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With: Peter Bogdanovich, Roger Corman, Joe Dante, John Landis, Ann Savage, John Saxon, Arianne Ulmer Cipes, Wim Wenders
Written by: Michael Palm
Directed by: Michael Palm
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 77
Date: 19/03/2013

Edgar G. Ulmer: The Man Off-Screen (2005)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Cheap Shots

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Edgar G. Ulmer was the original "King of the 'B's," a filmmaker who made many cheapies on Poverty Row. His resume includes classics such as The Black Cat (1934), Bluebeard (1944) and Detour (1945), though he began as an assistant and an art director on films by F.W. Murnau, Fritz Lang and Ernst Lubitsch. This all-too-brief 77-minute documentary interviews mostly historians and film directors who have been inspired by Ulmer -- including Joe Dante, John Landis, Wim Wenders and Roger Corman -- though, notably, Peter Bogdanovich actually met him and interviewed him in 1970, just before Ulmer's death. Bogdanovich's original tapes are used on the movie's soundtrack. Directed by Michael Palm, the documentary employs many of Ulmer's trademark techniques, such as rear-projection, and tries to open up the usual talking-head format by taking the camera outside, in and around Hollywood. John Saxon, who starred in Ulmer's final film The Cavern, shares some interesting stories as well.

When this doc screened at the 2005 San Francisco International Film Festival, I complained that there should have been an Ulmer feature programmed along with it, and now Kino has taken my suggestion by including one as a bonus feature on their new DVD, released in October of 2006. Isle of Forgotten Sins (1943) is not one of his most essential films, and it's more than a little clunky, but it features some inspired miniature work and an energetic lead performance by John Carradine, who would go on to star in Ulmer's next film, Bluebeard. He plays a deep-sea diver who is tricked into retrieving a chest full of stolen gold.

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