There is an undeniable joy to be found in spending an afternoon with a stack of B-movies, particularly those from the ‘30s and ‘40s. The B pictures of that era were economically made and typically run around 80 minutes and under. Lord knows I love me an 80 minute movie, and I wish they’d make a comeback. I spent my weekend digesting a particularly grand collection of these films I picked up from Warner Archive.
The long titled “Warner Brothers Horror/Mystery Double Features” set tells you everything you need to know with that wordy title. A three disc, six film collection of atmospheric B pictures made by the studio between 1937 and 1943. All of these are films that were made cheap and quick, designed to be enjoyable, but disposable entertainment to go along with the A grade picture with the big stars down at the local movie house. Giving the audience the most value possible for their ticket price.
The six films in the collection all fall into more of the mystery department than the horror realm, but most of the films do have a little touch of horror to them. Collected in this set are: “Find The Blackmailer,” “The Smiling Ghost,” “Sh! The Octopus,” “The Hidden Hand,” “Mystery House,” and “The Patient in Room 18.” Not only is economical filmmaking on display, the set is also an economical release from Warner Archive.
Priced at $30, this collection is designed to entice film fans that have been long hoping to find one or two of the titles in the set–none of which I believe I’ve had a Home Video release prior to this collection. By combining these six films together, Warner Archive–who has stated before having the goal of getting EVERYTHING in the library out–lets you get that film you’ve longed wanted to own, along with similarly themed titles. It allows all of these films get a release, whereas they might not sell as well individually. Plus, it gives you the chance to see some other films that might had never come your way.
Such was the case for your intrepid film explorer as this set showed up on my door one reason and that reason is “Sh! The Octopus.” Where does one begin with “Sh! The Octopus?” It is a film that I have been wanting to see for months, shortly after the trailer for the film was featured with commentary on the very fun website Trailers From Hell. The film, based off of two stage plays, has a pair of dopey detectives trapped in a haunted lighthouse with a group of people, and an actual octopus that works hidden trap doors and nabs people. It’s a heck of a film. Wildly entertaining, funny, and has an AMAZING special effect transformation that is stunning –and scared the hell out of me!
My favorite from the set though is “The Hidden Hand,” a very fun film that had extra fun added for me as I quickly noticed it uses a redressed set from one of my favorite Warner Brothers films of the era, “The Man Who Came to Dinner.” This is a fine example of what the studio’s B picture units did, using existing sets and acting as a proving ground for new talent. An up and coming, and future WB star, Ann Sheridan is in two of the films included.
This is a super fun collection of films, perfect for a rainy afternoon or evening. The biggest downside to the collection is that there are some awful racial stereotypes in a few of the films, something that is sadly typical of the era. Though these portrayals stick out like a sore thumb and are uncomfortable, they do offer an glance into American attitudes of the era. Wrong though they may be. It’s important to watch these films with context of when they were made, something all classic film fans have to encounter. Enjoying and loving films of this era isn’t an endorsement of these views.
“The Hidden Hand” has a disparaging line about the Japanese, but you must remember that it was also released almost a year after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Though tensions were understandably high, the use of these awful stereotypes is unacceptable, no matter what the reason. Watching these films with context gives us a glimpse of not only American then, but a reminder of our past mistakes in an effort that we will not repeat them in the future.
These films look fine on DVD, not perfect, but perfectly watchable. Considering the rarity of these films, it’s just nice to have them available. Let’s be honest though, the scratches and dust do add atmosphere to films like these. I would say this is a collection more skewered towards classic film diehards. That aside, it’s still a well made collection of rare B wonders from Warner Brothers. A fun and affordable collection of films. See you next week.