Horror's Fallen Heroes: Village of the Damned (1960)

village of the damned color lobby cardIn horror cinema, nothing so much becomes a character’s life as the leaving of it. It is de rigueur to see screen victims beaten, bitten and bled out, clawed and jawed, decapitated, eviscerated, and even evaporated. These fates are not reserved merely for the anonymous extras (the equivalent of STAR TREK’s red-shirted bit players) who walk on long enough to serve as the monster menu’s crunchy appetizer before the main course arrives; at least since George Romero grimly dispatched Ben in NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1960), the audience identification figure has not been exempt from untimely termination. Generally, these dreadful demises are portrayed as tragic twists of fate or unexpectedly ironic outcomes; too often today, there is an arbitrary air of attempting to thwart expectations, as if a dramatically satisfying (i.e., “happy”) ending were somehow suspect, requiring a last-minute zinger to alert the audience to the filmmaker’s hip detachment. “Life’s a bitch, and then you die” seems to be the message reverberating in the auditorium after the curtain goes down and the lights go up. Or is it?
Although it may be easy to overlook, the history of horror provides us with many exceptions, characters who died not as victims but as heroes, martyrs to cinematic mayhem who act as on-screen surrogates for the better angels in our nature, sacrificing life and (most definitely) limb, proving that death, whenever it comes and in whatever guise, need not be synonymous with despair.

George Sanders as Gordon Zellaby in VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED.
George Sanders as Gordon Zellaby in VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED.

Exhibit A: Gordon Zellaby, artfully embodied by George Sanders in VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED (1960), director Wolf Rilla’s adaptation of John Wyndham’s novel The Midwich Cuckoos, which portrays a stealth invasion launched from a small British village, where unconscious women have been impregnated, giving birth to eerily aloof blond children with alien abilities. (“Cuckoos,” in case you did not know, are birds that lay their eggs in the nest of other birds, which then unwittingly raise the hatchlings as their own.)
WARNING: Major spoilers ahead.
Gordon attempts to reach his "son" David (Martin Stephens
Gordon attempts to reach his "son" David (Martin Stephens

The scenario has the local population understandably perturbed, especially when the strange children begin using some form of hypnotic mind control to force their victims to kill themselves. The intellectual Gordon, however, believes that the children are reacting defensively. Acting as their teacher, he strives to reach them on a human, emotional level but finds himself coming up against a metaphoric “brick wall,” even with his “son” David (Martin Stephens).
As the children’s power swells to ever more disturbing proportions, and as word comes that an Eastern block country has dealt with a similar situation by nuking an entire village, Gordon eventually realizes that his truce with David is only temporary, that no permanent accord can be reached, and that the fate of humanity will be imperiled if the children ever manage to leave Midwich. But how can Gordon stop an enemy that can reach into his mind to see any plot he may concoct?
These are the eyes that paralyze - how to thwart them when they can read your mind?
These are the eyes that paralyze - how to thwart them when they can read your mind?

The answer, ironically, is another brick in the wall- this one an image on which Gordon focuses his mind, creating a mental block that hampers the children’s mind-reading powers. On the evening when young David expects Gordon to provide a plan to spirit the children out of the village, Gordon instead packs a bomb in a suitcase, sets the timer, and contrives an excuse to get his wife Anthea (Barbara Shelley) out of the house.
Sanders’ performance here is subtle and spot-on. While putting on a happy face, he displays enough resignation – just a touch – to register with the viewing audience, without overplaying to the point that would make us wonder why Anthea cannot see it.* Sanders also lends a wonderfully sentimental touch to what could have been a very cornball moment – when Gordon instructs his pet dog to “look after your mistress,” underlining the fact that, very soon in the future, Gordon himself will no longer be there to look after Anthea himself.
Gordon tries to lecture his students while keeping his mind off what is in the briefcase.
Gordon tries to lecture his students while keeping his mind off what is in the briefcase.

After Anthea is safely on the road, Sanders enters the lecture room, places his briefcase (with the hidden bomb) on the desk, and begins to deliver his lesson. David, eager to leave before the British military can take action along the lines of what happened in Eastern Europe, soon realizes that Gordon is not thinking about his lecture. David and the other children focus their minds on Gordon, chipping away at the mental image of a brick wall until – too late – they see the ticking time bomb that is truly at the center of Gordon’s attention.
Zellaby's mental brick wall crumbles, revealing the hidden time bomb.
Zellaby's mental brick wall crumbles, revealing the hidden time bomb.

Fortunately for humanity, the bomb goes off, obliterating Gordon and the “Midwich Cuckoos.” Anthea, who has grown suspicious over Gordon’s behavior, returns – but only in time to see the explosion from a distance. Standing in for the audience, her sense of loss becomes our loss; the fact that she survives tells us that the loss has not been in vain. Triumph and tragedy intermingle; the ending cannot be considered “happy” in any conventional sense, and yet it is thoroughly satisfying – an emotional catharsis as profound as any ever recorded on celluloid.

Village of the Damned 1960 The End

Over 50 years after its premiere, VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED remains remarkably effective, thanks largely to its low-key, convincing approach, but what truly elevates the film to classic status is the self-sacrifice of the conclusion. Personally, I cannot separate Gordon Zellaby, the character, from George Sanders, the actor. Not that the two personalities overlap in any meaningful way; rather, I am referring to Sanders’ at least partially self-molded images as a rogue and even a cad. His roles in such classic films as THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY (1945), THE GHOST AND MRS MUIR (1947) and ALL ABOUT EVE (1950) showcase a certain selfish, cynical disdain, suggesting a man who cared little for the world around him except insofar as it provided him with personal pleasure – an attitude that seemed to match Sanders own, as evinced in the title of his autobiography (Memoirs of a Professional Cad) and in the text of his 1965 suicide note:

Dear World, I am leaving because I am bored. I feel I have lived long enough. I am leaving you with your worries in this sweet cesspool. Good luck.

Sanders’s real-life suicide was far from the heroic self-sacrifice of VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED, but that contrast, for me, only underlines the effectiveness of the film. Great drama galvanizes our collective psyche with the prospect of personal evolution, often though not necessarily in the form of redemption. A good guy who remains a good guy is not compelling; however, our souls are stirred when a character who has fallen from grace (as have all of us, to some extent or other) rises and returns to the fold like the Prodigal Son.

George Sanders and Barbara Shelley
George Sanders and Barbara Shelley in a publicity shot from VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED

On some level, that evolution exists in the screenplay, with Gordon Zellaby shifting from protecting the children out of personal scientific curiosity to destroying them out of concern for the world inhabited by his loved ones,particularly Anthea. For me, the transition is much more powerful in the context of Sanders’ previous roles. On the cinema screen of my mind, it is as if this man who never cared for anything but himself finally found a cause that brought out the best in him, urging him to do a “far, far better thing” than he had ever done before.
Fortunately, most of us will never be forced into a situation demanding such noble action. But should the occasion arise, Gordon Zellaby has set the bar, in our minds – as have the many other Fallen Heroes of Horror, whose exploits I hope to share with you from time to time…

  • As a matter of fact, she does see it, but doesn’t realize its significance until – fortunately for Gordon’s plan – she has gotten too far from home to be jeopardized by the bomb.


Please Allow Me to Introduce Myself: I am … Dracula

You never get a second chance to make a first impression. Movie monsters know that more than anybody. Much of the genre is built upon the suspenseful build-up to the first full revelation of exactly what it is that we the viewers have paid to see and shiver over. Often, that revelation takes the form of a shock-cut and a scream – a shark with a mouthful of teeth lurching from beneath the waters, a masked killer with a knife lurching out of the shadows – but there are other, more subtle introductions as well, times when the monster ingratiates himself into our presence and even our good graces, maintaining the outward forms of civility, much as the satanic narrator of the Rolling Stones “Sympathy for the Devil,” who sings:

Please allow me to introduce myself
I’m a man of wealth and taste
I’ve been around for a long, long year
Stole many a mans soul and faith
So if you meet me
Have some courtesy
Have some sympathy, and some taste
Use all your well-learned politesse
Or I’ll lay your soul to waste

The shock-form of introduction has its benefits (jump-scares are one of the reasons we go to horror movies), but the more subtle introduction has its place as well, allowing the villain to get into our head and under our skin. Consider, for example, the courtly self-introduction made by the Count in DRACULA (1931).
Dracula1931There have been quite a few memorable introductions in the history of horror movies, none more so than this marvelous entrance by Bela Lugosi in his most famous role, as the regal Transylvanian vampire. The early sound film has a slightly static quality that (perhaps inadvertently) captures the tempo of an ageless immortal who has learned to move at his own pace over the centuries of his undead existence – a facet of his personality that shines like a dark gem in the moonlight as he advances down the stairs, past cobwebs and spiders, and greets his guest Renfield (Dwight Frye) with three simple words, enunciating each individual syllable and pausing dramatically before delivering up his name:

I am … Dra-cu-la.”

You can see the line reading in the embedded video (a clever, fan-made montage) or see the intact sequence by clicking here (embedding disabled, unfortunately). I think you will agree that there is something eerie and unnerving about the way that Dracula refuses to fall into a natural conversational rhythm with Renfield, while simultaneously exuding such formal charm that Renfield is forced to act as if the situation were normal. It is the first hint of the vampire’s ability to dominate mere mortals, even without a display of overt supernatural power – and also the first sign of the vampire seductive nature, presenting an attractive persona that hides the evil nature lurking beneath the skin.
There have been many other great movie monster introductions. I won’t say that none have surpassed Lugosi’s opening salvo, but as someone who saw the film on television at an impressionable age, this is the scene that set the standard by which all others must be judged.
Let’s consider this the first salvo in an on-going, on-again off-again series of memorable opening remarks from movie madmen and monsters. Shall we call it … Please Allow Me to Introduce Myself: Movie Monsters Making a First Impression.

James Bond at 50: Vesper Lynd and Vodka Martinis

james bond vodka martini vesper lyndeLong-time fans of the James Bond films know that the secret agent enjoys a good vodka martini, shaken not stirred. But what is a vodka martini? Why should it be shaken rather than stirred? And come to think of it, is there even such a thing as a vodka martini? Readers of the Ian Fleming novels may have had a better idea about the answers to these questions,although even there, information is contradictory. Not until the 2006 film version of CASINO ROYALE did the movies get around to giving us a recipe for what Bond drinks.
To begin with, as far as purists are concerned, there is no such thing as a vodka martini; martinis are made with gin, period. Although there are recipes that substitute vodka for gin, the traditional martini-drinker considers the result to be something other than a martini.
The traditional recipe for a “wet” martini is two parts gin and one-half part dry vermouth. The mixture is stirred in ice, then strained into a glass, and garnished with a green pimento olive on a toothpick. This is most likely the drink you would receive if you walked into a bar and simply ordered a “martini” (although bartenders are increasingly likely to ask exactly what you mean when you order the drink, especially shortly after the release of a new James Bond movie).
There are many variations on the martini recipe (such as the “Dirty Martini,” which contains not only an olive but also olive juice). Most relevant to James Bond’s drinking habits is the Dry Martini, which consists of three parts gin to one-half part vermouth, also garnished with an olive. 007’s “vodka martin” appears to be a variation on this, but there is some room for doubt, as we shall see.
In the novel Casino Royale – and later in the film version starring Daniel Craig – Bond gives his preferred recipe, although he does not call it a “vodka martin.” The relevant passage occurs in Chapter 7 – “Rouge et Noir,” when Bond orders drinks for himself and CIA agent Felix Leiter:

“A dry martini,” he said. “One. In a deep champagne goblet.”
“Oui, monsieur.”
“Just a moment. Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?”
“Certainly, monsieur.” The barman seemed pleased with the idea.
“Gosh, that’s certainly a drink,” said Leiter.
Bond laughed. “When I’m…er…concentrating,” he explained, “I never have more than one drink before dinner. But I do like that one to be large and very strong and very cold and very well-made. I hate small portions of anything, particularly when they taste bad. This drink’s my own invention. I’m going to patent it when I can think of a good name.”

As we can see, a Bond’s recipe differs from a Dry Martini in five ways: in addition to three parts gin, it includes one part vodka; it replaces dry vermouth with Kina Lillet; it is shaken instead of stirred; it is served in a champagne goblet; and it substitutes a slice of lemon peel for an olive.
The extra vodka increases the alcohol content and thus the strength of the drink. Kina Lillet is a wine aperitif that lends an ever so slight fruity under-taste – barely discernable beneath the gin and vodka. Shaking the drink with ice chills it to the point where the concoction becomes palatable; at room temperature, it would taste little different from lighter fluid. The lemon peel adds a citrus aroma that helps cover any bitterness in the potent brew. And back at the time of the book’s publication, a champagne goblet was considerably larger than a martin glass; presumably, Bond need more room to fit that extra shot of vodka.
The result is described as a “pale golden drink, slightly aerated by the bruising in the shaker.” Bond sips the concoction and pronounces the result, “Excellent!” – before going on to say that it would be even better with vodka made from grain instead of potatoes. How much difference this would make is open to debate. Although grain-based vodkas are supposed to be smoother, the difference is most notable when the vodka is imbibed straight-up or over ice; for mixed drinks, any brand-name vodka will do – the relatively neutral flavor mixes well with almost anything, making any distinctions between different vodkas fairly negligible.
Now, whether Bond’s drink qualifies as a “vodka martini” is an open question. It is a martini – even by the standards of the purists, because it includes gin – and it does contain vodka, so “vodka martini” sounds correct, if we assume the term indicates a variation on a gin martini, with vodka added. However, Bond does not ask the bartender for a “vodka martini”; he specifically asks for a “dry martini” before giving his recipe. Then he goes on to say he is looking to name the drink.

Eva Green as Vesper Lynd - the namesake for Bond's martini
Eva Green as Vesper Lynd - the namesake for Bond's martini

Bond later chooses the name Vesper Lynd, after the leading lady in the spy drama. However, he never again orders the drink in any of the Fleming novels – which is not too surprising when you consider what ended up happening to Lynd. In QUANTUM OF SOLACE, the film sequel to CASINO ROYALE, we are told that Bond has drowned his sorrow over Vesper by drinking six of the martinis named after her – a feat more superhuman and incredible than surviving a jump from an airplane sans parachute.
Does the absence of the name indicate the absence of the drink? Are all those “vodka martinis, shaken not stirred” that we see in the films supposed to be the Vesper Lynd hiding behind a generic name? The issue is either clouded or resolved in the novel Goldfinger, wherein Bond orders a “Vodka martini, please. With a slice of lemon peel.”
The references to vodka and lemon peel suggest that Bond is ordering his special drink again. As if to underline the connection, Bond is sharing a drink with a character he met in Casino Royale; Bond seems to be ordering the drink as a deliberate call-back to the events in the previous book.
However, even if we assume that Bond has dropped the name “Vesper” because of the painful memories it engenders, he gives no special instructions to the waiter in Goldfinger. Since the scene takes place in a restaurant where Bond is making his first visit, we have to assume that the bartender does not know Bond’s special recipe, so it is unlikely that the agent can be expecting to receive a custom-made drink.
Perhaps this was simply sloppy continuity on the part of Fleming, who may have expected his readers to make the connection to the drink Bond had invented in the earlier novel. Whatever the intent, it seems likely the Bond would be served a simple vodka martini, not a Vesper Lynd.
What, then, is a vodka martini? Simply put, it is a martini that substitutes vodka in place of gin (not a martini that uses vodka in addition to gin). The usual recipe is similar to that of a “wet martini”: two parts vodka and one part dry vermouth; the mixture can be garnished with either an olive or a lemon peel. This is a much less powerful drink than the Vesper Lynd, but Bond may have been moderating his alcohol content based on the fact that he had just completed a double bourbon in the previous chapter.
Personally, I prefer to imagine that Bond continues drinking the Vesper Lynd, rather than the relatively weak vodka martini, simply because the Vesper Lynd is a unique drink – one worthy of the world’s greatest secret agent. (The drink apparently was actually invented by Fleming’s friend Ian Bryce.)
Bond fans wishing to sample their hero’s favorite drink will need to make some adjustments. First, a champagne goblet is no longer necessary; today’s martini glasses will handle the drink perfectly well.
Daniel Craig's Bond sips a Vesper Lynd in CASINO ROYALE.
Daniel Craig's Bond sips a Vesper Lynd in CASINO ROYALE - the film that finally gave a recipe for Bond's favorite drink.

Next, Kina Lillet dropped “Kina” from the name years ago (its use in the dialogue by Daniel Craig is an anachronism, but we’ll give the movie version of CASINO ROYALE credit for staying faithful to the novel in this respect, even if times had changed in the decades separating book publication from film production). There are now two types of Lillet, Rouge and Blanc. For the Vesper Lynd, you want Blanc.*
Also, one should be careful about how liquors may have changed over the years. Gordon’s gin is still on the market, but the version Bond was using back in 1954 (when the novel was published) was probably 100 proof, whereas Gordon’s tends to be 80 proof now. Some would suggest substituting Tanqueray, but this seems a bit of a stretch when Bond’s preferred brand-name gin is still commercially available.
Similar suggestions are made about a choice of vodka – advocating for 100 proof rather than 80 – but since Bond never names a brand it is difficult to state whether this is definitely correct. In the novel version of Casino Royale, Bond suggests that a rice vodka would be “better,” and it is easy enough to imagine that, for Bond, “better” means “stronger.” However, as noted above, the major distinction of grain vodka is that it is smoother – which would have been a bigger consideration in 1954, when alcohols were more likely to be harsh. Today, any brand-name vodka is likely to be smooth enough to work in a mixed drink.
First-time taste-testers are likely to find the Vesper Lynd more than strong enough, even with only 80-proof ingredients. This is a potent concoction – one sip, and you will instantly know why it needs to be shaken over ice: to get the drink cold enough to numb your taste-buds. The lemon peel also helps immensely, but don’t go the extra distance by including lemon juice; the aroma itself is all you need to create a drink that is “large and very strong and very cold and very well-made.”
Try the Vesper Lynd on your friends, and you will likely receive one of two reactions:

  1. The sissy drinkers (i.e., the vast majority) will react like Count Dracula taking a sip of holy water and never touch the stuff again.
  2. The real drinkers will nod in appreciation and ask for the recipe. They may also ask for another, but don’t give it to them unless they have a designated driver.

That’s all there is to it. Now, all you need is a tuxedo, a Walter PPK, and you’re ready to follow in the footsteps of your favorite filmic hero. And if you find yourself wondering why Bond would stop ordering such an excellent drink by name, just recall his words from the end of Casino Royale … (No, I’m not going to tell you; look it up yourself.)

  • Actually, I have attempted a variation on the Vesper Lynd, using Lillet Rouge. The red tint is not suitable for the usual Vesper Lynd, but I used Vampire Vodka instead of a traditional vodka. The result is an interesting novelty for a Halloween party, but no match for the original.


Tales of Terror (1962): a 50th Anniversary Pictorial Retrospective

Foreign poster for TALES OF TERROR (1962)As part of Cinefantastique’s 50th anniversary tribute to TALES OF TERROR (1962), we recently posted a podcast discussing producer-director Roger Corman’s three-part omnibus of horror inspired by the works of Edgar Allan Poe. As scintillating as the podcast conversation might be, it cannot capture the aesthetic achievements of the film, which features impressive production design (by Daniel Haller) and lovely cinematography (by Floyd Crosby). Therefore, we present this pictorial retrospective, showcasing horror stars Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, and Basil Rathbon, in the episodes MORELLA, THE BLACK CAT, and THE CASE OF M. VALDEMAR.
Cast photo from TALES OF TERROR (1962) with Basic Rathbone, Peter Lorre, Vincent Price, Debra Paget, Leona Gage, Maggie Pierce, on the set from the deleted limbo scene Posed publicity still of a scene not in the film. The putrifying M. Valdemar (Vincent Price) frightens wife, played by Debra Paget. Maggie Pierce as Vincent Price's late wife Lenora in MORELLA, the first episode from TALES OF TERROR (1962) Basic Rathbone hypnotizes Vincent Price in THE CASE OF M. VALDEMAR, the third episode of TALES OF TERROR (1962) Vincent Price poses with a mock head of Peter Lorre, used in the BLACK CAT episode of TALES OF TERROR (1962) Vincent Price and Peter Lorre in THE BLACK CAT, the comical change-of-pace in TALES OF TERROR (1962) A news paper photograph from November 27, 1961, of the casting call for the title role in THE BLACK CAT, the second episode of TALES OF TERROR (1962) M. Valdemar awakens from his hypnotic trance at the conclusion of the final episode of TALES OF TERROR (1962)A gorgeious matte painting depicts the archetypal ancestral mansion from MORELLA, the opening episode of TALES OF TERROR (1962) Basil Rathbone and David Frankham in THE CASE OF M. VALDEMAR, the final episode of TALES OF TERROR (1962) In a bit of action more reminiscent of THE CASK OF AMONTILLADO,  Peter Lorre walls up VIncent Price in THE BLACK CAT episode of TALES OF TERRROR (1962) Peter Lorre in the wine-taste sequence from THE BLACK CAT, the middle episode of TALES OF TERROR (1962) Vincent Price as the mesmerized Valdemar in THE CASE OF M. VALDEMAR, the final episode of TALES OF TERROR (1962) Peter Lorre wrestles with THE BLACK CAT, in the second episode of TALES OF TERROR (1962) Tongue-in-cheek promo art of the hallcuinatory headless sequence from THE BLACK CAT, the comical episode of TALES OF TERROR (1962) Debra Paget and Vincent Price in THE CASE OF M. VALDEMAR, episdoe three of TALES OF TERROR (1962) Locke (Vincent Price) is shocked to find that his daughter Morella has morphed into his late wife Lenora (Maggie Pierce) Peter Lorre challenges VIncent Price to a wine-tasting contest in THE BLACK CAT, the tongue-in-cheek episode of TALES OF TERROR (1962) "And there was an oozing liquid putrescence - all that remained of Mr. Valdemar" Basil Rathbone can barely be seen beneath the gooey dummy in this scene glimpsed only briefly at the conclusion of TALES OF TERROR (1962)

A CFQ Retrospective: Celebrating Pixar's 25th Anniversary

This year marks Pixar Animation Studios 25th Anniversary, although the core group that went on to form Pixar actually dates back before 1986.  Cinefantastique was on the scene to celebrate Pixar’s  first major success, TOY STORY  in 1995, along with their early triumphs in computer graphics for effects work.  As CARS 2 is about to race into theatres across the globe, we look back at the early history of  one of the most successful studios in the history of the motion picture business.

In 1979 George Lucas was flush with cash earned from the huge success of  STAR WARS, released in May 1977 and he begin envisioning great leaps in the advancement of computer graphics for motion picture technology. To begin research and development in that area he hired Dr. Ed Catmull, the director of the computer graphics lab at the N.Y. Institute of Technology. “Our initial charter,” explained Catmull, “was to develop technology for digital audio, digital editing, and computer graphics. So I brought in somebody to work in each of those areas.”
By the early eighties, Catmull had proposed a computerized editing system, known as EditDroid; a digital audio signal processor, for sound mixing; and the Pixar image computer, for rendering high resolution images. “At the time computer graphics was viewed mainly as effects,” notes Catmull, “but it still wasn’t economical. We had to solve several problems to make it more practical. First, we had to have motion-blur, if we were going to be used in feature films. Secondly, we had to plan our thoughts and algorithms around the faster computers that we knew would become available in the future. Finally, we had to get to a point where artists could design the models and their appearances. It required a great deal of technical expertise to use the equipment, so we began to design systems that artists could use, not just the technical people.”
The Lucasfilm computer graphics division contributed sequences to a mere three feature films, working under the umbrella of Lucas’s ILM effects facility. And although George Lucas was funding the research, there was a degree of reluctance to trust CGI to actual production. At the time it was still a very new and unproven medium for effects and the few films that had used it extensively, such as TRON and THE LAST STARFIGHTER had not been successful.
In 1984, to gain production experience on the new techniques they had been developing, Catmull began work on a demonstration film, THE ADVENTURES OF ANDRE AND WALLY B. “At the time, we didn’t have another project to work on,” says technical director, Bill Reeves, “so we decided to invent a little short, to show what we could do in CGI.” “The only hitch was we weren’t supposed to be making films,” continues layout supervisor, Craig Good.  “We were a research and development group, not a filmmaking department, so ANDRE AND WALLY was officially just a demo for Siggraph (the yearly computer graphics convention).”
To work on ANDRE AND WALLY Catmull invited Disney animator John Lasseter to Lucasfilm, after he was impressed with Lasseter’s short computer film THE WILD THINGS. “Ed called me and said they had a idea for a short film,” remembers Lasseter. “It was supposed to be about an android character in the woods. Well, it was being made at Lucasfilm, so I thought they wanted to do something with robots. Instead of that, I proposed we do something a little more cartoony. I was inspired by early Mickey Mouse cartoons and I did a bunch of drawings for the main character, Andre. When I showed it to them, I thought they were going to hate it, but instead they said, `this is really great, nobody’s ever done this before in CGI’.”
Since Dr. Catmull’s ultimate dream was to make a feature film in CGI, it soon became clear he was on a divergent course from his employer. “Lucasfilm wasn’t set-up where somebody else could come in and make animated films,” recalls Catmull. “So we approached George, and said, `we want to do things that are different, so maybe you should sell off the division’. We then went through a period of about a year, getting ready to divest ourselves from Lucasfilm.” Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple computers eventually purchased the division from Lucas for what today seems like an incredible bargain: only $10 million. When Disney brought Pixar from Steve Jobs twenty years later the asking price was just a little bit higher: $7.4 billion!
In fact, at the time, George Lucas was a bit worried about whether Steve Jobs would be able to come up with all the money, which delayed the sale for a period of time, but the deal finally went through and the new company was officially named Pixar as they moved across  San Francisco Bay from San Rafael to their new headquarters in Point Richmond, Ca.
As an independent company, Pixar formed a small animation unit and began making short films. “We were doing three pieces for Siggraph in 1986,” recalls producer Ralph Guggenheim. “One was Bill Reeves doing a realistic simulation of ocean waves, another was a whimsical little story about a beach chair, that walks down to the ocean and dips it’s toe into the water and the third was John Lasseter’s idea to tell a story using his desk lamp. LUXO, JR. was born out of that and went on to be the first Pixar success, as it was nominated for an Academy Award.
Pixar went on to make a short film a year, spending about six months researching different ways of improving their software and equipment, while the other six months were spent in making the film which would implement the results of their research. “The short films laid the foundations for the core animation system we used on our first feature film TOY STORY,” explained Reeves. “Then, after we did KNICK KNACK, we realized if we kept making shorts, we wouldn’t have the production experience or staff needed to make a feature. To get more production experience, we decided to make television commercials, because we couldn’t justify enlarging our staff on the basis of the short films, since they didn’t produce any income.”
After TIN TOY won an Academy Award for Best Animated Short film in 1989, Disney and Steve Jobs signed an exclusive 3-picture contract in 1991, with an option for several more films. It was the beginning of a nearly perfect match, which only hit some rough spots when Disney Chairman Michael Eisner nearly lost Pixar when Steve Jobs threatened to bolt to another distributor after Eisner insisted Disney had the sequel rights for all Pixar films.   Luckily, Mr. Eisner was “retired” and his  successor quickly made a deal to buy Pixar outright in 2006.  “Back when Steve Jobs first bought Pixar from Lucasfilm, he agreed to fund all our animation shorts,” says Catmull, “with the belief that at some point we would come through. Looking back, it could have gone either way. But after TOY STORY was a big hit, we lived up to our expectations.”


Jim Veilleux, ILM’s special effects supervisor on STAR TREK II, proposed that CGI be used for what eventually became the Genesis planet sequence. “They didn’t really know what they wanted,” says Bill Reeves. “They just said, `try and come up with something interesting’. Originally, they had these storyboards, where a gray rock in a glass case, turned green. Then, Alvy Ray Smith said, ‘why don’t we have Kirk and Spock looking at a planet and we’ll simulate turning the dead planet into a life-like planet’. So we storyboarded out a whole sequence and designed it as one continuous shot. Then, after spending five months doing it, using particle systems and fractals, we were worried they’d cut away to the actors, right in the middle of the shot. Of course, that’s exactly what they did”
At least the characters were impressed with what they were watching. Spock turns to Kirk and says, “fascinating,” while Dr. McCoy becomes nearly hysterical at the implications of the “Genesis device.”
“We didn’t have much software for that, so a lot of what we did was just a home-brew of different stuff we cobbled together,” explains Reeves. “I did all the particle systems to create the fire, while Tom Duff did the cratered moon. Tom Porter put together the very beginnings of our compositing language and did the star fields as well. Loren Carpenter did all the fractals for the mountains that rise out of the burning planet. It was amazing, because we had all these separate programs that didn’t tie together. Shortly after that we developed a system where everything works together.”
Bill Reeves and Tom Duff created the brief scenes of CGI used in RETURN OF THE JEDI. Admiral Ackbar gives a presentation to the rebel fleet, outlining how to penetrate and destroy the death star. He is aided by a holographic 3-D representation of the unfinished battle station, as it orbits around the forest moon of Endor. “We worked with Joe Johnston (visual effects art director) and Bruce Nicholson (optical supervisor) on RETURN OF THE JEDI,” says Reeves. “Joe had a lot of designs and we used on old Evans & Sutherland line drawing display. All it could do was draw lines–there were no pixels or color. We just put a camera in a room, got it pitch black and shot our elements right off the screen. Then we took it to Bruce Nicholson, who burnt it into the live-action plate. Bruce would have to do multiple passes in order to get the different colors (green for the Endor Moon, red for the death star).”
After waking up one morning in a (very stylized) forest, Andre encounters a playful bee, who he attempts to elude (unsuccessfully). “I brought in John Lasseter from Disney,” says Catmull, “because he had a vision that wasn’t fitting in at Disney, but it fit in perfectly with what we wanted to do. At first it was on a temporary basis, but it soon became permanent.”
“One of the problems I had on ANDRE,” recalls Lasseter, “was that I had to use all geometric primitives (basic geometric shapes) to build the characters. I wanted Andre to have a sort of teardrop shape, and I thought it would be difficult to make his body that way. Ed Catmull looked at the drawings and said, `I think we can come up with something like that’. So we invented this teardrop shape that was really flexible and I got so inspired I started to animate it real loose, like a water balloon. Out of that came the inspiration for the bee, which had these giant feet, that were just floating below him. There were no legs connecting the feet to the body. Then, when the bee flies off, the feet would just drag way behind and catch-up, which gave us this neat overlapping action.”
“All the forest backgrounds were done using Particle Systems,” says Reeves, “and we used two Cray supercomputers in Minneapolis to render the characters. We were trying to see how fast a Cray computer would go, and it wasn’t very fast.”
For the effect of a Knight springing to life off of a stained glass window, effects maestro Dennis Muren wanted to attempt CGI, thinking it would be more effective than traditional stop-motion. “Dennis was interested in seeing what we could come up with,” recalls Reeves. “He came over and showed us the sequence and we all got very excited about doing it. There was a lot of stain glass windows out at Skywalker ranch, so we had the glass studio that had made those windows, build us a little stain glass Knight, which we could use for reference. If we hadn’t come through, Dennis would have probably used that model for stop-motion. He was really taking a chance on us, because at the time nobody really knew if we could do it or not.”
When the CGI sequences were completed, instead of being filmed off a video monitor, the images were transferred directly onto film, via one of the earliest uses of a laser scanner. David DeFrancesco, the head of Pixar’s film scanning dept., developed and built one of the first laser recorders while at Lucasfilm. “That was the first use of a laser recorder to put images on a feature film,” says DeFrancesco.  “Now that recorder is at the George Eastman House Museum as part of their permanent collection.”
LUXO, JR. (1986)
“LUXO, JR. began as an opportunity for John Lasseter to model on the computer,” says producer Ralph Guggenheim. “John had done animation before, but had never done modeling.”  “It was originally a 15 second test,” recalled Lasseter, “but it kept growing and growing, because I came up with the storyline after I got started on it. I like the idea of bringing inanimate objects to life, so I got the notion of having two desk lamps that were alive. ”
The film is quite remarkable, in that Lasseter is able to create a believable father and son characterization, through a pair of realistic looking desk lamps, in the space of only 90 seconds. LUXO. JR. also showcased a new technique in computer graphics, self-shadowing, which allowed the lamps to accurately cast shadows on themselves. Years ago we came up with a statement, `reality is just a convenient measure of complexity’,” says Lasseter. “At Pixar, we tend to shoot for realistic images, only to help us develop our tools. Then we take a step back and create things that can’t possibly exist, but look very real.
LUXO, JR. is also notable for it’s highly imaginative stereo soundtrack, designed by Gary Rydstrom, who came to the film after Ben Burtt (STAR WARS), was unable to fit it into his schedule. Rydstrom went on to design the sound for all of Pixar’s early short films and most of their features, and eventually left Lucasfilm to join Pixar as a member of their senior creative team.  Rydstrom’s sound design for his many feature films, including TERMINATOR 2 and JURASSIC PARK has won him seven Academy Awards.
R ED’S DREAM (1987)
Perhaps the least known of Pixar’s short films is RED’S DREAM. A melancholy tale about a forgotten unicycle, who on a rainy night dreams of his former glories performing under the big top. The evocative mood and atmosphere captured by the film is quite impressive, as if an Edward Hopper painting were merged with a clown episode from a movie by Federico Fellini. “We actually had two ideas that were happening at the same time,” recalls Ralph Guggenheim. “John Lasseter had a desire to do a story about a unicycle that’s alive and Bill Reeves was doing some realistic rendering of rainfall on city streets.”
“I saw the great imagery Bill was working with,” says Lasseter, “and I thought it fit into this circus story I had, which was causing me some story problems. It was originally going to be about this inept clown, and you find out that the person behind his act is really his unicycle, which is actually alive. So we took the images that Bill had and combined them with my story to make it more of a dream sequence for this poor unicycle. At the time nobody had really done those kind of dark, moody images in computer graphics.”
TIN TOY (1988)
Pixar’s first magnum opus introduced Tinny, the tin toy of the title. Much like the toys in TOY STORY, Tinny attempts to please his owner, a toddler who’s energetic enthusiasm, causes most of his toys to flee in terror under a nearby sofa. “We wanted to push into human characters for the first time,” notes Guggenheim, “so we designed a very carefully worked out story. It was a very complex show for us, 55 shots in 5 1/2 minutes, done by only 6 people.”
“TIN TOY was really an exhausting event for us,” says Lasseter, “because it had all these firsts. It was the first use of our current animation system, our first use of a human character and was twice as long as any film we had done before. We used every different piece of software we had and the baby’s face had 40 different muscles we could use for animating him.”
Most of Pixar’s short were made to show at Siggraph, and took about six months to finish. TIN TOY, due to it’s `epic’ length, wasn’t quite finished for the Siggraph film show. Consequently, when the film premiered, it was only two thirds complete. “We ended on a cliffhanger,” recalls Darwyn Peachey. “Tinny is running away from the baby, and he gets caught in the box, looking up through the cellophane as the baby is looming overhead. It ended right there, with a title, `to be continued’. The whole audience just went, `oh no’!” When finally completed, TIN TOY went on to become the first computer animated cartoon to receive an Academy Award.
“After exhausting ourselves making TIN TOY, we wanted to do something that was easier,” reveals Lasseter. “During the making of TIN TOY, ROGER RABBIT had come out, and that was really an animators movie. It had just wild animation and after getting excited about it, I went back and looked at what I was doing. It seemed like everybody was standing still. So I was inspired to do something more cartoony for KNICK KNACK.”
“Since we wanted to do something simpler,” says Guggeheim, “John thought, `why don’t we do something like a Chuck Jones cartoon’. So we came up with the idea of a snowman, trying to get out of his glass snowglobe.” “KNICK KNACK has much more of a cartoon sense of reality,” notes Lasseter. “The snowman walks off, and comes back with a blow torch or something else, and is continually frustrated trying to get out of his globe. We just played off those cartoon type of situations.”
KNICK KNACK was done as a polarized 3-D film and each frame had to be rendered twice, to realize the 3-D effect. “The nice thing about doing 3-D in computer graphics,” says Guggenheim, “is after you have your main camera view, all you have to do is set-up another virtual camera, about 5 degrees off center axis to get your second view.”
“We tried not to push the 3-D effects too much,” says Bill Reeves. “We just used it to get the depth. It’s pronounced in a couple of shots, like when he’s falling off the table, but we didn’t want to do the typical thing, and give everyone watching it a headache. Very few people ever got to see it in 3-D, but when we showed it at Siggraph that year, it was a big hit.”
“At Pixar, the characters almost become like employees, you get to know them so strongly,” says John Lasseter. So when Pixar was asked to do some educational pieces for Sesame Street, they thought of using Luxo junior and senior, to visually illustrate the meaning of the words, light and heavy.
“We jumped at the chance to do it,” says Lasseter, “because we all loved Sesame Street.  Luxo is really a very simple character, and we’ve used him as a training tool, so people can learn simple hierarchy.  The way models are structured on the computer, they’re built on simple hierarchies, and with Luxo it’s quite simple, because you just move his base, and that moves him.  Previously, I had used Luxo to illustrate a course at Siggraph. It demonstrated that how fast you move an object, can determine how heavy the object will feel.  So we did a little vignette, where Luxo comes hopping in and starts moving around the exact same size sphere.  First he does it very fast, which makes it seem like a beach ball, then he comes back and does it slowly, putting a lot of effort into moving it, so it feels very heavy.  I showed that to the Sesame Street people, and they liked it, so that’s what we used.”
The producers at Sesame Street told Lasseter that normally they like to repeat things within a piece, to emphasize it for young children. “Luxo, Jr. comes in and hits the light ball to Dad,” explains Lasseter. “Then, Dad hits it back, and the narrator says, `light’. We repeat that, and then junior comes back and pushes the heavy ball, which doesn’t move at all, and the narrator says, `heavy’. Then he comes back and pushes and pushes, until he gets it rolling.”
SURPRISE was a very short 30-second piece, where Luxo Sr. finds a wrapped box and out of it pops Luxo, Jr., surprising his Dad.
TOY STORY (1995)
Back in the summer of 1995, before TOY STORY had opened to great acclaim,  Pixar President Ed Catmull told me what he saw for the future of the company he founded:  “In a way, when Disney agreed to make TOY STORY, it was an experiment, since no studio had ever made a full-length CGI feature.  They said, `let’s try it, and if it doesn’t work, we may lose a little money’
“Well, TOY STORY is turning out very successfully, and when the film comes out, I think there’s going to be a great rush to do computer animation. Now that we’ve done this one, we’re already cheaper than traditional animation. We have a crew of 110 people, vs. the 500 or more on a 2-D feature.  This is our first film and I think it looks beautiful, but because all the technology is brand new and improving all the time, TOY STORY will be the worst looking film that we’ll ever make!”
“We are now the only company to have done a CGI feature film and we know what to do to take the next step forward. Other companies will be doing CGI productions, so at some point they may catch up, but right now we’re way ahead of everyone else. If we’re lucky, maybe we can keep the lead forever.”
Dr. Catmull’s predictions have of course,  gone on to become reality, and after  TOY STORY’s huge success,  Pixar has gone on to make one smash film after another. Today they remain the supreme leaders in the field of  Computer Animation.


A BUG’S LIFE (1998)
TOY STORY 2 (1999)
CARS (2006)
WALL*E (2008)
UP (2009)
TOY STORY 3 (2010)
CARS 2 (2011)

Ghost Story of Yotsuya (Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan)

tokaido 2There is a tradition in Japan to present ghost stories during the warm summer months. An 18th century kabuki play by Nanboku Tsuruya provided the most popular and durable storyline – that of an ambitious, would-be samurai named Iemon who marries and then murders Iwa, whose ghost returns to wreak revenge on her faithless husband.The story has been filmed numerous times; director Nobuo Nakagawa’s 1959 version THE GHOST STORY OF YOTSUYA (Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan) is, many feel, the best filmed adaptation of this classic Japanese tale.
Though most versions of the tale follow the same basic storyline, there are interesting variations. There were several silent adaptations, now mostly lost, including Daisuke Ito’s silent YOTSUYA GHOST STORY NEW EDITION (Shinpan yotsuya kaidan, Nikkatsu, 1928), which starred Matsumoto Taisuke as Iyemon, & Fushimi Naoe in a double role as Oiwa & Osode. Other silent versions include Inoue Kintarou’s IROHAGANA YOTSUYA KAIDAN (1927), Nakagawa Shirou’s TOKAIDO YOTSUYA KAIDAN (1927), one by film pioneer Shozu Makino from 1912, and over a dozen others. Early talkie versions were done in 1936 by Furumi Takuji and in 1937 by Onoe Eigorou. Keisuke Kinoshita did a two-part political version in 1949 that did its best to eliminate the ghost elements of the tale, making Iemon sympathetic.
Masaki Mori’s 1956 version featured Tomisaburo Wakayama, best known as Itto Ogami from the Lone Wolf and Cub movies. Wakayama starred also in the 1961 version directed by Yasushi Kato known as KAIDAN OIWA NO BUREI (GHOST OF OIWA). The same year as Nakagawa’s color version, Kenji Misumi did a black-and-white version released in the U.S. as THOU SHALT NOT BE JEALOUS, starring Kazuo Hasegawa.
Kazuo Mori, best known for the Zatoichi series, did YATSUYA KAIDAN: OIWA NO BUREI (CURSE OF THE GHOST aka GHOST OF OIWA) in 1969. 1981 brought the release of MASHO NO NATSU: YATSUYA KAIDAN YORI (aka SUMMER DEMON or SUMMER OF EVIL) from Yukio Ninagawa. Kinji Fukasaku (MESSAGE FROM SPACE; BATTLE ROYALE) contributed the notable CREST OF BETRAYAL version in 1994, that actually manages to combine both the Yotsuya ghost story with the tale of the 47 Ronin, two of Japan’s most popular tales.
Nakagawa is considered by many to have been Japan’s first great horror director. In addition to his version of THE GHOST STORY OF YOTSUYA, he also directed  SNAKE WOMAN’S CURSE (Kaidan Hebi-Onna, 1968), JIGOKU (“Hell,” 1960), LADY VAMPIRE (Onna Kyuketsuki, 1959), THE GHOST OF KASANE (Kaidan Kasane-ga-fuchi, 1957), BLACK CAT MANSION (Borei Kaibyo Yashiki, 1958), and others.
A few things that distinguish Nakagawa’s version of the tale is that this Shintoho production was the first in color and widescreen. Shigeru Amachi, who also starred in Nakagawa’s famed evocation of Buddhist hell JIGOKU, gives a strong performance as Iemon Tamiya, a drunken, libertine ronin (i.e. a samurai without a lord to serve). At the start of the film, he accosts some nobles and asks one of them, Samon (Shinjiro Asano), for his daughter’s hand in marriage. Samon has a low opinion of the wastrel and turns Iemon down flat, infuriating the ronin so that he takes his sword and kills the entire group as they flee from his rage.
Iemon, realizing that murdering his intended bride’s father will not endear him to her – not to mention how the constabulary is likely to react to multiple homicides – conspires with his partner-in-crime Naosuke (Shuntaro Emi) to lay the blame on a local bandit Usaburo, claiming that they valiantly fought a band of ruffians who got away. Iemon promises Iwa (Kazuko Wakasugi) that he will avenge her father’s murder, securing her hand in marriage and her fortune for himself.
Naosuke becomes attracted to Iwa’s sister Osode, and threatens to expose Iemon if he will not assist in eliminating the sisters’ suspicious brother. When the brother goes to a sacred waterfall to pray for justice, the rogues stab him in the back and push him off the cliff. They return to town with a story about how they were attacked by the same bandits as before, and the pair split up to seek the non-existent bandits.
Iemon and Iwa have a child, but Iemon proves a poor husband, spending most of his nights out drinking, while Iwa begins to suffer from ill health. Iemon gambles most of his wife’s money away, but one night he inadvertently foils a mugging, causing the robbers to flee and the nobles to thank him effulsively, while Iemon instantly falls for the nobleman’s lovely daughter Ume (Junko Ikeuchi). The nobleman offers Iemon a reward, and Iemon ironically responds with the same speech about honor that Samon had given him right before Iemon had murdered him.
Meanwhile, Naosuke is frustrated that Osode refuses to marry or sleep with him until he makes good his promise to avenge her father’s death. When Iemon happens to bump into Naosuke, Naosuke wonders whether he can pull off the murdering bandits gimmick a third time, but resolves that he’ll need another plan. Naosuke comes up with the idea of procuring some poison to kill Iwa to make way for Iemon to marry Ume. Because the portly village massues Takuetsu (Jun Otomo) is constantly coming by to see the ailing Iwa, a rumor has sprung up that the pair are having an affair. Naosuke sees how Iemon can claim to have caught the pair in flagrante to justify the murder of his wife. Dishonorable to the core, Iemon readily agrees to the plan and conspires to make Takuetsu his patsy.
In a telling scene, Iwa cries tears of joy that her husband has started treating her kindly for a change, apparently attempting to see to her happiness rather than being thoroughly selfish all the time. Little does she realize that his thoughtfulness in giving her the medicine she requires is simply a ruse to provide poison in her cup of tea. Takuetsu comes to give her a massage and starts coming on to her because Iemon has suggested that she fancies the doctor: however, Iwa, innocent and loyal to her faithless husband, is shocked by Takuetsu’s behavior.
tokaido yotsuyakaiden1959Then it is Takuetsu’s turn to be shocked as the poison causes the skin on Iwa’s forehead to break out and become discolored, depriving her of her beauty. The shaken Takuetsu confesses that it was Iemon who asked him to seduce her. Realizing the extent of Iemon’s treachery, Iwa vows to kill their infant child rather than leave it to such a father. (Nakagawa doesn’t show this death, but the baby disappears from thenceforth, suggesting that Iwa did indeed carry out her vow).
When Iemon returns, he kills Takuestu for “betraying” him, and then with Naosuke’s help, nails the body of Takuetsu and Iwa to the shutters from his house, and has them carried to the local lake and cast into the water to sink. Naosuke finally sees the bandit that he had earlier blamed the other murders on, and proceeds to stab the bandit in the back so that he can finally marry Osode.
It is at this point that the genre elements now dominate the film. Iemon becomes haunted by visions of his dead wife nailed to the shutter. Naosuke snags Iwa’s comb and kimono with his fishing line and makes the mistake of taking them home to Iwa’s sister, who naturally recognizes these very personal items. When Iwa’s apparition appears in Naosuke’s home, he breaks down and confesses to helping Iemon kill Samon.
Iemon visits Ume’s parents, but when Iwa’s ghost reappears, he strikes out, killing his prospective bride and his prospective father-in-law when his blade passes through the ghost and strikes them instead. Osode finds that her brother wasn’t dead after all, but survived his attack, and the pair team up to get their revenge.
tokaido_yotsuya_kaidan3Nakagawa gives the film a very rich look, with beautiful art direction and lighting. Unlike  American or European horror films fo the era, however, there is not much attempt to build atmosphere — no creepy sounds, crashing thunderstorms, or howling winds to generate feelings of dread. Instead, the film is briskly paced and presents the supernatural elements rather matter-of-factly. Nonetheless, there is some terrific imagery in the latter part of GHOSTY STORY OF YOTSUYA, particularly the makeup on Iwa and the image of bloody water or bodies floating on shutters in the air.
The narrative very much fits into the Japanese tradition of critiquing corruption and the lack of honor among those most entrusted with upholding the honorable traditions. Iemon is a most thorough villain, as is Naosuke, and we know inevitably they will be paid to pay for their terrible crimes. Nakagawa does a great job of building our suspense in finding just how such vengeance will be extracted.
Nakagawa depicts the ghosts so that they may well be figments of Iemon’s wicked imagination – a sudden appearance of conscience in a hitherto totally immoral character.  As in THE GHOST OF KASANE, spirits provoke and enrage Iemon until he takes action that drives him to his own self-destruction. (A few years later, Mario Bava adopted a similar approach in such films as BLACK SABBATH and KILL, BABY, KILL, in which ghostly vengeance is staged so ambiguously that it appears the victims may actually be killing themselves.)
tokaido ph_GhostStory_mTHE GHOST STORY OF YOTSUYA isn’t a film for those with attention-deficient disorder. The characters are solidly portrayed and the psychologies are built up before there is much in the way of a pay-off. However, I must say that I find the conclusion far more satisfying than those endless horror films of the recent past which substitute a few seconds of explicit gore for interesting characterization or a plot worth paying attention to.
THE GHOST STORY OF YOTSUYA (Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan, 1959). Director: Nobuo Nakagawa. Cinematographer: Tadashi Nishimoto. Music: Michiaki Watanabe. Producer: Mitsugu Okura. Cast: Shigeru Amachi, Noriko Kitazawa, Shuntaro Emi, Junko Ikeuchi, Ryozaburo Nakamura, Jun Otomo, Kazuko Wakasugi Writer: Masayoshi Onuki, Yoshihiro Ishikawa.

75 Years of The Green Hornet, Pt. 5


Part 5: The Green Hornet Strikes NOW

After laying fallow for a number of years, the rise of independent comics and specialized comic book stores in the 1980s helped bring The Green Hornet back to the 4-color press.
In 1989, NOW Comics, a Chicago-based publisher that dealt mostly in licensed properties, submitted a proposal to The Green Hornet Incorporated. Writer Ron Fortier had done a great deal of research into the character, and had figured out a timeline that incorporated all of the various eras in which the character had played an active role. Reportedly, Marvel and DC Comics had also expressed interest in licensing the Hornet, but it was Now’s approach that met with approval.
GReen Hornet_Now_1The first issue of The Green Hornet  featured a cover by comic book artist Jim Steranko, also known for his beautifully in-period paperback covers for reprints of The Shadow novels. Written by Ron Fortier and illustrated by Jeff Butler, the series began with the last case of the first Green Hornet and Kato team, Britt Reid and “Ikano Kato”.
The decision was made to depict Kato as Japanese, with the explanation that Reid passed his Asian friend off as Filipino, determined to protect him from possible internment in World War II. The first Hornet, wearing a mask that called to mind the Universal movie serials, operates from the mid-1930’s to 1945, choosing to ignore the radio series’ survival into the 50’s. 
The story referenced without explicitly naming The Lone Ranger as Britt’s ancestor. It also would change the identity of Britt Reid’s secretary to Ruth Hopkins, who he eventually marries.
Radio/TV characters Lenore Case and Mike Axford were not forgotten, they were  saved to appear with Britt Reid II, the nephew of the original Hornet. His crime-fighting partner would be Hayashi Kato, son of Ikano. (In actual practice, this should read Kato Hayashi, as the Japanese put the surname first.)
Britt II and Hayashi operate in the 1960’s -70’s, retiring from the field after Britt develops heart trouble. Reid continues as a crusading newspaper publisher and marries ‘Casey’ Case, while Hayashi goes on to became a star in martial arts movies, ala Bruce Lee (also drawn to resemble the actor, though ignoring his Chinese heritage).
Hayashi Kato would later become romantically linked with Diana Reid, daughter of the original Britt, and she becomes the District Attorney of the still-unnamed city after the retirement of Frank Scanlon, maintaining the sub-rosa connection between official crime fighting and the Hornet’s covert vigilante crusade. 
green-hornet-TALES_1Helping to cement the tie of this iteration of the character to the 20th Century Fox TV show, series star Van Williams would write the stories for two issues of a spin-off comic Tales of The Green Hornet.
Bringing things up to then-contemporary times, Britt Reid’s nephew Alan Reid briefly becomes the Green Hornet, but is killed on his first case. His younger brother, Paul Reid, reluctantly steps away from his intended career as a concert pianist, and assumes the role of Hornet, using a Mardi Gras mask that covers more of the face.
Initially similar to the molded mask of the Republic serial hero THE MASKED MARVEL, it eventually becomes more similar to the one worn by Kane Richmond in the Monogram Shadow movies. The  Hornet”s use of a trenchcoat made the resemblence even greater.
GREEN HORNET_NOW_6At first, Paul Reid’s crime-fighting partner is Mishi Kato; Hayashi’s younger sister, driving around town in a high-tech coupe apparently inspired by the Pontiac Banshee concept car.
After Green Hornet Inc. head George Trendle Jr. read the first seven issues, he insisted that Mishi be replaced with a traditional male Kato, so she was written out, with Hayashi Kato returning to the team.
The “sports car” Black Beauty would be replaced with a heavier sedan, and by the end of the NOW series, a fourth aide, Kono Kato—grandson of Ikano Kato, arrived to take on the duties.
Mishi Kato would return as a character called The Crimson Wasp, a murderous vigilante that Paul and Hayashi have to try to stop or at least control. There were signs that she and Paul were developing romantic ties, possibly born out by one of the mini-series.
Unfortunately, NOW Comics had a lot of internal and cash-flow problems, leading to creative staff leaving and being replaced. Between 1989 and 1995 the company managed to put out 54 issues of The Green Hornet in two distinct “Volumes”.
Green Hornet_Sting-1In addition to the above mentioned Tales of The Green Hornet, mini-series entitled The Green Hornet: Solitary Sentinel, the WII-set Sting of The Green Hornet, and a future-set The Green Hornet: Dark Tomorrow, which featured a criminal Green Hornet and a heroic Kato.
Kato also had a solo mini-series.
Many of these titles came out in a sporadic manner, with volumes sometimes being separated by gaps of a year or longer. Writers such as the award-winning Mike Baron (Nexus, Marvel’s The Punisher) and pop culture historian James Van Hise contributed to the books.
Eventually, NOW Comics, after years of financial troubles, ceased to exist as a publishing house.  The Green Hornet retreated back into the shadows, though his next comic book resurgence would come sooner than the previous hiatus.

The Innocents: Cinefantastique Spotlight Podcast #4

The fourth installment of the Cinefantastique Spotlight Podcast focuses its attention on the 1961 classic THE INNOCENTS. This ambiguous and haunting ghost story was produced and directed by Jack Clayton, based on Henry James’ novel The Turn of the Screw and William Archibald’s stage adaptation, The Innocents. Oscar-winner Freddie Francis supplied the atmospheric black-and-white photography, and Oscar-nominee Deborah Kerr starred as governess Miss Giddens, put in charge of two apparently innocent children who may – or may not – be in league with ghosts. Lawrence French, Arbogast (of Arbogast on Film), and Steve Biodrowski struggle to penetrate the miasma of secrets surrounding this intriguing film, one of the great achievements in the horror genre.
Consider this the first installment in this year’s 50th Anniversary Celebration of the Horror, Fantasy & Science Fiction Films of 1961. As we did in 2010, Cinefantastique will offer periodic posts and/or podcasts throughout the year, looking back at the great genre achievements of five decades ago.

The Innocents  with Deborah Kerr Miss Giddens gets a glimpse of the ghostly Quint (Peter Wyngarde) Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr) explores the haunts of Bly Miss Jessell (Clytie Jessop) manifests by the lake Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr) holds Miles (Martin Stephens)

75 Years of The Green Hornet, Pt. 4



Part Four: Another Challenge For
The Green Hornet

The Green Hornet didn’t become a TV series until 1966, thirty years after its radio debut. It was the success of the ABC/20th Century Fox BATMAN TV show that lead to the greenlight for the Hornet.
Producer William Dozier had been chosen to produce the Batman series, and after looking at the source comics he had decided that the only way he could make it work would be to go in the direction of “camp” comedy; a straight-faced satire that coyly played up the absurdities. To be fair, the Batman comics that Dozier had to look at did not depict the character in the best light, as the books had become increasingly juvenile, due in part to censorship worries. This approach turned out to work spectacularly well for the ABC series, giving William Dozier a certain amount of freedom for his next project.

Bruce Lee
Bruce Lee

While Batman might not have been his cup of tea, Dozier apparently remembered the comparatively down-to-earth Green Hornet radio show in a more favorable light.
William Dozier had seen American born martial artist and former Hong Kong child actor Bruce Lee (Lee Jun Fan) demonstrate what he called Gung Fu. He was quite taken with Lee, and wanted to cast him in a TV series to be called NUMBER ONE SON, an update on the Charlie Chan stories, to feature the son of the popular detective character. ABC had passed on the idea of show starring an Asian leading man. However, The Green Hornet’s Kato was a secondary part that could be ideal for showcasing Lee’s talents. So THE GREEN HORNET could be a way of killing two birds with one stone.
Van Williams

While unknowns Michael Lipton and Jay Murray tested for THE GREEN HORNET with Bruce Lee, the lead role went to Van (Zandt) Williams, who had starred in the ABC TV series BOURBON STREET BEAT and SURFSIDE SIX (as the same character, Kenny Madison).
Van Williams and Bruce Lee took their characters seriously, and for the most part, so did the writers and production staff. Still busy with the demands of the BATMAN series, Dozier and Fox put Richard H. Bluel (THE GALLANT MEN, GOLIATH AWAITS) in overall charge as producer.
Wende Wagner as 'Casey'
Wende Wagner as 'Casey'

Wende Wangner (DESTINATION INNER SPACE) played Lenore ‘Casey’ Case, now privy to Britt Reid’s alternate identity from the beginning.
 Lloyd Gough (THE OUTER LIMITS) played a somewhat younger, more serious Michael Axford, still determined to capture the Hornet. Although the radio series had introduced Commissoner Higgins as the Green Hornet’s contact, Dozier and company decided to avoid any comparisons with BATMAN’s Commissioner Gordon, and created the new character District Attorney Frank P. Scanlon, played by Walter Brooke (THE CONQUEST OF SPACE).
Lloyd Gough as Mike Axford, Walter Brooke as D.A. Scanlon

Since George W. Trendle (now insisting on being credited as sole creator of the character) had sold off  THE LONE RANGER characters to Jack Wrather, apparently (though perhaps not definitely) including Dan Reid, the Ranger’s nephew and Britt Reid’s father, a new back story and motivation for the Green Hornet’s crusade was created. Although only mentioned fleetingly on the air, the screen tests made it clear that Britt’s father Henry Reid had been framed for a crime by powerful political and criminal interests. The shame of this miscarriage of justice had driven him to an early grave. Britt was determined to fight this kind of corruption, and hopefully uncover the proof of his father’s innocence in the matter.

GHTVGUIDEThe dynamic of how The Green Hornet and Kato operated changed. While the Hornet remained the mastermind and a capable fighter, now Kato provided much of the implicit and  often explicit physical threat towards the villains. Van Williams’ Hornet was more like a masked, sinister Jim Phelps (ala MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE)  playing mind games with criminals to set them up. Kato was the quietly menacing enforcer. To many fans, Kato was more memorable, as nothing like the action moves Bruce Lee could provide had ever been seen on American television before.
However, the Hornet remained the star— possibly to Lee’s frustration. Nevertheless, he and Van Williams had a great sympatico onscreen, their attitudes when alone or with those privy to the secret suggesting a friendly and mutually respectful partnership rather then a “boss” and a subordinate. Oddly, while Kato’s physical prowess was played up, his inventive genius was not touched on (at least as far as I recall).
To the Hornet’s gas gun, the sonic weapon the Hornet Sting was added, using soundwaves to break locks and cause small explosions and fires. The Black Beauty, a heavily modified Chrysler Imperial was turned into a “rolling arsenal” by car customer Dean Jefferies, complete with rocket launchers and aerial surveilance devices. 

The Black Beauty exits the secret door.
The Black Beauty exits the secret door.

An often-repeated sequence featured the Black Beauty rotating into view, hidden under the floor of Reid’s townhouse garage, clamped upside-down until needed. Using a combination of the full size car, and large scale miniatures, the Black Beauty exited the property through a raised wall section, through a courtyard, and out a secret door disguised as a candy mint billboard into a deserted alleyway.
Much to George Trendle’s displeasure, The Green Hornet and Kato would be depicted in eyemasks that covered only the top of the face. 20th Centry Fox had no desire to have to dub their lead character.  The production actually had a very difficult time with the masks, which they decided to fit with earpieces, like eyeglasses.
The Hunter and the Hunted
Programed For Death

A rather sinister mask for the Hornet was featured in publicity shots and the first episode filmed, Programmed For Death. This outing featured both miniature high-frequency sound generators that impelled animals to attack, and a new formula for “perfect” synthetic diamonds –- as well a plan by a ruthless syndicate to flood the market.
However, this show was held back until the third broadcast, and the more prosaic The Silent Gun was the premiere episode, airing September 9th, 1966.
By now plaster casts had been made of the stars’ faces, so that new masks, more comfortable and with unimpaired vision for the action scenes could be made. These were rather less dramatic, and would go through several minor redesigns throughout the season.
The Frog is a Deadly Weapon - No Night Filter
The Frog is a Deadly Weapon - No Night Filter

Some standout episodes are The Frog is a Deadly Weapon, which starred former serial Shadow Victory Jory as one of the men who had framed Britt’s father. Alias The Scarf is an eerie entry, guest starring horror star John Carradine as the curator of a wax museum, and featured the return of a serial killer from years before, not content to be replaced in the public’s memory by the Hornet.
 Bruce Lee fans would choose as a favorite The Preying Mantis, which brings the Hornet to Chinatown, and sets Kato in a Gung-Fu showdown against a young, arrogant and ruthless Tong leader (played by Japanese actor Mako).
Some of the directors of the series were veterans, such as Preying Mantis’ Norman Foster, (SWORD OF ZORRO, JOURNEY INTO FEAR), George Waggner (THE WOLF MAN) and William Beaudine (THE APE MAN). Director of Photography for the bulk of the series was Carl Guthrie (HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL).
One of the most memorable parts of the show was the exciting jazz themes used for the titles and action sequences. Though often identified as simply a jazzed-up version of The Flight of The Bumble Bee, this is not the case. Composer Billy May took motifs from the classic Rimsky-Korsakov piece (and possibly some inspiration from Harry James’ 1941 Jazz interpretation) and wrote a new, brass-driven work used in the titles and in different arrangements as action themes. The title track, The Green Hornet Theme featured trumpet master Al Hirt’s performance, and a slightly different version Hirt recorded is also referred to sometimes as The Green Bee. Trumpet players and brass ensembles often keep the theme as a showcase number in their repertoires.
Despite the popularity of the new theme, George Trendle was annoyed at the substitution, as were a number of vocal fans, as noted at the time in Larry Ivies’ Monsters and Heroes Magazine.
GH_GolD KEYIn 1967 Gold Key produced a comic book series based on the TV show. It ran three issues, written by Paul S. Newman (according to Comics.org), who wrote the bulk of the Dell Lone Ranger Comics, and some of the newspaper comic strip continuity. Pencils were by Dan Spiegle, who did many comics for Gold Key, Including Space Family Robinson, the TV-show based Maverick –- even Scooby-Doo, before later moving on to DC and other companies.
There were two paperback tie-in novels, Whitman’s Green Hornet: Case of the Disappearing Doctor, by Brandon Keith, and Dell’s The Green Hornet in The Infernal Light by Ed Friend (former pulp writer Richard Wormser, based in part on the episode The Ray is for Killing.).  gh_novel_INF_light
Coloring books, Halloween costumes and various toys, including a die-cast Corgi Black Beauty also formed the merchandising. These ancilliary markets would not last long.
The series faced a difficult problem, as ABC had insisted that THE GREEN HORNET be a half-hour action show, like BATMAN. However, BATMAN’s episodes were really one-hour shows cut into two parts, which saved money. They expected similar results from the new series, at essentially half the money— and it showed at times.
This was particularly evident from the need to shoot much of the action “Day For Night”; filming on location in normal daytime working hours with a blue filter, and sometimes the camera stopped down a little. Some directors handled this better than others, but in some episodes this artifice was painfully obvious—or simply confusing.  To try to save money and show ABC the idea, Dozier & crew made some two-part episodes, such as Beautiful Dreamer and Corpse Of The Year.
The Nadir of the Series
The Nadir of the Series

Perhaps because THE GREEN HORNET was not the campy fun that audiences  might have expected, it did not do as well in the ratings as its predecessor. Trying to attract more viewers, the last two-part episode, Invasion from Outer Space (produced by Stanley Shpetner, rather than Richard Bluel) was much more gaudy and offbeat, with outrageous villain “Dr. Mabuse” behind the science fiction-y shenanigans.
Van Williams and Bruce Lee even guest-starred as their characters on BATMAN in a two-part episode A Piece of the Action/Batman’s Satisfaction, seeming rather uncomfortable. All this last-minute fiddling was to no avail.
However, William Dozier would insist that the series was not cancelled after one season due to ratings. He maintained that he and 20th Century Fox could only find it worthwhile to continue making the show if it was extended into a full hour-long program and presented this fact to ABC. The network was reportedly open to another season of half-hour episodes, but not a hour-long show. So it was (possibly) mutually decided to end the series after 26 episodes.
This decision served to put THE GREEN HORNET in a bad situation when it came to syndication. With only one season’s worth of episodes, the show could not be easily ‘stripped’; shown five days a week, like a comic strip. Fewer stations ordered it, and for many years few people got the chance to see the program in its original form.
GH_StingEven in the video tape and DVD era the show remains elusive as the complicated rights between 20th Century Fox, Dozier’s Greenway Productions, the character owners, and a third-party (and apparently legally defunct) licensing firm have kept both THE GREEN HORNET and  BATMAN from authorized video release.
However, the series memory was kept alive by the later success and enduring appreciation of Bruce Lee for his martial arts films, skills, and personal charisma.
To cash in on the star’s popularity, two feature films were cobbled together from several episodes, cutting in extra fight scenes from shows otherwise not featured, in a rather clumsy manner. Nevertheless, THE GREEN HORNET (1974) and FURY OF THE DRAGON (1976) seemed to do fairly well, making the rounds of second run theaters for several years and also remaining popular in Far East markets.
GH_weaponsThe rise of the comic book shop, where younger readers could find back issues also gave the character some minor exposure, as did syndicated repeats of the radio episodes, several of which also turned up on LP and tape. 
Thus the short-lived series was kept alive in superhero fan’s minds, becoming almost by accident what’s considered by most the definitive version of the Green Hornet.


75 Years of The Green Hornet, Pt.3


Part Three: The 4-Color Hornet
In The Golden Age

The Green Hornet is a natural character for comic books. Several radio characters made that leap, including The Shadow, the Lone Ranger, and Captain Midnight.
Green Hornet comic books  first appeared with a cover date of December, 1940 — due to the three months in advance dating policy of most publishers, it probably hit the stands in Spetember of that year. 
GH_Helnit/Holyoke_1The first series, titled Green Hornet Comics, were published by Helnit/ Holyoke Comics. Unlike most comic book publishers, who were based in New York, they were located in Holyoke, Massachusetts. Stories were credited to Fran Striker, but they were likely freely adapted, possibly directly by the artists from Bert Whitman Associates.
This was one of the many “art shops” put together to supply publishers that did not have full-time comic book staff with product, often churned out in what approached assembly line fashion –- perhaps even sweat-shop conditions under some bosses. Bert Whitman was an editorial and comic strip artist who was also involved in comic books, considered at that time a real step down from newspapers.
 Though portrayed with the correct black half-mask on the first issue’s painted cover, the character was soon depicted wearing a green mask with a black hornet on it –- which is much easier to draw and reproduce via rapid printing on cheap newsprint paper.
The Helnit series only lasted six issues, ending in 1942, but was quickly picked up by Harvey Comics. They continued with Helnit’s numbering, their first being #7.

Simon & Kirby - Click to Enlarge
Simon & Kirby - Click to Enlarge

The cover and some of the interior work was by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, creators of Captain America, and veterans of NY art shops, who later started their own shop. On the cover of #7, the Hornet insigna was omitted from the Green Hornet’s mask. This would apparently happen from time to time in the rush to get the work done.
Harvey did well with the series, which trumpeted the fact that The Hornet was a star On the Air and In the Movies, and published 40 issues by mid-1949. (Technically, the comic was renamed The Green Hornet Fights Crime with issue #34, and The Green Hornet, Racket Buster with #44 –- although on the covers it actually read: Radio’s Racket Buster: The Green Hornet.)
It’s unclear who who and/or adapted the stories for the printed page, though possibly artists/writers like Arthur Cazeneuve (who also drew the golden age Blue Beetle, a super-powered, chainmail-wearing riff on the Hornet, with his own, short-lived Mutual Network radio show) did the work themselves.
The Green Hornet Fights Crime #34
The Green Hornet Fights Crime #34

Artwork was by a number of hands, possibly by the freelance shop run by Cazeneuve and his brother Louis. A large portion of the work is by Al Avison, who did a lot of Captain America art and other heroes for Marvel Comics, often emulating the Simon/Kirby style.
The Green Hornet also appeared in other Harvey comics from time to time, and other Harvey heroes and features shared his title. It was during the Harvey run that the comic book Hornet began to dress mostly all in green, possibly a result of being handled by people who were more familiar with conventional costumed superheroes, who tended to wear distinct and seldom varying “uniforms”, rather than simply slipping on street clothes and a mask as disguise.
I should note that the Harvey series fairly consistently depicted Britt Reid as having blond hair, which was how it was described in the radio series.

Harvey Comics #13 and #31
Harvey Comics #13 and #31

 After the radio show went off the air in 1952, Dell comics published a single issue with the character (Four Color Comics #486) in 1953. The painted cover artwork was by Frank Thorne, who also did Flash Gordon and Jungle Jim comics. In later years, he would do “good girl art” for Marvel’s Red Sonja, inspired by Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories.

Dell Comic's 1953 One-Shot. art: Frank Thorne
Dell Comic's 1953 One-Shot. art: Frank Thorne

Whitman Books put out three ‘Better Little Books’, small hard cover books for children, with many comic book style illustrations enlivening the stories. They were The Green Hornet Strikes (1940), The Green Hornet Returns (1941), and The Green Hornet Cracks Down (1942), all credited to Fran Striker.
 The Lone Ranger also had books of these variety published, along with a newspaper comic strip, and his own pulp magazine. Despite seeming a natural choice for the blood and thunder single-character pulps, The Green Hornet never cracked that market.
The Lone Ranger made it to television in 1949, and was eventually joined by WXYZ’s Sergeant Preston of The Yukon. However, for various reasons, The Green Hornet did not generate a 1950’s TV series.
George W. Trendle felt that The Hornet could be a big hit on television. Sponsors, on the other hand, were concerned that the grim, violent, often cynical world that Britt Reid lived in would not be as acceptable to parents as the more wholesome and perhaps as importantly, distanced by history adventures of the masked rider of the plains. The adventures of a vigilante in the old West had a nostalgic, fairy tale-like quality, the Hornet lived in uncomfortably relevant modern times.
This had already become a concern on the radio series, with The Green Hornet being eventually cleared of the murders attributed to him, and becoming an ally of Police Commissioner Higgins, a friend of Britt’s father Dan Reid, both of whom now knew Britt’s secret and noble purpose.
Steve Dunne, in the Sam Spade era.

Frustrated by a lack of positive response from potential sponsors, George Trendle actually went to the extent of paying for a TV pilot to be made in Hollywood, out of his own pocket (or the company’s). In 1952, LONE RANGER producer Jack Wrather put together a half-hour film, directed by Paul Landres (THE RETURN OF DRACULA), and starring one of radio’s Sam Spade actors and game show host Steve Dunne as the Hornet.
The pilot did not sell the show to advertisers, likely because the pilot’s budget was someting under $30,000 – an insufficient amount to fund an action-adventure show, and the results probably showed onscreen. Shopped around for several years, this reportedly unimpressive production is said to be lost, with no surviving prints, and even still pictures are elusive. The only photo I’ve ever seen is one of the gas gun made for the production, which is a ringer for the one on the cover of the Dell comic. Could that one-shot also have been a back-door attempt to sell sponsors on a series, or other Green Hornet projects?
At one point Trendle had contacted Universal Studios, inquiring if perhaps episodes of the movie serials could be cut together to form an inexpensive  TV series, presumably as a sort of  trial run for a new program. This did not come to pass, either.
It would not be until the mid-1960’s that the Green Hornet would make the jump to television. When it did, a new take on an old character would change the balance of the Green Hornet and Kato team—probably forever.