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Archive for the ‘Roger Corman’ Category

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The Shooting
Directed by Monte Hellman
Written by Carole Eastman
Starring Will Hutchins, Millie Perkins, Jack Nicholson, Warren Oates

Ride In The Whirlwind
Directed by Monte Hellman
Written by Jack Nicholson
Starring Cameron Mitchell, Millie Perkins, Jack Nicholson, Katherine Squire, George Mitchell, Rupert Crouse, Harry Dean Stanton

Over the course of six weeks in 1965, Monte Hellman and Jack Nicholson (with some financing from Roger Corman) shot two Westerns back to back. They had no lighting equipment, a tiny crew, less than 10 feet of dolly track and budgets of just $75,000 per picture. When they left Kanab, Utah, they somehow had the makings of a couple of the best Westerns of the 60s.

734_735_BD_box_348x490_originalThe Criterion Collection’s presentation of Hellman’s The Shooting and Ride In The Whirlwind hits the streets today, available on both DVD and Blu-ray. Some see them as part of the Revisionist movement, some as an early example of the “Acid Western.” To me, they feel like the Psychological Western of the late 50s taken a step further. A very large step. But in the end, all those labels don’t mean anything. These are Westerns. They’re different. They’re very, very good. And as I see it, they’re absolutely essential.

Monte Hellman personally supervised the 4K restorations, preserving Gregory Sandor’s original 1.85 photography. The set is packed with commentaries — with Bill Krohn and our very own Blake Lucas riding along with Hellman for both films, interviews and more. You know, the usual exhaustive Criterion treatment. (One of my all-time favorite films, Hellman’s Two-Lane Blacktop from 1971, is also available from Criterion.)

Of the two Westerns, I prefer The Shooting. A friend and I once had a lot of fun arguing about which is better. His reasoning was that Harry Dean Stanton automatically makes Whirlwind the better film. I played the Warren Oates card.

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Lippert

A few weeks ago, I broke my glasses and began relying on an old (pre-trifocals) pair while I scrambled for an eye exam and new frames. Reading became very, very difficult. Not the best time to receive a book you’re really excited about. But that’s exactly when Mark Thomas McGee’s Talk’s Cheap, Action’s Expensive: The Films Of Robert L. Lippert, from BearManor Media, turned up in my mailbox.

Lippert Pictures (and related companies) cranked out cheap little Westerns like 1952’s Outlaw Women, along with gems such as Sam Fuller’s I Shot Jesse James (1949) and The Quiet Gun (1957). (They covered the other genres, too.) I’m a big fan of these films and was determined to make my way through the book with or without spectacles, holding it so close I risked paper cuts on my nose.

McGee set the book up very well. The first 80 pages or so read as a biography and history of Lippert and his career, from the theater business to film production. I had a working knowledge of the Lippert story going in, but was always coming upon something I didn’t know. There’s a filmography, arranged by company, that makes up the bulk of the book. And finally, there’s a listing of the Lippert theaters (the closest to me was in Chattanooga, TN).

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What’s not to like about a book like this? It’s packed with information on movies I grew up with, movies I love. Rocketship X-M (1950). The Steel Helmet (1951). Superman And The Mole Men (1951). Forty Guns (1957). Showdown At Boot Hill (1958). The Fly (1958). The Alligator People (1959). House Of The Damned (1963). They’re all in here, and you’ll come away with a better understanding of what went into getting them made. Where I think McGee really excelled was in making sure the book, as informative as it is, stayed as fun as the films it’s about. (The same goes for his previous books on Roger Corman and AIP.)

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If there’s a downside to this book, it’s that the filmography points out film after film that you’d love to track down and see. You’ll find a lot of them available from Kit Parker Films and VCI, and others scattered here and there. Some of the Fullers were even given the Criterion treatment. As for the rest, well, happy hunting.

It’s very easy to recommend Mark Thomas McGee’s Talk’s Cheap, Action’s Expensive: The Films Of Robert L. Lippert. Now that my new glasses are in, I’m reading it a second time.

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Roger Corman’s Gunslinger (1956), maybe my daughter’s favorite 50s Western (take that, Mystery Science Theater!), has been announced for DVD release from Timeless Media Group on October 15. The set, another Movies 4 You Western Film Collection — also offers Clint Walker and Barry Sullivan in Yuma (1971), Terence Hill in the spaghetti western Man Of The East (1971) and Pioneer Woman (1973). An odd grouping, maybe, but you can’t beat the $6.95 list price.

I’ve written about Gunslinger before, and I’m happy to know it’s going to be available Stateside. Beverly Garland is always terrific, and she’s so cool in this one. Not sure if it’ll be widescreen or not — the PAL version is, and it’s as nice-looking as this cheap little picture is probably capable of looking. And as ridiculous as it sounds, all of us in the Roan household would love to see it make its way to Blu-ray.

UPDATE 9/30/13: Timeless has served up the same widescreen transfer of Gunslinger as the UK release. It’s 1.85, which AIP called “Wide Vision”on the poster. The contrast levels fluctuate a bit, probably the result of the constant rain that plagued its six-day shooting schedule — this is a nice transfer of a cheap movie. Any issues come from Iverson Ranch in 1956, not from the film transfer suite.

As far the other titles, Man Of The East looks terrific — I love the look of those Techniscope spaghetti westerns. Yuma is soft.

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What a great poster, too! Reynold Brown, I think.

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My daughter caught Beverly Garland in Gunslinger (1956, above) yesterday (on broadcast TV!) and loved it. She thought Beverly was about the coolest thing ever — which, of course, she is. She also thought her horse was pretty.

Blake Lucas suggested Johnny Guitar (1954) as a followup, and I thought of Hellfire (1949, below).

By then, this was looking like something we could all have fun with. So, while I have the opportunity to turn my little girl into a (cap) pistol-packing 50s Western fan, let’s program a 12-year-old girl’s 50s Western Film Festival. Put your picks in a comment.

You know, maybe it’s time 50 Westerns From The 50s had a guest blogger.

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Almost all genre film fans know character actor Dick Miller. Here he is tending bar behind Richard Denning and Peggie Castle in Roger Corman’s The Oklahoma Woman (1956).

There’s a documentary on Miller in the works, one that I’m dying to see. You can help get it done through Kickstarter. And while you’re there, you can see Dick’s home movie footage from the set of A Time For Killing (1967), which Corman began directing, but was completed by Phil Karlson. Mugging for the 8mm camera are Glenn Ford, Inger Stevens, Harry Dean Stanton and Timothy Carey. Be sure to check it out.

UPDATE (August 21, 2012): Elijah did it. If any of you out there pledged to help make this happen, thanks. I’m dying to see it.

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In 1955, Roger Corman was a young independent producer with a couple cheap pictures under his belt: Highway Dragnet (1954) and The Fast And The Furious (1955). The latter, a low-budget crime picture starring John Ireland (who also directed) and Dorothy Malone, wound up being the first film released by American Releasing, run by Samuel Z. Arkoff and James H. Nicholson — a company that would evolve into American International Pictures.

American popular culture would never be the same.

Roger Corman: “The early days at American Releasing were pretty hectic. You always found yourself with no time and no money and a movie to shoot.”

Part of Corman’s arrangement with American Releasing was that The Fast And The Furious would become the first release of a three-picture deal. This deal made sure Corman had money to put into his next film, which turned out to be Five Guns West (1955).

Corman: “Although I had some advance money from AIP, the picture was financed primarily with my money.”

Going into this next one, the young producer wanted to try his hand at something else.

Corman: “After The Fast And The Furious, I felt I was ready to direct… I had been on the lot at Fox and seen how it was done in the big time. I had seen my two little pictures being made. And I did set up a few shot that one day on the beach… I had shot a one-day short subject… I felt, I can do this. If a young man came to me today with similar credentials there’s no way I’d hire him.”

Samuel Z. Arkoff: “He almost had to direct and produce to be able to get on the screen in a short period of time with the amount of money available. If he hadn’t been his own director, he couldn’t possibly have made them so fast. If he hadn’t been his own producer, he wouldn’t have known what he as the director wanted.”

Corman: “The story for Five Guns West was mine, but the structure and screenplay were Bob Campbell’s… Our collaboration became a model for countless future films: We discussed my idea and built a story structure. He wrote, we honed it together, and then I directed from the screenplay. I gave myself a nine-day shooting schedule and a $60,000 budget.”

The picture plays like a Civil War variation on The Dirty Dozen (1967). A group of Confederate prisoners are offered pardons for carrying out a dangerous mission, to journey across Indian Territory to find a Union gold shipment — and a Confederate traitor. Much of the action takes place at a way station, as the prisoners turn on their commander (John Lund) and try to have their way with Dorothy Malone.

Corman: “I only had the five men plus a few minor speaking parts… I offered John Lund and Dorothy Malone as much as I could and hired a young, rugged newcomer named Touch Connors. He later changed his name to Mike and became a TV star on Mannix.”

Mike Connors: “Roger was one of the few people around who gave inexperienced actors a chance. I got, I think, $400. But just working was a great thrill.”

The cast also included two actors who’d go on to memorable parts in other Corman films: Paul Lund, so effective as the alien in Not Of This Earth (1957), and Jonathan Haze (whose name is misspelled in the titles), Seymour in the three-day masterpiece Little Shop Of Horrors (1960). Writer R. Wright Campbell also wrote a part for himself.

Corman: “I was nervous, but I never doubted that I could pull it off. The film was almost all exteriors and I decided to shoot in the parched, rocky terrain at Iverson’s Ranch, on the far side of the San Fernando Valley near Chatsworth… I was also planning to shoot at Ingram’s Ranch, owned by cowboy actor Jack Ingram, because he had built a Western town there.”

Along with his ranch, Jack Ingram himself appears in the film.

Corman: “I had planned everything. Then I awoke on the first day of shooting and drove to the location through an incredible torrent of rain. This wasn’t possible. My first day! I hadn’t even started and I was already behind schedule! I got so worked up and tense that I pulled off the road and threw up. Then I just leaned against my car in the rain and pulled myself together. I made it to Iverson’s and after about an hour’s wait the rain stopped.”

Puddles of water and muddy boots can be clearly seen in the Iverson scenes. Part of the crew trudging around in the rain that day was Oscar-winning cinematographer Floyd D. Crosby, who’d won a Golden Globe for his work on High Noon (1951).

Floyd Crosby: “He needed a lot less coaching than a lot of other young directors. He knew what he wanted, he worked fast, and it was fun. Suddenly we were a team.”

This collaboration would result in excellent, and excellent-looking, pictures like Pit And The Pendulum (1961) and Tales Of Terror (1964). Eventually, Crosby worked on other films, for other directors, at AIP.

Corman: “He was a rarity. He worked fast, which is important to me, and yet his stuff was always good. No matter how fast I moved, Floyd kept right up, and he could light a setup in 10–15 minutes flat, or even faster if need be, and we’d go. That’s unusual—lots of people are fast, but you don’t want to see the results. With Floyd, you didn’t have that problem. Plus, he knew how to set up these really complicated dolly shots quickly. He was the best, and working with him was always a pleasure, professionally and personally.”

Making this first one, however, doesn’t sound like a pleasure at all. For starters, they worked 10-hour days.

Corman: “I’d shoot in the morning and then sit by myself with my eyes closed during our lunch break. I’d just sit there and envision the possible difficulties of the afternoon’s shooting. Throughout the film, I tried to do things like not collapse in front of the cast and crew.”

“After the first week went by and nothing awful happened, I felt a little less petrified. From that experience, I learned that all first-time directors are nervous. If they’re not, then they don’t have the artistry, creativity or sensitivity to be in this business.”

It’s hard to pull off a ride through Indian Territory when you’re got a cast of less than a dozen people. Here’s how Roger tackled it.

“I went to a stock footage library and bought what I needed for the Indians scenes. An audience sees a shot of Indians riding on horseback through the dust — who knows what film that actually came from? A soldier looks through binoculars from a hilltop — then I cut to the stock shot of 500 Indians racing by on horseback. “Okay, fellas,” he says, “the Indians are over there. Let’s head over there!” That was by far the cheapest way for them to travel through Indian Territory.”

Five Guns West stands as a pretty typical ultracheap 50s Western. Actually, it rises above its minimal budget fairly well. Some clumsy camera moves and under-choreographed fights show just how fast they were working. The performances from Lund and Malone are fine, while Connors, Haze and the others try a bit too hard. It was billed as being in “Wide Screen Color” — nothing more than Pathécolor and a 1.85 cropping.

But when you put Five Guns West up against later Corman films, it’s interesting that depending on the budget, cast and schedule—his direction is sometimes worse. Once you’ve seen Ski Troop Attack and Atlas (both 1960), his directorial debut plays like The Magnificent Ambersons.

Corman: “The pace never let up. Before Five Guns West came out, for example, I was already involved with Apache Woman, a Western they created and asked me to produce and direct from a completed script. It cost a little under $80,000.”

Corman: “I did four Westerns, all distributed by AIP. Two of them were my ideas and two were AIP’s ideas — the titles alone will tell you which were which. The two that were my ideas were Five Guns West and Gunslinger (1956). The two that were AIP’s ideas were Apache Woman and The Oklahoma Woman (both 1955).”

And while the budgets and schedules certainly got better, that’s pretty much the way Roger Corman’s directorial career continued.

Corman: “I think if I had been unemployed longer between films, I could have sat and thought a little bit about what I was doing.”

SOURCES: Roger Corman (with Jim Jerome): How I Made A Hundred Movies In Hollywood And Never Lost A Dime; Wheeler Winston Dixon: Collected Interviews: Voices From Twentieth-Century Cinema; Ed Naha: The Films Of Roger Corman; and J. Philip di Franco: The Movie World Of Roger Corman.

NOTE: A previous Corman post appeared on this blog: Gunslinger. More on the Roger Corman Blogathon here.

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The Summer Movie Blog-A-Thon presents this charge: “Summer brings with it an air of nostalgia — not just of ice cream trucks, swing sets and pool parties, but of the movies we grew up with during summer vacation… write about our favorite summer childhood movies and memories.” Here’s mine.

Every summer growing up, we’d head to Strawn, Texas, and stay a few weeks with my grandparents. My grandfather, Flint McCullough, was a real cowboy — he trained cutting horses.

Being a movie-collecting family, and this being the pre-home video 1970s, we always packed a 16mm projector and stack of prints for the trip. One particular summer, when I was 10 or 11, two of the films that made the trek (in a Chevrolet station wagon) were Budd Boetticher’s Buchanan Rides Alone (1958) and Roger Corman’s Pit And The Pendulum (1961). This trip was one of the best times of my life. And those two films remain among my favorites.

Strawn is a tiny town of about 800 or so people — a couple hours West of Dallas. My grandmother, Zelma McCullough, worked in the lone grocery store. At least once a day, my cousins and I would walk into town to visit her, get a Dr. Pepper and a pack of Odd Rods bubble gum cards. Then we’d stop by my grandpa’s barn — and grab another Dr. Pepper and a handful of pecans. (The barn’s refrigerator seemed to contain nothing but Dr. Pepper and pharmaceuticals for the horses.) Along the way, there was always an old rusted Ford or something to climb on.

Summers in Strawn get really, really hot. And sitting under the window-unit air conditioner watching a Randolph Scott movie, projected onto the bright white living room wall, was a nice way to beat the heat. That’s how I first saw Buchanan Rides Alone. Several times over those two-to-three weeks. I remember the projector we ran it on — one of those green Bell & Howells many people remember from high school. I can hear its clicky purr mixed with the hum of the A/C. I can recall the brownish color of the slightly-faded print. (No telling what it looks like now.) And I can still recite a lot of its dialogue. Same goes for Pit And The Pendulum. With it, I also came to appreciate how widescreen (Panavision, in this case) can be used to startling effect.

I also recall thinking Randolph Scott, as Buchanan, was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. He looked cool (though I didn’t like the hat they gave him to wear). He got to say cool, smart-ass things (courtesy of writers Charles Lang and an uncredited Burt Kennedy) and shoot people. Plus, he had a Southern accent, which made me feel better about mine.

You read a lot about the cinematic experience — film, in a theater, with an audience. That’s how we’re meant to see these things. But film, at my grandmother’s house, with a cousin or two — that’s pretty good, too. So while Buchanan isn’t as good a picture as, say, Seven Men From Now (1956) or Ride Lonesome (1959), it has that summer in Strawn going for it — which makes it a great great film indeed.

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