I think I see your problem. You have this list. It’s a list of people you need/want to buy a Christmas gift for. The trouble is that they’re into home theatre, and you don’t know Star Trek from Star Wars. You couldn’t tell a Wolf Man from a Wolverine. And you always thought that Paranormal Activity was something too kinky to talk about. Fortunately, Upcomingdiscs has come to the rescue every Christmas with our Gift Guide Spotlights. Keep checking back to see more recommendations for your holiday shopping. These gift guides ARE NOT paid advertisements. We take no money to publish them. Now we turn our attention to the folks at The Film Detective. You won’t need Columbo to work this one out.
“I will talk to you of Art, for there is nothing else to talk about, for there is nothing else… Life is an obscure hobo bumming a ride on the omnibus of Art. Burn gas, buggies, and whip your sour cream of circumstance and hope, and go ahead and sleep your bloody heads off. Creation is, all else is not.”
Enter The Film Detective. Founded by Philip Hopkins, the organization has made it something of a mission to re-master old cult favorite films for broadcast and the high-definition video market. They have a working library of about 3,000 titles. Now some of those films are making their way to Blu-ray, many for the first time. We have five of these hidden gems to add to your shopping list. The first two are classic horror films, while the final three are rarely-seen classics. Two of these appear in the book 1001 Movies To See Before You Die.
Bucket Of Blood (1959)
This improbable plot becomes a cult classic in the hands of a different kind of sculptor. Roger Corman doesn’t work in clay. He molds this low-budget film that did exactly what it was intended to do. Entertainment? To turn a profit. But it did manage to entertain anyway. That was the secret. Bucket Of Blood never takes itself seriously. It’s a farce set in a beatnik culture that Corman exaggerates for effect. Dick Miller is the clay used by Corman here. He plays the awkward Walter with more nuance than you might expect in a farce. He’s a likable guy who just wants to be noticed and liked. He should have skipped the silly murder and just asked Corman how it was done. Bucket Of Blood is an amusing example of just that.
This restoration isn’t going to win any awards. There are still plenty of print scratches and other artifacts. What does remain is actually pretty sharp and about as good as these budget films are ever going to look and sound. No tape hiss or high-end distortion. Also no extras.
Corman’s genius was creating an empire on a shoestring. He sized up the business and only had one film that didn’t make money. That was the openly issue-oriented The Intruder with William Shatner. So Corman made sure to hide his messages in the future. He made films cheap, easy to digest, and above all, profitable. He has made so many films because he gives people what they want.
Order it here: Buy Bucket Of Blood On Blu-ray
The Bat (1959)
“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.”
This 1959 Vincent Price film was actually a remake of a 1926 silent era film and the 1930 The Bat Whispers. Both films were based on a popular play by Avery Hopwood and Mary Roberts Rinehart. It was that very play that inspired Vincent Price to take the role. He had seen it in his younger days and remembered it being quite frightening. Unfortunately, Price would ultimately be disappointed in his own film version, claiming it failed to create the creepy atmosphere of the stage production. Indeed, rubber bats on obvious strings didn’t help to build the kind of atmosphere he was hoping for.
The Bat was directed by Crane Wilbur, and it was his last credited time in the director’s chair. He was mainly known as a screenwriter. It’s there that he made his mark with films like House Of Wax, which also starred Vincent Price, Mysterious Island, Ronald Reagan’s Hell’s Kitchen, and Turhan Bey’s The Amazing Mr. X. Of course, he also adapted the play for the script for The Bat.
The film is loaded with red herrings and some old haunted house conventions. But most of all you might want to “Beware of The Bat”.
Order it here: Buy The Bat On Blu-ray
Salt Of The Earth (1954)
“How shall I begin my story that has no beginning? My name is Esperanza, Esperanza Quintero. I am a miner’s wife. This is our home. The house is not ours. But the flowers… the flowers are ours. This is my village. When I was a child, it was called San Marcos. The Anglos changed the name to Zinc Town. Zinc Town, New Mexico, U.S.A. Our roots go deep in this place, deeper than the pines, deeper than the mine shaft.”
Salt Of The Earth has the distinction of being the only feature film released in the United States openly made by communists. It was banned from theatres until almost a decade later when it was shown in a limited run in 1965. The film is partly based on a strike by Mexican workers at a zinc mine. The film is largely fictional and makes no apologies for its hard left politics. It follows the plight of Mexican mine workers being exploited by their white overlords who show no regards for their safety or needs. Of course, it’s all about greed.
The real inspiration of the film comes from the blacklist in Hollywood during the communist witch hunts of McCarthy. These blacklisted filmmakers were unable to find jobs from studios afraid to be painted with a red brush. They included director Herbert Biberman, writer Michael Wilson, producer Paul Jarrico, and composer Sal Kaplan. They banded together to create Salt Of The Earth, but because it was considered subversive, few people in America ever saw the film. If not for a brief spurt of popularity in Europe where it became a sort of trendy film to see, it likely would be a lost film today. It had to be filmed in Mexico, where unfortunately actress Rosaura Revueltas ended up fighting a losing battle as she was also labeled a communist for participating in the film.
The film is indeed heavy-handed but owns a place in cinema history that should never be forgotten. Thanks to Film Detective, this is one of those pieces you likely never saw. There’s a rather nice theme beneath any of the propaganda as a town holds together to fight injustice. It’s not just a matter of the miners but their families that play a huge role here. You could look at it as a combination of Trumbo and The 33, two modern films that touch on many of these themes.
Order it here: Buy Salt Of The Earth On Blu-ray
Beat The Devil (1953)
“Time. Time. What is time? Swiss manufacture it. French hoard it. Italians squander it. Americans say it is money. Hindus say it does not exist. Do you know what I say? I say time is a crook.”
Humphrey Bogart had a great on-screen chemistry with legendary horror star Peter Lorre. The Maltese Falcon is by far my favorite, while most folks would likely count Casablanca as the most important. After nearly a decade of not appearing in a film together, the two had their last cinematic hook-up with Beat The Devil. It would also launch the career of genius composer Stephen Sondheim. OK, maybe that’s a little strong. He didn’t write any music here; he served as a clapboard boy. Yes, that’s the guy who claps the sticks to mark the beginning of a take.
It is not one of John Huston’s best remembered films as a director, but he was certainly at his best during the production. His iconic sense of camera placement can be seen throughout. It’s also a movie he sandwiched between Moby Dick and Moulin Rouge. It also bears many of the same kinds of beats as The African Queen, which he did with Bogart only a couple of years earlier. He was hand-picked by Bogart for the film and had to give up another film to honor the request.
Bogart plays Billy Dannreuther who is promised land in Africa that happens to be loaded with uranium. The trip finds many other strange characters also hoping to cash in. There is a lot to remind one of one of my favorite Bogart films, The Treasure Of Sierra Madre. It’s that same idea of greed turning partners against one another and a lack of trust in the intentions of those around you.
But if you’re looking for traditional Bogart, this one might disappoint. It’s much lighter than his usual films with a lot of comedy mined out of eccentric characters who were helped along the way with an uncredited assist from Truman Capote. He was brought to Italy to put some touches on the script, and while they might have been small, his sardonic sense of humor is all over the film. The movie is less about the plot and more about crazy characters who draw you into an early run of camp fun.
Order it here: Buy Beat The Devil
Hollow Triumph (1948)
“It’s a bitter little world full of sad surprises, and you don’t let anyone hurt you.”
Hollow Triumph is one of those films you’ve likely seen under a different title. It’s popped up on late movies on television as both The Scar and The Man Who Killed Himself. Back in its original title, this Blu-ray release is a welcome chance to see the film as it was originally intended. Actor Paul Henreid gets to take on two roles in this film. He plays gangster and gambler John Muller, who needs to find a place to lay low until the heat is off him. His perfect opportunity comes when he discovers Dr. Victor Bartok, a psychiatrist who looks just like him. He attempts to replace the doppelganger but can’t fool sharp-eyed secretary Evelyn Han, played by Joan Bennett. He also discovers that Dr. Bartok might have worse problems that Muller did.
The film is notable for an early uncredited appearance by Jack Webb. This was before his Dragnet days, and it’s a very small role. But it’s the wonderful dual performances by Paul Henreid that make this one worth watching. There are some terrific film noir elements, and it’s most certainly an example of a kind of film that just hasn’t been made in decades. You can credit cinematographer John Alton with his creepy use of shadows, a style that was very much a part of the early film noir age. He builds atmosphere and tension even if the plot itself offers too many holes to take totally seriously. It’s that rich environment that keeps us glued to our seats.
Order it here: Buy Hollow Triumph
Each of the films shows some restoration work. This restoration isn’t going to win any awards. There are still plenty of print scratches and other artifacts. What does remain is actually pretty sharp and about as good as these budget films are ever going to look and sound. No tape hiss or high end distortion. Also no extras.
You should give serious consideration for that film buff on your shopping list. A few of these are pretty rare, and it’s not likely they have a Blu-ray version in their collection. It’ll make you look like an expert and give someone a chance to enjoy a rare treasure. “What more could any reasonable man ask?”