Katzman, Nicholson, Corman: Shaping Hollywood’s Future
By Mark Thomas McGee
Published by BearManor Media, 2016. 332 pages.
Last year, I read McGee’s You Won’t Believe Your Eyes (also from BearManor) and absolutely loved it. It was such a great read, filled with some great and humorous recollections from someone who is obviously a huge fan of the same kind of movies that I enjoy. So when I seen that BearManor had just published a new book by this same author, I was excited. But when I saw that it was about three filmmakers that I admire greatly, I couldn’t wait to get my copy to dig into it. And I wasn’t disappointment.
This book covers three prominent figures in the world of independent film productions: Sam Katzman, Jim Nicholson, and Roger Corman. Now everyone knows Corman and what he’s done. Then again, even though I honestly never get tired of hearing about his work, what you will read here is a bit different than what you normally hear or read. But we’ll get to that in a minute. It really was the other two names, Katzman and Nicholson, that really got my attention. Sam Katzman, like Corman, was a low budget independent producer that cranked out the titles fast and cheap. In fact, he may have been a producer even cheaper than Corman. I mean, this is the man responsible for giving us the 1957 epic The Giant Claw, the ultimate Turkey Day movie! He produced close to 250 pictures in a career that lasted almost 40 years, sometimes cranking out over 12 pictures in one year. Hard to believe compared to today’s Hollywood features. Sure, most of his films are not that well made, but there are more than a few that still retain their entertainment value for fans like me, such as It Came From Beneath the Sea (1955) and Earth vs the Flying Saucers (1956).
The important thing is that here, McGee gives us some insight to Katzman himself. There are plenty of great stories about him and his ways around cheap filmmaking. Some of them are probably not true, but as McGee reminds us of the old adage, “print the legend”. One great quote from the book, which opens the chapter on him, I think really defines his style….”There may have been twelve disciples in The Bible, but there’s only ten in my budget.” We do learn that as cheap as Katzman was when it came to making movies, he was not afraid to spend money when he felt it was needed. When director Fred F Sears, who had worked with him for many years, passed away, Katzman took out a full page ad in Variety expressing his condolences. Gives a little bit more insight to this man.
When it comes to James Nicholson, one half of American International Pictures (AIP), fans know of the countless great titles they produced and released over the years. But it is usually Sam Arkoff that we hear about, or more importantly, hear from. And it is usually his side of the story of what Nicholson did or didn’t do for AIP. Now thanks to McGee, we get some real good insight on just what Nicholson did do for the company, and how the truth has been twisted and changed over the years, seemingly mainly from Arkoff himself, who has played down, diminished, or outright excluded the work Nicholson did for AIP. Now we get to learn a little bit more into what was really going on back then, and I have to say, it’s pretty depressing. For someone who loved movies and was exceptionally talented when it came to coming up with great titles, and creating what he thought the audiences wanted, Nicholson was damn good and it’s a shame that he is not better known for his achievements.
McGee talked to a lot of people over the years to get many different sides to the real story about AIP, even from Arkoff himself. McGee does seem a little bitter against Arkoff, but I am totally behind his feelings that come across in the book. I’m glad that he is trying to set the record straight about Nicholson and what he really did do for AIP. My only complaint about this section of the book is that the first film that Nicholson that got made (though he passed away before it was even released) was The Legend of Hell House (1973), which just happens to be one of my all-time favorites, is only mentioned in passing. Even in the back of his section, where it covers selected films of theirs, it is not listed. Granted, it really bummed me out because it is one of my favorites, but I still would have loved to have read more about it.
The last section is about good old Roger Corman. As the author mentions, there probably have been more books and documentaries about Corman than any other director. Tales of his filmmaking skills and penny-pitching are legendary. I’m sure some might be exaggerated a bit, but I bet most are true. Now even though McGee professes an admiration for Corman, he still lays out the story as straight as he hears it, not sugar coating anything, even when it doesn’t show Corman in a positive light. Yes, Corman gave a lot of up-and-coming directors and filmmakers a shot in the business. But he was a shrewd business man and often his crew would pay for it. So lovers of Corman might be a little taken back at some of the stories here, but I really loved the way the author presents them here, in a very straight forward manner. Again, McGee got a lot of his information from a lot of people that worked with Corman, as well as Corman himself.
What I really enjoy about McGee and his writing is that he is obviously a huge fan of these films and their creators. He has no problem throwing his opinion into the mix and defending these movies, such as referring to a critic who panned Earth vs the Flying Saucers with “even an idiot is entitled to his opinion.” But it doesn’t stop him from giving us a fair and sometimes not-so-nice remark on the three subjects of his book. He shows us not only the positive side of them but the negative and lesser known side as well. So it is far from just a lovingly puff piece, but an honest portrayal of them, but done with still showing that love and passion for these kind of films and their makers. And for that, I admire and appreciate McGee even more. I love that he is shinning some light on both Katzman and Nicholson, as well as Corman. Couldn’t recommend this book enough. Essential for every fans collection.
This title is available from BearManor Media in both paperback and hardcover editions.