The Movie Waffler Mike’s Strange Cinema Cavalcade - William Castle Crime Double Bill | The Movie Waffler

Mike’s Strange Cinema Cavalcade - William Castle Crime Double Bill

hollywood story
A double bill of William Castle directed crime stories.

Review by Mike Vaughn

Directed by: William Castle

william castle crime double bluray

William Castle is best known for his fright-films, filled to the casket with fun gimmicks but which were genuinely great works of cinema. Before Castle got into the horror business he also dabbled in other genres, notably crime mysteries and Noir. Thanks to Mill Creek Entertainment, we get not one but two Films Noir from Castle. And, being a huge Castle fan, I’m always excited when a new film of his comes to HD.

hollywood story

Hollywood Story (1951)

Starring: Jim Backus, Julie Adams, Richard Conte, Fred Clark

The first film in this Noir-Castle double feature is Hollywood Story from 1951. The film is about the trouble a filmmaker gets into when he digs up an unsolved murder of a 1920s film director.

Right from the very first minute of the film, Castle’s Hollywood Story is a high energy, ambitious film on a budget. At a mere 76 minutes, the story, which is a good mystery, moves at a brisk pace. The film is somewhat predictable but I felt engrossed nonetheless. From dirty fog drenched streets and low-key lighting, this very much has a classic Noir look and feel. Tone wise, this outing is not nearly as bleak or downbeat as your typical Noir fare, which may make it a more accessible entry point into the stylish sub-genre.

Hollywood Story also has a big scope and feel, thanks to slick camera work, and a nice flow courtesy of editor Virgil Vogel (who later directed the cult film The Mole People (1956)). Castle injects a helping of sly satire and dry wit that would permeate his later horror films. We get an enjoyable slice of meta-joke as the film features real silent era stars playing themselves. It’s also worth noting that the film was shot in Charlie Chaplin’s studio.

The cast is great as well with Jim Backus, Julie Adams of Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) fame and Richard Conte in the leads. Its always fun to see Backus and Adams on screen but they are sorely underused and sadly have nothing interesting to do. Character actor Fred Clark (Auntie Mame, Sunset Blvd), on the other hand, gets to shine as a fun supporting actor.

Hollywood Story doesn’t try to be as clever or subversive as say Billy Wilder’s Sunset Blvd (1950) or Robert Aldrich’s bleak showbiz meditation The Big Knife (1955), but is still a fun albeit flawed mystery-Noir that is stylish and well edited, with a host of great character actors and some nicely staged set pieces. If you like Castle’s trademark sardonic humour and well-paced story beats, you'll enjoy Hollywood Story.

new orleans uncensored

New Orleans Uncensored (1955)

Starring: Arthur Franz, Beverly Garland, Stacy Harris

A Navy Vet gets tangled in the world of waterfront racketeers in this low budget Castle film. The film opens with a very square disclaimer about crime in New Orleans and how the film’s work of fiction doesn’t reflect the true nature of the famous town in Louisiana. This lets us know right from the jump that this film isn’t going to be pushing boundaries.

The horror director was already in his forties when he made New Orleans Uncensored but the film has the energy of a much younger director at the wheel. We, the audience, are treated to some great action set-pieces as well as some inventive camera work. Like Hollywood Story, the pacing is also brisk. Castle had an economical way of storytelling, which is probably why he was the go-to director for B-programmers. Style wise, this has a very pulpy Noir feeling which keeps things tense and gritty.

The big issue is, the entire affair feels like an off-brand On the Waterfront (1954), which deals with very similar issues. I can’t help but think Columbia wanted to rush out a similar film on the cheap and hired Castle as he could handle a fast, low budget production. The city of New Orleans should almost be a character all by itself but besides a few night-life spots, the film never truly features the city like it should. I’ll be honest, I had a hard time connecting with the whole dock-corruption angle and, for me at least, it made for an uninteresting slog. The narration also feels clunky and at times jarring.

The cast is pretty good with Arthur Franz in the lead. Beverly Garland, probably most known for Roger Corman films like It Conquered the World (1956), is always fun to see on the silver screen.

New Orleans Uncensored is a well-crafted film but lacks a true identity and is sorely missing Castle’s wit, something he perfected in his horror outings.  Furthermore, the film doesn’t seem willing to take any risks and, worst of all, doesn’t feature the Big Easy in all its glory.

Picture/Sound: Both films have been sourced from very nice prints. There is very little in the way of scratches and for the most part the image is clean and clear. It's not perfect but considering the unit price, the transfers more than meet expectations. It's always great when Creek can find good prints to use in their releases. Sound wise, the films are also good, with very little distortion noise or hiss.

Sadly, no extras are included on either disc.

Overall Value: This is incredible value. Both films look and sound great and though we don’t get any extras I still think you get the biggest bang for your buck. If you are a big William Castle fan but primarily just familiar with his horror films, this is a good excuse to check out his other genre fare. Both films have their flaws but I enjoyed them both on different levels. If you love Castle, and/or Film Noir, this is a fun pair of movies at a good price.

Michael Vaughn is a rabid horror and cult fan who turned that love into a career. He is a writer, blogger and film historian and now author of 'The Ultimate Guide to Strange Cinema' which Shock Wave Podcast named their pick of the month, and Chris Alexander of Fangoria called “recommended reading.”

His other credits include Scream Magazine, Fangoria and websites like Films in Review and Bloody Flicks(UK). Please follow his Twitter @StrangeCinema65 and Instagram @gorehound_mike.