Archive for How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost

Van Cleef & Arkoff

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on June 6, 2014 by dcairns


I’d always wanted to see IT CONQUERED THE WORLD, ever since seeing images of the monster, who seemed to resemble a prize marrow with a face and pincers, and ever since reading Roger Corman’s magnificent memoir How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime (one of the truly wise books about cinema) which recounts how star Beverly Garland appraised her extraterrestrial co-star coolly, uttered the words “So you’ve come to conquer the world, have you?” and then felled the short-arsed visitant with a single kick to the forehead.

“Lesson one,” writes Corman, “Always make your monster bigger than your leading lady.”


Lee Van Cleef plays a rogue scientist who befriends a Venusian who wants to invade Earth. Van Cleef thinks this is a swell idea and makes all the arrangements, communicating via a kind of ham radio, though the monster speaks only in a serious of musical parps and whines. Van Cleef understands every word, prompting Fiona to compare this with Charlie Brown’s conversations with his teacher in the animated show.

Fiona is fascinated by Van C’s tiny forehead. Kudos to Corman for avoiding typecasting the scientist role.


The movie is centred on two couples, Van Cleef & Garland, who have a lovely dysfunctional relationship (“I’m going into town and when I come back I pray you’ll be sane,” she says) and the Peter Graveses, who keep dropping by. It’s sort of a WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? with a space alien in the role of the little bugger.

The Venusian “It,” known to fans as “Beulah,” is vaguely conical (and more than vaguely comical). “He” has floor-length skin ending in a trimming of tentacular tassels. When he is angry or aroused, space-bats come flying from under his fleshy skirts. He lives in a cave with a hot spring because it reminds him of Venus.

The title, like the title of Roger’s book, is a lie — IT doesn’t at any point conquer the Earth, but it does cut off all electricity. So IT CAUSED A POWER OUTAGE would be a more accurate title. Somehow it also stops everybody’s watch from working, which seems unlikely and has no effect on the plot. When hero Peter Graves jumps on a bicycle, I half-expected the wheels to refuse to turn. “The swine!” Graves would cry, shaking his fist. But no.

The space-bats stick implants into the back of people’s necks to control them, like in INVADERS FROM MARS. I guess Venusians have been studying the Martians’ techniques.

There’s a good bit Fiona spotted of townspeople fleeing for the hills (we never see them again): one of them is clutching a saxophone. So at least they’ll have music, wherever they go.


Note also the woman left-of-centre smiling at the camera. She may be fleeing for her life, but she isn’t going to let a little thing like that spoil her day. Shades of REPTILICUS, whose terrified refugees had a kind of carnival atmosphere to them.

There’s more recognizably deliberate comedy from Dick Miller and Jonathan Haze as bumbling soldiers. Miller is always welcome, but Haze’s lame-brained Mexican act is appalling.

Strange dialogue, from Samuel Z. Arkoff’s brother-in-law and/or an uncredited Charles B. Griffith: “Your hands are human but your mind is enemy,” Graves tells Van Cleef. Ye-es.


Books #1: Corman at ya!

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on July 4, 2009 by dcairns

There’s a meme circulating, and rather a good one, in which bloggers name the ten film books that exerted the greatest influence on them. It’s a voluntary meme, but it’s so seductive — one wants to pay tribute to those things that transformed one, like a sort of cinematic Charles Atlas pamphlet, into a bulging MAN.

I’m cheating in all kinds of ways with my list, because I think enough has been said about Hitchcock-Truffaut, and I want to be interesting, and I’ve probably paid more than sufficient homage to A Pictorial History of Horror Movies (though i still have plenty more to watch from that one). But anyhow ~

5106_562076754361_284001094_3678669_1729374_nFiona and I with newly signed book.

1) How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime — Roger Corman (with Jim Jerome) delivers most of Corman’s best anecdotes, and much of the lecture he would give his young proteges, which is full of practical and artistic wisdom. (“The eye is the organ most used in movie-watching. If you can’t interest the eye, you’ll never engage the mind.”)  And he secures quotes from these guys which make up about a third of the book:

MARTIN SCORSESE: He once said, “Martin, what you have to get is a very good first reel because people want to know what’s going on. Then you need a very good last reel because people want to hear how it all turns out. Everything else doesn’t really matter.” Probably the best sense I have ever heard in the movies.”


Roger Corman’s autograph; “Pen Emm.”

The book is also very funny, as in the stuff about shooting TEENAGE CAVEMAN (with Robert Vaughn, later “remade” by Larry Clark), which Corman is very insistent was called PREHISTORIC WORLD when he made it.

BEACH DICKERSON: I must be the only person who played three death scenes and attended his own funeral in the same movie. I had to be the guy who drowns in the Sucking Sands, as the tribe called them. It was actually a rather scummy jungle part of an arboretum in Pasadena. Then we got to Bronson and we’re filming the funeral and Roger says, “What are you doing here?” and I say, “Roger, this is my funeral. The tribe is grieving over me.” He says, “No one will recognise you. Play a tom-tom at the funeral.” Then he asks me to be the Man from the Burning Plains who rides into the tribe’s land, drops off the horse, and dies. “What about the stuntman?” I ask. “Put Beach in the stranger’s outfit,” he yells, and they drape me up looking like General Grant with a bearskin rug and a big black wig.

Then we go to the big bear hunt scene. “Who do you have for the bear?” I ask Roger. “You,” he says, and they bring me this huge bear-skin suit. “How the hell am I going to play a bear?” I ask him.

“How do I know?” he says.

“But Roger, this is insane.  I’m no stuntman. I’m just a fucking half-assed little actor.”

“Don’t make problems. Just do it.” The true Roger Corman speaks up. So after a couple of these takes where I come down this hill with my head hanging between my legs it’s 150 degrees inside this fucking bearsuit and I’m dying. I get down the hill, he yells, “BEAR, STAND UP!” I stand up. “BEAR, GROWL!” So I growl. He goes, “MEAN, BEAR, MEAN!” I growl louder, scratch the air with my deadly paws. “MEANER, BEAR, I WANT YOU MEANER!” he yells.

I’m going nuts inside this suit, growling and flailing, and then he yells to the rest of the extras, “Okay, tribesmen, KILL  THAT FUCKING BEAR!” and thirty guys jump on me, take me down, and beat the shit out of me.

More soon!

Festival Fizzle

Posted in FILM, Science with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 29, 2009 by dcairns


Edinburgh. Photo by Chris B.

Essentially a limp rag, I contemplate the end of this year’s Edinburgh Film Festival largely from outside. I head that Johanna Waegner, a student from my film department at Edinburgh College of Art, has won the Scottish Short Documentary Award supported by Baillie Gifford, for her film PETER IN RADIOLAND, which is excellent news. The last day of the event is also The Best of the Fest, which translates into “what prints do we still have knocking about that we can show again?” But sometimes these films really ARE among the best, so don’t think I’m knocking any.

I’m feeling a bit silly because I slagged off the science in MOON, and it turns out there really IS something called Helium3 which you use for fusion power, and it’s to be found on the moon in great abundance. We could potentially power civilisation for thousands of years, cleanly, if we could harness it. I do slightly blame the filmmakers for inspiring my disbelief with the line “the energy of the sun, harvested from the dark side of the moon,” which does seem rather counter-intuitive. Helium3 is created by the impact of the sun’s rays on the lunar surface, so the dark side isn’t where I’d go look for it. I suspect that the director, who is the artist formerly known as Zowie Bowie, just wanted to have the phrase “dark side of the moon” in his film.

Weather was outstanding, in a weird way, throughout the fest. Intermittent showers were nuked by brilliant sunshine that had me slapping the old factor 30 0nto my pallid Scottish skin. The heat became so intense even festival director Hannah McGill bared her legs, as beautifully slender and white as noodles. Then a fog descended with a thump, making the city look like a glass that had been breathed on.

Shadowplayer and filmmaker Paul Duane passed through town, very briefly, and we touched base over chili at the Filmhouse. Paul told me an excellent ALIEN story which I must remember to pass on to you.

5106_562076749371_284001094_3678668_6856870_nThe back of my neck gets to meet Roger Corman, who signs my copy of How I Made A Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime, one of the finest movie-making books ever committed to paper. Unfortunately, in an understandable hurry (he’s 83) he signs it “Pen Emm”. Still, it was extremely gracious of him to do that much, and I’ll now treasure my first edition even more.

Corman’s tribute ended with a screening of the explosive BLOODY MAMA. It had been rumoured that the festival heads hadn’t realised Corman had been here before, with the same film, in 1970, but on this occasion a brochure from the 1970 show was produced, along with two tickets, and presented to the Great Man.


Interviewed Joe Dante the same day, which was an utter pleasure, and will be editing our conversation down this week to produce a consumable literary good out of it. Shadowplayer Chris B was houseguest for the week, and he snapped me and Joe together, smiling blurredly.

Attendance was UP this year.

Went back and saw PONTYPOOL a second time, enjoying Bruce MacDonald’s Q&A, the audience’s extremely vocal enthusiasm, and Fiona’s pleasure at the film, which I’d avoided telling her anything about (except, “It’s not Welsh. It’s Canadian.)

After that, we grabbed a cab with filmmakers Jamie and Talli and Johanna and managed to gain access to the closing party, held in a huge abandoned church. Had time for one drink and some quality mingling before being ushered out onto the street, where a man kept falling over. I’m no expert, but drink may have been involved. It’s generally best if I don’t stay long at these kind of things, since the concept of free drink appeals to two aspects of my Scots makeup, the thrift and the alcoholism. I remember one party in Portobello Funfair which degenerated into a FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS trip-out sequence, ending in myself being adopted by a tribe of fire eaters. At one point I found myself arm-wrestling a man covered in gold paint. It’s quite an experience to arm wrestle someone without actually touching them (we were at opposite ends of a five-foot table), but it made for a vivid memory.

Today the only films really calling to me are CRYING WITH LAUGHTER because I know and like the people involved, and GIALLO, because Argento is Argento, even if he’s not really anymore. But I have quite a bit of life to catch up on so I don’t know if I’ll make it. By the time I post this, today will be yesterday anyway…