I like this time of year. With the rush of new books over, it gives an opportunity to read some books that might have been missed the first time around and thanks to the delightful people at Eurospan who distribute McFarland books in the UK, I feel very fortunate to dip into their back catalogue for the past few years.
Top amongst these are the interview books by Tom Weaver and his two associates, John Brunas and Michael Brunas. As Weaver points out in his 2006 introduction to this book, although some of the material was used in various US magazines, it is here that you see the unabridged versions.
The lengthy titled ‘Interviews With B Science Fiction And Horror Movie Makers’ has twenty-eight interviews with actors, scriptwriters, directors and producers. Considering how big AIP was in the 50s with creating ‘B’ movies, it can hardly be surprising that a lot of the material is in depth from there this time. Indeed, the second interview is with its boss, Samuel A. Zarkoff, who builds a picture of company direction which is further enhanced by actor/producer John Ashley from his own perspective. ‘B’ movies were made on the cheap to fill drive-in cinemas for teen-agers and became profitable by filling a niche market. Although I might not have seen a fraction of them, I find the insight into the culture that makes them fascinating. Discovering what so many of these people have now died, books such as this become a time capsule of useful information to complement any investigation into movies from that time period.
Insight comes from unusual places, too. Gene Corman was a producer in the movie business first and co-helmed some of Roger, his younger brother’s early films. His best observation is that the reason why horror and SF films were the domain of the ‘B’ movies was because the major studios didn’t have any interest in them. Think of the contrast that is today. It does make you wonder what would have happened, had things been the other way around. Just what would have been exploited by the B market films other than biker movies?
Roger Corman comes up in various other interviews, with various actors either liking or hating him, although they all agree on his tight budgets and strength from getting the film done regardless. Beverley Garland who appeared in five of his 1950s ‘B’ movies makes a delightful read of how not to look after the cast with poor accommodation when away filming.
Writers’ tales abound with the likes of David Duncan’s script for ‘The Time Machine’ and how he designed the Morlocks’ set simply because he needed to set up stage direction and George Pal worked out from that. Duncan also scripted ‘Fantastic Voyage’ but didn’t care for the espionage element after his draft was accepted.
Scriptwriter Harry J. Essex explains how although Ray Bradbury was accredited for writing ‘It Came From Outer Space’, the latter only wrote the short story it was based on. Essex also wrote ‘The Creature From The Black Lagoon’, never dreaming that it would have become as successful as it became and how he improved upon the original short story by adding the beauty and the beast element.
A lot of these interviews do interlink, discussing the same films and people – there’s a lot about Lon Chaney Jr., Bella Lugosi and Ed Wood for instance – which enables a stronger picture of events at the time and who got on with who and left to draw your own conclusions. If anything, it does reveal how department heads get credits rather than the people who do the work and in some ‘B’ movies where names are used for the scripts who were never involved at all, which should have some of you out there determined to find out what was going on.
I could go on and on about this book but I think you get the picture from me just pointing out some of the things above. It’s very hard to come away from this book without being a little gobsmacked, especially as it’s also a long read that justifies the price. A definite rewarding read.
(pub: McFarland. 413 page illustrated indexed enlarged paperback. Price: £28.50 (UK), £27.50 (US), (US). ISBN: 0-7864-2858-8)
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