Thursday, January 29, 2015

STEVE REEVES: A Look At His Films

Any fan of Richard O'Brien's "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" knows the line from the song "Sweet Transvestite" about Steve Reeves, BUT do they know who Steve Reeves was? This is a look at not only Reeves, but the whole worldwide phenomena during the first half of the 1960's known as the "Sword and Sandal" movie.


Body Builder/Actor Steve Reeves is not related in any way to Actor George Reeves, who played "Superman" on early 1950's television. Nor are either of these two actors related to Actor Christopher Reeve who played "Superman" in a 1978 movie EXCEPT for the similarities in their last names.


When Joseph E. Levine released the English language dub of "Hercules" in 1959 it seemed that suddenly a whole new form of entertainment was created. It had not been. What could qualify as "Sword and Sandal" films had been around since the motion picture industry began. The only real difference was most of those films had a Religious and Biblical cover story to them.

The first such film was in 1903 produced by the French company Pathe based upon the story of "Sampson and Delilah". These "Biblical" films seemed to have a taste for subtle sex. During 1923 Cecil B. DeMille figured a way around the U.S. Censors while filming his two part original "The Ten Commandments". The first half told the story of Moses and the Israelite's quest for freedom from the bondage of Egypt's Pharaoh in pure biblical terms. While  the second half allowed De Mille to prove his point about censorship and the bible. That half of his epic was about two brothers one of who became a minister while the second broke everyone of the Ten Commandments. De Mille had the full approval of the U,S, Censors, because to them he was presenting a morality tale. Yet, any other film made at the time and not attached to a biblical story would have been immediately censored and condemned by Christian organizations.

Moving to 1949 Cecil B. De Mille would remake that 1903 French film starring Victor Mature as Samson, Hedy Lamarr as Delilah and Angela Lansbury as Delilah's sister Semadar. The motion picture was based upon the Bible story, but De Mille continued making his point. |

Variety described the finished motion picture not as religious, but as a:
lusty action story with a heavy coating of torrid-zone romance                

1951 brought MGM's lavish all star production of Henryk Sienkiewicz's novel of Roman decay under the Emperor Nero "Quo Vadis" to the screen with Nero being played with flair by Peter Ustinov. Its a tale about Roman Centurion Robert Taylor falling in love with a Christian girl played by Deborah Kerr. "Sword and Sandal" action with that needed touch of Christianity and the Bible. As a side note the Assistant Director of the Italian production company was Sergio Leone who would create the first successful Spaghetti western "A Fistful of Dollars" in 1964.

1953 would see the first motion picture in CinemaScope "The Robe". Although the process in another form called "Grandeur" was used in the 1930 Western "The Big Trail" directed by Raul Walsh and starring the newly named John Wayne.

"The Robe" was freely based upon Lloyd C. Douglas's novel about what happens to the Robe worn by Jesus at the Crucifixion, Shades of "Quo Vadis"  as once more we see a Roman Centurion this time played by Richard Burton falling for a Christian women this time played by Jean Simmons. In a supporting role was Victor Mature as a Christian slave named Demetrius. The film was such a success that 20th Century Fox created a sequel for 1954 "Demetrius and the Gladiators" starring Mature and co-starring Susan Hayward as Caligula's sexy wife Messalina, 
Also in 1954 was a strange Biblical film. It had Art Deco sets and obvious method acting by its young star Paul Newman then in vogue. The motion picture was based upon the Thomas B. Costain novel "The Silver Chalice" about a Greek Artisan, Newman, asked to make a silver chalice to hold the cup used by Jesus at the last supper. Virginia Mayo and Jack Palance co-starred using other new age acting styles and adding to the pure weirdness of the movie.

These Sudo-Biblical films were being made as were Westerns, because they were deemed safe during the paranoia of  America's Cold War environment that I was growing up in at the time. Also who could question a film about the Bible as being bad for Americans? This stage of the evolution of the "Sword and Sandal" film was about to change though.


The tone of these movies changed to more historical than biblical in Hollywood sense in 1955 and 1956. The first film of this type that I remember starred Kirk Douglas and was "Ulysses". The motion picture was actually made in Italy by Carlo Ponti in 1954, but not released in the United States until 1955 when I would see it at the Wiltern Theater. I have a download of the original Italian language version with subtitles. The film was based upon Homer's "The Odyssey", but as the motion picture was Italian the names used are not the original Greek. So instead of the Greek "Odysseus" we have the Roman "Ulysses" being played by Douglas. The script was co-written by Ben Hecht and co-directed, unaccredited, by cinematographer Mario Bava. It is interesting to watch the original Italian film as Kirk Douglas' voice had to be dubbed and even though he spoke the language for some reason Anthony Quinn's also. I have attached a portion of the climatic scene, from  the English dub, where Ulysses has returned home to find his wife besieged by suitors intent on marrying her for his Kingdom of Ithaca.  

Moving to 1956 we find two more "Sword and Sandal" films from Hollywood. The first I remember seeing in the theaters was directed by American Robert Wise and was the big budgeted "Helen of Troy". The motion picture is loosely based upon Homer, but from the prequel piece to "The Odyssey"  "The Iliad". This was another major Hollywood star studded production of the period on an international scale. The film was a joint American, Italian, French, U.K. endeavor. For example playing Helen was Italian actress Rossana Podesta, French leading man Jacques Sernas was Paris, Achilles was British actor Stanley Baker. Just to give you some idea of this mixed cast all speaking English. Miss Podesta had to learn her English lines phonetically. As Helen's handmaiden was an unknown French actress named Bridgette Bardot.

Richard Burton was back in 1956 in the title role of "Alexander the Great" and even Cecil B. De Mille went biblical again with his lavish remake of "The Ten Commandments" running 3 hours and 25 minutes not including the 15 minute intermission which originally accompanied the roadshow engagement I saw. Into this world of mega mini-epics Joseph E. Levine, who had co-produced the extremely successful 1956 American re-edit of the Toho Studios 1954 film "Gojira" into "Godzilla, King of the Monsters", would release the English dubbed Italian film "Hercules" to unexpected success.

So now the story of Steve Reeves and the "Sword and Sandal" films of the 1960's is set.



A friend once remarked that  Steve Reeves is the only "Hercules". I would agree, but add we have a generation gap in place. As most of those on that page only know two or three other actors including another "Mr. Universe" Arnold Schwarzenegger. Who followed in Reeves' footstep with 1969's  "Hercules in New York". However, that motion picture was a perfect example of the need for dubbing as the Greek Demi-God had a very strong Austrian accent in this comedy.

Steve Reeves was born in GLASOW--not Scotland, but Montana on January 21, 1926. After his father was killed in a farming accident. Steve at the age of ten moved with his mother Goldie Reeves to Oakland, California and became interested in body building while attending Castlemont High School. His body building training began on his own in the garage, but he would join Ed Yarick's Gym in Oakland and continued under Yarick's tutor-ledge to improve his body. By 1944 Steve Reeves stood Six Feet One Inch and weighed in at 203 pounds.

With World World 2 in full force after graduating from Castelmont, Reeves enlisted in the army and served in the Philippines until the war's end. He was 20 at the time and returned to body building winning in 1946 the "Mr. Pacific Coast" title in Oregon. At the time acting, or any other future for him was not in his mindset.

1947 found Steve Reeves repeating as "Mr. Pacific Coast". He set his body building sights higher and also in 1947 Reeves became "Mr. America". During 1948 Steve Reeves made his first attempt to become the National Amateur Bodybuilders Association (NABBA) "Mr. Universe", but placed second. However, in 1948 Reeves did win the "Mr. World" title and in 1949 he would slip to Third Place in the "Mr. Universe" contest. During these years Steve Reeves also started to study acting full time until he had a falling out with Stella Adler at her famed acting studio and left it.

At the time Cecil B. De Mille was casting for "Samson and Delilah" and Steve Reeves was asked to try out for the part of Samson. According to the story he actually refused De Mille's offer of the role, because De Mille wanted him to loose 15 pounds and that would affected the muscle structure Reeves had worked so hard to build up. As mentioned earlier the part of Sampson went to Victor Mature,but the fact that De Mille had asked Steve Reeves to try out for the role reflected on his actual ability to perform. One has to speculate as to where his career might have gone had he won that coveted role in such a high profile film and if he would have ever made the Italian film that became "Hercules" in 1958. This is just a "What If" question and of course there are so many "What if's" that we will never know the answer too.

After being passed over he was given a shot later in 1949 in a pilot for a purposed Television Show entitled "Kimbar of the Jungle" which was a Tarzan rip off.

In 1950 Steve Reeves obtained one of his goals by being named "Mr. Universe" and started a WorldTour in that capacity, but acting now had become his dream. Reeves would make his official acting debut in the classic (?) film "Jail Bait" produced and directed by Ed Woods released May 2, 1954. This was Ed Wood's attempt at film noir. Steve Reeves played detective Bob Lawrence who along with fellow detective Inspector Johns played by Lye Talbot, become involved in a case about a famous doctor's son who admires a noted criminal. Producer Edward Small had written a story back in 1935 about a gangster having plastic surgery to avoid being discovered by the police and that formed the basis for the film's plot.

Steve Reeve's second motion picture part was 1954's "Athena" a musical comedy starring Jane Powell, Edmund Purdom and Debbie Reynolds. Reeves was listed 18th in the part of Ed Perkins a young man Athena's Grandfather has been training for the "Mr. Universe" competition. Can you say type casting?

"Athena" was followed by walk-on's on many television shows, but no more film acting roles. On January 31, 1955 Steve Reeves married Sandra Smith Schakel. George Helmer co-founder of the Steve Reeves International Society provided the above video. The couple would only remain married for one year and get a divorce.

Reeves kept appearing in television walk-on's until fate in the form of. Italian director Pietro Francisici stepped in after seeing "Athena". Francisici approached Steve Reeves to come to Italy were he was producing a film called "Le fatiche di Ercole (The Labors of Hercules)". The movie was very loosely based upon the Greek Poem "Argonautica" by Apollonius of Rhodes written in the 3rd Century B.C. and other myths. Except instead of Jason being the central character Francisici made Hercules giving Reeves the star billing. The cinematography was by Mario Bava and the film was a hit in Italy after being released on February 20, 1958 and would have "Labored" there as an unfulfilled one from Jupiter (the Roman equivalent to Zeus) by Hercules had not American producer/promoter Joseph E. Levine stepped in.


Warner Brothers advanced Levine $300,000 in 1959 for what they called "THE PRIVILEGE" of releasing the film out of Italy. Before Levine's campaign was completed the film would gross in the United States and Canada alone 4.7 million of those 1959 dollars for Warner Brothers. When the average price of an Adult admission was a staggering one dollar.

The above was one of Levine's newspaper ads and he had a major television campaign going for the film. As I remember every daytime pre-teen and teen program in the Los Angeles area was running trailers for the motion picture. The film was released in the United States on July 22, 1959 right in the middle of Summer Vacation which in 1959 usually occurred across the country at the same time each year. Thereby creating one large available audience for a smartly promoted motion picture.

Both the Hollywood Studios and the film critics panned the film, but American's loved it. I owned both the tie in Dell Comic Book, a lot of movies had Dell tie in's, and the phonograph record released for sale with the English dub sound track on it and illustrations from the film on the front and back covers. Story records were still a popular item in the United States at the time and Joseph E, Levine's publicity department was on a roll. Also racking in side revenue for Levine's "Embassy Pictures" distribution arm.
Overnight American Body Builder turned Italian actor Steve Reeves was a household word and International Star. While film companies were looking for more of the same both in this country and in Italy. The true "Peplum" films aka: Italian "Sword and Sandal" epics had begun and would remain in place into 1964 when Italy would once more change the World's film industry with "Westerns all'italiana (Spaghetti Westerns)".

With the success of "Hercules" in 1959 Pietro Francisici brought Reeves back in "Ercole e la regina di Lidia (Hercules and the Queen of Lydia)". The English title was "Hercules Unchained".This was an Italian/French co-production and as with the Italian/Spanish Westerns of the late 1960's the first of such multiple country enterprises. Sylvia Koscina was now back as Hercules' wife Iole and the film tells about their adventures in Lydia and how that countries Queen wants Hercules for her own. The film brings back characters and actors from the first picture. They aide Iole against the Lydian Queen who has given Hercules a drought to forget who he is and everyone he knew.

The film received better reviews than the previous quickie as both Reeves and the other actors had time to improve their skills and the budget was much larger. Playing the Queen of Lydia was French actress Sylvia Lopez who dominated the picture even in the dubbed version. Sadly this up and coming actress died at the age of 28 from leukemia.

1959 would not only see Steve Reeves make "Hercules Unchained", but four other films as well. The sequel to "Hercules" was not released in the United States until July 13, 1960 and the delays in the release dates often confused Western viewers as Reeves of course looks younger in some motion pictures as a result.

The first non-Hercules film in that other 1959 grouping  to reach the United States was "ll terrore del barbari (The Terror of the Barbarians)" aka: "Goliath and the Barbarians" released here in November of 1959. Eight full months prior to "Hercules Unchained". The film was the first of many from  American International Pictures and in the English dub Steve Reeves went from being "Emilliano" to the more biblical sounding "Goliath". As was AIP's practice the original score was replaced by one from Les Baxter and for their $20,000 investment the studio made $1.6 million in North America alone. A sure sign that Steve Reeves' was a money maker. On the same bill was "Sign of the Gladiator".

The first of the wave of non-Reeves Italian/French "Sword and Sandal" films. It starred Swedish actress Anita Ekberg soon to be seen in Federico Fellini's classic 1960 film "La Dolce Vita (The Sweet Life)". The actual title of the motion picture that opened with "Goliath and the Barbarians" was "Nei Segno di Roma (The Sign of Rome)" aka: "Sheba and the Gladiator". The film on its own earned AIP an additional $1.25 million dollars. American International Pictures had discovered a money maker.

The next film from 1959 and released in the United States on December 3rd of that year was "La battaglia di Maratona (Battle of Marathon). Known in this country as "The Giant of Marathon" and starring a clean shaven Steve Reeves. What makes this particular movie even more interesting to the film buff and illustrates the direction being taken by Italian "Peplum" is that "The Giant of Marathon" was co-directed by Jacques Tourneur and Mario Bava. Very soon it would be "in" for Americans to appear in such films as would happen to Foreign Westerns after Clint Eastwood.


Starting during the silent motion picture era around the World Edward Bulwer-Lytton's novel "TheLast Days of Pompeii" has been a film favorite. Merian C. Cooper two years after bringing the audience the original 1933 "King Kong" made his version. As recently as 2014 a new filmversionwas released in 3-D. Back in 1959 Cineproduzioni Associate in Italy, Procura in Spain and Transocean in Germany came together to tackle the 1834 novel. The film starred Steve Reeves as Glaucus, ChristineKaufmann as Ione four years before she would marry American actor Tony Curtis and Fernando Rey  (Alain Charnier aka: Frog One  in the "French Connection" movies) as Arbaces the evil high priest.

Sergio Leone co-directed the film and co-wrote the script with Sergio Carbucci who in 1966 created the character "Django", Along with Ennio de Concini who  wrote the script for the Henry Fonda, Audrey Hepburn 1956 "War and Peace" and in 1960 Mario Bava's "The Mask of Satan" aka: "Black Sunday" among others.

The film was released in Italy November 1959 and on July 17, 1960 in the United States four days after "Hercules Unchained". So in less than a week we saw both a bearded and clean shaven Steve Reeves..

The final film Steve Reeves would make in Italy during 1959 was "Agi Murad il diavolo bianco (The White Warrior)". He would play Agi Murad a 19th Century Chechen chieftain in a film loosely based upon Leo Tolstoy's "Chadzi-Murat".This film was a prime example of my comment about United States releases of Reeves' films causing some confusion with his fans at the box office. The movie was not shown in this country until February 10, 1961.

Finding information about Steve Reeves' second wife Aline Czartjarwicz on line was very hard. I thank "The Steve Reeves International Society: Newsletter for 1999, Volume Five, Issue Two" for the following information:
Well into the shooting of the film, Gertz (Steve's agent) got word that another studio wanted Steve for "The White Devil" (aka The White Warrior). Gertz sent Philippo Fortuni, his representative in Rome, to talk to Steve about the script. Steve was seeing Aline Czartjarwicz at the time, a lovely blue-eyed beauty whom he'd met at a dinner during the making of "Hercules."
Aline was working with the Italian studios and was able to help Steve review the contract for the White Warrior. After reviewing it through Aline's translation from Italian to English, Steve wanted some changes. She gave him the name of lawyer and Steve presented the revised contract to the studio and to Fortuni. All parties were in agreement and Steve signed the contract agreement.
"The White Warrior" was scheduled to start shooting a month after "Hercules Unchained" was finished. Aline was a very good businesswomen and handled business in just about any language. She spoke six languages fluently and was a quick study with others when needed. She developed many important working relationships with the studios in Rome. Her background afforded her the opportunity to learn many languages. Aline's father was a Polish Prince and as a child she had an English governess, a French maid and they lived very close to the Russian border in Poland. She attended school in Switzerland and had friends who lived in Spain and Italy. She picked up some Italian and Spanish from them. Early in her adult life she went to Italy on vacation and found a job there. Within three months she could speak Italian fluently. Steve and Aline started dating on a regular basis towards the end of the filming of Hercules Unchained. Their common directions would not only create a successful business relationship for them but also began a deep love for each other.
Steve Reeves and Aline Czartjawicz would be married during 1963.

Which now brings my reader to one of my two favorite Steve Reeves films. The first could easily and truly be described as "Steve Reeves Plays Errol Flynn" and the second is considered the finest film he ever made.

On November 17, 1960 Italians were the first to see Steve Reeves in a non-Pellum, role as Pirate Henry Morgan in "Morgan il pirata (Morgan the Pirate)". Once again it would not be until July 6, 1961 that I was able to enjoy this very good old fashion swashbuckler. The motion picture was co-directed by American Andre de Toth. Who is best known for the 1953 Vincent Price 3-D film "House of Wax". Not because he directed it, but because de Toth was blind in one eye, wore an eye patch, and was directing a movie that depended upon depth of field. His co-director was Primo Zeglio who was known for writing the screenplay for 1954's "Attila, The Scourge of God" starring Anthony Quinn and Sofia Loren which was an earlier directed motion picture by the previously mentioned Pietro Francisci.

Although this film tells of Morgan's rise and his taking of the impregnable Panama City from the Spanish by crossing the jungles and entering it from the blind side. A lot of the earlier story is right out of the Errol Flynn and Olivia deHavilland's motion picture from 1935 "Captain Blood".

The my second favorite Steve Reeves film was "ll Ladro di Bagdad (The Thief of Bagdad)", Released in both Italy and the United States in 1961. From a film history point of view Steve Reeves was now going to be compared to two classic films. The first was the original 1924 silent film starring Douglas Fairbanks. The second was the 1940 version produced by Alexander Korda and directed by Korda and his brother Vincent. Along with William Cameron Menzies. Reeves' film  would be there equal in many ways.

The Thief of Bagdad (1924) - film poster.jpgThief Of Bagdad (1940).jpg
                  1924                                             1940

Directed by American Arthur Lubin whose credits span many genres. Among his works were the 1943 "Phantom of the Opera", several Abbott and Costello comedies, the "Francis the Talking Mule" series which lead him to create the 1950's sitcom "Mr. Ed" and the Don Knott's movie "The Incredible Mr. Limpet".

The basic story line has an evil wizard putting a curse upon the beautiful Princess and it is up to the thief to overcome dangers and find the "Blue Rose" who will lift the spell. Of course there was a Dell Comic to add to my long lost collection.

While these films were being made in 1961 a friend and fellow body builder in the "Mr. Universe" competition Reg Park entered the World of Pellum strongmen also as "Hercules". Another actual American actor known for his portrayals of "Tarzan" in a series of 1950's films also came over to Italy. This was Reeves' friend Gordon Scott and he would battle Steve Reeves in the United States for Box Office dollars.While on television Joseph E. Levine's Embassy Pictures put together a group of 14 Italian "Sword and Sandal" films under the banner "The Sons of Hercules" and sold them to television. The series even had a theme song and suddenly Samson, Ulysses and Atlas were all Hercules' sons and were edited in some cases to fit into a one hour time slot including commercials.. The films mainly featured Ed Fury actually body builder Edmund Holovchi and Dan Vadis actually Constantine Daniel Vafiadis who had been born in Shanghai China.

Speaking of Reg Park he would make one of the most interesting and popular of all the "Pellum" films: "Ercole al centro della terra (Hercules in the Center of the Earth") aka: "Hercules in the Haunted World" aka: "Hercules Conquerors the Vampires". A great film directed by, co-written and filmed by cinematographer Mario Bava. The film also featured Christopher Lee as the evil King Lico. As with all such films when it came to English dubbing who knew what the actor would sound like and in Lee's case it was obviously not his. In fact you never heard Steve Reeves' actual voice in any of his English dubbed motion pictures..

In the Hollywood that had laughed at the 1959 release of Steve Reeves "Hercules" their point of view would change as the popularity of the films grew. Kirk Douglas started that change with his already planned film "Spartacus" on October 6, 1960. This was the first true American "Sword and Sandal" film since the early 1950's. Douglas hired director Stanley Kubrick and an all star cast to back him up. It consisted of  Lawrence Olivier, Jean Simmons, Charles Laughton, Peter Ustinov and Tony Curtis.

On May 3, 1961 multi-Oscar winning producer George Pal released "Atlantis, the Lost Continent". Not based upon Homer,but Plato. This was a fantasy film about a Greek fisherman rescuing the Atlantean Princess and becoming involved in a political struggle on the Lost Continent. The normally excellent Pal made a film of the quality of those turning up on the "Sons of Hercules" television program. It starred unknown Italian actor Sal Ponti under the name Anthony Hall. Pal used props on the MGM lot from "Forbidden Planet", clothing from "Ben Hur" and stock footage from "Quo Vadis" and his own "The Naked Jungle". As bad as it was I still liked it and of course had the Dell Comic Book.

After delays caused by the long illness of his female star on July 31, 1963 Joseph L. Mankiewicz released his four hour and thirteen minute, not including intermission, Pellum film starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton "Cleopatra". The following year Samuel Bronson got into the act when on March 26, 1964 he released the Anthony Mann directed "Fall of the Roman Empire" starring Alec Guinness, Stephen Boyd, Sophia Loren, Christopher Plummer and featuring James Mason, Mel Ferrer, Omar Sharif and John Ireland. This three hour and eight minute telling of the last days of Marcus Aurelius and the rise and fall of his son Commodus would be remade 36 years later by Ridley Scott as "Gladiator".

Returning to Italy in 1961 Steeve Reeves would make "La guerra di Troia (The Trojan Horse)" aka: "The Wooden Horse of Troy". While not on the level of the big budgeted 1956 "Helen of Troy" I found this a highly enjoyable film with Reeves playing Trojan "Aeneas". Who was able to escape the fall after the Trojan Horse was brought into his city with others and assimilate back into Greek society. "The Trojan Horse" would not open in the United States until July 1, 1962. In 2004 a restored and re-mastered version of the film was shown at the "61st Venice International Film Festival" as part of  "Storia Segreta del Cinema Italiano: Italian Kings of the Bs".

Of interest to film buffs was the American actor playing the part of Odysseus John Drew Barrymore seen on the left of the following still.

He was the son of actor John Barrymore and actress Dolores Costello. John Drew Barrymore is remembered today not for his alcoholic binges famous within the Barrymore Family, or his motion pictures, but as the father of actress Drew Barrymore. Barrymore started acting in Italian films in "Ti aspettero all'inferno (I'll See You in Hell)" released in Italy on October 29, 1960. The motion picture was about three robbers whose diamond heist goes wrong and they are being pursued by the police. His final film before returning to United States television was a fun little piece released in Italy in 1964 and here in March 1965. "Roma contro Roma (Rome Conquerors Rome)" aka: "Night Star: Goddess of Electra" aka: "War of the Zombies". Barrymore as Aderbad brings back the dead to help him conqueror Rome and the world/

Also in 1961 production was to start on "Romolo e Remo (Romulus and Remus)" aka"Duel of the Titans". Directed Sergio Corbucci wanted Steve Reeves to play both parts as they were twins. Apparently Reeves objected stating that was going to be too involved from both a acting and filming perspective. Corbucci agreed and further agreed to Reeves suggestion of using his friend Gordon Scott in one of the roles. Scott went to Italy to play Remus the quick tempered brother and Reeves was Romulus the level headed and slow to burn brother. Scott was getting the highest salary he had ever had and would remain in Italy to film eleven additional motion pictures through 1968.

The production under the American title of "Duel of the Titans" was not released until June of 1963. Two years after it was filmed and after several motion pictures with both Gordon Scott and Steve Reeves had played in the United States.

An Aside:

I received an early discharge from the Navy in late 1969 to attend "The Pasadena Playhouse" in their set design and lighting classes. However, the school closed down over lack of funding and I enrolled in Los Angeles Valley College in Van Nuys, California in Dramatic Arts and Theater Management. On my non-class days, or when I had only a morning one. I would sometimes go to a little bar around the corner from my parents home where I was staying. I only went when the bar had just opened for the day. So I could spend time in that empty room discussing motion pictures and theater design with the bartender who was a Cinema Student at USC.

One day, though, at one end of the bar and by himself in the shadows was an elderly, to me at the time, looking man. It clicked in my brain that I was looking at Gordon Scott. So I went over and introduced myself and we had a pleasant conversation. When he left I had the impression that he was both a lonely person and bitter over some of his experiences in Italy. Some of the language he used in describing the actress Rosanna Podesta and other names familiar to me was anything but flattering. I often wondered where he went afterwards. According to Gordon Scott's biography the last two decades of his life were spent touring Movie Conventions.He passed away April 30, 2007 as a result of lingering complications from several heart surgeries at the age of 80.

Back to Steve Reeves:

In 1961 the search was on by Harry Saltzman and Albert R. "Cubby" Broccoli for an actor to play James Bond in "Dr.No". Actors were turning down the role for various reasons and when it came to Steve Reeves he refused it for one simple reason: Money. Saltzman and Broccoli wanted him to take far less than he was currently being paid in Italy. Why knowing his current salary they would offer Steve Reeves less money is strange, but in hindsight this was his Second "What If" moment. One solid point without debate was had he accepted there never would have been a Sean Connery and we can speculate today, IF that excellent actor would have gone beyond supporting roles had he never been offered the role of 007,

On August 24, 1962 "ll figlio de Spartacus (Son of Spartacus) came out in Italy. It would be May 29, 1963 before I would be able to see the film as "The Slave: the Son of Spartacus". The story takes place 25 years after his father's rebellion and Spartacus might be a little surprised to find his son now a Roman soldier. However, eventually Randus learns of his birthright and will free slaves himself after having been captured by Slavers. A simple, but effective story that anyone knowing the genre and wants "something visual that's not too abysmal" like myself enjoyed back when it came out.This was another fun entertainment from Sergio Corbucci.

Also in the cast was Jacques Sernas who had played Paris in Robert Wise's 1956 "Helen of Troy".

On November 28, 1962 La leggenda di Enea (The Legend of Aeneas) was released in Italy. It wouldn't be until June 1, 1964 the film now called "The Avenger" arrived in the United States. For U.S. television the film's name was changed to "The Last Glory of Troy" and in the U.K. the title used was "War of the Trojans".

The film is a sequel to "La guerra di Troia (The Trojan Horse)" and instead of Homer. The audience was now seeing a motion picture loosely based upon Publius Vergillus Maro's epic poem "The Aeneis". For those of my readers who have read "Virgil's" work the film tells a condensed version of the Poem's second half. Also the original Italian running time was 105 minutes while the English dub was ten minutes shorter. I could not locate anything about what was removed.

In 1895 an Italian writer named Emilio Salgari wrote a novel "I Misteri della Jungia Nera (The Mystery of the Black Jungle)" and created the character Sandokan. This would be the first in a series of 11 books that still thrill Italian youngsters and adults. The character of Sandokan a Malaysian Pirate fighting colonialism, a favorite topic of Salgari, first appeared on screen in 1941 with two films. The character would have a mini-television series 1976 and a Spanish animated series in 1992. We are interested in the first two of a series of four films which starred Steve Reeves. The last two starred Ray Danton another American actor best known for two biographical films "The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond" (1960) and 1962's "The George Raft Story". At the time he made his two Sandokan films Diamond was still married to actress Julie Adams ("The Creature from the Black Lagoon).

Steve Reeves' first film was entitled: "Sandokan, la tigre di Mompracem (Sandokan the Great)" released in Italy on December 19, 1963. The movie would be released in the United States on May 1, 1965. On October 16, 1964 in Italy "I pirati della Malesia (Pirates of Malaysia)" was released with Reeves reprising his role of Sandokan. The motion picture would also be known as "The Pirates of the Seven Seas" and "Sandrokan: Pirate of Malaysia" released during the United States.

What was the first Spaghetti western is debatable as is the year the genre actually started. However, with the sure volume being turned out in 1964 that year could be considered the actual International starting point. The most influential of these films was released that year in Italy directed by Sergio Leone and starring another American from the popular "Rawhide" television series Clint Eastwood. Its title was of course: "Per un pugno di dollari" whose literal translation to English is "For a Fistful of Dollars", but became known as "A Fistful of Dollars". Although the on screen title was: "Fistful of Dollars".  In any event 1964 marked the  end of the "Peplum" movies.

On April 5, 1968 the western "Vivo per la tua morte (I Live for Your Death)" was released in Italy. The screenplay was co-written by the film's star Steve Reeves based upon the novel "Judas Gun" by Gordon D. Shireffs. The film had been shot the previous year and directed by Alex Burks who in actuality was Camillo Bazzoni. Bazzoni's use of an English language name instead of his own was part of a practice in the Italian Spaghetti Western industry. It was thought the audience would believe the films were made by American's and starring American actors. Thereby bringing in larger revenue. Two prime examples of major acting players at the time were Bud Spencer who was actually Carlo Pedersoli and Terence Hill whose birth name was Mario Girotti. Both actor's legally changed their names as their success mounted.

This motion picture would finally be released in an English language dub in New York City on February 25, 1970 as "A Long Ride From Hell".The film is a tale of two brothers falsely accused of a bank robbery who are sent to Yuma Prison. After escaping Reeve's Mike Sturges seeks revenge on those responsible.

Producer George Pal had plans to turn Lester Dent's "Doc Savage" novels into a series of films. He approached Steve Reeves to play the part and he accepted it. The director was hired and  as the script was being finalized there was a writers strike and the film fell through. So "A Long Ride From Hell", became the last motion picture made by Steve Reeves.


Using the money he had saved Steve Reeves and his wife Aline moved to the community of Valley Center near Escondido a city within San Diego County, California. There he would purchase a ranch to breed horses. What should have been an ideal life for the couple ended tragically when Aline Reeves had a stroke and died in 1989.

I have already mentioned "The Steve Reeves International Society" in this article. It was founded in 1994 by Reeves and his business partner George L. Helmer. It is a source for everything Steve Reeves including a detailed 249 page biography by Mr. Helmer, cook books and body building books written by the actor and more. Attached is the direct link to the Society.

In Moose, Montana on June 24, 1994 Deborah Ann Engelhorn became the third wife of Steve Reeves, or did she? All the information on line I can find indicates this occurred, but then I found a link a Facebook Page and an article dated January 21, 2014.

On of the comments appears to have come from George L. Helmer and reads:

George Helmer Deborah Ann Englehorn was never married to Steve Reeves. She was his girl friend until Jan 2000. In March 2000 before Steve Died she married Gene Stewart.

I went to their current Facebook Page and found "Super Strength Training" is a Body Building Book Publisher. In fact on their page today, January 28, 2015 they are advertising two books by Reg Park. Their website for those interested is:


So what the real story is about Deborah Ann Emgelhorn and Steve Reeves I can not say for certain.

On May 1, 2000 Steve Reeves passed away. He had surgery on April 29th and a blot clot developed. Steve Reeve was cremated and his ashes scattered in Montana the state of his birth.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Richard Matheson: The Screenplays and Treatments

Richard Matheson shortly before his death

I first became acquainted with the work of Richard Matheson without knowing I was back in 1957. At the time I was sitting in the front row, always liked to look up at the screen, of the Ritz Theater in Van Nuys, California a suburb of Los Angeles. Don't look for the Ritz as many decades ago the theater became part of the City Hall Plaza. Anyway the movie 9 year old Lloyd was watching was entitled "The Incredible Shrinking Man". I have a DVD copy of this little gem with Swedish subtitles at home. Three years later I would discover it was from a novel "The Shrinking Man" by Richard Matheson who also wrote the screenplay. The film about an average man being exposed to possible nuclear radiation and shrinking continuously into nothingness, into eternity, or a meeting with God still works today. Even the elemental special effects from 1957 can still hold you, because you don't notice the crudeness of them by today's standards. The viewer is wrapped into the characters and the world facing "The Shrinking Man" by Matheson's words and imagery.

Two years later I admit to seeing a 1959 film entitled "The Beat Generation". The film has two distinctions. The first is that it is considered the very last "Film Noir" ever made and the second was the cast that included the then sex symbol Mamie Van Doren, Louie Armstrong, band leader Ray Anthony and Vampira. It was written by Matheson as a sensationalist look at the Beatnik Generation which I admit to being a follower earlier in my young life. At the time when my fathers parents still lived in Ocean Park between the communities of Santa Monica and Venice Beach. "Do you dig me man?"

It would be in 1960 that I finally put his name to the films and actually discovered Richard Matheson. A big thank you to Roger Corman and Vincent Price. It was at this time that Matheson became a major writer for both Corman and American International Pictures. By writing, in my opinion, the first two and best of the Roger Corman "Poe Films" and the funniest one three years later.

In "The House of Usher", Vincent Price portrayed the tortured Roderick Usher. Price is at his best, but even a great actor is tied to the words he must first speak.

The movie was shot in 15 days and the opening shot of Mark Damon as Philip Winthrop is very haunting as he rides through the a forest of burnt tress. Actually Corman received a call from one of his location crew that there had been a fire in Griffith Park that had just been put out. Corman always thinking instructed the crewman to go to Pickwick Stables and get a horse for Damon to ride. Called Damon and had him immediately report to wardrobe and go to the Park. He then sent his camera crew to do nothing more than shoot Damon riding through the still smoldering trees and shrubs and the opening shot was completed.

The budget for what is actually titled: The Fall of the House of Usher" was $300,000 and it would make $1,450,000 in just Canada and the United States alone.

Richard Matheson was born February 20, 1926  in Allendale , New Jersey and would pass away on June 23, 2013 in Los Angeles, Calkifornia at the age of 87. During those years he would write 28 novels ranging in topics from the above mention "The Shrinking Man" in 1956 to "The Memoirs of Wild Bill Hickock" in 1996. His last novel "Generations" would come out in 2012. The Website "Good Reads" describes Richard Matheson's last novel as:

"GENERATIONS is an autobiographical novel by Richard Matheson.  GENERATIONS takes place at a gathering of the Matheson family after the funeral of Matheson's father. While this meeting didn't actually take place Matheson uses the meeting to explore the many secrets and demons his family harbors. Matheson has never written an autobiography and his adolescence is something that has never been explored in articles or interviews. Matheson is sixteen when he tells the story. The book concludes with Matheson telling of the contentious relationship he had with his father."

Between 1950 and 1993 Richard Matheson would also write 99 short stories some of which were adaptations of his television scripts for programs like "The Twilight Zone" and TV movies such as "Duel" Steven Spielberg's first film as a director. Some of these stories were the reverse first written and published by Matheson and then turned into screenplays such as one short story "I Am Legend"  Which I will talk about a little later.

Richard Matheson would also write 25 screenplays which is what this article is about and three of them I have already been mentioned above. Matheson additionally wrote 33 television scripts. I have already mentioned "Duel", but his works would appear on "The Twilight Zone", "Star Trek", "Have Gun Will Travel" and "Combat" among others. In 1973 he wrote the television script for Dan Curtis' "Dracula" starring Jack Palance and in January 1980 Richard Matheson adapted Ray Bradbury's "The Martian Chronicles" into a successful three part mini-series starring Rock Hudson and Roddy McDowell for television.

In 1961 Matheson turned to Jules Verne to write the screenplay for a favorite American International Pictures film of mine starring Vincent Price and Charles Bronson "Master of the World". Actually Matheson took Verne's two novels "Robur the Conqueror" from 1886 and his 1904 sequel "The Master of the World" and combined and edited the stories into one screenplay. The character of Robur already had elements of Captain Nemo to him and Richard Matheson added more to give the viewers who were familiar with Walt Disney's movie from 1954 "Twenty-thousand Leagues Under the Sea" some strong similarities.  

Instead of the Nautilus we have a flying ship and Charles Bronson's detective John Strock, becomes more like Kirk Douglas' Ned Land. Instead of Professor Pierre Aronnax.  Jules Verne created Mr.Prudent an armament maker and head of an American balloon club. While the Professor's assistant/student Conseil is replaced by Prudent's daughter Dorothy. Who in Matheson's screenplay becomes the center of a love triangle between Strock  and another member of the balloon club Philip Evans. The movie is a lot of fun and much better than its reputation in my opinion. 

Richard Matheson would return in 1961 to Roger Corman and Edgar Allan Poe for his next screenplay "The Pit and the Pendulum". Once more starring Vincent Price and featuring Barbara Steele and John Kerr. In this production Matheson was faced with the problem of how to turn a very short story into a 90 minute motion picture.

Defending the screenplay Roger Corman mentions in the J. Philip Di Franco edited: "The Movie World of Roger Corman: 

The method we adopted on The Pit and the Pendulum was to use the Poe short story as the climax for a third act to the motion picture, because a two-page short story is not about to give you a ninety-minute motion picture. We then constructed the first two acts in what we hoped was a manner faithful to Poe, as his climax would run only a short time on the screen.
In Lucy Chase Williams' "The Complete Films of Vincent Price" Roger Corman  gives this explanation to how he approached the Poe stories in the form of screenplays:
I had a lot of theories I was working with when I did the Poe films...One of my theories was that these stories were created out of the unconscious mind of Poe and the unconscious mind never really sees reality, so until The Tomb of Ligeia, we never showed the real world...In Pit, John Kerr arrived in a carriage against an ocean background, which I felt was more representative of the unconscious. That horseback interlude was thrown out because I didn't want to have a scene with people out in broad daylight.

In my opinion there is a bit of a Shakespearean tragedy thrown into "The Pit and the Pendulum", but the classic scene remembered by most viewers does not even involve the Pendulum. It is that fade out of Barbara Steele's eyes in the Iron Maiden that has that perfect shock value.

"Movie Madness" released a DVD with both Roger Corman's "The Fall of the House of Usher" and "The Pit and the Pendulum". This is a must for any Corman, Price, Steele, or Richard Matheson fan.

In 1962 Matheson would team up with speculative fiction, horror and science fiction writer Charles Beaumont to once again bring Fritz Leiber's 1943 story "Conjure Wife" to the screen. It had been filmed in 1944 as "Weird Women" starring Lon Chaney, Jr, Ann Gwynne and Evelyn Ankers as part of Universal Studios "Inner Sanctum" series. Beaumont should be known to my readers at least for the following three screen plays: "The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao", "The Haunted Palace" and "Queen of Outer Space". He wrote 11 others within different genres.

This American International release was filmed in the U.K. as "Night of the Eagle" and released in the United States as "Burn Witch, Burn". A contemporary story of modern day witchcraft. The film was described by the New York Times as:

Simply as a suspense yarn, blending lurid conjecture and brisk reality, growing chillier by the minute, and finally whipping up an ice-cold crescendo of fright, the result is admirable. Excellently photographed (not a single "frame" is wasted), and cunningly directed by Sidney Hayers, the incidents gather a pounding, graphic drive that is diabolically teasing. The climax is a nightmarish hair-curler but, we maintain, entirely logical within the context.

Additionally the New York Times considered the film, at the time of its release, the most effective supernatural thriller to come out since the original "Village of the Damned" in 1960. Referring to a Val Lewton classic motion picture. The Times added the movie was the :  "best outright goose-pimplier dealing specifically with witchcraft since I Walked with a 1943". A testament to the screenplay Matheson and Beaumont collaborated upon.

Of note is that when this film was released in the U.K. it received and "X" Certificate for "Adults Only". Over time the British Censor Board reduced that rating first to "15 years and over" and then with the DVD release reduced the age to "12 years and older". While here in the United States as with many films from other countries things were definitely different. First there was no age restriction on the motion picture. Then there was the title change. Next there was a voice over prologue where a spell was invoked to protect the audience members from evil and as we entered the theater each ticket holder was given a small bag of salt. Along with an ancient incantation the salt was also to protect us from the witches we were about to meet. 

The story is about a College Professor whose career seems to be advancing in a speedy manner. Unbeknownst to the Professor is that his wife is a witch who has been helping him. The only problem is there is another such couple after the same prize. Speaking of prizes the film and screenplay was nominated for the 1963 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation.  

Tales of Terror 1962 poster.jpg

The mighty threesome of Roger Corman, Vincent Price and Richard Matheson later in 1962 released "Edgar Allan Poe's Tales of Terror". Co-starring Basil Rathbone and Peter Lorre. The old pro's were back and the fun was really starting with a little more "ham" than straight acting.

Matheson had it a lot easier of this screenplay than with "The Pit and the Pendulum" as the 89 minute film consisted on three of Poe's stories: "Morella", "The Black Cat" and "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar.  Vincent Price was both narrator for the tales as well as appearing in each of the three acts. While Rathbone and Lorre were not in all three.

Lawrence French for his work "The Making of the Raven" about the Roger Corman film I will look at next contained interviews with Richard Matheson about his screenplays. Concerning "Tales of Terror" Matheson was quoted as saying that "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar" was his favorite. He also added that he thought that act was:
pretty well done. It was pretty straight, except I added the doctor and Valdemar's wife to the story... They acted it pretty well for a change

1963 would be a year of comedy with two screenplays by Richard Matheson for American International Pictures. The first being my favorite of all the Poe films even though it only kept the name of the poem "The Raven" and the second a homage to the screwball comedies of the 1930's and 1940's called rightly enough "A Comedy of Terror". Between the two films there would be four old pro's and one young upstart way out of his league at the time named Jack Nicholson.

According to Richard Matheson in the Lawrence French book:
After I heard they wanted to make a movie out of a poem, I felt that was an utter joke, so comedy was really the only way to go with it,
The end result was a Three Star stand-up of the Horror movies associated with Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre and Vincent Price and did it work at the time and it still does. Some of the scenes between Karloff and Price are hilarious and one wonder's who else was in on the jokes. The names that Matheson came up with for the three leads were also just so perfect. Karloff was "Dr. Scarabus", Price "Dr. Erasmus Craven" and Lorre "Dr. Adolphus Bedlo". I'm sure Jack Nicholson just loved his character's name of Rexford Bedlo as he was Lorre's son in the film. Lorre was "The Raven" of the piece complete with feathers.

"The Comedy of Terrors" starred the same three horror stars Karloff, Price and Lorre, but added Basil Rathbone. Jack Nicholson was not in this film. However, 1930's and 1940's comedian Joe E. Brown played a cemetery grounds keeper that was having problems with bumbling grave robbers who wanted to use their only coffin over and over again.

Once more French gives us Richard Matheson's comments on this film:

It didn't lose any money. They [AIP] told me that the title itself cost them a lot. It's such a contradiction in terms, though. Terror sells and comedy makes them go away, so it's like they're walking in two directions at once. But I thought it was very clever to do a take off of Shakespeare's, Comedy of Errors.... I think they were probably sorry they didn't use a Poe title, because Poe had a certain marketability. I guess they couldn't figure out how to market it. But it was the last one because I was getting tired of writing about people being buried alive, so I decided to make a joke about it.

We now come to a work by Richard Matheson that spans the years between 1954 through 2007. First in the form of a novel entitled "I Am Legend".Then in three different motion pictures with one of the screenplays originally written by the author. Along with a rip off "Mockbuster" by "The Asylum" entitled "I Am Omega" that gives no credit to Richard Matheson. So let me start at the beginning with a quick look at the 1954 novel.


Robert Neville is the apparent sole survivor of a pandemic whose symptoms resemble Vampirism. The pandemic was a result of a war and was spread by dust storms and  mosquito's. For some reason Neville is immune to the virus. The reader learns in a flashback that his family became infected and he had to kill his wife when she arose from the dead. Neville has been forced to barricade himself in his Los Angeles apartment at night and scavenges for food and supplies by day.

He meets a women named Ruth that Neville believes is also immune to the plague, but who eventually informs him she is infected and that he killed her husband. It turns out that Ruth is the ranking member of a new society, but unlike the others she does not despise him.

Neville is captured and while imprisoned by the new society and awaiting his execution. Ruth comes to him and gives Neville some piles that will make his execution easier. As he waits and counts the hours left to him. Neville comes to realize that the vampires fear him as he had feared them. He also realizes their desire to destroy him isn't something that he really can condemn as it makes perfect sense. Robert Neville represents"the old humanity" of the world and they are the new. As the pills take effect Neville thinks:"[I am] a new superstition entering the unassailable fortress of forever. I am legend". End of the story.

The first version of Richard Matheson's novel was a black and white Italian/American co-production from 1964 "L'ultimo uomo della Terra(The Last Man on Earth) starring, of course. Vincent Price. The producers of this film was an interesting combination of "The Quickie King" Robert L. Lippert and Samuel Arkoff of American International Pictures. The script was written by Furio M. Moneti, Ubaldo Ragona, William F. Leicester an American Television actor of the 1960's, and one Logan Swanson who was actually Matheson himself. After seeing the end result he didn't want his name associated with the screenplay itself. It was enough to Matheson that his name would show as the source material.

The film is actually very faithful to the 1954 novel, but depending upon the version you see actual Italian language, or English dub Price's name is either Dr. Robert Morgan, or Dr. Frank Neville. British producer Anthony Hinds originally obtained the rights to the novel for Hammer Films and Richard Matheson wrote that original script. However, British Censors got into the act and outright band the script and story. Originally Hinds had hired Fritz Lang to direct, but after the U.K. censors involvement the entire Hammer production was dropped. As a result and to regain some of the loss Anthony Hinds in turn sold Matheson's original script to Robert L. Lippert. Lippert approached American International Pictures to co-produce and distribute the film. Lippert and Arkoff hired director Sidney Salkow who had directed among other features 1940's "The Lone Wolf Meets a Lady, 1954's "Sitting Bull", 1963's "Twice Told Tales" for AIP. To save more money the production was moved to Italy and Italian actors and crews were used.

Producer/director George A. Romero on the 2008 DVD extra's for his original "The Night of the Living Dead" admitted to basically ripping of the Richard Matheson novel for his film after seeing Vincent Price in "The Last Man on Earth".

The second version of the 1954 novel was 1971's "The Omega Man" starring Charlton Heston.
In 1975 biological warfare breaks out between China and Russia which infects the World killing most of the Earth's population. In the United States Army Doctor Robert Neville injects himself with an experimental serum that makes Neville immune to the disease. By 1977 Neville is the only immune person left on Earth and roams the deserted streets of Los Angeles by day to avoid the albino mutants. Where "The Last Man on Earth" holds more to the vampire story line the mutants of "The Omega Man" are not in any way similar.

Neville meets a women Lisa who is not affected, but eventually she starts to turn. Neville is able to recreate the serum.but will be killed by the mutant leader at the end of the film in a definite crucifixion scene. Lisa kills the mutant leader in revenge.What the mutant leader did not know was that Neville was able to get the serum to some other human survivors including a medical student named "Dutch" to use on Lisa and recreate the formula themselves.

One of the two screenwriters of the husband and wife team, Joyce H. Corrington, has a doctorate in chemistry and felt using the biological warfare scenario rather than Matheson's plague from the novel worked better in 1971. Also it was more plausible for a worldwide disaster.

In 2007 Will Smith would play virologist Dr. Robert Neville in the third film version of Richard Matheson's novel and the first to use the actual title "I Am Legend".

In 2009 a genetically engineered measles virus created as a cure for cancer mutates into a deadly disease killing 90 percent of the World's population. The basic story line remains and at the end Neville blows himself up killing one of the "Darkseekers" with him, but the girl survives carrying his blood with the cure to the human colony.

At this point I could not end this section without mentioning "The Asylum's" rip off film"I Am Omega". The title playing off both the novel's title and the 1971 motion picture version.

The poster for "I Am Omega" even rips off some of the posters for "I Am Legend" in design.

The screenplay by director and co-star Geoff Meed gives no credit to Richard Matheson, or the 1954 novel. The impression is this is an original story. So lets see.

The film takes place in a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles over run by Zombie like creatures the result of genetic infection. Mark Dacassos as Renchard roams the city by day and at night attempts to make communication with other human survivors. The girl this time is named Brianna and at the end of the movie the two head from Los Angeles to the human colony of Antioch to help find a cure for the infection. Other than Renchard surviving and getting the girl the basic story sure sounds very familiar. Also the direct to video film was released one month prior to the Will Smith film and caused confusion with possible viewers. A typical ploy of "The Asylum".

Returning to actual Richard Matheson screenplays following "The Last Man on Earth" was the 1965 film "Fanatic", if the script for "I Am Legend" was to much for British censors they approved this one for Hammer. The motion picture was released in the United States as "Die! Die! My Darling" and starred Stephanie Powers and Tallulah Bankhead an actress who started both on stage and films in 1918 and was the female lead in many major Broadway Productions over the years. Bankhead's final role was as "The Black Widow" in two episodes of the 1967 "Batman" TV series: "Holy Long Run, Batman."

The film is about a young American women who comes to England and visits her late finance's mother. Who unknown to the women happens to be demented and blames the girl for her son's suicide. The film is a lot better than its familiar story line would indicate and that goes to Bankhead's over the top performance. Matheson would be writing scripts two years later for Stefanie Powers television series "The Girl from Uncle".

Filmed by Universal Studios in 1966, but not released until 1967 "The Young Warriors" was based upon Matheson's 1960 novel "The Beardless Warriors". Which in turn was based upon his own experiences at 18 as an infantryman of the 87th Infantry Division fighting the Germans in World War 2.

The Young Warriors (movie poster).jpg

The screenplay was very serious and Richard Zanuck planned to make the movie until he found out his father Daryl F. Zanuck was working on "The Longest Day". Universal Studios than acquired the script, but had Matheson rewrite it to enable them to use footage from their 1955 movie version of Audie Murphy's autobiography "To Hell and Back" to save money. Then Universal further decided it was too serious and had comedian Jonathan Daly, who was cast in the film, write a comic sequence about chasing a duck through a minefield. As the attached poster indicates the big publicity push on the film was to promote the fact that James Drury of the TV Show "The Virginian", filmed at Universal, was the star of the motion picture and any resemblance to what Richard Matheson had originally written was completely lost to the bean counters.

Working once again with Hammer Films Matheson wrote the screenplay for "The Devil Rides Out" based upon British author Dennis Wheatley's novel of the same name. The film starred Christopher Lee and Charles Grey and was directed by Terence Fisher. The fiim is set in 1929 London and involves the Occult. In a rare part Lee plays the hero of the story. In the United States the film was released as "The Devil's Bride".

The idea was first proposed in 1963 and Matheson contacted about a script. However, enter once more the U,K. censors and the project was postponed for four years until the censors lightened up over Satanism. Christopher Lee considers this his favorite role in all the films he has performed in and would love to do a remake with his same character as a more mature man. He also put a lot of emphasis on how well Richard Matheson created the screenplay from Wheatley's novel. For those wondering the point here being made by Lee. It was mentioned after making Peter Jackson's "The Lord of the Rings".

In 1969 American International Pictures tackled a controversial biography and gave the screen writing job to Matheson. This was a German-American co-production. The German title for the film was: "Das Ausschweifende Leben des Marquis De Sade", AIP simply released the motion picture in the United States as "De Sade", The film starred Keir Dullea and Senta Berger, It featured such heavyweights in the cast as Director/Producer John Huston and major International Actresses Anna Massey and Lili Palmer. 

The film had the added publicity beyond the subject matter, because this was Keir Dullea's first film since Stanley Kubrick's "2001" A Space Odyssey". The production was troubled from the start. Initially Richard Matheson was hired to write the script and then Roger Corman was asked to assist. Corman wanted some dream sequences, like he had done with Jack Nicholson's script for the Peter Fonda film "The Trip", to work in De Sade's fantasies and the two worked that concept into the script. Meanwhile the director situation went from Gordon Hessler to Roger Corman to Cy Enfield. Enfield decided to completely rewrite the script and as a result Rodger Corman had a run in with Samuel Z. Arkoff at AIP. To top it off Cy Enfield came down with the flu and Corman had to replace him as director after that confrontation with Arkoff. He would leave the studio shortly afterward and started his own production company New World Pictures. Also Roger Corman alleged that AIP never paid him completely for all his work.  As to directing the picture John Huston was also on record as being upset he was never approached to direct the motion picture. .

Two years later "The Omega Man" came out in 1971 and another two years later in 1973 Richard Matheson adopted another of his novels into a screenplay. The 1971 novel was "Hell House" and the movie "The Legend of Hell House" which starred Roddy McDowell, Pamela Franklin and Clive Revill.


The cast play a group of physicists and parapsychologists who plan to spend a weekend in "The Belasco House" which the group's leader Dr. Lionel Barrett describes as "The Mount Everest of Haunted Houses". Previous researchers have entered Belasco's mansion, but never come out alive.Although there is strong sexuality in the screenplay Richard Matheson has really toned it down from his original novel. Along with toning down some of the other major elements of that work. I really enjoy this movie, but in this case I highly recommend Matheson's novel "Hell House"over it.

In 1974 Richard Matheson went to France to write a screenplay based upon his 1953 mystery novel "Someone is Bleeding". The film's title was "Les Seins de glace (The Breast's of Ice)" and starred Alain Delon  and Mirielle Darc. The translated French article on Wikipedia describes the film as:

A writer looking for inspiration on a beach of the Cote d' Azur. There he meets a mysterious woman which makes him think of the heroine of his novel. He undertook the conquest of this strange girl and probably psychopathic, protected by a powerful lawyer and his henchmen.
Amazon describes a used copy of the original paperback book being offered for $85.00 as follows:
 Richard Matheson is best known for his books that were adapted into movies, especially I Am Legend, Hell House, and Stir of Echoes, but at the beginning of his career, he tried mystery writing.
Someone Is Bleeding is about a writer (Dave) who falls for a strange and emotionally disconnected woman named Peggy. Peggy has an abusive past that makes her hate men, but men feel quite differently about her -- she has to thwart unwanted attention at every turn. When her lecherous landlord turns up brutally murdered, Peggy is a suspect. As bodies pile up, it's unclear to what extent her naivete may be an act. Is she a victim, or a calculating killer? (Or maybe both?)
While the book has some uneven parts, it shows the talent Matheson would later perfect. It's a good addition to the library of anyone who's a fan of Matheson, or of pulp mysteries in general.

In 1975 Richard Matheson wrote the novel "Bid Time Return" and in 1980 Ray Stark Productions hired him to turn it into a screenplay. The result was "Somewhere in Time" starring Christopher Reeve, Jane Seymour and Christopher Plummer.

The year is 1972 and college student Richard Collier is celebrating the production of his first play. An old women approaches him and places a locket in his hand saying "Come Back to Me". She then returns to her apartment and dies.

Eight year later Colliere is a successful play write who has broken up with his girlfriend. He decides to visit The Grand Hotel an historic site on Mackinac Island, Michigan to get things together. In a display Richard Collier notices a picture of a women and asks a bellboy that has been with the hotel since 1910 who she might be? Her name is Elise McKenna and she was a famous early 20th century stage actress. What Collier does not know is that Elise was the old women who gave him the locket. Thus begins a very romantic love story involving Time Travel. 


In 1983 Richard Matheson appropriately wrote the fourth segment for "Twilight Zone: The Movie". The segment was "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" and tells of a plane passenger who sees a creature destroying the aircraft he is flying in, but nobody else sees it.

I call Matheson writing that segment of the movie appropriate, because the original "Twilight Zone" television episode from October 11, 1963 was also written by Matheson. Who wrote the original short story "Alone by Night" in 1961.


William Shatner on television.              

On July 22, 1983 the sharks were jumping off the screen at me as I watched the unsequel sequel to Steven Spielberg's "Jaws" entitled: "JAWS 3-D". Richard Matheson was partly to blame for the screenplay.

He wrote the original screenplay outline. Universal Studio's wanted to both of Sheriff Brody's son's in it and somehow the return of the electrocuted shark from "Jaws 2". After Matheson wrote the first full treatment Universal Studios decided to drop him and they turned the actual writing of the final screenplay to another writer. We know what resulted without even a mention of Sheriff Brody let alone his sons.

The following are a few of the comments Richard Matheson's made about that original outline:

I'm a good storyteller and I wrote a good outline and a good script. And if they had done it right and if it had been directed by somebody who knew how to direct, I think it would have been an excellent movie. Jaws 3-D was the only thing Joe Alves ever directed; the man is a very skilled production designer, but as a director, no. And the so-called 3D just made the film look murky – it had no effect whatsoever. It was a waste of time.
It wold be another seven years before Richard Matheson would write a new screenplay and it was for 1990's "Loose Cannons". He wrote it with his son Richard Christian Matheson. The film starred Gene Hackman and Dan Akroyd. The plot revolves around two police officers and one, Akroyd, has multiple personalities. Their involved with finding out the murderer of several people who have viewed a specific piece of film. This was both a comedy and a major disaster. The budget was $15 million dollars and the film made a whopping $5.5 worldwide.

Loose cannons poster.jpg

Fortune changed on Richard Matheson's next screenplay. September 1978 had been the month Matheson's novel "What Dreams May Come" was released. The novel is about a man named named Chris who dies and goes to heaven, but must enter hell to save his wife. Twenty years later in 1998 Richard Matheson wrote the screenplay for the film version starring Robin Williams. The movie would not win any awards for the novelist, but it did receive both the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects and The Art Directors Guild Award for Production design. However, without a solid screenplay neither of these awards could have happened. "What Dreams May Come" would be the last screenplay Richard Matheson would write. Although two more treatments of his works would be made.


Nine years after "What Dreams May Come" was released to movie theaters the third version of "I Am Legend" came out and two years after that film in 2009 was "The Box".

It was in 1970 when Richard Matheson wrote a short story "Button,Button". The plot tells of an average middle class  husband and wife who are slowing descending into poverty. One day they receive a locked box with a button on it and a note stating a Mr. Steward will visit them shortly. The husband is out when Mr. Steward arrives and presents the wife with a key that will make the button work. He explains that if she and her husband use the key and press the button two things will happen. One they will receive $50,000 and two somebody they don't know will die. The wife uses the key and her husband is killed in a freak accident. Shortly after the event a check from an insurance policy the wife knew nothing about in the amount of $50,000 arrives. Along with Mr. Steward knocking on her door and she asks him why her husband had to die? To which Mr. Steward replies: "Did you really think you knew your husband?" A statement Matheson leaves the reader questioning to themselves what Steward meant.
In the new 1985 "Twilight Zone" series the story was made into an episode written by Matheson. There were some changes he was told to make that he did not like. As a result he requested that instead of his own name as screenwriter the producers use his Logan Swanson alternate name.

The amount of money is raised from $50,000 to $200,000 and neither the husband, or, Norma, the wife die after the button is pushed. Mr. Steward returns and gives them a case with the $200,000 and when Mr. Steward is asked by Norma what happens next. She is told:

"I can assure you it will be offered to someone whom you don't know."
A horrified, knowing expression crosses Norma's face as she realizes the true nature of those chosen to die...the previous owner who pushed the button.

Then in 2009 the story would morph into the Cameron Diaz movie "The Box" from a screenplay by Richard Kelly who among other films made "Donnie Darko". Frank Langella plays the mysterious man who offers Diaz and James Marsden a black box with a button on top and an offer of a million dollars. How that $50,000 has inflated in value in 39 years.

The film  got mixed reviews. Rotten Tomatoes currently has it rated at 45% with an overall consensus that the movie was:
Imaginative but often preposterous, The Box features some thrills but largely feels too piecemeal.
While Rodger Ebert in a review in the Chicago Sun-Times wrote:
This movie kept me involved and intrigued, and for that I'm grateful

Ebert's comment is not necessary a strong endorsement. The overall problem was that the basics of Matheson's story "Button, Button" was played out during the first hour of the motion picture treatment. Which meant that writer, producer and director Richard Kelly had to add at a minimum fifty-five minutes of new material. I could not locate any comment from Richard Matheson,himself, related to the film version.

The final motion picture based upon the work of Richard Matheson followed the same scenario as "The Box". The movie starred Hugh Jackman and was entitled "Real Steel".

Hugh Jackman in character in a boxing pose in front of a large boxing robot in a similar pose.

The original short story "Steel" came out in the May 1956 issue of "The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction". On October 4, 1963 the Matheson written "Twilight Zone" episode also entitled "Steel" premiered. To get a feeling for his writing let me quote both the opening of that episode and the closing.


Sports item, circa 1974: Battling Maxo, B2, heavyweight, accompanied by his manager and handler, arrives in Maynard, Kansas, for a scheduled six-round bout. Battling Maxo is a robot, or, to be exact, an android, definition: 'an automaton resembling a human being.' Only these automatons have been permitted in the ring since prizefighting was legally abolished in 1968. This is the story of that scheduled six-round bout, more specifically the story of two men shortly to face that remorseless truth: that no law can be passed which will abolish cruelty or desperate need - nor, for that matter, blind animal courage. Location for the facing of said truth: a small, smoke-filled arena just this side of the Twilight Zone.


Portrait of a losing side, proof positive that you can't out punch machinery. Proof also of something else: that no matter what the future brings, man's capacity to rise to the occasion will remain unaltered. His potential for tenacity and optimism continues, as always, to outfight, outpoint and outlive any and all changes made by his society, for which three cheers and a unanimous decision rendered from the Twilight Zone.

As I have written above Richard Matheson was a writer of novels, short stories, and screenplays for both television and motion pictures. Both the movies "I Am Legend" and "Real Steel" show that his work has an imagination to it that lives on. Imagination is a quality that to me seems to be lost in a lot of the films and writings of today as we move into a world of "Reality TV" and "CGI" imagery.

I made the decision to just look at the motion picture screenplays Richard Matheson wrote, or the filmed treatment of his stories rather than his complete life's catalog of accomplishments. As that is for his biographer.

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