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‘Film’ Category

  1. Showdown in Century City

    November 17, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    Due to ruinous budget overruns by the makers of the Elizabeth Taylor / Richard Burton epic Cleopatra, 20th Century Fox was almost bankrupt and was forced to sell off most of its backlot to developers planning the new business community of Century City. In late 1961, the sets used to film hundreds of Fox westerns and other films were bulldozed to make room for high-rise office buildings and hotels. Where the likes of Tyrone Power and Gary Cooper once faced off on a dusty small town thoroughfare, two bulldozer operators reenact a familiar scene before getting to work ripping down a piece of movie history.

     Two years later, Cleopatra, initially budgeted at $2 million, was released in theaters and became the top grossing film of the year raking in $26 million at the box office. Unfortunately, by that time, Fox had spent $44 million on the film.

    Images from the LIFE photo archive hosted by Google


  2. Frankenstein (Assembly Required)

    October 19, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    Like  rival hobby company Revell, the mainstay of Aurora Plastics’ line of model kits in the Fifties was scale-model, unassembled replicas of military hardware, although Aurora’s were generally smaller and more affordable than Revell’s. Around 1955, Aurora expanded its line to include plastic figurines of medieval knights, clowns, and traditionally dressed people from around the world (“Guys and Gals of all Nations”).

    Meanwhile, in Hollywood, Universal Pictures realized there was still money to be made off of their old monster films from previous decades. Universal packaged films featuring Dracula, the Mummy, the Wolf Man, Frankenstein’s Monster, and other ghouls for broadcast over local TV channels. The local stations created assorted horror hosts to present these films. When the local stations began getting mail from their viewers they were surprised to find that a large percentage of those watching the old monster movies were teenaged or younger. The popularity of these films with children might be explained by the extinction of the horror comic book in 1954 when public opinion and the new Comics Code Authority deemed the horror genre to be inappropriate for children. Children with a taste for horror simply switched from reading comic books to watching “creature features” on their local television stations and maybe picking up a copy of  Forrest Ackerman’s Famous Monsters of Filmland.  Knowing that their audience was largely made up of young people, the horror hosts softened the horror they presented with touches of humor and ridicule that made the genre seem less threatening to adults, while Famous Monsters gave a behind the scenes look that assured everyone that it was all just made up.

    Sometime in early 1961, it suddenly became acceptable to directly market monsters to children (TV stations and Famous Monsters could always argue that adults were the target audience). It started with bubblegum cards like Spook Stories and Horror Monsters, however toy manufacturers were still leary. A hobby company on the cusp of adult and childhood pastimes was an ideal path to full acceptance of monsters in the playroom.  Looking to expand its line of figurines beyond little Dutch boys and the Black Knight, Aurora bought the rights to manufacture models of all of the monsters who had appeared in Universal motion pictures.  The models created under this license would prove to be Aurora’s most successful line of plastic models ever.

    Aurora’s first Universal monster model was a 1/12 scale figure model of Frankenstein’s Monster in 1961. Selling for $1.00, the 7-inch tall figurine sold so well that Aurora had to temporarily suspend production of its other models to keep up with demand. Some buyers may have been disappointed when they opened the box to find the plain white pieces of plastic that needed to be carefully twisted apart before undergoing a process that involved several hours, various paints and brushes, and mind-altering glue fumes. Helping sales, no doubt, was the wonderful artwork on the box by James Bama who would do most of the  box top art for Aurora in the Sixties.


  3. If Only we had a Vespa

    September 28, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    Although Roman Holiday  (1953) with Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck introduced American audiences to the romantic image of a young man zipping around cities and coastal roads with a beautiful woman wrapped around his waist,  motor scooters weren’t really “cool” in the United States until the early Sixties. For one thing, Italian scooters like Vespa and Lambretta were re-branded and sold by Sears and Montgomery Ward. It wasn’t until 1961 that these Italian companies succeeded in attaching the cachet of the Italian Bohemian to their products through a combination of advertising and the release of a Rock Hudson film called Come September. Even then, the sense of fun and romance displayed in advertising everywhere else in the world was rarely employed in the United States. Instead, American ads touted fuel economy, avoiding traffic, affordability, and saving space in one’s garage for a proper Detroit leviathan.  

        

     

            

     


  4. King Kirby, King Ghidorah?

    September 13, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    You can quibble about the number of tails and legs all you want, but you can’t deny there is a resemblance between Jack Kirby‘s three-headed monster that appeared in Fantastic Four #1 in 1961 and Toho studios’ King Ghidorah who debuted in 1964. Some nerdly scholar should seriously explore how much (if any)  cross-pollination there was between the Atlas/Marvel offices in Manhattan and the Toho studios in Tokyo.

     

    Since I’m hardly a scholar nor very serious, I only have one question: Who needs Godzilla or Rodan for eradicating three-headed space dragons when you’ve got Mr. Fantastic?

     


  5. Coming Attraction: Mr. Sardonicus

    September 11, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    Audiences fifty years ago would have to wait a little closer to Halloween to see William Castle’s new horror spectacle, Mr. Sardonicus and it would hardly befit my moniker to give anything away before the anniversary of that film’s premiere on October 18. I can however show you the promotional materials that began to arrive at local movie theaters  in September. I can imagine the grumblings of theater managers and protectionists over the prospect of polling the audience before showing the last reel.

     

     


  6. From the Necromantic to the Psychophantic

    September 5, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    It’s always interesting to find out what the squares in 1961 were thinking of the trifles some of us obsess over half a century later. Thanks to Hammer Studios in the UK  and AIP’s Roger Corman in the US, horror films were undergoing a huge revival in the summer of ’61.  The genre was meeting with such success that even mainstream periodicals had to take note.  The following article appeared in the Arts section of the September 1, 1961 edition of  Time magazine.  The wonderful thing about the uncredited author of this piece is that while he makes fun of the films and their stars (“Vincent Price, a sort of sissified Bela Lugosi”), you can tell he enjoyed watching them nonetheless. And isn’t that what most of us fans of these movies do ourselves?  

    Cinema: Blood Pudding

     

    Time magazine, Sept. 1, 1961. Images added by The Belated Nerd


     Terrible-eyed, a father rose up from his coffin one night last week, rushed after his beautiful young daughter and with bloodthirsty screams attempted to sink his fangs into her throat. Poor stiff. Some other vampire, succubus, lamia, boggart, barghest, uturuncu or related fee-faw-fum had already drunk the poor girl dry. The U.S., as summer moviegoers may have observed, is crawling with the bloody things. The horror industry is in the hideous throes of what may be the biggest necromantic revival since Count Dracula was a nipper.

    Monsters are out. After almost a decade of gigantic grasshoppers, monstrous mollusks and vicious vegetables, the menace merchants have surveyed their shrinking returns and concluded that overwork at last had killed the pterodactyl that laid the golden egg. With that the world’s leading gooseflesh peddlers—American International Films of Hollywood and Hammer Film Productions Ltd. of London—decided to go back on the ghoul standard. The bats were summoned from the industry’s well-stocked belfry, and in recent months they have been sucking the green stuff out of the public at an impressive rate. Three of the new horrors, made for less than $300,000, will gross more than $1,000,000 first time around; another (Homicidal) is already werewolfing its third million. What’s more, a surprising number of the new blood puddings have been cooked up with skill and can be swallowed without appreciable nausea.

    Black Sunday (Galatea-Jolly; Al), for instance, is a piece of fine Italian handiwork that atones for its ludicrous lapses with brilliant intuitions of the spectral. Taken from a tale (Fry) by Nikolai Gogol, Black Sunday tells the story of a female demon who once every century rises from a moldy old Moldavian crypt to terrorize the countryside. Director Mario Bava makes subtle use of a Gothic setting—much of the film was shot in a medieval Italian castle—to enhance the Gothic mood. One shot is pure black magic. The vampire’s coach, black as a hearse and carved with demoniac exuberance, careens through the night like a colossal bat out of hell—but soundlessly, and in slow motion, so that it seems to be floating tunelessly through an interminable nightmare.

    Curse of the Werewolf (Hammer; Universal) is a routine, competent British fang opera filmed, as many of the new scare shows are, in a color process that seems peculiarly sensitive to red. The picture contains an inspired scene. As a priest holds a pretty little baby (destined to be a werewolf) over a baptismal font, a fiendish face appears suddenly in the depths of the font and the holy water bubbles to a rolling boil. The scriptwriters have also provided an unwittingly hilarious line. After slaughtering five sheep and draining them of blood, the werewolf, now a fat little boy, is called to lunch by his fond stepmother. “Aw, mother,” he pouts, just like any other little boy called in from play, “I’m not hungry.”

    Dr. Blood’s Coffin (Caralan; UA), another nasty trifle from Britain, is a skillful piece of suspense writing that might be described as a woman’s horror picture—it’s about a man who wants a woman’s heart. When he can’t get it, he takes somebody else’s and transplants it into a corpse that—heh, heh—has some nasty ideas of its own.

    The Pit and the Pendulum and House of Usher (Al) are a couple of literary hair-raisers that are cleverly if self-consciously Edgar Allen Poetic. Both pictures are filmed in redolent colors, both feature Vincent Price, a sort of sissified Bela Lugosi, and both are crowded with drafty castles, dismal tarns and what the press-agents call “torturous passageways”—which in The Pit have been sprayed with 20 gallons of a rubber-cement solution that makes the darnedest lavender spider webs.

    Blood and Roses (Paramount), a gently eerie tale of “the most recent life” of a lady vampire, is the most subtle, careful, beautiful and expensive ($750,000) of the current crop of chillers—a small black pearl of a picture. It was directed by Roger (And God Created Woman) Vadim, and stars Mel Ferrer. It was filmed at the Emperor Hadrian’s Villa, just outside Rome, by Cameraman Claude Renoir, the gifted nephew of the painter, who has laved all this hushed horror in lights and colors as mild and creamy as viper’s milk.

    Snake Woman (Caralan; UA) is a hypodermic horror with a striptease gimmick. A mental patient, injected with cobra venom while she is pregnant, produces a terribly strange child with cold blood and no eyelids. At seven, the child disappears from her home, and soon thereafter villagers start to die of cobra bites. Then one day the hero, a detective assigned to catch that cobra, finds the skin of a girl, all in one piece, as though it had been shed like a snake’s. A gleam in his eye, he hurries after her, tootling on a little fakir’s flute . . .

    Homicidal (Columbia), financially the most successful of the new shockers, may well point a new trend in terror: from the necromantic to the Psychophantic. The picture was obviously made in imitation of Hitchcock’s thriller (which has already returned the highest percentage of profit in film history—$14,000,000 on a $780,000 investment). Just as obviously, it surpasses its model in structure, suspense and sheer nervous drive. Simply, directly, the camera watches a homicidal maniac (Jean Arless) proceed through a carefully premeditated series of ferocious murders. Those who cannot bear the tension may be grateful for the Fright Break, during which they may “follow the Yellow Streak to the Coward’s Corner and have the admission sneerfully refunded.”

     


  7. Hay Low Girl? (More Monster Cards)

    September 2, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    When I posted last month about Leaf’s Spook Stories series of trading cards, I apparently only scratched the surface of a rather prolific and competitive industry that was exploiting a craze for monsters in 1961. Studios at the time were packaging up their old horror movies and syndicating them to TV stations as Creature Features. The local hosts presenting these films may have had more to do with the craze than the films themselves, but there was enough enthusiasm generated to make a profit selling nickel packs of monster cards. The ones below, made by Nu-Cards, didn’t even come with a stick of gum! Like the Spook Stories cards, these included “horrible” jokes on the back.

     


  8. Harryhausen Creature Roll Call for 1961

    September 1, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    All four of Ray Harryhausen‘s stop-motion creatures to appear on film in 1961 were modeled on actual animals; living and extinct. Except for size, Harryhausen’s models for Mysterious Island were exacting reproductions of real species. In the film, Union soldiers escape from a Confederate prison camp in a  hot-air balloon and end up crash landing near an island where Captain Nemo is performing growth experiments on the local fauna. One by one, the castaways encounter and battle with Nemo’s freakish test subjects.

     

     

     

    The Giant Crab was not only modeled after, but created from, an actual crab. The crab was bought by Harryhausen in Harrods Food Hall and sent to the Natural History Museum in London to be humanely killed. The armature was then designed to fit inside the shells of the crab.  It was fixed to the animation table by wire and was supported on an aerial brace with wires.

    Click image to watch the scene

     

    The Phorusrhacos is one of Harryhausen’s most endearing and goofy creations. Based on an extinct predator also known as a “terror bird” the animal was meant to appear as frightening as the other creatures in the film. The result, however, resembling a giant deranged chicken with mange, provides the film’s one moment of humor. The composer thought the scene was so funny he jokingly threatened producer Harryhausen that he would score it to “Turkey in the Straw”

    Click on image to watch scene (advance to 5:30)

     

    The Giant Bees were a lot more fearsome. Although there seemed to be three giant bees there was only one.  Harryhausen used mattes to make it seem as if there were three. The set design with the giant honeycombs behind the actors did much to convince the viewer that these creatures were enormous.

    Click to watch the scene (advance to 1:45)

     

    The Giant Cephalopod resembling a prehistoric ammonite (or, depending on who you ask, an octopus in a snail-shell) was the final creature featured in Mysterious Island, although the original script also called for a giant man-eating plant.

     

    Click on the image to watch the scene (advance to 4:00)

     

     


  9. Mad Monsters

    August 28, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    Charlton Publications was an interesting company. Unlike most magazine publishers and all other comic book publishers, Charlton consolidated the whole process of turning out a periodical into a single vast  factory complex in Derby, CT.  Editorial, printing and distribution were all conducted under the same roof. Not content with the savings from strict vertical integration, Charlton also kept costs low by producing products renowned for their low production values in an industry famous for using cheap materials and presses. The two movie monster publications (i.e. Famous Monsters of Filmland rip-offs) they launched in 1961 were no exception.

    Like other Charlton publications, Horror Monsters and Mad Monsters had thin covers that tore easily and preserved the fingerprints of all who touched them. The interior pages were yellow before they were even run through the presses. The photos inside the magazines were muddy and devoid of any gray-tones. But if you got a chance to see the covers before too many people had handled them, they were quite eye-catching. Only one cover can be credited to a particular artist and only because Steve Ditko bothered to sign his name to the drooling wolf man on the cover of Mad Monsters #1 (1961). None of the writers were credited either and even the editor was anonymous, using the pen names “Sanzar Quasatood” (Horror Monsters) and “Abernathy Farquad” (Mad Monsters)

    Both magazines lasted until 1964. Here are the covers from their inaugural year:

     


  10. What do Ghosts Eat for Breakfast?

    August 21, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    Spook Stories was a series of trading cards sold in packs with some stale chewing gum by Leaf Candy Company. Leaf had taken a beating a few years earlier in the baseball card biz and apparently decided to forego sports cards completely in 1961 and instead exploit a resurgence in the popularity of old Universal horror films. Merely licensing the images from Universal wasn’t enough, though. Taking a page (several pages, in fact) from Warren Publishing’s Famous Monsters of Filmland, each monster card was given a witty caption. But the humor didn’t stop there! On the back of each card was a humourous (I use that word lightly) monster-related riddle.