Considering the amount of film credits the legendary Producer/Director has to his name I thought Roger Corman should be an easy subject to fill in all the letters of the alphabet for some fun filled trivia. Where I’m sometimes stretching a point to fit a letter, with Corman it was quite the opposite. He has so many films to choose from I had to take out my scissors and leave plenty of topics on the cutting room floor.
For the legions of Corman fans I hope you enjoy my selections and for those who may know little or nothing at all about this sometimes frugal filmmaker who gave so many young actors and directors there first real opportunity, you have plenty to learn and catch up on.
A is for …. Academy Award. Roger was given an honorary Oscar in 2010 and I’ve borrowed this from the Oscars.org website … “The Academy’s Board of Governors voted (Roger) Corman the Honorary Oscar for his unparalleled ability to nurture aspiring filmmakers by providing an environment that no film school could match.”
B is for …. Biker Movies. I guess Easy Rider is the one that is commonly referenced but prior to that film’s release in 1969, Corman, had directed and produced 1966’s The Wild Angels starring Peter Fonda and Bruce Dern. He’d also produce a number of biker flicks including the John Cassavetes starrer, Devil’s Angels in 1967, 1969’s Naked Angels, 1970’s Angel’s Die Hard and 71’s Angels Hard as They Come. The Dirt Gang in ’72. For the record Roger was slated to produce Easy Rider but when AIP made certain demands concerning Dennis Hopper’s directing the movie, Roger, backed out of the project and admits it wasn’t such a good idea in the end.
C is for …. Cameo Appearances.
Roger gave so many young aspiring filmmakers an early break that upon making good they would in turn enlist Roger to appear in their own movies. Many of them big budget award winning films for the major studios. Among those he appeared in are The Godfather Part II for F.F. Coppola. Joe Dante’s The Howling (1981), The Second Civil War (1997) and Looney Tunes Back In Action (2003). Jonathan Demme’s Swing Shift (1984), Silence of the Lambs (1991), Philadelphia (1993) and The Manchurian Candidate (2004). He also turned up in Ron Howard’s Apollo 13 (1995) and even Wes Craven’s Scream 3 (2000).
D is for …. Dick …. as in Dick Miller. Is character actor, Dick Miller, Corman’s muse? Surely you’ve seen Miller in dozens of roles if you’re a fan of exploitation and “genre” cinema. The actor has turned up in everything from Terminator to Gremlins to The Howling. Dick’s first 14 film appearances came in Corman films from 1955 forward. Most memorably I suppose would be 1959’s Bucket of Blood where he had the lead role. He’d appear in The Premature Burial, X, The Man With X-Ray Eyes and The Terror. The Wild Angels and The Trip. Roger may have moved away from directing but Miller continued to turn up in Corman’s productions. Films like Death Race 2000 and Big Bad Mama. By my unofficial count the grand total is 22 film appearances in Corman directed efforts and another 21 that had Roger producing making it 43 overall. Beats any actor/director unions I’m aware of. He even has a feature length documentary I’ve yet to see. Is it any good? Do tell.
E is for …. Edgar Allan Poe. The Corman/Poe cycle is surely the highlight of Roger’s directing career. It didn’t hurt to have Vincent Price as the central star either. The series kicked off in 1960 when Corman convinced the producers at AIP to make a larger investment in his idea to film House of Usher. The rest of the Poe adaptations quickly followed. Pit and the Pendulum, The Premature Burial, Tales of Terror, The Raven, The Haunted Palace, Masque of the Red Death and The Tomb of Ligeia.
F is for …. Five Guns West & Frankenstein Unbound. A pair of titles serving as bookends for the directing career of our spotlight, Roger Corman. Five Guns West released in 1955 was the first film Roger directed while 1990’s Frankenstein Unbound was his final film (to date) that he served on as director. I saw Unbound at a local theater upon it’s release and love the film as I do the original film poster which I have in my collection as well.
G is for …. Gas! -or- It Became Necessary to Destroy the World in Order to Save It. Released in 1971, Gas was one of Roger’s final films behind the camera before primarily focusing on producing for the next 50 plus years. The plot an odd one with anyone over the age of 35 on planet Earth dying. Not surprisingly Roger employed some up and comers you may recognize including Talia Shire, Ben Vereen and Cindy Williams.
H is for …. How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime.
In 1990 Roger released his memoirs revolved around his career in Hollywood and the many films he directed and the actors he worked with. It’s required reading if you’re a fan of any of the central characters who came and went throughout Corman’s directing years and the young up and coming names we all know now like Bogdanovich, Nicholson and Coppola. All of whom he would hire on while producing their projects.
I is for …. It Conquered the World. Off the wall low budget sci-fi flick that Roger directed and one that holds a near and dear spot for fans of fifties schlock. One look at the Monster and you just can’t wait to see this creature battle Peter Graves, Beverly Garland and with above the title billing, Lee Van Cleef in one of his bigger roles during the period.
J is for …. Jack Nicholson.
The screen legend made his film debut in the Corman directed quickie Cry Baby Killer released in 1958. Like Dick Miller, Jack quickly became part of the Corman stock company. Both as an actor and writer. He appeared in Little Shop of Horrors, 1963’s The Raven playing straight man to Peter Lorre’s goofy wizard. A lead role in The Terror opposite Karloff and supposedly lending a hand at directing it as well. Among other Corman productions the youngster appeared in are 1962’s The Broken Land, The Shooting, Ride In the Whirlwind and The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. Jack is also the credited writer on Corman’s film, The Trip, released in 1967. Check out Jack’s interview in the documentary Corman’s World : Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel to get a feel on just how fondly Nicholson recalls working with Corman during his formative years.
K is for …. Karloff. With Vincent Price firmly entrenched in the Poe series, Corman, brought in Boris Karloff to play opposite Vinne the P in 1963’s crowd pleaser, The Raven. A must see film with it’s tongue firmly planted in cheek as Price and Karloff do battle with weapons befitting the world of wizards. According to legend, Corman, still had Boris under contract for a few more days and quickly had Boris acting out a bunch of scenes on The Raven’s set using Jack Nicholson as his costar. Before you know it, The Terror was born and is a pretty decent low budget effort in it’s own right. Even if Jack is miscast. Lastly, thanks to Corman giving the young Peter Bogdanovich the go ahead to use Karloff and turn out a movie gave us what is really Boris’ last hurrah, the 1968 modern day thriller, Targets. Boris essentially plays himself and confronts modern horrors as compared to the ones he’s acted out on screen when a sniper goes on a killing spree. Powerful film and considering where we are today, it proved to be sad window to the future.
L is for …. Little Shop of Horrors.
More like The Little Movie That Could. According to legend this was filmed in just over two days and released upon the world in 1960. It’s gone on to become a true cult classic that spawned a Broadway show and a big budget, star studded remake in 1986 with Rick Moranis, John Candy, Bill Murray and Steve Martin starring. The original was produced and directed by Corman. Among those who appeared you’ll find Jonathan Haze, Mel Welles, Dick Miller and Jack Nicholson.
M is for …. Machine Gun Kelly. 1958 saw Roger helming this old time gangster flick that gave well known character actor of the era, Charles Bronson, his first starring role and one hell of film poster. Previously featured so for more on the film click here.
N is for …. New World Pictures.
Once Roger broke away from AIP and for the most part put his directing career behind him he founded his own Independent Production company entitled New World Pictures. We can thank Roger for funding and or distributing some critically acclaimed foreign films. More titles than I can count but let’s throw a few at you. The Big Doll House (1971), Night Call Nurses (1972), Caged Heat (1974), Cockfighter (1974), Cannonball (1976), Deathsport (1978), Piranha (1978), The Tin Drum (1979), The Brood (1979), Breaker Morant (1980) and the Herzog/Kinski classic Fitzcarraldo (1982).
O is for …. Oklahoma Woman. Another of Roger’s early pictures, the western Oklahoma Woman was released in 1956 and cast Peggie Castle in the title role. Also starring was Richard Denning who just two years earlier had battled The Creature From the Black Lagoon.
P is for …. Premature Burial. I chose this film from the Poe cycle to highlight due to the fact that Vincent Price has been replaced by Ray Milland in the lead who scores just fine as the man deathly afraid to be buried alive. For more on the casting and how the film came to be, click here as I had previously featured it at Mike’s Take.
Q is for …. Quaid. Always stretching to find a good fit for the letter Q I’ve come up with Dennis Quaid and for good reason. Dennis made his film debut in 1975’s Crazy Mama as did Bill Paxton. The film was put out and produced by Roger’s New World Pictures starring Cloris Leachman in the lead role.
R is for … Ron Howard.
In 1975, Ron Howard, was one of the most recognizable faces on television thanks to his graduating from playing Opie on The Andy Griffith Show to starring as Richie Cunningham on Happy Days. It was in this same year that he starred in Eat My Dust for producer Corman and following that film’s success he gave Ron a camera of his own to act and star in 1977’s Grand Theft Auto. The rest is history for the eventual Academy Award winner for directing 2001’s A Beautiful Mind among so many other blockbuster hits.
S is for …. Shatner.
Back in 1962, a young actor from Canada named William Shatner was nearing his iconic role in Star Trek but prior to that starred in The Intruder for director Roger Corman. A plot wrapped around social commentary in the deep south, the film proved to be a failure at the box office despite winning praise by critics and awards at the film festivals. The public’s refusal to accept the film that Corman was very proud of led him to make this comment in his autobiography, “This was and remains to this day, the greatest disappointment of my career.” As for Shatner, he found himself in-between Star Trek gigs in 1974 and costarred in the cult hit Big Bad Mama that Corman produced teaming Shatner with sexy Angie Dickinson in the title role.
T is for …. Tripping. On LSD that is. In 1967, Roger, directed The Trip starring Peter Fonda, Bruce Dern and Dennis Hopper. The plot involved the drug world and Roger felt it best that he too should take a “trip.” He recounts his journey in his autobiography and it makes for some great reading. I can only laugh aloud when he writes, “I decided to lie down. And then the acid kicked in. I spent the next seven hours face down in the ground, beneath a tree, not moving, absorbed in the most wonderful trip imaginable.” There is more but I’ll leave it to you to read his book for yourself. Again, a great read.
U is for …. Unbilled. Before Roger directed his first film in 1955 he’d already appeared in unbilled bit parts in two 1954 films he produced on the cheap. The Monster From the Ocean Floor and The Fast and the Furious. He’d continue to step in front of the camera on occasion just like Hitchcock though without the fanfare I should think. Keep your eyes peeled and you can spot him in early efforts films like War of the Satellites, The Wasp Woman and The Cry Baby Killer.
V is for …. Vincent Price.
Much like Edgar Allan Poe, the legendary Vincent Price will forever be associated with Roger Corman thanks to those beloved films they teamed on beginning with 1960’s The House of Usher. Talk about perfect casting with Price taking on the lead role as he did in Pit and The Pendulum, Tales of Terror, Tower of London, The Raven, The Haunted Palace, The Masque of the Red Death and The Tomb of Ligeia, all of which were directed by Corman though Price would star in other Poe adaptations for other directors throughout the 60’s into the 70’s.
W is for …. Wasp Woman. Fondly remembered low budget title from 1959 starring Corman regular Susan Cabot in the title role. By day she’s a cosmetic Queen who has found the power of staying youthful but there are some rather alarming side effects. Having both produced and directed the film, Roger, would serve as Executive Producer on the 1995 made for TV remake.
X is for …. X : The Man With X-Ray Eyes.
1963 saw a pair of Corman films starring one time Oscar winner Ray Milland. The other being the aforementioned Premature Burial. This famous title has Ray cast as a doctor who will end up with X-Ray vision but were not talking Superman style. Honestly it’s been years since I’ve seen this cult favorite that costars Don Rickles. As I recently picked up a blu ray edition, I’ll have to rectify that.
Y is for …. Young Racers. An above average racing car flick Roger directed that found it’s way into movie houses back in 1963. The film starred Mark Damon and William Campbell. Have a look here for more on the film that I had spotlighted a while back.
Z is for …. the Z in Samuel Z. Arkoff. American International Pictures was run by James H. Nicholson and Samuel Z. Arkoff. They played a large part in Roger’s directing period as the production company many of his films were funded and or released by. The Poe Cycle standing out amongst the rest. Another great read I can add would be Arkoff’s own memoir, “Flying Through Hollywood By the Seat of My Pants”
I had to leave plenty of material on the cutting room floor (David Carradine comes to mind) as I’m sure Roger did many times throughout his decades long career. If I’ve missed a topic you’re fond of, drop me a line.
Thanks Roger for the countless movie memories I’ve experienced on late night television growing up that I still love to go back and watch all over again. Especially those ghoulish Vincent Price affairs.