There comes a time in a horror movie host’s life when they must reacquaint themselves with the classics. You forget things like talent, taste, and atmosphere and what they bring to a film. Mr. Lobo has sort-of made a career hosting movies on television and most of them are not considered the cream of the crop. Sure, they also rise to the top of the bowl…but that’s because they’re considered crap not cream.
The budget on the show is low and we present what we have access to. “They‘re not Bad Movies Just Misunderstood” is the motto of my long running show CINEMA INSOMNIA because I feel you validate these films by presenting them. But some of this is Make A Wish service to a load of wannabe hacks.
I’m proud of the work I do and I love the kind of films I show – but find my knowledge of more recognized genre masters somewhat lacking. I also feel my cinematic sense of taste is severely damaged – like tongue of a chain smoker. I can carry my own in a nerdy conference on Ed Wood, Ted V. Mikels, Ray Dennis Steckler, Larry Buchanan, Jack Hill, and Roger Corman…
but when talk switches over to old masters like Todd Browning, Jack Arnold, Howard Hawks, James Whale, and Fritz Lang…I find myself letting others do the talking and listening hard …and trying to learn something.
Recently, Daniel Griffith from Ballyhoo productions in Tennessee called and asked me to help him with more documentaries. He did some on camera interviews with Mr. Lobo for a MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER box set in an acclaimed documentary about Ed Wood. CITIZEN WOOD was a very well made bonus feature on the making of the film BRIDE OF THE MONSTER. It turned out great and I was anxious to do another documentary with the talented director.
When he told me that it was going to be about the Sci-Fi films of Jack Arnold my brain did not immediately click.
He prodded, “You know, CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE… “
“Of course! Those are two of my all time favorites!” I said, “Keep talking while I write some stuff down…”
Mr. Griffith will be meeting with me at MONSTER BASH in Butler PA later this month where I will be presenting another low rent disaster called REPTILICUS. We will shoot more interviews there at the hotel for this and other upcoming projects. In the meantime, Mr. Lobo has been boning up on the career of Jack Arnold…which considering that some regard me as a foremost expert on the genre was long overdue.
Jack Arnold as a lad read Sci-Fi pulps and was an avid fan. So it’s fitting that he would grow up to be one of the kings of 50‘s Sci-Fi Movies as the director of IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE, THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN and TARANTULA for Universal.
He the 1930’s he appeared in a couple Edgar Wallace films and a number of plays On Broadway as an actor. But when the attack on Pearl Harbor happened and he enlisted in the Air Corps.
He was stationed in a unit that was making a film produced and directed by Robert Flaherty-who was an idol if his. Jack Arnold wanted to work with him but was not really qualified. They say in “The Biz” you got to fake it until you make it. But in this case, Jack Arnold got the job after telling Flaherty the truth. He just said, “Look, I’ve got something to tell you–I’m an actor, not a cameraman. But I think I would be able to handle the job.”
He discovered he liked being behind the camera and after the war started a documentary film company and made industrials for the State Department, the Ford Motor Company and others. For the International Ladies Garment Workers Union he directed a feature spanning fifty years of the organization, and critics loved it. THESE HANDS brought Jack Arnold his ONE and ONLY Academy Award NOMINATION. Jack Arnold has never won an Academy Award.
Sadly, The Academy famously snubs Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Horror, and other genre films and their directors. But it was this nomination that attracted the attention of Hollywood and Universal signed him as a director where he would direct many popular and important – if not award winning – Sci-Fi films.
Of course, he was never strictly a Sci-Fi film director…directors don’t usually choose their genre. Universal put Jack Arnold on all kinds of films that were in demand including, Westerns and Teen Exploitation.
In 1953, the first feature film he directed was a potboiler about ladies in the slums of New York called NIGHT FLOWERS – later re-titled GIRLS IN THE NIGHT, an “exploitation title” that Arnold always disliked.
While we’re talking about unsavory names of things, Potboiler is an ugly word to artists like Jack Arnold and certain film critics. It usually defines as a work done quickly and cheaply to make a profit or “keep the pot boiling“.
However, and this is the horror host side of me talking, water only boils if the pot is hot…the demand was great for these bad girl exploitation films. But Jack Arnold wasn’t making films just to keep the pot boiling…even if the studio was.
Exploitation is another word that Jack Arnold did not like. Probably because it’s used by some people to marginalize his, and other directors, films. Exploitation is defined as a film that relies on or exploits it’s subject matter for commercial success and in sensationally advertised.
Clearly in true Air Corps fashion, Jack Arnold was going above and beyond the call of duty and did not consider his work an exploitation effort.
But are potboilers and exploitation films less valued or less valid just because they are made for profit and met the demands of an eager audience?
Okay, most of them were miserable. We think of Ed Wood as the king of Exploitation and his films technically and otherwise are low on quality. And even though Dolores Fuller of Ed Wood’s stable appeared in GIRLS IN THE NIGHT in her early career, Arnold’s Film was by most accounts was well-acted and well made, with solid performances by Joyce Holden and Harvey Lembeck, and there are film buffs out there still yearning for a video release and not just for camp value.
I think in show business like any business we try to define the success of things without considering taste and talent. I get the sense that’s what bothered Jack Arnold about the exploitation label is that it implies that taste and talent are not necessary. And those things were essential as far as he concerned.
I don’t think people who hate that label are on a noble crusade to make films that no-one really asked for, advertise them modestly, and just hope for a hit! Everyone in Hollywood wants to make money!
I think Jack Arnold was a talented guy and a tasteful guy and he thought he could elevate whatever film came his way. He didn’t want to shock his fans he wanted to entertain them. He never called his films Horror.
Horror is another word that many studio’s avoided also because of unsavory associations…in the conservative and witch hunting 50’s, it was much more acceptable to call a film Science Fiction or Thriller or a Chiller…even a Monster Movie…hardly ever a Horror.
Heavens, Ethyl! What would the neighbors think?
3-D was the hot new thing. Warner Brothers had released HOUSE OF WAX – they had quickly put together that film to capitalize on the trend by throwing things at the camera and it was a hit! This prompted Universal to look for a film that could be successfully adapted to make a 3-D picture and they bought IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE, a story by genre genius Ray Bradbury. Many of Bradbury’s works were run in the very Science Fiction magazines that Arnold loved reading. Now this Sci-Fi story was given to him to direct. This may have been an attempt to exploit two major fads at the time but Arnold was using his talent and taste to make it something better.
IT was released and was successful. Jack Arnold boasted that he was assigned nearly all of Universal’s Science Fiction films. Unlike before when he was up front with Robert Flaherty that he had no clue what he was doing with a camera – Jack claimed to be a Science Fiction Expert since there really wasn’t anyone else claiming to be – and as long as the films he made continued to be successful – the studio left him alone and never argued with him no matter what choices he made.
Arnold’s films strove to create an atmosphere. When he shot an imaginative film–a film in which you ask an audience to believe things that are bizarre–he thought it was important to create a mood or tone with the camera to make it seem possible in that world on screen. This was certainly the case with CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON which was also in 3-D.
From the Amazon rose one of the best designed monsters, the Gill-Man who dares to fall in love with one of our women! And Julie Adams proved you can be sexy in a one piece bathing suit! This is a genre classic that everyone loves so I won’t drone on about it here.
It was so successful thathe imediately got to work on a sequel, REVENGE OF THE CREATURE that came out in 1955…also, also in 3-D. Widely hailed as the second best in the franchise but is still dwarfed by the original. It was even on MST3K. I can’t imagine the original on that show.
TARANTULA (1956) also has the patented Arnold Atmosphere. Far more effective than the giant spider itself coming over the hills.
THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN(1957). Based on a novel and screenplay by genre great Richard Matheson. It’s considered by many of his fans to be Arnold’s masterpiece and avoids an easy or happy ending.
SPACE CHILDREN – Scientists freak-out as their children gleefully do the bidding of a giant glowing brain that appears near a rocket test site. A lot of adults hate this movie which makes Mr. Lobo think this film was also targeting children. This was also skewered on Mystery Science Theater.
Purists beware, Mr. Lobo has embedded Mike and The Bots riffing on this film below. I could not find the trailer for upload but has been shown on Cinema Insomnia though I’ve never hosted the full length feature.
MONSTER ON CAMPUS(1959) is Jack Arnolds last Sci-Fi film.
He directed Arthur Franz and many other actors in this film on SCIENCE FICTION THEATER, an anthology series for TV. Whit Bissell was also in THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON and Ross Elliott was also in TARANTULA.
We’re transitioning back into CINEMA INSOMNIA territory here. B-Movie Fans like Mr. Lobo love this but many find it awful. Maybe, they take their Sci-Fi and themselves more seriously than I do. The music in MONSTER is from Jack Arnold’s other films most notably TARANTULA..
Even though Jack Arnolds Science Fiction projects were technically “B-Movies”, they had relatively large budgets for the 50’s. If you adjust for inflation, a 700,000 to 800,000 dollar budget back then might be a $30 Million dollar movie in today’s money.
Jack Arnold may have felt after MONSTER ON CAMPUS that he was slipping into exploitation territory againand thedays of those hands-off decent budget Sci-Fi films were drawing to a close. By then his Sci-Fi expert status was also tarnished by a couple of films he did not direct.
THE CREATURE WALKS AMOUNG US – or as Mr. Lobo calls it – The Creature Wears Slacks Off The Rack. It was unfortunately not directed by Jack Arnold and it’s considered by most not only to be just the third best CREATURE feature but the most disappointing overall and it‘s not even in 3-D!
John Sherwood who directed this also directed MONOLITH MONSTERS that was adapted from a story co-written by Jack Arnold. It was a imaginative enough story staring Grant Williams from INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN but Monolith fell flat. One can only guess what could have been if Arnold directed “MONOLITH MONSTERS.
Later science fiction films like the kind American International Pictures made – and imported and dubbed overseas monster movies – were limited by their budgets and focused on exploiting the market more than pushing the limits of fantasy film. Although, I love these films and they are Mr. Lobo’s bread and butter, most of their directors did not create an atmosphere or exhibit the level of talent or taste of Jack Arnold.
Why did his reign as Mr. Sci-Fi end with Universal? Maybe Universal’s priorities changed. We can only imagine what a Sci-Fi film by Jack Arnold film from the 60’s and beyond would be. Like The Beatles were to screaming girls of the 60’s, Jack Arnolds Sci-Fi films were phenomenon of the 50’s.
Like I said before Arnold never regarded his films as horror films. He would have hated seeing the guts and organs of Jason and Freddy’s victims flying out over audiences, even in 3D!
Jack Arnold hated THE EXORCIST. He admired the performances and the special effects and believed they all should have gotten Academy Awards, but was totally offended by content. As a director he couldn’t do that kind of film. He couldn’t make a fourteen-year-old girl go through the things Linda Blair did or make her say the words she did. Those kind of films didn’t match his taste…So, I’m guessing it wasn’t worth his talent to try and make a modern Horror film.
He remained active in the industry into the 80’s but didn’t direct any Science Fiction films after the 1950s. He directed practically millions of popular TV shows like PETER GUNN, PERRY MASON, GILLIGAN’S ISLAND, BRADY BUNCH, WONDER WOMAN, BIONIC WOMAN, BUCK ROGERS, LOVE BOAT, THE FALL GUY…but he did miss making feature films. He felt TV was a sausage factory – too much work for too little satisfaction.
He wanted to do more stories that he could create atmosphere with, but so many Sci-Fi scripts he read in the 70’s seemed like technical manuals to him when compared to imaginative elegance of Ray Bradbury and Richard Matheson. Unfortunately his health did not keep him with us long enough to allow a newer Jack Arnold Sci-Fi masterpiece to ever happen.
By the way, two of Arnold’s greatest Sci-Fi films TARANTULA and IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE are immortalized in the Richard O’Brien’s song Science Fiction Double Feature – a tune I consider to be the national anthem of Midnight Movies. It’s from a musical comedy cult movie that probably would have made Jack Arnold throw up, THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW(1975). However, It makes Mr. Lobo cry when he hears it. The song ironically yearns for a more innocent time of imagination and wonder. A gentler more civilized age when Horror films were called Science Fiction and Exploitation films were perverted and subverted by taste, talent, and atmosphere.