!

Posted on: May 17th, 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. Apes on Film also appears on Nerd Alert News. Check them out HERE!

 

 

DOCTOR X – 1932
4 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Lionel Atwill , Fay Wray, Lee Tracy , Preston Foster
Director: Michael Curtiz
Rated: Unrated
Studio: Warner Archive Collection
Region: A
BRD Release Date: April 20, 2021
Audio Formats: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono (48kHz, 24-bit)
Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC. New 4K HD Transfer Restoration by UCLA Film and Television Archive and The Film Foundation, in association with Warner Bros. Entertainment
Resolution: 1080p HD
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
Run Time: 76 minutes
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Director Michael Curtiz is best known for making film classics like CASABLANCA, THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD, and CAPTAIN BLOOD, but he also directed a trio of significant early horror films as well. DOCTOR X was the first of these, followed by MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM (1933 – reviewed here), and THE WALKING DEAD (1936). The first two films were shot using two-strip Technicolor®, while the third was shot in black and white. Warner Archive Collection has just released a fully restored version of DOCTOR X and the results are breathtaking. Once again, the UCLA Film & Television Archive and The Film Foundation have done an incredible job in reviving an important film from a dull, damaged carcass.

Featuring Lionel Atwill and Fay Wray (just as Wax Museum did), DOCTOR X is another pre-code horror title of the type that would be defanged by the censors had it been released just a few years later. The film has much to recommend about it. For example, Ray Rennehan’s cinematography is lush and fluid, art direction by Anton Grot is well ahead of its time, and many of the performances are quite good. It deals in cannibalism and body horror, perhaps the first Hollywood film to do so. However, the film is unfortunately saddled with some far-fetched and frankly ridiculous characters and situations that became overused tropes almost by the time it was released.

Atwill and Wray acquit themselves well, but Lee Tracy is nearly unwatchable as a Leo Gorcey-like newspaper reporter that is the least funny comic relief ever. Full of 1930s mannerisms (ok, I get it – it was the 1930s) and catchphrases, he comes off as pandering to an audience who came fully prepared to see a horrifying thriller. He seems to have been inserted by the WB brass who were afraid that the horror film “craze” started at Universal Studios wouldn’t translate to their gangster and crime-themed format. Also stinking up the joint – a police commissioner who allows Atwill’s Dr. Xavier forty-eight hours to conduct his own investigation to determine which of the professors at his university is a serial killer at large before letting his detectives take over. That kind of malarkey would get you fired even in 1932, folks. This film definitely seems like a precursor to Wax Museum, with many similar (though better presented) themes recurring in that film.

Warner Archive’s disc is presented very well, with only a few jump cuts throughout where the team was unable to spread available imagery far enough to account for missing frames. Audio is also quite good. The disc comes with a black and white version of the film that was shot simultaneously, as well as a slew of special features such as new commentaries by Alan K. Rode and Scott MacQueen, documentary “Madness & Mystery: The Horror Films of Michael Curtiz” (HD, 27:39) by Constantine Nasr, “Doctor X: Before and After Restoration Reel” (HD, 7:40), and the theatrical trailer: black and white version (HD, 2:15).

This is the kind of amazing restoration and packaging that Warner Media chair Jason Kilar is trying to kill; he’s a digital streaming-only zealot. If he has his way WB would release no physical media at all, and the public will be deprived of this kind of release. If you love classic films and physical media, let Warner Brothers know. Buy this or their other discs. Write them letters. Show them that there will always be an audience for great movies from the past that can be owned outright.

 

 

 

BABYDOLL – 1956
4 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Karl Malden, Carroll Baker, Eli Wallach
Directed By: Elia Kazan
Studio: Warner Archive Collection
BRD Release Date: February 16, 2021
Region: A
Rated: Unrated
Audio Formats: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono
Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC New 2K Master
Resolution: 1080p HD
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Run Time: 115 Minutes
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With a director, cast and writer like this, it’s hard to go wrong – and BABYDOLL doesn’t. Steeped in the kind of sultry, southern-gothic atmosphere and seething sexual tension one expects of a Tennessee Williams script, the film is bursting at the seams with tawdry dialog, black comedy, backhanded insults, and character flaw reveals of the highest level.

Baker plays Babydoll, Malden’s virginal wife who is promised to him sexually when she turns twenty, a few days hence. Down on their luck financially, the couple’s furniture is repossessed. Malden blames his cotton ginning competitor Wallach (in his debut screen role) for their fate and burns down his plant. Wallach sets upon Babydoll to confirm his suspicions of arson, and the pair spend a day barely avoiding falling into each other’s arms. The trio burst into open hostility when Malden arrives, with Wallach and Baker using each other to taunt and belittle him into a rage of jealousy.

The film was denounced by the Catholic church’s National League of Decency on release, and pulled from distribution a few weeks later by Warner Brothers. It’s easy to see what it was so controversial; BABYDOLL and a handful of other films railed against the Hays Code, which had banned exactly this sort of film in 1934 and would continue to keep films at “G” to PG” equivalent rating until it was overturned in 1968. Though nothing explicit is shown onscreen, the overt sexual tones and themes are vividly on display. Despite its chilly reception, the film would garner several Academy Award nominations and was a hit with critics. Kazan won a Golden Globe and Wallach a BAFTA Award for BABYDOLL.

Warner’s presentation Blu-ray is once again a pleasure to view. The picture is flawless, and sound is good, though there’s quite a dichotomy of volume for some of the dialog, and a few of the lower volume examples might have been amplified a bit. Special features are sparse. There’s a featurette from 2006 – “See No Evil: Baby Doll” (SD, 13 minutes) which includes interviews with the three principles, and a HD theatrical trailer (3 minutes).

While not the milestone that LOLITA (with which this film has been compared) was, BABYDOLL is an important and entertaining movie with great performances and direction.  Recommended.

 

 

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: 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
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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
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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

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

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