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Image Entertainment presents
The Lon Chaney Jr. Collection (Indestructible Man/The Golden Junkman/Lock Up/Manfish) (1956-1960)

"Remember what I said. I'm gonna kill you. All three of you."
- Butcher Benton (Lon Chaney Jr.)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: June 02, 2006

Stars: Lon Chaney Jr., John Bromfield, Victory Jory, Robert Arthur, Corey Allen, Max Showalter, Marian Carr, MacDonald Carey
Other Stars: Barbara Nichols, Tessa Prendergast, Ross Elliott, Ken Terrell, Robert Shayne, Marvin Ellis, Joe Flynn, Brabara Collentine, Steven Terrell
Director: W. Lee Wilder, Roy Kellino, Jack Pollexfen, Jack Herzberg

Manufacturer: Deluxe
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (mild violence)
Run Time: 03h:23m:41s
Release Date: May 30, 2006
UPC: 014381295122
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B- B-CC- C-

DVD Review

Lon Chaney Jr. has a fairly checkered reputation as an actor, thanks to a limited range and a fondness for the bottle that really helped derail his career. This DVD boasts "Four rare films," which is inaccurate in a couple respects. One of the films isn't rare in the least, and two of the "films" are actually television programs. But they're certainly unusual enough items that fans of Chaney will be very interested in this double-sided quadruple feature.

Man-fish (1956) is not, as the name might suggest, a genetics horror story, but an adventure story loosely based on Poe's The Gold Bug. In Jamaica, Captain Brannigan (John Bromfield) is in danger of losing his turtle-fishing boat, the Man-fish, which is beloved by his half-witted first mate, Swede (Chaney). Brannigan notices a scruffy character by the name of "Professor" (Victor Jory), who wears a skull ring just like his own. It turns out that each of them holds half of a treasure map by Jean Lafitte, but neither trusts the other either with the money or slinky seductress Alita (Tessa Prendergast). Soon things take a deadly turn, with elements of The Tell-Tale Heart thrown in for good measure.

Although the basic film is competent enough, it tends to have far too much underwater photography. There are long sections that go nowhere and are tedious, but once the treasure map finally surfaces the sparks fly between Bromfield and Jory. A prologue seems to be half-heartedly tacked on, and unlike the main film it is utterly inept from start to finish with thoroughly wooden acting. It seems to be little more than an effort to pad the running time, possibly for television. Chaney is reasonably good, in a role that demands little from him. But he does have a interestingly childlike affection for the boat, reminiscent of his great performance in Of Mice and Men. Although the end credits recite "Color by De Luxe," the print here is in black and white.

The first of the two television programs is The Golden Junkman, a 1956 episode in the Bell Telephone anthology presentation Telephone Time. Chaney is in the lead as an immigrant junkman, Jules Samenian, who wants his sons, Alex (Robert Arthur) and Phil (Corey Allen), to assimilate in America and sends them off to school. When they return, he finds they have become gentlemen who are ashamed of his humble status. Determined to earn their respect, Jules goes to college himself (after memorizing the Encyclopaedia Britannica). It's a pretty moving little piece, and Chaney turns in a nicely-tuned and sensitive performance (though his accent gets a little shaky in spots). The program is presented complete with the original ads for the Bell Telephone Co. and introduction and closing by author John Nesbitt.

The second side of the disc opens with a 35mm presentation of Indestructible Man (1956), which shows up regularly on public domain discs in various states of wretchedness. Chaney stars as gangster "Butcher" Benton, sentenced to die in the gas chamber. But his gang turned state's evidence and his own attorney, Paul Lowe (Ross Elliott) helped railroad him, so he vows to kill them all. Surprisingly enough, Benton gets his chance after his execution, when his corpse is delivered to a biochemist, Professor Bradshaw (Robert Shayne) and subjected to 287,000 volts of electricity. Jarred back to life, Benton is not only hale and healthy, but completely indestructible, as his gang learns to their chagrin.

Presented Dragnet-style with a first-person narration by ineffectual (and improbably-named) cop Dick Chasen (Max Showalter, under the name Casey Adams). It works well enough even though the narration goes places Chasen couldn't know about, even after the fact. Helped by a brisk pace (and a mere 70-minute running time), it's one of the better Chaney pictures in this period. It's also one that he plays as nearly mute, apparently because his drinking was affecting his ability to remember his lines. Nonetheless, his lines before his shock treatment are delivered with conviction and bloodthirsty nastiness. One repeated shot of the camera zooming into his post-revival eyes, both dead and single-minded, is quite effective as well. A young Joe Flynn, who would go on to be one of Disney's repertory group of character actors, makes a mark as Bradshaw's nervous assistant.

The final program on the set is the only one not from 1956, a 1960 episode of the crime drama Lock Up. Macdonald Carey stars as crusading attorney Herbert L. Maris, this time off on a fishing vacation when he learns that his friend Joe Slade (Steven Terrell) has been jailed by the local sheriff (Chaney) for the murder of his wife. But the sheriff seems to be keeping secrets of his own, and the little town seems to be full of suspects. Carey is quite sharp in the lead, and Chaney gives an intense performance as the sheriff, who seems to be fairly dangerous on his own account. He gets in a pretty appalling final line, one in a series of quite shocking moments for a 1960 television program.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The quality of the prints varies from good to wretched, with the newest, Lock Up faring the worst, looking dupey. All four prints have substantial wear throughout. As noted above, Man-fish should be in color but is in overly-contrasted black and white here. The Golden Junkman looks pretty nice for 1956 television, with enough detail that you can see the sloppy aspects of Chaney's age makeup. Indestructible Man trumpets itself as being the only release of this picture from 35mm elements; whether that's true we can't verify, but it does look significantly better than the previous best version of the film on DVD, that from the Roan Group, with much better shadow detail and contrasts, as well as being significantly less splicey. Although the Roan DVD is presented in 1.66:1 widescreen, it appears to just be a matted version of the full-frame; which one is accurate is less than clear.

Image Transfer Grade: C


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The audio tracks all have varying degrees of hiss and noise, but the television programs come off worst. The Golden Junkman suffers from an incompetent job of miking, and much of the dialogue is inaudible. Lock Up has a stretch about nine minutes in that is very garbled and difficult to make out. None of them will win any awards, but the two feature films are at least passable in quality, though of course lacking any sort of range or presence.

Audio Transfer Grade: C-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 47 cues and remote access
1 Featurette(s)
Weblink/DVD-ROM Material
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
1 Disc
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Still gallery
Extras Review: Extras are fairly slim, but they're also more than one usually finds from Retromedia, so it's a step in the right direction. Cinematographer Gary Grover reminisces about Chaney on the set of Dracula vs. Frankenstein (1971), one of Lon's last pictures. That featurette is not too well focused, though, and a sizable chunk of the 11m:18s running time is taken up with a trailer for that film. There's also a still gallery of about two dozen pictures from Chaney's career (but only one photo relates directly to the features here). Chaptering is pretty thorough, though there is no chapter listing to choose from and the viewer has to just click blindly to find a particular spot.

Extras Grade: C-


Final Comments

A set of (mostly rarities) in iffy condition, but Chaney turns in some reasonably good performances under the circumstances. Only one of the features is horror-related, but the set does give Chaney a chance to demonstrate his abilities in the late 1950s.


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