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Where Were You in ’62, A.I.P.?

by Glenn Erickson Jan 02, 2021

 

Instead of a second review today I offer this end-of-the-year CineSavant Article suggested by some American-International promotional graphics from late 1961, saved by collector Bill Shaffer. It’s a fun ‘what is that movie?’ puzzle geared to specific fan curiosities. The target audience is the crowd that remembers reading ‘coming to your theater soon’ notices for movies that never seemed to show up, at least not under the titles given. Bill sent me three entries for 1962, with graphics that he thought were the most interesting. I’m hoping to get a look at more…. Oh, and Happy New Year!

 


Collector and PBS broadcaster Bill Shaffer has been a friend for going on 22 years now; he was one of several Sergio Leone experts that offered assistance for some great Leone DVD extras back in 2003. I’ve been encouraging Bill to write about his childhood: his father was a theater manager in the midwest for many years. Bill’s upbringing was interesting, having the run of more than one theater and seeing most every kid-friendly new attraction. Bill inherited a treasure trove of original pressbooks, posters and special advertising materials from throughout the 1960s, and a few years on either side. They threw very little away.

On December 19  I mentioned reading publications like Famous Monsters and Fantastic Monsters of the Films back in the day and finding lists of films said to be ‘coming soon.’ Some we recognized, others were unfamiliar, and more than a few seemed highly unlikely — perhaps truth-challenged producers simply submitted titles for movies they wished they were filming.

Bill responded to that CineSavant column by sending me some scans from a special item in his collection. One look and I knew it would be a great discussion item: an American-International Pictures promotional pressbook to interest exhibitors in upcoming 1962 product. The pressbook doesn’t remind us of A.I.P.’s exploitation-oriented 1950s output — we liked those too — the aim here is to suggest a slightly more upscale tone.

Just a year or so earlier the company had shifted from a diet of mostly cheap double bills, to begin competing with the big distributors. Roger Corman plunged into (relative) A- picture status with House of Usher, in color and Panavision. From here on they’d produce a number of more expensive features each year, and more of them in color. In 1959 A.I.P. had also begun importing Italian pictures, re-dubbing them and sometimes replacing the music tracks with new compositions by Les Baxter. The lead-off text in the product preview asserts A.I.P.’s ambition to rise to a new level of success:

‘American-International Takes The Giant Step.’

The ‘Class Sell’ advertising appeal is as adroit as was their earlier exploitation hype for gory monsters and drug-crazy teenagers:

“Offering to moviegoers a world harvest of unparalleled motion picture entertainment.”

Three graphics from the ‘Coming in ’62’ promo book suggested its own discussion.

(Note: I know that these graphics are too small to read. They become much larger when opened in a new window.)

 



This first product preview image will hold no mystery for science fiction film fans. Ray Milland’s Panic in Year Zero! arrived in July of 1962, which means that it was likely already before the cameras by the first of the year — the still photo used looks like a production shot, not something staged before filming began. The credits on this product preview page are final as well.

It’s said that James H. Nicholson was the company’s production expert and its marketing brains too. We note how the product preview artwork keeps the clutter to a minimum. An MGM publicity flyer would have plenty of text and credits but A.I.P. lists only the ‘money’ actors. Mary Mitchell’s character is pictured, but she’s not named.

The shooting title ‘Survival’ is not at all bad. The one-word title feels modern, too — today’s releases often explain nothing about the show, assuming that internet-clicking will yield prospective viewers all the information they want. ‘Survival’ could be about people marooned in the desert or on an island somewhere. But A.I.P.’s final title is a good example of Nicholson’s excellent marketing instincts. The more descriptive Panic in Year Zero! raises our curiosity about potential fantastic thrills: what’s causing the Panic, and what is ‘Year Zero?’  Perhaps Nicholson read the first tag line (“In a Moment of Panic What Would You Pay for Survival?), extracted the key action word and went from there.    This poster depicts an atomic mushroom cloud, but some of Panic’s other posters did not.

Judging by the trade papers in 1961, the title Survival was shuttled between two different American-International projects. It first appears in the trades in October of 1961, but in reference to another proposed A.I.P. movie to be produced in England by Julian Wintle and Leslie Parkyn.    They were the makers of A.I.P.’s Circus of Horrors,  Burn, Witch, Burn  and Unearthly Stranger. Note the mention of another unmade film, ‘When the Sleeper Wakes.’

Then, in January of 1962 the Wintle/Parkyn Survival project becomes ‘End of the World’, which is just fine because it was apparently never filmed anyway.  Another trade ad lists both titles, with Survival attached to the Ray Milland movie, and End of the World not identified in any way. But a Boxoffice blurb on the Wintle/Parkyn Survival / End of the World    does sketch a hint of its subject matter, even if it has no director or a script. Could the ‘underground city’ in the description have been a mis-read of a simple bomb shelter?

The name changes continue. The Ray Milland movie remains ‘Survival’ for a while,     but at a certain point it is being reported as ‘End of the World.’    Confused yet?  Did James H. Nicholson pull the plug on the Wintle/Parkyn project because he didn’t need two separate atom bomb thrillers?  Did that free up the End of the World title to be reassigned to Ray Milland’s movie?

On May 14, Film Bulletin finally lists the movie by the title that stuck, Panic in Year Zero!  That was barely two months before the release date,  too late for the Ace Book movie novelization, which remained with the discarded title End of the World.    Author Dean Owen also wrote novelizations for A.I.P.’s Reptilicus and Universal’s Brides of Dracula; we wonder if his End of the World pocketbook is also stacked with gratuitous sex scenes.

The finished Panic in Year Zero! has become a minor classic. It’s perhaps the first American movie to suggest that civil chaos and lawless violence will follow in the wake of an A-bomb attack, in other words, the first ‘post-apocalyptic nightmare’ thriller. The things holding it back are a too-lean budget and an over-emphatic music score. We like Les Baxter’s jazzy theme but it’s often heard over scenes where it just doesn’t belong.

 



So what could this unfamiliar title be?  ‘Goliath and the Golden City’ sounds appealing, especially with favorite Gordon Scott in harness as Goliath. American-International surely pegged this as a continuation of their successful November 1959 import Goliath and the Barbarians (Il terrore dei barbari) with Steve Reeves, and their November 1960 release Goliath and the Dragon, starring Mark Forest. Note that they don’t mention that Golden City is a foreign production picked up in Italy; no original production company or director is named.

Not that anybody was fooled, but readers are allowed to assume that the movie had been filmed in Hollywood.  A.I.P.’s 1958 horror opus How To Make a Monster pretended that Arkoff and Nicholson had their own physical studio, as well as a ‘tradition’ of musicals and horror movies. The sound stages and parking lot we see in that movie is actually a rental lot, with some proprietary signage tacked up here and there.

Explaining Goliath and the Golden City requires that we play some muscle-hero name games. The previous epic Goliath and the Dragon began life as a Hercules film entitled ‘La Vendetta di Ercole’ (The Vengeance of Hercules). It was helmed by the cult director Vittorio Cottafavi.

‘Goliath and the Golden City’ was originally about yet another muscleman hero. Maciste had his debut in the 1914 classic Cabiria, and continued through nearly thirty silent epics. As such he was a household name in Italy. This new show was produced as Maciste alla corte del Gran Khan (Maciste at the Court of the Great Khan) and directed by another cult Italo director, Riccardo Freda. We’re told that the Chinese setting was chosen to enable the film to re-use sets from 1961’s Marco Polo.

American-International likely switched to the Goliath moniker to continue with their ‘Goliath’ series, and also because the name Maciste was unknown in the U.S..  Advisor and researcher Gary Teetzel found more interim titles in the trades. For a while the feature was known as Goliath and the Warriors of Genghis Khan ( ). At a later point it became Goliath and the Mongols. ( )

But A.I.P. apparently decided to get off the Goliath bandwagon. Their dubbing job changed Goliath to the more Biblically-heroic Samson and the final title became Samson and the 7 Miracles of the World. It was released almost a full year later, in December of 1962. Something tells me that the ‘7’ may have been written as a numeral to tap positive kiddie memories of The 7th Voyage of Sinbad. Of course, A.I.P.’s go-to composer Les Baxter stepped in to re-score most of the music soundtrack.

If these particular sword ‘n’ sandal Peplum pictures don’t score too highly at the IMDB  I fear that part of that rating is due to the crummy presentations we’ve seen on video: bad pan-scanned transfers and highly variable dubbing. A.I.P.’s product preview announces that the film is in ‘Colorscope.’ That non-existent process name was usually reserved for ordinary flat-matted 1:85 pictures. We’re told that Samson was anamorphic, but it’s hard to be sure: although most of the European posters herald ‘Technicolor’ only a couple display a CinemaScope logo. A.I.P.’s domestic prints were Eastmancolor by Pathé.

A year later (December 1963) A.I.P. would release yet another name-swapping muscleman epic: Goliath and the Sins of Babylon. Yes, it too was originally a Maciste movie, Maciste, l’eroe più grande del mondo (Maciste, the Greatest Hero in the World).  Perhaps the name reverted to Goliath for continuity’s sake — the actor playing Goliath was once again Mark Forest.

 



Note that this final ‘production announcement’ offers next to no information — it’s just the title and a tag line that suggests a mix of science fiction, comedy, and romance: It Came To Conquer the Earth, But it Didn’t Plan On Our Secret Weapon… The Blonde in the Black Negligeé!”

The absence of any ‘names attached’ indicates that the movie is in the planning stages. A title might be all that American-International had when this release preview was printed. Its inclusion here really looks like a brochure-filler to suggest that A.I.P. had more product in the pipeline. A.I.P.’s artist seems to have ‘borrowed’ the flying saucer from This Island Earth.

The Maid and The Martian was actually a 1952 play written by Joseph Barbera of Hanna-Barbera cartoon fame. According to Wikipedia, actors Pat Priest and James Arness played roles in two different stage productions. The play first surfaces in connection with A.I.P. in an April 1960 edition of Motion Picture Daily, in a list of films forthcoming from the studio.   We see some familiar titles in the list, but also some oddities. Could ‘Ali Baba and the 7 Wonders of the World’ have any connection to the Samson feature?  Whatever the project In The Year 2889 was, I guess it evaporated and its registered title was repurposed for Larry Buchanan’s later TV remake of Day the World Ended.

James Nicholson cites Maid/Martian as one of his promising upcoming projects in a 1961 Film Bulletin article titled  Re-writing an Old Story . He talks about shifting A.I.P’s focus from ‘ghoulish attractions’ to a wider range of product, and  suggests that a name comedian like Red Skelton would be ideal casting.  It’s a career article; we learn that Nicholson’s first film credit was as a screenwriter, just as was the case with Roger Corman.

 From March of 1961, this Film Bulletin blurb repeats the Red Skelton casting thought and gives us a bit more of a description for The Maid and the Martian.  Was A.I.P. perhaps seeking to exploit the TV success of My Favorite Martian?  I guess not — a quick check tells us that the Ray Walston-Bill Bixby hit show made its debut in 1963.

Arkoff & Nicholson’s wanted a ‘wider range of product’ that could still appeal to teens — hopefully formulas that would keep the censors at bay. The tag line for Maid/Martian makes us wonder if they wanted to tie their old alien invasion film It Conquered the World (1956) in with a romantic teen comedy.

Perhaps A.I.P. backed away from the project in April of 1962, when Buena Vista’s Moon Pilot was released.  It pairs NASA astronaut Tom Tryon with Dany Saval, an alien beauty from the star Beta Lyrae. It can boast a charming song by the Sherman Brothers, even if it’s something of a proto- shook-up shopping cart movie.  One more American-International film concerned a romance with an alien: in 1964 they distributed the interesting, serious English sci-fi film Unearthly Stranger.

In the summer of 1963 A.I.P.’s Beach Party found a ‘safe’ formula to target the all-important teen audience, which perhaps made Joe Barbera’s The Maid and the Martian redundant. Elements from the play eventually ended up in the fourth or fifth ‘Beach Party’ movie Pajama Party (November 1964). The negligeé more or less became a bikini: the storyline introduces an alien invader named Go-Go (ex-Disney star Tommy Kirk) to A.I.P.’s established beach party regulars. Go-Go eventually falls for Annette Funicello’s Connie, and betrays his invader cohorts. The alien invasion angle doesn’t alter the Beach Party formula — Jody McCrea plays a big lunk named Big Lunk; Donna Loren, Bobbi Shaw, Teri Garr and Toni Basil dance; and the movie shoehorns-in ‘adult’ stars Elsa Lanchester, Dorothy Kilgallen, Dorothy Lamour, Don Rickles and Buster Keaton. Frankie Avalon is present, but only as a second-banana Martian named Socum.

However, The Maid and the Martian did end up as the title of a song for Annette Funicello. I don’t think it’s in the movie, but it made the Pajama Party soundtrack album.



One more ‘rule’ about trade announcements:  you can say anything you want!  That rule certainly applied at The Cannon Group, where we routinely misrepresented movie subject matter and promoted vague ideas as if they were finished features.  Our propaganda also sometimes announced star casting for actors ‘prematurely.’  I raise this issue because this last graphic for Survival boldly announces ‘CinemaScope.’  Most of A.I.P.’s Poe pictures were filmed in Panavision, and Panic in Year Zero’s’ credits list no format, and especially not the licensed CinemaScope lens system. I wouldn’t be surprised if the art department stuck the C’Scope on the ad because it balanced the composition.

I hope this little piece encourages Bill Shaffer to dig deeper for more gems from his collection — anything weird, different or illuminating will be welcome. I know he’s saving things for his proposed book, but we’ll be looking forward to more items for arcane articles at CineSavant — !

By Glenn Erickson

Written with Bill Shaffer and Gary Teetzel
Reviewed: December 30, 2020
(6418artAip)

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About Glenn Erickson

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Glenn Erickson left a small town for UCLA film school, where his spooky student movie about a haunted window landed him a job on the CLOSE ENCOUNTERS effects crew. He’s a writer and a film editor experienced in features, TV commercials, Cannon movie trailers, special montages and disc docus. But he’s most proud of finding the lost ending for a famous film noir, that few people knew was missing. Glenn is grateful for Trailers From Hell’s generous offer of a guest reviewing haven for CineSavant.