Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large
ISSN 1534-0937
Libraries · Policy · Technology · Media

Selection from Cites & Insights 4, Number 12: October 2004

Offtopic Perspective

The Rest of the DoubleDoubles

Walt Crawford

Remember Staying on the Treadmill (4:6)? I discussed the problem of sticking with exercise as part of a busy day (particularly when you’re lazy) and my solution: Old movies watched 20 minutes at a time. My set of old movies was an odd pseudo-freebie from InsideDVD as it merged with Total Movie & Entertainment: The “DoubleDouble Feature Pack,” a box containing 10 double-fold sleeves, each double-fold sleeves containing two double-sided DVDs (with one exception), each side containing one movie (with one exception). Forty movies in all. I included brief reviews of the first 18 movies.

A week ago (as I write this), I finished the last of the DoubleDoubles. Here are brief notes on the remaining 22 movies in the DoubleDouble Feature Pack, which really should show up on EBay one of these days. The headings are the titles assigned to each sleeve—and in the first case, I’d already discussed three of the four movies. Since most of these movies have missing frames, I’ll indicate the actual time in [square brackets] whenever it’s more than a minute different from the time shown at IMDB.

Famous Directors, Cult Classics

Beat the Devil, 1953, B&W, John Huston (dir.), Truman Capote (screenplay), Humphrey Bogart, Jennifer Jones, Gina Lollobrigida, Robert Morley, Peter Lorre, 1:40.

Decent print and a good movie, although I thought the acting was better than the tenuous plot.

Famous Stars, Cult Classics

Suddenly, 1954, B&W, Lewis Allen (dir.), Frank Sinatra, Sterling Hayden, James Gleason, 1:15.

Frank Sinatra as a would-be presidential assassin. So-so print but an interesting performance in a mostly-talk, fairly subtle little movie. I might watch it again.

Angel and the Badman, 1947, B&W, James Edward Grant (dir.), John Wayne, Gail Russell, Harry Carey, 1:40.

Lots of noise and scratches on the print, but the movie’s good enough to watch through the print problems. John Wayne as a fast shooter “badman” who winds up injured in a Quaker household—and manages to resolve a number of situations through his reputation, without ever firing a shot. I’ve never been much of a John Wayne fan, but he does a fine job in this movie, which has been called his most romantic Western.

One-Eyed Jacks, 1961, Color, widescreen, Marlon Brando (dir.), Marlon Brando, Karl Malden, Katy Jurado, Slim Pickens, 2:21.

The only widescreen DVD in the set (although possibly not as wide as the original), and a long, color movie that’s almost certainly in copyright, it’s also a good print with few glitches. A fairly young Marlon Brando only nibbles on the scenery—but then, he was directing himself. Not great, not bad.

Boy in the Plastic Bubble, 1976, Color, made for TV. Randal Kleiser (dir.), John Travolta, Glynnis O’Connor, Robert Reed, Diana Hyland, Ralph Bellamy, Buzz Aldrin, 1:40 [1:32].

This is an Aaron Spelling production: A TV movie with a very young John Travolta. I’m not sure where the 8 minutes went (or if the IMDB info is correct); it seems to be a good print, possibly supplied directly by Spelling. I’d have to say Robert Reed, Glynnis O’Connor, Diana Hyland, and Ralph Bellamy all out-act Travolta, who seems unformed as an actor at this point. As TV movies go, it’s mediocre but watchable.

Noir & Mystery

Cause for Alarm!, 1951, B&W, Tay Garnett (dir.), Loretta Young, Barry Sullivan, 1:14.

Good print, decent psychological drama, Loretta Young does a good job. Not a great movie, but worth watching.

Sabotage, 1936, B&W, Alfred Hitchcock (dir.), Sylvia Sidney, Oskar Homolka, John Loder, 1:16.

Oskar Homolka as a movie theater owner and saboteur. The print is middling, sometimes almost too dark to watch, with some noise. The movie? It’s Hitchcock, but not great Hitchcock. There’s an oddity here: The box lists “DOA” in this slot, as does the DoubleDouble pack, outside and inside—but the disc says “Sabotage,” and that’s the movie. “DOA” might have been more interesting.

Sherlock Holmes & the Woman in Green, 1945, B&W, Roy William Neill (dir.), Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes, Nigel Bruce as Dr. Watson, Lionel Atwill as Prof. Moriarty, 1:07.

The real title is The Woman in Green (and that’s what the movie itself shows), but apparently U.S. audiences needed to be told up front that this was another Rathbones/Bruce Holmes movie. Predictable style, decent (certainly not flawless) print, plot no sillier than most of the minor Holmes stories.

Sherlock Holmes & The Secret Weapon, 1942, B&W, same director and key cast as above, 1:08.

Another Holmes, this time with a direct war theme. Mediocre print, but the movie’s still watchable. Note that both of these movies feature the evil Prof. Moriarty as well.

Overlooked Horror

White Zombie, 1932, B&W, Victor Halperin (dir.), Bela Lugosi, Madge Bellamy, Joseph Cawthorn, 1:07 [1:05].

The soundtrack on the print is so noisy and the visual so flawed that it’s hard to get to the picture—and I’m not sure it’s worth the effort. The title says it all, with Bela Lugosi as the zombie master (those eyes!). Not bad enough to be camp, not good enough to be worthwhile.

Carnival of Souls, 1962, B&W, Herk Harvey (dir.), Candace Hilligoss, Frances Feist, and other big names, 1:24

Apparently there’s another seven minutes of film that’s been lost. That’s too bad. Despite the no-name cast, it’s a surprisingly good offbeat horror film, where the horror is almost entirely psychological. The print’s not great. The most distracting elements for me were scenes where the heroine is practicing organ: There’s no coordination whatsoever between the organ playing on the soundtrack and the apparent pattycake she’s playing on the keyboards. Otherwise—well, this one surprised me.

I Bury the Living, 1958, B&W, Albert Band (dir.), Richard Boone, Theodore Bikel, 1:16.

Richard Boone is in line to oversee the local cemetery. Theodore Bikel is the strange, retirement-ready, caretaker/headstone carver/jack-of-all-funerals (with a heavy accent, Scottish perhaps?). There’s a big map with white pins for plots that have been sold, black pins when they’re occupied. Boone accidentally puts in a couple of black pins for new plots—and the plot-buyers die! He changes more pins, and death follows! Now, if Boone was at all suitable for this part and the whole thing wasn’t so heavy-handed, it might be an interesting little drama. As it is, even if the print wasn’t as damaged as it is, it’s just bad.

God Told Me To, 1976, Color, Larry Cohen (dir.), Tony Lo Bianco, Deborah Raffin, Sandy Dennis, Sylvia Sydney, 1:31 [1:29].

The title’s quite literal: A bunch of bizarre killings, and in each case the killer says “God told me to” just before dying. So there’s God, or an alien as God, and Tony Lo Bianco with his troubled personal relations who’s on the case, and…well, how many aliens are there? Pretty good print, pretty incoherent picture. This might have been a TV movie; it would be mediocre among such pseudo-flicks.

Roger Corman 101

Little Shop of Horrors, 1960, B&W, Roger Corman (dir.), Jack Nicholson (in a tiny role), 1:10. [1:12!]

A mediocre print of a movie whose cult status escapes me. Presumably shot in a day or so with no budget, which shows on screen. If you love it, look for a restored print: This ain’t it. (Jack Nicholson is something like 12th in a list of no-name actors.)

A Bucket of Blood, 1959, B&W, Roger Corman (dir.), no notable cast, 1:06 [1:04].

No, I’m sorry, but I do have limits. Fifteen minutes into this piece of beatnik-era “horror,” and I used the poor quality of the print as an excuse not to tolerate the rest of the movie. (I’m no great Roger Corman fan either…)

The Terror, 1963, Color, Roger Corman (and Francis Ford Coppola and Jack Nicholson and two others) (dirs.), Boris Karloff, Jack Nicholson, 1:21 [1:19].

If you read the IMDB trivia notes, this should be the worst of the Corman lot—shot in four days, with five directors—but I was pleasantly surprised. The print is noisy and scratched, but a young Jack Nicholson does a fairly effective job opposite a reasonably dignified Boris Karloff. It’s certainly not a horrific movie, and “the terror” is deep in the plot, not spilling its guts out. Not a great movie by any means, but decent. (“Francis Coppola” is credited as Associate Producer; he didn’t use “Ford” in his Corman days.)

Dementia 13, 1963, B&W, Francis Coppola (dir.), 1:15

The backstory on this one’s also interesting (and there’s no “Ford” on the directing credit here either): supposedly, Corman let Coppola film this movie around the shooting schedule for a Corman flick. It’s an odd one, with a family castle and family full of secrets, drownings, incoherent plot turns…well, the print’s so-so, and I can’t imagine ever returning to this. “13” doesn’t appear to have anything to do with the plot line; the makers found that some other film was named Dementia, so they added “13.”

Schlock Hysteria

Giant Gila Monster, 1959, B&W, Ray Kellogg (dir.), 1:14.

How do you make an impressive giant gila monster on a no-budget film? You do good close-up photography of a gila monster, add a matchstick bridge and wholly unconvincing toy cars as needed, and use cutting so viewers can almost believe they see the gila monster and the “actors” in the same frames. The story’s heart-warming: Earnest young man who’s trying to keep his teen-punk pals in line and is disdained by the Rich Snob in Town saves the day, writes and plays amateur Rock & Roll that catches on, and all that. Mediocre print, which is more than you can say for the movie.

Killer Shrews, 1959, B&W, Ray Kellogg (dir.), Gordon McLendon, 1:09.

This one, apparently filmed as a deliberate double bill with the preceding, adds a little more plot: Scientists gone bad experimenting with genetic modifications, remote island to keep their smaller-but-longer-lived shrews isolated (and, of course, the accidentally-escaped 100-pound shrews that need to eat three times their weight every day), scientist’s daughter who, under these remote conditions, is not only flawlessly dressed but a hot number. Mediocre print, thrill-a-minute plotting (OK, four thrills in 70 minutes), and the hokiest and least likely escape sequence I’ve ever seen (overturned supply barrels roped together with the three survivors nudging their way down to the ocean, with nothing exposed so the violently-fatal shrew saliva can’t reach them). Now that’s flick-making!

Assassin of Youth, 1937, B&W, Elmer Clifton (dir.), 1:20 [1:13].

The movie is such gross “drugsploitation” that it’s hard to remember much about the print. There’s a plot of sorts, but it’s mostly the horrors of marijuana—except that, in this case, the truly bad effects seem to come from some powder that the pusher spikes drinks with. A classic propaganda flick.

Reefer Madness, 1938, B&W, Louis J. Gasnier (dir.), 1:07 [1:04].

Did you know marijuana is far more dangerous than heroin? That it leads to acts of shocking violence and total mental breakdown? This piece of excrement was part of the successful effort to give the DEA power over marijuana even though it was (at the time, at least) almost never part of interstate commerce. Add to that scourge that joints apparently look exactly the same as cigarettes (and, of course, everybody smoked in 1937-38), that just one puff leads to insane laughter and crazy dancing, and you have…well, a truly awful flick.

Brain That Wouldn’t Die, 1962, B&W, Joseph Green (dir.), 1:22.

No, uh-uh, sorry: I just wasn’t willing to watch this dreck. The print wasn’t too bad in the first 20 minutes, but my brain started hurting. “Let me die,” the bodyless heroine said, so I let the movie die. Shlock is a kind word.

Overall Notes

Looking at my comments and reactions, I see a bell-shaped curve. Based on the first two and last three packs, I wouldn’t recommend this set to anyone: The gems (Cyrano de Bergerac) and reasonably worthwhile balances of movie and print quality (Battleship Potemkin, The General, A Farewell to Arms, Carnival of Souls, The Terror) total six out of 20 movies, with the rest running from mediocre to unwatchable.

But the central five packs have much to recommend them. I’ve improved my knowledge of American classic film by seeing the films in “Famous Directors, Cult Classics” and “Famous Stars, Cult Classics”—and seven of those eight films were well worth watching. The “Comedy & Romance,” “Crime,” and “Noir & Mystery” packs weren’t up to that level, but still worth watching.

If someone offered me $50 for the whole set, I’d probably take it—the chances of re-viewing more than one or two of these are fairly slender, given the other movies on hand (and our library’s growing collection of DVDs). There are a few here worth revisiting. If you can get a set for $25 or less, you might find it worthwhile.

With one or two exceptions, these appear to be taken from whatever prints they could put their hands on, with varying degrees of damage. A bunch of these movies—possibly most of them—are now in the public domain; for the rest, presumably the studios either figured there was no real DVD market for them or planned to do restored DVDs with extra features. For that matter, if a studio was planning a set of restored Rathbone/Bruce “Sherlock Holmes” DVDs (such sets have appeared), licensing three of them, unrestored, for this freebie set is one way to entice possible buyers.

Treeline: A Different Game?

Treeline’s MoviePacks or MegaPacks may fall in a slightly different category than the freebies I’ve been watching. While a lot of the movies in the “Family Classics” 50-pack are public domain with so-so prints, there seem to be cases where more recent movies were available from near-perfect sources.

The “50-Movie All Stars Collection” I mentioned briefly last issue is a special case. It’s all color, seems to have stereo sound in most cases, really does have major stars in every single movie, and consists of movies from the 70s, 80s, and 90s, which means they’re all under copyright. It’s not just one star per flick: For example, the fourth movie stars Martin Sheen ,Trevor Howard, and Cyril Cusack, with a slightly later one featuring Leslie Ann Warren, Rip Torn, Richard Masur, and Ron Silver.

How is this possible for a $30-$35 set of 50 movies? I missed one word in the Overstock description and it’s right there on the back of the box as well: “Fifty of the most star-filled movies ever made for TV!” Yep—these are all TV movies.

That may explain why they could license so many recent color pictures with major stars, but it may also be a reason to consider buying the set for your own interest or possible public library use. Very few TV movies wind up released on DVDs—but the best TV movies are good movies, maybe not “A features” but frequently solid “B”s.

I may have notes on the Treeline packs as I watch them. I may not. It’s fun to go entirely offtopic once in a while.

Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large, Volume 4, Number 12, Whole Issue 54, ISSN 1534-0937, is written and produced at least monthly by Walt Crawford, a senior analyst at RLG. Opinions herein do not reflect those of RLG. Comments should be sent to Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large is copyright © 2004 by Walt Crawford: Some rights reserved.

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