APES ON FILM: Mysteries, Mermaids, & The Man of Steel, Oh My!

Posted on: Aug 10th, 2020 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 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.

SUPERMAN: THE BULLETEERS – 1942
4 out of 5 Bananas
Starring:
Bud Collyer, Joan Alexander
Directors: Dave Fleischer
Rated: Not Rated
Studio: Fleischer Studios
Original Release Date: March 27, 1942
4K Upscale via Waifu2x by Jose Argumendo
Run Time: 8 minutes
CLICK HERE TO VIEW

Every classic film deserves a classic cartoon screening before it! Youtuber and Warner Media employee Jose Argumendo has used an “AI” media suite to upgrade an example of one of the greatest cartoons of all time, a Fleischer Studios Superman cartoon from 1942, THE BULLETEERS. In the public domain for many years, the Fleischer Superman cartoons have long been relegated to low quality VHS and DVD releases, bundled with other PD animation clips. They are actually gorgeously rendered, high-quality animation that has rarely been duplicated, and it’s great to finally see one in such a high resolution presentation, though speckles, scratches, and other artifacts are still present. It would be great to see Argumendo run another pass through existing software to eliminate those issues as well.

Not released on disc (yet!), you can only view this wonderful animated short on Youtube at the link above. Do yourself a favor and click it now and enjoy the exploits of the “Man of Steel” as he protects the Art Deco canyons of Metropolis, rescues Lois Lane, and saves the day. Up, UP, and AWAY!

MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM – 1933
4 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Fay Wray, Lionel Atwill, Frank McHugh, Glenda Farrell
Directors: Michael Curtiz
Rated: Not Rated
Studio: Warner Archives
BRD Release Date: May 12, 2020
Audio Formats: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono (48kHz, 24-bit)
Video Resolution/Codec: MPEG-4 AVC, 1080p
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
Run Time: 77 minutes
CLICK HERE TO ORDER

Perennial screen villain Lionel Atwill keeps handwringing in MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM to a minimum, proving once again what a great actor he was. No need to overstate the sadness and madness of his character, sculptor Ivan Igor, who loses everything in a fire at the beginning of the movie and spends the rest trying to recapture a flicker of magic that he lost in the flames. KING KONG’s Fay Wray is radiant and fresh throughout, only coaxed into hysterics by director Curtiz for a few screams in the third reel, but this film truly belongs to Glenda Farrell, whose fast-talking, wisecracking girl reporter Florence Dempsey steals all the best lines as well as hearts for the duration of the film. Remade as HOUSE OF WAX in 3D with Vincent Price in 1953, the original version is the superior watch, though both are worth viewing.

Shot in a two strip Technicolor process (red and green), the film has long been available in a washed out, speckled and lined print that originally belonged to Jack Warner. For the Blu-ray release it’s been restored to amazing success by the UCLA Film & Television Archive and The Film Foundation, with principle funding provided by The George Lucas Family Foundation. Colors are rich, though primarily tinted towards red and green, and there are little to no artifacts that haven’t been scrubbed clean. The picture is sharp and looks almost brand new in 1080p resolution. Audio is clear and well-toned. Bonus features include audio commentaries by UCLA Head of Preservation Scott McQueen as well as author Alan K. Rode. Also included are a featurette “Remembering Fay Wray” and a featurette on the film’s restoration.

Though hampered by the lack of an original musical score, especially in the final reel, MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM is a true classic of its era, and a great film worthy of the restoration lavished upon it. Do not hesitate, grab this disc while it’s available!

MILLION DOLLAR MERMAID – 1952
3 out of 5 Bananas
Actors: Esther Williams, Victor Mature, Walter Pidgeon, David Brian, Donna Corcoran
Directors: Mervyn LeRoy, Busby Berkeley
Rated: Not Rated
Studio: Warner Archives
BRD Release Date: July 28, 2020
Audio – English: DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono
Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Resolution: 1080p
Aspect ratio: 1.37:1
Run Time: 110 minutes
CLICK HERE TO ORDER

“I learn much from people in the way they meet the unknown of life and water is a great test. If they come to it bravely, they’ve gone far along the best way. I am sure no adventurer nor discoverer ever lived who could not swim.” – Annette Kellerman

MILLION DOLLAR MERMAID tells the life story of Annette Kellerman, a pioneering aquatic performer and professional swimmer who created not only the sport of Synchronized Swimming and the modern one piece bathing suit for women, but also the cinematic nude scene in 1916’s A DAUGHTER OF THE GODS. Mervyn LeRoy’s film plays fast and loose with the facts of Kellerman’s life, but ultimately entertains thanks to solid performances from his cast, especially Esther Williams as Kellerman and Walter Pidgeon as her father. Williams was more than just a swimmer with a pretty face, she was a pretty fine actress.

What exactly do I mean by “fast and loose”, you ask? For one thing, none of the characters portrayed as Australians have any hint of an Aussie accent. None of the details of Annette’s personal life match up to reality except that she married her manager, James Sullivan, in 1912. Writer Everett Freeman’s screenplay introduces a lot of dramatic crossfire by adding a pseudo-romance with David Brian’s character, as well as a near fatal accident on a movie set that I can find no mention of in researching her life. However, the film will keep your attention as it rolls along thanks to its sharp dialog and amazing set pieces, especially as Williams cavorts in water tanks with dozens of other water ballet “dancers,” under the sure direction of Busby Berkeley. These sequences are worth the price of admission alone.

Picture quality is high, and the audio is crisp and well-balanced. The film is very colorful and looked gorgeous on my screen throughout thanks to a new 4K restoration. As with many high-resolution transfers, there is a bit of visible film grain, but not to a distracting level. Extras include an equally beautiful and hilarious MGM Tom & Jerry cartoon called “Little Quacker,” a vintage short subject called “Reducing,” a vintage radio adaptation featuring Williams and Pidgeon, as well as the theatrical trailer.

I’ve seen other reviewers recommend this for fans of Williams only, but I enjoyed the movie. As long as you realize its completely fictionalized, it’s quite watchable.

 

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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