Thursday, August 30, 2012

Critically Reviled Film, Part One


It's that time of year when I take a couple weeks off and tell myself the blog and my readers will patiently await my return.  This assurance lasts for roughly the length of time it takes to refill a coffee cup and savor the thought of a few lazy days...

Then, other thoughts intrude.  A writer should never take his audience for granted or cavalierly wander away from his word-processing program.  Readers, particularly those who regularly follow a column or blog, deserve more respect.  There will be a time later this year when I likely will be away from electronic connectivity for two or three weeks and I don't want to have overindulged myself in writing something like "Gone fishing!  See ya in two weeks!"... 

My solution to this dilemma is to give myself a brief but needed hiatus from researching and writing and revising and share some scenes from movies that critics love to hate because they're both so bad technically and so much fun to watch.  They're Saturday pizza and beer movies.  Down the line in this blog, we can talk about the sociology of clunkers like these flicks and how they reflect the fears of the Atomic Age or an incipient revolt against the conformity of Ozzie and Harriet's America.  But, today, we're just friends finding an excuse to play hooky from work before Labor Day unofficially closes out another summer in the USA...


Robot Monster, 1953, Astor Films, Director: Phil Tucker

The score for Tucker's cinematic masterpiece was written by Elmer Bernstein who went on to compose the music for lesser quality flicks such as The Ten Commandments, The Magnificent Seven, To Kill A Mocking Bird, and True Grit.  Director Tucker himself was a mere 26 years of age when he conceived the idea for what some consider the worst film of all time.  He'd come to Hollywood, an ex-Marine and dishwasher, with cinematic experience as the projectionist for strip pictures at a sleazy Fairbanks, Alaska, theater...


From Hell It Came, 1957, Allied Artists, Director: Dan Milner

Unfortunately for fans of walking killer plant movies, there is a dearth of titles exploring this particular theme.  The nearest competition for being acclaimed the best of the genre might be Day of The Triffids, a 1962 film based on a science fiction novel by John Wyndham.  From Hell plumbed the metaphysical depths linking native curses and aggressive flora while Triffids examined the aftermath of a meteor shower which blinds approximately 99% of the human race and paves the way for alien spores to animate plants as they attempt to colonize a new planet...


The Brain From Planet Arous, 1957, Marquette Productions, Director: Nathan Hertz

Director Nathan Juran took such pride in the quality of this film that he demanded to be credited as Nathan Hertz.  Juran also directed Attack of the 50 Ft Woman, a cult classic now widely seen as a celebration of female empowerment.  He won an Oscar in 1942 for Best Art Direction for work on How Green Was My Valley.  Romanian born, Juran immigrated to the United States at the age of five with his parents.  A Master's Degree in Architecture (even one from MIT) did little good during the construction slowdown of the Great Depression.  Juran moved to Los Angeles where he got a job as a draftsman in a Hollywood studio.  Volunteering for military service during World War II, Juran left Hollywood briefly and was assigned to the Office of Strategic Services, forerunner of the Central Intelligence Agency...


Attack of the Crab Monsters, 1957, Allied Pictures Corporation: Director: Roger Corman

No student of quality filmmaking overlooks Roger Corman's contribution.  This is not a facetious remark, by the way.  Known today for B Movies of the car chase and scantily clad girls variety with a healthy dose of explosions to salt viewer interest, Corman likely had no idea he would be a producer and director as he walked across the stage at Stanford University with a degree in Industrial Engineering in hand.  He worked four days as an engineer, according to some sources, before realizing he'd made a career mistake.  It was back to school at Oxford University where he studied English Literature.  Generous when it comes to fostering talent, Roger Corman mentored director Martin Scorsese and actor Robert De Niro.  Another protégée, James Cameron of Terminator fame, describes himself as having trained at the Roger Corman Film School...





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Note: All photographs for this essay were located through Google Images or Wikipedia, without authoritative source or ownership information except as noted: all images are still photographs from the films reviewed.  The Fifty Worst Films of All Time by Harry Medved with Randy Dreyfus provided valuable insight into the career of Phil Tucker.

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