Film Review: The Night Stalker (1972)

Also known as: The Kolchak Papers (working title), Kolchak: The Night Stalker (long title)
Release Date: January 11th, 1972 
Directed by: John Llewellyn Moxey
Written by: Richard Matheson
Based on: The Kolchak Papers by Jeffrey Grant Rice
Music by: Bob Cobert
Cast: Darren McGavin, Simon Oakland, Carol Lynley, Barry Atwater, Ralph Meeker, Claude Akins, Elisha Cook Jr.

Dan Curtis Productions, ABC Circle Films, ABC, 74 Minutes

Review:

“Rumor has it that the day Anthony Albert Vincenzo was born, his father left town. The story may be apocryphal, but I believe it. The only point I wonder about is why his mother didn’t leave too.” – Carl Kolchak

I was a pretty big fan of the Kolchak television series when it was in syndication back when I was a kid. It originally aired before I was alive but I remember my granmum having it on her television set in my younger, most impressionable years.

Sadly, I hadn’t seen it since the ’80s and I never saw the two television movies that predate the single season show. So I figured I’d start with the original Night Stalker movie and go from there.

I’m glad to say that this was pretty close to my memories of the show and seeing Darren McGavin ham it up while monster hunting was a sight to behold and enjoy, once again!

More than anything, watching the original film, which I found in HD on YouTube for free (as long as that lasts) motivated me greatly to continue on with the second film and twenty-ish episode series.

McGavin is great in this and it’s my favorite role that I’ve ever seen him play. It’s like it was tailor made for his specific talents, as it maximizes his strengths and charisma. I’m not sure how close the Kolchak TV material is to the original novel but it’s a hell of a lot of fun.

In this story, ace reporter Carl Kolchak is investigating strange murders that appear to be vampiric in nature. No one wants to believe what Kolchak starts to uncover and even after the vampire gets into a skirmish with police while stealing blood bags from the hospital, those in power try to suppress Kolchak’s narrative.

Eventually, we get a showdown with the vampire and the end result sees Kolchak having to leave Las Vegas or be charged with murder for killing the bloodsucking fiend.

While the picture can feel hokey and dated, I mean, it is a ’70s television movie, it’s still an energetic, charming, entertaining ride and pretty solid shit for its time and production limitations.

Plus, Darren McGavin is stupendous.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: its sequel The Night Strangler and the television show Kolchak: The Night Stalker.

Film Review: Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973)

Also known as: Colonization of the Planet of the Apes (Germany)
Release Date: June 15th, 1973
Directed by: J. Lee Thompson
Written by: Paul Dehn, John William Corrington, Joyce Hooper Corrington
Based on: characters by Pierre Boulle
Music by: Leonard Rosenman
Cast: Roddy McDowall, Claude Akins, Natalie Trundy, Severn Darden, Lew Ayres, Paul Williams, John Huston, Austin Stoker, Paul Stevens, John Landis

APJAC Productions, Twentieth Century Fox, 93 Minutes, 96 Minutes (extended)

Review:

“Ah, if only my mother and father, whom I was too young to remember… If only they’d lived, perhaps they would have taught me if it was right to kill evil so that good shall prevail.” – Caesar

Maybe it’s weird that I prefer the last three Planet of the Apes movies to the earlier ones, even if I can admit that the first is the most superior of them all, as far as artistic merit. There’s just something about the story of Caesar and his parents that resonates with me but I also think that has a lot to do with the great performances Roddy McDowall gave us over these three pictures.

This one takes place several years after the uprising of the apes in the previous movie. In fact, this takes place after mankind has essentially destroyed themselves with nuclear bombs.

Now there are two types of humans in this story. There are the normal humans who live with the apes but are dealing with prejudice and treated like servants. The other group of humans are survivors from the nearby metropolis that was ravaged by war. These humans are disfigured from radiation and are hellbent on destroying the ape civilization because humans gonna human.

This film, due to its post-apocalyptic vibe, almost feels like the first Apes film mashed up with a Mad Max movie, as the bad humans use decrepit vehicles when they bring war to the apes settlement.

I like the story, though, and really, this film is mostly about Caesar trying to figure out what it means to be a leader. A lot of trouble emerges and Caesar is challenged from different sides. He has to learn from his parents’ words and the wisdom he gains through his experiences in this story, as well as his interactions with his trusted allies and advisors.

While this recycles the ape versus human story, it’s more about the making of a great, noble king.

The story is multi-layered but it’s also very straightforward and doesn’t waste time getting to the point. It moves at a swift pace, features good action, great tension and solid twists, even if they are fairly predictable.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: the four other Planet of the Apes movies from the original run, as well as the television show from the ’70s.

Film Review: Shield for Murder (1954)

Release Date: August 27th, 1954 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Edmond O’Brien, Howard W. Koch
Written by: Richard Alan Simmons, John C. Higgins
Based on: Shield for Murder by William P. McGivern
Music by: Paul Dunlap
Cast: Edmond O’Brien, Marla English, John Agar, Emile Meyer, Carolyn Jones, Claude Akins

Camden Productions Inc., Aubrey Schenck Productions, United Artists, 82 Minutes

Review:

“[to police reporter] Write his story good.” – Capt. Gunnarson

Man, what a dark and gritty movie, even for 1950s film-noir standards. I’m a fan of Edmond O’Brien and other crime movies he’s starred in have had a sort of harshness to them but this might take the cake.

This one follows O’Brien as he plays veteran cop Barney Nolan. It’s the story of a good cop turned bad but the film starts with him murdering a bookmaker and stealing $25,000 from him only to tell the other cops that he was forced to shoot the man because he escaped custody. While his colleagues believe him, a reporter thinks the story sounds fishy.

Everything escalates from the pretty brutal opening and you know it’s just a matter of time before things catch up to Nolan but as the story progresses, he becomes more and more unhinged.

This is pretty action picked and as high octane as a 1950s film could be. What I really liked about it was some of the settings, as this wasn’t just some cookie cutter noir that just saw cops and criminals fighting in the streets. There is an incredible shootout scene in a public pool full of lots of bystanders, as well as other location shoots that just have unique looks to them.

Additionally, one scene that really makes this film quite memorable involves Carolyn Jones, before Addams Family fame and while she was platinum blonde. In that sequence, Nolan meets her at a bar, she’s flirtatious but he soon finds out that she’s been abused. The scene ends with Nolan violently and excessively pistol whipping two men in front of a terrified Jones. It’s pretty raw stuff for 1954 but it adds an exclamation point onto the self-destruction of the Nolan character and the escalation of the plot.

In the end, Nolan has to pay for his crimes and he does. The final scene is well shot and it felt like a great final moment reminiscent of Cagney’s end in White Heat, except instead of fire we get gunfire.

All in all, this was solid, intense, well paced and superbly acted by its main players.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Undertow, Manhandled, Down Three Dark Streets and Behind Green Lights.