Simply stated the Teen Movie Craze of the mid and late 1950's. Which caused American International Pictures to make the sound business move of changing the title to get in on it.
This is a look at 11 of my favorite "Teen" motion pictures made basically between 1957 and 1959.
With the advent of television in the early 1950's families started to stay home and watch what became known as "the boob tube", Rather than pay the per person prices to go to a movie. In attempts to get viewers back into the theaters. The major studios used different techniques.
One example of this were the classic Third Dimension (3-D) movies. Such as Science Fiction/.Horror titles "The Creature from the Black Lagoon" and "It Came from Outer Space". Along with Westerns were a big draw such as John Wayne's "Hondo" and Guy Madison's "The Charge at Feather River". Even Alfred Hitchcock got in with "Dial M for Murder". Here is a link to my article about these pictures and others.
Another attempt was the reintroduction of wide screen film making now called CinemaScope. Here is a link to my article on the history of CinemaScope. It's about the first commercial version in 1930 called "Grandeur". Which the title of my blog refers too. That wide screen motion picture also introduced for the first time an actor with the name of John Wayne.
The smaller independent studios around 1956 started to discover that pre-teens, like myself, and teens were a viable audience. One of the major areas we were attracted to were Drive-In movie theaters with car load pricing. Even wonder how many you could actually get into a Volkswagen Beetle?The bottom line was we could get our parents to give us the money for a double feature which might only run three hours or less, but got us out of the house on Saturdays for a few precious hours.
The mid 1950's saw low budget teen pictures reflecting the "Hot Rod" culture, One of these features was 1956's "Hot Rod Girl" starring Lori Nelson, Chuck Connors and John Smith. The "Hot Rod" movie craze was started by the large budgeted 1955 Warner Brothers motion picture "Rebel Without A Cause" starring James Dean, Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo. There were also low budgeted movies containing a thin story line that was filled with popular "Rock and Roll" acts. Such as "Bill Haley and the Comets" in 1956's "Rock Around the Clock", or "Don't Knock the Rock" and "Shake. Rattle and Rock".
The so called Teenage horror and science fiction craze started in 1957 and lasted only through 1959.
The picture that began all of this was the first of four in a row from American International Pictures producer Herman Cohn released on July 19, 1957 with an unknown Michael Landon as the title character of "I Was A Teenage Werewolf".
Depending on the source the picture cost either $82,000, or $123,000 to make. However, it grossed two million dollars. Michael Landon's character was a direct take off of James Dean's in "Rebel Without a Cause" and critics and audiences picked up on that fact. The story is actually fairly well done for a quickie movie shot in a total of seven days.
Playing the psychiatrist who is treating Michael Landon's Tony Rivers is veteran supporting actor Whit Bissell above. Tony has similar family and emotional problems as does James Dean's Jim Stark. Except that he also eats raw meat. His temper flares up and he gets into fights with other High School Students.Today we might think he was Bipolar.
Look closely in the movie and you will see Guy Williams as a police officer.
Bissell's psychiatrist hypnotizes Tony Rivers and has him regress to a primitive state which turns the teen into the werewolf of the title. Eventually his curiosity will lead to Whit Bissell character's death and Tony's at the hands of police officers. Like Lon Chaney, Jr.'s "Lawrence Talbot" in 1940's "The Wolfman", or Steven Rich's title character of 1956's "The Werewolf". The audience cares about Michael Landon's troubled teen.
With the success of "I Was A Teenage Werewolf". The obvious follow up "I Was A Teenage Frankenstein" came from Herman Cohan and American International Pictures released November 27, 1957.
Playing the modern day Professor Frankenstein is once more Whit Bissell. His secretary Margaret, who knows to much and will meet her death, was portrayed by Phyllis Coates. Coates is known for being in the first 26 episodes of television's "The Adventures of Superman" as Loris Lane. Playing both the Teenage Frankenstein and Bob. Whose head would be attached at the film's climax was Gary Conway. Conway would become a television star first in Gene Barry's "Burkes Law" and then in Irwin Allen's "Land of the Giants".
The movie opens with an automobile accident killing a teenage boy. Professor Frankenstein takes the body and is able to reanimate the dead boy after adding some spare body parts. He promises his creation a new face in time, but plans to keep him looking like the monster he appears for some time. However, the reanimated teen escapes his confinement and frightens a girl and inadvertently kills her. This will lead to Margaret's death in a hidden pit containing an alligator the Professor dumps unneeded body parts too from his experiments.
Professor Frankenstein realizes he must find a new face for his now seen creation and they go to lovers lane where it kills "Bob".
Professor Frankenstein attaches Bob's head to his creation and to all appearances except for some scars now looks like the real Bob.
The Professor's assistant Dr. Karlton, Robert Burton, can not take Frankenstein's work anymore and runs to the police. When he returns he discovers that the Professor's creation has killed him and thrown the body into the alligator pit.
Now comes the surprise ending to this black and white film. As the now frightened Bob backs himself into an electrical panel and the film turns technicolor to show his execution. While talking to the police Dr. Burton says he can't get that original face out of his mind. At this point the audience gets to see the Teenage Frankenstein make-up in color as the end title rolls.
As with "I Was A Teenage Werewolf", "I Was A Frankenstein" was a big hit with my peers and myself. In 1958 American International Pictures reissued both films on a double bill.
The success of that double bill influenced AIP to make a picture featuring both the Teen Werewolf and Teen Frankenstein. Released on July 1, 1958 a year after "I Was A Teenage Werewolf" first played. Herman Cohn's "How To Make A Monster" starts out with the Teenage Werewolf following the Teenage Frankenstein in a forest as the tension builds. When the audience suddenly hears something to the affect of "Cut and Print It". We were watching a scene being filmed on a sound stage for another movie.
Returning as the actor, Tony Mantell, who plays the Teenage Frankenstein was Gary Conway. Michael Landon was not back as the Teenage Werewolf and the part of actor Larry Drake went to Gary Clarke. Clarke would become a familiar face on 1950's and 1960's television programs as a "Guest Star".
The basic story has make-up artist Pete Dumond, Richard H. Harris, being let go after working 25 years for American International Pictures by the new owners and seeking revenge against them.
For the record AIP was only four years old at the time of this picture's release. Although the studio in the movie is shown as American International Pictures. AIP did not have a permanent studio of their own and "How To Make A Monster", as previous releases, was filmed at ZIV Television Studios. The real American International Pictures would be bought out by Filmways in 1980.
Make-up artist Pete Dumond has developed a hypnotic make-up base to use on each of his teenage actors. Each actor in the form of their monster character performs a murder they do not remember. Dumond himself puts on a make-up and commits another.
The police are on the trial of Dumond as clues lead them to him. Playing Police Captain Hancock is the familiar 1950's Science Fiction character actor Morris Ankrum. For a look at this fine supporting actor. Please read my blog article at this link:
Meanwhile at the climax of the picture the make-up artist plans to kill the two actors and his own assistant Rivero played by, future cook on "Rawhide", Paul Brinegar at a farewell party in his home.
At the "party" Dumond has killed Rivero in the kitchen and sets his house on fire having locked Tony and Larry in the house. At this point the picture turns from black and white to technicolor. For fans of AIP's Science Fiction and Horror films of the period this sequence becomes very sad.
American International Pictures as I said had no permanent studios and they needed to make more storage space. So a decision was made by someone to burn a portion of the props and creatures created by real make-up and monster maker Paul Blaisdell.
In the above lobby poster my reader will notice one of the heads from "Invasion of the Saucer Men" and another from "The She Creature". Also destroyed in the fire were props from "It Conquered the World" and "Attack of the Puppet People".
Returning to 1957 was the fourth of Herman Cohen's features and the co-release with "I Was A Teenage Frankenstein" titled "I Was A Teenage Dracula", or at least on the working script.
When the film was released the American title was 'Blood of Dracula", but don't look for "Dracula" in this picture. In the U.K. the title was the much more interesting "Blood Is My Heritage".
To keep costs down producer Herman Cohan, who co-authored "I Was A Teenage Werewolf", used the pseudonym Ralph Thornton and reworked that script for this picture. Sandra Harrison's Nancy Perkins was almost an exact copy of Michael Landon's Tony Rivers. While Louise Lewis' chemistry teacher Miss Branding is almost an exact copy of Whit Bissell's Dr. Alfred Brandon.
In both pictures you have a teenager put under hypnotism that turns the teens into a monster taking revenge on those who torment them. In both pictures you have the teen monster kill the person who has done this to them and they end their lives tragically as a result.
My last motion picture for 1957 was mentioned above and is the "Invasion Of The Saucer Men". This is one of the first films where the Teens know more than their Parents and the Police, but none of the Adults believe their tale.
The picture starred Steven Terrell as Teenager Johnny Carter and Gloria Castillo as Teenager Joan Hayden. Like most actors playing teens in all the movies mentioned in this article. Terrell was 28 and Castillo 24 at the time.
Also appearing and becoming a victim of the saucer men was an upstart comic named Frank Gorshin. The future "Riddler" of the 1966 television series "Batman" had already appeared in "Hot Rod Girl", "Dragstrip Girl" and as Charley Ford, Bob's brother, in "The True Story of Jesse James" starring Robert Wagner and Jeffrey Hunter.
A flying saucer lands in the woods and the saucer men of the title leave it. The Army starts to investigate the saucer while Johnny and Gloria leaving "Lovers Lane" run over one of them. The two teens go for the local Sheriff to report the incident. However, when the three return instead of the body of the alien. They find the dead body of Joe Gruen, Gorshin, and the Sheriff is considering charging the teens with manslaughter. The already drunk Gruen had been injected with alcohol by the aliens and placed in front of Johnny's car. After the saucer men further damaged the bumper to support hitting him.
The saucer men are the work of creative make-up artist Paul Blaisdell I also mentioned above. Whose work for low budget American International Pictures was always overlooked for credit by the film community. Blaisdell and his wife made his creations in their Topanga Canyon home's garage outside of Los Angeles.
Johnny and Gloria get away from the Sheriff and discover one of the dead alien's hands, it has eyes on it, hiding in the back of their car. Attempting to photograph it. The hand vanishes from the light of the flashbulb.
As the adults won't believe Johnny and Gloria. They go to the only one's who will believe. The other Teenagers at "Lovers Lane". The Teen's find and surround the saucer men with their cars and turn on the headlights destroying in a flash the invaders.
Which points out the problem with Robert J. Gurney, Jr. and Al Martin's script. The "Invasion of the Saucer Men" would have ended at sunrise. As the aliens would have been killed by daylight. The film has become somewhat of a cult classic. To illustrate how serious AIP took their film concepts the working title for "Invasion of the Saucer Men" was "Spacemen Saturday Night".
In 1958 I would see two more films where the Teens can't get the Adults to believe something is at large killing people. Of course the first of these two must be the classic "The Blob" starring 27 year old Steven, not Steve, McQueen, as "Teenager" Steve Andrews.
A meteor lands in a rural Pennsylvania community and out pops what looks like a mass of jello, it was really silicone, that gets on a local man's hand and "The Blob" starts to feed and grow, Teenagers Steve Andrews and his girlfriend Jane Martin, Aneta Corsult, who would play Andy Griffith's girlfriend on his 1960's television show, saw the flash from the meteor hitting the earth and go to investigate. They almost run over the man with the title character on his hand and take him to a local doctor, After they leave "The Blob" starts to grow and feed on both men and a nurse.
"The Blob" aka: "The Molten Meteor" started out as "The Mass", in the shooting script, and then became "The Glob". It was originally released by Paramount Pictures on a double bill with the really scary "I Married a Monster from Outer Space" starring Tom Tryon and Gloria Talbott. For those interested in Gloria Talbott's story. Along with Peggie Castle and Allison Hayes. Here is a link to my article entitled "Three Sister's of 1950's Science Fiction and a Little Horror":
As in "Invasion of the Saucer Men" the Adults won't believe the two Teenagers. When "The Blob" gets into the movie theater feeding on the projectionist and then causing mass panic, The Sheriff and the other Adults finally believe the two. |
When the two Teens and others are trapped in a diner the means of stopping the alien mass is found by the use of a Fire Extinguisher.
"Steven" McQueen thinking the picture wouldn't make money and needing funds to pay his bills. Refused a deal that would have gotten him ten percent of the gross for $3,000 in cash. The picture would gross Four million dollars on a $120,000 budget that ended up saving $10,000 of that amount.
Shades of Universal Studio's 1955 classic "Tarantula" was Bert I. Gordon's "The Earth vs the Spider". The movie was actually released as "The Spider". Although the film's opening credits had the longer name on them. The picture was also known as "The Earth vs the Giant Spider". "The Earth" being a small rural community.
Below the French poster for "The Spider Vampire".
Eugene Perrson, who would produce on Broadway "You're A Good Man Charlie Brown", played Mike and June Kenney, "Attack of the Puppet People" and "The Viking Women and the Sea Serpent", played Carol. The two Teenagers go looking for Carol's missing father and discover the lair of "The Spider".
The picture actually stars Ed Kemmer playing Mike and Carol's High School Science Teacher. Kremmer played "Buzz Corry" on the 1951 television program "Space Patrol". Which is the model for "Star Trek",
For those interested in those first science fiction television programs like "Space Patrol", "Tom Corbett" and "Captain Video". Here is a link to my article on the subject:
Carol and Mike are able to convince Kremmer's Mr. Kingman to come with them to the cave of the Spider. As there are other missing people Kingman takes an unbelieving Sheriff with him. The group use DDT on the Spider and believe they have killed it. MISTAKE! They then take the body of the Spider to the High School and put it in the Gym. SECOND MISTAKE!
There's a saying that "Music heals the savage beast", perhaps, but not in the case of a giant Spider. Members of a High School Band set up in the gym to practice for a school dance. Other Teens hearing the music come into the gym and begin dancing. Meanwhile, the Spider wakes up and panic ensues.
The Giant Spider attacks the town killing people and then heads back to its cave. Mr. Kingman and the Sheriff decide to dynamite the cave entrance to seal the creature within. However, it is discovered that Carol and Mike returned to the cave to search for a bracelet she lost that her father gave her.
The two Teens are rescued and the Spider is electrocuted. The Earth is saved, or at least the small
I want to return for a moment to Roger Corman's 1958 "Teenage Caveman" aka: "Teenage Cave Man". As I said at this article's beginning both Corman and his star Robert Vaughn made a film entitled "Prehistoric World", but AIP changed the title to get in on the Teenage monster movie craze. As the ending of film reveals a secret. The title used in the U.K. is much more appropriate than any other: "Out of Darkness".
The story is simple. Cavemen are not permitted to cross the river as it is taboo. Why is never explained until the film's end. A group of young cavemen led by Robert Vaughn cross over and discover the monster that the tribe has always feared.
The monster turns out to be the last living survivor of the Atomic War that wiped out mankind and the reason the cavemen speak perfect English. The protective suit he wore has changed into the look of the creature that caused the taboo. The finally dead old man tells in voice over the story of the war and how radiation apparently kept him alive.
I do not have the scenes from this film, but the suit was reused for the title character of "The Night of the Blood Beast" shown below.
The last of the 1958 films I want to mention is a rip off of Herman Cohan's "I Was A Teenage Frankenstein" by Astor Pictures called "Frankenstein's Daughter".
There are two interesting bits of casting in this picture. The hero Johnny Bruder was played by actor John Ashley. Ashley had previously appeared in "Dragstrip Girl", "Motorcycle Gang" and "Hot Rod Gang" before this movie. In 1963 he appeared as Ken in the original "Beach Party" movie with Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello and would continue in the series as Johnny.
The other interesting bit of casting is one for the Teenager named Don. He was played by silent screen comedian great Harold Lloyd's son Harold Lloyd, Jr. After this film he appeared in some really forgettable pictures such as "Sex Kittens Go to College" and the low, low, low budgeted Italian Science Fiction film "Mutiny in Outer Space".
As this film opens the heroine Trudy Morton, played by the actual 18 year old Teenager Sandra Knight, is having a real bad "Night", pun intended. She thinks she turns into a monster and in fact she does. Thanks to her doctor Uncle's assistant Oliver Frank, Donald Murphy. Yep, that last name is short for Frankenstein and he's Victor's great grandson.
Before you get caught on the pictures title. Trudy is not "Frankenstein's Daughter". but she definitely needs a better acne cream.
Trudy's boyfriend is John Ashley's Johnny. Who is the lead singer in a Rock and Roll band.
Oliver "Frank" Frankenstein's creation is a combination of a male motorcycle rider who was killed in a accident and the once beautiful face of a High School co-ed portrayed by Sally Todd that he kills.
Harry Wilson played Oliver's male/female creation and if the plot didn't tell us. We would never have known that face was suppose to have been Sally Todd's.
The film is considered the last "Frankenstein" motion picture of the 1950's. Supposedly director Richard E. Cunha upon first seeing the make-up for the monster left the set in tears it was so terrible. One can imagine how he felt as the year before saw Christopher Lee as the monster in Hammer Film's now classic "The Curse of Frankenstein" as a make-up comparison..
And Hammer released a sequel earlier in 1958 "The Revenge of Frankenstein". Where the creature starts out looking perfect, but when the brain of the original donor takes over. He reverts back to a hunchback cripple.
The reverting was caused by the brain of the original donor reshaping the new body into what it knows was the original. This created Peter Cushing's undying Baron at the end of "The Revenge of Frankenstein". Instead of the undying monster of the Universal Studio's 1930's/1940's "Frankenstein" Series. Here is a link to my article comparing Universal Studios Frankenstein to Hammer Films Frankenstein:
I have only two pictures left to discuss both released in 1959 before my 13th birthday. The first is that classic (?) "The Giant Gila Monster". I mean who can't love a movie about "Hot Rod" driving Teenagers fighting a rear projection 70 foot long Giant Gila Monster? That walks through model sets and attacks Lionel Trains. This film has the distinction of being the first motion picture filmed in Dallas, Texas.
The motion picture opens with two Teenagers being killed when their car plunges into a ravine from the title monster. Teenager Chase Winstead, played by 30 year old Don Sullivan, joins the search for his missing friends with the Sheriff. Sullivan had already appeared in "The Monster of Piedras Blancas", the Western Vampire movie "Curse of the Undead" and would appear in 1960's "Teenage Zombies". Accompanying Chase is his girl friend Lisa played by Lisa Simone. Previous to this film Simone appeared in "Missile to the Moon" a lower budgeted remake of the low budgeted "Cat Women of the Moon",
After "The Gila Monster" attacks the train. It heads for the local Teenage "Sock Hop". Chase loads his "Hot Rod" with nitroglycerin and fixes it to drive straight at the lizard saving the town,
The last film I want to write about was the lower half of a double bill with a picture entitled "Gigantis, the Fire Monster". Which in actuality was the 1955 sequel to 1954's "Gojira (Godzilla)" known in Japan as "Godzilla's Counterattack" in English. The script for the English language re-edit was by writer Ib Melchior. Who had made "The Angry Red Planet" and would make "Reptilicus". Melchior's life is very interesting and includes spying for the United States during World War 2. Here is a link to my biography should my reader be interested:
The lower half picture was "Teenagers From Outer Space" and strangely it had a pretty good story line, but a terrible monster called a "Gargon". Isn't it wonderful what changing one letter "o" to "a" can do? The producers make a Greek "Gorgon" into a "Gargon". Also instead of having snakes for hair. The "Gargon" is nothing more than a very badly superimposed see through lobster.
A spaceship with a screw like bottom literally screws itself into the earth leaving a crew escape hatch on the surface. Inside the ship are the two Teenagers of the title. The bad one is named Thor not Loki and played by Bryan Grant. The actor was born in England as Bryan Geoffrey Pearson. Pearson's wife Ursula under her married last name was also in the film as "Hilda". The good Teenager is named Derek and played by David Love. Who was born in Los Angeles as Charles Robert Kaltenthaler.
Thor immediately kills the pet dog "Sparky" of Betty Morgan. Derek sees the dog tag on the skeleton and states there is intelligent life on the planet. Thor could care less as their mission is to find suitable breeding grounds for the "Gargon's" and intelligent life means a food source for their planets own food source the "Gargon's". Initially the "Gargon" seems sickly, but soon the Earth's atmosphere makes it grow to gigantic proportions.
Apparently no one knows who their parents are on the planet the Teenagers come from, but it turns out that Derek is the Leader's Son and next in line. However, Derek decides to find "Sparky's" owner. Enter the girl and love interest played by Dawn Bender. This would be Bender's last film work. She had started as a baby in 1937 and was also the member of the "500 Club" having appeared in at least 500 radio programs.
While Derek is learning what Earth people are like. Thor is hunting him down to kill him by order of the leader. Below Derek meets Betty's "Gramps" played by character actor Harvey B. Dunn.
Below David Love's "Derek" and Dawn Bender's "Betty Morgan" meet the mate shot of the horrifying "Gargon". They lure it to some electrical lines and when it touches them we have fried lobster.
In the end Derek sacrifices his life to save the Earth by pretending to be true to the leader. He gives co-ordinates for the Space Armada that causes them to crash on his site. Betty remembers Derek's words to her:
I shall make the Earth my home. And I shall never, never leave itDepending on whose source you read "Teenagers from Outer Space" either cost $14,000, or $20,000 to make. In the U.K. the movie was known as "The Gargon Terror" and was originally titled "The Ray Gun Terror".
There were a lot of other films aimed at a pre-teen and teen audiences at the time. Two other examples were "Love Me Tender" and "Loving You" starring somebody called Elvis Presley, but the pictures I covered in my article are some of my favorites.