Sunday, April 8, 2007

New World, In Order (more or less)

In 1954, Roger Corman delivered a smash-hit first picture for Jim Nicholson and Sam Arkoff's new American Releasing Corp. (soon to be renamed American International Pictures). By 1970, he had directed or produced 43 movies for AIP, each one of them on budget and highly profitable. By the end of the 60's however, Corman wasn't happy with their business arrangement anymore. He felt like he was being shorted on percentages due him from the great, successful run of Poe adaptations he had made for Arkoff and Nicholson, and he was increasingly uneasy about their penny-pinching ways - which from Corman's view, usually meant pinching HIS pennies, and keeping the difference for themselves. The final straw came in 1970 when AIP gutted everything that would possibly be controversial from Corman's end of the world counter-culture satire Gas-s-s-s. Frustrating him further was a less than ideal experience with United Artists that same year with Von Richthofen and Brown, which was re-dubbed and edited in post-production. Not one to waste time with a situation that wasn't working for him any more, Corman formed his own company.

New World Pictures was at the forefront of every exploitation trend of the 1970's, and like The Filmgroup before it (Corman's first independent company back in the early 60's), it proved to be a fertile training ground for a new generation of filmmakers in front of and behind the camera. Corman didn't direct a single film, officially, the whole time he ran New World from it's formation in 1970 until he sold it to an investment group made up of Hollywood lawyers in 1983, but his mark is on nearly every in-house film they made. They were all made the Corman way - on the cheap and fast on the heels of the next big thing. They also had a rebellious spirit and, whenever they could, some kind of redeeming social (slightly left) statement.

New World went head to head with AIP in the early 1970's and frequently came out on top. There was a glut of North American screens in need of immediate, cheap, exploitable product, and New World would stand out in a very crowded and ever-changing field right on through the start of the next decade. The other competitors included Dimension Pictures (which was formed by David Woolner after splitting from a brief partnership with NWP), Crown International, and the perennial wild card of the drive-in and grind house circuit, Sam Sherman and Al Adamson's Independent-International. Throw in dozens (if not hundreds) of smaller fly by night and one-off operations, plus distributors piping in increasingly more decadent fare from around the world, and the accomplishments of Corman and his stock company of irregulars stand out as a considerable achievement.

I'm going to use the occasion of Roger Corman's 81st birthday, and The Trashy Movie Celebration Blog-a-thon hosted by The Bleeding Tree blog to take a run through my favorite New World Pictures releases of the 1970's. This won't be an all-inclusive filmography but I'm going to hit all the highlights, as I see 'em, from their first release - Stephanie Rothman's The Student Nurses (1970), right on through to the last great New World picture of the decade, the ever-popular Rock 'n' Roll High School (1979).

Rothman, her young nurses, and her next film for Corman, The Velvet Vampire (1971) are the subjects of the first installment of New World, In Order (more or less).

Please stand by for our first feature...

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Army of Shadows (1969, Jean-Pierre Melville)

In Jean-Pierre Melville's Army of Shadows (L'Armée des ombres), Lino Ventura is Phillipe Gerbier, a member of the French resistance in Nazi occupied France during World War II. As the movie begins, he is being taken to a German internment camp. His captors are two soldiers who are barely less desperate than their prisoner, scraping together whatever provisions can get their hands on as they make their way through the rain-soaked, muddy terrain. Ventura plays Gerbier as a deadly serious, almost expressionless machine with only one purpose to all of his actions. Every thing he does, everything he says, every glance he makes, seems to be directed towards the insurgency he is now a leader of. It is probably not giving away too much in a movie that opens with its main character being hauled off to a prison to confirm that he does not stay captive for very long. Following his escape, Gerbier meets up with his commrades (he's not a communist, "but," he says,"I still can have commrades") and continues moving underground, dodging Nazis, finding sympathetic locals, and testing his mettle as he is forced to commit acts that would have been unimaginable in any other circumstance. The movie contains sequences packed with action and suspense, and Melville masterfully plays with our expectations with a clever script based on a novel by Joseph Kessel. Army of Shadows features some moments that will perhaps require a certain suspension of disbelief, as many good thrillers do, but that ought to be excused so as not to taint an otherwise intense, nerve racking, edge of your seat examination of the sacrifices one makes, and the atrocities one is forced to commit during times of war.

Army of Shadows was never released in the US, and at one time it was thought that the only existing print was aged beyond repair. However, a complete restoration, including new subtitles, has been completed and the long-lost film is currently playing in cities nationwide (see the Rialto Pictures website to find out where and when). Get out and see it in a cinema if you can.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Remembering Candy

The tributes to Candice Rialson are starting to come in.

At Video WatchBlog, Tim Lucas was able to contact Hollywood Boulevard co-directors Joe Dante and Allan Arkush to get their reactions to the news. Hopefully we will hear from other people who worked with her in the coming days and weeks.

Marty McKee wrote a heartfelt piece at his blog, Johnny LaRue's Crane Shot, along with his reviews of her greatest hits. An excellent overview of her career, which can act as a trip down memory lane for her long-time fans as well as an excellent primer for those who are just hearing of her because of her passing,... even though I do like Pets more than he does. Marty has also posted the trailer for Chatterbox, via YouTube.

Dennis Cozzalio posted his memories at at Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule along with a great screenshot of Candy and Dick Miller at the drive-in.

DVD Drive-In reviewer Casey Scott was one of the first to comment with a message on his MySpace blog this morning.

Casey also started a thread at the Mobius Home Video Forum and it is shaping up to be one of the hubs of discussion and commiseration on the web. There is also a discussion going on at the DVD Maniacs forum.

The Code Red DVD blog was where the news first broke, and if any more details are to be forthcoming, they'll probably have them first.

Meanwhile, I'm grieving the American way, by spending money. I just bought this:

UPDATE --- FROM CODE RED DVD --- (Friday night)

Bill Norton from Code Red just posted some more information on their MySpace blog regarding the circumstances of Candice's death. Bill writes, "My brother, Walter Olsen, spoke with Candice's husbands brother today. He was told the cause of death was liver disease. Apperently her liver got infected. He told Walter she was cremated, as that was her wishes. He told Walter near the end she was still in good mood, cracking jokes." And then the post takes a truly heartbreaking turn. Bill continues, "He asked him about if she wanted nothing to do with her acting past,as there was no obituary, and no news in the trade papers. No, as Candice and her family has all her films on video, and she talked about her film career to them all the time, and told Walter she would have been honored and more than happy to do a on camera interview and a commentary for the PETS DVD. Near the end, she was still talking about her days in Hollywood to her close friends and family. Sadly, she didn't know she still had fans. Fighting back the tears, Walter asked if he can make a retrospective documentary regarding Candices life, in which he replied Candice would have loved that, as she would have wanted to be remembered, as Walt's been invited to visit them next time he is in California."

It is very sad that Candy died without knowing that so many people remembered her so fondly, and this confirms that the lack of notice of her passing was not by choice, but by a tragic lack of interest by Hollywood and the film industry. It sounds like Code Red is already planning a video tribute to her, presumably to be included on the forthcoming Pets dvd. I wouldn't have thought that this story could have gotten any sadder, but this news just puts an extra depressing twist on things.

Special thanks to Bill and Walter at Code Red for getting the details out to all of us.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Candice Rialson, 1951-2006

It's been a bad summer. First Stinky Sonobuoni, then Syd Barrett and Arthur Lee, and now the news that Candice Rialson's been dead for over four months and no one in Hollywood seemed to notice.

Code Red DVD posted on their blog today the sad discovery which they made trying to track her down for their upcoming release of Pets. The former drive-in movie queen passed away on March 31, 2006. No obituaries have appeared, no tributes given. Her entry at the Internet Movie Database still sits unchanged (it has since been updated).

Candice was born on December 18, 1951 in Santa Monica and in many ways she grew up to be the ultimate California girl - blonde, buxom, and a always a radiant ball of sunshine. She starred in some of the most fondly remembered drive-in pictures of the 70's, including the Roger Corman/New World films Candy Stripe Nurses, Summer School Teachers, and Hollywood Boulevard, as well as Mama's Dirty Girls, Chatterbox, Moonshine County Express and the previously mentioned Pets, a truly demented piece of 70's grindhouse cinema and one of the kinkiest films ever committed to celluloid (read about it here at Sleazoid Express). Quentin Tarantino has said that Bridget Fonda's character in Jackie Brown was modeled after her. Her last film credit was a small part in 1979's Winter Kills, and her whereabouts have been a mystery for years.

Goodnight Candice, you are loved and remembered by many more than you ever knew.

Wednesday, August 9, 2006

The Nickel Ride (1974, Robert Mulligan)

When The Nickel Ride begins, Cooper is already feeling backed into a corner. He wakes up in the middle of the night thinking about the big deal that he's been trying to set up. But while his beautiful young girlfriend lies sleeping beside him at 4 AM, he sits in bed smoking a cigarette, thinking about that block. It seems like every time he nails down one corner, another comes undone. He needs all four pinned down at the same time to make this deal happen, but one look at his face tells you how long he's been trying to do just that. Cooper is a big fish in a small pond. His dream is tied up in one discreet block, his whole world a triangle that goes from his girl at home, to his downtown office, to the bar two doors down. Too bad for him his little pond sits smack dab in the middle of a tremendous ocean, and the bigger fish swimming around are bound to swallow him whole sooner or later, and in a movie like this, it's sure to be sooner.

There are several reasons to recommend Robert Mulligan's little-seen 1974 L.A. noir The Nickel Ride, but the best one is the lead performance from the late Jason Miller. Today, most remember Miller most as Father Karras in The Exorcist. He was also a Pulitzer Prize winning playwright ("That Championship Season"), an accomplished stage actor, and an underrated character actor on film. In The Nickel Ride, he plays Cooper, a graying mid-level crime boss in downtown L.A. who "holds all the keys", a former carnival barker who made the short leap to organized crime a long time ago. He's trying to buy up a block of warehouses which he will use to fence stolen merchandise. If anyone's got something to hide away, Coop would be the man you need to see. The block is, appropriately, a dead end. Miller is phenomenal trying to keep it together while he watches his whole world slowly come apart. You see it in his eyes, in his physicality, and of course, in his need to get that morning belt before heading upstairs to do business. You wonder if what he's afraid of even exists at all. Maybe he's just losing his mind. But maybe he's not. Who knows? Miller doesn't tip his hand. The result is a great showcase for a great actor, and he's a pleasure to watch in it.

Another reason to watch is to see Bo Hopkins as Turner, a cowboy from Kansas City who's in town for more than just a southern California vacation. Hopkins is great as the tall, charming, but stone cold "country talker" who never seems to shut up.
The chemistry between Hopkins and Miller carries the middle part of the movie as we sit in on several suspensful rounds of a mental chess match built on mutual distrust. John Hillerman (Higgins from Magnum P.I.) is the big boss, Carl, and Linda Haynes (Rolling Thunder) is Sarah, Cooper's wide-eyed blonde girlfriend from West Virginia.

The movie was directed by Robert Mulligan, who came out of 50's tv and like several of his contemporaries, produced a long resume of professional, well remembered, award winning films, including Fear Strikes Out, To Kill A Mockingbird, Baby the Rain Must Fall, and Summer of '42. He is in some ways a perfect example of the "anti-auteur", the most obvious thread throughout his work being a lack of consistent themes. Still, The Nickel Ride stands out from the bulk of his filmography with it's bleak, pessimistic tone. The film it most closely resembles is Peter Yates' The Friends of Eddie Coyle, made a year before, in which Robert Mitchum plays a similarly predestined underworld tough. Like Eddie Coyle, The Nickel Ride is an actor's picture that benefits from great photography. Cinematographer Jordan Cronenweth would later act as DP for Altered States, Blade Runner, and Stop Making Sense, but when he did The Nickel Ride, he was still in the world of low-budget exploitation and genre work. His considerable talents are on display front and center here, especially in the leisurely first third of the film, which spends much time taking in the anonymous urban landscape these characters inhabit. The script was written by Eric Roth, today one of the most successful screenwriters in the business, with a long list of hits that includes last year's Munich, as well as Ali, The Insider, The Horse Whisperer, and Forrest Gump. It's amazing that someone involved in that series of films could write something this interesting, but hey, in the 70's anything was possible.

Unfortunately, The Nickel Ride is unavailable on home video. It was released in 1975 by 20th Century Fox, didn't do well, and it's been obscure ever since. I'm not even sure if it was ever released on vhs. But the Fox Movie Channel does occasionally show a letterboxed print of it, and as of now, that's really your only way to catch this great little movie. Look for it, it'll be worth the effort.