Director Showcase – Roger Corman
It is Friday, so it is Director showcase day. This week FRC’s favourite guest authort Jack Deth takes through the works of Roger Corman
Greetings all and sundry! With all the love spread about this past week by several bloggers on the birthday of Mr. Gregory Peck. I thought I’d take a different perspective about a true and independent pioneer of cinema whose name is revered by many. Yet is sadly unknown or unrecognized by those born beyond the 1970s. And who happens to share the same date of birth (April 5th) as Mr. Peck. With that in mind. Allow me to introduce you to, wax poetic and nostalgic by critiquing and dissecting ten of my favorite and noteworthy films by:
Roger Corman: Director.
#10: It Conquered the World (1956):
With Lee Van Cleef and Peter Graves as scientists seeking out signals from intelligent extra terrestrial life. Contact is made to Venus and an emissary sent. Not for anything as paltry as friendly relations, but to assimilate the planet Earth. Through what looks like a brain with bat wings, First, Van Cleef and his wife, Beverly Garland have their mind made right. Then Graves, but things go badly awry when Graves’ wife, Sally Fraser enters the cave where the emissary, a giant cone shaped Dixie Cup with eyes, teeth, arms and hands dwells; with rifle in hand. Very near the epitome of low budget Sci-Fi schlock. Though fairly well done. And the subject of derision in Frank Zappa’s Cheapnis in 1974.
#9: The Little Shop of Horrors (1960):
The epitome of low budget Sci-Fi Schlock! Shot in two days and three nights while using the sets of another Corman film, A Bucket of Blood. With an assortment of decent looking craft and paper mache plants and flowers. The story centers around simple minded Seymour Krelboyne, well played by Corman stalwart, Jonathan Haze. Who works on L.A.’s Skid Row at Mushnick’s Flower Shop (Lots Pants. Cheap!) and finds a seed pod from another planet that fell from a passing meteor. Sidney plants the pod in a coffee can of soil and watches it grow. And talk! It seems the sprouting plant, Audrey II, named after the girl of Sidney’s dreams grows best when fed blood and later, human parts. A young. masochistic dental patient, Jack Nicholson is one of Audrey’s first victims. Still holds its own opposite the later, much larger budgeted musical!
#8: The Intruder (1962):
Features future Captain James T. Kirk, William Shatner, as a slick, smooth talking, little nondescript race baiter, hustler and con man. Who steps off a bus in a sleepy little southern town with a small suitcase and malevolence in his heart. During the time of Freedom Riders and the first tentative steps of the civil rights movement. Shatner displays his range and believable ability to be a racist creep and louse by knowing what buttons to push with the town’s population. As well as when and how hard in a hardly known film that is way ahead of its time!
#7: X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes (1963):
Another Corman stalwart, Ray Milland stars as Dr. James Xavier. A renowned scientist whose area of expertise is vision and its enhancement and improvement. In the course of his studies, Xavier develops eye drops that work well at first, though are highly addictive. Xavier becomes obsessed as his funding heads south. Undaunted, Xavier visits Las Vegas. Where he can easily see other players’ cards at the poker and Blackjack tables. Xavier rakes in more funding as his need to continue using the eye drops increases as desperation and lack of sleep take their toll. Ending up in a nervous breakdown outside a desert revival tent and a shocking, often disputed ending.
#6: The Secret Invasion (1963):
What does the British Army do with a criminal mastermind (Rakish Raf Vallone), a demolitions expert with the IRA, (Mickey Rooney), a charming thief (William Campbell), a forger (Edd ‘Cookie’ Byrnes of 77 Sunset Strip fame) and a cold blooded murderer who prefers a knife (Henry Silva) during WWII? You put them under the protective wings of Stewart Granger and send them to German held Yugoslavia to rescue a captured Italian general who is sympathetic to the Allies! Of course, everything that could go wrong does and the team is captured an put in the same ancient prison as the general. Each applies their own trades to break out. Retrieve the general and start a rather large uprising. Though, not everyone survives in a film four years before The Dirty Dozen.
#5: The Wild Angels (1966):
Let’s step back into the Way Back Machine. To a time three years before Easy Rider. To find Peter Fonda as ‘Blues’, his Harley. His girlfriend, ‘Mike’, lusciously played by Nancy Sinatra and Blues’ buddy, ‘Loser’, played wondrously loose and grungy by Bruce Dern. With real life wife, Diane Ladd as ‘Gaysh’. Stir in a few physical altercations, fist fights and a chase by local police as Blues and his crew of Hell’s Angels go searching for Dern’s lost Hog. Dern is shot in the back by the cops and taken to the hospital. Where an attempt to break Dern out fails. A rape occurs and Blues tries to break it up. Only to be falsely accused while Dern dies from shock. Things only get worse for Blues from there. In a nearly unknown film that put the outlaw biker genre of film on the map!
#4: The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre:
Say what you will about Jason Robard’s less than stellar Al Capone. This film is still the best and most well thought out and executed detailing of events large and small that lead up to that fateful day in 1929. A superb period piece with a memorable cast performing admirable work. Most notably, Robards, George Segal and Ralph Meeker as ‘Bugs’ Moran. Also a treat for finding other ‘Roger Corman Commandos’ (Jonathan Haze, Jack Nichlson, Bruce Dern) in cameos. And a very young Alex Rocco as ‘Diamond’. Narration by Paul Frees is as well timed and dramatic as it is essential.
#3: The Trip (1967):
On the advent of the Acid wave that would become vogue a year later. Peter Fonda’s Paul Groves drops acid (LSD-25) for the first time. To help him get over the shock of finding his adulterous wife, Sally in the arms of another man.Paul’s trip takes him wandering along Sunset Strip and its nightclubs. Where he meets Glenn, kittenishly played by Salli Sachse.Who drives Paul out to her beach house along Big Sur. Where they indulge in some heavy duty lust under the stars and spectacular sunrise. Though the film asks more questions than it answers. It is still ground breaking. With Bruce Dern as Paul’s spiritual guide and Dennis Hopper as Paul’s dealer.
#2: Bloody Mama (1970):
Put Shelly Winters in the role as the slightly less than normal or sane ‘Ma’ Barker. Toss in her four less than Rocket Scientist sons. Pragmatic Arthur, (Clint Kimbrough). Sadistic Herman (Don Stroud). Bisexual Fred (Robert Walden) and loyal, glue sniffing Lloyd (Robert Di Nero) and you may get an idea as to why and how Ma and her boys and Fred’s boyfriend, Kevin (Bruce Dern) occupy the shadowy lowest tiers of Depression Era Desperadoes. Though De Niro steals nearly every scene he’s in three years before Bang The Drum Slowly and Mean Streets.
#1: Battle Beyond The Stars (1980):
Take the original ideas of Akira Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai and John Sturges’ The Magnificent Seven and stick them in deep, deep space. Let a budding John Sayles handle the screenplay and script. Add a dash of Richard Thomas seeking mercenaries and have those gunslingers include George Peppard and Robert Vaughn and you have the makings of a small scale cult classic! With over the top
costumes adoring beautiful women. More than slightly erotic spacecraft and decent for their time Special Effects supplied by a young James Cameron. In a film that is just as memorable due to those behind the cameras as in front of them.
Please note that these films were chosen in chronological order. Not in a descending level of greatness. To do that, I would also have to include Mr. Corman’s collaboration with Vincent Price in adapting and re-telling of some of the best works of Edgar Allan Poe (House of Ushers, Pit and the Pendulum, Premature Burial, Tales of Terror, Tower of London, The Masque of Red Death) or with Peter Lorre and Boris Karloff in ‘The Raven’ and ‘The Terror’.
Many have said that Mr. Corman was incredibly tight with a dollar. Where I see it as a virtue for a maverick making his mark by shooting a film on time and under budget. Then delivering those cans of film to a clutch of theaters and drive ins. Getting the check and cashing it and starting immediately on another project. Bare bones film making and guerrilla distribution at its most basic and brutal. While Hollywood was searching for the next big musical or Otto Preminger epic.
Mr. Corman also supplied and filled niches for countless kids and teens of the 1960s and 70s who were seeking something other than another variation on The Sound of Music or Cleopatra. In this realm, Mr. Corman reigns supreme. Developing a sense of trends and what’s going to happen before it does and capitalizing on it. Be it outlaw bikers, recreational pharmacology or cast driven costume dramas. Mr. Corman was and still is a Hipster long before being a Hipster was cool!
In his travels and travails, Mr. Corman spotted talent and gently pushed it. Very early on with a writer named Jack Nicholson. Editors Peter Bogdanovich and Dennis Hopper. Henry Fonda’s wayward son, Peter and his friend, Bruce Dern. A wiry bundle of raw talent named Bobby De Niro. A young Second Unit director named Frank Coppola, who cut his teeth on Dementa 13. And some unknown, up and comer from NYU, who helped edit Woodstock, in 1970 named Marty Scorsese.
For those of you who do not know of Mr. Corman and his myriad works. You really should. Just to get a few snap shots of times that have relegated to the History books through his films. And to understand what the definition of a Pioneer truly is….. He’s the guy with the arrows in his back!
Did you enjoy this Showcase? What are your favourite films from Roger Corman? Comment below