The Film Detective announced five new film restorations this past week that will be heading home to the collector’s marketplace on May 16. And the theme for this group could be … “the efficient use and re-use of film as a resource.”
Topping the list — and that is always a subjective thing when it comes to films on DVD — is director Herbert J. Leder’s Doomsday Machine, which is a sci-fi film with a production history that is far more interesting than the film itself.
Singer/actor Bobby Van had just finished The Navy vs. the Night Monsters opposite Mamie Van Doren and somehow ended up as the star of Leder’s next film production after he, Leder, finished his two London-based films, which were finished, but yet to be released in the United States — It! and The Frozen Dead.
This new film production, that Bobby Van was to star in, was Armageddon 1975 and also variously titled Doomsday Plus Seven and Escape from Planet Earth. His co-stars were Ruta Lee and Mala Powers (who both worked as episode stars on many of the same television series during the run-up to this film — 77 Sunset Strip, Perry Mason, etc.) and Grant Williams (star of The Incredible Shrinking Man a decade earlier and such delights as The Monolith Monsters and The Leech Woman).
For whatever reason the film began production, with its story about a Chinese end-of-world doomsday weapon and a plan to salvage some small bit of humankind with a desperate launch of a NASA flight to Venus (Really? Venus!!), and then it shuttered. Never to see the light of day!
But wait, along comes would-be film entrepreneur Harry Hope, who somehow acquires the rights and the footage to the unfinished film and hires veteran filmmaker Lee Sholem (who had the ability to set up and edit shots within the camera — which made him quick and very efficient) to shoot additional footage in order to finish the film. It was released theatrically in 1972 as Doomsday Machine.
Plot and continuity be damned! Doomsday Machine is a film that would have made Ed Wood proud and iconic film producer “Jungle” Sam Katzman envious (legend has it that he could look at stock footage and immediately come up with a storyline that would fit the footage)! Incoherent, but here Doomsday Machine is in all of its glory to be enjoyed and savored (have fun figuring which is which — 1967 sequences and 1972 sequences).
Up next is another film curiosity, Chandu on the Magic Island, starring Bela Lugosi as the hero of the story (rare indeed for him). In October of 1934 Sol Lesser’s Principal Pictures released the 12-chapter serial titled The Return of Chandu, which was a follow-up to the 1932 film release of Chandu the Magician (starring Edmund Lowe as Frank Chandler/Chandu, with Bela Lugosi as Roxor, the villain of the story).
The serial itself was designed to be re-edited into not one, but two feature films (why let all The first was The Return of Chandu, which featured the first four chapters of the serial and Lesser cleverly set it up in such a way so that theatre owners could book the film as either the complete serial or as the feature film version (talk about efficiency).of that footage go to waste).
The follow summer (1935), Chandu on the Magic Island was released theatrically, which is the edited version of the final eight chapters of the original serial. Clever … to be sure!
Rounding out the May 16 film-to-DVD restorations from The Film Detective are director John Griffith Wray’s 1921 film release of Beau Revel, starring Lewis Stone as playboy cad, who realizes only too late that his life has been nothing but a lie; director Oliver Drake’s 1948 Western, Fighting Mustang, starring Sunset Carson (born as Winifred Maurice Harrison, a former rodeo rider who legally changed his name to Sunset Carson in 1944 and starred in a series of 21 “Sunset Carson” Westerns between 1944 and 1950) and director Arthur Dreifuss’ 1939 film release of Double Deal, starring Monte Hawley and Edward Thompson as pals in love with the same woman (Jeni Le Gon) … double-dealing, robbery and a frame-up follow!