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In the days when cinema audiences insisted that movie programs include two features, plus shorts, plus a newsreel, plus trailers, plus a cartoon, the supporting feature was known in the film trade as a "B". On many occasions, the unheralded "B" movie turned out to be more entertaining than the "A" attraction. Many of Hollywood’s biggest stars, like John Wayne and Carole Lombard, got their start in "B" pictures. Some, like Gene Autry (once voted the tenth most popular star in the world) made "B" movies exclusively. So this book is my celebration of the classic "B" films of yesteryear. Many of them, of course, are still aired on TV. And there are even two huge DVD companies that specialize in vintage "B" mysteries and westerns.
Rather than drive my own chariot, I'm going to hand over the reins to Ross Adams. Mr Adams is the editor of the highly regarded "Dress Circle" magazine. The following review of B Movies, Bad Movies, Good Movies appeared in his February 2009 issue. Before I go, however, I'd like to point out that my book is currently "on special" at Amazon and other book stores at a price well below the publisher's recommended $19.95.
An impressive presentation of 162 large-format pages, B Movies, Bad Movies, Good Movies is a real pot-pourri of entertainments so diverse, it should appeal to all tastes in films and reading. The reviews cover "B" movies with popular stars such as Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, Boris Karloff, Humphrey Bogart, Henry Fonda, Veronica Lake, Mary Astor, Jane Russell, Virginia Mayo, Lizabeth Scott, Tom Neal, Dennis O’Keefe, Rossano Brazzi (star of "South Pacific"), Glynis Johns, John Wayne, Claudette Colbert, Tom Conway, George Montgomery, Alan Ladd, William Bendix, Ruth Roman, George Sanders, John Barrymore, Warner Baxter, Rita Hayworth, Harry Carey, John Gilbert, Buster Keaton, Ken Maynard, Joan Blondell, Gail Russell, Don Ameche, Raymond Burr, Mickey Rooney, Kirk Douglas, Lauren Bacall, Ann Sothern, George Brent, Charlton Heston, Fred MacMurray, William Powell, James Cagney, Bette Davis, Irene Dunne, Myrna Loy and Edward G. Robinson.
John Howard Reid regards Murder in the Private Car (1934) as the best "B" movie Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer ever made. Other movies of great interest include Moby Dick, Guest Wife, The Falcon Strikes Back, Charlie Chan at Treasure Island, Charlie Chan and the Sky Dragon, Personal Affair, Phantom of Paris, 13 Women, Trader Horn, Fast Company, The Blue Dahlia, Dead Reckoning, The Outlaw, Wake of the Red Witch, Guest Wife, Three Texas Steers, Gordon of Ghost City, The Green Archer, Sherlock Junior, Tarzan and the She Devil, The Kennel Murder Case.
And J.H.R. doesn't disappoint with detailed information. Actors and production staff are fully covered for each of the hundred-plus movies highlighted in the book. He even lists the type of sound system used, along with USA, British and Australian release dates, running times, number of reels, footage count, story synopses, background details, comments and reviews. And where applicable, he also provides alternative titles.
With such a wealth of information, no serious movie buff or DVD collector should be without John Howard Reid's books. They are all essential reading and reference tools.
Abbott and Costello Meet Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
Bud Abbott (Slim), Lou Costello (Tubby), Boris Karloff (Dr Henry Jekyll), Craig Stevens (Bruce Adams), Helen Westcott (Vicky Edwards), Reginald Denny (inspector), John Dierkes (Batley), Patti McKay, Lucille Lamarr, Betty Tyler (dancers), Herbert Deans (victim), Henry Corden (Javanese actor), Marjorie Bennett (militant woman), Arthur Gould-Porter (bartender), Carmen de Lavallade (Javanese actress), Judith Brian (woman on bike), Clyde Cook, John Rogers (drunks), Gil Perkins (man on bike), Hilda Plowright (nursemaid), Keith Hitchcock (jailer), Harry Cording (fight ringleader), Donald Kerr (chimney sweep), Clive Morgan, Tony Marshe, Michael Hadlow (bobbies), Edwin Parker (Mr Hyde), Jimmy Aubrey (man sleeping in park), Betty Fairfax (suffragette), Susan Randall (girl), Wilson Benge (stage doorman), Ken Terrell, John Daheim (hecklers), Harry Wilson (man asking for match), Duke Johnson (juggler), Isabelle Dwan (Mrs Penprase), Al Ferguson (Watkins), David Sharpe, Ken Terrell, Sailor Vincent, Al Wyatt, John Daheim, Bert LeBaron, Teddy Mangean (stunt pedestrians), Vic Parks (stunt double).
Director: CHARLES LAMONT. Screenplay: Lee Loeb and John Grant. Uncredited script contributor: Howard Dimsdale. Based on screen stories by Sidney Fields and Grant Garrett, suggested by the 1886 novel The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. Photography: George Robinson. Film editor: Russell Schoengarth. Art directors: Bernard Herzbrun and Eric Orbom. Set decorators: Russell A. Gausman and John Austin. Costumes: Rosemary Odell. Make-up: Bud Westmore. Assistant make-up man: Jack Kevan. Special photographic effects: David S. Horsley. Hair styles: Joan St. Oegger. Music director: Joseph Gershenson. Dance director: Kenny Williams. Assistant director: William Holland. Dialogue director: Milt Bronson. Sound recording: Leslie I. Carey and Robert Pritchard. Western Electric Sound System. Producer: Howard Christie.
Copyright 26 June 1953 by Universal Pictures Co., Inc. A Universal-International picture. No New York opening. U.S. release: August 1953. U.K. release: March 1954. Banned in Australia, the film has never been shown theatrically in that country although, oddly enough, it has frequently been broadcast on TV. 6,884 feet. 76 minutes.
SYNOPSIS: Dr Jekyll decides to kill his ward’s lover as he wants to marry her himself.
COMMENT: It’s hard to believe that this wonderfully entertaining spoof received such lukewarm and even negative reviews. The boys are in their element as a couple of earnestly lame-brained bobbies, hilariously blundering their way from one tautly risible situation to the next, finally capping their chucklesome efforts with a delightful climax of doubly mirthful mayhem. Their comic endeavors are appealingly assisted by Reginald Denny – as stupidly choleric a detective inspector as they come – and John Dierkes as a lumbering menace. And there’s a great support cast including Clyde Cook and John Rogers as a couple of argumentative drunks, and Arthur Gould-Porter as a disbelieving bartender. Boris Karloff is deliciously suave as the not-so-good doctor, while Helen Westcott makes a vivaciously pretty heroine. The stunts and special effects are exciting enough for an “A” feature. We love the sets and atmosphere. And as for the direction with its stylish camera angles and tight compositions, we are amazed to report that it’s a long way above Mr Lamont’s usual more humble standards.
OTHER VIEWS: One of the best A&C features, thanks to a very funny script, slick film editing, superbly low-key photography, excellent acting, marvelous make-up and special effects, and startlingly imaginative direction. All the principal players with the exception of Craig Stevens (who is capable, but not outstanding) are to be especially commended. I found the scene in the wax museum so hilarious, my ribs hurt from alternate laughter and fright. The climax is likewise breathtaking.
In this remarkable adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel, Abbott and Costello do much better by the book than Hammer Films were to do in a similar attempt (The Ugly Duckling – 1959) to turn it into a musical comedy. For one thing, Abbott and Costello’s scriptwriters have thoughtfully retained the period as well as the milieu, and many of the dramatic incidents are played perfectly straight while the comic potentialities of the central idea are fully exploited.