APES ON FILM: DOCTOR X Builds a Creature while BABYDOLL Gets Scandalous!

Posted on: May 17th, 2021 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 and television 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. Apes on Film also appears on Nerd Alert News. Check them out HERE!

 

 

DOCTOR X – 1932
4 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Lionel Atwill , Fay Wray, Lee Tracy , Preston Foster
Director: Michael Curtiz
Rated: Unrated
Studio: Warner Archive Collection
Region: A
BRD Release Date: April 20, 2021
Audio Formats: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono (48kHz, 24-bit)
Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC. New 4K HD Transfer Restoration by UCLA Film and Television Archive and The Film Foundation, in association with Warner Bros. Entertainment
Resolution: 1080p HD
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
Run Time: 76 minutes
CLICK HERE TO ORDER

Director Michael Curtiz is best known for making film classics like CASABLANCA, THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD, and CAPTAIN BLOOD, but he also directed a trio of significant early horror films as well. DOCTOR X was the first of these, followed by MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM (1933 – reviewed here), and THE WALKING DEAD (1936). The first two films were shot using two-strip Technicolor®, while the third was shot in black and white. Warner Archive Collection has just released a fully restored version of DOCTOR X and the results are breathtaking. Once again, the UCLA Film & Television Archive and The Film Foundation have done an incredible job in reviving an important film from a dull, damaged carcass.

Featuring Lionel Atwill and Fay Wray (just as Wax Museum did), DOCTOR X is another pre-code horror title of the type that would be defanged by the censors had it been released just a few years later. The film has much to recommend about it. For example, Ray Rennehan’s cinematography is lush and fluid, art direction by Anton Grot is well ahead of its time, and many of the performances are quite good. It deals in cannibalism and body horror, perhaps the first Hollywood film to do so. However, the film is unfortunately saddled with some far-fetched and frankly ridiculous characters and situations that became overused tropes almost by the time it was released.

Atwill and Wray acquit themselves well, but Lee Tracy is nearly unwatchable as a Leo Gorcey-like newspaper reporter that is the least funny comic relief ever. Full of 1930s mannerisms (ok, I get it – it was the 1930s) and catchphrases, he comes off as pandering to an audience who came fully prepared to see a horrifying thriller. He seems to have been inserted by the WB brass who were afraid that the horror film “craze” started at Universal Studios wouldn’t translate to their gangster and crime-themed format. Also stinking up the joint – a police commissioner who allows Atwill’s Dr. Xavier forty-eight hours to conduct his own investigation to determine which of the professors at his university is a serial killer at large before letting his detectives take over. That kind of malarkey would get you fired even in 1932, folks. This film definitely seems like a precursor to Wax Museum, with many similar (though better presented) themes recurring in that film.

Warner Archive’s disc is presented very well, with only a few jump cuts throughout where the team was unable to spread available imagery far enough to account for missing frames. Audio is also quite good. The disc comes with a black and white version of the film that was shot simultaneously, as well as a slew of special features such as new commentaries by Alan K. Rode and Scott MacQueen, documentary “Madness & Mystery: The Horror Films of Michael Curtiz” (HD, 27:39) by Constantine Nasr, “Doctor X: Before and After Restoration Reel” (HD, 7:40), and the theatrical trailer: black and white version (HD, 2:15).

This is the kind of amazing restoration and packaging that Warner Media chair Jason Kilar is trying to kill; he’s a digital streaming-only zealot. If he has his way WB would release no physical media at all, and the public will be deprived of this kind of release. If you love classic films and physical media, let Warner Brothers know. Buy this or their other discs. Write them letters. Show them that there will always be an audience for great movies from the past that can be owned outright.

 

 

 

BABYDOLL – 1956
4 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Karl Malden, Carroll Baker, Eli Wallach
Directed By: Elia Kazan
Studio: Warner Archive Collection
BRD Release Date: February 16, 2021
Region: A
Rated: Unrated
Audio Formats: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono
Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC New 2K Master
Resolution: 1080p HD
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Run Time: 115 Minutes
CLICK HERE TO ORDER

With a director, cast and writer like this, it’s hard to go wrong – and BABYDOLL doesn’t. Steeped in the kind of sultry, southern-gothic atmosphere and seething sexual tension one expects of a Tennessee Williams script, the film is bursting at the seams with tawdry dialog, black comedy, backhanded insults, and character flaw reveals of the highest level.

Baker plays Babydoll, Malden’s virginal wife who is promised to him sexually when she turns twenty, a few days hence. Down on their luck financially, the couple’s furniture is repossessed. Malden blames his cotton ginning competitor Wallach (in his debut screen role) for their fate and burns down his plant. Wallach sets upon Babydoll to confirm his suspicions of arson, and the pair spend a day barely avoiding falling into each other’s arms. The trio burst into open hostility when Malden arrives, with Wallach and Baker using each other to taunt and belittle him into a rage of jealousy.

The film was denounced by the Catholic church’s National League of Decency on release, and pulled from distribution a few weeks later by Warner Brothers. It’s easy to see what it was so controversial; BABYDOLL and a handful of other films railed against the Hays Code, which had banned exactly this sort of film in 1934 and would continue to keep films at “G” to PG” equivalent rating until it was overturned in 1968. Though nothing explicit is shown onscreen, the overt sexual tones and themes are vividly on display. Despite its chilly reception, the film would garner several Academy Award nominations and was a hit with critics. Kazan won a Golden Globe and Wallach a BAFTA Award for BABYDOLL.

Warner’s presentation Blu-ray is once again a pleasure to view. The picture is flawless, and sound is good, though there’s quite a dichotomy of volume for some of the dialog, and a few of the lower volume examples might have been amplified a bit. Special features are sparse. There’s a featurette from 2006 – “See No Evil: Baby Doll” (SD, 13 minutes) which includes interviews with the three principles, and a HD theatrical trailer (3 minutes).

While not the milestone that LOLITA (with which this film has been compared) was, BABYDOLL is an important and entertaining movie with great performances and direction.  Recommended.

 

 

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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Retro Review: Eastwood, Wallach and Van Cleef Blaze Trails and Guns This Saturday at The Plaza

Posted on: Aug 12th, 2011 By:

By Philip Nutman
Contributing Blogger

THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY (1966); Presented by AM 1690; Dir: Sergio Leone; Starring Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, Eli Wallach; Sat. Aug. 13; 3 PM and 7:30 PM; Plaza Theatre. Trailer here.

1966. After shooting up a storm at the European box office between 1964’s A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS and 1965’s FOR A FEW DOLLARS’ MORE, Italian movie-making maven Sergio Leone – against his deepest desires – agreed to make a third spaghetti western. Clint Eastwood, growing tired of filming in Spain, was skeptical, but with major US money (from distributor United Artists) and a substantial salary, finally agreed to reprise his role as “the Stranger.” With Eli Wallach on board as the sweaty, foul-mouthed, primal bandito, Tuco, and Lee Van Cleef returning at Leone’s request, too, the film was a “go.”

A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS established the tone of Italian Westerns to come with its callous violence. FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE provided Leone with an expanded lexicon of cinematic storytelling which turned the classic American Western on its head. But with THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY, well, Leone turned a TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE-like story, a quest for hidden gold, into a unique film which reinvented the pasta genre he had created and redefined the cinema-going experience.

Three men. One cache of Civil War gold buried in a coffin – story concepts don’t get more simple than this one. But it’s how Leone plays out the three strands of the stories, the three characters and their respective actions towards acquiring the goal which makes this movie special. Leone’s deliberate pacing – punctuated by shocking, explosive moments of unexpected violence – took a new turn. In certain sequences, seconds become minutes; preparation, psychologically and physically, became the calm before the storm. No director of Westerns had ever attempted what he achieved with THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY.

The Good (Clint Eastwood, L), The Bad (Lee Van Cleef, R), and The Ugly (Eli Wallach, center). Copyright United Artists, 1966.

Whether you love Westerns or the films of Clint Eastwood or not, THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY also is a film which was designed to be seen and experienced on the big screen. The Civil War sequences are the most striking ever visualized, and the climactic scene will make your heart race (fans of the film know exactly what I’m referring to here; for those of you who haven’t, prepared to be wowed).

The copy screening at The Plaza this weekend is a pristine print of the 2004 remastered Director’s Cut,  struck from the original negative with the basic mono sound adapted into a crisp stereo mix. In 1967, when first released, United Artists cut 18 minutes from the original version to save on print costs and so they could squeeze an extra screening per day at US movie theatres. So this version of the film has barely been screened in American cinemas. A terrific experience all around. NOT TO BE MISSED!!!

ATLRetro Movie Trivia –

  • Although Leone’s first three spaghetti westerns are frequently referred to as the “Man With No Name” trilogy, Eastwood’s “Stranger” is called three different names over the course of the three movies: “Joe” in A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS; “Manco” in FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE; and “Blondie” – as Wallach’s Tuco loves to derisively call Eastwood in THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY (although Clint’s chestnut-brown hair hardly qualifies him for Marilyn Monroe status).
  • Speaking of La Monroe, rumor has it that when Eastwood first saw the Italian version of A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS and heard how the Roman dubbing artist had changed his voice – slower, more whispery – he decided to start delivering his lines like Marilyn (but with balls instead of boobs). So without the inspiration of a real blonde and an Italian actor who made money redubbing Americans, Dirty Harry would have sounded quite different…

And don’t forget that between the 3 PM and 7:30 PM screenings of this classic, revisionist Western, The Plaza is giving a free show (donations encouraged; remember, The Plaza Theatre is a nonprofit entity): COMING SOON! 35 Minutes of 35mm Trailers at 6:35 PM, a special, rare opportunity to see some of Plaza Manager Ben Ruder’s private collection of retro celluloid teasers! Give generously or pig out at the concessions stand!

Contributing Blogger Philip Nutman is a regular broadcaster for the The Night Crew, a podcast created and run by film journalists Sean Smithson and Thom Carnell. Over the past few months, Phil has presented “Philip Nutman’s THE WILD, WILD WEST” a multi-part, eclectic primer on must-see cowboy movies. The final installment will be live within the next two weeks.

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