Monday, September 26, 2011

DVD Review: He Walked by Night (1948)

He Walked by Night (1948)

(Released: 2003 by MGM Home Entertainment)

Another looong DVD Review by Joe Torcivia

This is a true story. It is known to the Police Department of one of our largest cities as the most difficult homicide case in its existence, principally because of the diabolical cleverness, intelligence, and cunning of a completely unknown killer! The record is set down here factually, as it happened! Only the NAMES are changed to protect the innocent!”

Um, sounds a lot like DRAGNET, doesn’t it?

Not exactly, but evidence clearly suggests it could be “DRAGNET’S father” or, at the very least, some sort of great uncle!

Let’s continue with the unusually exhaustive narration, over various sights and sounds of the city, courtesy of the film’s uncredited narrator Reed Hadley:

This is Los Angeles. Our Lady. The Queen of the Angels, as the Spaniards named her. The fastest growing city in the nation. It’s been called a bunch of suburbs in search of a city. And it’s been called the glamour capital of the world.

A Mecca for tourists. A stopover for transients. A target for gangsters. A haven for those fleeing from winter. A home for the hardworking. It is a city holding the hopes and dreams of over two million people (!!!). It sprawls out over 452 square miles of valleys, and upland… of foothills and beaches.

Did he say just TWO million???? Moving on…

Because of that vast area, and because of a population made up of people from every state in the union, Los Angeles is the largest police beat in the country… and one of the toughest.

“We’re going to take you into the City Hall, where Police Headquarters are located…

Here, in Communications [Division], are the ears and voice of the Police. The lights on the computer board flash 24 hours a day. Citizens reporting a prowler. A lost child. A man molesting a woman. An auto accident. A wild party. Spend an hour or two here, and you’ll think the whole city has gone berserk.

Minute by minute, the orders go out to the radio cars in the far-flung divisions. Watts and Wilshire, in West Los Angeles. Hollywood and Hollenbeck Heights, in North Hollywood. The work of Police, like that of woman [OUCH! Joe’s Comment!] is never done!

This is the case history of a killer, taken from the files of the Detective Division. The facts are told here as they happened. The story starts here, in Hollywood Division Headquarters, at 1:00 of a June morning last year.

Officer Robert Rowlins had finished his tour of duty, and signed out. It had been a tough day. He’d be glad to get home. His wife would be waiting up for him, as she always did.”

WHEW! You said a MOUTHFULL, Mister Hadley!

That narration alone takes up the FIRST 3:18 of the film!

Somewhere, amid all of this ongoing narration, which pretty much runs for the 1:19:03 length of the film, is the story of the aforementioned diabolically clever, intelligent, and cunning killer… and, to the utter shock of fans of a particular mid-sixties Sci-Fi television series, that killer turns out to be Richard Basehart!

Yes, Richard Basehart… Best known to my generation (and thanks to syndication, another one or two that followed) as Admiral Harriman Nelson of the Submarine Seaview, on the television series VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA (1964-1968).

Unthinkable, but true! Basehart’s character “Roy Martin” kills the aforementioned “Officer Robert Rowlins” in cold blood – shooting him, when the officer asks Martin to produce some ID, and then ramming his auto into the officer’s patrol car for deadly good measure.

This kicks into motion a series of events pitting members of the LAPD against Basehart’s wily killer. Indeed, with this film, we might very well be witnessing the birth (…or, if not the “actual birth”, certainly a very early example) of what is now called the “Police Procedural”.

One thing’s for certain, an actor named JACK WEBB, (far right) in the role of a police technician, was taking notes. Notes that apparently transformed the format of “He Walked by Night” into a radio and TV series he would call DRAGNET!

You need only review everything above to see how deftly Webb used this film as the basis for his empire. It’s all there. Opening narration about the City of Los Angeles. True story. Names changed to protect the innocent. Determined, no-nonsense cops relentlessly pursue their quarry, highlighting the latest advances in police technology. Sounds like most – if not ALL – episodes of DRAGNET, wouldn’t you say?

Other Items of Note:

Richard Basehart’s character is described by the Police as being 5’10” to 5’ 11”.

Um… I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and standing beside Basehart’s VOYAGE co-star David Hedison. Based on this, and the way they stood in relation to one another on VOYAGE, I can safely say Richard Basehart did not even approach 5’10” to 5’ 11”!

Then again, given how clever he was in the film, it just might have been one heck of a disguise!

He Walked by Night” offers a particular treat for fans or Irwin Allen’s brand of Sci-Fi, at 21:50 of the film, when Richard Basehart appears on camera with Whit Bissell. Admiral Nelson of VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA meets General Kirk of THE TIME TUNNEL!

There’s a pretty intense scene when a wounded Basehart removes a police bullet and sews himself up!

The climactic confrontation takes place in the storm drains beneath the City of Los Angeles, the same site for the conclusion of the later Sci-Fi classic “Them!” (1954).

In some nice attention to detail, gunshots that occur within the drains are uncomfortably LOUD, given the confined space’s effect on the amplification and echoing of sound.

And the ending of “He Walked by Night” is as brief and stark as any I’ve ever seen. More so than even the iconic “Little Caesar” (1930), whose title character at least got to utter “Mother of mercy…” before his maker came calling!

As is our custom in these reviews, we’ll break it into CONS and PROS.


An Absolute Lack of Extra Features: I didn’t think it were possible for a standard DVD release from a major studio (as opposed to a “Public Domain quickie”) to fall short of the release of “The Thing from Another World” (See THIS REVIEW) in the area of Extra Features – and not be a product of “The Warner Archive Collection”. But, incredible as it may seem, this one DOES!

My standard for a movie DVD’s Extra Features is the inclusion of a theatrical trailer for the film, a commentary track, and “making-of” or background featurette. I don’t believe a standard DVD movie release in my collection has EVER “whiffed” on ALL THREE… until now!

This release of “He Walked by Night” does not even include a TRAILER! Even Warner Archives springs for THAT! This is a MAJOR CON, and this film deserves better! It might as well have been an old VHS tape, for all it offers!

Consider ALL the things that COULD be discussed in commentaries and additional features. The careers of Richard Basehart and Jack Webb, the genesis of DRAGNET, the LAPD then and now, the moody black and white filmmaking style, done at a time when it could have been in color. This is a true loss for fans of many stripes!

As I’ve said for “The Thing from Another World”, 2003 was NOT all that early in the history of the DVD package. By that time, more should have been offered.


The Film: A stark, tight (if overly-narrated) crime drama which, if indeed it is based on a true LAPD case, is all the more compelling.

The Cast:

• Richard Basehart as “Roy Martin / Roy Morgan”.

• Scott Brady as “Police Sgt. Marty Brennan”.

• Roy Roberts as “Police Captain Breen”.

• James Caldwell as “Police Sgt. Chuck Jones” (…Not THAT “Chuck Jones”).

• Jack Webb as “Lee Whitey”.

• Whit Bissell as “Paul Reeves”

Influences on Future Productions: One word: DRAGNET!


He Walked by Night” is a tense, riveting, and surprisingly good film. Its release time-point perfectly straddles the Depression-Era films that I’ve come to enjoy so much, and the coming era of television productions.

Two of its stars (Basehart and Webb) would become prominent figures of that new medium, each starring in seminal examples of their respective genres – Sci-Fi and Police drama.

And its influence on DRAGNET, one of the best known television Police dramas of all time, must be seen to be fully appreciated.

The lack of Extra Features for this set is, frankly, APPALING! Indeed, can it even BE called a “set”, if nothing is offered beyond the movie itself?

That notwithstanding, “He Walked by Night” is recommended for fans of crime drama, Richard Basehart and VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA, Jack Webb and DRAGNET, and enthusiasts of the post-war forties, specifically the City of Los Angeles of that period.

Finally, with regard to the copious narration, unceasing almost to the point of laughter, ongoing throughout the film… After years of self-described looong DVD Reviews, imagine finding a film on DVD that “gives back” some of that long-windedness – in spades!

I may have just tasted some of my own medicine!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

DVD Review: The Thing from Another World (1951)

The Thing from Another World (1951)

(Released: 2003 by Warner Home Video)
Another looong DVD Review by Joe Torcivia

A few minutes from now, we may have the KEY to the STARS! A million years of history are waiting for us in that ice!”

Admit it! Don’t you just LOVE talk like that!

In a nutshell, scientists at the North Polar Region discover a flying saucer has just crashed and embedded itself under the polar ice. A handful of military men fly out to aid in the investigation. A dangerous creature emerges that feeds on blood, is ready to multiply… and is a cross between Marshall Matt Dillon of GUNSMOKE and “Tybo the Carrot-Man” from LOST IN SPACE!

…Yes, really!

Less than five years before becoming a television legend, as GUNSMOKE’S Marshall Dillon, actor James Arness played “The Thing from Another World”. Funny thing is, certainly from today’s perspective – if not from 1951’s as well – Arness (as the “Thing”) was the “biggest star” in the film. The DVD packaging certainly plays him up that way.

Though there are some interesting actors in some of the smaller parts, my decidedly unofficial observation is that ‘50s Sci-Fi films needed no stars – just a good premise, a good monster, or both. (…And, honestly, some of them had NEITHER!)

Consider “Destination Moon” (1951) as an example of “Good Premise”, and "Them!" (1954) as an example of “Good Monster(s)”. No real STARS in either one, save maybe James Whitmore. Indeed, I daresay Woody Woodpecker is probably the biggest name in “Destination Moon”!

Famed animation voice actor Paul Frees (in a rare, on-camera role) and “Voice of DRAGNET and YOU BET YOUR LIFE” George Fenniman can be found as minor members of the scientific team.

And, even as the “Carrot Monster”, Arness gets scant screen time. His first action is committed at 40:06. He is initially seen at a distance at 42:09. It is not until 57:33, of the 1:26:37 film, that we get our first real look at him.

Nevertheless, “The Thing from Another World” is just chock-full of ‘50s Sci-Fi goodness! Consider some of these lines:

It sounds like…well, just as though you’re describing some form of super carrot!”

This ‘carrot’, as you call it, has constructed an aircraft capable of flying some millions of miles through space – propelled by a force as yet unknown to us!”

An intellectual CARROT! The mind boggles!”

On the planet from which our visitor came, vegetable life underwent an evolution similar to that of our own animal life, which would account for the superiority of its brain!”

‘50s Sci-Fi! How do you not love it!

As is our custom in these reviews, we’ll break it into CONS and PROS.


An Absolute Lack of Extra Features: “The Thing”, itself, was not the ONLY shocker to be found herein. As a DVD package, “The Thing from Another World” might as well be from “The Warner Archive Collection”. (See THIS REVIEW of a film released as part of TWAC for more details on what those releases lack.)

My standard for a movie DVD’s Extra Features is the inclusion of a theatrical trailer for the film, a commentary track, and “making-of” or background featurette. Neither a commentary track nor a featurette is included with “The Thing from Another World” giving it a major CON, in this area.

Given the future stardom of James Arness, not to mention the later achievements of Paul Frees and George Fenniman, and the INFLUENCES this film will have on Sci-Fi productions more than a decade hence, the lack of such features to discuss these aspects of “The Thing from Another World” is regrettable indeed.

I’d like to make the standard excuse that its 2003 release was a bit “early in the game” for the generally-held standards for a DVD production but, actually, 2003 was NOT all that early in the history of the DVD package. By that time, more should have been offered.


It’s ‘50s Sci-Fi: That means you’re in for a wild ride (often – but not always – in Black and White), with stalwart heroes facing down monsters, aliens, bizarre mutations, and any other strange phenomena the screenwriters could come up with. The general feeling is not unlike that freewheeling Sci-Fi / Adventure period for television during the early to mid-sixties. The rules, such as they were, were being made up before your eyes – and what a glorious sight it was.

Though 1939’s “King Kong” was a notable exception, films of this nature were very few and far between – if they existed at all – in the years prior. But, they came fast and furious in the fifties. And, the beauty of it was that sometimes you got Michael Rennie, delivering a crucial warning in “The Day the Earth Stood Still”, and sometimes you got James Arness as a bloodthirsty carrot in “The Thing from Another World”! It was all fine by me!

Influences on Future Productions: Just sit back and count them! Some quite direct, some less so.

The most direct example of the influence of “The Thing from Another World” on a future television production was the VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA episode “The Heat Monster” (Airdate: 01/15/1967).

The nature of the respective "creatures" differed (An alien "vegetable" vs. a sentient "flame-creature"), but EVERYTHING else was the same. A deadly creature frozen in polar ice, and the conflict of pragmatic military vs. obsessed scientists / stalwart Seaview crew vs. Alfred Ryder’s insanely single-minded guest-scientist Dr. Bergstrom  (WARNING:  This link is to a YouTube video with SOUND!  You should know this, if you are reading this Blog at work!) on how to handle the situation – to the point of reckless endangerment and total destruction.

This is summed up by a quote from Dr. Carrington (the lead scientist of the film):

I’m sure we can COMMUNICATE with it! We must! It’s WISER than we are! It’s our only chance to talk to it! To learn so many things!”

And, equally summed up by VOYAGE’S “Dr. Bergstrom” as follows:

I still say that whatever is on board this ship is not belligerent, and came to me of its own free will! Give it a chance! We have the opportunity to LEARN THINGS man has NEVER KNOWN before! The TRUE MEANING of the stars! Contact with intelligence from deepest space! Who knows what else we may learn! I WILL NOT LET YOU KILL IT! I’ve given ten years of my life…

Well, you can see where BOTH of these are going…

Each creature rampages against its respective cast, with fatal results, until it is finally destroyed. The Thing with electrocution, the Flame with liquid oxygen.

The one key element of "The Thing from Another World" that didn't appear in the Voyage episode was the creature being defrosted from a block of ice by an unfortunately placed electric blanket. Not one to waste a good swipe, producer Irwin Allen found a place for THAT ONE in the LOST IN SPACE episode "Castles in Space" (also 1967).

The LITERAL translation of The Thing as a living “carrot creature” also manifested in LOST IN SPACE as the infamous episode "The Great Vegetable Rebellion" (1968). I must confess that, even in a 1950s style monster suit, James Arness was quite a bit scarier than Stanley Adams, with his human head poking out of a man-sized carrot costume.

The unnerving sight of a literal garden horde of lethal plants (that, in this case, would ALL grow to become clones of James Arness) would become a relatively common sight in future TV productions.

• THE OUTER LIMITS: “Specimen: Unknown”. (1964)

• LOST IN SPACE: “Welcome Stranger”. (1965)

• LOST IN SPACE: “Attack of the Monster Plants”. (1965)

• LOST IN SPACE: “The Space Croppers”. (1966)

• VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA: “The Plant Man” (1966)

• STAR TREK: “This Side of Paradise” (1966)


And, doubtless, more than presently come to mind.

In another form of “influence”, the film’s director, Christian Nyby, became quite prolific in television as well, with credits on Perry Mason, The Twilight Zone, The Fugitive, The F.B.I., Bonanza, I Spy, Daniel Boone, Mayberry R.F.D. Emergency, The Six Million Dollar Man, Kojak, Adam-12, and too many more to list!

And, in one of those great “cosmic workings” Christian Nyby even directed 4 episodes of Gunsmoke!

The Film: A textbook example of the ‘50s Sci-Fi genre, up to and including a relatively no-name cast…

The Cast:

• James Arness as “The Thing”.

• Kenneth Tobey as “Captain Patrick Hendry”.

• Douglas Spencer as “Ned ‘Scotty’ Scott (Reporter)”.

• Robert Cornthwaite as “Dr. Arthur Carrington”.

• Paul Frees as “Dr. Voorhees” (Uncredited)

• George Fenniman as “Dr. Redding”. (Uncredited)

The Extra Feature (Singular): Theatrical Trailer for “The Thing from Another World”: (01:34)


Baffling questions… Astounding questions… that not even the world’s greatest scientific minds can answer!”

HUGE ON-SCREEN TEXT: “FLAMES cannot destroy THE THING… Nor BULLETS kill it!”

A story of modern science that challenges imagination! Produced by HOWARD HAWKES – who gave you ‘I was a Male War Bride’, ‘Red River’, ‘Sergeant York’!”

GOSH! That’s enough to make me want to see it AGAIN!


The Thing from Another World” stands as a prime specimen of its time and its genre.

Today’s audiences, raised on flicks overloaded with CGI effects and laced with much blood and gore, will not be impressed. Indeed, one might regard the most horrifying aspect of “The Thing from Another World” to be the appalling lack of extra features!

But, just try to deny the existence of any emotional stirrings when listening to Reporter Scotty filing his story. A passage that nicely doubles as a film-ending narration:

One of the world’s greatest battles was fought and won today by the human race. Here, at the top of the world, a handful of soldiers and civilians, met the first invasion from another planet.

A man named Noah once saved our world with an ark of wood. Here, at the North Pole, a few men performed a similar service with an arc of electricity. A flying saucer, which landed here, and its pilot have been destroyed. But not without casualties among our own meager forces.

And now, before giving you the details of the battle, I bring you a warning… Every one of you listening to my voice, tell the world. Tell this to everybody, wherever they are. Watch the skies… EVERYWHERE! Keep looking! Keep watching… the skies!”

As noted, the film is far more influential then it would appear. Oh, if only this one came with a Commentary Track to discuss those influences!

The Thing from Another World” is recommended for fans of fifties Sci-Fi and the products of the sixties that were clearly influenced by it. Fans of James Arness and Gunsmoke will enjoy it as perhaps the “ultimate curiosity”. Fitting all these categories, I enjoyed it immensely!

Monday, September 19, 2011

R.I.P. Earl Kress!

It is the very sad duty of this Blog to report the death of Earl Kress!

Earl Kress made EVERYTHING he was involved with better! Animation, comics, CD compilations, and especially animation DVDs!

Mark Evanier tells us about Earl Kress HERE!

Yowp does the same HERE!

Pictured above, the TOP CAT DVD set to which he contributed so much!

Thank you for everything, Earl!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

New Directions in DVD Reviews!

We have a trio of DVD Reviews coming that cover different genres, other than the “Depression Era Gangster and Crime”, TV series, and Animation DVDs generally discussed on this Blog!

Be here for them… just to see me write about something else for a change!

Hint: They DO vary a bit in subject matter, with the final one bearing some definite surprises! Watching it certainly surprised me!

...Yet, you can easily see how each one would appeal to me!  Be there, won’t you? 

And, just WAIT until you see who the PRODUCER is on that “third one”!  You won’t believe it! 

Monday, September 12, 2011

Donald Duck and Superman Find Common Ground – Off the Ground!

Despite long histories in comic books, Donald Duck and Superman don’t seem to have very much in common.

Superman never found “Pirate Gold” – much less found it “Again!” …Not that X-ray vision wouldn’t come in handy on a treasure hunt!

And, despite treading on 24-Carat Moons, “Black Moons”, and finding giant lovesick teenage girls on Venus, Donald Duck never “Return[ed] to Krypton”.

But, if you get enough issues under your belt (…or whatever might encircle Donald’s pants-less waist), you’re bound to find something.

I found this!

It’s been too tiring a day to think up a gag utilizing the phrase “Long Distance Carrier”, so please contribute your own!