Category: 1958


sis-tryityoulllikeit-blogathon-5The original Attack of the 50 Foot Woman from 1958 was one of my “gateway drugs” into low-budget cinema, so I’ll be scraping it again to find something interesting to say about it for this upcoming blogathon. Stay tuned!

tumblr_le9du4WUNz1qb8ugro1_1280This fetching young woman is the late Hungarian actress, Eva Bartok (1927-98), who had a 16-year career in front of the camera between 1950-66. We saw her last in Spaceways (1953). Bartok may have had a child by way of Frank Sinatra from an affair in 1956, but other than that bit of gossip, she’s more-or-less forgotten about these days. Her films tended to be B-list melodrama thrillers, often with a World War II or early Cold War espionage angle.

1952. Also starring Christopher Lee.

1952. Also starring Christopher Lee.

1953. With Nazis!

1953. With Nazis!

1955. Hammer film about trying to exfiltrate a Polish scientist to the West.

1955. Hammer film about trying to exfiltrate a Polish scientist to the West.

1956. Commies using gamma rays to turn children into mutants!

1956. Commies using gamma rays to turn children into mutants!

1958. Teutonic white slavery racket exposed!

1958. Teutonic white slavery racket exposed!

1959. Keeping Nazis from the diamond fortune.

1959. Keeping Nazis from the diamond fortune.

1959. Double-billed with Dinosaurus! (1960)

1959. Double-billed with Dinosaurus! (1960)

1960. Possibly Bartok at her best.

1960. Possibly Bartok at her best.

1964. Mario Bava classic.

1964. Mario Bava classic.

Wilhelm (“Willie”) Wilder, who lived from 1904-82, was an interesting director mainly known for his eight film noirs and for being the estranged, older brother of Billy Wilder. Willie also left an interesting sci-fi legacy which I’ve tried to capture the outlines of here. We first bumped into his Phantom From Space when we looked at sci-fi and horror from 1953. A more complete biography can be found here, written by his granddaughter.

1954. Cheaply made warning of immanent alien attack.

1954. Cheaply made warning of immanent alien attack.

Probably the first motion picture about a Yeti.

1954. Probably the first motion picture about a Yeti. Myles Wilder is Willie Wilder’s son.

Spoiler alert: "Manfish" is the name of a boat, not some sort of sea creature. (spoiler alerts for a nearly 60 year-old movie?)

1956. Spoiler alert: “Manfish” is the name of a boat, not some sort of sea creature. (spoiler alerts for a nearly 60 year-old movie?)

1956. AKA Spell of the Hypnotist

1956. AKA Spell of the Hypnotist

1958. The head of Nostradamus and . . . monkeys?

1958. The head of Nostradamus and . . . monkeys?

1958. Low budget spy thriller against the backdrop of Sputnik.

1958. Low budget spy thriller against the backdrop of Sputnik.

 

Jackie Coogan (1914-84)

Jackie Coogan (1914-84)

In our last poster collection we ran into Jackie Coogan in Mesa of Lost Women (1953); here are several of his other films. Best known as “Uncle Fester” from the original Addams Family sit-com (1964-66), he was, however, on film from 1919 to 1984, after being discovered by Charlie Chaplin himself when Coogan was just 5 years old.

Exploitation fans will note his role in a couple “teenage angst” films of the 50s, some shlocky sci-fi, some awful sex comedies in the 50s and 60s, and finally turning toward horror in the twilight of his career. He passed away in 1984 at the age of 69 after a heart attack.

Also, Yvonne Craig's first film--you know her as Batgirl from the 1960s Batman series.

1957. Also, Yvonne Craig’s first film–you know her as Batgirl from the 1960s Batman series.

Evidently, the term "weedhead" did not stick.

1958. Evidently, the term “weedhead” did not stick.

Another Jack Arnold joint--he also directed High School Confidential, It Came From Outer Space, and The Creature From the Black Lagoon.

1958. Another Jack Arnold joint–he also directed High School Confidential (1958), The Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954), and It Came From Outer Space (1953).

Starring the quite white Julie London as the biracial wife.

1959. AKA, The Color of Her Skin, also stars the quite white Julie London as the biracial wife.

When seen in the original theatrical release, audience members were given free "beatnik dictionaries", to decipher "beat" terms and catch-phrases.

1959. When seen in the original theatrical release, audience members were given free “beatnik dictionaries”, to decipher “beat” terms and catch-phrases.

AKA: Teacher vs. Sexpot; The Beauty and the Robot; Sexpot Goes to College; and Teacher Was a Sexpot. All could be porn parodies today.

1960. AKA: Teacher vs. Sexpot; The Beauty and the Robot; Sexpot Goes to College; and Teacher Was a Sexpot. All could be porn parodies today.

First B-movie comedy to riff on Castro, only one to make it a comedy. If by "Girls Take Over" you mean girls are present a party for some soldier dudes in last 15 minutes of the film, then this is aptly named.

1962. First B-movie comedy to riff on Castro, only one to make it a comedy. If by “Girls Take Over” you mean girls are present a party for some soldier dudes in last 15 minutes of the film, then this is aptly named.

Film release delayed for three months when Note Dame University took studio to court for using NDU's name.

1965. Film release delayed for three months when Note Dame University took studio to court for using NDU’s name. Written by William Peter Blatty.

Briefly, a "Video Nasty."

1979. Briefly, a “Video Nasty.”

Coogan's last project, shot in 1978, but not released until '84.

1984. Coogan’s last project, shot in 1978, but not released until ’84.

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Note how Anglicized the women are in this poster. Don’t recall seeing them in this film…

Having just watched the 1958 kaiju film Varan the Unbelievable, and then listening straight away to the gang at the KaijuCast  podcast discuss this film at length brought me face-to-face with my pet peeve about this genre: US editions that rewrite the film from whole cloth.

In this case, it was clear that the Japanese edition of this film was a completely different film than what I had just watched. I had no idea what Kyle and the rest of the KaijuCast were referring to most of the episode. Viewing the US version, I was even robbed of the Ifukube soundtrack–which I hear is quite good.

The consensus is that the Japanese version was a pretty solid little monster film, but not among director Ishiro Honda’s best, given that originally it was meant as a joint US-Japanese TV movie. The US company involved, ABC Television, pulled out suddenly, and Toho simply phoned it in. At some point the footage was recut into a version for use in the US market using–where did I read this?–only 15 minutes of the original stock shot in 1958. (Probably monster footage, I imagine).

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The monster effects in this film are not too shabby for 1958.

The US version came out in 1962–actually it premiered in the US on the 21st anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack. How awkward does it seem to have a kaiju film premiering on that particular date on the calendar? Especially one where the main American character is a condescending US Navy commander running weird environmental experiments in Japan that summon a monster. Well, maybe not so weird in hindsight.

If the Japanese version is subpar, than the US cut is barely even a coherent story, which I’m not sure I can summarize further. Japan. Monster. Mad. Tokyo. Destruction. You may have seen this formula a time or a million.

But don’t take my word for it, give it a whirl:

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xxz68d_varan-the-unbeliveable_shortfilms

If you’ve not seen these, drop what you’re doing and find them RIGHT NOW.

Anti-Film School

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Today, a little over three hundred drive-in movie theaters remain sprinkled throughout the United States. This means that many Americans are not lucky enough to have a drive-in movie theater close by their home. In the drive-in’s heyday, small production companies would release B-movies tailor-made for the drive-in audience. There was everything from angry extraterrestrials to hip-shaking teenage beach parties, all of which are now enjoyed for their campy special effects and corny performances. Today, many of these films are available on DVD, Blu-ray, or Netflix, and can be enjoyed from the comfort of your couch. If you’re someone without the luxury of a drive-in theater nearby, you can create your own drive-in movie night right at home. Just grab any one of these out-of-this-world flicks, pop some pop corn, cook up a few hot dogs on the grill, grab a date or the kids, throw open the living room…

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PosterAfter Cinema Catharsis mentioned The Flesh Eaters (1964) as an October 2013 quick pick, I knew I had to check it out.  It’s a nice early period gore flick that stands the test of time as a decent thriller.  Originally released in 1964, even though it was made in 1960-61, it was one of the follow-ups to box office smash The Blob (1958).  The behind-the-scenes lore of The Flesh Eaters also seems pretty well documented, and recapitulating some of that story seems like a nice way to celebrate its 50th anniversary: The Flesh Eaters’s premiere was 50 years ago yesterday.

First though, the film:

Arnold Drake wrote the screenplay for The Flesh Eaters

Arnold Drake wrote the screenplay for The Flesh Eaters

It would seem the most detailed, first-hand account of the making of this film comes from its screenwriter, Arnold Drake, who gave a lengthy interview in Tom Weaver’s book, Eye on Science Fiction: 20 Interviews with Classic SF and Horror Filmmakers, published in 2003.  Drake was most renowned as a comic book writer–as a dyed-in-the-wool DC guy I am most fond of his creating “Deadman.”  Arnold passed away in 2007 at the age of 83.

A couple fun stories from the interview are worth paraphrasing: first, the film was funded in part with $70,000 acquired from producer-director Jack Curtis’s wife won on a rigged game show, High Low, in 1957.  It would appear that this would have been Curtis’s first wife, whom Drake named as “Terry,” not his later wife, Paulette Rubinstein, whom Curtis married in 1964.  The fact that the show was rigged in advance was a tightly kept secret by the Curtises for a number of years, even from Drake.

On a side note: Rubinstein apparently did some of the voice dubbing for early Godzilla films, including Godzilla vs. The Thing, which IMDB fails to mention.  Also, Jack and Paulette’s daughter, Liane Curtis starred in 16 Candles, Critters, and more recently in a one-off in season one of Sons of Anarchy.  

Barbara Wilkin, was little more than a pretty face in The Flesh Eaters, according to Drake.

Barbara Wilkin was little more than a pretty face,  according to Drake.  She apparently called it a career in 1968, and left film and television after only a decade.

Anyway, the second interesting tidbit from this interview was the story about how Frank Sinatra almost got into the movie–or not.  After they had cast Barbara Wilkin the fimmakers found an unnamed woman whom Drake says was much more attractive than Wilkin who had no acting experience, but she said her boyfriend would put up whatever funds were necessary to finish the film.

Following the money, Drake and Curtis meet the boyfriend–someone named “Chester”–in Chicago, where he was putting them up in a swanky hotel right on Lake Michigan.  After pitching the film–and emphasizing and re-emphasizing that this was a low budget film–Chester was convinced and announced “Frankie owes me, from way back,” and said it was settled–he’d call Sinatra and convince him to be in this picture, and the two filmmakers would be hearing from Chester’s people. This caused, as one would imagine, a huge panic: Sinatra was obviously a huge star, and this was not the movie for him or his entourage.  A full union crew would be needed for an A-lister like him, coming at the cost of an extra half-million dollars or more.  A few days afterwards they heard from Chester’s accountant who said: “We’ve decided not to go with this venture.”  No kidding.  They never heard from the beautiful wannabe actress again.  In any case, Wilkin did a fine job, though Drake wasn’t terribly impressed with her.

This film also forced the hand of the great George Romero and the titling of his best known film, Night of the Living Dead (1968).  Originally, Romero wanted his film to be called Night of the Flesh Eaters, but a lawyer contacted him to change his film’s name, presumably on behalf of Vulcan Productions, Curtis and Drake’s production company that made The Flesh Eaters.  At any rate, to avoid a lawsuit, Romero changed the name of his classic to Night of the Living Dead, according to Joe Kane’s book on the making of Romero’s film.

The legacy of The Flesh Eaters tends to be overshadowed, mainly by Hershell Gordon Lewis’ Blood Feast, which came out the year prior to Flesh Eaters–both experimented with being more gory depictions of violence, but Blood Feast was obviously more violent by an order of magnitude.  Also, Blood Feast was a color picture, which made the severed tongues and disembowlings all the more realistic.  Flesh Eaters seems to me to be among the last of the American “monster on the loose” pictures that were a staple of drive-ins of the previous decade, and it seems a fitting end as film straddles that mainly tame and harmless genre and the increasingly graphic horror of the 1960s and 1970s.

Films I’ve Seen Lately #2

This time around, I thought I’d just keep track of everything I’m watching over the past month or so.  No rhyme or reason, as usual–just stuff I run across on YouTube, Netflix, my cable on-demand service, and stuff I see refs to in Twitter and elsewhere.

Christine (1983)

Fun flick from John Carpenter adapting a classic Stephen King tale about a murderous car.  It was one of three of King’s yarns to be put on film that year, the other two being Cujo and The Dead Zone, making this period his heyday, more-or-less.  We don’t get to see in this film how the car came to be possessed or haunted or whatever, which was my biggest disappointment.  But well acted; note a young Kelly Preston as “Roseanne,” and the nerd Keith Gordon (“Arnie”) went on to become a decent film director, if Dexter is any measure.

They Call Me Trinity (1970)

I came across this one from the premier episode of A Gentlemen’s Guide to Midnite Cinema podcast.  I’m not as familiar with Spaghetti Westerns as I’d like to be, but this seems like a pitch perfect way to meld them with comedy.  That opener with Terence Hill coming into town on that horse carriage doohickey seems clearly inspired by the 1937 Laurel & Hardy classic Way Out West.

Shaft (1971)

If you haven’t seen this one, you really owe it to yourself to do so . . . now.  This is one of the most developed and successful blaxpoiltation films. According to Melvin Van Peebles, director of the original blaxploitation film, Sweet  Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, also from 1971, Shaft  was originally written as a white character, and “they threw in a couple ‘motherfuckers’ and it became a black film.” There are also some great vintage shots of New York’s 42nd Street grindhouses throughout, so do look for those.  Richard Roundtree only made $13,000 starring as Shaft.

She Gods of Shark Reef (1958)

This baffling film is an early Roger Corman cheapy, shot in ’56, along with Naked Paradise (also known as Thunder Over Hawaii), about lost criminals washing ashore on a reef in the Pacific and then one falling for the beautiful natives who forsakes her cruel native ways to run off with the white savior, or somesuch.  The leading lady was played by Lisa Montell, who ended her film career in the early 60s, and became a large name in the California Bahai community, even authoring a book on the faith, under her married name, Lisa Janti.

Rattlers (1976)

A clear Jaws knockoff, like a Piranha below, in which every sort of animal that is harmful to humans is going to feature in their own horror movie, in this case, rattlesnakes.  A fun B-horror film, and what was most jarring in this one was the unexpected presence of gender in the first half of the film.  Our scientist-snake investigator (played by Shark Week narrator Sam Chew, Jr.) turns out to be a real misogynist, thinking the job too dangerous for his “liberated” war correspondent female partner (played by Elisabeth Chauvet).  They end up agreeing to disagree–and end up in the sack, of course–and this contrived way of developing conflict among the characters to keep the film interesting is mainly forgotten as the body count starts to rise.  Also, the bathtub scene is just classic.

American Grindhouse (2010)

A nice overview documentary of exploitation cinema.  I was glad to see the interviews with Eric Schaefer (author of Bold! Daring! Shocking! True! A History of Exploitation Films, 1919-1959) and Eddie Muller (author, with Daniel Faris, of Grindhouse: The Forbidden World of “Adults Only” Cinema).  I was not so taken with the photogenic Kim Morgan, who seemed more fluff than informative.  Also, this film seemed to not give David Friedman enough attention, but these points aside, this is an excellent primer on exploitation film, and should be a starting point for those new to the subject.

Piranha (1978)

Blatant Joe Dante ripoff of Jaws, starring Heather Menzies (“Louisa” from The Sound of Music) in the completely unbelievable role as a bounty hunter, who finds a secret military experiment to breed piranhas as an apparently failed weapon system that was to be deployed against. . .  North Vietnam.  That much-out-of-place reference deserves its own unpacking, but I was too busy having my childhood warped (further) by seeing Louisa flash her boobs at a soldier.  The late, great Kevin McCarthy was much underutilized in this epic, but no worries.

Dinosaur Island (1994)

Fred Olen Ray (writer of such fun faire as Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers and who has more than a dozen aliases in the industry) romp that rips off Jurassic Park in a silly way.  io9 a few years back called this one “the closest thing to mainstream dinosaur porn in the universe” while profiling some truly disturbing shit.   I think my favorite part was how the Dinosaur Islander vixens, who’d never seen modern civilization, not only spoke English, but sometimes English with a soft Texas twang.

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Another post, and another blogathon entry!

This time, for some standup folks ambitiously soliciting comments on the Turner Classic Movies summer line-up.  I have the privilege of offering a little something on one of my all time favorite sci-fi films of the 1950s, The Blob:

 “Starring Steve McQueen and a cast of exciting young people! [that we cannot be bothered to name!]

This one will be on–depending on your lifestyle–either very early, or very late–either way something of a gift for me as it happens to be my birthday.  4:30 am on Saturday, August 10.   The plot is pretty basic and was used in many films of this genre and era: there is a monster from space.  It’s coming after us. Some fight and/or flight hijinx ensue.  This film is particularly well covered by other bloggers–and has been for years–so I’m not sure I can add much to the recent posts by Vincent Zahedi; Andres Baca; General Tso’s Revenge; Film Freak Central; and Josh Goller, among others.

Thus, I’ll concentrate on the second part of this blog’s tagline: “B-movies and those who love them  Who loves The Blob more than most? The folks who keep putting on and attending BlobFest, of course!

BLBLocated about 30 miles north of Philly, Phoenixville, PA is where The Blob was filmed. Every year since 2000 they’ve celebrated this classic flick by dedicating a weekend to it, classic monster movies, and street fair activities tangentially related to both.  The highlight of BlobFest is the “run-out scene” re-enactment: in the original flick, the Blob invades the local movie joint, the Colonial Theatre during a movie and we see the theatergoers running out into the street hysterically trying to evade the creeping mucus:

Here’s the re-enactment, from 2012:

That's some serious tin foil hattery, Harry.

That’s some serious tin foil hattery, Harry.

If this doesn’t look like a hoot, I don’t know what does.  I’m embarrassed to say I have not trekked north to attend yet, maybe next year.

But if it ain’t grabbin’ ‘ya, you could try your luck at the tin-foil hat making contest; take the local tour of shooting locations seen in The Blob, catch one of a few showings of The Blob with other classic monster movies of the era, such as Them!, Tarantula, or The Deadly Mantiswatch the Fire Extinguisher Parade, attend the street faire, or ogle over the classic cars on display.  Check out the full schedule here.

I love the idea of film celebration as a destination event, be it festivals like BlobFest, or intrepid fans making trips–more like pilgrimages–to Japan to see Godzilla sites and Toho Studios–there’s a fun creative energy going on here with BlobFest that should not be missed.  I’ve half a mind to try and see what could be done in upstate New York to commemorate I Drink Your Bloodor even across the Potomac to visit the sites of “The Exorcist,” but those are projects for another time.  (But seriously: any takers?)