In this edition of B-Movie Pioneers I am going introduce you to “The Pope of Pop Cinema” producer, actor and director Roger Corman. One of the biggest things he’s known for are his low budget cult films based on famous Edgar Allen Poe works. Also, unlike many B-Movie filmmakers, much of Cormans work has gotten critical acclaim.
I really don’t know where to start with Corman, I mean the guy has been directing and producing films for decades, he was born in 1926 in Detroit, Michigan, would join the Navy and eventually enter the work force as an engineer…..for 4 days. His first job at U.S. Electrical Motors in Los Angeles, four days in he walked up to his boss and said, “I’ve made a terrible mistake” He then quit. Corman was always interested in cinema and decided to pursue a job in the cinema, taking a job in the mail room at 20th Century Fox. He would eventually work his way up to story reader. While he liked his job this time around, he was tired of not getting any credit for ideas so he decided to quit and go back to school, this time for English Literature at Oxford.
After graduating from Oxford in 1953 he returned to LA, this time to begin a proper career in film as a producer and screenwriter. He would eventually start directing as well, the first being Swamp Women in 1955. He became known for his ability to make movies extremely quick, sometimes as many as 9 a year. One of his quickest productions was also one of his biggest cult hits, The Little Shop of Horrors (1960). Reportedly he filmed the entire movie in 3 days.
Most people consider the period between 1959 and 1964 to be his greatest achievement, I’m not sure I really agree with that, there were many later films that I liked but I digress. During this period he released 8 films in collaboration with writer Richard Matheson. These 8 films were relased for American International Pictures, who would later release Mad Max then go defunct and eventually become part of MGM. Anyway, these 8 films were adaptions of some of the greatest works of Edgar Allam Poe. The 8 were, House of Usher (1960), The Pit and the Pendulum (1961), The Premature Burial (1962), Tales of Terror (1962), The Raven (1963), The Haunted Place (1963), The Masque of the Red Death (1964), The Tomb of Ligeia (1964). While he worked with some talented people on these films including Basil Rathbone, Barbara Steele and Peter Lorne, he also worked with another actor that would become a legend. The lead in all of the movies with the exception of the Premature Burial starred Vincent Price in the lead role.
It was during this period that Corman also showed just what he could do, At the end of the filming of The Raven, he had three days left. He figured that since he still had the cast, crew and sets he would film another movie, The Terror, in the remaining three days.
In the 60’s Corman would shift gears a bit with the film “The Intruder” which featured William Shatners first leading role and helped highlight civil rights issues. After the Intruder he would turn his attention to the countrys counter culture and made the first biker movie, The Wild Angels.
The Wild Angels (1966) starred Peter Fonda and Nancy Sinatra, he would then follow up with the psychedelic film The Trip, written by none other than Jack Nicholson, also starring Peter Fonda.
In 1967, Corman returned to 20th Century fox, well, kind of, he was chosen to direct The St Valentines Day Massacre. While most directors would’ve loved the opportunity to direct a film with a large budget and an open ended schedule, Corman did not. He would eventually shot the film for 400,000 less dollars than given. Mainly because he thought the large budget was a waste and he directed the film the same way he would direct his own films, the movie would go on to be considered one of the best of his career.
After working for Fox, Corman decided to go back to his roots and decided to start his own film studio, New World Pictures. This is when he would make the movies that I know him best for and when he would return to be one of the kings of the B-Movies. From 1971 to 1984 he would make 6 of the most popular cult films of all time, Women in Cages, Death Race 2000 (a favorite of mine), Rock n Roll High School (another of my favs), Piranha, Children of the Corn, Galaxy of Terror and what many consider to be one of his best Von Richthofen and Brown. He would stop directing for awhile, at least under his real name, and would eventually return to direct Frankenstein Unbound, starring John Hurt and Raul Julia. Corman’s company would also be responsible for bringing many cult foreign films to America for the first time as well, films by greats such as Federico Fellini, Ingmar Bergman and Akira Kurosawa. All in all but the time he stopped directing and focused on producing, he had directed 55 films.
Corman is a legend, in both B-Movies and non B-movies, he’s credited with starting the careers of some of the greats throughout the years including but not limited to William Shatner, Raul Julia, John Hurt, Peter Fonda, Jack Nicholson, Nancy Sinatra, Charles Bronson, Robert DeNiro and Sandra Bullock. But that’s not the whole story, he would also jump star the careers of some of the greatest filmmakers in history such as Martin Scorsese, Ron Howard, James Cameron and Francis Ford Coppola.
Corman continues to produce, some of his later known works include Dinoshark, Sharktopus and the Netlfix Splatter, in which he teamed up with Joe Dante. There’s so much more about Cormen that I could go on for pages, his influences are spread far and wide and he is one of the most diverse B-Movie filmmakers of all time, there’s a pretty good documentary about him titled, Carman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel, that I highly recommend watching.
So thanks again for reading and I hope you enjoyed it and maybe learned a little along the way!