Posted by Richard Harland Smith on June 7, 2013
Just in time for summer vacation, the new issue of Shock Cinema is in the house!
The issue’s big, manly interview is with Hollywood veteran Stuart (shirt optional) Whitman, star of such balls-to-the-wall classics as THE DECKS RAN RED (1958), Don Siegel’s HOUND DOG MAN (1959), MURDER, INC. (1960), the daring psychodrama THE MARK (1961), THE COMANCHEROS (1961) with John Wayne, SHOCK TREATMENT (1964), THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES (1965), the incomparable, baboon-studded SANDS OF THE KALAHARI (1965), the hare-raising NIGHT OF THE LEPUS (1972), Hammer’s SHATTER (1974), Tobe Hooper’s EATEN ALIVE (1976), Alberto de Martino’s STRANGE SHADOWS IN AN EMPTY ROOM (aka BLAZING MAGNUM, 1976), and GUYANA: CULT OF THE DAMNED (1979), in which Whitman played an oh so thinly-veiled Reverend Jim Jones. Long out of the limelight (he hasn’t made a film since 2000), Whitman proves himself pleasantly informative about his fifty year career, which began with a bit in the end-of-the-world epic WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE (1951), and bracingly candid about his career highs (Whitman was a last minute replacement in SANDS OF THE KALAHARI for George Peppard, who fled the African location rather than work with untrained primates) and lows (he credits NIGHT OF THE LEPUS with killing his American film career), about his innovative but short-lived TV series CIMARRON STRIP (1967-1968), the troubled productions (MURDER, INC., SHATTER) and all the incredible people he met along the way (Simone Signoret — he tapped that). Anthony Petkovich interviewed Whitman (who turned 85 in February) at his Montecito home and you can almost smell the sea breeze as the two roll back over Whitman’s diverse resume.
She of the smart side-part, Shirley Knight is interviewed in this issue by Justin Bozung. A native of Kansas (she and her siblings worked as extras on the set of Joshua Logan’s PICNIC), Knight became interested in acting only as a means of opening her up to be a singer and when she traveled 1,600 miles west to the Pasadena Playhouse she only really wanted to see the ocean. Spotted by an agent during scene work in class, Knight was asked to test at MGM and Warner Brothers, both of whom offered her a six-month contract. Intimidated by the suits at Metro, Knight signed with Warners and quickly wound up guesting on such weekly TV series as RAWHIDE, 77 SUNSET STRIP, MAVERICK, and JOHNNY STACCATO with John Cassavetes. She made her feature film debut as a nun in the wartime actioner FIVE GATES TO HELL (1959), written and directed by James Clavell (hot off the success of scripting THE FLY) for 20th Century Fox, but it was for an early role in Delbert Mann’s THE DARK AT THE TOP OF THE STAIRS (1960) that put Knight on the map, and got her nominated for an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actress. The honor was no mean feat, given that Knight’s costars included such former Oscar-nominated actresses as Angela Landsbury, Eve Arden, and Dorothy McGuire, in addition to Robert Preston (who wouldn’t receive his own Academy nod for another 20 years). Lightning struck twice when Knight received another Oscar nomination for her role in SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH (1962), Richard Brooks’ adaptation of the 1959 play by Tennessee Williams. Within just a few years of landing in California, the kid from Kansas had arrived… but studio head Jack Warner decided to put Knight in her place (lest she turn into “another Bette Davis”) by knocking her down to the minors and assigning her a role in the prison potboiler HOUSE OF WOMEN (1962). Ultimately, Knight persevered (and did a lot of television, popping up on NAKED CITY, THE VIRGINIAN, THE OUTER LIMITS, and ARREST AND TRIAL) and returned to features, where she contributed sensitive, nuanced, and unforgettable performances to THE GROUP (1966), DUTCHMAN (1967) with Al Freeman, Jr. (Burgess Meredith paid for her to have stripping lessons), Richard Lester’s PETULIA (1967), and Francis Ford Coppola’s THE RAIN PEOPLE (1969), costarring with future KILLER ELITE leads Robert Duvall and James Caan. It seems Knight has never been out of work and her chat with Justin Bozung is a master class in weathering a long and successful career in the business. Will any Hollywood actress ever again have a career like this?
The new issue also offers interviews with Euro-cult standard Barbara Bouchet (never one of my favorite people but good stories — prior to her return to the Continent in 1970 and career reboot as an Italian movie star, the young starlet delivered Chicken Delight to make ends meet!) and American character actor Jon Polito, who tells a great story about how he shoehorned his way into the Broadway production of AMERICAN BUFFALO as Kenneth McMillan’s (surprising revelation warning — but no spoilers!) understudy and relates anecdotes from his many fine performances for the Coen Brothers. But more than half the fun of tucking into each issue of Shock Cinema is the host of reviews that are jammed between the covers. The syllabus is wide-ranging, from major studio stinkers (MGM’s Elmore Leonard-scripted THE MOONSHINE WAR, with Patrick McGoohan as a revenuer and Alan Alda as a Kentucky moonshiner. No, really.) to low budget exploitation programmers (the obscure biker flick THE BIG SCORE, aka A TON OF GRASS GOES TO POT. With Doodles Weaver. No, really.) to forgotten (and unsold) TV pilots (POWER MAN with Art Hindle; THE NIGHT RIDER with David Selby) to Euro-sleaze (DIRTY WEEKEND with Marcello Mastroianni and Oliver Reed) to regional Christian preaching-to-the-choir fare (TEST OF FAITH – “Imagine FOOTLOOSE, except with mostly first-time actors, a public access-sized budget and, instead of dancing, a strong-willed teenager who fights for his belief in the Bible!”). Where else can you read back-to-back reviews of GOIN’ COCONUTS (1978) starring Donny and Marie Osmond and the Canadian horror porno SPERMULA (1974)? Or of the historical drama ZULU DAWN (1979) and BATH SALT ZOMBIES (2013)? You’re not going to get this kind of service at The House Next Door! Long story short, another fantastic read from editor/publisher Steven Puchalski. Required reading. Hit the newsstands!
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