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42 St. 42 Years Ago: SHAFT Revisited

30 Aug

Today, August 30, 2013, is the 42nd anniversary of my first trip to a 42nd Street movie theater (on August 30, 1971). I’ve amassed quite a bit of material related to that trip, so it seemed like a good opportunity to commemorate it. I’ve managed to re-watch both films seen on that trip and I’ve been in touch with both friends who accompanied me that day. The film that drew us was SHAFT, directed by Gordon Parks and starring Richard Roundtree as a black private eye with an office in Times Square, an apartment in Greenwich Village, and a client in Harlem, locations that marked three of the major centers of street life in New York in the early 1970s. The second feature chosen to play with it was, oddly enough, a low-budget black-and-white science fiction film made in 1956 called IT CONQUERED THE WORLD, a title that had already played on television regularly by this point. The film was directed by Roger Corman and the stars were Peter Graves, Beverly Garland and Lee Van Cleef. I suspect it was Van Cleef’s presence in the cast that gave it some cachet, since Van Cleef had become popular among 42nd Street audiences thanks to the steady stream of Italian westerns he’d made after reviving his career with appearances in two of the movies making up Sergio Leone’s “Dollars” trilogy: FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE and THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY. Van Cleef’s name was prominently displayed on the theater marquee as this shot from the time shows:

The theater was the Lyric, situated in the middle of a row of six theaters on the north side of 42nd Street between 7th and 8th Avenues, the famous “Deuce” of New York legend. SHAFT had opened in New York on July 2 at the DeMille Theater on Broadway and 47th Street, but I don’t know at what point in its run it started playing at the Lyric. The marquee in that picture says “Held Over 4th Big Week,” but I couldn’t say whether that was in July, August or September.

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March 10, 1963: The Making of a Film Buff

10 Mar

On Sunday, March 10, 1963 (50 years ago today, which is also a Sunday), around 12 Noon, I left Tremont Methodist Church in my Bronx neighborhood to go to the movies at the Tremont Theater on Webster Avenue two-and-a-half blocks away. My plan was to see Roger Corman’s Edgar Allan Poe-inspired horror comedy, THE RAVEN, starring three horror greats of the time: Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, and my favorite of the three, Boris Karloff. It would be playing with two co-features. The Tremont, which I’d been attending regularly with my siblings since May of the previous year, ran triple features of older movies, including some from as far back as the 1930s, although the oldest movies I saw at the Tremont were all from 1952. When I got to the theater that Sunday, I pondered the choice I had. There was a new double feature playing at the Deluxe some seven blocks away up Tremont Avenue: SAMSON AND THE SEVEN MIRACLES OF THE WORLD, an Italian muscleman movie starring Gordon Scott, and WARRIORS FIVE, an Italian war movie starring Jack Palance. I had just started paying more attention to movie ads and reviews in the New York Post, especially, and wanted to follow new movies coming out instead of just relying on the Tremont’s eclectic schedule (which I’d been enjoying tremendously). So, at the last minute, I opted not to pay the 35 cents admission for the Tremont and instead went up to the Deluxe to pay my full allowance allotment of 50 cents at the Deluxe. I was by myself and all of nine years old. (It was the first time I went to the movies without a sibling.)

Yoko Tani (center) in SAMSON AND THE SEVEN MIRACLES OF THE WORLD

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50th Anniversary of THE INTRUDER

14 May

50 years ago today, Roger Corman’s film, THE INTRUDER, opened in New York City. It was a low-budget black-and-white drama about the topical issue of school integration, which was all over the headlines as southern cities and towns were facing demonstrations on behalf of civil rights and court orders to integrate schools and public facilities. The film follows the activities of Adam Cramer, a charismatic young white man who comes to a southern town that has been issued a court order to integrate its local high school. He ingratiates himself with the local power brokers and gradually reveals his mission: to instigate opposition to integration and get the local people to rally on their own to stop it. It’s never clear who exactly is paying Cramer, but he seems to be working on behalf of some shadowy backers.

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Al Capone – Three Film Versions

7 Apr

Al Capone was a famous gangster who dominated bootlegging in Chicago during much of the Prohibition era in the 1920s, despite a multitude of rivals whose opposition led to open warfare in the streets, culminating in the infamous “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre” in a Clark Street garage in 1929.  I have stills from three different movies about Capone, so I decided to watch all three to compare the portrayals and then consult a book I have on him to see how accurate the movies were. I don’t have DVDs of the films, only VHS copies, so I didn’t get any screen grabs. The films are: AL CAPONE (1959), THE ST. VALENTINE’S DAY MASSACRE (1967), and CAPONE (1975).

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