Dwight D. Frye
Dwight D. Frye, a theatre/record producer and the son of Golden Age horror actor Dwight Frye, died March 27, 2003 in New York City. He was 72.
Frye was born in Spokane, Washington, in December of 1930, shortly after his father completed his role as the lunatic Renfield in Dracula. He grew up in Hollywood, and in fact appeared as a child actor in "The Man Who Found Himself" (1937), in which his father also acted. His father, who gave macabre performances in such horror films as "Frankenstein," "The Vampire Bat" and "Bride of Frankenstein," died in Hollywood in 1943, achieving his real fame only posthumously.
Dwight D.Frye graduated from the University of Maine with a Bachelor's degree and Master's Degree in Chemical Engineering. However, after a stint in Europe with the U.S.Army, he became an actor, working in Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York. In 1965, he played a small role in the legendary Broadway musical "Man of La Mancha;" he also became an assistant to the play's director Albert Marre, and eventually traveled around the world supervising international productions of the show. In addition to over two decades assisting Marre, Frye worked for two years as the business manager for the Repertory Theatre of Lincoln Center and for nine years as a production associate for Broadway producer Frederick Brisson. He also co-produced several original cast recordings, including "Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up?" and "The Secret Garden."
On the subject of his father, Frye collaborated with Greg Mank and Jim Cou n on the book "Dwight Frye's Last Laugh," published by Midnight Marquee Press in 1997. He also appeared as a guest at various conventions and on camera in several documentaries celebrating the classic horror films.
B-movie cowboy Johny Carpenter died of cancer in a Burbank
nursing home. He was 88. Carpenter acted in, wrote and produced
such low-budget Westerns as "I Killed Wild Bill Hickok,"
"Lawless Rider" and "Son of the Renegade." Carpenter was
remembered by producer Alex Gordon as, "One of those people
who could charm the fruit off the trees." Carpenter was
one of the first film people Gordon looked up upon settling
in the U.S. "I read in the L.A. Times that a man named Johny
Carpenter, who had made a few low-budget westerns, had made
his last one, 'Son of the Renegade,' for $17,500," Gordon
told the B Monster. Gordon and Carpenter met and embarked
on a project that eventually led to associations with such
B-movie luminaries as Ed Wood and Sam Arkoff.
Carpenter may be best remembered for the western ranch
he operated in Los Angeles. For years, Carpenter's Heaven
On Earth Ranch, built with the help of volunteers, welcomed
the handicapped, particularly children. He taught them to
ride horses, and led guided tours through the old west-style
saloon, jail and general store. Thousands of children visited
the ranch over the years, riding the range and dining on
barbequed hamburgers. Carpenter empathized with the handicapped
as he once spent 119 days in a body cast following a hit-and-run
accident that robbed him of a promising career as a major
league ball player. After moving to Los Angeles, Carpenter
went to work in the movies, performing stunts in such films
as "National Velvet," "The Navajo Trail" and "The El Paso
Kid." But the Heaven On Earth Ranch was the real joy of
his life. As he once told Reader's Digest, "As you sow,
so shall ye reap. Well, I've reaped two-hundred-fold." The
ranch changed locations several times, but Carpenter sustained
it with his personal savings, part-time work shoeing horses
and contributions. "Everything I own is on my back," Carpenter
said. "Yet because of the ranch, I can get up every morning
and walk down the street like a king. If I get to heaven,
it'll be on the coattails of those kids."
Veteran television and screenwriter Fred Freiberger died
at his Bel-Air, Calif., home, of natural causes. He was
88. A prolific television writer with many series to his
credit, Freiberger served as producer of the original "Star
Trek" series during its third and final 1968-69 season.
Beginning as a screenwriter in the late 1940s, Freiberger's
first major credit was his 1953 screenplay for "The Beast
From 20,000 Fathoms," based on a Ray Bradbury short story.
(It was also the first solo effort of emerging special effects
and stop-motion animation ace Ray Harryhausen.) Thereafter,
Freiberger turned out scripts for films of all genres including
"Garden of Evil," "The Black Pirates," "Egypt by Three"
and "War Paint."
In 1957, Freiberger scripted director Bert I. Gordon's
dubious classic "Beginning of the End." The film showcased
Gordon's crude special effects as Peter Graves and Peggie
Castle battled giant grasshoppers. Freiberger found his
true niche in television writing for such well-known series
as "Bonanza," "Rawhide," "The Nine Lives of Elfego Baca,"
"The Wild, Wild West," "Ben Casey," "The Fugitive," "S.W.A.T.,"
"Starsky and Hutch," "The Six Million Dollar Man" and "Space
1999." Actor/director Leonard Nimoy told Startrek.com, "I
knew Fred for many, many years, even before 'Star Trek'
... he was a gentleman and a gentle man."
THE B MOVIE MONTH IN REVIEW
"CREATURE" REMAKE CREEPS CLOSER TO PRODUCTION
According to Variety, screenwriter Tedi Sarafian will script
Universal's forthcoming "Creature From the Black Lagoon"
remake, which has been forthcoming for about 20 years. We
suppose each little rumor brings this bad idea a dab closer
to reality. The film will be produced by Gary Ross' Larger
Than Life productions. Ross' father, Arthur, had a hand
in conceiving the 1954 original. Sarafian's other credits
include "The Road Killers," "Tank Girl," the made-for-TV
"Tidal Wave: No Escape" and the upcoming "Terminator 3:
Rise of the Machines." That is all ... for now.
BOB'S STELLAR CELLAR
The legendary status of the Halloween extravaganzas staged
by B Monster buddy Bob Burns is soon to increase immeasurably.
A special DVD compilation composed of priceless footage
from shows past is in the works and promises to be one of
the genre-movie "must-have" items of the year. In addition
to samples of the actual shows, many of the principal set-builders
and special effects creators involved -- including some
who went on to major motion-picture glory -- are on camera
recounting the good times. "We recently spent a weekend
shooting interviews," Bob reported. "And we got a wonderful
on-camera interview with Julie Adams. She came to our Halloween
"Creature" show 20 years ago. What a classy Lady." (Bob
made a point of capitalizing the "L.") William Self, a co-star
of "The Thing From Another World" turned out for last year's
"Thing"-themed Halloween bash, along with thousands of kids
of all ages who had the time of their lives being scared
Nearly as exciting is news of the nine-disk "Alien" DVD
set that's in the works. (For the woefully uninformed, Bob
is the world's premier Creature Curator and Sci-Fi Film
Preservationist nonpareil. The Alien "Queen" resides in
his Burbank, Calif. basement!) "A crew came over to shoot
an interview with me," Bob said, "surrounded by my props
from the 'Alien' movies. They've found tons of new footage
from the films." The "Alien" volume will be jam-packed with
extras, and it features a director's cut of the third "Alien"
installment. For the documentary segment, Bob was, as always,
generous to a fault, happily in his element, sharing his
wealth of fantasy-film ephemera with the world. "It was
one of the easiest shoots I've ever done," he concluded.
And, if you still don't have a copy of "It Came From Bob's
Basement," you can procure a signed edition from the man
himself at Burbank's Dark Delicacies bookshop April 26.
Bob will be there cheerfully autographing copies beginning
at 2 p.m., so, if you're anywhere in the vicinity, make
haste to 4213 W. Burbank Blvd. You can call 818-556-6660
for more info, or drop a line to email@example.com.
It goes without saying ... tell 'em the B Monster sent you!
NOTE: While you're there, you might just catch a sneak
peek of the forthcoming "Monster Kid Memories," a lavishly
illustrated tome chronicling Bob's encounters with and heartfelt
memories of the men who made the classic films we love.
Published by Dinoship, Inc., the much-anticipated book is
scheduled to debut in June.
RAY'S STAR TO SHINE SOON
Word is that the sidewalk ceremony honoring Ray Harryhausen
with a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame is scheduled for
June 10th. Last we heard, movie heayweights including Steven
Spielberg, George Lucas and Frank Darabont were anxious
to take part in the festivities. Again we ask: Hollywood,
what took so doggone long?
COHEN DOESN'T MAKE THE ACADEMY CUT
According to the niece of recently departed, legendary film
producer, Herman Cohen ("I Was a Teenage Werewolf," "How
to Make a Monster," "Horrors of the Black Museum"), she
attempted to convince the Academy of Motion Picture Arts
and Sciences to include Herman in its annual tribute segment,
devoted to film greats who passed away during the preceding
year. The "In Memoriam" sequence is usually a highlight
of the otherwise fatuous and self-congratulatory broadcast
devoted largely to mutual ego-stroking. Bruce Davis, Executive
Director of the AMPAS, informed Gail Cohen that "too many
prominent people have died this year." On another front,
Gail reports that, once "Horrors of the Black Museum" debuts
on DVD, she hopes to work on a retrospective of her late
uncle's films, possibly in collaboration with the American
Film Institute or American Movie Classics.
REJOICING IN ROSWELL
A proposal introduced by a Roswell lawmaker that would allow
New Mexicans to celebrate every second Tuesday in February
as "Extraterrestrial Culture Day" won approval in the State
House. According to Rep. Daniel Foley (R), extraterrestrials
"have some sort of culture, whether it's something we understand
or not." Roswell, N.M., was, of course, the purported site
of a 1947 UFO crash-landing. The "Roswell Incident" fostered
terrific interest in flying saucers and government cover-ups
and eventually spawned a cottage industry for the local
SPRING HAS SPRUNG IN SWAMPY JERSEY
Chiller convention-meister Kevin Clement invites one and
all to "join us in the Swamps of New Jersey." That must
mean it's time for the Spring 2003 Chiller Theatre Expo
at the lovely Meadowlands Hilton in beautiful East Rutherford.
Doors open at 6 p.m., Friday the 25th, and judging by the
expansive guest list, you'll need every second to schmooze
with pop-culture stars and add to your autograph collection.
The guest roster is positively pan-categoric:
The "Creature from the Black Lagoon's" paramour, Julie
Adams, tops the list.
And you DO want see Andrew Robinson of "Dirty Harry" fame?
(Well, do ya, PUNK?)
There's long tall Angus Scrimm of "Phantasm"
And how 'bout the "Lost in Space" cast -- June Lockhart,
Bill Mumy, Angela Cartwright, Mark Goddard, Marta Kristin
There's Jerry Seinfeld's TV parents Barney Martin and Liz
The "Reel" Gill Man himself, big Ben Chapman
The voice of Chucky, Brad Dourif
Lovely Carol Lynley
Hammer glamorette and former Bond girl, Caroline Munro
Mistress of the Martial Arts, Cynthia Rothrock
TV's Kung Fu-master, David (son of John) Carradine
"E.T.'s" surrogate Mom, Dee Wallace Stone
Don Calfa and Linnea Quigley of "Return of the Living Dead"
"Beetlejuice" co-star Glenn Shadix
Leatherface himself, Gunnar Hansen
Jeremy "Boba Fett" Bulloch
Stuntman Kane Hodder
Larry Matthews, better known as "The Dick Van Dyke Show's"
TV's Nancy Drew, Pamela Sue Martin
Soupy Sales (That's right, Soupy Sales)
The object of "The Nutty Professor's" affection, Stella
Yvonne "Batgirl" Craig
Yvette Vickers, famed victim of the "Giant Leeches" (and
probably the only woman who could lure a man away from "50
Foot Woman" Allison Hayes)
There are many more, but I'm just plain tired of typing!
As far as ticket info goes, general admission at the door
is $15 per day. Paid in advance, it's $12 per day. Children
age 12 and under get in free when accompanied by an adult.
According to Kevin, "pre-show tickets give you access to
the show one hour earlier than the general public on Friday
night or Saturday morning. Ideally, pre-show tickets are
usually purchased by those wanting access to very limited
sale items at the show before general ticket holders enter
the show. Pre-show tickets give you access to purchase limited
model kits, movie classic items and other items." It all
happens April 25-27, 2003, and you can write for tickets:
Chiller Theatre, Inc. P O Box 23 Rutherford NJ 07070 But
it's even easier to download the ticket order form at the
official Web site, where even MORE info awaits you:
Tell 'em without hesitation, the B Monster sent you!
CULT-FILM FOOTHOLD AT FOOTHILL
The Foothill College Psychotronic Film Festival in Los Altos
Hills, Calif., ran from 7 pm until midnight March 15, screening
an esoteric collection of Scopitones, cartoons, short subjects,
trailers, episode 16 of "Johnny Sokko and his Flying Robot,"
"Space Angel" segments and a vintage filmed performance
by Bill Haley and the Comets, not to mention the feature
attractions that held the audience enthralled for four hours.
And all for a five dollar donation that benefited the college.
Why is this event, programmed and hosted by West Coast cult-film
fixture Buzz Bob Ekman remarkable? They've been doing it
for 22 years! Now that's true, genre-film fanaticism. The
proliferation of events such as this (small town filmfests,
the stubbornly growing number of regional TV horror hosts)
are well worthy of mention, in our book.
THE SCI-FI SURF IS UP
Who are the Moon-Rays? We'll let them describe their corner
of the culture and musical mission: "Surfing, monsters and
spies. What could these three totally different subjects
have to do with each other? Plenty, when thrown into the
kooky, spooky world of the Moon-Rays." Chicago's WXRT cited
the hometown group's twang-fueled "Thrills and Chills" CD
as the best instrumental release of 2002. "The Moon Rays
were born of a concept brought on by the recording of the
theme from WGN's Creature Features TV show," says the group's
official Web site. "About six months later they were approached
to do a full length CD by the same studio. The decision
then was to do a mixture of spy-surf with a Halloween overtone
to it." A sampling of titles will tell you exactly where
these cats are coming from: "1313 Mockingbird Lane," "Shot
In The Dark," "Hypnotique," "Beat Girl," "The Bat." Not
unlike New Jersey's Dead Elvi, the Moon-Rays are swingin'
cult-film buffs deserving a taste of the success that headbangin'
loudmouths like Rob Zombie continue to accrue undeservedly.
Find out more at:
And, natch, daddy-o, 'em the B Monster sent you!.
WILL SUPERMAN GO POSTAL?
The cable channel TRIO recently polled its viewers to determine
their favorite comic book-to-movie superhero. Thirty-five
percent cited Superman. Spider-Man trailed at a distant
19 percent. The fantasy character they'd most like to see
honored by a U.S. postage stamp? Superman again, followed
by E.T. Favorite villain -- and we find this striking --
Hannibal Lecter followed by Darth Vader. Hannibal Lecter
-- not a fantasy character, mind you, but an amalgam of
many heinous, unrepentant, REAL-LIFE serial killers. "The
Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" was cited as the sequel
that most improved upon the original, while "Men in Black
II" proved the most disappointing. "Book of Shadows: Blair
Witch 2" was named "the worst sequel of all time." Harris
Interactive conducted the three-day poll for TRIO, which
is a part of the Universal Television Group, owners of the
Sci Fi Channel.
IT'S A BIRD, IT'S A PLANE ... ...
either of which would make a better Superman than Josh Hartnett.
After testing for the role, the teen heartthrob has decided
not to play Krypton's favorite son. Phew! According to the
Hollywood Reporter, also rumored to be in the running for
the role of the Man of Steel are Brendan Fraser, (okay,
not too bad) David "Angel" Boreanaz, "Timeline's" Paul Walker
and "The Guiding Light's" Matthew Bomer. The B Monster must
confess, he's never heard of "Timeline," never seen "The
Guiding Light" and is not familiar with the latter two actors
mentioned. If you think this kind of baseless specualtion
is amusing, get a load of the next item ... The Sci Fi Channel's
Science Fiction Weekly reports that Ain't it Cool News reports
that Nicholas Cage "was recently overheard at the gym telling
his trainer that he was getting in shape for the upcoming
Sub-Mariner film." That's it. That's the whole item. Fourth-hand
news given headline treatment all over the Web, credited
to "a source" who overheard it in a gym. True or not, it's
a gem of an example of how desperate genre-nerds are to
devour any morsel of Hollywood hearsay.
HAND ME DOWN MY SILVER CANE
According to Variety, Dimension Films has signed Academy
Award-nominee Robert Nelson Jacobs to script a big-screen
adaptation of the 1970s Marvel Comics series "Werewolf by
Night." Jacobs is best-known for such high-profile films
as "Chocolat" and "The Shipping News," both directed by
Lasse Halstrom. "It is our aim to bring the werewolf genre
to mainstream audiences in the same character-driven way
we have done with our other superhero films," Marvel Studios
maven, Avi Arad, told the magazine. " 'Werewolf by Night'
is at its core a beautiful love story reminiscent of the
great Shakespearean tragedies." [editor's note: Huh?] "It
needs the meticulous heartfelt crafting that Robert Nelson
Jacobs is known for." Make no mistake, we're all for "meticulous
heartfelt crafting," but in this case, I think I'd rather
just see a scary comic book werewolf. Better still (prepare
to hear our broken record one more time), forget the 30-year-old
werewolf comic, stop rehashing old stuff and come up with
We're sure to get this confused, but they're remaking "Dawn
of the Dead," which was the sequel to George Romero's "Night
of the Living Dead," which was itself remade at one point.
According to CNN, James Gunn, who scripted the absolutely
awful "Scooby Doo" live-action film, has written a "reinvention"
of Romero's film, which cost a paltry (by contemporary Hollywood
standards) $640,000 to make back in 1979. The sequel combined
outlandish gore with tongue-in-cheek humor as a gaggle of
zombies invaded a Pennsylvania shopping mall in search of
victims. Zack Snyder, a veteran director of TV commercials
will direct. He had planned to direct a remake of the TV
series "S.W.A.T." but reportedly left the production because
"he wanted to make an R-rated film." (God knows we need
more of those.)
THEIR CHILDHOOD, YOUR MEMORIES
A question for Hollywood's big shots, most of whom are roughly
in the B Monster's age bracket: Why should your children
be forced to relive YOUR childhood? For God's sake, you're
creative people. Marshall your creativity and give your
kids something of their own to cherish in the years to come.
Here's just a sampling of the Hollywood retreads currently
"greenlighted," in "turnaround," "on the slate" or otherwise
The Green Hornet
I Am Legend aka Last Man on Earth aka The Omega Man
Six Million Dollar Man
The War of the Worlds
Around the World in 80 Days
The Stepford Wives
The Incredible Shrinking Man
Clash of the Titans
Death Race 2000
Naturally, you want to share happy memories with the next
generation, but don't you also want them to believe in your
creative abilities and artistic originality? Junk like "I
Spy" and "Wild, Wild West" abounds. Jewels such as "The
Iron Giant" grow more scarce. And don't cite "Harry Potter"
as an example of kid-friendly Hollywood fare. Tinsel Town
wouldn't have touched that property had it not been a proven
NEW ON DVD
INVISIBLE INVADERS/JOURNEY TO THE SEVENTH PLANET
We write affectionately about a lot of silly movies. "Invisible
Invaders" is one of them. It's a lot of fun, and we don't
care WHAT you say. There are all kinds of gaffs and plot
holes, shoddy sets and erratic pacing, but it's got a gritty
feel that might be viewed as prescient of Romero's "Night
of the Living Dead." It's also got a terrific B-movie cast:
John Carradine, John Agar, Robert Hutton and, an underrated
B-Monster favorite, Philip Tonge (you'd know the face, trust
me). In the film's opening moments, Carradine, a scientist
experimenting with atomic-type stuff, blows himself to smithereens.
Later, when his zombified self is revived by aliens, his
cadaver has nary a scratch or smudge on it. And here's a
nifty bit of trivia: Carradine plays Dr. Karol Noymann.
In "The Giant Claw" (1957), also scripted by Sam Newman,
Edgar Barrier plays a Dr. Karol Noymann. (Perhaps Newman's
tribute to a family friend?) Curiouser, the end credits
list him as CARL Noymann. In any event, it isn't long after
Noymann's resurrection that the transparent aliens begin
reviving hordes of unstoppable human corpses. And what better
place to deliver their inter-galactic ultimatum than a hockey
game. They stroll into the announcer's booth, strangle the
announcer and commandeer his microphone. Why a hockey game?
When a premise is this giddy, why ask "why?" Agar plays
the no-nonsense Major Bruce Jay, forever at odds with Robert
Hutton's cowardly Dr. John Lamont. Barricaded in a bunker
outfitted with lab equipment, they develop a zombie-snuffing
weapon not unlike the ones used in "Earth vs. the Flying
Saucers," "Target Earth" and "Mars Attacks!" But why did
the invaders need human cadavers at all? Wouldn't it be
much more effective to remain invisible?
"Invisible Invaders" is a fun, flawed, nostalgic diversion,
and it's comfortably paired with Sid Pink's "Journey To
The Seventh Planet," also starring John Agar, this time
as no-nonsense Captain Don Graham. It isn't nearly as enjoyable
as "Invisible Invaders," but it has its attractions, among
them Greta Thyssen, who stands out in the largely Scandanavian
cast. Pink, of course, was the man behind "Angry Red Planet"
and "Reptilicus" among other sci-fi oddities. Here, he teams
again with frequent partner Ib Melchior who's credited as
co-writer. The story involves an ill-fated mission to Uranus
-- and keep your smart-ass remarks to yourself! I'm sure
Sid heard 'em all.
VOYAGE TO THE PLANET OF PREHISTORIC WOMEN
This Roger Corman-produced
patchwork of Russian sci-fi footage and new scenes directed
by a young Peter Bogdanovich requires the audience to work
harder than the cast and crew that made the film. The movie
cuts back and forth between crudely dubbed cosmonauts, and
scantily-clad babes in clamshell bras led by bodacious Mamie
Van Doren (The costumer must have searched high and low
to procure clams of a suitable size.) Your job as viewer
is to match up the footage of the wandering Russians with
the grainy shots of Mamie and her telepathic posse. Apparently,
they're on opposite sides of the planet and establish some
tenuous mental link -- at least, I think that's what happens.
Perhaps you'll be more successful at completing this international
film jigsaw puzzle. Evidently, even Mamie didn't quite understand
it, as she told the B Monster, "I really don't know why
I did it. I guess I just wanted to work. I didn't have one
bit of dialogue. Nothing! We just hummed. We'd go MMMMMMMMMMM!
It was sort of like the 'Planet of the Apes.' I thought,
'Hell, if Charlton Heston can do it, I can do it.' Peter
was kind of an oddball. He was always sticking the camera
up my rear end." According to the folks at Retromedia, Bogdanovich
"declined our offer to do a commentary track." But the Retro
crew more than compensates with the 20-minute mini-documentary,
"Being Mamie," which promises to be worth the price of admission.
Also included are a gallery of stills and "a complete 50
page scan of the Foto Novel of the original Russian movie."
With a remake imminent, this may be a good time to re-evaluate
director Francois Truffaut's 1967 take on Ray Bradbury's
important and much-celebrated novella. Bradbury took on
bold themes with abbreviated accuracy. There's scarcely
a wasted word in his treatise, a cautionary tale regarding
the fate of free speech in a war-plagued future society.
Truffaut made changes to Bradbury's narrative for cinematic
purposes, but the spine of Ray's story is unaffected. Contemporary audiences may be put off by the film's "new wave" directorial flourishes (Truffaut was one of the most prolific sons of that largely French film movement of the '50s and '60s) but it holds up well after 35 years.
The cast is an international mix headed by Oskar Werner,
Julie Christie, Cyril Cusack and Anton Diffring. They act
well but are all decidedly "cold" performers (which is,
arguably, appropriate to material about an unfeeling, totalitarian,
future bureaucracy). The performers' aloofness combined
with the film's overt "1960s-ness" (if we may coin a clumsy
but accurate phrase to describe the aforementioned experimental
camera work) may leave viewers a little TOO cold, but the
film is an interesting and noble effort, nonetheless.
May I borrow your thesaurus? I've worn mine out looking
up alternate words for "garbage." This trashy, clumsy and
altogether unnecessary excuse to wheel Hollywood's favorite
cannibal, Hannibal Lecter, into public view one more time
should be avoided. It wastes the talents of some people
who should have had more sense than to contribute further
to Movieland's epoch of serial-killer glorification. And
won't you be proud two decades hence, when documentary reflections
on the current era are compiled; when the times we currently
live in will be referred to in nostalgic terms as "The Serial
Killer Era," showcasing clips from "Silence of the Lambs,"
"Hannibal," "Red Dragon," "Kiss the Girls," "Along Came
A Spider," "The Cell ..." But gosh, that Anthony Hopkins
-- sorry, SIR Anthony Hopkins -- is so doggone charming!
Yes, we're being sarcastic. That Hannibal bit is sooooo
played. Director Brett Ratner, who turned out one of our
favorite action comedies, "Rush Hour," should be ashamed.
I just can't say enough bad things about this film. Oh,
maybe one more bad thing: It was No. 1 at the box office
the very week a REAL serial killer in the Washington, D.C.
area was mowing down innocent victims -- including children
-- from the trunk of his car.
Genre-film historian and Dinoship founder and CEO Bob Madison
weighs in with the following:
MURDER BY DECREE
The hysteria surrounding the Jack the
Ripper murders was probably reason enough for Arthur Conan
Doyle not to write an adventure pitting Sherlock Holmes
against the infamous serial killer. But, as the decades
piled up and the Ripper murders faded more and more into
legend, it was only natural that London's greatest mass
murderer meet up with the era's most celebrated hunter of
Bob Clark's "Murder By Decree" was just released by Anchor
Bay on DVD, and it is a splendid transfer of a particularly
effective movie. Made in 1979 -- just a few years after
the Watergate scandals rocked America and the rest of the
world -- Clark and screenwriter John Hopkins posit the Ripper
murders within a large-scale government conspiracy. This
was heady stuff for the late Œ70s when trust in government
was at a low."Murder By Decree" is superbly mounted and
almost never betrays its modest budget. It also boasts the
greatest cast of any Sherlock Holmes films: along with Christopher
Plummer and James Mason as Holmes and Watson, watch for
Anthony Quayle, David Hemmings, John Gielgud, Susan Clark,
Genevieve Bujold, Donald Sutherland and Frank Finlay. It
is not a perfect film -- the middle sections gets a bit
"flabby" as the plot meanders a bit -- but it is certainly
the best Holmes film since 1939's "Adventures of Sherlock
Holmes," and no subsequent film has surpassed "Decree."
The mark of any Sherlock Holmes film always boils down
to the performances of Holmes and Watson themselves. Bob
Clark -- in the director's commentary track -- discusses
his efforts to woo Mason into playing Watson. It was worth
the effort. While still not the Watson of Doyle, Mason manages
to make the doctor a capable companion. Christopher Plummer's
Holmes (Clark's second choice after Peter O'Toole!) is also
a revelation. His performance never descends into easy caricature
(a trap for many actors playing the role), managing to convey
both brilliance and humanity. In "Decree," Holmes perhaps
spends too much of his time like an angry man with a mission,
but the interpretation certainly fits the script and the
circumstances of the character. While not quite the iconic
interpretation of Rathbone, Plummer's Holmes is infinitely
preferable to the mannered, quirky performances of Peter
Cushing, Nicol Williamson and Jeremy Brett.
Along with Clark's commentary track, "Murder By Decree"
includes the original theatrical trailer, photos from Clark's
private archive, and the complete screenplay. This may not
be the greatest Jack the Ripper film ever made (that is
probably "The Lodger"), but it is certainly superior to
the turgid, vermilion "From Hell." "Murder By Decree" is
one for your personal collection.
SPECIAL THANKS TO:
Michael F. Blake, whose books are available through Vestal
Press or at http://www.amazon.com
Harris Lentz III, whose books are available at http://www.mcfarlandpub.com
Bob Madison, founder and CEO of Dinoship, Inc. http://www.dinoship.com
Greg Mank, whose books are available at http://www.mcfarlandpub.com and
David J. Schow, http://charon.gothic.net/~chromo/
Bryan Senn, whose books are available at http://www.mcfarlandpub.com
and at http://www.midmar.com/books.html
Tom Weaver, whose books are available at http://www.mcfarlandpub.com
and at http://www.midmar.com/books.html
"The newest thing in thrill-chill pictures!" -- Voodoo