The films of legendary studio American-International Pictures were made for summer nights at the drive-in. The long work week is over and it’s finally Saturday night. So fill up the family station wagon and head just outside of town off of Route 6 to the Elm Road Drive-In. Grab some snacks, hook the speaker on the window and watch this Double Feature. If you dare!!
The Beast With 1,000,000 Eyes (1955)
Starring Paul Birch, Lorna Thayer, Dona Cole and Richard Sargent
Allan Kelley (Birch), his wife, Carol (Thayer) and daughter, Sandy (Cole) are fig farmers out in the middle of Coyote Nowhere. It is a lonely, solitary existence and their relationship with each other has deteriorated. Poor Carol is approaching the end of her rope when she hears what she thinks is a low-flying plane going over their property. Afterwards, animals around the place get vicious and start attacking the family – not immune is the family dog who attacks Carol. She kills him with an axe, furthering estranging her daughter. When the simpleton workman on the Kelley place also becomes violent, it is discovered that he has been out in the desert and there is discovered the culprit of all this mayhem; the beast, who can control all the lesser beings that come into contact with it. These numerous beings provide the beast with its many eyes.
At the outset of his career, filmmaker Roger Corman was given a lump sum to make four films for American-International Pictures. After making three, Roger had $29,000 left. No sweat, he likely said, I can make a film for that much. To do so, Corman had to use a non-union crew which meant that the film had to be shot in out-of-the-way desert towns around Los Angeles while the union sent people to chase Corman’s production in the hopes of shutting it down. Subsequently, Roger Corman’s name does not appear on the film. But an even bigger factor in making the film for so little money emerged when Sam Arkoff and Jim Nicholson – who founded and ran AIP – saw the finished print. There was no beast; not even one with two eyes.
See, Jim Nicholson had a knack. Well, many but one in particular was coming up with titles. Often Sam and Jim made movies that started with titles and then became posters. If it seemed people would watch the proposed film, then a script was written and a cast and crew assembled. Nicholson came up with the title “Beast with a Million Eyes” and a striking ad campaign emerged including posters that showed a hideous monster menacing a bikini-clad girl. The ads even declared that the film was shot in something called “TerrorScope”.
Problem was, said Corman, there was no budget for a beast. Arkoff and Nicholson rolled up their sleeves – and bought a kettle. They poked 40 holes in a teakettle and starred it in additional scenes. They shot steam out of the kettle, lighting it in a way to maximize its “ominous appearance”. The film has its charm; the same type of charm often found in low-budget movies. I’m always struck by the sincerity of the casts in movies like this. They really seem to be locked in, as if they are the only ones unaware that they are in a B movie. Paul Birch was a B movie master who was prolific on television. Lorna Thayer shows up – often uncredited – in a surprising amount of quality films but Dona Cole was barely an actress at all; her credits won’t use up the fingers on one of your hands. Interestingly, though, the script has its moments.
The Kelley family’s relationship is strained but they learn that they must bond together to defeat this outside menace. This fight against the beast is symbolic of their relationship with each other. They learn they are stronger together and there’s an element of human triumph here; “Together we can defeat it. If we fight it together we can win.” Listen for the striking and vigorous musical score.
Day the World Ended (1955)
Starring Paul Birch, Richard Denning, Lori Nelson, Mike Connors and Adele Jergens
Atomic war has seemingly wiped out everyone on earth. The lead in the rocks of a cliff surrounding a valley has protected a group of people in the area. Jim Madison (Birch) and his daughter, Louise (Nelson) have been anticipating this catastrophe and have been stockpiling supplies. Louise is mourning the loss of her fiancé in the holocaust. Geologist Rick (Denning) shows up and joins the Madisons. Then small-time mobster, Tony Lamont (Connors) and his moll, Ruby (Jergens), show up and begin agitating at once.
The group is being menaced by a mutated creature obviously a victim of radiation who threatens to carry them off one at a time. Another concern is that the rain will soon come and wash the radioactivity out of the clouds and onto the earth, killing these survivors. As if all this wasn’t enough, gangster Lamont wants to kill all the men and have both women to himself. An angry and jealous Ruby runs off and is killed and Tony comes out on the losing end of a tangle with Jim. Jim, dying now from uranium poisoning, learns that the rain is untainted and in fact it will wash the contaminated earth. It is also learned that the hideous mutation that has been threatening them is Lori’s lost fiancé. With the rain having cleansed the earth, Rick and Lori decide that they can start anew together.
Shot in SuperScope (!) in ten days for $96,000, Day the World Ended was directed again by Roger Corman and had as its theme the danger of nuclear war which would have reflected the fears of the day. Small-time actor Paul Blaisdell could be considered the real star of this film. With apparent capabilities in any and all areas of filmmaking, Arkoff and Nicholson asked Paul to come up with a costume for a horrible, seven-foot-tall mutant. Paul came up with the goods except the suit he made was almost half the requested size. In fact, the suit was so small that only someone the size of 5-foot-2 Paul himself could fit into it. So the producers rolled their eyes and acquiesced, telling Paul to suit up and get before the cameras. Paul Blaisdell then was able to jockey himself into an acting job but it wasn’t all glory for the little fella. Near the end of the film, the script called for the monster to topple over and Paul found this part easy. He was in a pond at the time, though, and this proved problematic, what with wearing a cumbersome monster suit. Corman yelled “Cut!” and everyone began packing up. It took several moments for anyone to realize that poor Paul was drowning, not being able to right himself in the water. Some of the crew jumped in and saved the monster from the deep. Blaisdell would go on to a…well, it was a career. He performed in several other films from AIP portraying “The Monster” (twice), “Corpse” and “Saucer Man”, among other “characters”.
Paul Birch shows up again as the sensible but ill-fated Jim Madison. His daughter is portrayed by dishy Lori Nelson who appeared in both B and A features. Her credits range from Bend of the River (1952) and Pardners (1956) to Revenge of the Creature (1955) and Hot Rod Girl (1956). She dated Tab Hunter and Tab says the two almost married. Nelson did marry composer Johnny Mann and she died in the summer of 2020. And how about Mike Connors being born with the wonderfully exotic name Krekor Ohanian. The Fresno-born Armenian acquired the nickname “Touch” during high school basketball and his agent, the infamous Henry Willson, gave him the “all-American name” of Connors. He is billed here as “Touch Connors” but would forge a formidable career as Mike Connors.