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REVIEW: Mill Creek’s 16-Movie John Wayne “The Duke” DVD Set (2010)

Hey, know what it’s time for again? If, without glancing at the title of this post, you guessed another budget DVD compilation of public domain movies, you’re, uh, right. I love collecting these DVD sets, but there’s only certain instances where they enamor me enough to, you know, give them a review. Needless to say, this is one of the good’uns.

This is the cover of the set, if you couldn’t figure that out. Keep your eyes peeled for it, pardner!

Dig this: it’s a John Wayne comp featuring a load of his pre-stardom poverty row westerns. On the surface that may not seem so unusual; there are countless releases like this out there, after all. The difference here is that the line-up of movies included in this one is, well, pretty stellar. (For those of you with long memories, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen a budget western DVD set here on the blog.)

No joke, I don’t think I’ve come across one of these sets with such an “all killer, no filler” movie selection. Put out in 2010 by Mill Creek (a company I love, and this isn’t the first time we’ve seen them hit it out of the park), this particular release, while still focusing on works that have loooong been in the public domain, forgoes the inclusion of later, sticks-out-like-a-sore-thumb flicks or earlier, non-western features and/or serials (or, as some sets include, documentaries on The Duke).

Nope, instead this collection focuses solely on Wayne’s poverty row oaters of the 1930s. Again, that may not sound so unusual on the surface, but in this case, at a whopping 16 movies spread over two DVDs, Mill Creek has included nearly all of Wayne’s output for Lone Star Productions (which was really just Monogram), and while they didn’t include every one of them, instead filling out the line-up with a couple of his other B-Western efforts from the 1930s, they got most of them here.

Garnering nearly all of Wayne’s Lone Star flicks in one fell swoop and without having to sift through a bunch of stuff I quite honestly have no interest in is, for me, what puts this one over the top. I’m considering this one comprehensive-yet-concise, if that makes any sense. I’m no stranger to public domain movie compilations of John Wayne, but given the solid, ‘unbroken’ line-up here, I dare say this is the best I’ve come across.

I explained my fascination with the Lone Star series in my article covering an old VHS release of Texas Terror, a movie we’ll see again in this set. Check the link out for a more-detailed explanation if you’re so inclined, but real quick: these Wayne Lone Stars are less “John Wayne movies” and more “poverty row westerns that happen to star John Wayne.” He’s not really The Duke as we’ve come to know him, but rather more of a generic B-Western star – and that’s what’s so fascinating with these. A raw, unformed, but undeniably captivating John Wayne, post-The Big Trail and pre-Stagecoach (which is to say, pre-stardom).

Don’t get me wrong; the reason these films have so endlessly been released over the decades is obviously due to the namesake of their star. In action they’re really not so different from a thousand other cheapie westerns of the period – but if you love the budget oaters like I do, that’s just part of the fun!

(Also, the Lone Stars have terrific opening fanfare for their flicks, complete with a charging-towards-the-screen sheriff’s star, exciting music, and neato titles. Indeed, it was this opening that first captivated me when I came upon a television airing of Blue Steel some 20 years ago.)

I first stumbled upon this DVD set about two years ago. I was out Christmas shopping with my mom, she looking for a good gift for my presumably movie-lovin’ uncle. When she showed me this, I used my powers of useless knowledge to inform her that the movies included made for a pretty strong line-up. (Though I imagine I wasn’t as verbose about it in reality.) Well, there was only one copy left, and I technically didn’t need any of these films again, so on my recommendation she bought it for him. I wound up wanting such a decent all-in-one collection for myself however, and eventually, as you may deduce, said collection became mine. And so here we are.

The famous Lone Star opening fanfare.

There are 16 Lone Star features in Wayne’s oeuvre. As previously stated, there are 16 movies present on this set, and two of them ain’t Lone Stars. West of the Divide and Randy Rides Alone (both 1934) were omitted in favor of Winds of the Wasteland (Republic, 1936) and Hell Town (Paramount, 1937). I’m not quite sure what I want here; on one hand, a complete collection of the Lone Stars would be pretty baller (and neither of the missing films are even remotely hard to find – they’re even on other Mill Creek DVD sets). But on the other hand, the two non-Lone Stars are flicks I’m always happy to see included in collections like this and do provide nice, albeit brief, changes of pace here. Maybe we could have had an 18 movie set instead? Though that may have bumped this to a three disc collection instead of two, though in that case Frontier Horizon (released in 1939 – after Wayne hit it big with Stagecoach) could have then been included, along with perhaps one other public domain western of his from the same rough time period to make it an even 20 movies. Yeah, I don’t know what I want here.

Like most DVD collections of this nature, the sound and picture quality varies from feature to feature, but they’re all watchable. I’ll point out aspects of the prints used that I feel need, uh, pointed out, but unless otherwise noted, consider these to mostly look like your common, garden variety old public domain movies. That is, there will be scratches, splices, dust, dirt, too bright, too dark, etc. etc. etc. Typical, but like I said, they’re all watchable.

(You may wonder if I, your Northeast Ohio Video Hunter, have stumbled across consistently good prints of these films. I’d say that disregarding later colorized efforts and/or releases that added newly-implemented scores to the soundtrack – so they could be more easily copyrighted I’d imagine – the best ‘traditional’ versions of these movies I ever saw were the copies AMC would occasionally run in the morning back in the late-90s/early-00s. They weren’t pristine, but they were very, very good. I wonder what happened to those prints? Were they ever officially released?)

Also, being B-Westerns, none of these were intended as high art; these are breezy (typically less than an hour) poverty row matinee outings. Don’t go in expecting Red River, okay? Taken for what they are though, these are still fun, entertaining films! Some Lone Stars are better than others, I have my own personal “Lone Star spectrum” that I’ll occasionally make reference to, but really, even the weaker ones are worth watching. They’re all so charmingly cheap, sometimes so scatterbrained, and despite featuring plenty of shootin’ and whatnot, somehow so innocent, that they’re all worth your time here. Once again, Mill Creek has knocked it out of the park, I say!

So, what say we now go through the set, movie-by-movie? As in, I’m going to watch each and every one here and provide my stupid thoughts on ’em. Hunker down gang, this is gonna be a long, loooong read. I want this to be the budget John Wayne DVD set review to end all budget John Wayne DVD set reviews!

(Oh, by the way, there’s going to be a few spoilers present. I’ll give a warning here and there, but hey, you’ve had 80+ years to watch these movies, so I darn well better be in the safety zone by now!)


DISC ONE

(There are no special features on either disc in this set; a scene selection is your only option. Besides the movies proper, I mean.)

Blue Steel (1934) – I’m going to say right up front that, for as much as I love these Lone Star outings, I hadn’t seen every film in this set beforehand, and even with some of the ones I have, well, it’s been awhile. That’s not the case with Blue Steel, however; this was the flick that introduced me to this series long, long ago, and I’ve watched it numerous times over the years. Y’all need to recognize that I know my Blue Steel; no joke, I practically know it backwards and forwards. Even though from an objective standpoint it would probably be generally considered only “pretty good,” I don’t care; it’s far and away my favorite film in this set, and my favorite Wayne B-Western period. And you can’t change that.

Wayne, Gabby, and some pretty decent print-quality.

Wayne plays Cahill John Carruthers, U.S. Marshal, who finds himself teamed up with Sheriff Jake Withers (George “Gabby” Hayes, minus the whole “Gabby” persona – that came later). Together they must save a small town that is being intentionally kept short of supplies by a nefarious would-be landowner. He wants to buy up all the property to get to the sweet, sweet gold found just below the surface (unbeknownst to the actual landowners, as you may well imagine). Also, thanks to a case of wacky mistaken identity, Withers spends the majority of the film thinking Carruthers is “The Polka Dot Bandit,” a subplot that converges with the main plot in a manner worthy of Seinfeld.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that Mill Creek got one of the better prints of Blue Steel I’ve seen. Don’t get me wrong, it ain’t pristine; I doubt Criterion winged this copy over Mill Creek’s way. Sure there’s some dust and scratches and such, BUT the picture is *relatively* clean, and with fairly good balance and depth. It’s not exactly HD, but I could actually make out some fine details that I wouldn’t have expected to. You can actually see Carruthers and the heroine riding off into the sunset (because of course) at the end.

The fairly nice picture quality comes with a caveat, however: splices. Not that there’s a ton of them, or at least not really any more than you’d typically expect for a picture of this age and nature, but they do rear their head. Indeed, Blue Steel should run around 52-54 minutes, but the print here only runs about 50. There’s one pretty big splice early in the film that cuts out Withers’ entrance into Carruther’s abode and sharing some beans with him. They just automatically appear ‘teamed up’ to take on some bandits that enter the picture (literally and figuratively) at about the same time. To a first time viewer, this would naturally be a “wait, say what?” moment.

That aside, I was pleasantly surprised by the print quality otherwise. As far as budget releases of Blue Steel go, Mill Creek has released one of the better ones I’ve come across.

The Dawn Rider (1935) – These films weren’t placed in chronological order across the two discs, and therefore what is the second feature in the set was in actuality the penultimate John Wayne Lone Star western. Not that it really matters, I guess; it’s not like there’s an ongoing arc to these films. They ain’t the Hill Street Blues of the western set. Anyway, this is one I’m almost positive I’ve never seen before.

First things first: it doesn’t hold the same “hey, that’s pretty good!” picture quality standard as the preceding film. Indeed, The Dawn Rider looks more like you’d expect a public domain movie on a budget DVD set to look: either too dark or too bright, and quite a bit blurrier than Blue Steel. There’s also some frequent jittery video artifacting throughout that, I guess, is a fault of the master tape, I guess? I don’t know, but it’s kinda distracting.

Getting held-up, early in the film.

Wayne plays John Mason, who has just come into town to visit his father (appropriately deemed “Dad Mason” throughout; was that his birth name?), who is some big muckity-muck in the freight industry. And wouldn’t you know it, Mason walks in on pops being robbed. His father is shot and killed, and Mason injured in the ensuing chase. Obviously, there’s gonna be some vengeance at play once he recovers.

Further complicating matters is a love triangle that develops between Mason, leading lady Alice and Ben, Ben being the guy to get into a drag down brawl with Mason at the start of the film, which (inexplicably?) leads to a friendship. Oh, and Alice’s brother is the guy who killed Dad Mason, so yeah, it ends up being kind of a mess. There’s a happy ending for Mason and Alice (because of course), but honestly, getting to it is a bit of a guessing game, with how much of the film plays out. That’s to the film’s credit.

This really isn’t a bad movie, but in my eyes it’s a little uneven. The revenge plot and love triangle held my attention, but it’s – ironically – an action sequence in roughly the middle of the flick that kinda stops things dead. It picks back up afterwards, and there’s what looks like it’s going to be a very cool climatic shootout in town that doesn’t end up as satisfying as it could have been, but it all still manages to work more than it doesn’t.

Some humorous bits are found in The Dawn Rider as well. The local undertaker is the comic relief, and his dismay at the start of the film (apparently the town is “too healthy” for his liking) and obvious interest when it looks like someone is about to die (never mind when someone does die) is darkly funny. And at the end, there’s a too-long laugh shared between the undertaker and local doctor that, in conjunction with the undertaker’s stilted way of laughing, is pretty funny. Seriously, it goes on just long enough that I’m not convinced it wasn’t made to be intentionally awkward – in which case The Dawn Rider could be argued as the precursor to all of the ‘awkward humor’ single-camera comedies of today. If, you know, you wanted to perform enough mental gymnastics to make it fit, that is.

Oh, and apparently this film was remade in 2012, which honestly kinda blows my mind.

The Desert Trail (1935) – Obviously I’m not watching all of these films all in one single sitting; there are exceptions now and then, but generally speaking I can’t “binge watch” any show – or in this case, movie series – for hours on end. One or two of whatever a night is usually my limit.

You know, after The Dawn Rider, I found myself genuinely looking forward to some more new-to-me cheapie oater action the next night, which needless to say was The Desert Trail. Unfortunately, I chose to watch when I wound up having very little sleep the night before. I wasn’t exactly dozing off during the movie, but my general level of exhaustion kept me from getting as much from the flick as I could, and that was something I recognized as I was watching it.

Under normal circumstances, I *hate* re-watching a movie soon after, erm, watching it. Doesn’t matter if I loved the flick or not, I don’t like to ‘repeat’ a film in short order. Some people can do that, but I can’t. (While on the subject of my movie-watching habits, I firmly believe films should be watched at night; there have been exceptions, but generally, the idea of an afternoon movie viewing just does not sound right to me, which is ironic since the subjects of this DVD set were probably seen mainly as matinee offerings.)

So, I watched The Desert Trail again a few nights later. I probably didn’t need to, I got the gist of it the first time around, and while I liked it well enough then, I came away appreciating it a bit more after watch #2.

Scott and Kansas Charlie, typically competing for the affections of a lady.

This one is a bit unique as far as these John Wayne Lone Stars go. Instead of the usual law enforcement agent/vengeful loner/ etc. etc. etc. that Wayne usually played in these, here he’s John Scott, a rodeo rider. (Wait, a rodeo rider? Is that what they’re called? Look, he’s a rodeo guy, okay? Buckin’ broncos and all that.) He and his partner “Kansas Charlie” (who’s a gambler, not a rodeo rider/guy/dude) are falsely accused of murder in one town, which is trouble that follows them to another. They also get blamed for robbing a stagecoach, and are after the man who robbed them, as well.

Plot-wise this all may not sound too out of the ordinary (though perhaps a bit convoluted), but what sets The Desert Trail apart is just how comical it is. It’s not technically a comedy, but large portions of it are played for laughs. Scott and Charlie, while buddies, are also constantly at odds, fighting with each other, competing over women, insults, that sort of thing. And it’s to the film’s credit that some of it I did find pretty funny. Early in the film, after Charlie has sworn off going after women (he proclaims himself “deaf and dumb” to them), Scott takes the opportunity to rag on him in the presence of one they both find attractive, until Charlie can’t take anymore and blows up. Funny stuff!

One other difference: Wayne, well, he kinda plays a jerk here. Oh, he’s the protagonist alright, but his jousting with Charlie does occasionally approach being mean spirited. And heck, he basically robs a guy (who, granted, was trying to rip him off), and later, actually fires at a sheriff and his posse! They don’t know any better, but they’re still, you know, the good guys! Yikes! Naturally he still gets the girl in the end, because of course.

By the way, the titles of these Lone Stars often don’t make a lot of sense. I mean, we can assume there’s some steel that is blue in, uh, Blue Steel, and I guess John Mason could be referred to as “The Dawn Rider” for some reason. Point is, though they sound cool, there’s often little in the movies to directly connect them to what they’re titled. The Desert Trail is unique in another way there; the titular desert trail is actually referenced in the movie, albeit only once and briefly at that. Still, it’s there, and that’s…something.

The Lawless Frontier (1934) – In stark contrast to the jokey Desert Trail, The Lawless Frontier is a much more serious movie, with some seriously dark undertones – and overtones.

The villainous Pandro Zanti (a half-white/half-Apache who poses as Mexican, so you decide which group the character is most insulting towards) and his gang are terrorizing the land. One of the first things we see is Zanti busting out a window and shooting a pair of homeowners in cold blood so his gang can steal their cattle. We don’t see the homeowners shot, only their cries; the scene takes places with the camera focused solely on Zanti breaking the window and firing his gun. It’s an unsettling start to the picture.

As it turns out, Zanti has killed the parents of John Tobin, naturally played by Wayne. Yep, he’s back to playing the vengeful loaner. His distraught discovery of his parents is effectively filmed; like how we saw Zanti kill them, the camera is focused entirely on Wayne and his reaction upon discovering their bodies.

(Also, notice how he’s played a character with the first name “John” in each film so far? Such things were common with B-Westerns, Ken Maynard tended to play a “Ken” after all, but it’s something that would have made including Randy Rides Alone in this set a small-but-nice change of pace.)

Tobin’s pursuit of Zanti crosses paths with Dusty (Gabby’s back!) and his daughter Ruby, who are being pursued by Zanti. Zanti wants to kill Dusty for his cattle or land or something like that, but for a film of this nature, the more shocking aspect is that he wants to kidnap Ruby to be his new “romance.” It doesn’t take too many mental jumps to figure out what that means, and wow is that dark for a B-Western.

Tobin doggedly pursuing Zanti across the desert terrain.

This is a very good movie. Some of the usual Lone Star elements are here, such as Wayne’s character being mistaken for one of the baddies (by the town’s incompetent sheriff, who takes unearned credit for the capture of Zanti and then all but lets him go), but the overwhelmingly serious nature of the film really makes it stand out. Zanti is a vicious, brutal outlaw in a way that most bad guys in these cheapie oaters aren’t. He’s an unlikable dude, that’s for sure. You always want the good guys to win in these flicks, but here, you’re also really, really wanting to see Zanti get his comeuppance.

(Here comes a big spoiler where Zanti’s comeuppance is concerned: he doesn’t go down in a hail of bullets or John Wayne opening up a righteous can on him, but rather by accidentally drinking poisoned water! It’s…unexpected, that’s for sure. The scene leading up to his demise is a very cool panning long shot of Tobin doggedly pursuing the dazed Zanti across the desert. Along with the aforementioned scenes of Zanti killing Tobin’s parents and Tobin’s discovery of such, this is probably about as artsy as these Lone Stars get. Also, the film concludes with a rather abrupt ending: it’s revealed that John has married the heroine, because of course, and is now the new sheriff – thankfully. The old one was a dunce.)

Watch for the scene where Dusty gets a knife in the back, appears totally dead, and then shows up later claiming it was only a scratch! Ah, poverty row logic!

The Lucky Texan (1934) – Here’s my personal story regarding The Lucky Texan: waaaay back in the day, 1998 or so, after I had first discovered and become enamored of these Lone Stars via Blue Steel on WAOH TV-29, Best Buy’s $2.99 VHS section was also a big part of my movie-goin’ life. As luck would have it, they had a copy of Blue Steel, and it became mine. Oh how happy I was to have it for my very own! During that same trip, as we traipsed through Target next door, I looked at the newer, big budget ‘real’ John Wayne movies on their VHS shelf, thinking to myself “why have that when you could have Blue Steel?” Hey, I was like 12. I was one proud papa!

So I get home, immediately and happily watch Blue Steel, and then suffered extreme  heartbreak – the tape wouldn’t eject! This wasn’t a fault of the VCR – I hadn’t run that into the ground just yet – there was something wrong with the tape itself. Eventually it was removed without harm to the deck, but needless to say the tape had to be returned as defective to the store. It’s not like I could, or would, watch it again! Too much risk, man!

Anyway, I can’t remember if it’s what I got in return in that instance or if I found it there later, but eventually The Lucky Texan, via that same $2.99 VHS section, was my Lone Star consolation prize. This one played and ejected just fine, but still, it wasn’t Blue Steel. Either that tape was sold long ago or it’s seriously buried somewhere in my parent’s basement, but either way, I’ll always remember the movie for being Blue Steel‘s also-ran. In my eyes back then, I mean; this viewing here was my first since back in about 1998. (Some 21 years ago as of this writing!)

I spoke too soon about that Randy Rides Alone thing last entry; here Wayne plays Jerry Mason (any relation to The Dawn Rider‘s John Mason???) who along with old family friend Jake Benson (Gabby!) finds a rich vein of gold in a riverbed. Their frequent big money hauls attract the greed of the local (and quite shady) assayers, who trick Jake into signing over the deed to his ranch and set out to find this gold deposit to net the big big profits for themselves.

Skiing (?) down an aqueduct (?)

I remembered very, very little of this film beforehand, though certain scenes did reemerge in my memory as I watched. Jake’s big ol’ mustache, Jerry digging grime out of a horse’s shoe (this leads to the discovery of gold), Jerry skiing down an aqueduct (I guess that’s what it is) and Jake masquerading in drag to fool the assayers during Jerry’s wrongfully-accused-of-murder trial, all jogged my faded memories.

There’s a sequence in the body of the film in which Jake is accused of killing the local banker (who turns out to be alive) and Jerry apprehending the real culprit, who turns out to be the sheriff’s loser son. It feels like filler, and really, the film would have flowed just fine (albeit shorter) without it. Its main purpose seems to be adding some suspense for Jerry to get Jake out of prison without Jake’s just-arrived-in-town granddaughter finding out.

That bit aside, it’s a decently-paced flick. It held my attention, it wasn’t bad, but it probably falls more in the middle of the Lone Star spectrum, though that’s not to say it isn’t entertaining; it is. It’s nice seeing Wayne play a slightly different character from what we’ve been seeing – excepting The Desert Trail. He still gets the girl in the end though, because of course. (Thus far we haven’t seen a flick here in which Wayne’s character isn’t at least engaged to the leading lady by the film’s conclusion, and I’m going to keep making that “because of course” quasi-gag until we do. There’s a strong possibility I’ll be saying it for each and every entry.)

While watching, I did remember something that didn’t sit well with me then, and actually still doesn’t sit well with me today: the appearance of power lines and and an actual automobile near the end points to this being a more ‘modern day’ western, if not set in 1934 then at least somewhere in the earlier years of the 1900s. I always preferred my westerns to be in the old west, somewhere in the 1800s. Just feels more authentic and westerny to me, and that feeling goes back to when I was around 12 years old and discovering all this stuff for the first time. Arbitrary? Well sure it is!

By the way, the title implies this is set in Texas, but boy, there’s an announcement during a courtroom scene that sure sounded to me like “Omaha County.” Maybe I heard wrong (entirely possible), or maybe the title was added later without regard to the movie proper. It’s not like B-Westerns weren’t thrown out to the public quickly.

Anyway, The Lucky Texan is certainly no Blue Steel, but methinks I just didn’t appreciate it enough on its own merits back in the late-90s. A solid, watchable Lone Star outing. (Strangely, the opening “Lone Star” card is omitted here, instead starting directly with the title.)

The Man From Utah (1934) – Okay, the first thing you’ll notice with this one is that the title credits music has been very obviously replaced with something of a more-recent vintage. A ‘bigger’, more-dramatic theme that clearly wouldn’t fit with a movie this old. Say what?! A background score has also clearly been added throughout as well. The later colorized versions of these movies from the 1990s (more info on those in the next entry) replaced the credits music and added a score (these movies don’t normally feature any kind of music beyond the opening and closing titles, as was typical of B-Westerns in the early/mid-1930s), so was this the colorized version reverted back to black & white? And if so, WHY? It’s not even remotely hard to locate the original cuts of these movies, so yeah, I’m puzzled with the alterations here, especially since none of the other movies in the set feature these additions.

Wayne with a guitar that he really shouldn’t have.

The surprises don’t end once the movie starts proper, either. As soon as the story starts, we’re treated to John Wayne riding along – and singing! That’s right, he plays a singin’ cowboy in this one! Okay, so it’s just one song at the beginning, and his voice is very obviously dubbed by someone else, but nevertheless, putting John Wayne in the same arena as Gene Autry or Roy Rogers is highly eyebrow-raising.

Here, Wayne plays John Weston (I like to imagine him as the great-great-grandfather of Dr. Harry Weston), who rides into town, is almost immediately deputized, and is put in charge of figuring out if a big-time rodeo is being fixed by the people running it. To do this, he goes undercover by entering said rodeo, besting every event, and naturally running afoul of the gang behind the whole thing. (Apparently the bad guys have injured or killed outsiders who’ve done too well in the past.)

The added background music really takes me out of things with this flick; not that it’s bad, it’s not, but it just doesn’t fit. It sounds too new, and lays ‘on top’ of the film rather than being part of it. (The composer does get a credit at the very end though, which is nice.) Besides that, while I found the rodeo scenes fairly interminable (they were probably fine for the kiddies back in 1934, but for me they just drag things to a halt), the rest of the movie isn’t bad. I found the plot fairly engaging, though like the last movie, it’s probably more of a middle-of-the-road Lone Star entry than a top-tier feature.

Something I found odd: at the very end, right before it’s revealed they’ve become engaged (because of course), the leading lady forgives Weston for going off with another woman, who unbeknownst to her was part of the gang Weston was investigating (which was also unbeknownst to her). Didn’t they put the cart before the horse a bit there? I mean, wouldn’t they have solved this issue before pledging to spend their lives together? From what I know of women (which admittedly isn’t much, given my constant inability to relate to them), spending time with another girl would probably be an obstacle needing cleared before getting engaged. But hey, I’m no expert in these matters, so what do I know?

Unlike most of our other movies seen so far, there are several references to Weston as “the man from Utah,” so that was a factor of the film deemed important enough to be shared with the title of the movie. (Or maybe vice-versa.)

The Man From Utah got a pretty clean print. There’s expected dust and scratches present, but by and large it’s a fairly clear picture, albeit one that’s not as sharp as you’d hope. Also, some odd video ‘interference’ is seen throughout, though not enough to be distracting, and certainly not to the extent of The Dawn Rider‘s picture issues. Overall it looks pretty nice. I just wish I didn’t find that newly-implemented musical score so distracting.

(By the way, the copy of this DVD set I’m reviewing was still sealed new when I got it, but I found it at a thrift store, and judging by the amount of dirt/dust on the shrinkwrap, I’m guessing someone got it closer to 2010 than not, and obviously just never did anything with it. As such, I’m not ruling out the possibility that some of the video issues seen in this movie or The Dawn Rider weren’t fixed in subsequent pressings of the set. But, I can only review what’s in front me.)

The Star Packer (1934) – This is one I had the colorized VHS edition of looong ago. Still have it actually, though I haven’t watched it, or this movie in any form, in probably 20 years. The Star Packer was my second colorized Wayne Lone Star; the first was The Trail Beyond (which we’ll be seeing next, as the last movie on disc one), and naturally both came from Best Buy’s $2.99 VHS section.

The colorized VHS editions of these movies (not to be confused with the new colorized DVD editions) were neat, but even back then kinda head-scratching. I mean, did these movies really warrant the expense of colorization? Not to mention the newly-added musical scores? From how I understand it, these full movie releases were taken from a syndicated TV series that used edited versions of them to make up the installments, but don’t quote me on that. Anyway, VidAmerica first released these on VHS in the early-90s, and UAV re-released them in the late-90s. For me, The Star Packer was the former while The Trail Beyond was the latter, not that it really matters, since I *believe* the content was the same regardless.

That was pretty much my only personal recollections of The Star Packer; I couldn’t remember anything specific about the movie itself, so I essentially went into this one ‘fresh’. Though like The Lucky Texan, certain scenes jogged my memory when I saw them.

Wayne plays Cahill John Travers, U.S. Marshal, who is after the murderin’ scoundrels responsible for, uh, thievery and the like (you know how it is). He becomes the sheriff of a town where this gang of hoodlums happens to be headquartered. They’re led by a mysterious head honcho known only as “The Shadow,” who speaks through a fake wall safe.

Getting instructions from “The Shadow.”

I’m going to be honest with you; I don’t have a whole lot to say about this one. The movie tries to add a novel twist by adding mystery elements regarding the identity of The Shadow, but it’s so painfully obvious who it is early on that it doesn’t really count. He turns out to be – (spoiler!) – local rancher Matt Matlock (besides his slightly redundant name, I like to imagine him as the great-great-grandfather of…oh you know who I mean). Well, someone who has assumed his identity, anyway.

The usage of the name “Matlock” is delightful, and it along with Travers’ faithful Indian companion Yak (played by stuntman extraordinaire Yakima Canutt, who we’ve been seeing all throughout these Lone Stars), who is fairly insensitively portrayed but at least he’s a good guy, well, there’s not a whole lot else that really stands out about this one. The whole “Shadow” aspect is a real missed opportunity for a stronger mystery element to the movie, or possibly even a (light) horror element.

Not really a bad movie, but fairly run-of-the-mill as far as the Lone Stars go; a real programmer, even for a series that was, by definition, made up entirely of programmers. Though, Gabby Hayes playing a villain and the conclusion featuring Travers married to the leading lady (because of course) but several years after the events of the movie proper (by then they’ve got a kid that’s old enough to walk and talk), that’s all kinda unique…I guess.

The Trail Beyond (1934) – Like I said last entry, this was my introduction to the world of the colorized Lone Stars. I still remember the night I found it: it was the summer of ’99, and the next day my brother and I were off with my dad and his friend to the Brickyard 400 in Indy. The race was on Saturday, August 7, and we got there the day before, so the night The Trail Beyond in blazing color came into my life had to be Thursday, August 5, 1999. It was a banner night at Best Buy’s $2.99 VHS racks, netting me not only this but the restored-to-original-color Zorro opus The Bold Caballero, and not one but two (single episode each) VHS releases of the black & white Dragnet. Having only heard of the 1950s iteration beforehand but being a rabid fan of the 1960s revival that was then-running on TV Land, the Dragnet tapes were the big finds of the night, but it was pretty cool winnins all-around.

Like The Star Packer and The Lucky Texan, I remembered little of this flick beforehand, though a bit more than the those. Probably because the novelty of having a colorized Lone Star was so great at the time, more of it stuck with me.

In what seems like the first time in ages on this “Lone Star Journey” (as dictated by the line-up of this DVD set, I mean), George “Gabby” Hayes is not in this one…but two Noah Beerys are! That’s right, Noah Beery Sr. and Jr. are both in this one! Neato!

The surprises don’t end there, either. While the plot isn’t too out of the ordinary, the setting certainly is; The Trail Beyond primarily takes place in Northwestern Canada! Oh sure, there’s plenty of gunfightin’ and horses and such, but just the presence of a different backdrop alone really helps set this one apart.

Wayne and Beery Jr., extricating a map from a skeleton’s hand (!)

Wayne plays John Rod Drew, who is enlisted by an old family friend to find out what happened to his estranged brother and never-met niece. (The friend’s brother and niece, I mean.) So, off to Canada Ron goes! Along the way, he runs into old college chum Wabi (Beery Jr., and yes, that’s really the name of his character), who is almost instantly blamed for a murder. Rod helps him escape, though luckily they’re in the general vicinity of where Rod needs to be anyway. Thanks to poverty row logic, almost as quickly as Wabi was blamed for murder, they discover what happened to the brother (and his mining partner): their bone-dry skeletons are found in a cabin, along with a map to a gold mine. That part of his mission near-instantaneously complete, it’s off to find the niece.

As you may well imagine, the revelation of the mine map draws the attention of the local hoodlums (one of whom is Lone Star regular Earl Dwire, though he adopts an exaggerated French-Canadian accent for this role), and don’t forget, that murder rap is still hanging over Wabi’s head.

Even without the scenic locales it’s a pretty captivating plot, as far as these B-Westerns go. I really liked this one, far more than I did back in the day. Some of the dialogue is pretty eye-rolling; the family friend positing that it’s likely his niece is named Marie since that was her mother’s name is a real “huh?” statement, though it provides for a red-herring moment later that, truth be told, doesn’t really go anywhere.

Just one of the scenic backdrops in this movie.

Of course, the pine trees, cabins and rivers (and Mounties; this movie’s got Mounties!) of what was supposed to be Canada are what help things stand out even more. The scenery is beautiful! Indeed, while the print here isn’t bad, mostly good-not-great, this is a movie that would really benefit from a crystal clear transfer. As I recall it, my old colorized version featured a pretty nice base print…

And that brings us to the end of disc one. By and large, it’s a fun line-up. I’d say the first half is stronger than the second, which dips a bit before finishing strong with the excellent Trail Beyond, but there’s no true dud movie in the bunch. Considering this is a budget DVD set and thus probably not commanding much dough wherever you may find it, disc one is worth the price of admission alone, but disc two is certainly no afterthought; there’s more neat stuff just ahead!


DISC TWO

Hell Town (1937) – The second disc kicks off with a real gear shift from we’ve seen so far! Originally released by Paramount as Born to the West, Hell Town, while still decidedly a B-Western, has something resembling an actual budget. In stark contrast to the Lone Stars, which are fun but can be a kinda creaky, Hell Town just looks and feels so much more professional. There’s even background music throughout, which makes a huge difference.

Dare and Dink, after some bar-brawlin’.

Wayne is Dare Rudd (yes, really), who along with his lightning rod salesman buddy Dink (yes, really) wander into Wyoming and wind up working for Rudd’s cousin Tom (Johnny Mack Brown!)…but not before running afoul of some cattle rustlers. Rudd already doesn’t have a great standing with his cousin, further exacerbated by his brawling and generally wild ways. Rudd also falls for Tom’s maybe-fiancee Judy – an attraction that is evident to Tom but weirdly never seems to concern him as much as you might think. (Judy is played by Marsha Hunt, who as of this writing is still with us – how neat is that?!)

Rudd is eventually promoted to heading a cattle drive for Tom (think of a proto-Rawhide, minus Clint Eastwood, cause, you know, he was only like seven years old at the time of this film), lands in a crooked poker game, and gets in a big ol’ shoot out. Eventually it all works out for the better, because you don’t expect a nihilistic ending in a B-Western. Rudd winds up with Judy (because of course…and basically at the behest of Tom, so you know it ain’t exactly a flick grounded in realism) and Dink continues to babble about lightning rods.

This is a goooood movie! Not that I haven’t been enjoying the Lone Stars but the higher budget and better script here, needless to say, make a big, big difference. And what’s more, whether it’s due to the script or simply because a few more years of experience had elapsed, but Wayne exudes an easygoing charm and style that makes him seem more like the ‘real’ John Wayne people tend to think of, instead of the generic B-Western John Wayne we’ve been seeing and are about to see more of.

This, my friends, is a very entertaining B-Western, real fun matinee stuff; I like it a lot!

‘Neath Arizona Skies (1934) – Back to the Lone Stars. I taped this one a zillion years ago but I’m pretty sure I never actually watched it, so I’m basically going in fresh here.

The good guy, the bad guy, and the leading lady – who happens to be the sister of the bad guy, who switched clothing with the unconscious good guy prior, unbeknownst to the leading lady but known to the good guy. (Got all that?)

Wayne plays Chris Morrell, who is in charge of a little half-Indian girl that stands to inherit some big oil money – provided he can find her father, or provide proof that her father is dead. Needless to say, this attracts the attention of local hooligans, who want to find the father or kidnap the girl or both so they can steal them big big bucks. Complicating matters is a hold-up in which the robber switches clothes with an unconscious Morrell – and who happens to be the brother of Morrell’s destined-to-be love interest. The little girl’s father is eventually found, and relatively easily, and naturally he runs headfirst into this mess, as well. Look, the way this stuff all intersects isn’t very realistic, but hey, Seinfeld got away with that sort of thing all the time, right?

(Also, I assume this all takes place, say it with me, beneath Arizona skies.)

Oddly enough, despite being in the film and having a fairly visible role, Gabby is uncredited in the, erm, credits. I hope he still got paid! Naturally, Wayne gets the leading lady in the end (because of course), but for once there’s no mention of automatic engagement or marriage, so there’s that. (Hell Town had no mention of marriage either, but that wasn’t a Lone Star so my babbling doesn’t apply there.)

Coming off such a big change of pace, and with an annoying little kid in the cast, I wasn’t expecting to like this one very much. To my surprise though, I found this one pretty entertaining. It’s not a great movie, but it’s not bad either. But boy, coming off Hell Town, the poverty row-ness of ‘Neath Arizona Skies really stands out more than it probably would have otherwise. Much more stilted, much creakier.

(Also, while not as frequent as The Dawn Rider way back early on disc one, there are some moments of heavy compression/artifacting/pixelated break-up in this one.)

Paradise Canyon (1935) – Like I said before, these Lone Stars aren’t in order of release on this set; we haven’t even seen Wayne’s first Lone Star entry yet. But here, we have the last Lone Star picture Wayne made. Were all the stops pulled out for one last grand shoot-’em-up at Monogram, or did the series unceremoniously peter out like a spent river bed in some dry dusty gulch somewhere?

Unfortunately, it was the latter. I found Paradise Canyon, while not terrible, to certainly be on the lower end of the Lone Star spectrum.

Wayne is government agent John Wyatt (just once I’d like his last name to be “Hiatt” in one of these, simply because it would amuse me) who is sent to stop whoever is passing counterfeit money. Wyatt follows and later joins a traveling medicine show he suspects of the crime, only to run smack dab into the real counterfeiters.

You know, this one initially looked like it was going to be a manhunt-type film, with Wyatt following the medicine show from town to town, progressively closing in on his target. Even when the typical Lone Star three cent budget is factored in, that plot, to me, shows some promise.

Trick-shootin’ with a mirror.

That’s not what we got though. In short order, Wyatt finds Doc Carter’s medicine show, helps them escape the local law (he’s a government agent, I guess he can get away with that?), and then joins the show under an assumed name. Did you ever want to see a long, interminable demonstration of the medicine show’s entertainment? If so, you’ve come to the right place! Complete with trick-shootin’, terrible songs and pitching of Doc Carter’s supposedly-Indian-concocted medicine (whatever it is, it’s 90% alcohol), in short order you’ll be tempted to shout at the top of your lungs “hey, this is total filler!” And you’d be right!

Much about this one, to the plot to the dialogue to even the sound effects, filled me with, if not disgust than at least a vague forming of disgust somewhere in the back of my psyche. Or something like that. It kinda annoyed me, okay? I’m not totally sure why either, since one thing I love about B-Westerns is their reliable predictability, but there’s not much that worked for me with this one. And to top it off, the medicine show used a real drivin’ truck to get around; if necessary, go back and read my Lucky Texan take to see how I feel about that. Also, despite the title, I’m not sure if any of this takes place in an actual canyon. But then, admittedly there were points where my attention was slipping and I just didn’t care, so maybe?

The conclusion has Wyatt and the leading lady waiting for the Justice of the Peace to wed them (because of course), only for the film to reveal that he and Doc Carter are off getting drunk on the ‘medicine’ somewhere. What a way for Wayne’s Lone Stars to go out!

I wonder if Wayne and/or Monogram knew this would be it for his Lone Star series? Yes or no, it wasn’t a great way to end things. (By the way, there’s an odd solid border around the screen for the opening credits, which disappears when the movie proper begins. Why?!?!)

Rainbow Valley (1935) – I’ve been looking forward to this one. Y’see, back in the day, some time after that initial Blue Steel caused my VCR to explode and The Lucky Texan became the consolation prize, I found a four-VHS John Wayne box set at Best Buy. It wasn’t a $2.99’er, but it finally gave me a copy of Blue Steel I could hold onto, along with Randy Rides Alone, The Lawless Frontier and this film, Rainbow Valley. Rainbow Valley never overtook Blue Steel in my eyes, but became one of my go-to Lone Stars back then nevertheless.

Every single print of Rainbow Valley I’ve seen has shared the exact same maladies, namely that the quality is pretty wasted and scratchy, as if there was only one extant copy out there and everyone keeps passing it around. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but my curiosity was peaked as to whether the trend continued with this Mill Creek set or not.

In short, it did. Unfortunately, it’s not a unique print of Rainbow Valley here, and by this point I’m not convinced there is another print of the flick out there. Prove me wrong? And oddly enough, something I noticed on this viewing: you can often hear shouting/talking/action in the background of the soundtrack, and it doesn’t correlate to what’s happening on screen. A mistake with the existing print, or was Monogram filming something else nearby which Rainbow Valley got some residual audio evidence of? I wouldn’t be surprised in either instance, honestly.

Wayne and Gabby, sitting in “Nugget Nell” the automobile.

John Martin (Wayne, duh) is an undercover government agent (again), sent to protect the residents of the titular location from the local gang, who are, as you’d expect, terrorizing the populace. They want to drive people out and buy the land up cheap, again, as you’d expect. Martin must put a stop to this. Along the way you’ll get the usual misunderstandings as to who Martin really is, and a leading lady who hates him until she doesn’t. (Because of course.) Oh, and Gabby; Gabby’s in this one too.

Not gonna lie, all I really remembered about Rainbow Valley, besides the trashed quality of the print, was that dynamite played a big role, and I remembered correctly; at one point Gabby drives around in his rickety automobile (grrrrr…) and lobs sticks of dynamite at bad guys, which sounds like it’d make for a cool mission in an original Xbox game, truth be told.

Rainbow Valley is…alright. Re-watching it with a more objective eye nowadays, I wanted to like it more than I did, but, it’s strictly mediocre. I found it to be a better movie than Paradise Canyon (I compare both because that’s the movie immediately preceding this on the set and because both titles share similar a motif, which I only now just realized), and I like the general idea of the film, but in practice it’s pretty by-the-numbers. And yet, I’d still be interested in seeing a cleaned up, or at least better, print of the film.

The unique billing of Wayne as “Singin’ Sandy” on the title card.

Riders of Destiny (1933) – This was actually the very first Lone Star picture Wayne did, and it differs from later productions in a few ways. In contrast to later programmers for the studio, Wayne is specifically billed as “Singin’ Sandy” on the title screen; this is the only time his character is given such a shout-out. I assume Lone Star/Monogram was attempting to create a film series around this character, something which obviously never happened.

Wayne is indeed “Singin’ Sandy” Saunders, and as the feature opens, he lives up to his namesake, riding along and singing a cowboy tune – one of the very first singing cowboys of the movies! It’s an achievement not typically credited to Wayne, and for good reason; we saw him sing in The Man From Utah earlier on this set, and like that film, his singing voice is very obviously dubbed here by someone who sounds absolutely nothing like Wayne.

Anyway, the opening song here isn’t the usual paean to love or lonesome cowpoke lament; no no, this song is all about brutality. No kidding, Saunders sings a tune about total bloodshed. Seriously, it’s all about gunning his enemies down; only a pre-Hays Code flick could get away with something like that in what was probably considered mainly kids fare. It’s a really dark “say what?!” moment, and it’s even repeated later in the film, like a vocal calling card. Yikes!

Saunders is a gunman with a Billy the Kid-like reputation, though in actuality he’s a government agent sent to rid a local town of bad guy Kincaid, who is using both a near-total control of the water supply and the usual strong arm tactics to drive the other ranchers out and buy their land up for cheap. This, needless to say, won’t do, and so it’s up to Saunders to help the townspeople out of this mess.

The plot may not sound all that unusual, but it’s handled pretty well here; Riders of Destiny seems to generally be considered the best of Wayne’s Lone Stars, and while it may not *technically* be my favorite, I think I have to agree with that. As these things go, it’s excellent. After watching the last two movies for this review, I was wondering if I was simply burning out on these flicks, but the more I watched Riders of Destiny, the more I found my attention focused on it. This is a good, good poverty row oater!

Shootout in the street…

Although there’s the usual temporary case of mistaken identity and stabs at comic relief found (they’d be no stranger to later Lone Star entries), what really sets Riders of Destiny apart is how surprisingly dark (as in tone, not lighting) it can be at times. Sandy’s aforementioned song, of course, but later in the film there’s a scene where he lassos two inept baddies together and drags them along the ground behind his horse! Even more shocking, Riders displays the typical shootout in the middle of town at one point, but rather than just having Sandy blow the guy away, he instead quick draws and shoots him twice, then declares that the guy will never handle guns again. There’s then a quick close-up of the baddie with blood trickling down both his hands; Sandy put holes through his wrists! It’s not particularly graphic in this day and age, but for a B-Western it’s shockingly brutal, and almost unthinkable in later Lone Stars, never mind later 1930s poverty row westerns in general.

Even the conclusion of the film, in which Sandy kisses the heroine and promises to be back in time for dinner before riding off, is a little different. It’s a happy ending, but with, to me, a vague, bordering-on-bittersweet undertone. I’m not even giving this a “because of course” declaration this time around, because the romance, while not much (if any) of a focus during the film proper, at least doesn’t conclude with a random engagement and/or marriage.

For as much as I love Blue Steel, objectively I have to admit Riders of Destiny is the premier (as in best) Lone Star flick. Kinda funny that it was also the premiere (as in first) Lone Star flick, though that’s not to say later entries were all wastes. As we’ve seen throughout this review, there were a few dips, but by and large these are still movies worth watching!

Sagebrush Trail (1933) – In a nice bit of continuity with the preceding movie, this was the second Wayne Lone Star. Methinks this was a coincidence; I was trying to figure out if there was any rhyme-or-reason to Mill Creek’s placement of these movies on this set, and then I realized that, per disc, the movies are in alphabetical order.

Like Riders of Destiny, this is an excellent film. Just as good? Maybe, maybe not; I can’t decide. It’s close. It’s certainly a less brutal movie, and Wayne doesn’t fake sing in it, so there’s that. But like Riders, Sagebrush Trail plays out a little differently from how most of these Lone Stars went, or eventually went. And, even though there’s a scene early in the film that places the events in a then-more-modern setting, that doesn’t even really bother me this time around, because I enjoyed the rest of the movie so much.

Wayne is John Brant, and as the film opens, he’s an escaped convict. Seems he was put away for murder, and since we know how these B-Westerns generally go, it can reasonably be assumed that he didn’t do it. We don’t know that right away though, not for sure, and it’s a nice change of pace to have Wayne playing someone who isn’t a sheriff/marshal/government agent – he’s just some guy, running for his life, trying to find who committed the murder he’s been blamed for.

Utilizing the “world is only populated by a couple dozen people” economy that these poverty row oaters, or at least Lone Stars, practically turned into an art form, Brant stumbles upon a gang of thieves and befriends the real killer – unbeknownst to him at first, or course. It seems like the kind of place he should be searching anyway, so he joins up with them, both to find the real baddie and to thwart whatever crimes they hatch.

Broken eggs and Sally, the former being an object of comedy and the latter being the object of Brant and Conlon’s affections.

Lane Chandler plays Joseph Conlon, the man Brant becomes buddies with. The rapport between the two is evident; during a scene in which they goof on each other in a general store, I caught me genuinely smiling to myself! And even though Chandler is technically a bad guy (he was in the store to scope it for a robbery later that night, after all), he never really seems totally bad. He likes Brant, and even towards the end of the film when he finally becomes convinced Brant is a good guy and sets him up for an ambush by the other gang members, there still seems like something redeemable in him. There’s a likability in Chandler’s Conlon that I wouldn’t have expected beforehand!

Naturally (spoiler!) Conlon gets plugged and spills the beans to the law before expiring, thus exonerating Brant once and for all. Then, with Conlon’s body only feet away and still warm, Brant kisses leading lady Sally (because of course), the object of both Brant and Conlon’s affections. It’s kind of an awkward, inappropriate way to end the film, honestly. That aside though, Sagebrush Trail is a terrific movie as far as these Lone Stars go; attention-grabbing and generally fun, it’s among the upper-echelon of these flicks in my opinion.

(I was also pleased to see that Sagebrush Trail got a pretty decent print here. The quality of the preceding films on this disc have varied but mostly stayed in a standard, expected PD movie camp. Sagebrush Trail, however, while not exactly Criterion-quality, is relatively sharp and balanced. I’d say it falls safely within the realm of “good,” as opposed to the usual “well, it’s watchable.”)

Texas Terror (1935) -We’re nearly done with this journey through Mill Creek’s set. The penultimate movie on it is also the last Lone Star we’ll see; the final movie is a Republic offering. If you remember 600 years ago during my intro to this article, you’ll recall my link to my VHS review of this movie. Here, have it again.

I wasn’t real big on the flick following that viewing, and the print used was pretty wasted, which didn’t help matters. But because I’m firmly in “Lone Star” mode right now, Texas Terror can (probably) only go up in my opinion.

And the print? Luckily, Mill Creek does have a different and better print of the movie here.  Like Sagebrush Trail before it, Texas Terror looks surprisingly nice! Granted, it would be hard to look worse than that old VHS copy I reviewed. But while I’m not claiming Texas Terror to look pristine on this set, it sure looks better than I expected it to. It’s relatively good, at least on the higher end of the public domain Lone Star spectrum. It has its issues, no doubt (there’s an annoying ‘pop’ on the soundtrack whenever a scene/camera angle changes, for example), but nevertheless, Texas Terror doesn’t look too bad here. (Something I didn’t notice or don’t recall noticing last time, during an early scene with Wayne’s character and his friend sitting in an office: look close, there are flies noticeably buzzing about, landing on their hats, etc.)

Higgins, thinking he’s accidentally killed his friend Dan.

The plot: John Wayne is John Higgins, and not the one that was always yelling at Magnum, either. No no, this one’s a sheriff, ostensibly in Texas, and apparently a pretty good one – until he believes he’s accidentally killed his friend and father-figure Dan. This causes Higgins to leave the job and became a loner, friend only to Indians. Of course, he didn’t really kill Dan, and after a year-long (!) sabbatical, he returns to town to help Dan’s just-returned daughter Bess run the family ranch as well as find out the whole truth behind Dan’s death. Bess winds up loving Higgins until she doesn’t until she does again, because of course.

Did my opinion of Texas Terror go up this viewing? Well…not really. I want to like the plot so much more than I do; there’s the germ of a decent idea there and the usage of Native Americans as dependable and heroic characters is a plus (even if their dialog is rendered a somewhat offensively), but man, after an okay start, the film devolves into typical Lone Star  fare. A long dance and cow milking contest (!) sequence provides a few moments to further the plot but is really more filler than anything, for example. Even the grand climax with the Indians coming to Higgins’ aid, I found my mind wandering. After that decent opening, the movie is either by-the-numbers or outright dumb. Oh, and there’s another then-somewhat-modern automobile present, which doesn’t help matters in the eyes of yours truly.

Texas Terror is strictly mediocre, probably middle-of-the-road as far as B-Westerns in general go, but probably in the lower-tier as far as these Lone Stars specifically go.

Winds of the Wasteland (1936) – And so we come to the last movie on Mill Creek’s 16-movie “The Duke” set. Like the flick that kicked off this second disc, this isn’t a Lone Star film, but rather one of Wayne’s other pre-Stagecoach B-Westerns that also subsequently fell in to the public domain. Released by Republic less than a year after the final Lone Star, the differences are, like Hell Town, pretty striking. Mainly as far as the budget goes; I have no idea what any of these films cost, I’m assuming Winds of the Wasteland was substantially higher than any of the Lone Stars, but less than Hell Town. Don’t quote me on any of that though.

At any rate, like Hell Town, Winds of the Wasteland has something resembling a budget. Decently filmed action sequences, a good plot and an actual background score, Winds looks less like an uber-poverty row oater and more like a, uh, run-of-the-mill B oater. Or something like that.

Like Sagebrush Trail, Wayne is teamed with Lane Chandler as his buddy. There’s no hidden agendas or secret identities between them this time around though, and oddly enough, I didn’t see the same chemistry here. Maybe they needed that ‘torn between two worlds’ thing? Oh well, it’s nice to see them partnered up again anyway.

Wayne is John Blair, who along with his friend Larry Adams (Chandler) decide to go into the stagecoach business together. Instead of buying fresh though, they wind up purchasing a coach and line for “Crescent City” from the unscrupulous Cal Drake; you can pretty much tell he’s unscrupulous from the get-go, but Blair and Adams evidently can’t, because they buy into it all sight unseen. Naturally they’ve been ripped off; there is indeed a stagecoach and city, but the coach is rickety (and home to a skunk), and the city is almost entirely uninhabited.

The climatic stagecoach race.

Using ingenuity (and a little B-Western luck), they start turning the stage into a success, progressively drawing more people into the city and, naturally, attracting the ire of Drake – who they still owe some installments on the deal to. It all culminates in a stagecoach race between Blair and crooked Drake for a $25,000 mail subsidy, which is of course the final push Crescent City needs to put things over the top. Also, the daughter of Crescent City’s doctor hates Blair until she doesn’t, because (for the last time) of course.

The final action sequence goes on a bit too long for my tastes (I found my mind wandering more than it should have, though the matinee kiddies of 1936 probably loved the whole thing), but for the most part, Winds of the Wasteland is a pretty good flick. I didn’t enjoy it as much as Hell Town or some of the higher-ranked Lone Stars on this set, but it’s a very solid Republic offering. (It’s interesting to note that Wayne displays a bit more “John Wayne-ness” here than he did with the Lone Stars, but not as much as he did with Hell Town, where he came off much more like the John Wayne people think of when they think “Duke.” Experience or scripting or both? You decide!)

(Oh, and that border around the screen during the opening credits of Paradise Canyon? It’s back for this one.)


So there you have it, Mill Creek’s big ol’ 16-movie John Wayne DVD set, “The Duke.” No, as far as his public domain works go, it’s not the most comprehensive set out there. Even Mill Creek themselves have released 20+ collections that not only include all 16 Lone Stars but a bunch of his other PD stuff as well. But like I said at the start of this review, I like the quick, all killer no filler approach of this set. I just don’t want to wade through a John Wayne serial, His Private Secretary or a documentary on The Duke! Sure, I could always just skip those entries, but there’s something to be said for a no-nonsense, concise two disc approach to these things, and that’s what attracted me to this collection in the first place.

Would I have preferred that this set stuck to all 16 Lone Stars, preferably in order of release, and left things at that? Well, yes, I think so. But, Hell Town and Winds of the Wasteland are such enjoyable B-Westerns, and they do provide a nice change of pace, that I can’t really complain too much.

And you know what? Even though some of the Lone Stars dip in quality or fall into the trap of ‘sameness’, the fact of the matter is that I genuinely enjoyed going through this collection, film by film. Like I said before, B-Westerns weren’t/aren’t high art, nor were they intended to be. This is real matinee stuff; fast, simple and easy to digest. By and large this is a very good collection in demonstrating that, with even the weaker films being worth a view.

Mill Creek’s “The Duke” DVD set gets my enthusiastic recommendation, and as we all know, my recommendation is of tantamount importance. Pick it up and let the pre-stardom waves of a young John Wayne take you on a trip to depression-era filmdom!

(Boy, that last line borders on being outright stupid, but this review is now over 11,000 words; I’m spent, man!)

Meeting Marty “Superhost” Sullivan (November 2, 2019)

Yours truly with Marty “Superhost” Sullivan! (11/2/19)

I had exchanged emails with him. I had spoken with him on the phone. But I had never met him. And this past weekend, the dream was realized. This won’t be a long update, but I would be remiss in whatever it is that I do if I didn’t commemorate this event in some way.

I’m speaking of course of one Martin Sullivan, aka Superhost, one of the giants of Northeast Ohio television. For years he could be seen, out of costume, doing a news break or guest hosting The Prize Movie on WUAB. But it was his 20 year run, from 1969 to 1989, as the caped Saturday afternoon horror host with the big shoes that endeared, and continues to endear, him to a legion of fans. Fans for whom declarations of “gimme dat shoe!” and memories of “The Moronic Woman” and “Caboose Supe” and endless old science fiction and horror movies were immediately familiar. Many of those fans came out to Akron Comic Con this past weekend, Saturday, November 2nd and Sunday, November 3rd, to meet him. I’m proud to say I was among them.

You may recall my interview with Sullivan waaaay back in January 2014. It has continued to be one of the most popular pages on this site, and for good reason; when it comes to Cleveland television, Superhost is up there with the biggest of names. He’s a local television legend, and that is an indisputable fact.

That fact, along with the fact that, having since moved from Ohio, he had not made a personal appearance here in years (don’t quote me on this, but I believe the last one was in 1997) meant that I pretty much had to go meet him. There was never any question, no mental debate; I *was* going to meet Supe.

Of course, given the long period between appearances, his fan base, the online response to the announcement of his appearance here, and his contribution to a new book by my friends Mike & Jan Olszewski, I started having (figurative) nightmares of waiting in the line to meet him. Would it be an hours long wait? Obviously there would be autographs, but would there be an opportunity to take pictures with him? How long could guests spend talking with him? I was going to wait as long as necessary to meet Supe, but in the weeks leading up to the convention, these thoughts were indeed rushing through my mind.

As it turned out, my fears were unfounded. Naturally there was a line to meet him, but at least for when I was there (early afternoon on Saturday), it was never insurmountable.

But more importantly, I had gathered from my phone conversations with Sullivan that he was one of the nicest guys anyone could hope to meet, and that feeling was found to be true. He signed pictures, the book, or whatever people brought from home, and as you can see above, took pictures with guests. But better than all of that was just how genuine he was. He was incredibly gracious and giving with his time; he let everyone have their moment with him. No rushing the guests or anything like that. That’s not just an observation from my visit with him, but something I noticed with those meeting him ahead of me, too.

So no, meeting Superhost did not disappoint in the slightest. It was a real honor to meet the guy, a dream realized. Dare I say Supe’s return to Northeast Ohio for at least this one weekend was a watershed moment? I do! I have no idea if he’s planning any future return visits, but for this (potential) one time, well, it was enough. The fans turned out to show their appreciation, and Supe showed his in return. How cool is that?!

You know, my earliest Northeast Ohio horror host memories are of Supe. I may have seen his actual show at least in passing, but as a child enamored by superheroes, if nothing else the promos for his weekly airings of Three Stooges shorts and him in his parody Superman costume were burnt into my mind from an early age. Even if I was too young to really ‘get’ it back then (I was only three years old when Superhost left the airwaves, though Sullivan himself continued at WUAB for several years afterwards), the image of him always stuck with me. Later, when I got older and was able to actually see his material, I realized just how terrific he was in action. Do I wish I could have spent more time with him when he was on the air? Of course I do. But, I’m pleased that, even in my ultra small way, I was able to spend some time with him back in the day.

(Also, I had never been to an Akron Comic Con before, but the venue it was held at this year was not unfamiliar to me. Taking place at the Emidio & Sons banquet hall, not only was it a very short distance from my house but also a location I was familiar with; years ago, back in the 1990s, “computer shows” would be held there, conventions in which all manner of old electronics would be sold. My dad would take my brother and I there, and it was always a lot of fun. I loved going to those shows, though looking back, there were a lot of things sold that nowadays command some decent money. If only I could go back in time! At any rate, the guys behind Akron Comic Con put on a really good show, with lots to do and see. And at least when I was there, the place was pretty packed.)

If this was my only time meeting Marty Sullivan in person, I couldn’t have asked for more. Friendly, generous with his time, he was everything that meeting these local TV legends has proven to be for yours truly over the years. These are people that really give back the love their fans have shown them. And shouldn’t it always be that way? I strongly feel that it should.

So, it’s not much, but I just had to come here and say “THANKS SUPE!” What a great moment, what a fantastic memory!

EPISODE REVIEW: The Ghoul’s Presentation of THE TERROR (September 8, 2000)

Happy Halloween!

*sigh* But Halloween this year comes with a caveat; it’s our first without Ron “The Ghoul” Sweed. As is well known by now, the horror hosting legend passed away on April 1st of this year. For countless fans, including yours truly, it was of course an incredibly sad event; I’ve sorta gotten used to it by now, but for months, it was so hard to realize, and sometimes still is, that he’s really gone. It’s a strange feeling; even though we’re now over 20 years for much of his WBNX TV-55 run, time has passed by so fast, and by and large those shows don’t feel that old to me, that yeah, sometimes it feels like “but he was just on TV, he can’t be gone!”

Our Main Maniac (and nemesis Froggy)!

So, as a final tribute to the host that colored the lives of so many in Northeast Ohio and Detroit, let’s do one more Ghoul Power post before the year is out. Is there a more appropriate time than October 31st? I posit that there is not.

You may be looking at that header and wondering “why do an episode from September 8 for a Halloween post?” A fair question, to which I have two answers: 1) I strongly feel that horror host material from any date on the calendar works for a Halloween post because, uh, it’s a horror host. 2) Even though this originally aired in early September, there’s a strong Halloween vibe to the proceedings, even beyond what there would normally be, which we’ll see as we go along through this episode recap.

There’s an additional reason, too: there was no proper Halloween episode for the show that year. Indeed, this was the penultimate show of his ‘prime’ run on 55; from his debut on the channel on July 10, 1998, The Ghoul ran at 11:30 PM Fridays. At the time of this airing, that would continue for exactly one more week, and then starting on September 24, he’d be moved to Sundays at midnight (technically Monday mornings, so September 25 if y’all wanna get technical), and his movie selections greatly (but not always) altered drastically. As such, this was one of the last times Northeast Ohioans would be able to see him on the day/time that was a natural fit for him. (I could review his final show at 11:30 PM Fridays on September 15 for this article, but I’ll save that for a theoretical 20th anniversary post next year. No promises though; there’s always the chance I’ll have tired of this blog by then.)

You wanna know what The Ghoul got to run for Halloween 2000? Alice in Wonderland. As in, the Disney movie. No sound effects, no drop-ins, just the movie straight; obviously it was in 55’s movie package and subsequently foisted upon the Main Maniac. Even though there were some Halloweeny host segments, they still didn’t really make the episode feel ‘right’.

That was all in the future however; for the time being, all we knew at home was that The Ghoul was where he belonged, running the kind of movie that belonged, and all of it marinating in the vibes that was and is Northeast Ohio in the fall. (Okay, okay, technically it wasn’t fall yet. It wasn’t officially fall until September 22, 2000; yes, I looked it up. But c’mon, August was over, schools were back in, for all intents and purposes that’s fall!)

So anyway, this episode. After the show’s opening theme, the episode started with a computer animated sequence in which a Ghoul-shaped spaceship…flied through a black hole? I’m really not sure how to describe it, and screencaps won’t be of any help. So instead, let’s first talk about the movie: 1963’s The Terror. We’ll get to The Ghoul stuff afterwards.

THE TERROR’s title screen, obviously.

The Terror has long been a public domain staple. Over the decades, there have been countless home video releases, and needless to say, numerous television airings. With a big name cast and crew and colorful Gothic scenery, it’s a natural fit for horror hosting. A Roger Corman product, the movie was hastily filmed to take advantage of the still-standing sets from The Raven (the story goes they were basically being torn down *during* filming), so it sure looks better than it has any right to. The plot leaves something to be desired, but there’s something oddly entrancing about the movie nevertheless.

Jack Hill and Francis Ford Coppola (!) were apparently among the uncredited directors for the flick, but it’s the two stars that really raise the figurative eyebrows (and make this a natural for releasing/televising over and over and over…not to mention that whole public domain thing): Boris Karloff and Jack Nicholson! Easily the most immediately visible aspect of the film, the two big name stars (well, later-to-be big name star, in Jack’s case) basically carry a film whose plot is kinda awful.

Nicholson and Karloff, in the roles they were born to play?

Set in the 1800s, the movie concerns Napoleonic officer Andre Duvalier (Jack, in a role I like to imagine he’s pretty proud of), who, while following a mysterious girl, happens upon the mansion of one Baron Von Leppe (Karloff). It seems the girl Duvalier was following is some sort of apparition, the consequence of the Baron’s murdered wife 20 years prior…or something like that. Also the Baron isn’t really the Baron, and then there’s a flood in the mansion’s crypt, a witch that gets struck by lightning, and…and… Look, just go and read the the summary in that Wikipedia link, okay? It explains things better than I ever could. (Luckily, since the movie’s public domain, I don’t have to fret too much about fair use and details here!)

For years I hated The Terror, for the simple fact that it was seemingly everywhere. Too many TV airings, enough VHS releases to trip me as I walked down the street, and a movie I didn’t like enough to make me okay with any of that. The Terror was an ever-present thorn in your Northeast Ohio Video Hunter’s side, man.

But you know, in more recent times I’ve come to gain some kind of appreciation for the film. No, it’s not very good technically, but somehow, it manages to be entertaining nevertheless. The plot is what it is, but that sumptuous early-60s color, terrific Gothic scenery, generally ‘spooky’ atmosphere, and of course Boris Karloff and Jack Nicholson, it all combines to create a film that just works, inexplicable as that may sound. To me it’s more of a flick that you let ‘wash over’ you than one you seriously sit down to watch (if that makes any sense), but that’s to its benefit, not detriment.

(And besides, no matter how bad you think The Terror may be, Karloff made worse. Seriously, I watched House of Evil – one of those U.S./Mexican productions released after his death – a few months back, and bluntly put, that film is unwatchable crap. The Terror manages to attain a weird level of endearment, if for no other reason than because of who it stars, how it looks and the fun backstory behind it. House of Evil has no such qualities; even Karloff couldn’t save it, and that’s not a statement I make lightly. The Terror is a five star tour de force compared to that garbage.)

Whatever plot issues The Terror may have had in the first place were only exacerbated when this film showed up on The Ghoul Show. I’ve said this before, but at that time, you didn’t really tune into The Ghoul to watch a full-fledged horror flick. With all of the editing that could hit a given movie, and with numerous (and often quite lengthy) host segments littering the breaks, the film sometimes seemed like an afterthought. Add in all the sound effects and drop-ins and such that The Ghoul employed, and frequently you got less of a movie and more of a random patchwork of scenes – and rest assured, that was part of the fun!

The Terror certainly didn’t make it through unscathed, either. Why would this film be an

One of The Ghoul’s many “fact bubble” gags from his 55 run.

exception? The plot, or what there was of a plot, was made even more incomprehensible with all the cutting to fit more Ghoul stuff in. (Good!) One sequence, a somewhat-disturbing falcon attack, was excised entirely, for example.

But like I said, that was part of the fun. And, things were made all the better with the sound effects, music, and as you can see here, humorous “fact bubbles” (not unlike Pop-Up Video; remember that show?) that The Ghoul would throw at a given feature. That was also, needless to say, part of the fun, too!

The Terror isn’t exactly Night of the Living Dead when people think of “classic Halloween movies.” At least, I don’t think of it as one. And yet, it somehow still ‘fits’, even beyond the genre it’s a member of. The look, the feel, heck, even the title, it just seems like the kind of flick you’d have playing in the background of a Halloween party, or as you wind down the night in front of the TV, or what have you. Like I said before, this episode aired on September 8, 2000, but given this film and some of the Ghoul material we’re about to look at, it feels like a good match for today. Well, it does to me, anyway.

Okay, now it’s time for The Ghoul stuff!

Cooling it wit da boom booms!

All though they could be mixed in at any time in the show, typically the first commercial break lead-out sketch was a blow-up segment – one of the chief hallmarks of The Ghoul. Going back to the Ghoulardi days, people would send in models and the like to be blown up on-the-air. I wasn’t around for Ghoulardi, but in The Ghoul’s case, usage of “the boom-booms” was practically an art form. A noisy, destructive, funny art form.

This time around, someone sent in a werewolf riding in what appeared to be a hot rod (and complete with a cool full moon back drop to boot). As would occasionally happen, the first boom boom was a dud, leading The Ghoul to come back in the shot to try again. The second one worked, obliterating the wolf, but the rod seemed relatively unscathed. I always kinda preferred it when every part of whatever was being blown up was, erm, blown up (i.e., leave no piece un-destroyed!), but the werewolf was obviously the main attraction here, so mission accomplished.

This shot just screams “fall in Northeast Ohio” to me.

The first proper host segment was an example of my favorite kind of Ghoul bit; there was an actual purpose behind it, but mainly The Ghoul was just messing around. I always like it when a host is more ad libbing and shooting the breeze with the crew than ‘doing’ something, and, well, The Ghoul was pretty good at that sort of thing. Here, he takes the opportunity to superfluously throw a (lit) boom boom on the floor, dance around, take some good-natured digs at Wilma Smith (the channel 8 anchorwoman was a favorite target of The Ghoul), mention an article on Jungle Bob, comment on the bottle caps used for bottles of Ghoul Brew (evidently they weren’t all twist-offs!), all before getting to the real point of the segment: that coming October 7th, The Ghoul would be appearing at the 3rd annual “Pumpkin Chuckin'” event in Madison, Ohio, in which pumpkins were catapulted high into the air to the delight of all. Evidently this is a real, nationwide thing, which I honestly did not know until I went looking to see if this Madison, OH event still happens. (I couldn’t tell. I don’t think so?) In addition to showing some footage of the chuckin’ from the previous year, The Ghoul mentions he and the crew would be there all day, there would be a Ghoul lookalike contest for the kids, and a pumpkin eating contest. I imagine a general air of frivolity, too. Honestly, it sounds pretty awesome and something I’d actually consider going to. As you can plainly see, despite the September air date of this episode, the Halloween festivities were already in motion.

Footage from The Ghoul’s appearance at this Pumpkin Chuckin’ event would air on the show that October…after it had been moved to Sunday nights. What was the movie that night, you ask? A 1990 made-for-TV drama starring Rue McClanahan and Patrick Duffy titled Children of the Bride. Yes, really. If you read my 20 year Ghoul Power tribute article (linked at the start of this article), you’d know the Sunday/Monday era of the show could hold some surprises, some of them pleasant, but then, there were other times when movies like that had to be shown. No sound effects or drop-ins either. Suddenly Alice in Wonderland don’t seem so bad no more!

An impromptu (?) basement sale visit…

Even though this episode is more of an autumnal piece, because it took place so soon after summer, there’s a lot of looks at places The Ghoul went and things he did during that time. (It was also a reminder that the school year had just started, not an ideal situation for kids like me!) Much of this footage is interesting, if for no other reason than to see The Ghoul out and about – something that sadly can’t happen anymore – but it’s not very conducive to an episode recap. So, I’ll probably power through much of it.

First off, The Ghoul and crew stopped at a basement sale, which appeared to be not unlike your common yard or garage sales…except in a basement. From sounds of it, this was a genuine surprise to (I surmise) the home owner, who nevertheless got a kick out of it. The Ghoul also carried the big giant “Kielbasi of Wisdom” (a big plush kielbasi) around for much of this on-location stuff, which is just such a Ghoul thing to do. They got a big kick out of the home owner’s ecstatic declarations that this is “the real Ghoulardi,” so much so that they repeated the audio as the segment fades to break.

Having fun with a pair of wax lips.

The next segment found The Ghoul fiddling with a pair of wax vampire lips, because according to him, “Halloween comes and goes so fast, you better start celebrating while you can. So that’s why we’re doing it now!” (See, told you this review was a fit for today!)

That’s followed by declarations of “Osaka!” which then led into them playing of “Who Stole the Kishka?” not unlike whenever “Parma?!” was yelled. (Something else that went back to the Ghoulardi days.) According to The Ghoul, this was for the benefit of their new viewers that were now seeing the show in Japan; I forget the genesis of this but methinks this was just a running gag. I mean, unless there was some wacky satellite hookup or something, could they really get the show in Japan? I don’t think the show reached outside of Northeast Ohio, let alone Japan! (Still, the “Osaka!” declarations are funny, and again, such a Ghoul thing to do.)

There’s some footage of The Ghoul performing on-stage at some event (I’m a little unclear on where, but it looks like an actual house party that The Ghoul & Mr. Classic (of WNCX’s Saturday Night House Party program) showed up to. The Ghoul did a little emceeing and performing, and it’s fun but not really conducive to screencapping.

No kidding, I *love* this idea!

HOWEVER, the next bit of personal appearance footage, from the Parma location Daffy Dan’s, has a really great moment that I wish I could have simulated. Someone actually asked The Ghoul to sign their car! Now that’s awesome! I wonder what happened to the car? Do they still have it? Did they put a protective coating over the signature? I’d hope that if they got rid of the vehicle later, they at least kept the door!

Froggy pummelin’!

There was more fun to be had at Daffy Dan’s too, this time at the Lakewood location. (There used to be several Daffy Dan stores, though near as I can tell there’s only one left, which is a shame considering what a Cleveland institution it was/is. The only one left seems to be in Lakewood; same as this one here?)

It seems like this appearance is where he first got the giant “Kielbasi of Wisdom,” so of course he took the opportunity to pummel Froggy with it. (Footage of The Ghoul tossing the kielbasi at Froggy and knocking him down was later used in the intro to the Sunday/Monday shows, later in 2001 if I recall correctly.)

The Froggy abuse is fun, but what I’ve really got my eye on here is in the top screencap: lookit all that Ghoul merch! Daffy Dan’s was one of the local places they got to regularly stock his stuff back then, and just from this clip alone I’m seeing bottles of Turn Blue Ghoul Brew and Froggy Squeezin’s, plastic travel mugs, and t-shirts. *sigh* If I could only go back in time…

(No kidding, I collect broadcasting-related mugs and glassware and such, as you well know, so my failure to get one of those plastic travel mugs, or swanky glass mugs they also sold around that time, was a serious mistake on my part.)

A new stool and bumper stickers.

Next segment had The Ghoul with the kielbasi on the set, waxing on the possibilities it opens up. “It just sort of, uh, creates a plethora of adventures to do stuff with!” Funny!

Also on the docket: The Ghoul got a new stool. “It swivels?!” He seemed pleased by the addition.

There was also a very brief look at the then-new Ghoul Power bumper sticker, which I believe was still available up until maybe a year ago or so? Again, if I could only go back in time…

(This is all followed by more on-location footage, including some at the start of the next commercial break, that quite frankly I don’t have much to say about. It’s neat, it’s interesting, but out of context, I’m sort of at a loss for words. The abundance of location shots is, I’m guessing, why some of the regular features of the show at the time, the vintage clips via The Vault of Golden Garbage and Jungle Bob’s animals segments in particular, weren’t present in this episode. The Vault would occasionally be skipped when there was a lot of extra material, but Jungle Bob rarely was. Or maybe JB was just busy that week, I don’t know, it’s not like I was there.)

I so wish they still made Ghoul Brew…

Interspersed throughout all of the personal appearance bits is one more legit host segment, including a reminder for Pumpkin Chuckin’ (I wonder if they knew the show was heading towards Sunday nights, and that’s why they were pushing the event so much, even though it was just under a month in the future? Take advantage of the more visible slot while they could?). Also something that’s really, really cool, despite being beyond common at the time: The Ghoul showing off Turn Blue Ghoul Brew. Not one, but two this time. The Ghoul: “Drinkin’ in stereo, boys and girls!”

(For those unaware, Turn Blue Ghoul Brew was, obviously, The Ghoul’s very own beverage, a non-alcoholic concoction that was basically blue root beer. It was tasty, and it really turned your tongue blue! I still have some unopened bottles, which I liken to expensive wines but far cooler, cause, uh, blue. Later, Froggy Squeezin’s were released, which was a green lemon-line drink, also non-alcoholic, and also tasty, though I only had it one time. The story behind that is in my 20 years tribute article that was linked to earlier.)

Bouncin’ on out of the studio for the week.

And finally, the outro segment. It’s a pretty long one, over 8 minutes, and after showing off the giant sub the crew had for after the show, some random goodies, and yet another reminder for Pumpkin Chuckin’, it was time for The Ghoul to bounce on out of there for the week, as he customarily did at the end of each show.

It was never fun seeing the show end, but it takes on an added, bittersweet air now. Not just because The Ghoul has since passed, but also because, frankly, we just wouldn’t be able to watch the show like this for much longer. Next week was it. (The following week’s movie was 1940’s The Ape, also starring Karloff, but unlike The Terror is a film I genuinely love – though it took me years to warm up to it, as well.) While there were definitely some highs to the Sunday/Monday era (and, though I had stupidly checked out for virtually all of it, I assume the Friday night/Saturday morning 3:30 AM era that started in fall 2002, too), this was pretty much it for ‘prime’ Ghoul Power. Despite having the longest run of any of his stints on Cleveland television (about 5 1/2 years), The Ghoul’s stay on WBNX as people think about it was just about over here.

I didn’t know about the move to Sundays beforehand; it was announced the following week, almost casually, though The Ghoul obviously wasn’t happy with it. Did they know about the slot move, was it something they were hoping could be resolved in time, or was it sprung on them like it was the viewers? I just don’t know. I was gutted when it happened, though time and nostalgia and an objective mind has allowed me to greater appreciate much of what came after, much more than I did back then. Nevertheless, something special was in the process of passing on September 8, 2000, whether anyone knew it or not.

All that said, this was a good, ‘solid’ episode. Maybe it didn’t do anything earthshaking in the context of the series as a whole, but the on-location footage was a nice reminder of when The Ghoul really got around town. Furthermore, the in-studio stuff was, as always, entertaining. I’m guessing there was a loose framework to what he wanted to talk about, but it seems that The Ghoul would just ad lib most of his material, which of course was a big part of the atmosphere. Add to that a classic (well, “classic”) movie that lent itself well to the program, despite the butchering it received, and yeah, a real solid example of Ghoul Power. There’s an additional note of sadness: just over a year later, the world would go mad, and that indefinable aura of innocence we had beforehand would be gone forever. But that was in the future; for the time being, no such worries haunted the general populace. Or at least, they didn’t haunt the grade school kids like me who rabidly looked forward to these Friday night sojourns into lunacy.

And with that, our big Halloween post comes to a close. Have a happy and safe holiday everybody! Depending on how industrious I feel in the future, well, I’ll see you when I see you!

Panasonic PV-1500 VHS VCR (Circa-1979)

Sometimes (sometimes) it’s a little surprising being the Northeast Ohio Video Hunter. Flattering, but surprising. How so? Because when it comes to the vintage electronics posts, specifically VCRs as per our subject today, some of the feedback I receive can be (figuratively) eyebrow-raising. Mostly it’s in the form of viewership; for the most part I tend to get more views with the articles on old electronics than I do any other post. Sometimes though, people get the impression that I know more about all this stuff than I really do, and they’ll come to me with questions, either in the comment sections or in private emails.

I really am flattered by that, but I’m by no means an expert where VCRs are concerned. Don’t get me wrong, I know the basics about them, I can usually tell when one is ‘good’ or there’s something unique or special regarding it, but it doesn’t take much online searching to find the real experts; folks that discuss pinch rollers and diodes and such. You know, the kind of technical stuff that makes my head swim.

I never meant to make people think I’m so kind of authority (ha!) on the subject, but rather, the unspoken idea behind my VCR articles was supposed to be from the viewpoint of a “regular guy.” An every man describing what he comes across from his POV, which is of course the exact reality. And it’s about to happen again.

So yeah, here’s another VCR article. Ladies and gentleman, rest your eyes upon the behemoth Panasonic PV-1500!

Via estate sale, I brought home the Panasonic PV-1500 not this past summer, but rather the summer before. No joke, this beast was the culminating find in a pretty good day of yard saleing (sailing?), over a year ago. I think the guy wanted $15 for it but took $8, if I recall correctly. So I paid up, flexed my negligible muscular abilities and hauled it home, and it’s been sitting off to the side in my basement floor ever since. Indeed, the pic above is from when it first entered my abode; subsequent pics, taken just the other day, will feature an obviously different locale, both because this thing is mammoth and I only want to mess with it so much, and because, frankly, this picture remained the best “all encompassing” shot of the thing. Don’t worry, we’ll take a closer look at all the particulars.

I don’t have an exact date for this VCR. The only mention I saw online was in this 1979 Popular Science scan, hence the “circa” of my title. Unfortunately, even the vintage VHS gallery currently skips from the PV-1300 to the PV-1600 in their listings. Stylistically the PV-1500 looks nearly identical to the PV-1600, except the latter features recording/playback in SP, LP and EP, whereas the former only features SP and LP. Being older, that, uh, makes sense.

As we saw in this terrible old article regarding a big huge Quasar VCR, I love these humongous early examples of home video technology. Not only are they absolute throwbacks to a totally bygone era (“gee, no kidding!”), but you, or at least I, don’t come across them very often – for obvious reasons. The difference of only a few years rendered decks like this wildly obsolete in size and looks and (most) abilities, and even nowadays these earlier machines don’t have much practical use, even as far as this incredibly niche hobby is concerned. This is about as far away from my beloved Panasonic AG-1970 as it gets!

That’s not to say VCRs like this should be tossed (again, as far as this niche hobby is concerned nowadays; the general public stopped caring about any and all VHS loooooong ago). Huge, impractical and lacking in certain abilities though it may be, as a historical piece of late-70s/early-80s tech, if nothing else it sure looks neat. Provided you’ve got the space for it, anyway; the footprint on these ain’t exactly dainty.

Manufacturers really went the extra mile with their products back then. Not only is this VCR built like a tank (with the size to match; I’m considering climbing in it and rolling down the street and wow that has to be the dumbest thing I’ve ever written on this blog), but it came with a protective dust cover. As per warnings found on said dust cover, you can’t have it on when the thing is playing or the timer is set or apparently at any other time except when the machine is sitting idle. This is understandable, since I imagine the amount of heat this units generates when powered up is comparable to a dern blast furnace.

Speaking of powered up, when I first considered writing an article on this VCR last week, I did indeed lug it out, plug it in, turn it on and test it as best I could. Not that I had any illusions of this magically working like new (these old machines may have been well built, but c’mon, this is still a roughly 40 year old electronic we’re talking about), but even so, the whirring/grinding noise it made when I ran a tape – one I didn’t care about – was borderline stomach-churning, and made all the more unsettling by the fact it wouldn’t stop even when I finally got the tape out (and when I powered off then on, the grinding would start right back up again).

Also, messing with some of the switches didn’t seem to produce any effect (i.e., they weren’t registering), I couldn’t get the clock to display even a flashing 12:00, and to top it all off, the decades of accumulated dust/grime/I don’t know produced a smell that was not particularly pleasant (and also not unlike what I briefly described in my RCA TV/Atari Xenophobe post).

All of which is to say that unlike my usual M.O., you’re not getting any pictures of this deck powered on, playing a tape, or what have you. As such, for me, it has been rendered most definitively a display piece. A very large display piece. A display piece that constantly threatens to absolutely obliterate one of my feet should it drop when my muscles give out while trying to carry it.

Whether correctly working or not (and trust me, it’s the latter, not the former), the channel selectors on the front panel absolutely made this worth the eight bucks or however much I dropped on it.

Indeed, if you recall this old Toshiba Betamax post (the odds are you won’t), you’ll remember that that machine featured the same set-up, and that I was quite enamored with it. Why? Because it’s so absolutely, undeniably Northeast Ohio.

I don’t know what 2 stood for, but 3 = WKYC (NBC), 5 = WEWS (Cleveland’s ABC), 8 = WJKW (CBS), 43 = WUAB (independent station), 25 = WVIZ (Cleveland PBS), 61 = WCLQ (another indie, and points to this being used in the early 1980s, as that station signed on in ’81), 45 = WNEO (Alliance/Youngstown PBS), 23 = WAKR (Akron’s ABC), 17 = WJAN or WDLI, depending on if it’s before 1983 or after (religious indie), and 9 = no idea.

Also, look close and you can see the remote control (they were corded back then!) and microphone inputs at the very bottom of the unit.

Here’s how you’d tune the aforementioned channels in. I guess once they were entered into the presets it wasn’t a big deal, but man oh man, getting there practically required a master’s degree in engineering or sumpin’. Seriously, this pretty much makes my head swim just looking at it.

Also, your obligatory tracking knob as well as a tuner/camera toggle are located on this panel.

In the same wheelhouse, located just above the channel presets is the VCR timer station and clock-settin’ switches. While somewhat less complicated than the requirements, erm, required for tuning the channels, it’s still something that looks like a far bigger pain than you’d expect. Seriously, it’s the kind of thing that would have had me staying up till all hours just to “easy” record something. (I.e., simply press the record button at the specific time whatever I wanted was set to begin.)

Like most everything else about this VCR, these are functions that would be (thankfully) simplified just a few short years later. Suddenly I get all the “I can’t get the clock to stop flashin’ 12:00!” jokes.

Also, I’ve never liked the old school ‘number counters’ found on older decks. Gimme good ol’ hours and minutes any day!

This is a top-loading VCR, and as such, tapes are loaded (say it with me) on the top of the unit, via raising/lowering drawer. When the powered up, a light illuminates the inside of the drawer, a feature that does indeed still work on this machine.

Another hallmark of these early-gen VCRs: cassette player-styled buttons for play, stop, etc.

And, an option that would continue for some years after VCRs began being downsized and simplified but was largely absent as the 1990s dawned on lower-end consumer models is the audio dub feature, which as you can see was present here.

Like I said before, I couldn’t get the clock to come on, no matter what I slammed my paws on. As such, this picture here is little different than if I had the machine plugged in. So why are you getting so upset?

The power light is self-explanatory, but the one labeled “dew” stands for a dew indicator. Basically, if there was moisture in the machine, the light would come on and the machine would refuse to function until said moisture had dissipated or was otherwise removed. Pretty smart move, especially since water and electricity don’t mix and the last thing you need is one of these VCRs exploding like that one planet in Star Wars.

Also, toggles for power, and TV/VTR (VTR standing for Video Tape Recorder). And as you can see, only two recording speeds were available: SP and LP. People like to mention how the earliest VCRs had a two-hour SP VHS recording time over Betamax’s mere single hour, but you know, I’ve got an RCA VBT-200 from 1977, apparently the first VHS VCR released in the U.S., and unless it’s a later revision but with the same model number, mine features the same SP/LP option. Heck, the earliest blank VHS tapes also indicated 2 or 4 hour recording times.

All of which goes to say that for as much as I love Beta, VHS had an even bigger advantage in recording times from the very start than is usually stated. Did you want better picture quality or way more recording time? I really do love Betamax, but there’s a reason VHS won the war.

I’ve mentioned before that I feel for these VCR posts to be “complete,” I have to take a look at the inputs/outputs/etc. on the back of the machines, but in truth, I never really have all that much to say about them. I mean, what can I say? Stuff is kinda self-explanatory.

I do like seeing the input/outputs for both UHF and VHS, that’s a nice throwback, and I especially like that AV cables are supported. Had it looked like this VCR even remotely still functioned correctly, I’d have taken advantage of them and hopefully posted a screencap of something playing, but twas not to be.

“Remote Pause” I’m assuming refers to an option separate from the corded remote input found on the front? Something to pause a recording as it, uh, records, I’m guessing?

See, PV-1500. Did you think I was lying? I wasn’t.

The PV-1500 complies with the FCC, as you’d hope, but the real interesting thing here is the disclaimer about recording. Ah, the days before the 1984 court case put that issue to bed!

I like the warning about not getting water all over the VCR. You’d think such a warning is merely covering all the bases, but let’s face it, there were probably some folks out there who needed that reminder. The very same folks who would have (presumably) been wrestling with the channel-tuning and clock-setting features, which is kinda mind blowing.


You know, over the years I’ve collected a lot of VCRs. Some for actual use, some merely for the sake of collecting. And one thing I’ve come to realize is that Panasonics are probably my favorites.  Generally well-built, sometimes feature-packed, and very often just plain cool-lookin’, as far as I’m concerned Panasonic put out some of the best machines in that (in my opinion) 1985-1990 sweet spot of consumer VCRs. Heck, years later I’m still enamored by the slick and swanky PV-1730. Certainly in this day and age some models will probably need some work, at least belt replacements, to get them up and running correctly, but that’s just the nature of old electronics.

Anyway, this PV-1500 hails from a bit before all that, in the relatively more-lawless early days of the format. Innovations and downsizing and such were still forthcoming, but for the time, this was a revolutionary (and undoubtedly expensive!) piece of technology. I’d like to think that in this age of high-def and streaming services and whatnot, that can still be appreciated.

(I don’t know how else to end this article; I’m kinda spent. It’s a cool old VCR, okay?)

Vintage (?) Kung Fu Action Figure by Manley

Friends, I come to you today with not only a stop-gap post, nor only a desire to fill an ostensible gap in internet-land, but also with a request for further information. I’m only one person; by myself I can only do so much. But together, we can do…something.

Here’s the backstory: a few years ago, I was traipsing through Dollar General, and while I don’t remember the other particulars of the visit, I imagine I probably got annoyed with people being in my way as I tried to pass down an aisle, as if they were purposely inhibiting me and didn’t have the right to shop. A reasonable annoyance or terrible fault on my part? You decide!

Anyway, I always make two stops at DG: 1) At least a cursory glance at their DVD section, and 2) a look at their toy aisle. Now, when I’ve looked at action figures and such on this site in the past, I’ve mentioned that I’m not really a full-fledged “toy guy.” And for the most part, that’s still true; when it comes to new action figures and the like, I generally don’t care. Though there have been exceptions, my eyes tend to figuratively glaze over when confronted with whatever new product has been foisted on the youth of America.

HOWEVER, in two specific areas, I guess I am a pretty big toy guy. First off, I’m a total sucker for vintage toys, which normally means anything 1994 or before to me, though the late-90s are now getting old enough (!) that I’ve found my interest growing in pre-2000 items. Some of that is nostalgia on my part, since we’re now at 20 years (!!) since the 1990s neared an end. Intellectually, I know that stuff is now “old,” even if it doesn’t feel that way to me emotionally. It’s a little depressing if I allow myself to think too long about it.

ALSO, and we’ve seen this (more than once), I love the budget toys. In look and build quality, some of them recall the ‘real’ toys I had in my formative years, but even when they don’t, they can display a real quirky charm and/or level of interest that I just don’t get from the (relatively) big budget items of today. The fact that they’re cheaper and I’m almost perpetually short of money certainly helps, too.

It’s in the latter category that our subject today falls…

As I sauntered throughout DG that night, the regular toy aisle, near as I can recall, left me empty handed. But, as I walked down the main aisle, my eyes fell upon something laying on one of the end caps, something that didn’t belong with whatever foodstuff they had been designated to showcase. Oh no, this was quite a bit cooler, and it’s what you’re seeing to your left at this very moment.

I refer to him as “Kung Fu Guy,” though his official moniker is “Kung Fu Action Figure.” Regardless of name, I was immediately enamored by this figure, from the build quality, to the eye-catchin’ red clothing, to the simple fact that I would have loved this figure when I was a kid (I was and am a pushover for kung fu/karate/ninja action figures). From first glance there was little doubt that this thing was coming home with me.

It must be noted that I hadn’t seen this figure before prior, and I haven’t seen it again since. Once, some guy in a Facebook group told me had one, but that’s the first and last I’ve heard on the subject from outside sources. Where did it come from? How did it get there? How old is it? As you can see, the card is a little beat up, and my hypothesis is that it had slipped behind a rack or box or something sometime beforehand, only to later be unearthed by a worker or perhaps even a random customer. Maybe some kid found it buried somewhere in the store and carried it around before their Karen of a mom made them leave it behind. Had I had more foresight, I could have asked to see the security footage of that section of the store, as if I had any right to request such a thing.

OR, maybe they only got a few in and this was the last one. Like I said, I saw no others before or since, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t there; only that I missed them. (Though, figures like this really are the kind of things I tend to notice.)

I refuse to remove Kung Fu Guy from his protective packaging. On the contrary; I’d like to have him AFA graded. Not because I think it’ll automatically give me a big time meal ticket collectible item, but rather because I sometimes like to be as superfluous as possible. The only thing stopping me? Frankly, uh, money. I just don’t have the spare bucks to be so recklessly arbitrary.

Because Kung Fu Guy remains ensconced in his paper & plastic prison, I can only surmise as to his build quality. Though you may be tempted to think otherwise after looking at the neck-joint in the picture above, the figure sure seems to be reasonably solidly built. Since I didn’t open and play with it, it’s really only a gut feeling on my part, but the figure comes across to me as something akin to what you and I and Johnny-runs-his-mouth over there would have gotten back in the 1980s or early-90s. Not just in construction, but in general looks as well. That is most definitely a good thing.

KFG comes with five points of articulation, arms, legs and head, as well as a single accessory, some kind of ostensibly-appropriate nightstick. I don’t know what it’s called! What I do know is that KFG’s deadliest weapon isn’t his fists or feet or baton, but his mind.

Also, look close; they put “Kung Fu” on his chest, as if a descriptive term was really necessary. I so love that. Is that a thing, labeling yourself with your occupation? Or maybe KFG’s parents literally named him that, as if to say “you’re only getting one career choice in life!” I like the idea of whatever dojo this guy belongs to insisting that all members wear name tags like they were gas station attendants or something. “Hi, my name is Kung Fu and I’ll be pummeling you today!”

Kung Fu Action Figure was manufactured by Manley, an aspect that caused me to reword the title of this post accordingly, lest some hapless reader think I was referring to the masculinity of the toy. That would have been spelled “manly,” and while I’m sure KFG is plenty manly (he’d kinda have to be, right?), we’re talking about Manley here. I’m assuming this is the same company, in which case they’ve been around since 1987 and are based in Hong Kong, which is appropriate for several reasons.

Online searches revealed a few toys sharing the same company logo seen here and reaching back to the 1990s (the best example I found was this 1997 wrestling figure), so Manley does go back a ways. Indeed, that’s why I mentioned “vintage” in the title of this post, albeit without definitively concluding so. The “3+” in the upper-left hand corner of the card seems, to me, to point to a product of the 2000s, but everything else about it, from the look and build of the figure to the card it’s on, tells my gut it’s older, late-90s or before.

I have zero proof of that of course, and I could very well be wrong; the fact I found it when I did seems to naturally declare that I am wrong. But then, just a few years ago, I found a whole load of recordable VHS tapes, and even a Betamax tape, at a Marc’s grocery store for 39 cents apiece. These weren’t new old stock tapes either, that would have been kinda understandable. But no, these were used tapes. As in, stuff was already recorded on ’em. I have no idea what the catalyst behind stocking these was, and it’s the only time I saw the store do that, but my point is that an older toy such as KFG showing up at a bigger chain store in this day and age isn’t totally unreasonable. Quite a bit less random than all those video tapes showing up at a Marc’s, anyway.

And that brings me back to the request I alluded to in the intro of this update. I’d really like to know more about this figure! I can’t find anything about it online, so if anyone has one or remembers them, please, hit up the comments with some info! When were these figures around? Were there others in the line? Were there uniform color variants? (White, blue and/or black attired versions would have been pretty rad.) These burning questions must be answered! I won’t rest until they are!

Well, I will rest; it’s not like this stuff needs to be keeping me up at night. I’ve got far bigger problems that take care of that. Still, it’d be nice to know.

WEWS TV-5’s The Morning Exchange – Vintage Coffee Mug

Yeah yeah, I know, I took nearly all of August off. A combination of being busy, lack of ‘writable’ material and absence of drive kept me from duly updating my arbitrary blog. Those last two reasons are related; technically, I’ve always got lots of stuff I could write about, but the fire man, the fire has to be there. It’s like how a car don’t go without no gas or some stupid analogy like that. And when I go out thrifting, I very nearly always come home with what I consider some good winnins, but it’s the cool winnins that give me the fire. And it’s those very cool winnins that have been more-or-less MIA in recent weeks. This, my friends, was not an ideal situation for your Northeast Ohio Video Hunter, but it’s not like I had much say in the matter.

‘Course, it’s times like that when I can just sit back and let my old material do the work for me. I mean, when I wrote about that sentient alarm clock over a year ago (!), I held no illusions about it being a particularly popular post; I just got jazzed enough over the device that I wanted to introduce it to a potential audience. It’d be there for the right people when they come looking. And for quite awhile, that’s pretty much where things sat, until in recent months when its popularity relatively exploded, with enough page views and comments to put a figurative smile on mah face.

ANYWAY, this find from just last night is, rest assured, just the sort of thing that can get my creative juices flowin’ and another new update on the dinner table. Dig this: it’s a vintage coffee mug promoting WEWS TV-5 of Cleveland’s long, long running and incredibly influential daily talk show, The Morning Exchange. Cool winnins.

I take solace in the fact that (apparently) most people don’t find the same things that I do interesting, because this is the sort of thing that I would (and did) snap up with extreme fervor; there was absolutely no question it was coming home with me from first glimpse. And yet, when I came upon it, it sat nearly alone in a big tub, seemingly unwanted by those who knew no better. But I knew. I knew.

Now to be honest, I’ve got lots of glassware and mugs and what have you that I could write about, and sometimes I did consider doing so during what turned out to be my unintentional hiatus. I decided against it though; it just felt too soon after the last time I looked at old Northeast Ohio television-related coffee mugs. Heck, in the time since, I picked up yet another new-to-me WVIZ java accessory, but I just didn’t want to go back to that well. Not yet, anyway. I don’t want to become known as “The Mug Man,” man.

This Morning Exchange thing is different though. Not only because it’s promoting an absolutely legendary piece of Cleveland television history (it was so popular locally, it inspired ABC to create the national Good Morning America!), but also because it was hosted for nearly all of its 27 year (!!) run by local icon Fred Griffith, who sadly passed away recently. No joke, Griffith was a certified local legend, and from what I’ve heard, a genuine good egg to boot.

Here’s the thing with this mug: as you can see in the above pic, the logo is quite wide, and as such, getting the whole thing in one definitive shot just isn’t going to happen, unless y’all wanna provide me with one of them Matrix cameras or something. Wait, I don’t think that would work here, either.

So anyway, to better educate and inform and annoy the masses, I’m gonna have to provide some additional pictures. As such, here’s the left side of the mug, showcasing the, uh, left side of the Morning Exchange logo. Also visible: the ever-handy, erm, handle that allows one to make use of the mug without scalding their delicate lil’ hands.

Look, I don’t really know what you want me to say about it, okay? It’s one side of a coffee mug. And since I just used up whatever I could think to say about it here, I’m already questioning what I’m going to write about the other half. Nothing can ever be easy in my world.

So yeah, here’s the right side. The rest of the logo, close-up of the channel 5 logo, big swoopy thing comin’ off the “g” in “Exchange,” you can see it all here. The white lettering over burgundy is an attractive, appropriately morning-ish look. I dig it!

(Yeah, now I’m spent.)

It’s funny; I didn’t (and don’t) ever really watch any morning shows, mainly because I’m rarely up in time, and even though I have little direct history with The Morning Exchange, because it was such an ever-present part of the Northeast Ohio television landscape for such a long time, I remain fond of it. My grandmother used to watch it, my mom says she used to watch it, so there’s some pleasant memories there. But really, it’s more about what this mug represents that enamors me so. What’s that? One of the giants of Northeast Ohio television, that’s what!

All that said, I have no idea how old this mug is; there’s no date anywhere on it. I’m considering it late-80s or early-90s, but I could be dead wrong on that. The channel 5 logo was updated around 1995, so methinks it’s prior to then. The Morning Exchange ran from 1972 to 1999, so even at the latest it’s around 20 years old as of this writing. I really don’t think it’s even that relatively-recent, though. I do think it’s somewhat newer than this example, but how, when and where it relates to these examples, I do not know. I’m going with a mental “circa-1990” descriptive term, though I’m not confident in it enough to add it to the title of this update. (While on the subject, I couldn’t find a sequence of wording for the title that I was totally happy with, so if it reads awkwardly, that’s why.)

How would one go about getting one of these back in the day? My brother suggested it was a souvenir of actual guests on the program. If that’s the case, MAN is that cool. I’m not prepared to go quite that far though, not just yet. I’m thinking this was a promotional item anyone could have gotten, but that begs the question: where? There (probably) wasn’t any internet yet, at least not in any form approaching how we now know it. So, personal appearances by the hosts? Industry swag? A mail order item? Was there something akin to what WJW TV-8 later had, their very own store? (It was in Summit Mall.)

These are questions I know not the answer to. Maybe it was a guest-used/show-used item. That’d be, as the hip individuals say, pretty baller.

Regardless of its origin, the very fact that this coffee mug promotes a veritable Cleveland institution such as The Morning Exchange is more than enough. The fact it’s a coffee mug (cause coffee/morning, dig?) just makes it all the more appropriate. The era and images and feelings it invokes is indelibly Northeast Ohio. A bygone era in our broadcasting history. The sad fact of the matter is stuff like this doesn’t turn up all that often, but when it does, it’s cause for celebration and weird, amateurish touchdown dances. I didn’t, but I could have.

There’s your precious update. Maybe I’ll get another one up within the next several decades, we’ll see.

VHS Review: THE BLUES BROTHERS (1980 MCA Videocassette Inc. ‘Two Part’ Version)

Hey, do you like The Blues Brothers? Sure you do! I mean, who doesn’t? Movie’s a legit classic, yo. I certainly love the film; a random weekend broadcast years and years ago introduced me proper to it, and I’ve been a fan ever since. To me, it’s the gold standard of SNL-based movies, and – unless you’re counting something like Ghostbusters which featured more than one SNL alumni but wasn’t based on an actual SNL skit – man, it’s not even close.

Which makes this random find from last week so mind blowing to yours truly. While looking over rows of used VHS at a thrift store, my eyes feel upon, say it with me, The Blues Brothers. Upon first glance it appeared to be just another relatively-early copy of the film; I may love the movie, but earlier pressings are practically a dime-a-dozen.

That is, until I noticed the copyright of 1980 at the top of the sleeve spine (reason enough alone to snap it up; earlier copies may be common, but not necessarily the earliest) and, perhaps more interestingly, the notation of “Part II.”

The historical aspects of this find were immediately evident: this was almost-certainly the very first home video issue of the film (it’s from 1980; it can’t go any earlier than that, cause that’s the same year the movie came out, man!), and as such, because it was a fairly lengthy film (2 hours 13 minutes), it had to be split over two VHS tapes.

In the interest of full disclosure, I must specify that I only have Part II here. I certainly looked at the thrift, but Part I was MIA. Either someone didn’t realize what was up and bought tape #1 before I got there, or (what seems more likely) Part I was loooong gone before Part II ever set foot in the store. Either way this was mildly irritating for yours truly, but I can’t complain too much; I had zero idea that The Blues Brothers was split over two tapes for its initial video release, or truthfully, that the movie even had a video release the same year it hit theaters.

It makes sense that they’d have to split the movie into two parts that early on though; that sort of thing was not uncommon in the early years of VHS for longer flicks such as this. The first video release of the 1976 King Kong remake went the same route, for example. Just a few years later, companies figured out how to get the entire film all in one package. Indeed, by 1983 The Blue Brothers was seemingly all on one tape, but apparently the technology wasn’t there yet in 1980.

From initial appearances, the front cover here doesn’t look too different from the common VHS releases of the films seen throughout the rest of the 1980s and probably into the 1990s. Visit that just-linked page and you’ll see that the 1983 edition looks pretty close front-cover-wise to this one – except that for this initial issue they colored Jake & Elwood’s sunglasses green. I don’t know why they colored the sunglasses green, but it seems to be unique to this first release.

Other than that though, the cover looks extremely similar to that 1983 edition, and barring just a few further changes, even the 1985 release looks pretty much the same. It’s all about those green glasses and, you know, two-part thing here. (Also, I just noticed John Candy didn’t get a credit at the very top; say what?!)

If you go back up and check out that link to the 1983 edition of this film, you’ll see that by and large it looks very, very similar as far as the back cover goes, too. In fact, except for that whole “Part II” notation here and the missing credits and “Dolby” info seen in ’83, it looks pretty identical. Even the synopsis is the same.

The summary on the back is fine, and it’s not like there’s room for a novel back there, but even so, some pertinent info was left out. Namely, that Jake & Elwood are in a race against time to raise some (honest) money in order to save their childhood orphanage. Remember, they’re “on a mission from God.”

To do this, they have to get their old band back together, do some playin’ and make some money fast – all while causing a lot of destruction and creating a buncha enemies.

It’s a very, very funny movie, endlessly quotable (“I hate Illinois nazis”) and featuring some terrific musical numbers. Despite being rated R (which, oddly enough, I don’t see mentioned anywhere on this release), it’s not a particularly objectionable movie. Some salty language and a few other things that warrant the rating, but the main plot is overwhelmingly positive in nature.

A weird aside: I always kinda get a kick out of the old school “MCA Videocassette Inc.” logo. It’s ‘early home video’ in the best way, and a sure sign of interest whenever I’m out spending more money than I should at thrift stores and the like.

(The back of the sleeve is much brighter than my picture here shows – I took the shot in a darker spot than I did the others in this post. Also, the ancient tape residue in evidence points to Part I originally being fixed to this here Part II – so where’d it go???)

The tape itself. Obviously it was a former rental, from some place called Video Ventures. I have no idea what paths this tape took to find itself in mah grubby mitts here in Northeast Ohio, but according to that sticker, it evidently spent some time in Bremerton, Washington!

I’m not sure how well my pic shows it, but the sad fact of the matter is this tape has gotten a little moldy in the nearly 40 years since release. I noticed this upon finding the thing, and generally such maladies are enough to make me avoid a buy, but in this case this tape was coming home with me regardless.

I know not who scratched out the running time and wrote “7 min” above it or why, I’m guessing the video store, but the actual running time is more like 28 minutes; seems like a pretty uneven split between two tapes to me. Maybe there’s more and the mold is just keeping the hardened tape from rewinding further – it’s tough to tell because that sticker is in the way, but removing it is not an option.

No, no in-movie screencaps to round out this review; I had to clean my VCR heads after running this one as it is. I doubt there’s anything here unique to this release in comparison to slightly later issues anyway. Except for, you know, that whole “split in two parts” thing.

I can find virtually no references to this particular VHS of The Blues Brothers out there in internet land, except for this Amazon page, in which a used copy (copies?) is presented sans sleeves. Like I said before, this was a release I was completely unaware of beforehand. Given the super early release date, I’m guessing it definitely falls on the rarer side of things.

For a Blues Brothers fan such as myself, it’s an incredibly cool discovery. I hold no illusions of stumbling upon Part I, though you never know. I imagine I’ll come across that 1983 edition at some point though, and that’d make for a nice consolation prize.

I still can’t figure out why they made their sunglasses green on the front cover of this one, though.