Having A Movie Moment with Jon Longhi: It's All Black And White

Posted by The Bay Area Crew, April 30, 2019 06:24pm | Post a Comment

By Jon Longhi

Recently we've been treated to an avalanche of new Blu-ray releases of classic fifties black and white movies. In this article, I'm going to focus on a couple of recent sci-fi and horror classics. In the 1950s, Hollywood turned America’s fear of atomic bombs and their fallout into drive-in movie gold. An endless stream of radioactive monsters invaded movie screens and the public ate them up with a seemingly insatiable appetite. Now, decades later, many of these drive-in classics are being remastered and released on Blu-ray. There are too many to review in one month so I’ll just focus on a couple of the best of them:

The Creature From The Black Lagoon Legacy Collection, Universal:
It looks like The Creature From The Black Lagoon has finally been fixed. This Legacy Collection actually Creature From The Black Lagooncame out in the fall of 2018, but it was one of the most screwed up Blu-ray releases in recent history. The first Creature film has been out on Blu-ray for years but everyone has anxiously been awaiting the remastered sequels. Everything else in the Legacy series had been released on Blu-ray and the Creature set was one of the last two to be put out. The first Creature film looked just fine, but the sequels were a disaster. Universal had completely screwed up the mastering on the disc to the point where the entire run eventually had to be recalled. Here at the store we've had this Legacy set on backorder for months, but we just started getting new copies in the past three weeks. These are finally the corrected discs. There's still some griping online about the quality of the sequels though. I can understand the complaints, some of the scenes still look a little soft, but I'm pretty sure the blurriness one sees here and there was in the original film elements. The majority of the scenes are crystal clear and finally in hi-def. The underwater scenes look especially immaculate and you can see details of the creature costume that were never discernible before. The Creature From The Black Lagoon has always been my favorite Universal monster movie. It's just a perfect little story that is well told. The sequels are pretty great as well even though they kind of retread the original. The gill man has one of the best designs in monster history, he's fearsome yet still slightly human. The story is a simple straight to the point narrative: a team of scientists travel to the depths of the Amazon in search of a fossilized missing link between humans and sea creatures. Instead, they find the still-living real McCoy and all hell breaks loose as they fight for their lives. The film is kind of like the ultimate distillation of man verses nature.

Jack Arnold's flawless direction makes things run as smoothly as a BMW engine. Arnold was the epitome of the black and white fifties. His narrative style is the visual equivalent of a good page turner novel. It's nothing but the facts as the movie roars towards its finish with no superfluous side trips. Arnold directed some of the best films of his era and this is arguably his very best movie. The sequels are also a lot of fun. In Revenge Of The Creature, scientists capture the gill man and bring him to an aquarium in Florida where he is put on display. Of course, it's just a matter of time before he escapes and goes on a rampage against civilization. Keep an eye out for Clint Eastwood appearing in one of his first bit parts as a lab technician. The Creature Walks Among Us takes things in a different direction. Once again scientists manage to capture the Creature but he is badly burned in the process. As the scientists struggle to save him, they cause the monster to mutate into a land creature. Despite his fearsome appearance and nature you really start to feel sorry for the monster in this film, he is shifted into a tragic figure horribly exploited by the humans around him. This is my favorite Legacy Collection, but all of them are essential. The Frankenstein, Mummy, Dracula, and Wolfman Legacy sets belong in any film lover's collection. These movies are the crown jewels of Universal Studios, and now that they have all been remastered for Blu-ray they look even better than they did in the theaters. These are truly movies for the ages. Collect them all.

The Giant Behemoth, Warner Archive:
Willis O'Brien, the stop motion animation genius who basically created the medium while working on The Giant Behemothmasterpieces like King Kong (1933), both started and ended his career with a giant brontosaurus dinosaur attacking London. His first major film, The Lost World (1925), stars many dinosaurs who still survive on a prehistoric plateau in South America. A brontosaurus falls off one of the cliffs, and the scientists exploring the plateau capture it and bring it back to London where it escapes and goes on a rampage. The Lost World was the biggest movie of its time and made O'Brien a household name. A few years later King Kong made him an international superstar. Along with his protege Ray Harryhausen, O'Brien is considered the master of the stop motion animation field. Over the past few years, the films of these two stop motion titans have been released on Blu-ray, allowing their fans to view their work with a degree of clarity never discernible before. The Giant Behemoth is the last major O'Brien film to get a Blu-ray release. This was one of the last films O'Brien worked on and while it is not as good as 1957's The Black Scorpion, there is still a lot to like about this little monster movie. The plot is fifties atomic age simple: a giant radioactive dinosaur stalks the British coastline before swimming up the Thames and attacking London. The first forty minutes of the film is a little slow, but once the monster shows up and starts smashing things, it's pure entertainment till the final credits roll. The stop motion scenes where the monster rampages through London are especially fun. Warner Archive does their usual great job on this. The picture and sound are sharp and crisp, and this is easily the best presentation of the film we have seen so far. It's kind of a bare bones release but you do get a trailer and a commentary track. This is the perfect film to complete your Willis O'Brien collection.

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Jon Longhi (27), Movie Moment (14), Cult Film (26), Cult Films (21), Film (184), Horror (213), Blu-rays (13), Monsters (15), Willis O'brien (2), Jack Arnold (2), Clint Eastwood (3)