Film Review: The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)

Also known as: Into Thin Air (working title), Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much (complete title)
Release Date: April 29th, 1956 (Cannes)
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Written by: John Michael Hayes, Charles Bennett, D. B. Wyndham-Lewis
Music by: Bernard Herrmann
Cast: James Stewart, Doris Day, Brenda de Banzie, Bernard Miles, Christopher Olsen, Daniel Gelin, Reggie Nalder, Carolyn Jones

Filwite Productions, Paramount Pictures, 120 Minutes

Review:

“Remember, you will only have time for just one shot. If you need another, the risk is yours.” – Edward Drayton

I think that the 1950s were my favorite decade for Hitchcock movies and this is another really enjoyable one that just adds to that hefty pile of cinematic greatness.

This one also stars two of my mum’s favorite leading stars: James Stewart and Doris Day. That being said, this is also the first really dramatic role I’ve seen for Doris Day, as I mostly saw her comedies and musical movies as a kid.

This is also the second film that Alfred Hitchcock made with the name The Man Who Knew Too Much. This isn’t a remake of the black and white ’30s version of the picture, as both are very different. I’m not sure why we reused the name and it probably creates some confusion for those who haven’t seen them. I plan to watch that ’30s one in the near future though, so I can compare the two and because it features Peter Lorre, a favorite actor of mine.

Anyway, this is a story about a husband and wife traveling to Morocco with their son. They initially get confused for another married couple, who are there as spies. In this confusion, a good guy is murdered and the husband is taken into the police station for questioning. The couple leaves their son with another couple they met on the trip but soon realize that this was a grave mistake and that their friends were actually the spies. The son is held hostage, as the couple does everything they can to try and get him back.

This is a great thriller in the way that any fan of Hitchcock’s work should expect. While it’s not my favorite of this era or with James Stewart, it’s still a damn fine picture that keeps you on the edge of your seat once the real plot kicks in about a half hour into the proceedings.

It’s superbly acted but that should go without saying. Doris Day was really impressive in this and I’m glad that I got to see her outside of the type of roles she’s most known for. I also really liked Stewart kind of being a real fish out of water but rising to the occasion and being a real hero to his son.

1956’s version of The Man Who Knew Too Much was a solid ride that wasn’t predictable and ended up giving the viewer a very satisfying and emotional finale.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other Alfred Hitchcock thrillers.

Film Review: The Bat (1959)

Release Date: August 9th, 1959
Directed by: Crane Wilbur
Written by: Crane Wilbur
Based on: The Circular Staircase by Mary Roberts Rinehart, The Bat by Mary Roberts Rinehart, Avery Hopwood
Music by: Louis Forbes
Cast: Vincent Price, Agnes Moorehead, Darla Hood

Liberty Pictures, 80 Minutes

Review:

“This is the Oaks, a house in the country which I’ve rented for the summer. As an author I write tales of mystery and murder, but the things that have happened in this house are far more fantastic than any book I’ve ever had published.” – Cornelia van Gorder

In a way, this movie almost plays like a proto-slasher film, even though it predates the genre’s peak by over twenty years. But it does feature a killer in the house, trying to get to two women holed up in the master bedroom.

Now there’s more to the story than just that but I kind of like how this hits those beats and does them fairly well, even though it’s hard to imagine that a person that wants to do these ladies harm would have much trouble getting to them, even with a bedroom door in the way. Also, the mysterious stranger has many opportunities that aren’t exploited.

The murderer in this film is actually really cool. It’s said to be a faceless man that murders women at night by using his steel claws to rip out their throats. The concept is gruesome for 1959 and it really sets a brooding tone. The visual look of the killer lives up to expectations, as he is shrouded completely in black, except for his claws.

Of course, the film wants you to suspect that the doctor character, played by horror icon Vincent Price, is The Bat. It’s a red herring, though, as the killer is revealed to be someone else.

I think that the best thing about this film is the acting. Agnes Moorehead proves she’s still got the chops and Price is as superb as always. Darla Hood is decent but she’s overshadowed by the mere presence of Moorehead. This would be Hood’s last movie and she was most known for playing Darla in the classic Our Gang short films.

All in all, this isn’t a great horror film but it boasted solid performances, a cool killer and it’s certainly entertaining.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other Vincent Price horror films of the late ’50s.

TV Review: Abbott and Costello Meet the Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954)

Also known as: The Colgate Comedy Hour
Release Date: 1954 (originally aired)
Cast: Bud Abbott, Lou Costello

Colgate-Palmolive-Peet, NBC, 59 Minutes

Review:

I bought this pretty sure that it had never actually been a movie. I was right. But considering that I love the Gillman more than any monster to come out of the Universal Monsters franchise, I had to buy it.

Plus, I also love Bud Abbott and Lou Costello and every time they cross paths with horror icons, it makes for really good results.

This is actually an episode of the comedy/variety show The Colgate Comedy Hour, which was a very early variety show in the earliest days of television.

You have to sit through about forty minutes of comedy skits, interviews, ice skating and dancing routines but you do eventually get to the section that stars Abbott and Costello.

Their segment is less than fifteen minutes and while it is rather funny, it only features the Gillman for maybe five seconds. The segment actually features more of Frankenstein’s Monster than it does the “creature” from the Black Lagoon. While that’s underwhelming and disappointing, the skit is still funny.

I wouldn’t call this a waste of money, by any means, as it was like five bucks. However, it’s packaging and title are pretty misleading and I can see where most people will end up with a product that pisses them off. For me, it’s just some weird novelty that’s been added to my classic horror collection.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: the Abbot and Costello monster movies.

Film Review: Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (1955)

Release Date: June 23rd, 1955
Directed by: Charles Lamont
Written by: John Grant, Lee Loeb
Music by: Joseph Gershenson (supervisor)
Cast: Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Marie Windsor, Michael Ansara, Peggy King, Richard Deacon, Mel Welles

Universal International Pictures, 79 Minutes

Review:

“There is no curse that a gun or a knife can’t cure.” – Madame Rontru

This installment in the Abbott & Costello/Universal Monsters mashups is one of the best.

While I still like their Frankenstein movie the most, this one is really close to it.

Being that this one lacks the star power and all the famous monsters of the Frankenstein picture, actually makes it a bit more impressive, as it was able to almost live up to that one with far less at the comedians and writers’ disposal.

In fact, I like this movie so much, it is my favorite Universal Mummy movie ever made after the original 1932 Boris Karloff one. The main reason is that this just hits the right notes in regards to the Mummy franchise while also being loaded with great gags and clever comedy writing.

Abbott and Costello are always hilarious and perfect as a pair but they really upped the ante in this one. I also liked seeing multiple mummies on the screen, even if all the dudes wrapped in bandages at the end, weren’t actual mummies.

This did a great job with the sets and making the world feel authentic and real. Well, as much as it could with the limitations of the time.

I also really enjoyed the addition of Mary Windsor, here, and it’s one of my favorite roles she’s played as she got to ham it up with the comedy legends and was convincing in her villainous role, which probably comes from spending so much time acting in classic film-noir pictures before this one.

Ultimately, this is a fun movie that lives up to both of the brands it brought together. Frankly, it’s probably the best way that Abbott and Costello could’ve ended their series of Universal Monster films.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Abbot and Costello monster movies.

Film Review: Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1953)

Also known as: Dr. Jekyll and Mrs. Hyde (working title)
Release Date: August 1st, 1953
Directed by: Charles Lamont
Written by: Lee Loeb, John Grant, Sid Fields, Grant Garett
Based on: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
Music by: Joseph Gershenson
Cast: Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Boris Karloff

Universal International Pictures, 76 Minutes

Review:

“How do you like that Dr. Jekyll! He turned me into a mouse… the rat!” – Tubby

This entry into the Abbott & Costello and Universal Monsters crossovers was definitely a step up from the Invisible Man film but I still wouldn’t put it as high as the Frankenstein one.

The great thing about this picture was seeing Boris Karloff in it as the monster. He really got to ham it up and I’m a fan of him in horror comedies, as he was great in both The Raven and The Comedy of Terrors.

There are a lot of really good gags in this movie, my favorite one being the bit where Lou Costello is turned into a humanoid rat and shocks everyone in a tavern.

Honestly, this picture was pretty clever between just the verbal jokes and the physical gags. Karloff added a hell of a lot to the proceedings and I wish he had been involved in all of these horror-themed Abbott & Costello flicks.

All in all, this was fun and amusing. It was a great mix of talent, a good yet fresh adaptation of a famous and quite overused horror classic, and it certainly made up for the fairly lackluster film before it.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: the other Abbot and Costello monster movies.

Film Review: Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951)

Also known as: Meet the Invisible Man (working title)
Release Date: March 7th, 1951
Directed by: Charles Lamont
Written by: Robert Lees, Frederic I. Rinaldo, John Grant, Hugh Wedlock Jr., Howard Snyder
Based on: The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells
Music by: Erich Zeisl
Cast: Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Nancy Guild, Arthur Franz

Universal International Pictures, 82 Minutes

Review:

“The evidence says I did. When I stepped out of the shower that night, I found O’Hara beaten to death on the locker room floor. The cop outside the door swore nobody else had come in, so they pinned it on me.” – Tommy Nelson

I love the Abbott & Costello mashups with the Universal Monsters franchise, however one of the film’s has to be the weakest link and this one is it.

That doesn’t mean that it’s bad, as it’s still really enjoyable. It’s just that this one feels like it’s the least horror-y and it also just creates a new Invisible Man character, as opposed to being tied to any previous version, even after they already had the duo come into brief contact with the Vincent Price version of the character at the end of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.

Oddly, this is more of a comedy sports movie. Which is actually achieved pretty cleverly in that the comedic duo use the Invisible Man to help give Lou Costello an edge in the boxing ring. It’s an ingenious and hilarious scheme and even if the joke feels one-note, they stretch it out in this movie and the physical comedy is so good that it works longer than it probably should.

Abbott & Costello are both as great as usual and even if the Invisible Man character felt weak when compared to past versions, he still meshed well with the two leads and everything came together fairly well.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Abbot and Costello monster movies.

Film Review: House of Wax (1953)

Also known as: The Wax Works (working title)
Release Date: April 9th, 1953 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Andre DeToth
Written by: Crane Wilbur
Based on: The Wax Works by Charles S. Belden
Music by: David Buttolph
Cast: Vincent Price, Frank Lovejoy, Phyllis Kirk, Carolyn Jones, Paul Picerni, Charles Bronson (as Charles Buchinsky)

Bryan Foy Productions, Warner Bros., 88 Minutes

Review:

“I’m afraid that the visit of a such distinguished critic may cause my children to become conceited. To you they are wax, but to me, their creator, they live and breathe.” – Prof. Henry Jarrod

House of Wax is hand down, one of my favorite Vincent Price films ever made. In fact, as much as I love the Edgar Allan Poe adaptations he’s in, this was the movie that really sold me on the guy and opened up the Pandora’s box that sent me down the rabbit hole of classic horror.

While I had already loved the Universal Monsters films and older black and white stuff, House of Wax really introduced me to the generation of films that followed, many of which starred Vincent Price, Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee… and sometimes a combination of two of them or on rare occasions, all three.

At a very young age, this also introduced me to the original version of the 3D gimmick. While I didn’t see this in 3D, it gave me an understanding of it and how these films were shot. Plus, it’s cool seeing it on a normal screen, as in 1953, movies weren’t made to be digested at home on a television set.

This was directed by Andre DeToth, who had previously made some memorable classic film-noir pictures. He had an eye for cinematic composition and he would utilize that to great effect, here, while also applying it to the 3D effects shots.

What sets this apart from DeToth’s beautiful noir movies is the use of color, which is vibrant and vivid, even more so than the colorized pictures of the day. Even when the film takes place in darkness, the world is still alive with dynamic hues.

Additionally, DeToth’s mastery of a high chiaroscuro style comes into play in the great sequence that sees the film’s female lead running through the urban streets and alleyways with the grotesque killer in hot pursuit. While this wasn’t done in black and white, it used dark hues and a lot of contrast with bits of color accenting the composition, helping to boost texture.

Vincent Price is dynamite in this and it is one of his best roles. He was on his A-game and his performance in this film is what led to him having a career as America’s top horror star for decades.

I also loved seeing a young Charles Bronson in this, who would work with DeToth again in a noir movie titled Crime Wave.

As an Addams Family fan, I also like that Carolyn Jones is in this, a decade before her most famous role as Morticia Addams.

One thing that really stood out to me when seeing this, as a kid, was how messed up and dark the story was. It’s about a wax artist who lost everything and was only able to reestablish himself by killing people and using them as the base for his wax figure creations. In fact, the plot of this film inspired two different horror short stories I wrote around middle school age. I’d assume that it also inspired Roger Corman’s classic beatnik horror comedy Bucket of Blood.

Overall, this is not just one of my favorite Vincent Price films, it is one of my favorite films of all-time. It led me down a path that I have enjoyed immensely for thirtyish years and I still tend to feel the need to watch this every October.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: other Vincent Price films from the ’50s through the ’70s.

Film Review: Sleeping Beauty (1959)

Release Date: January 29th, 1959 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Clyde Geronimi (supervising director), Eric Larson, Wolfgang Reitherman, Les Clark
Written by: Erdman Penner, Milt Banta, Winston Hibler, Bill Peet, Joe Rinaldi, Ted Sears, Ralph Wright
Based on: Sleeping Beauty by Charles Perrault
Music by: George Burns (adapted from Tchaikovsky)
Cast: Mary Costa, Bill Shirley, Eleanor Audley, Verna Felton, Barbara Luddy, Barbara Jo Allen, Taylor Holmes, Bill Thompson, Marvin Miller (narrator)

Buena Vista Film Distribution, Walt Disney Productions, 75 Minutes

Review:

“A forest of thorns shall be his tomb! Borne through the skies on a fog of doom! Now go with the curse, and serve me well! ‘Round Stefan’s castle, cast my spell!” – Maleficent

This is my favorite classic animated Disney film of all-time. While I also love Alice In Wonderland immensely and have (in my own mind) debated which one takes the cake for me, it’s always Sleeping Beauty that wins out, especially when I see them both pretty close together.

As far as the classic Disney style and patented tropes go, this is a perfect motion picture but then it’s also more than that.

This, at face value, looks like a standard Disney princess story but it also features the greatest villain that Disney has ever had in Maleficent. A villain so badass and cool that she’s been featured in the great Kingdom Hearts video games and gone on to have her own series of live-action films featuring her as the main character over Aurora a.k.a. Sleeping Beauty.

On top of that, this is a visual triumph for the Disney company, as it has a very unique animation style with incredible character design, a delectable, vivid color palate and a sort of looming darkness that their other films don’t have. There’s a real beauty with this picture that holds it above Disney’s other masterfully crafted and visually impressive films.

The animation is also so smooth, especially in regards to the great action sequences. The big action-packed climax that sees Prince Philip take on Maleficent in her massive dragon form is stunning to behold. Sixty-plus years later, it has held up incredibly well and is, hands down, one of the absolute best and most memorable animated action sequences in film history.

For me and what I like in Disney films, as well as fairytale stories, this is just a perfect storm, which is greatly enhanced by the unique and alluring visuals and one of the greatest silver screen villains ever created.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: other classic animated Disney films of the classic era.

Film Review: Lady and the Tramp (1955)

Release Date: June 16th, 1955 (Chicago premiere)
Directed by: Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske
Written by: Erdman Penner, Joe Rinaldi, Ralph Wright, Don DaGradi
Based on: Happy Dan, The Cynical Dog by Ward Greene
Music by: Oliver Wallace
Cast: Barbara Luddy, Larry Roberts, Bill Thompson, Dallas McKennon, Bill Baucom, Verna Felton, Peggy Lee

Buena Vista Film Distribution, Walt Disney Productions, 76 Minutes

Review:

“(repeated line) As my grandpappy, Ol’ Reliable, used to say… I don’t recollect if I ever mentioned Ol’ Reliable before?” – Trusty

As I started reviewing Disney’s classic animated features from the beginning, I wondered where their distribution partnership with RKO Radio Pictures would end. I guess it’s here, as this is the first film distributed by Buena Vista, which was created to be the distribution arm of the Disney company.

While that might not seem as if it is important to the final film, it could possibly be a reason as to why this one feels like a slight step down in quality for what Disney had been putting out, at the time. However, following up Cinderella, Alice In Wonderland and Peter Pan couldn’t have been easy.

Also, that’s not to say that this is bad or unworthy of the Disney brand. Lady and the Tramp is still one of the best animated films of its time and deservedly considered a classic.

In fact, this is one of the classic Disney films that I watched the most, as a kid. I always liked the characters, the story and yes, even the romance. Honestly, this may have been my first experience seeing romance play out in a film. Well, it was at least the first romantic movie I probably paid attention to.

The animation is great and I also like the few songs in the film. However, the movie plays more like a sequence of events without much tying them together. At least, there doesn’t seem to be much of a point to the larger arc of the story and it almost feels like there isn’t one. Things happen, dogs fall in love and eventually, they live together and have babies. All of this, however, just felt like things that happened around random scenes.

I guess it didn’t need to have a clear objective and can be brushed off as just peaking into these two dogs’ lives for a bit but its lack of real structure and narrative progression does effect the quality.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other Disney animated films of the 1950s.

Film Review: The Mummy (1959)

Release Date: August 1st, 1959 (Japan)
Directed by: Terence Fisher
Written by: Jimmy Sangster
Music by: Franz Reizenstein
Cast: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Yvonne Furneaux, Michael Ripper

Hammer Films, 97 Minutes (original), 86 Minutes

Review:

“He who robs the graves of Egypt dies!” – Mehemet Bey

Since I’ve reviewed the entirety of Hammer’s Dracula and Frankenstein films, I figured that this classic monster reboot series also needed to be revisited.

Coming off of the heels of The Curse of Frankenstein and The Horror of Dracula, Hammer got the same creative team back together and took a shot at resurrecting The Mummy in their own, original way.

It also helped that they brought back both Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee for this one, making it feel like the third part in a trilogy of films where Hammer was showing tribute to the Universal Monsters franchise that kicked off in the 1930s.

I actually love that this is its own thing and it’s not trying to remake 1932’s The Mummy with Boris Karloff. It just takes the concept and gives the audience a fresh, new story. Sure, there are obvious similarities but this picture has a unique visual aesthetic and frankly, it’s one of the best looking Hammer movies of all-time. I also say that as someone that already loves the visual style of the studio’s classic films.

While I would rank this below the first Dracula and Frankenstein films, it’s still pretty damn good and it’s certainly the best of the Hammer Mummy series.

I enjoyed the characters and I especially liked the look of Christopher Lee’s mummy. The makeup was impressive for 1959 and Lee is such a good physical actor that his mummy is one of my favorites of all-time. While I don’t feel that he gets the same level of admiration as Karloff’s version of the monster, I’d say that his is on the same level and possibly a bit better due to his size and how imposing he is. Lee’s mummy just looks and feels stronger than Karloff’s and there is just something more sinister about him.

Ultimately, this is a solid Hammer horror flick. For fans of the studio and classic monsters, it is definitely worth checking out.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: the other films in Hammer’s Mummy series, as well as other Hammer films of the time.