Cormania!

As he approaches his 85th birthday, Roger Corman is probably better known as the producer of some 400 exploitation films (and a few respectable ones!) than he is as a director, but he made some interesting pictures in his time. Many — like the set of three early Corman efforts that Shout! Factor is releasing this week in nice looking new transfers — are characterized by his unshakably sober approach to wildly improbable material: “The Attack of the Crab Monsters” and “Not of This Earth” (distributed as a double bill in 1957) and the 1958 “War of the Satellites” (in which Dick Miller, appropriately, makes the universe safe for humanity). I take a look at those three titles in this week’s NY Times column, but I’m sure everyone has their favorites from among the 50 or so films that came out under his name.

67 comments to Cormania!

  • Lee’s not in REVENGE. I always figured Peter Cushing for the dominant Hammer actor.

  • Alex Hicks

    Robert Cashill,

    Thanks for the “Revenge” correction.

    Well, Cushing was, as the “good guy,” the lead protagonist, but I recollect more viewer focus on Lee as Villian/Monster and draw than on Cushing — more school kid, if not critical, enthusiasm for Lee. (Not sure there was much of a critcal competition between the two though I’d imagine any advantage for the period in which they were both active would have gone to Cushing.)

    As for current fame, I get about 7,990,000 Google “results” for Christopher Lee as opposed to 513,00 for Peter Cushing. (Although I can’t claim ther are no hits for OTHER Christopher Lees and Peter Cushings other than the intended, I don’t think they could remotely make up for the difference.)

  • Well, Cushing died in 1994, while Lee goes on, most notably in the LORD OF THE RINGS films and two of the STAR WARS prequels. Those keep the hits coming on Google.

    I don’t think Lee was ever really satisfied with his Hammer roles; the short screen time given to Dracula in all those movies was a constant irritant, for him and for us, and he was happier in international coproductions and Hollywood films. (One he liked was RASPUTIN, THE MAD MONK.) Whereas Cushing’s Baron Frankenstein is one of the richest and best developed characters in horror history.(He was more of a Hammer homebody.)

    Lee, by the way, is excellent in the recent film TRIAGE, with Colin Farrell (who loved working with him).

  • jbryant

    FWIW, Christopher Lee also gets roughly 6 million more Google search hits than Humphrey Bogart. And he’s got almost half a million more than Leighton Meester, star of this week’s top-earning film, THE ROOMMATE. He’s running about 10 million behind Elvis Presley though.

    Of course, those other names are much more distinctive than “Christopher Lee.” On the first page of the Lee search, you’re already getting other folks with the same name – a chef, a politician, a scientist. So, yeah, grain of salt.

  • D. K. Holm

    Speaking of books that may have changed the perception of Corman, there was also Kings of the Bs, an anthology of interviews and critical studies (including Richard Thompson’s masterpiece on Thunder Road). Also, I would guess that a critical shift also occurred over time as more established directors emerged from Corman’s companies.

  • Junko Yasutani

    Roger Corman sometimes made good scope movie, but Terence Fisher did make so interesting scope movie. I cannot remember that Fisher made scope movie, but Corman scope movie is memorable, working with great cinematographer Floyd Crosby and Nicholas Roeg.

    Corman movie I like best is X: THE MAN WITH X-RAY EYES.

  • Alex Hicks

    jbryant,

    Good points. Still, “Christopher Lee, Hammer” gets about 6 times as many hits as “Peter Cushing.”

    I guess the real lesson is that one may owe a nod Leighton Meester.

    As I recall even 12 year olds had to take Corman-Price films with a grain of salt for their corn and ham, while Fisher-Cushing-Lee films earned the dignity of Horror.

    Junko, I think Fisher did little or nothing with scope, indeed simply worked confined to the traditional elements of mise-en-scene –costumes, sets, design — not to speak of the actors amongst them and the cinematographic capture of the lot.

  • jbraynt, I think you may have fallen into an old trap there, in regard to Googling Christopher Lee. Searching the two words together, as “Christopher Lee,” you get 2,010,000; searching simply for pages that contain the words “Christopher” and “Lee” (which is what you’re doing if you don’t use the quote marks to link them), you get 7,990,000. “Humphrey Bogart” gets you 1,300,000 results, “Humphrey” and “Bogart” gets you a tiny bump to 1,339,000 hits. The only conclusion that can be drawn here is that there are a lot more people named either “Christopher” or “Lee” in this world than there are named either “Humphrey” or “Bogart,” which isn’t hard to believe. “Leighton Meester,” tragically, still yields 9,600,000 hits — this week.

  • jbryant

    Sorry, I wasn’t clear, Dave — I was just following Alex’s lead, searching in the manner I assumed he had used to get the results he mentioned upthread. And Leighton Meester is a name that will live forever, like Art Garfunkel, Englebert Humperdinck, Alison Doody, Clem Kadiddlehopper, the list goes on. Plus, she shore is purty.

  • Rick K.

    Fisher’s scope films (DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS, TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL, STRANGLERS OF BOMBAY, SWORD OF SHERWOOD FOREST) were all skillfully done, but one never got the sense that he had any special affinity for that format, unlike Corman who, in the Poe films with Crosby/Roeg, seemed to optimize pictorial composition for wide screen effect. When those Poe films were only available (for MANY years) in full frame versions for television and non-theatrical, they were mere travesties of the original … in fact, one almost felt sorry for the technician assigned to panning and scanning those films, constantly bouncing back and forth on characters/faces on the opposite sides of the screen, and trying to “condense” macabre effects which kept Corman’s films so visually interesting, and inevitably losing essence of all the atmospherics which Corman, Crosby and Haller created via their ensemble efforts. Perhaps it was, in part, Corman’s economics which dictated that ALL of the investment be present in the viewfinder, fully aware of the additional screen space he was working with, optimizing his wide screen imagery with efficiency and creativity. In the inevitable dream sequences which inhabit the Corman Poe films, he even stretched the widescreen image horizontally, rendering the pan/scanned image to be totally incomprehensible.

  • jbryant

    I think my first Corman was THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM. I saw it during the one year that my small-town Kentucky high school showed good 16mm prints of classic films in our auditorium as an option for those who didn’t want to go to “study hall.” Since it was a one-hour period, they showed half a film one day, the other half the next. This is how I first saw THE CAINE MUTINY, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD and CHEYENNE AUTUMN as well. As you can imagine, for a young movie lover this was the coolest thing that ever happened within school walls.

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    Rick K: the obscure technicians assigned to panning and scanning those films and hundreds of other wide AR movies were in effect re-editing them and turning them into something visually completely different (and shockingly inferior) from the originals. What is fascinating is that for several decades countless millions of TV viewers watched those films without realizing (or caring)that they had been fatally damaged. Indeed the vast majority of TV viewers were fiercely hostile to letterboxing, prefering pan@scan because it filled the whole screen. Which says a lot about how much interest general audiences really had in the visual aspect of movies. Has it changed much with the arrival of rectangular screens? I’m not so sure. By the way TCM still periodically runs their fine old short describing the horrors of spanning/scanning and the superiority of letterboxing, although at this point in time it seems a bit obsolete.

  • Alex Hicks

    jbryant

    How’s Googling “”Christopher Lee” Hammer” and “”Peter Cushing” Hammer”? The former yields 8,670,000 hits, the latter 1,970,000 hits.

  • Barry Putterman

    It would be nice to think that the bad old days of pan and scan ended with the advent of TCM. However, the few times I have given in and tried to watch something on HBO indicates to me that unless they made the show themselves, they (and by extension their viewers) how absolutely no interest or concern regarding aspect ratio. Of course, I suppose you could get around that problem by watching the movie on your cell phone.

    Has anybody tried Googling Freddie Francis yet?

  • jbryant

    HBO letterboxes its HD channels, FWIW.

  • Junko Yasutani

    ‘Fisher’s scope films (DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS, TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL, STRANGLERS OF BOMBAY, SWORD OF SHERWOOD FOREST) were all skillfully done, but one never got the sense that he had any special affinity for that format, unlike Corman who, in the Poe films with Crosby/Roeg, seemed to optimize pictorial composition for wide screen effect.’

    Yes, Rick, that is difference between Fisher and Corman. For scope movie, Corman was better director than Fisher. Pace of Corman movie was true to atmosphere, sometimes having dynamic composition even if it is simple effect.

    What you said about dream sequence is true, vivid method to good effect. For me Corman is more interesting visual director than Fisher. To me Fisher is dry, not so exciting to compare to Corman, maybe Fisher is better director for actor. I do not think Fisher is bad director, but I am liking Corman’s sensibility more.

  • D. K. Holm

    Christopher Lee is still active and still appearing in Hammer films. I just saw him in a Sliver knockoff from Hammer called The Resident.