Posts Tagged ‘Jack Arnold’

The life part is easy, because it being the wee hours of Christmas Day as I write this, we’re now celebrating the birth of J.C., despite being the least prepared for this holiday we have ever been.  Kicking off a ten-day vacation, I slept until 10:00, finished writing a Matheson post for Tor.com, and availed myself of the last opportunity for some, uh, “quality time” with the wife before our daughter and her boyfriend fly in from Oregon.  Then we gorged ourselves on corned beef (an unusual gift from the senior Mrs. B., who sent us a Box o’ Ruben Fixin’s from Zabar’s in New York) and I slipped in a nap, with Mina sleeping on my lap, and a workout on my exercise bike, while embarking on Kurosawa’s The Idiot (1951), before I had to shower and change for church.

Although I’m technically an agnostic, Madame BOF and I attend a local Congregational church and are in the choir, singing on Christmas Eve at 7:30 and 11:00.  In addition to the traditional carols for which we join the congregation (e.g., “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” “Angels We Have Heard on High,” “Joy to the World,” “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” “Silent Night, Holy Night”), this year we did a pretty French carol, “Saw You Never, in the Twilight,” and a rousing English one, “Masters in This Hall.”  In between the two services, we repair to the home of a fellow choir member for potluck food and drink—albeit hopefully not too much of the latter—and a nicer bunch of people to sing or socialize with cannot be imagined.

The death part is a little trickier, and I’ll state at the outset that this is going to be one of those I’m-not-really-crazy-about-So-and-So-but-feel-I-must-acknowledge-their-passing posts, in this case (belatedly) that of writer-director Blake Edwards, who left us on the 15th at 88.  Without wishing to speak ill of the dead, especially on Christmas, it’s become a running gag among the Movie Knights that our Host with the Most will not allow any Edwards films to be shown, yet he takes his Hostly duties seriously enough that more than once he’s made exceptions for a Knight to see his favorite Pink Panther film.  Gilbert loves A Shot in the Dark (1964), I favor The Return of… (1975), and the mighty Turafish comes down squarely on the side of …Strikes Again (1976).

I’m sure part of Gil’s fondness for Shot is due to the fact that William Peter Blatty, whom people forget worked in comedy before he struck gold with The Exorcist (we’re still waiting to receive the new issue of Cinema Retro featuring our interview with Bill), co-wrote that and three other films with Edwards.  Yet I’ve seen two more, What Did You Do in the War, Daddy? (1966) and Darling Lili (1970)—the latter starring Julie Andrews, who married Edwards the year before—and didn’t care for either of them.  I haven’t seen Gunn (1967) or the Edwards-created private-eye TV series that spawned it, although I absolutely adore the driving theme song (especially the Art of Noise version) by Henry Mancini, his longtime, and perhaps most valuable, collaborator.

Interestingly, as much as I admire Peter Sellers (TCM’s star of the month for January), I also saw the only non-Inspector Clouseau movie he made with Edwards, The Party (1968), and found that painfully unfunny.  This suggests that Clouseau created a special alchemy among Sellers, Blatty and/or Edwards that may not have existed elsewhere, just as director Jack Arnold and producer William Alland seemed to do better work together than apart.  And because the Edwards/Sellers relationship was a fractious one, it also calls to mind a milder version of the almost murderous love-hate bond between director Werner Herzog and star Klaus Kinski, which was documented in Herzog’s My Best Fiend (1999), and nonetheless produced some brilliant work…but I digress.

Edwards worked as an actor and screenwriter before graduating to director, making several films with Tony Curtis:  Mister Cory (1957), The Perfect Furlough (1958), and Operation Petticoat (1959); in spite of Cary Grant’s presence in the latter, I think that as an undiscriminating teen, I actually preferred the TV spin-off.  Now, I’m not dumb enough to say that I think Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) isn’t a good movie, but I will say it wasn’t my cup of tea, nor was I crazy about his other pre-Panther successes such as Experiment in Terror or Days of Wine and Roses (both 1962).  I’ll also freely admit that my feelings toward Days have since been colored by my loyalty to John Frankenheimer, who directed the Playhouse 90 version and was passed over for the film.

The Pink Panther (1963) changed everything, giving Mancini his second immortal theme, and if the scenes involving top-billed David Niven and his aspiring jewel-thief nephew Robert Wagner have aged less well, Sellers steals the film with no less aplomb.  The eponymous diamond did not appear in many of the sequels, but as with The Thin Man (1934), the inaccurate name stuck, eventually becoming synonymous with Clouseau himself.  It’s clear from his contemporaneous work with Stanley Kubrick on Lolita (1962) and Dr. Strangelove (1964) that when Sellers was on, nobody could touch him as a comic genius, and the early Clouseau films bear this out, but I would agree with Hostly that they—selectively, at that—are the only Edwards movies to watch.

Although I seem to recall that a case could be made for Victor Victoria (1982), my impression is that most of his subsequent non-Panther films—although, God knows, I didn’t subject myself to all of them—relied overmuch on slapstick, toilet humor, mean-spiritedness, or some combination thereof.  I’m thinking particularly of 10 (1979), despite the frenzy over cornrowed Bo Derek, and S.O.B. (1981), for which he persuaded wholesome spouse Julie to bear her breasts.  But his worst sin was milking the Panther series beyond Hollywood’s most avaricious dreams, descending into first a patchwork quilt utilizing outtakes of Sellers from …Strikes Again (Trail of…, 1982), and then a pair of films in which Clouseau does not even appear (Curse of…, 1983; Son of…, 1993).

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Check out Tor.com for my new installment of the “Richard Matheson–Storyteller” series, devoted to Jack Arnold’s The Incredible Shrinking Man.

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Bert I. Gordon

On the occasion of his 88th birthday, we revisit this profile written for the late, lamented original Scifipedia website.

Affectionately known as “Mr. B.I.G.,” Bert I. Gordon directed, produced, co-wrote, and/or created the special effects for more than a dozen SF, horror and fantasy films. While he was active through the 1980s, the films for which he will be most fondly remembered epitomized the monster movies of the ’50s, and featured oversized fauna of the two-, four-, six-, and eight-legged varieties.

Born on September 24, 1922, in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Gordon was a producer of television commercials who broke into filmmaking as the producer and cinematographer of the adventure yarn Serpent Island (1954). His wife, Flora M. Gordon, assisted him in various capacities—most notably with the special effects—on many films, and he cast their daughter Susan in four of his productions.

Gordon came into his own with King Dinosaur (1955), scripted by Serpent Island director Tom Gries from a story by Gordon and co-producer Al Zimbalist. When the planet Nova enters our solar system, four scientists are sent to explore it, encountering “dinosaurs” (i.e., stock footage and photographically enlarged lizards) and other giant critters, which they destroy with an atomic bomb.

Even more typical of Gordon’s work was The Beginning of the End (1957), as the late Peter Graves (see “Goodbye, Mr. Phelps”), the stalwart hero of SF films before he landed his iconic role on Mission: Impossible, faced a more terrestrial but no less gigantic threat. Accidentally created by agricultural experiments, irradiated locusts menace Chicago, until Graves lures them to a watery death with their mating call.

In The Cyclops (1957), Gloria Talbott is understandably shocked to learn that radioactive ore in a Mexican valley has turned her fiancé into a twenty-five-foot giant with a deformed face, played by Duncan (aka Dean) Parkin. Continuing a busy year, Gordon’s association with American International Pictures began with his signature film, which was inspired by the success of Jack Arnold’s masterpiece.

“Universal-International had just issued The Incredible Shrinking Man [1957], and we decided to turn the binoculars the other direction, building a story around a pitiful character who experienced the world’s most terrifying growth spurt,” recalled AIP’s co-founder, Samuel Z. Arkoff, in his memoir Flying Through Hollywood By the Seat of My Pants. What resulted was Gordon’s The Amazing Colossal Man (1957).

Trying to rescue the pilot of a downed plane, Colonel Glenn Manning (Glen Langan) endures the blast of a plutonium bomb, and miraculously survives—but begins growing eight to ten feet per day, ending up as a seventy-foot giant who is blown off of Boulder Dam with a bazooka. With poetic justice, co-writer Mark Hanna then created a carbon copy of the distaff kind in Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958).

Gordon clearly continued to be “inspired” by The Incredible Shrinking Man (adapted for the screen by its original author, Richard Matheson) with his next film, Attack of the Puppet People (1958), as lonely, widowed doll-maker Franz (John Hoyt) shrinks people to puppet-size just to keep him company. In an audacious bit of self-promotion, Bob Westley (John Agar) proposes to Sally Reynolds (June Kenny) while they watch The Amazing Colossal Man at the drive-in!

Col. Manning was sufficiently popular to warrant a sequel, War of the Colossal Beast (1958), although somewhat the worse for wear, with one eye blasted out by the bazooka. Looking like The Cyclops (and now played by the same actor), he steals trucks for food in the Mexican mountains, but after he is brought back to L.A., his damaged brain recovers long enough for Glenn to electrocute himself.

Rounding out the ’50s was Earth vs. the Spider (1958), which bore a suspicious resemblance to another Arnold film, Tarantula (1955). One of Gordon’s numerous collaborations with George Worthing Yates (who scripted with László Görög), it concerns an outsized arachnid that is presumed dead after a dose of DDT, displayed in a high school gym, and then revived by…a band rehearsal.

Never afraid of beating something to death, Gordon incorporated a cinema showing Puppet People as well as Colossal Man. He then gave the big bugs a break in a children’s fantasy, The Boy and the Pirates; a ghost story, Tormented (both 1960); and one of his most polished productions, The Magic Sword (1962), as St. George (Gary Lockwood) braves seven curses to rescue the fair princess.

Now ready to return to his favorite theme of gigantism, Gordon went straight to the source in Village of the Giants (1965), an alleged adaptation of The Food of the Gods. It’s unlikely that H.G. Wells would recognize—or at least acknowledge—his novel as the inspiration for this teen-fest, although it admittedly concerns “goo” that makes things grow, thanks to boy genius “Ronny” Howard.

Another hiatus ensued, encompassing the supernatural stories Picture Mommy Dead (1966) and Necromancy (1972), the presumably self-explanatory How to Succeed with Sex (1970), and the police thriller The Mad Bomber (1973). But then Gordon returned to the Wells well with back-to-back adaptations, for AIP, of The Food of the Gods (1976)—again—and Empire of the Ants (1977).

A veteran of Necromancy, Pamela Franklin starred in the former, with Ida Lupino as the wife of a farmer, who thinks that the strange substance bubbling up from the ground on an isolated island is Heaven-sent. She begins to believe otherwise when it results in giant rats that eat her husband, as well as worms, wasps, and chickens; only a detonated dam saves the besieged survivors from the rats.

Empire is a far cry from Wells’s story, which was closer to Carl Stephenson’s “Leiningen vs. the Ants,” memorably filmed by Byron Haskin as The Naked Jungle (1954). Here, Joan Collins and Robert Lansing are embroiled in a plot to staff a sugar refinery with people whose minds have been dominated by pheromones from a queen ant, rendered gigantic by, you guessed it, radioactive waste.

Gordon segued into witches with Burned at the Stake (1981) and Satan’s Princess (1990), and the fertile field of sex comedies with Let’s Do It! (1982) and The Big Bet (1985). But for a generation of viewers, his name was synonymous with a monster movie’s unique charms, and no matter how silly the stories or threadbare the rear-projected special effects, they provided entertainment, pure and simple.

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Concluding our look at genre films on New York’s three independent stations (WNEW, WPIX, and WOR) during my youth.

With its crudely animated but absolutely unforgettable six-fingered-hand title sequence, WPIX’s Chiller Theatre competed with WNEW’s Creature Features, although I don’t think they overlapped 100%; as I recall, Chiller started at 8:00, and I faced a crisis of conscience every Saturday at 8:30:  stay on channel 11 or, more often, switch to 5?  Two films I’m pretty sure I remember seeing on there were Mario Bava’s What (which I always imagined giving rise to any number of who’s-on-first jokes along the lines of, “You saw What?”) and The Crawling Eye, although the latter appears to have migrated to WOR at some point.  In fact, WPIX was an excellent source for Bava’s early works—Black Sabbath, Black Sunday, The Evil Eye—some of them still in glorious black and white.

WPIX showed the fewest genre films of the three and, perhaps as a result, seemed to have the least clearly defined identity in that capacity, despite the presence of a number of heavyweights.  Toho, for example, was well represented with Godzilla, King of the Monsters and several of its sequels, as well as Atragon and The Mysterians.  My records also indicate a boatload of Hammer films (The Brides of Dracula, Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter, The Curse of the Werewolf, Demons of the Mind, The Devil’s Bride, Fear in the Night, Five Million Years to Earth, The Nanny, The Phantom of the Opera, Plague of the Zombies, The Reptile, Taste the Blood of Dracula), although I think many of those only debuted on WPIX in later years.

The Anglo-American oeuvre of producer Herman Cohen (Horrors of the Black Museum, How to Make a Monster, I Was a Teenage Frankenstein, Konga) straddled the Atlantic, while British-born Harry Alan Towers was an early master of international co-productions such as Against All Odds, The Brides of Fu Manchu, and Circus of Fear.  WPIX also offered films produced by Italy (Castle of the Living Dead, The Cat o’Nine Tails, Snow Devils), Spain (Cauldron of Blood, Dr. Orloff’s Monster, Graveyard of Horror), or both (Horror, Terror in the Crypt).  Sid Pink shot Journey to the Seventh Planet and Reptilicus in Denmark, while Gammera the Invincible and its sequels demonstrated that Toho did not have an exclusive on the kaiju eiga (giant monster) subgenre.

Last but not least, WOR was notable in a number of ways, including sheer quantity, with about as many genre offerings as the other two put together, a steady stream of which appeared on Fright Night and their Saturday-afternoon Science Fiction Theater.  The former aired at 1:00 on Saturday night or Sunday morning, depending on your point of view, and was all too often joined “already in progress”—to my intense and enduring rage—due to sports (mostly Mets games, as I recall).  They also showed plenty of movies during the week, and their library included such BOF favorites as Colossus: The Forbin Project, Count Dracula, The Day of the Triffids, Horror Hotel, The Last Man on Earth, Plan 9 from Outer Space, Psycho, The Thing, and Village of the Damned.

WOR had a lock on the Universal classics from Dracula, Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, The Mummy, The Wolf Man, and their many sequels to Jack Arnold’s The Incredible Shrinking Man (the screenwriting debut of You-Know-Who) and the Creature from the Black Lagoon trilogy.  They also showcased Bela Lugosi’s work for lesser studios in The Ape Man, The Devil Bat, The Invisible Ghost, Scared to Death, Voodoo Man, White Zombie, and Zombies on Broadway.  And WOR’s parent company owned RKO, ensuring Thanksgiving Day screenings of King Kong, Son of Kong, and Mighty Joe Young, as well as access to the Val Lewton canon (The Body Snatcher, Cat People, The Curse of the Cat People, I Walked with a Zombie, Isle of the Dead).

The early black-and-white work of master stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen (Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, It Came from Beneath the Sea, 20 Million Miles to Earth) and Bava’s later work in color (Baron Blood, Hatchet for the Honeymoon, Lisa and the Devil) both aired on WOR.  So did that of Paul Naschy, the “Spanish Christopher Lee,” who starred in Assignment Terror, The Fury of the Wolfman, Horror Rises from the Tomb, The Mummy’s Revenge, and Night of the Howling Beast.  Further cementing the station’s international credentials, it showcased a myriad of offerings from Toho, including The Human Vapor, King Kong Escapes, The Last War, Varan the Unbelievable, Yog—Monster from Space, and innumerable entries in their long-running Godzilla series.

Globally, in fact, WOR had no peer, with genre films from Germany (Creature with the Blue Hand), Italy (Battle of the Worlds, The Cursed Medallion, Lightning Bolt, Mission Stardust, The Murder Clinic, Next!, Screamers, The Secret of Dorian Gray, The She-Beast, War of the Planets, Yeti), Japan (The Evil Brain from Outer Space), Mexico (Attack of the Mayan Mummy, The Brainiac, The Curse of the Doll People, The Curse of the Stone Hand), the Philippines (Beast of the Dead, The Island of Living Horror, Tomb of the Living Dead, Vampire People), and Spain (A Bell from Hell, Fangs of the Living Dead, Horror Express, The House That Screamed, Marta, Murder Mansion, Night of the Sorcerers, Ship of Zombies, Witches Mountain).

Domestic output was hardly overlooked, including 1950s SF epics from producer George Pal (Conquest of Space, When Worlds Collide).  AIP cut a wide swath with films by Roger Corman (Creature from the Haunted Sea, Day the World Ended, It Conquered the World, Teenage Caveman), Bert I. Gordon (Beginning of the End, War of the Colossal Beast), Herman Cohen (I Was a Teenage Werewolf), and Edward L. Cahn (Invasion of the Saucer Men).  Meanwhile, the mother country weighed in with smatterings from both Hammer (Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde, The Man Who Could Cheat Death, The Revenge of Frankenstein) and Amicus (Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D., The Terrornauts, Torture Garden, The Mind of Mr. Soames).

But quantity does not always equate with quality, and another of WOR’s hallmarks was its high sleaze factor, which made me envision their headquarters as some squalid den of iniquity.  They featured bottom-of-the-barrel films by Al Adamson (Beyond the Living, The Creature’s Revenge, Man with the Synthetic Brain, Vampire Men of the Lost Planet), Larry Buchanan (Curse of the Swamp Creature, The Eye Creatures, In the Year 2889), and Del Tenney (Zombies).  And there were a few entries whose memories still give me the willies with their gore, grim atmospheres and/or grimy milieuxChildren Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things, Don’t Look in the Basement, The House of the Seven Corpses, Kiss of the Tarantula, and Silent Night, Bloody Night.

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Happy 80th, Mom! Love you lots.

Now, it’s time for another of my nostalgic data-crunching posts, this time on my favorite subject, namely horror and science fiction films, of which I’ve been a fan for literally as long as I can remember. While I am hardly the first to have made this observation, it’s worth noting that today’s younger viewers have no idea what it was like growing up in the pre-home-video era, when you were at the mercy of whatever was on, in whatever form—and at whatever hour—they chose to show it. Getting the TV Guide in the mail (before it became so awful that I had to let my subscription lapse a few years ago) was like receiving the Holy Bible each week, and if you wanted to see certain genre films, you had to stay up until all hours to do it.

At one point in the New York metropolitan area, we had no fewer than six commercial networks in addition to public broadcasting: ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, UPN, and the WB. But when I was becoming a compulsive genre-film junkie back in the ’70s, we had only the “Big Three” network affiliates (CBS on channel 2, NBC on 4, and ABC on 7, with PBS on 13) and three independent stations (WNEW, later Fox, on 5; WOR, later UPN, on 9; and WPIX, later WB, on 11). Outside of high-profile prime-time premieres, the affiliates had their own cinematic offerings, especially ABC with its late-night fare—heavy on AIP films and TV-movies, many of which the network had produced—but for the most part, those independents were the place to be.

I’ve always said that your feelings about a film have a lot to do with the circumstances under which you saw it (again, hardly an original observation, but there it is); a related phenomenon is that if you grew up watching them under those conditions, you automatically associate certain films with the stations that regularly showed them. Luckily, my decidedly porous memory has been aided by the index cards I created until the mid-’90s for each genre film I saw, many of them including the original TV Guide clipping that shows which station they were on. Quite a few of these films have since dropped largely out of sight, and whether they were good or not (often not), it seems a shame to have a whole category of movies simply vanish.

No, I’m not going to enumerate every genre film I saw in my youth, or this post would be a book in itself, and for the sake of brevity, I will refer to those I have selected—all of them released before 1980—by the titles under which they were shown at the time. For now, I will also restrict myself to the three aforementioned independents, leaving it to others to tackle such rich subjects as ABC’s immortal 4:30 Movie, to which at least one enthusiastic and impressively researched website has already been devoted. The intention here is to conjure up, mostly for the benefit of those who lived through this period, the unique milieu that each of these now-unrecognizable stations provided for genre fans (and perhaps a few insomniacs) back in the day.

Naturally, we must set the scene properly in the large, log-built house [Lincoln joke optional] in Easton, Connecticut where my mother still lives after almost fifty years. My parents and I had our bedrooms upstairs with the kitchen, living, and dining rooms while my three older brothers—who successively went off to college and then moved out—slept in the finished basement, where the biggest TV was conveniently located at the exact opposite end of the house from my parents’ room. That made it ideal for late-night viewing, which I facilitated by taking a one-gallon glass jar Dad used to mix his frozen orange juice, filling it up with instant coffee, milk, and sugar, and pouring it into pint-sized Coke bottles, which I kept lined up in the fridge for fuel.

Now that we’re all settled in, I’ll dispense with a few ground rules, generalities, and disclaimers, e.g., the fact that broadcast rights do expire, so some of these films admittedly changed hands over the years. Regardless of when I first saw a particular movie, the TV Guide clipping on my card may date from my married life, after I got cable TV and caught many of them again on, say, TNT, so although I may know in my heart that a specific film used to air on a specific station, I’m keeping it honest by relying on the documentation rather than my memory. Finally, at the risk of stating the obvious, this may be the silliest idea for a post I’ve had yet, but after all the hours I have spent assembling the information, I’ll be damned if I’m going to waste it!

With that out of the way, let’s kick off with WNEW, which was of course the home (at least in the New York area) of Creature Features, then running on Saturday nights from 8:30 to 10:00, and since my bedtime was 9:00 when I was a youngster, seeing it in its entirety was usually beyond my reach. If I was lucky, I was able to con Mom into giving me special permission to stay up for an extra half hour, and I might reasonably have been expected to become either an actor or a lawyer for all of the passion with which I argued in favor of that week’s giant monster, walking corpse, ghostly apparition, or whatever. I can’t tell you how many genre films I saw the first third or two-thirds of, some of which I probably never did see all the way through.

I can’t swear to it, but I believe sometime WNEW offerings The Atomic Submarine, Curse of the Faceless Man, Death Curse of Tartu, House on Haunted Hill, Kronos, The Maze, and Them! were all shown on Creature Features, and since the show took its theme music from It Came from Outer Space, it seems safe to assume Jack Arnold’s classic was represented as well. Although generally light on genre films from outside the English-speaking world (e.g., Count Dracula’s Great Love, Godzilla on Monster Island, Terror Beneath the Sea), WNEW seemed to lean toward those from Italy. These included The Horrible Dr. Hichcock, Horror Castle, Nightmare Castle, Planet on the Prowl, Planets Against Us, The Psychic (which I don’t even remember seeing, but there’s my card to prove it), and Slaughter of the Vampires.

This is naturally unquantifiable, but WNEW somehow seemed the most benign of the three, and also was willing to reach across the Pond more often than most. They showed many efforts from England’s Hammer Films (The Devil’s Own, Kiss of Evil, The Lost Continent, The Mummy, To Love a Vampire, X the Unknown, and various Dracula and Frankenstein films) and Amicus Productions (The Deadly Bees plus several of their trademark anthology films). Producer Richard Gordon was especially well represented with Corridors of Blood, Curse of the Voodoo, Devil Doll, Fiend Without a Face, First Man into Space, The Haunted Strangler, Horror Hospital, The Projected Man, and the German import Cave of the Living Dead, which he “presented” in the U.S.

To be concluded.

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Clint is 80, and I must rhapsodize. That’s right, Clint Eastwood, probably unrivaled as the cinema’s greatest living icon, turns 80 today—a mere thirty-four days before the senior Mrs. Bradley—and I can’t think of another filmmaker who, as both an actor and a director, has been involved in so many excellent films, including a disproportionate number of my personal favorites. That remains true even if you remove #1, Where Eagles Dare (in which he played the Army lieutenant whose name appears above), from the equation, and I won’t bother cross-referencing them all with my B100 posts, although it should be noted that you can see five of them today in TCM’s 24-hour marathon; you do the math.

No, I’m not going to enumerate every Eastwood movie (I’m working partly from memory here, so if I get a historical fact or two wrong, please bear with me), and no, I don’t love all of them, but man, when he’s on, he’s really on. Even from its seemingly inauspicious beginnings, Clint’s career was special, since in 1955 he made early uncredited appearances, including his screen debut, in two of the SF films that set Jack Arnold ahead of the pack in the 1950s. In Revenge of the Creature, he was Jennings, the absent-minded technician with a misplaced white rat in his lab-coat pocket, and in Tarantula, his face concealed by a flight mask but his voice unmistakable to alert ears, he led the jet squadron that napalmed the titular arachnid.

As one of the last generation of Universal contract players, he continued making don’t-blink-or-you’ll-miss-’em appearances in the likes of Away All Boats (1956), but later made his first step toward stardom on television. Eastwood appeared as Rowdy Yates opposite Eric Fleming on Rawhide (1959-65), and during that successful show’s lengthy run, he accepted a part that had been turned down by other up-and-coming sagebrush stars such as Charles Bronson and James Coburn, who presumably kicked themselves forever after. That role was, of course, the lead in a low-budget Italian Western originally entitled The Magnificent Stranger, an uncredited reworking of Akira Kurosawa’s samurai classic Yojimbo (1961).

A Fistful of Dollars (1964) was a watershed in many ways, not only establishing Clint and director Sergio Leone as forces to be reckoned with but also cementing the success of the spaghetti Western. Joined by the great Lee Van Cleef, they completed the “Dollars Trilogy” with For a Few Dollars More (1965) and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966), and although we could debate whether he was the same character in all three, or if the “Man with No Name” actually had one or more names, to me it doesn’t matter, with Clint, Leone, and composer Ennio Morricone working their magic. We could also debate (as some of us have) whether Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) would have been better with Clint in the Bronson role, but again, it is what is, and that’s a classic.

Even without a fourth Leone film, 1968 was a banner year for Clint, beginning with Hang ’Em High, the first of what we might call his macaroni-and-cheese Westerns, i.e., American films that seemed in one or more ways (whether intentionally or not) to be emulating Leone’s, with mixed success. Later variations on this tale of a lawman avenging his own botched hanging include High Plains Drifter (1973) and Pale Rider (1985), with Eastwood directing himself as increasingly mysterious, perhaps even supernatural, gunslingers. But its historical significance lies more in the fact that it was the inaugural film of Eastwood’s production company, Malpaso (Spanish for “bad step,” as his agent warned him Fistful would be).

Then came Coogan’s Bluff, the fish-out-of-water tale of an Arizona cop pursuing an escaped prisoner in Manhattan, which marked the first of five collaborations with Don Siegel, a major influence on Eastwood’s own directorial career. The others were Two Mules for Sister Sara (1970), a mac-and-cheese Western initiated by Budd Boetticher (famed for his many films with Randolph Scott); The Beguiled (1971), a Civil War psychodrama in which Clint bravely played against type; Dirty Harry (1971), about which more later; and Escape from Alcatraz (1979), a true story pitting him against obsessive and repressive warden Patrick McGoohan (see “Dutch Master”).

And then came Where Eagles Dare, his first of two films with otherwise unremarkable director Brian G. Hutton, the other being Kelly’s Heroes (1970), both action-packed World War II adventures (how appropriate is it that his birthday falls on Memorial Day?) and among my all-time favorites. Interestingly, each offered another facet to kick it up a notch: the former was an espionage yarn created for the screen by that master of the form, author Alistair MacLean, while the latter was a WW II caper comedy with a Vietnam-era sensibility (it’s admittedly a small niche). Each also satisfyingly sublimated Clint’s nascent superstardom by making him, respectively, second banana to Richard Burton—and you could do a lot worse—or part of an amazing ensemble that included Telly Savalas, Donald Sutherland, and Don Rickles.

In 1971, Eastwood made his directorial debut on the thriller Play Misty for Me (Siegel had a good-luck cameo as a bartender) and first played Police Inspector “Dirty Harry” Callahan, yet as much as I like the original, with Edward G. Robinson’s son Andrew brilliant as the slimy serial killer, the series is not in my personal pantheon. Magnum Force (1973)—which, like Hang ’Em High, was directed by his Rawhide colleague Ted Post—was a solid sequel with a memorable catchphrase, “A man’s got to know his limitations” (perhaps an attempt to equal the original’s “Do ya feel lucky, punk?”). But in The Enforcer (1976), he was saddled with a female partner who inevitably got gunned down; the catchphrase for Sudden Impact (1983), “Make my day,” now has unfortunate associations; and The Dead Pool (1988), featuring an amusing early appearance by Liam Neeson, was just plain silly.

Speaking of unfortunate associations, in Sudden Impact, Callahan took a back seat to a vengeful rape victim played by Eastwood’s inamorata du jour, Sondra Locke, and I’m sure that disastrous relationship makes their films as tough to watch for him as they are for those of us who were never in her fan club. This Locke Period also includes The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976), on which Clint controversially replaced screenwriter Philip Kaufman as director; the supremely silly actioner The Gauntlet (1977); the comedy Every Which Way but Loose (1978); the sequel Any Which Way You Can (1980), which—like The Dead Pool and Pink Cadillac (1989)—was directed by Eastwood’s longtime stunt coordinator, Buddy Van Horn; and the offbeat Bronco Billy (1980).

Eastwood initially continued to appear in other people’s work, e.g., John Sturges’s Joe Kidd (1972) and Michael Cimino’s Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974), but has not done so since Wolfgang Petersen’s In the Line of Fire (1993). He has been mostly a one-man band for decades, and my favorite among those efforts I’ve seen is his justifiably Oscar-sweeping Unforgiven (1992), a script by David Webb Peoples of Blade Runner (1982) fame that Clint stuck in a drawer for a decade until he felt he was mature enough to play it. Although dedicated to Leone and Siegel, it is decidedly not a mac-and-cheese Western but a mature film in every sense, with powerhouse performances by Gene Hackman and Morgan Freeman and a heartbreaking score by frequent collaborator Lennie Niehaus.

Let me conclude with three reasons why I have the highest respect for Clint as a director:

*his understandably sure touch with other actors, who reportedly love to work with him and have earned an impressive number of Oscars and/or nominations under his direction;

*his no-frills-for-the filmmakers, put-the-money-on-the-screen approach as a producer, ironically said to have been inspired by wasteful excess on the sets of the Hutton films;

*his diversity of subject matter and willingness to deglamorize, poke fun at or—as in Breezy (1973), the Charlie Parker biopic Bird (1988), Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1997), and Mystic River (2003)—place himself offscreen; he has directed five films but only appeared in one, Gran Torino (2008), since Million Dollar Baby (2004).

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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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