Attack of the Monster Movie Makers
Interviews with 20 Genre Giants*
They Fought in the Creature Features
Interviews with 23 Classic Horror, Science Fiction and Serial Stars**
* 2014. xii+386 pages. ISBN 978-0786495740. $25.00
**2014 . ix+320 pages. ISBN 978-0786495757. $25.00
Reviewed by Georges-Claude Guilbert
Université François Rabelais – Tours
Tom Weaver is an interesting oddity: he spends his life interviewing people who have worked in B-movies (and collecting their autographs, evidently). He goes about his self-imposed task, which always sounds more like a passion than a job, with flair and gusto. Never too drily academic (Weaver is not a traditional scholar), but never unduly lax, he unobtrusively shows that he has seen all the movies and knows all the women and men who have worked in them (certainly the actors, directors and producers, but also quite a number of other movie citizens). His impressively extensive knowledge is highly useful, as he never asks a boringly middle-of-the-road question, but always zooms in on particularly colorful episodes of his interviewees’ careers.
These two books were published in the 1990s and reprinted recently. McFarland have in fact published a whole series of them, with titles that sound invariably promising. Besides, Weaver has collaborated with magazines and journals over the years. He is a talented interviewer, clearly putting people at ease and helping them talk as they would to a friend in a café.
Weaver’s interview of Cameron Mitchell (1918-1994) is a perfect example of his work. An extremely versatile and ubiquitous performer, Mitchell has been in everything. So much so, that I am prepared to bet you have seen him in something—unless you have lived in a cave for the past sixty years. Weaver provides a two-page list of his movies, but admits that it “represents only a starting point for future compilers of his extremely convoluted (and confusing) filmography” [AOTMMM : 228]. As for the IMDb, it lists merely 240 roles in its “actor” section for Mitchell (incidentally, Weaver writes biographical notices in the IMDb). He played Happy Loman (Willy Loman’s son) in the Elia Kazan stage production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman (1949) and then reprised his role in the Laslo Benedek film version (1951), a role that was always a source of pride for him. But maybe you remember him particularly well in Ride in the Whirlwind (Monte Hellman, 1966), arguably one of the best American westerns, scripted as it was by Jack Nicholson himself—unless you are an admirer of the quaint Flight to Mars (Lesley Selander, 1951), which boasts Martians who look exactly like you and me. Mitchell, like a few other interviewees of Weaver’s, was reasonably good-looking and a capable actor, but he lacked the special spark that ignites stardom. He nearly obtained Marlon Brando’s part in On the Waterfront (Elia Kazan, 1954), but I am not convinced this twist of fate determined his career. He spoke German, Spanish and Italian, picking up languages on the sets of his movies, notably his Mario Bava gems. He was something of a movie buff himself, with an excellent memory on and off the sets; but strangely enough, his memory failed him, partially, when it came to some gore Z-movies. “I make ‘em, but I don’t have to look at ‘em,” he claimed [AOTMMM : 221].
The great Vincent Price (1911-1993) is of course featured. He played alongside the best actresses (Gene Tierney comes to mind) and for some excellent directors. He even played Egghead in the very camp 1960s Batman series. Today’s young possibly have no clue who he was, but the 1980s generation remembers him mostly as the voice presiding over Michael Jackson’s song “Thriller.” Yet he played in so many movies from 1938 to 1990, some of them excellent, such as Edward Scissorhands (Tim Burton, 1990), some of them pleasantly cheesy, such as the famous House of Wax (André De Toth, 1953), or The Fly (Kurt Neumann, 1958). These movies have a mysterious tendency to get remade. He is mostly celebrated for his powerful and extraordinarily distinctive voice, of course, unsurprisingly so. Disneyland Paris used it (in French) for their haunted house.
Merry Anders (1932-2012) appears, “another in the long line of 1950s starlets who made their mark in SF and horror” [AOTMMM : 2]. I particularly remember seeing her in House of the Damned (Maury Dexter, 1963), The Time Travelers (Ib Melchior, 1964) and the piece of curio Tickle Me (Norman Taurog, 1965), with Elvis Presley.
Julie Adams (1926-) and Lori Nelson (1933-) also speak. They are part of that cohort of pretty girls, B-movie actresses and forgotten actresses whose face you sometimes remember (although some might say they belong to the non-descript pretty, as opposed to the wow pretty of the Sue Lyon variety), but whose names elude you. Adams and Nelson have graced screens mostly devoted to the Creature from the Black Lagoon, played by Ricou Browning (1930-) three times. Browning’s work under the rubber mask was exhausting, but he never even got credited in the titles. “Universal’s idea was, they didn’t want people to think the Creature was human” [TFITCF : 105] Luckily for Browning, he is also a writer, director, producer, etc.
I also recommend the interviews of Lloyd Bridges (1913-1998), the father of actors Jeff Bridges and Beau Bridges, Forbidden Planet’s Anne Francis (1930-2011), and Jane Wyatt (1910-2006), who explains: “But I stayed with the stage for quite a little while, and then one year I had kind of a bum year. This was the time of the Great Depression and it was a very bad year in New York, so I thought, ‘Oh, well, I might as well try [Hollywood]’” [TFITCF: 290].
These are but glimpses of the marvels you will find here, and naturally, the prolific Roger Corman (1926-) is regularly mentioned throughout the two books.
My only personal regret is that the books do not offer substantial introductions, but Weaver would probably argue that the interview[ee]s speak for themselves—literally. If you are no horror fan or if you only go to the cinema to see French pseudo-intellectual efforts or politically aware films from developing countries, these books are not for you; do not waste your money. But if you have a soft spot for 1950s B-movies and find that you remember viewing most Hollywood pre-digital effects science fiction movies—and if you believe as I do that Forbidden Planet (Fred M. Wilcox, 1956) is an immortal classic—then rush to acquire them. And, let’s face it, where else are you going to learn that the favorite movie of Mel Brooks (1926-) is Gorilla at Large (Harmon Jones, 1954), possibly because Anne Bancroft (1931-2005) was delightful in it (he married her ten years later)?
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