Roger Corman was a seasoned interviewee. He had a dozen or so well-polished anecdotes that he could deploy with charming ease anytime he took the spotlight, but that meant, if you read one of his talks, you’d read them all.

So, I was fascinated to stumble onto this interview he did with Filmmaker/Film Historian Bertrand Tavernier from 1962 (!!!) in which Corman comes off much more in the moment (because he was!) and self-reflective about the career that he’s in the middle of crafting. At the time, a critic had recently shone a spotlight on Corman in Positif (Issue 50), and you get the sense Corman was over the moon from getting attention from the French – even if it was a fresh-faced 21-year old kid like Tavernier. There aren’t any big discoveries to be found in Corman’s answers,  but it is a refreshing read with a lot of little asides that rarely come up (LITTLE SHOP played at Cannes? Ha! Maybe in the CITY of Cannes…)  and shows a side of Corman interviews rarely got to capture. 

This interview was re-published in the ROGER CORMAN: INTERVIEW book, but I’m unsure if it is uncut or not (as I don’t have the book to check). What follows was taken from Tavernier’s AMERICAN FRIENDS and translated back into English. If you have already read this interview, you may be interested in Tavernier’s thoughts on Corman, which I have included at the bottom as a post-script. 


TAVERNIER: At the beginning of your career, you had nothing to do with cinema? 

CORMAN: No, only with thermodynamics and electronics, a whole world that I have nothing to do with anymore.. My father was an engineer and I initially thought of following the same path. In the middle of my studies at Stanford, I realized that I didn’t really want to complete them. In fact, I won the physics competition my first year at Stanford and during my second year I got the lead role in a play. I remember the admonitions of teachers who thought I was giving up a good career to lose myself in the theater. Then I joined the Navy, which made me continue my studies. When I was released, I only had six months of study left to obtain my engineering degree. I could also go into a completely different branch and start from scratch. But in the United States, a young man who studies feels absolutely dishonored if he does not obtain a diploma. He’s sure he’s wasted his entire life. Since I only had six months left, I decided to continue, I obtained my diploma. I worked four long days as an engineer and at the end of the fourth I walked into the personnel office and just said, “It’s not okay, I’m leaving.” I thought then that I wanted to get into cinema. The only problem was that I didn’t know anything about it, but films had always fascinated me. Because of the unions, all I could get was an errand boy job at Fox. From then on, I moved into the script department, where I was appointed reader. I had written a few stories when I was in college and so I had some knowledge of the subject. I became more and more absorbed in this work, which I had to leave to go to Oxford. I only stayed there for one quarter, then I went to Paris. I lived on the left bank; I had a yellow MG and we used to sit at Deux-Magots all afternoon. It was great. I came back to Paris two years later, with a girl, an American that I knew, and I said to her: “I’m going to show you my Paris.” I took her to lots of places and suddenly she said to me: “You didn’t show me Paris at all. Everywhere there were just Americans talking.” As she told me this, it hit me. With the exception of one or two French women that I had known, I had only met Americans, behaving like the majority of students who go to Paris and spend their time talking.

What were your real beginnings?

When I returned from Europe, I worked in various positions: television stagehand, literary agent, and then, in 1954, I sold a screenplay I had written to Allied Artists. I called it House in the Sea but they changed the title to Highway Dragnet, which they considered more commercial. Nathan Juran made it, I worked there as an associate producer, raised two thousand dollars, and borrowed from different people. Then, the same year, with a budget of twelve thousand dollars, I made my first film as a producer and it was a success. I launched into a second film…

It was The Fast and the Furious (John Ireland) in 1955?

Yes, and personally I am not very happy with his work. It was after this film that I decided to become a director. This was the condition that John Ireland set for starring in this film: to direct it. He also made another one, a 3D western which had no success.

The German credits mentioned based on an idea from Dorothy Malone… 

In fact, Dorothy gave us several ideas. Some were followed. She had left her agent and, having no work, agreed to act for next to nothing. At the time, we had a tiny office, which was the anteroom of a literary agency. The production house was me and two girls and the agency was complaining about losing clients because of us! But as for telling you what Dorothy Malone’s exact ideas were…

Did you continue to produce films from time to time?

Yes. It was the beginning that was hard. Afterwards things happened quite naturally: I was offered contracts and subjects, one year I directed ten films, and produced three or four others. The first one I produced was Irvin Kershner’s Stakeout on Dope Street (1958), which was an artistic and financial success. My brother told me that it was the biggest mistake of my career, because because of this success I reinvested my money in other productions which were all failures. I gave the authors a lot of freedom, since I myself don’t like people telling me what I have to do when I’m shooting. I never said anything to Kershner. We got together, we had long discussions where everyone gave their point of view, I approved the ensemble and the cast (there is Jack Hayes, Abby Dalton and some of my actors) but once the decision made, I said: “Go for it”, and I withdrew. It was a big success. And I started looking in Hollywood for all the young people I knew. For a Denis Sanders, a Francis Kobler, Irvin Kershner, Bernard L. Kowalski or Curtis Harrington, I bet on other names that I will not mention and whose films were terrible failures. Honestly, Crime and Punishment, USA (1959) by Denis Sanders lost me a lot of money. Night Tide (1963), by Curtis Harrington, which is a good film, struggled at the box office. The New York Times and Times wrote very glowing reviews, and Curtis sent me a letter a few days ago saying he hoped to reimburse me soon!

You seem to progress in cycles in your productions (rock’n roll films, terror films, police films). Is it out of obligation? By personal choice?

Everything comes from a set of facts, both economic and artistic. In Hollywood, the cost of a film is very high and there is no government assistance. I was working on small budgets, very small budgets, but even then I needed success. To survive, a director must have a long string of successes. It therefore depends more or less on fashion, must conform to current tastes. That said, I don’t think any gender is “inferior”. Everything interests me: the adventures of a one hundred and twenty foot monster, of a gangster, of a schoolgirl in love with rock’n roll. I accepted to deal with such diverse stories, because I felt that, in this way, I would learn my craft. Everything was useful to me, everything enriched me. But nevertheless, I tried to innovate a little in all these genres, and to have original ideas. I agreed to deal with any story as long as I could introduce some manifest affirmation (a true statement).

I don’t think it’s good for a director to specialize. I’m quite proud to have, in a way, relaunched certain film cycles, and especially to have been the first to abandon them once their success was assured. I also tried it within a cycle of varying styles. Typically, the basic idea for the film came from me, but the subject matter was written commercially.

For example your prehistoric film….

It was an order. The year was 1958. In reality, it wasn’t a prehistoric film. The initial idea was very good. We showed cavemen with a strange religion, curious rites, who worshiped objects that were difficult to recognize and, in the end, we understood that it took place in the future, following an atomic catastrophe which had destroyed the world . In this religion, we could distinguish certain elements of 20th century civilization, but very distorted. The original title was Prehistoric World but, following the success of / Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957) by Gene Fowler Jr, the distributors renamed it and gave it the most grotesque title in the history of cinema for a few weeks: I Was a Teenage Caveman! Despite this, the Los Angeles Times wrote that the film was very good, which was a bit of an exaggeration.

Did you learn a lot while shooting in such conditions?

Yes, because, as I told you, I believe that it is good for a director not to let himself be confined to a single genre. However, I do not believe that this method is the best, and it is often out of discontent that I vary genres and styles. There is a legend that says that you learn in one year at Corman what you learn in four years at a school… But I would have preferred to have a different kind of training. Mine was a bit like that of a baseball player: if he showed a certain skill, he would start for the Pocatello team in the Idaho League. If he plays well, we’ll send him to Kansas City and so on, until he pitches for the N.Y. Yankees, but he’ll have spent three or four years educating himself. I understood that in France, young people arrived and immediately showed themselves to be brilliant. In their first film, they were already excellent directors. But their learning is different, more theoretical. Everything is worth it. You can learn just as much by making films as by watching and understanding them.

Do you believe that your learning is effective regarding the direction of actors?

You know, there are many things I would have done better if I had more time. From now on, I’m going to take care of certain things a lot more. I’ve made enough bad films.

How do you introduce personal elements when shooting like this?

All problems must first be resolved in my mind. It’s at the level of the scenario of preparation, that you have to introduce personal elements to be able to come on set with the whole plan in your head, even if it means throwing it away in case a better solution appears. I don’t believe in total improvisation.

But your speed is fabulous, you shot The Little Shop of Horrors (1960) in one weekend… – 

In fact, the shooting lasted two days and one night, one Thursday and one Friday. I hired my actors. for a week, we rehearsed Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

It was not distributed in France or England…

It has not been shown anywhere in Europe, except once, at the Cannes Film Festival, where it was screened out of competition. I don’t know how it got there. A friend of mine called me, saying he could arrange a screening. I had nothing to lose, so I sent him a copy. It seems that it was well received, but no one knew how it was made. It was satire, pure comedy, horror film, black humor.

This seems quite close to A Bucket of Blood (1958)? 

It came directly from there. If you listen closely, you will hear the sound of a typewriter in the next room. It’s Charles B. Griffith, the author of Bucket and The Little Shop of Horrors, writing the following film: The Golden Beetle. We worked all night, destroyed our first version. We are starting again with a new idea.

It seems that, in your films, the part of comedy is very important. I think of Swamp Women (1955), with this line from the nymphomaniac: “Lemme cut my jeans shorter…” (“Let me cut my jeans shorter…”).

It made no sense, but met a specific need. I had to direct public and commercial films. However, in these films, there are certain things which, it seems, make them exploitable. These are often ridiculous things. But I had to introduce them, even when I treated the story seriously. For example, girls cut their jeans only because distributors wanted girls in shorts for advertising. I couldn’t find a valid explanation for this gesture. It was completely illogical, the marshes being infested with mosquitoes. On the contrary, we had to cover ourselves to protect ourselves and the best solution was to treat the scene as a joke. If you have to do something illogical for business reasons, do it in an even more illogical way. I remember making a little western in six days, sorry seven! It rained for five days, it was a terrible experience. It was called The Gunslinger (1956). My distributor from Texas came into the town where I was filming and asked how things were going. I told him that I thought it was very good, but that I had used too much violence and passion and he replied: “Roger, I have been in this profession for forty years and you have only two years. I tell you that no one has ever made a film with too much passion and violence.” So, I continued. Everyone was getting down. At the end of the film, half the city was destroyed.

Is it the one whose heroine is a professional killer?

Yes, Beverly Garland, and that was the funny idea. I’m tired of ready-made formulas and, when you try to renew something, you necessarily think about treating a hackneyed scene in an amusing way without going as far as parody. It wasn’t a parody, it was ‘geez, how do you find a gunslinger that would be different’. Immediately, I thought of a female gunslinger, the idea for the scenario came to me suddenly. She’s the sheriff’s wife. He is killed, she takes over from her husband. It either made sense or it didn’t, but it was enough for a six or seven day western.

A Bucket of Blood seems to be your first comedy? 

Yes, this is the first of my films where comedy has some importance, is part of the basic concept. In the others, there was sometimes a scene treated lightly, but here everything was comical. In America, it was a gigantic burst of laughter. I previewed the film at the same time as Jerry Lewis, because I wanted to get the opinion of comedy fans. However, the owner of the cinema told me that I had gotten more laughs than Lewis, and that it was the funniest film he had ever seen. I felt like I had finally taken a big step forward. The very next day, Chuck and I launched into The Little Shop. Bucket wasn’t a huge success, but I think we were ahead of the game, because The Raven (1963), which was a triumph, was nowhere near as funny. Perhaps the film was too modest, shot in five days in settings that came from a film about youth. The distributors didn’t know what to do with the film, which didn’t fit into any genre. They have always been afraid of comedy. So, they never mentioned in the advertising that The Raven was a comedy. Not many people have gotten into horror comedy, and we wanted to warn viewers that they were going to laugh, without telephoning in the effects. Also, in all three films, I tried to imagine an opening that would put the audience in the mood. But perhaps I was too subtle or not clear enough. Nobody understood. However, in The Raven, when Vincent Price gets up and enters a telescope, twice, the film we are about to see is obviously a comedy. A Bucket of Blood was a satire of beatniks. As the beatnik movement was very well known at the time, the very subject and the way in which we had treated it made the audience burst out laughing from the first minutes. They knew what we were doing and there was no problem. Watching it again a while ago, I realized that the cast was made up of all the boys and girls who came to our games. There was Dick Miller, Tony Carbone, Barboura Morris, who I was dating at the time, and lots of friends of mine.

In War of the Satellites (1958), you play a small role?

Yes, I was the engineer who sent the satellites. I thought my scientific training entitled me to sit down and say this dialogue. I play from time to time; but never as regularly as Alfred Hitchcock.

What do you think of She-Gods of Shark Reef (1958) which seems, at least from the filming, to be linked to the New Wave?

It was partly an order. I had to make a certain genre of film and, since I like to travel, I thought it would be great to take a few guys (I always work with a small crew) and take them to Hawaii to one of the most popular islands. more withdrawn. We lived there for a while, made two films. And then we came home!

We haven’t seen Naked Paradise (1957)… 

It was one of those films.

But there seems to be a trilogy of these exotic and erotic films… 

Naked was more related to gangster films. We had a hell of a good time. It was fun, and it’s always fun to make money at the same time. Many of my films were made this way. Little Shop was shot in two days, because I wanted to see if I could make a film that quickly.

Edgar Poe’s adaptations form a cycle. Were you bothered by the fact that you shot them one after the other?

Of course. This is a bit like a carefully developed formula that we always apply in the same way. I don’t want to do it anymore. We feel like we’re repeating ourselves too much. I’ve wanted to change for a long time but my producers didn’t want it. I asked to direct The Fall of the House of Usher (1960) to stop making low-budget monster stories. The market was crowded with them and it no longer interested me. I offered them Usher, showing them that it could be a good film, in the terrifying genre. We could do something classic there. They took a while to decide, as it was their highest production and they were losing money at the time. They placed what they had left there and left me completely free. But afterwards, every time I proposed a new idea to them, they begged me to create another little Edgar Poe for them.

We were conscious of the plastic similarity that exists between all these films: the fog, among other things, which we find in all the exteriors, the color scope…

Yes of course! It was difficult for me to change anything in a genre that was very successful. I also thought that it gave me the opportunity to use color as a precise instrument. Through color, I could clarify the meaning of certain details, accentuate this or that notion. I didn’t want it to be functional. I first used the fog to hide the absence of decor. In most cases, there was only the studio wall beyond. And then also, because Poe demands stylization, refuses realism. Fog is the easiest way to create a romantic atmosphere, even if it means demystifying it.

Do you feel an affinity with Poe?

Yes, I read Poe when I was very young, at the time when I read a lot. When I was six, seven, eight years old, I devoured book after book. My father had given me the complete works of Poe and I loved it. In fact, there are comedy overtones in Poe that people don’t notice, because he’s not as good when he writes comedy. But a lot of it borders on satire or even farce, and I loved all of that.

On the other hand, it has not been pointed out enough, Poe wrote in the first person. He was one of the first subjective writers. And also one of the first writers to have penetrated the level of human consciousness. The 20th century saw several artists, several men, like Dostoyevsky, attack the unconscious. What Freud did consciously, Poe did unconsciously. He literally went inside the human mind. I believe I have remained true to its spirit, although at EVER TOLD! Over the course of the series I distanced myself more and more from him, notably in The Masque of the Red Death (Le Masque de la mort rouge, 1964). Usher is very loyal. In The Pit and the Pendulum, 1961, we wrote the first and second acts and ended with Poe. In his exploration of consciousness, Poe uses symbolism very close to modern psychoanalysis. I remember writing a gangster story at nineteen that was never published. I found it again recently and realized that it was actually the story of Oedipus point by point. Without realizing it, I had rediscovered one of the essential complexes.

In Bucket, there is a walled-up cat. Was this already a tribute to Poe? 

It was one of those things that you place unconsciously. I don’t remember wanting to make a specific allusion to Poe, but I was perhaps subconsciously thinking of The Black Cat, which is one of my favorite short stories.

What is your favorite Poe adaptation?

I think the series is a whole. There is progression from one film to another, particularly in the direction. These are films with abundant dialogue and, to give movement, I made my actors move all the time, as did the camera. I tried to find with my camera the motivation of each movement, each gesture, each movement. Maybe at the beginning there was a bit of gratuity in that. In the later films of the series, there are fewer camera movements. Maybe I’m wrong. My favorites are The Pit and the Pendulum then Usher and The Raven.

Did the choice of Vincent Price come from you?

Yes, because Vincent meets several requirements. Poe’s heroes are all of great culture and great intelligence. A horror movie hero must not be a dark brute. I believe that people identify horror with something that is above them, with a superior force, an intelligence, a culture that they can mock, but that they actually fear. Price gives a very interesting and very personal interpretation of fear. It recreates the first feeling of horror: that experienced by a child alone in the night and whose parents have abandoned; there is a storm, a huge and terrifying world around him. There is a child in all the characters I made Price play. At the same time, he plays very cultured characters, but whose culture does not dispel fear, on the contrary. The more they learn, the more their fear of the unknown increases, the closer they become to the child. Price is the last descendant of a civilization of refinement, which excess of culture has brought to the brink of decadence, another element of concern. It is the end of a civilization, or the beginning of its decadence. Likewise, Ray Milland who has an English accent, which to American audiences means culture; In The Premature Burial (1962), I wanted a younger, more romantic hero than Price. Milland is not much younger, but, in the public’s mind, he is associated with the notion of a young leader.

Are you looking for authenticity in the settings, in relation to Bostonian civilization?

 Yes, we tried to build sets that were very faithful to Poe’s time. I had a lot of help from my production designer, Daniel Haller, and I don’t think (unless you’re paying close attention) you notice how almost identical the sets are from one film to the next. The public doesn’t see it. But this fidelity is more a question of story than of setting, details or decoration. It’s the whole thing that counts, this stylization which is faithful.

Why was it Charles Beaumont who wrote The Premature Burial? 

It was a more romantic story. I had a falling out with Allied Artists and I started The Prematurate Burial on my own. I convinced Pathé to advance me some money and, suddenly, in the middle of filming, the president and vice-president of American International Pictures arrived on the set, shook my hand and said: “Dear partner .” We had remained good friends despite our argument, but I asked them: “What does that mean, dear partner?” And they answered me: “We have just bought Pathé, so we have half the shares in the film.” And I ended up with AIP without wanting to.

There are many moments of comedy in this film…

Yes. I wanted to do it a little bit tongue in cheek. When you’re playing with terror, it seems a little easy to rely solely on that feeling. But sometimes we make fun of some idea that seems important to you, and sometimes the joke will make it even more important and, even, more frightening.

Is this some kind of defense?

Barely. For example, I just received a script from Columbia, who offered to direct it upon my return. I read the beginning, and on the second page the heroine cries: “I’m going home to find out who I am.” You have to say that with a smile. If I realized it, the girl would smile when she said that. I understand what she means, but it’s so cliché that unless you portray the girl as a complete idiot, she should realize that this line matters to her, but at the same time it’s a little worn out.

Was your approach to Lovecraft different from your approach to Poe?

My approach to Lovecraft took place in unfortunate conditions. We were supposed to do Poe’s The Haunted Palace, but the script wasn’t ready in time. There was in our drawers a treatment of The Case of Charles Dexter Ward which bore some resemblance to Poe. But the distributors only requested films from the Poe series (given the success of the previous ones), Lovecraft’s short story was used. Elements of Poe were mixed in and Edgar Poe’s The Haunted Palace was announced. In fact, it was cheating. It was only half Lovecraft, and I didn’t really try to get inside his world.

However, I prefer Poe. His symbols are more subtle. Lovecraft is direct, he consciously applied what Poe had found unconsciously, for example we find the well in Lovecraft, but presented as an obvious sexual symbol, whereas in Poe, there is something else in addition. The symbolism of the well and the pendulum in the author of Le Corbeau is obvious, after reading Freud. But Poe didn’t put it as such, Lovecraft did.

Lovecraft is more realistic, more exterior…

Yes, he gives importance to the landscapes, which are more tortured in Poe where everything, in my opinion, is artificial. That’s why I shot all the exteriors in the studio. A real landscape would introduce a realism that I refuse. In The Pit and the Pendulum, we see the ocean twice but it is only because of the strange effect of the ebb and flow, an almost hypnotic effect. At the beginning of Usher, we see a forest: there had just been a big fire nearby and I wanted to shoot this sequence in the burned forest. But I cannot oppose, for the reasons I have told you, the style of Poe and the style of Lovecraft. I could rather contrast them with the style of The Intruder (1962), where each shot is shot in natural settings, where there are fewer complicated movements, less searching for the camera. It’s a more direct way of looking at life. But audiences accept Poe’s stories more easily because they are set in the past. We have to resort to plastic effects. We couldn’t show one of his characters, we couldn’t show a monster walking down a modern street. Still, it would be interesting… Or it would be the hero of The Intruder.

What we find remarkable in this film is the way in which you present William Shatner. For a few moments, he seems like a hero…

Yes, I wanted that and, in fact, there were many other things, other ideas that went in that direction and that I had to delete. When he arrives in the small town, he is presented as a very nice boy: as soon as he gets off the bus, he helps a little girl. He then goes down the street and I had a panoramic shot describing the city seen through his eyes. It was the approach, the taking position of a battlefield, which we did not yet know was one.

We can already see this on the bus…

Yes, but I had forced the idea: the panoramic ended on a beautiful shot of a crossroads, we descended onto a small dog at Shatner’s feet. The latter bent down and stroked the dog, which moved its tail very nicely. I had to delete this shot because the camera was shaking slightly while panning. In fact, there is a small break in the editing, because it removed a transition shot. This panoramic would have shown the city and also that in this city, even the dogs love Adam Cramer!

Wasn’t the playground a symbol?

No not at all. Or maybe it was unconscious. I am beginning to believe that even the choice of an exterior has a symbolic meaning that we are not immediately aware of. What I was trying to say at the end of this movie was that Shatner wasn’t completely defeated. He was defeated in this city and left alone, which meant he was free to go to another city where, most likely, he would employ different tactics. What started him would make him continue on this same path until his death. We thought this ending was vague: I didn’t want to show that his career was over. His defeat was not irremediable. In the South, men of his kind are not defeated so easily. He is a modern Lenin who may have lost a battle, but who hopes to return to rule the entire country

What can you say about The Secret Invasion (1964)?

Well, a year and a half ago, I signed with my brother a contract for several films with United Artists. We had to make serious films but everything we proposed was refused. Ultimately, The Dubious Patriots seemed like a compromise.

We thought we could do a good job and at the same time meet the demands of United Artists by presenting them with the kind of films they were asking for, despite the long speeches on “Art” that they had given us while the pens were suspended above the contracts. We decided to make a sort of big war story, in which there would be an interesting plot and characters.

That’s what I mean by compromise. This may not be the right way to design a film, or it may backfire on the film itself. But, on the other hand, I think we made a pretty good war film and took another step in a completely different direction, although Dubious Patriots is only the modern transposition of my first film Five Guns West (Five Guns West, 1955).

Of all the films I’ve made, many (God knows how many) were bad films. But each time, I did my best. There were some I should never have done, but even then I learned something, so I have nothing to regret. I don’t have the right to say: it’s terrible to have made these films, because I don’t think so.

Are you often your own producer?

Yes, and when I was only a director, I got in trouble. For example, I had a three-picture deal with Eddie Small. The first, Tower of London, in 1962, was the most insane thing I ever shot. Every night he came to see me or called me, the script was changed, reworked without my agreement, lots of strange things happened all the time, and in the end, I asked him to tear up our contract. He understood that he would get nothing of value from me and tore it up. I have nothing against Eddie Small: he’s an old man, who had many successes during the thirties and who doesn’t know that times have changed. In several cases, people wanted to force my hand, so I preferred to leave. Generally, I agree on the genre of the film, on its budget, then I intend to be completely free. This is why I am both a producer and a director. This does not prevent you from being possessed by distributors, as in the case of The Secret Invasion, United Artists wanted “new and daring” films. How many times have I heard these words! Columbia offered me a very attractive contract, but I preferred to specify straight away what my projects were going to be: I would like, among other things, to remake The Lost Horizons.

How would you have treated The Rhinoceros?

Oh, I would really like to make this film. It would contain a real message and at the same time be very funny and entertaining. It must be great to make a film that has a specific meaning and is at the same time a satirical approach to certain things. I think in The Intruder I pushed too hard. It’s my best film, but I think I was too academic: I believed so much in the ideas advocated by this film that I treated them too heavily. This kind of subject requires a simpler, more subtle way.

For example, in The Golden Beetle, which I am writing with Chuck Griffith, and which will be very different from other Poes, the action will take place in the South, immediately after the Civil War. It will be a true horror comedy where we will sprinkle many satirical features which will not be emphasized in the least. This will go in the same direction as The Intruder, but in a less direct way. Someone will make a remark about the “Old South” and that will be that. Kind of a joke and the audience will laugh. Then he’ll think, “Hey, wait a minute,” but we’ll have moved on to something else. It will be a series of flashes.

We find this in certain police films, Machine Gun Kelly (1958), for example…

Yes, I tried to show in this film that Machine Gun Kelly was basically a poor guy. Most gangster films present them as Robin Hood-style heroes… But they weren’t like that. Maybe some tried to rebel against some social pressures, but not many. Most of them were just poor illiterates and I wanted to show that Kelly was just a coward and a giver, without giving social or psychoanalytic reasons for his cowardice. He was a rotten guy, a sort of Hitler.

It is the only gangster film, with Budd Boetticher’s The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond, 1959, which adopts this bias…

I haven’t seen  Legs Diamond. In my case, it was very conscious. Although most of the elements of a film (especially in the direction and, by direction, I also mean camera movement, choice of setting or direction of actors) are unconscious, the basic idea must be premeditated. I could have filmed this or that scene in twenty different ways. The fact that I chose one responds to a sort of unconscious determination. I myself cannot give you a valid explanation, but if I did it like that, it is because there must be a reason related or not to the basic idea.

Coming back to Kelly, I did some historical research and found that he was neither a hero nor a complete coward. So I built the film entirely on his last lines, which are historic. Kelly was surrounded in his mountain hideout and when he was told to lay down his arms and surrender, he did so.

And the FBI agent said, “Kelly, you’re considered the toughest man in the country and we thought you were going to fight back; why didn’t you?” And Kelly replied: “Because you would have killed me.” It is from this dialogue that we constructed the film. He didn’t want to fight for nothing. His wife continued the fight, which was true. This gives us the concept of the film.

What do you think of Charles Bronson?

He’s a wonderful actor. In fact, one of the best actors I’ve worked with. You know he’s a former boxer. He has incredible physical strength. He must control his movements, because he could easily strike down all his partners.

In this film, there was an admirable first reel, almost silent…

At that time, I didn’t know much about it. Today, I would like to consciously carry out a similar sequence. This was done instinctively. We can see the heist thanks to the shadows on the floor, because I didn’t have enough money to build a bank set. At the same time, I found a starting idea and got rid of a pure hardware problem. It’s the best solution. The movie started with mute characters, and then I wondered, “Am I going to make them say something?” The further I went, the more I realized that they shouldn’t talk. They had nothing to say. Everything was rehearsed and went as planned. Without wanting to, I found the style of silent films and this sequence earned me very good reviews.

Don’t you think we should approach science fiction and thrillers in the same way? They are two almost identical genres…

I had never thought about it but, now that you pointed it out to me, I believe that indeed there are many similarities between these genres. Yes, you are absolutely right. Their approach is almost similar. In both cases, there is a mystery to be solved and we are dealing with an investigation. The starting point may be improbable, but the progression must be completely logical. The staging must be spontaneous, and without elaborate effects. We must show rational beings in a rational framework, unlike the horror film.

This resemblance explains the failures encountered by certain good directors who wanted to treat science fiction as a separate genre, with its own rules.

Yes, it’s true. The basic idea of ​​the film would have suited a police officer and some sequences could have appeared in a gangster biography.

Where did you shoot it, since in Switzerland it is called The Vampire of San Francisco and in Belgium, The Vampire of New York?

In Los Angeles! 

Why have you never adapted famous science fiction novels?

I don’t know. No doubt for economic reasons: in the first sequence, you have rockets, in the second, an unknown civilization, in the third, the Martians attack a spaceship.

Matheson’s novels, for example, are different.

You are right. But I don’t know SF novelists very well. As a general rule, I prefer short stories, because the basic situations are the most interesting and are especially found in short stories. I wanted to make I Am Legend, three years ago, when I was just starting to be known, but this project was refused to me. It was Sidney Salkow who did it and with Vincent Price’. I have nothing against Salkow, I just regret that the producers for whom I made a lot of money took my idea. I had gone to England to prepare an insane project, I Flew U-2 Over Russia, a spy film that would have resembled the James Bond films that are being made now. It was the story of an American pilot who flies over Russia (there are some who do this for money, and whose job it is). This pilot gets caught by the Russians. He finds himself involved in the struggles which pit two parties against each other, that of peace and that of war. It was very crazy, and the English producers refused, panicked. I then proposed to them I am a legend but I was not well known enough. I think Price will be very good, but I wouldn’t have taken him. I saw an actor like the U-2 pilot, not at all cultured, young and athletic. I have a science fiction project with Ray Bradbury. We undertook it with my brother, and it is very possible that we will do it. Under the ice of the Pole, an atomic submarine discovers the

Nautilus in a state of hibernation, with Captain Nemo inside who fell asleep there for five hundred years, disgusted with his contemporaries. We wake him up: he is furious and we witness Nemo’s struggles with the modern world.

In this world that has become very specialized, Nemo’s science lags behind in each area, but his intelligence remains more synthetic, more general. It can be used to connect and coordinate the thoughts of men. The first thing it attacks is cancer and we had a sequence where the Nautilus, reduced to microscopic size, went up the blood channels and did battle with the cancer virus.

Science fiction interests me when it shows the interaction of man and science. I also think that I will soon return to this genre.

What do you think of Hammer films?

I find them good but, frankly, I prefer mine. They seem quite superficial and external to me. They make no effort to go inside things, they remain on the surface. Well, Hitchcock, for example, is interested in the unconscious. He builds all his films on this idea. The best shot in The Birds (Les Oiseaux, 1963) is a shot that makes the audience scream: yetwe don’t see any birds, but a girl in a street. I’ve used a similar plan at least five times. It’s essential for me. I took nothing from Hitchcock and he took nothing from me. We are interested in the same kinds of biases. I have the impression that the people at Hammer are unaware of the hidden meaning of the images.

What do you think of other American-International authors: Ray Milland, Edward L. Cahn, William Witney?

I haven’t seen Panic in the Year Zero, 1962, the film by Ray Milland. The subject was fascinating, but the technicians who worked on the film, and who were my technicians, told me that Ray had been somewhat overwhelmed. He wasn’t organized enough to act and direct at the same time. He wasted time, on a three-week plan, and forgot plans… Edward L. Cahn was a very good guy. As soon as he was given a good script, he did magnificently. Billy Witney is an excellent director, but one who was unlucky. My brother produced two of his films and they had many misfortunes.

Coming back to Tales of Terror, 1962, it seemed to us that a whole part of the dialogue was composed of song titles?

That’s right. It was funny because the actress who was supposed to say this dialogue, Joyce Jameson, was a singer. In addition, it increased the grotesque side of the story. You see, I run the danger (like everyone else) of becoming a little pretentious, of distancing myself from the public. I don’t believe in great films that didn’t please anyone.

In the copy of Tales of Terror that you saw, there were two cuts, made by the English censors, the fight between the specter of Morella and her daughter; then the end of the final pan, which revealed Price’s corpse, completely decomposed.

As for The Young Racers (1963), was this the working copy?

The fact remains that you saw shots that I had cut: the Belgian ambulance in England, the arrival of the brother who became a race car driver in Monte Carlo. Perhaps the company added these plans to the European version without my agreement? It’s not a good movie, on the contrary, you can leave after the credits, but it caused me an unpleasant surprise. Would these people who always ask me for longer films have submitted these shots (which I had eliminated) for Europe thinking that no one would notice? But then, what happened to my other seventy


by Bertrand Tavernier

It was during the summer of 1962, in Hollywood, that I met Roger Corman, thanks to Robert Benayoun, who was the first critic to sing his praises from issue 50 of Positif. First for a drink. Then Corman organized a party in Robert’s honor so he could present his friends, his favorite actors, his screenwriters. We had just arrived in Los Angeles, after crossing the United States on a bus for $99. Robert Benayoun was preparing to meet Jerry Lewis and track down Tex Avery.  There were no small projects or diversions: we must reiterate the importance of Benayoun, as a critic, historian, writer and admirer. For my part, I made appointments with Allan Dwan, Samuel Fuller, Richard Bartlett.

I remember me chatting with Corman, in a garden. Around him, a few technicians or assistants and among them, Francis Ford Coppola who had just, I believe, finished Dementia 13, which would be released in 1963.

On each of my trips to the west side, I saw Corman again. We wrote to each other sometimes and I remember one of his letters where he said that he had been injured playing tennis. Since he couldn’t act for a month, he produced four films!

Later, with Pierre Rissient, we took care of the two Westerns by Monte Hellman, The Shooting and Ride in the Whirlwind, which he had produced in 1966 and copies of which were brought by their young star principal, Jack Nicholson. They were presented in Cannes and then released in Paris, with some success. In the United States, they were practically not distributed. I also worked as a press officer on the films based on Poe that Jean-Claude Romer, Michel Caen and Ms. Wasserman had programmed at Studio de l’Etoile, the best of which is The Tomb of Ligeia (La Tombe de Ligeia, 1964) – also on Bloody Mama (1970), which allowed me to bring him once again to Paris.

At the beginning of the seventies, he gave up directing to devote himself to production and distribution. I met him several times and even offered to take care of La Mort en direct, without success. On the other hand, his wife contacted me two years later so that I could direct Montaillou, an Occitan village, based on the best-seller by Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie that she wanted to produce for his company. It was one of his former collaborators who distributed  Coup De Torchon in the United States.

When Around Midnight came out, I had lunch with him in Westwood. He made me laugh a lot when he told me how he had decided to shoot in Peru to further reduce budgets that were already extremely tight. Joe Dante and Jonathan Demme told me that a director produced by Corman should not expect to make money. But, on condition of obeying certain immutable rules – peppering the story with sexual scenes or violence, punctuated by a few demanding tirades and above all not exceeding the budget – Corman left you free and thus gave you your chance.

In 1990, he returned to directing in incredible circumstances as described by John Boorman. The result, Frankenstein Unbound, combines Frankenstein, Shelley, Lord Byron and a scientist from the future.  It’s real nonsense, unfortunately more bizarre than convincing, served by a very academic cinematography and conventional imagery. Some scenes, however, seem very “Cormanian”: the one where John Hurt reads to Mary Shelley pages that she has not yet written, or this sumptuous reply from Byron in front of the address of the same John Hurt: “New York, New York . What a stupid redundancy.”

Roger Corman remains an icon and many directors have given him an appearance in their films in recent years, I am thinking in particular of Wim Wenders in State of Things. (1987) or Joe Dante in the fantastic The Second Civil War (1997). Joe Dante, who started cinema with him, and who cast him in 2003 in Looney Tunes: Back in Action 

I rewatch Corman’s films regularly, especially since enthusiasts reissue them on DVD. I was disappointed when rewatching certain opuses from the Edgar Poe cycle, such as The Fall of the House of Usher, 1960 or The Pit and the Pendulum, 1961: Vincent Price was all histrionics and the young leads exuded an abysmal void. Even Machine Gun Kelly (“Mitraillette” Kelly, 1958) seemed less good than I remembered. On the other hand, two films from 1964, The Masque of the Red Death or The Tomb of Ligeia hold up well, like The Secret Invasion, filmed the same year and which reveal quite a lot of joy.. This variation on the theme of The Dirty Dozen is filmed by Corman with an energy and a panache that outclasses the numerous British productions on the same subject. The screenplay by R. Wright Campbell, brother of the actor William Campbell who plays in the film and whose death is spectacular, accumulates the most prankish, most casual twists and turns, gives Raf Vallone a few meaningful sentences (“We let’s free them… But who will free them from us? And who will free us from ourselves?”) which the actor fortunately delivers with a certain lightness and, changing his tone, invents a really strong sequence during which Henry Silva suffocates a baby so as not to reveal its presence. Corman has significant resources, takes care of the photography with very saturated colors, especially in the early night scenes, and does very well in most of the action sequences even if we remain skeptical of the reactions of the extras playing the soldiers. Italians at the end, running for long minutes in the circular underground passages of the Dubrovnik fortress in front of the sudden appearance of the Serbs and in front of these German soldiers. He pulls off some nice shots in the more intimate moments including the discovery of the corpse of Mickey Rooney, quite remarkable as a member of the IRA.

I was also able to see some of Corman’s productions like the rather kitsch Big Bad Mama by Steve Carver, which allows us to admire Angie Dickinson naked. Corman reveals that she nitpicked about this scene when she was hired, demanding to be half-covered, and that when it came time to film, she sent everything flying and Corman had to stop the scene because it risked stalling the film. 

The beginning of Michael Miller’s Jackson County Jail (1976) is truly catastrophic and illogical until the arrival of Tommy Lee Jones, very young and already incredibly fair. He told me that the director mixed coke and alcohol, which made him incoherent: “But hey. I wanted to act in a Corman film, which I only saw once, have a big gun and go with the girl . That’s what happened.”

Finally, last year, I rewatched The Intruder (1962) on DVD, with which I had been harsh in Fifty Years of American Cinema. The film remains daring even if its conclusion seems hasty and forced. We can even speak of an impressive first part. Corman, his screenwriter Charles Beaumont – who plays a small role – and his interpreter William Shatner (before Star Trek) distil drop by drop an insidious unease, which takes on very current resonances in reference to the ultra-fundamentalist and conservative religious movements whose power has further amplified since the release of the film. The hero of The Intruder is the worthy representative: he teaches the catechism of racial hatred, and pits the inhabitants against foreigners and minorities. In Hollywood films, he is most often a secondary character, generally fought by the hero. Making him the major protagonist already constituted a strong innovation. Shatner’s arrival in the city, punctuated by beautiful music by Herman Stein and filmed in natural settings by the mysterious Taylor Byars, has an undeniable force. The first shot of the “intruder” on the bus, his eyes hidden by dark glasses, resembles a sort of mutant, the hero of Not of This Earth (1957).

With Roger Corman, we have crossed paths several times in recent years. I remember warm lunches in Westwood, Los Angeles and a meeting at the Valenciennes Adventure Film Festival where he was president of the jury. Although he has stopped directing, he remains a prolific producer with three films in progress in 2008 alone, Cyclops (Declan O’Brien), Road Raiders (Cirio Santiago, Jim Wynorski), Death Race (Paul W. S. Anderson ). Just reading the titles is exciting and continues to make you want to see, as Joe Dante says further in the interview he gave for this book, “Roger Corman’s last film”. Coherence of a work, of an approach, of a conviction: Roger Corman occupies a very unique place in the history of cinema.


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