By Drew Taylor | The Playlist June 7, 2012 at 2:04PM
Why You Should Care: A clever and occasionally hard-edged western by “Casablanca” director Michael Curtiz about a lawman nicknamed The Hangman (Robert Taylor) who tracks a criminal (Jack Lord) who has murdered a fellow marshal, the film has an undeniably catchy premise and sharp, smart direction to go along with it. The townspeople, fond of the suspected killer, band together to obscure the Hangman’s investigation, while the Hangman takes a different approach – trying to sway the killer’s ex (Tina Louise) into giving him up. The script for “The Hangman” was written by Dudley Nichols, a legendary Hollywood screenwriter known for authoring the scripts for “Stagecoach,” “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” and for co-writing (with Hagar Wilde) the irrepressible “Bringing Up Baby,” and was at least partially based on the life of “Lucky” Luke Short, a carousing American frontiersman, gunfighter, saloon owner, and (depending on your historical and moral point of view) serial killer, who ran with Wyatt Earp in Tombstone before decamping to Dodge City, Kansas. “The Hangman” isn’t exactly a classic but it also didn’t deserve to be languishing in the Paramount vaults somewhere collecting dust – the fact that it’s back out on home video (and with an accompanying Blu-ray release) is awesome in and of itself…
What’s On It: …which is good because it doesn’t have a single special feature.
Release Date: June 26th via Olive Films
"Back From Eternity" (John Farrow, 1956)
Why You Should Care: Apparently the story for “Back From Eternity,” about a plane full of strangers stranded in the South American jungle following a harrowing plane crash (they are then hunted by the locals), was so compelling to Australian producer-director John Farrow that he made it twice – first in 1939 as “Five Came Back” (starring Chester Morris and Lucille Ball) and then again, in 1956, as “Back From Eternity.” The latter version starred Robert Ryan, Anita Ekberg, Rod Steiger, Phyllis Kirk, and Jesse White, and follows the disaster movie formula of disparate characters forced to understand and accept one another for the survival of the group (Steiger plays a killer being brought to justice, White plays a mobster chauffeuring his bosses son, etc). While the movie is more of an adventure/thriller, with a downbeat ending partially borrowed for Frank Darabont’s similarly dire “The Mist,” the advertising for “Back From Eternity” focused on one thing: the smoldering Anita Ekberg. Original posters for the movie placed her in the center of the image, with lush foliage surrounding her, and the words “Ooh that Ekberg!” craning overhead, even though there are much cooler things to focus on like the mysterious danger of the jungle or the headhunters or Robert Ryan. I guess that’s one way to sell it. Either that or, “Hey, remember ‘Five Came Back?’ ”
What’s On It: Nada. This is a burnt-to-order deal; the very definition of no-frills.
Release date: Out now via Warner Archive
“The Spirit Is Willing” (William Castle, 1967)
Why You Should Care: A marginal William Castle movie even by those admittedly low standards, “The Spirit Is Willing” is a frightfully bizarre, madcap comedy about a family (led by Vera Miles and Sid Caesar), who accidentally rent a Cape Cod vacation home populated by unruly ghosts. The trailer for this movie promised that it would be, in the awkward phrasing of the time, “the first picture to face the two biggest issues of our time – the sex lives of ghosts and how to have a good vacation while ghosts are breaking up the joint all around you.” What’s really amazing is how Castle produced and directed this movie, which is equal parts Haunted Mansion and “American Horror Story,” a year before producing the seminal (and very serious) horror classic “Rosemary’s Baby” (for the same studio, Paramount). The movie is not without its pleasures (John McGiver and John Astin show up and the film marked the debut of future “Poldark” actress Jill Townsend, playing three roles, all of them adorably) but its overwrought zaniness murders any chance of actual spooks and scares. Still, it’s more frightening than “Insidious.”
What’s On It: Nothing. It’s a haunted house of a DVD.
Release date: June 26th via Olive
Also out in June: “Tales That Witness Madness,” a long-forgotten 1973 British horror anthology film starring Kim Novak, Joan Collins, Jack Hawkins and Donald Pleasance that was distributed in America by Paramount (June 26th); the European romance “For the First Time,” which is notable for being Mario Lanza's final film performance (June 19th); King Vidor’s 1930 western “Billy the Kid” starring Johnny Mack Brown as Billy the Kid and Wallace Beery as his eventual assassin Pat Garrett (out now); “The Wayward Bus,” based on the John Steinbeck novel of the same name and populated by a (at the time, at least) mostly unknown cast, finally rolls onto DVD and Blu-ray (June 12th); and The Beatles’ trippy animated musical (at one time poised for a high-tech remake courtesy of Disney and Robert Zemeckis), “Yellow Submarine,” has been painstakingly remastered and is now available on Blu-ray, an audio/visual feast for the senses (out now).