Archive for February, 2010

Universal Exports

When you’ve owned as many books on horror and science fiction films and television as I do (almost 200 at last count), it’s very rare to see a new arrival that excites you with a previously neglected subject, or especially that renews interest in an oft-covered one.  But for Christmas my oldest brother, Jonathan, gave me a copy of Michael Mallory’s impressive Universal Studios Monsters: A Legacy of Horror, recently published by Rizzoli/Universe, and, well, I’m excited.  Mallory (the author of previous books about Marvel Comics—always a good sign—and Hanna-Barbera) clearly knows whereof he writes, and conveys both his knowledge and his enthusiasm to the lucky reader on every page.

After a self-serving foreword by filmmaker Stephen Sommers, Mallory segues from an overview of Universal’s history and key contributions during the silent era to profiles of its classic monsters:  Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, the Wolf Man, the Mummy, the Invisible Man, and the Gill Man.  These are interspersed with informative “spotlights” on actors Lon Chaney (Sr. and Jr.), Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Una O’Connor, and Dwight Frye; screenwriter Curt Siodmak; effects and makeup wizards John P. Fulton and Jack P. Pierce; director James Whale; composer Hans Salter; supporting players; and leading ladies.  Separate sections cover such broader topics as “Creatures, Creepers, and Chillers” (incorporating Universal’s second-string monsters and Inner Sanctum mysteries), “Monsters, Madmen, and Freaks of Science,” and the genre spoofs of Abbott and Costello.

As this reviewer knows all too well, summarizing films in just the right amount of detail is harder than it looks, but Mallory succeeds admirably with lively writing and fascinating trivia.  (One such tidbit:  the 1941 genre-flavored murder mystery Horror Island winged its way into theaters an amazing twenty-five days after filming began.)  And while his tone is inevitably pro-Universal throughout, he does not refrain from pointing out slip-ups like the glaring continuity gaffes in the Mummy series whereby, if the films’ internal timeline were actually followed, The Mummy’s Curse (1944) would be set sometime in the late 1990s!

This might be regarded as the coffee-table counterpart to the encyclopedic Universal Horrors: The Studio’s Classic Films, 1931-1946 (1990) by Michael Brunas, John Brunas, and Tom Weaver, a 600-page tome that tackles the topic in the painstaking detail one expects from McFarland (ahem).  Mallory’s lavish volume covers the subject more succinctly, yet with rich detail, reminiscences by surviving participants (e.g., Julie Adams, Ricou Browning, Elena Verdugo), and—most important—a wealth of gorgeously reproduced stills and posters.  Sure, I’ve seen some of these photos before, but man, they’ve never looked so good as they do in this 9 ¼” x 12 ¼” format, and many were new to me.  The size, clarity, and sheer number of these illustrations is positively jaw-dropping.

The book does display some curious choices and omissions.  For example, Mallory rhapsodizes about Olga Baclanova’s smoldering pre-Code performance in The Man Who Laughs (1928), yet makes no mention of her infamous appearance as the ill-fated aerialist in one of the most notorious of all horror films, Freaks (1932), perhaps because erstwhile Universal mainstay Tod Browning directed it for MGM instead.  Likewise, the jacket features portraits of all of the major monsters discussed therein, but the Mummy is represented by the otherwise obscure Tom Tyler in The Mummy’s Hand (1940) rather than by Karloff, who created the role in the 1932 original, or Chaney Jr., who endured it in three sequels.  This might be excused, since Karloff and Chaney are already depicted as Frankenstein’s Monster and the Wolf Man, respectively, yet Dracula appears in the person of John Carradine instead of Lugosi.  To exclude the man who was, in a sense, directly responsible for Universal Horror with his breakthrough success in Browning’s Dracula (1931) seems inexplicable indeed.

But these and some unfortunate proofing errors marring an otherwise professional presentation (e.g., “who’s” instead of “whose,” a real Word-Man pet peeve, in a photo caption) can be easily overlooked in a book that offers so much.  Not for nothing have the Universal Horror films remained favorites for almost eighty years, and this admiring, affectionate tribute gives them their due in a respectful and effective way.  Highly recommended.

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My Filmic Valentine

The more observant among you may have noticed the appearance of a new page cryptically labeled “B100.”  Yes, I’ll wait while the rest of you have a look.  Okay, good.  This is a list of my 100 more or less favorite films.  I say “more or less” because even the short list was about twice as long, and it was like pulling teeth to get it down to 100.  (Forget about a Turafish-style top ten!)  If I had finalized the list on a different day, there might have been several different entries, and I’m sure those who know me well are going to look at it and say, “Hey, where’s [fill in the blank]?”  They’re listed alphabetically, because trying to whittle it down that far was tough enough without trying to rank them.  But if I did, the top three would probably be Where Eagles Dare (#1 for sure), It’s a Wonderful Life, and Casablanca.

This is not—I repeat, NOT—my list of the supposed 100 greatest films ever made.  As I’ve grown older and, one hopes, wiser, I’ve come to realize just how subjective these things are, and to say of certain films not “that was terrible” or “I hated it,” but simply “that wasn’t really my cup of tea.”  Mind you, there are plenty of films about which I DO say “that was terrible” or “I hated it,” but I think it’s important to make the distinction.  These are my (more or less) favorite films.  If you like them, too, then you’re free to consider them the best, but that’s up to you.  I make no grandiose claims for them, although there are a number that I have taken pleasure in championing over the years (and no, guys, The Moonshine War didn’t quite make it…although thanks to my friend Gilbert, I now have the Warner Archive DVD!).

Some of these films (e.g., A Night at the Opera, It’s a Gift, Goldfinger) were included at least partly to represent the overall bodies of work by artists I admire and/or enjoy.  Conversely, there are other filmmakers (e.g., Truffaut, Bergman, Frankenheimer) and studios (e.g., the genre films of Hammer, Universal, AIP, and Toho) that I prize more for their oeuvres in general than for specific films, so you will find them perhaps shockingly underrepresented on the list, if at all.  So be it.  It ain’t because I don’t love ’em, it’s just tough to single out one or more favorites (e.g., Bride of Frankenstein, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster, Truffaut’s Stolen Kisses, and several Frankenheimer films, all of which narrowly missed making the cut).  There are also a number of sequels that I dearly love (e.g., The Empire Strikes Back, French Connection II, The Godfather Part II and the remainder of the Lord of the Rings trilogy), but just aren’t quite as special to me personally as the originals.

As time goes by (to quote one of the films), you’ll be reading more about these, but rather than try to editorialize on all 100 of them at once, I’ll be breaking them down into more manageable groups of ten.  If I’m doing this right, you’ll not only be entertained and enlightened about the backgrounds of some of these films and why I love them, but also get some ideas for further viewing of your own.  Meanwhile, the list can speak for itself as a conversation piece and a window into the mind of the Word-Man.  Hope you enjoy looking it over.

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First in a series of six previously unpublished profiles.

Once called “the Val Lewton of 1950s sci-fi/horror,” William Alland (1916-97) produced several classic SF films directed by Jack Arnold at Universal-International (U-I).  Also an actor and screenwriter, he had appeared in Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane (1941) as Thompson, the dogged reporter, and received the story credit on Flesh and Fury (1952) and several of his own productions.

His stint at U-I began with The Black Castle (1952), a Gothic melodrama marking the debut of Nathan Juran, who went on to direct Alland’s The Deadly Mantis (1957).  Alland’s output there was divided relatively evenly between SF and such Westerns as The Stand at Apache River (1953) and Chief Crazy Horse (1955), both of which portrayed Indians in an unusually favorable manner.

Before directing Alland’s Four Guns to the Border (1954), actor Richard Carlson met equally sympathetic aliens in Arnold’s It Came from Outer Space (1953), U-I’s first 3-D feature.  Based on a treatment by author Ray Bradbury, the film concerns a crew of “Xenomorphs,” who impersonate the residents of a small southwestern town to buy time while repairing their spaceship.

According to Bradbury, his treatment, “The Meteor,” amounted to a full script that was only slightly revised by screenwriter Harry Essex, who returned for Arnold’s Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954).  Also shot in 3-D, this provided the decade’s only addition to Universal’s stable of classic monsters, the Gill-Man, which remains one of the genre’s most convincing make-up effects.

Alland produced U-I’s first full-color SF film, an epic adaptation of Raymond F. Jones’s 1952 novel This Island Earth (1955), directed by the otherwise unremarkable Joseph M. Newman.  Arnold reportedly lent an uncredited hand, probably limited to the climax on the embattled planet of Metaluna, to which the studio insisted on including a bug-eyed mutant, over Alland’s objections.

In Arnold’s Revenge of the Creature (1955), the last Hollywood 3-D film of the 1950s, the Gill-Man is captured and put on display in a Florida oceanarium.  While he was somewhat less effective outside his natural Amazonian habitat (in reality the Everglades), the film is head and shoulders above many sequels, and notable in marking the screen debut of a young Clint Eastwood.

Eastwood also had a bit part in Arnold’s Tarantula (1955), which concerned an eponymous arachnid made monstrous by an “atomically stabilized” nutrient.  This combined human actors with footage of a photographically enlarged spider much more believably than the other “big bug” films of the same era, thanks largely to the work of cameraman and special effects wizard Clifford Stine.

Several of Alland’s colleagues advanced under his aegis, such as Virgil Vogel, who edited This Island Earth and was elevated to director on two of his lesser efforts, The Mole People (1956) and The Land Unknown (1957).  When Arnold declined to direct the third and final Gill-Man film, The Creature Walks Among Us (1956), he recommended his erstwhile assistant, John Sherwood.

Alland made his last two genre films—Eugène Lourié’s The Colossus of New York and Arnold’s The Space Children (both 1958)—for Paramount.  The former features a scientist who places the brilliant brain of his deceased son into a huge robot, with predictable results, while the latter concerns a giant alien brain that controls a group of children to foil a nuclear satellite project.

On the small screen, Alland produced World of Giants (1960); ironically, this series about a six-inch-tall spy was inspired by Arnold’s The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), produced by Albert Zugsmith after Alland left U-I.  He and Arnold enjoyed occasional changes of pace like The Lady Takes a Flyer (1958), a romantic comedy, and The Lively Set (1964), a teen-oriented rock musical.

Alland directed one film, the psychological drama Look in Any Window (1961), and left the industry after producing the Western comedy The Rare Breed (1966).  At his best, he shared Val Lewton’s ability to create intelligent, atmospheric genre films within the constraints of limited budgets and studio control, and will be remembered as that rare producer with a true affinity for SF.

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(Earth)bound and Determined

This just in, courtesy of my friend and fellow blogger Turafish (http://turafish.wordpress.com/):  Richard Matheson’s novel Earthbound has been optioned for the screen (http://www.comingsoon.net/news/movienews.php?id=63231).  The book concerns a couple whose marriage and lives are threatened when an “earthbound spirit” first seduces the husband and then possesses the wife.  As I always say, “Many are optioned; few are filmed,” so it will be interesting to see if it finally makes it this time, after an abortive attempt by Matheson and producer Stan Shpetner (who wanted to call it The Cold and Alien Kiss of Death) to mount a TV version years ago, using Richard’s own script.

One of the things I’m most proud of about Richard Matheson on Screen (http://www.mcfarlandpub.com/book-2.php?id=978-0-7864-4216-4) is its extensive coverage of such unproduced projects, in addition to those that actually got made.  Let’s hope this one does, too!  In the right hands, it could make a hell of a movie, but even the novel went through the literary version of development hell, including a hatchet job by two blue-pencil-pushing biddies who decided that Richard “didn’t know how to write.”  As a result, he put his pen name of Logan Swanson on the first edition, a 1982 Playboy Press paperback original.  On a personal note, when Tor finally published his approved text (which had been released in England in 1989) in the U.S. for the first time in 1994, under his real name, I had the honor of writing the press release for that major literary event.

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The Wilder Bunch, Part II

We now focus on the three films central to the W. Lee Wilder canon:  Phantom from Space (1953), Killers from Space, and The Snow Creature (both 1954).  If the opening four minutes of Phantom aren’t composed almost entirely of stock footage, I’ll eat my hat.  The sad thing is that when the “real” footage kicks in, it looks like stock footage, too…an impression that the wooden acting does nothing to dispel.  Shortly after a UFO disappears from the radar screens near Santa Monica, reports begin trickling in of murders committed by a guy wearing what looks like a diving suit, whose helmet appears to be empty.  In fact, he’s invisible inside the suit, so shedding it initially enables him to elude capture, but with the concomitant problem that he’ll die without periodic access to his rapidly dwindling air supply.  Soon, a motley crew of representatives from the military, the police, the press, and the scientific community is assembled to track him down.

Said crew (including a token female to scream on cue) eventually overcomes its initial skepticism and accepts the inevitable conclusion that this particular phantom is, you guessed it, from space.  Evidently the poor slob simply crashed his ship in the drink and is trying to stay alive, only killing those who appear to be threatening him.  All too soon (or not soon enough, depending on your point of view, since this film’s scant 73-minute running time feels much longer), he’s lured into the dome of Griffith Observatory and, uh, observed under infrared light, looking suspiciously like James Arness in The Thing (1951) stripped of his suit.  It’s theorized that he is only made visible that way because he is a silicon- rather than a carbon-based life form.  Whatever.  His helmet, which would have run out of air soon anyway, is destroyed, and after a fall from a ladder he lies naked (albeit tactfully arranged) and dead.

The Snow Creature opens as a botanical expedition sets forth in the Himalayas, and once again the first four minutes betray the film’s extreme poverty, in this case with a monotonous narration, despite the fact that characters are clearly speaking in several shots, which were evidently photographed “wild,” i.e., without synchronized sound.  Before you can say “You ain’t seen nothin’ Yeti” (sorry, couldn’t resist), the Sherpa guide has commandeered the expedition to look for the Abominable Snowman that took his wife.  They find the Yeti, which is stunned by collapsing rocks after inexplicably causing a cave-in that kills its mate and offspring, and the botanist manages not only to regain control of the expedition but also to sedate the Yeti and bring it back to Los Angeles.  There, it quickly escapes and commits a couple of murders, each rendered in stunningly minimalist style with an offscreen scream—which sounds like the same one every time—and the camera panning back and forth across a static backdrop.

After one of the most tedious (snow)manhunts imaginable, the creature is cornered and killed inside a storm drain in a scene reminscent of that year’s far superior Them! Remember in Star Wars (1977) when Han Solo referred to Chewbacca as a “walking carpet”?  Well, the titular Yeti (reportedly played by Dick Sands, previously the space phantom) looks like a literalization of that phrase, with random pieces of material attached to his body…at least as far as one can judge, since he is mostly shot in the shadows, which is probably just as well.  Adding to the bizarre flavor is the sometimes non-sequitur-filled, Ed Wood-style dialogue between the botanist and the cop leading the chase, the imminent birth of whose son is supposed to add to the dubious drama.  My wife, who is much more observant than I, noted that this film in particular also displays Wilder’s penchant for close-ups of watches on male wrists.

Surely the pick of the litter (an apt word to use, albeit with a different meaning, when describing Wilder’s unique cinematic detritus), Killers at least offers the experience of watching Peter Graves in one of several scientist roles from genre films of that pre-Mission: Impossible period.  The others are Red Planet Mars (1952), Roger Corman’s It Conquered the World (1956), and Bert I. Gordon’s Beginning of the End (1957).  It also features aliens with ping-pong-ball eyes that look like they may have inspired similar orbs in the oeuvre of Larry Buchanan, e.g., the uncredited Matheson adaptation “It’s Alive!” (1969), about which you can naturally learn more than you ever wanted to know in Richard Matheson on Screen.  Most of all, Killers is just plain fun, and certainly more entertaining in its own way than the other two films.

Dr. Doug Martin (Graves) is going about his business, which is recording and analyzing data from atomic tests in the Nevada desert, when an unknown force crashes his plane, killing the pilot.  Doug’s body is nowhere to be found until it shows up some time later, miraculously ambulatory and seemingly none the worse for wear, with two exceptions:  he remembers nothing since right before the crash, and has an inexplicably well-healed scar on his chest that wasn’t there the previous night, as his wife will attest.  Not surprisingly, Doug is considered a potential security risk until some of these questions can be answered, and to his extreme ire is kept on ice during the next test.  He steals the results and is observed placing them under a rock in the desert, apparently operating under some sort of post-hypnotic suggestion, whereupon Doug is juiced up with truth serum and spins a yarn that the obligatory coterie of military brass, scientists, and feds finds a little hard to swallow.

Seems Doug awoke in a nearby cavern after the crash—which he apparently didn’t survive—to see his own heart floating above his body, soon sealed up with what look like acetylene torches by his “hosts” from the planet Astron Delta.  Their bug-eyed spokesman, fellow scientist Deneb-Tala (John Merrick), reveals that they have been interstellar nomads since their homeworld became uninhabitable, and now have their sights on Earth.  Their nefarious but convoluted plan has something to do with accumulating the energy from our atomic explosions, hence their interest in the results of the last test and the consequent need to repair Doug in order to steal them.  When he tries to escape, the laughing Deneb-Tala initiates an interminable montage (I didn’t time it, but I swear it seemed like ten of the film’s 71-minute running time) in which every exit is blocked by “giant” lizards, spiders, and bugs, some of which ironically resemble the colossal grasshoppers Graves would soon face in Beginning of the End.

Flashback over, Doug now seems to be free of his brainwashing, but nobody believes him when he whips out a slide-rule and announces a solution, ’cause, y’know, he’s a scientist and all.  Seems that cutting the electricity in the area for ten seconds will overload those Astron Delta frammistats and cause a lethal overload, so Doug escapes from the hospital and forces the guy at the power plant to comply at gunpoint.  (In an amusing continuity gaffe, one shot shows Doug threatening the guy with the butt of his pistol!)  The aforementioned coterie arrives just in time to fail to prevent Doug from carrying out his plan, and the film ends on a suitably strange note as they gaze out the window at the supposedly reassuring sight of Deneb-Tala et al. going up in an apparent mushroom cloud.

Special thanks to Brian Boucher of Barsoom Design (http://barsoom.carbonmade.com/) for lending me these three “classic” films.

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…to Benjamin Szumskyj, whose Blatty book (see “Bill Collectors”) is of course called American Exorcist, rather than American Psycho.  Having contributed to his Bloch book, I must have had psychos on the brain!

And, while we’re at it, birthday wishes to longtime Cinefantastique and Femme Fatales scribe Dan Scapperotti, whose dedication to the genre is exceeded only by his hospitality and good nature.

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Die-hard film fans know that the great Billy Wilder had an older brother, Willy, who directed under the nom d’écran of W. Lee Wilder (1904-1982), and whose work Billy dismissed in no uncertain terms (when he deigned to discuss him at all, which apparently wasn’t often). Family values aside, this is not surprising, since talent—to put it mildly—was not evenly distributed among the Wilder gene pool.  Further evidence in support of that theory is provided by the fact that Willy, who perhaps unwisely gravitated to Hollywood from a career in the handbag industry, had his equally untalented son, Myles, write most of his films.

The elder Wilder made several entries in the horror, science fiction and fantasy genre that is my usual beat.  His last credit, for example, was The Omegans (1968), the somewhat murky story of adulterous and would-be murderous lovers outwitted and done in by the husband, who slips them some H2O from the forbidden Black River.  The contents of this jungle waterway may alleviate arthritic pain and even resemble a fountain of youth, but with some undesirable side effects, e.g., a phosphorescent glow, long-term damage leading to deformity, and eventual death, whereupon the body self-cremates.  When I interviewed the film’s leading lady, the vivacious Ingrid Pitt, for Filmfax some years ago, she said, “I must tell you a funny story about [Wilder].  He and his brother lived in Vienna when the Nazis took over power, and they only had one passport between them, so Willy left and sent the passport back for Billy.  Billy wasn’t his real name, it was Samuel.  Samuel became Billy and he got out of the Nazi clutches.

“Many years after I did The Omegans, I auditioned with Billy here in London for some film, I can’t even remember what it was.  I went in there, flags flying and full throttle and said, ‘I know your brother, I made a film with him in the Philippines, isn’t it fantastic?’  He got really shitty and said, ‘Yeah, well, fine, good for you.  Why don’t you just bugger off?,’ or words to that effect.  I was so shocked.  I didn’t know he couldn’t stand his brother.  Why?  I never stuck around to find out.  Sad, isn’t it?  Maybe horrible things happened, what do I know, but I thought it was idiotic for him to treat me like that…. That film is so bad.  I think it wouldn’t be so bad if it hadn’t been for me.  I think I was just atrocious in it.  Somebody in America at the Chiller convention gave me a very poor pirated video of the film.  It was so grainy I could hardly see what was going on.  Unfortunately, not hazy enough to disguise what a terrible performance I was giving…I would much rather forget the whole thing.”  Luckily for Ingrid, better things lay immediately ahead:  her next credit was a solid supporting role in my favorite film of all time, Where Eagles Dare (1968).

Working backwards, W. Lee also gave us The Man without a Body (1957), which—incredibly—required the services of two directors, Wilder and Charles Saunders, and, if nothing else, gets points for the originality of its loopy scenario, sans Myles.  Ailing businessman George Coulouris (the star of Saunders’s Womaneater, aka The Woman Eater, the following year) has scientist Robert Hutton revive the head of Nostradamus to help him with his financial prognostications, and said head runs amok after being grafted onto a donor body.  Before that, he and Myles brought us the reincarnation yarn Fright and the Lon Chaney, Jr. vehicle Manfish (both 1956), the latter allegedly based on Poe’s “The Gold Bug” and “The Tell-Tale Heart.”  You tell me.  For better or worse, however (and if you guessed “worse,” then you can see where this is headed), W. Lee’s reputation, such as it is, rests primarily on a trio of no-budget SF films he and Myles made back to back under his own Planet Filmplays banner (as were Fright and Manfish):  Phantom from Space (1953), Killers from Space, and The Snow Creature (both 1954).

To be continued…

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As you can see, I have finally been able to devote some time to the bells and whistles (e.g., the “About” and “Publications” pages), so you’ll have to content yourself with those while I work on my next “real” post.  A point of possible interest is the fact that the collage behind me is not a product of PhotoShop, but an actual collage I created on the wall of my workstation at the now-defunct GoodTimes Entertainment, where the photos were taken.  And yes, that is the benevolent presence of Richard Matheson looming to the right.  My very special thanks to the anonymous benefactor who synthesized the above image.

Meanwhile, a correction:  as I near the end of series 2, I realize that Reggie Perrin’s shop (see “Grot Expectations”), while it might reasonably have been expected to fail, was never intended to fail.  My apologies.

Finally, in the Life’s Little Ironies Department, it seems that Film Forum is not alone in celebrating a certain filmmaker’s 100th (see “Kurosawa Centennial”).  Fresh from knocking my socks off with an incredibly inclusive Bogart retrospective in December, TCM has scheduled a line-up nearly identical to Film Forum’s Akira Kurosawa festival, airing every Tuesday in March (including a 24-hour birthday marathon on the 23rd).  It does not, however, include The Quiet Duel…which is some consolation after all of the time and money I just spent trekking into Manhattan on three successive Sundays to see that and three of the same rarities now upcoming on TCM.  Once again, there being only so many hours in the day, I’ll be focusing not on the obvious films like Seven Samurai, Throne of Blood, and Yojimbo, but on some of the lesser-known ones that I’ve seen only once or not at all.  Can’t wait.

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As noted, I have been using the occasion of TCM’s recent Humphrey Bogart retrospective (from which I taped no fewer than 25 films) to seek some larger patterns in Bogie’s career.  At least as interesting as his working relationships with lesser-known directors such as Lloyd Bacon [see “Makin’ Bacon”] were his collaborations with Mark Hellinger, a writer-producer from the Walter Winchell school of journalism.  They did not get off to an auspicious start, as Hellinger reportedly penned an uncredited treatment for Racket Busters (1938), which I have already mentioned unfavorably.  But then, one of his stories served as the basis for Raoul Walsh’s The Roaring Twenties (1939), which—although it did not offer Bogie much more than the “supporting-gangster” role he often played opposite Warner Brothers stablemates James Cagney, Edward G. Robinson and George Raft in that period—was at least one of the most accomplished of those films, and proved to be Cagney’s last gangster role until Walsh’s White Heat (1949) a decade later.

As a result of its success, Warners made Hellinger a producer, and it’s noteworthy that although Bogie played gangsters in three of his four consecutive Hellinger-produced efforts, the films and his roles varied considerably.  It All Came True (1940) is a light-hearted film in which Bogart, while on the lam, takes refuge in a boarding house populated by eccentrics who (along with Word-Man fave Ann Sheridan) gradually reform him.  Brother Orchid (1940) is a similarly comedic crime caper, in which Robinson—left for dead after an attempted rubout orchestrated by rival Bogart—finds temporary refuge in a monastery.  A change of pace was Walsh’s excellent They Drive by Night (1940), with Raft and Bogart as trucker brothers.  Bogie loses an arm after falling asleep at the wheel, while Raft gets Sheridan; the scene in which Ida Lupino cracks up on the witness stand, after she falls for Raft and then jealously frames him for the murder of hubby Alan Hale, is classic.  Finally, Bogie took a big step toward stardom with his multifaceted gangster Roy Earle in Walsh’s High Sierra (1941), co-scripted by John Huston, who would soon make his directorial debut with Bogart’s breakout hit The Maltese Falcon (1941).  If you’ve ever had a hankering to see Eddie (Green Acres) Albert as a lion-tamer, check out the one he made (post-Hellinger) in between, The Wagons Roll at Night (1941).  This remake of Bogart’s own Kid Galahad (1937) substitutes the big top for the boxing ring, with Bogie, Silvia Sidney and Albert in the roles originally played by Robinson, Bette Davis and Wayne Morris.  It’s almost certainly the only film in which Bogie meets his fate at the claws of a lion…and no, I’m not making this up.

But I digress, as usual.  For the next few years, Hellinger flitted back and forth among Warners, Fox, and Universal, during which time he joined Bogart in front of the camera, playing himself in a cameo in Thank Your Lucky Stars (1943).  Bogart’s own scene is mercifully brief, as a tough guy who is browbeaten by, of all people, S.Z. “Cuddles” Sakall (delightful as Carl, the waiter in Casablanca), but because the film was one of those all-star studio extravaganzas to raise funds for World War II, I will not complain.  Hellinger died suddenly (at 44) in 1947, but not before he had produced the noir classics The Killers (1946), Brute Force (1947), and The Naked City (1948)…and, alas, one of Bogart’s all-time worst films, The Two Mrs. Carrolls (1947), in which he plays a wife-killer (as he did in the similarly unfortunate Conflict [1945]) targeting Barbara Stanwyck as his next victim.

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Greg Cox might be regarded in some circles as the luckiest man alive.  First, he is an acknowledged master of franchise fiction (or what I call “franfic”), which means he spends his days novelizing things like the Underworld films, writing New York Times bestselling Star Trek books, contributing stories about various superheroes and -villains to various anthologies, and generally living every fanboy’s dream.  In his X-Men/Avengers “Gamma Quest” trilogy, he even made me an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., which to this lifelong Marvel fan is about as cool as it gets.  Check out his website (http://www.gregcox-author.com/index.html) for further details, as well as fun photos of his cats and dog.

In his spare time, however, Greg is also Richard Matheson’s editor at Tor, and as such is a good source of information about upcoming Matheson movies or other activity.  Today he forwarded a story from SCI FI Wire (http://scifiwire.com/2010/02/hugh-jackmans-looking-for.php#more) about how they’re looking to cast the role of Hugh Jackman’s son in Real Steel, based on Matheson’s classic story “Steel.”

Due to my manuscript deadline, you won’t find a chapter on Real Steel when McFarland publishes Richard Matheson on Screen later this year (http://www.mcfarlandpub.com/book-2.php?id=978-0-7864-4216-4).  But you will find the straight dope on the classic episode of the original Twilight Zone that Matheson adapted from his story, with a powerhouse performance by Lee Marvin in the Jackman role.  Among Richard’s personal favorites, it also boasts a superb script, including one of Rod Serling’s most memorable closing speeches.

Not surprisingly, the character of the son has no analog in the short story or half-hour episode, but has obviously been added to bring the story up to feature-film length.  Let’s hope they do so more successfully than the makers of last year’s train wreck The Box, based on Matheson’s “Button, Button” (also adapted, less successfully, on the ’80s Twilight Zone revival).  But more on that another time…

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