When It Comes To Halloween, Should You Trust The IMDb?


Dr. Sam Loomis

Like a lot of people, I enjoy browsing the trivia sections of the IMDb.  While it’s true that a lot of the items are stuff like, “This movie features two people who appeared on a television series set in the Star Trek Universe!,” you still occasionally came across an interesting fact or two.

Of course, sometimes, you just come across something that makes so little sense that you can only assume that it was posted as a joke.  For instance, I was reading the IMDb’s trivia for the original 1978 Halloween and I came across this:

Peter O’Toole, Mel Brooks, Steven Hill, Walter Matthau, Jerry Van Dyke, Lawrence Tierney, Kirk Douglas, John Belushi, Lloyd Bridges, Abe Vigoda, Kris Kristofferson, Sterling Hayden, David Carradine, Dennis Hopper, Charles Napier, Yul Brynner and Edward Bunker were considered for the role of Dr. Sam Loomis.

Now, some of these names make sense.  Despite the fact that Sam Loomis became Donald Pleasence’s signature role, it is still possible to imagine other actors taking the role and perhaps bringing a less neurotic interpretation to the character.

Peter O’Toole as Dr. Loomis?  Okay, I can see that.

Kirk Douglas, Sterling Hayden, Charles Napier, Steve Hill, or Lloyd Bridges as Dr. Loomis?  Actually, I can imagine all of them grimacing through the role.

Walter Matthau?  Well, I guess if you wanted Dr. Loomis to be kind of schlubby….

Abe Vigoda?  Uhmmm, okay.

Dennis Hopper?  That would be interesting.

Mel Brooks?  What?  Wait….

John Belushi?  Okay, stop it!

Dr. Sam Loomis

My point is that I doubt any of these people were considered for the role of Dr. Loomis.  Both director John Carpenter and producer Debra Hill have said that they wanted to cast an English horror actor in the role, as a bit of an homage to the Hammer films of the 60s.  Christopher Lee was offered the role but turned it down, saying that he didn’t care for the script or the low salary.  (Lee later said this was one of the biggest mistakes of his career.)  Peter Cushing’s agent turned down the role, again because of the money.  It’s not clear whether Cushing himself ever saw the script.

To be honest, I could easily Peter Cushing in the role and I could see him making a brilliant Dr. Loomis.  But, ultimately, Donald Pleasence was the perfect (if not the first) choice for the role.  Of course, Pleasence nearly turned down the role as well.  Apparently, it was his daughter, Angela, who changed his mind.  She was an admirer of John Carpenter’s previous film, Assault on Precint 13.  Carpenter has said that he was originally intimidated by Donald Pleasence (the man had played Blofeld, after all) but that Pleasence turned out to be a professional and a gentleman.

Laurie Strode

Of course, Halloween is best known for being the first starring role of Jamie Lee Curtis.  Curtis was actually not Carpenter’s first choice for the role of Laurie Strode.  His first choice was an actress named Annie Lockhart, who was the daughter of June Lockhart.  Carpenter changed his mind when he learned that Jamie was the daughter of Janet Leigh.  Like any great showman, Carpenter understood the importance of publicity and he knew nothing would bring his horror movie more publicity then casting the daughter of the woman whose onscreen death in Psycho left moviegoers nervous about taking a shower.

There was also another future big name who came close to appearing in Halloween.  At the time that she was cast as Lynda, P.J. Soles was dating an up-and-coming actor from Texas named Dennis Quaid.  Quaid was offered the role of Lynda’s doomed boyfriend, Bob but he was already committed to another film.

Not considered for a role was Robert Englund, though the future Freddy Krueger still spent some time on set.  He was hired by Carpenter to help spread around the leaves that would make it appear as if his film was taking place in the October, even though it was filmed in May.

Robert Englund, making May look like October

Interestingly enough, Englund nearly wasn’t need for that job because Halloween was not originally envisioned as taking place on Halloween or any other specific holiday.  When producer Irwin Yablans and financier Moustapha Akkad originally approached Carpenter and Hill to make a movie for them about a psycho stalking three babysitters, they didn’t care when the film was set.  It was only after Carpenter and Hill wrote a script called The Babysitter Muders that it occurred to Yablans that setting the film during Halloween would be good from a marketing standpoint.  Plus Halloween made for a better title than The Babysitter Murders.

And, of course, the rest is history.  Carpenter’s film came to define Halloween and it still remains the standard by which every subsequent slasher movie has been judged.  Would that have happened if the film had been known as The Babysitter Murders and had starred John Belushi?

Sadly, we may never know.

30 Days of Noir #25: Gangster Story (dir by Walter Matthau)


The 1959 film, Gangster Story, holds the distinction of being the only film ever directed by the Oscar-winning actor, Walter Matthau.

That’s right, this low-budget film about a bank robber and the people who want to kill him was directed by TCM’s favorite curmudgeon.  The man who would later be nominated for multiple Oscars and who would star in numerous Neil Simon adaptations only directed one film and that movie was a low-budget, 68-minute, black-and-white movie about cops and robbers.

(And no, Jack Lemmon is nowhere to be found.)

Walter Matthau not only directed this film but he starred in it as well.  He plays Jack Martin, a career criminal who pulls off a daring bank robbery.  How does he do it?  Well, first, he rents an office in the same building as the bank.  He gets to know everyone at the bank.  He wins their trust.  No one can resist the charms of Jack Martin, which I guess is the advantage of getting to direct yourself.

On the day of the robbery, Jack approaches the cops who are hanging around outside the bank.  He tells them that he’s from Hollywood and he’s going to be shooting a scene in which he pretends to rob the bank.  He assures them that it will look realistic.  They might even see a rather flustered bank manager leading him into the vault.  But it’s just a movie and therefore, it’s very important that the cops not rush into the bank with their guns drawn or anything silly like that.

Of course, the cops fall for it.  While Jack is busy robbing the bank, the cops are just hanging around and shooting the breeze outside.  When Jack walks out of the bank, he thanks the cops for not ruining the scene and then promptly leaves.  Needless to say, the cops are humiliated when they realize how they’ve been tricked.  For them, tracking down Jack isn’t just about upholding the law.  It’s about vengeance.

Meanwhile, the local mob boss is upset because not only did Jack rob the bank without permission but he also failed to shared any of the stolen money.  Not only does Jack have the cops after him but he also has all the local gangsters!

What a mess!

However, Jack isn’t worried.  He’s happy because he’s met and fallen in with a local librarian, Carol (played by Carol Grace).  Will Jack find love or will his criminal past find him?

It’s always a bit strange to watch a film that’s been directed by an actor with a firmly entrenched persona.  Matthau was famous for playing urban misanthropes and, when watching Gangster Story, your natural instinct is to look for signs of that curmudgeonly worldview.  There are hints of it in the scene where Jack tricks the cops outside the bank but, for the most part, there’s really not much personality to be found in any of the film’s scenes.  Matthau’s direction is workmanlike but never particularly memorable.  For reasons that will soon become clear, as a director, Matthau seems far more interested in the unlikely love story between Jack and Carol than in the film’s criminal-on-the-run storyline.  After making this film together, Walter Matthau and Carol Grace married.  It was her third marriage and Matthau’s second and it lasted for 41 years, ending only with Walter Matthau’s death in 2000.

Not surprisingly, the scenes between Jack and Carol are the best in the film.  As for the rest of it, it’s pretty much a standard crime film.  As a director, Matthau struggles to keep the story moving at a steady pace and the film’s low-budget certainly doesn’t help.  Watching the film, you can tell why Walter Matthau devoted the rest of his career to acting as opposed to directing.  It’s hard not to feel that he made the right choice.

A Movie A Day #17: The Laughing Policeman (1973, directed by Stuart Rosenberg)


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San Francisco in the 1970s.  Revolution is in the air.  Hippies are on every street corner.  A man named Gus Niles knows that he’s being tailed by an off-duty cop, Dave Evans.  Gus boards a city bus, knowing that Evans will follow him.  On the bus, an unseen gunman suddenly opens fire with an M3 submachine gun, not only killing both Evans and Gus but six other people as well.  After the bus crashes, the gunman calmly departs.  At first, it is assumed that the massacre was another random mass shooting, like Charles Whitman in Austin or Mark Essex in New Orleans.  But one San Francisco detective is convinced that it wasn’t random at all.

The Laughing Policeman was one of the many police procedurals to be released after the box office success of Dirty Harry and The French Connection and, despite the name, it’s also one of the grimmest.  While the complex mystery behind why Evans was following Gus and who killed everyone on the bus is intriguing, The Laughing Policeman‘s main focus is on the often frustrating nitty gritty of the investigation, complete with false leads, uncooperative witnesses, unanswerable questions, and detectives who frequently make stupid mistakes.  The movie’s first fifteen minutes are devoted to the police processing the bus, with Stuart Rosenberg (best known for directing Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke) using overlapping dialogue to give the entire scene a documentary feel.  As Detective Jake Martin, Walter Matthau is even more cynical and downbeat than usual while Bruce Dern provides good support as a younger, more volatile detective.  The supporting cast is full of 70s character actors, like Lou Gossett, Anthony Zerbe, Gregory Sierra,and playing perhaps the sleaziest drug dealer ever seen in an American movie, Paul Koslo.

The Laughing Policeman was based on a Swedish novel that took place in Stockholm but, for the movie, Swedish Detective Martin Beck became world-weary Sgt. Jake Martin and Stockholm became San Francisco.  Rosenberg directed the entire film on location, giving The Laughing Policeman the type of realistic feeling that would later be duplicated by TV shows like Hill Street Blues, NYPD Blue, and Law & Order.  Though it may not be as well-known as either Dirty Harry or The French Connection, The Laughing Policeman is a dark and tough police procedural, an underrated classic of the genre.

Incidentally, The Laughing Policeman was one of the first films for which character actor Bruce Dern shared top billing.  According to Dern’s autobiography, Matthau generously insisted that Dern be credited, with him, above the title.

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The Medium is the Message: Andy Griffith in A FACE IN THE CROWD (Warner Brothers 1957)


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If you only know Andy Griffith from his genial TV Southerners in THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW and MATLOCK, brace yourself for A FACE IN THE CROWD. Griffith’s folksy monologues had landed him a starring role in the hit Broadway comedy NO TIME FOR SERGEANTS. The vicious, wild-eyed Lonesome Rhodes was thousands of miles away from anything he had done before, and the actor, guided by the sure hand of director Elia Kazan, gives us a searing performance in this satire of the power of the media, and the menace of the demagogue.

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When we first meet Larry Rhodes, he’s in the drunk tank in rural Pickett, Arkansas, a small town not unlike Mayberry. Local radio host Marcia Jeffries is doing a remote broadcast there, hoping to catch some ratings. The no-account drifter is hostile at first, but when the sheriff promises him an early release, you can practically see the wheels spinning…

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Shattered Politics #23: Fail-Safe (dir by Sidney Lumet)


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After watching Dr. Strangelove, you may find yourself asking what that film would have been like if it had treated its doomsday scenario seriously.  Well, you can find out by watching yet another film from 1964, Sidney Lumet’s Fail-Safe.

What’s Fail-Safe about?  Well, basically, it tells the exact same story as Dr. Strangelove, except without the humor.  Once again, an American bomber is accidentally ordered to launch a nuclear attack against Russia.  Again, the President (played, somewhat inevitably, by Henry Fonda) has to have an awkward conversation with the leader of Russia.  Again, a sinister defense advisor (this time played by Walter Matthau) argues that the world can survive a nuclear war.

Admittedly, there is no equivalent to George C. Scott’s Buck Turgidson in Fail-Safe.  However, there is a General Black (Dan O’Herilihy) who has a recurring nightmare about watching a bullfight while the sky around him glows with radiation.

Fail-Safe has the same plot as Dr. Strangelove but none of the humor.  In fact, Fail-Safe has absolutely no humor at all.  It’s one of the most somber films that I’ve ever seen.  It has a good opening with General Black’s nightmare and an effective ending that makes excellent use of freeze frames but the middle of the film is basically just a collection of endless debates.

And I’m sure that approach made sense at the time because, after all, Fail-Safe was dealing with a serious theme, it was directed by a serious filmmaker, and it featured a bunch of serious actors.  And maybe if I had never seen Dr. Strangelove, Fail-Safe would not seem like such a slow and boring movie.  But I have seen Dr. Strangelove and, as a result, it’s impossible to watch Fail-Safe without wanting to hear Henry Fonda say, “You can’t fight here!  This is the war room!”

Embracing the Melodrama #14: Bigger Than Life (dir by Nicholas Ray)


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Today, we continue to embrace the melodrama by taking a look at Nicholas Ray’s 1956 Hell-In-The-Suburbs masterpiece, Bigger Than Life.  Unfortunately for some of you, this review is going to contain minor spoilers because there’s no way you can talk about Bigger Than Life without talking about that ending.

Bigger Than Life is a film about deception.

English teacher Ed Avery (James Mason, who not only gives a brilliant lead performance but produced the film as well) pretends to be happy with his safe and dull life but it only takes a few minutes of looking at his strained smile and listening to him wearily  make perfunctory conversation to realize that Ed is a deeply disappointed man.  He decorates his house with travel posters for locations that he’s never visited and spends too much time thinking about when he played football in high school, the one time in life when he truly stood out from the crowd.

Ed doesn’t want his wife Louise (Barbara Rush) to know that they’re in financial trouble so he gets a job working as a taxi dispatcher without telling her.  While Louise fears that he’s actually having an affair, Ed spends his time coming up with excuses for why he can never come straight home from school.

Ed doesn’t want either Lou or his son Richie (Christopher Olsen) to know that he’s been feeling pain and dizziness.  It’s only after he faints at home that he finally agrees to go to the hospital.

The doctors who inform Ed that he has a life threatening condition don’t want Ed to know how dangerous the medicine that they’ve prescribed for him can truly be.  They tell him that cortisone can save his life but they don’t tell him about the side effects.  It’s up to his friend Wally (Walter Matthau) to research the drug and, by the time he does, it’s already too late.

Ed doesn’t want anyone to know that he’s becoming a drug addict.  However, as he takes more and more of the pills, his personality starts to change.  The once meek Ed is now demanding perfect service at stores and restaurants.  At a PTA meeting, Ed has no problem announcing that most of his students are stupid.  (“You should make that young man principal!” one parent shouts, apparently relieved to hear that a teacher thinks of little of his children as he does.)  At home, Ed pushes his son to become a football great and announces that he no longer loves his wife.

Richie doesn’t want his father to know that he now hates him.  Lou doesn’t want her husband to know how much she is growing to fear him.

Ed doesn’t want Richie to know that, after reading the biblical story of Abraham and Isaac, Ed has decided that he has to murder his son.  When Lou points out that God kept Abraham from killing Isaac, Ed replies, “God was wrong.”

And finally, the film itself deceives you into thinking that it has a happy ending with Lou and Richie hugging a now recovered Ed.  Everyone laughs and the happy music swells but there’s prominent shadow cast on the wall close to the family, a reminder that the darkness that Ed has unleashed on his family will not be so easily contained or forgotten.

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Bigger Than Life is famous for being one of those films that flopped when it was originally released, just to eventually be rediscovered and acclaimed decades later when it was released as part of the Criterion Collection.  It’s easy to understand why the film flopped because the power of Bigger Than Life is almost entirely to be found in the film’s subtext.  On the surface, Bigger Than Life is a typical social problem film.  In this case, that problem would appear to be drug abuse.

However, as you watch the film, it becomes obvious that, for director Nicholas Ray, the real problem is the conformist and repressed society that the Avery family finds themselves living in.  When Ed’s personality changes, all he is really doing is achieving an extreme version of the ideal suburban existence.  The suburban ideal is that the man should be the king of his castle.  Ed becomes a king but he’s one of those kings who would behead his subjects on a whim.  In telling this tale of American exceptionalism gone mad, Nicholas Ray uses the techniques of European expressionism, using skewed camera angles and creating a world that is full of shadows.  Even before Ed takes his first pill, his world is a dark and threatening one.

By the end of the film, Ed may be off the drugs and he may be recovering but, as Nicholas Ray makes clear, the real problem remains.

Bigger Than Life

44 Days of Paranoia #29: A Face In The Crowd (dir by Elia Kazan)


For our latest entry in the 44 Days of Paranoia, we take a look at Elia Kazan’s 1957 political satire, A Face In The Crowd.

The film opens with radio producer Marcia Jeffries (Patricia Neal) visiting a local jail in Arkansas.  She’s looking for human interest stories that she can feature on her show and she discovers one when she meets an imprisoned drifter named Larry Rhodes (Andy Griffith).  When Marcia interviews him, Rhodes proves himself to be a natural performer, telling folksy jokes and launching into a song about being a “free man in the morning.”  Rhodes proves to be so popular that, after he’s released from jail, he pursues a career in show business with Marcia as both his manager and, eventually, his lover.

Moving to Memphis, a renamed Lonesome Rhodes eventually lands his own television variety show and he soon starts doing irreverent commercials for local companies.  Along the way, Rhodes also finds a new manager, the glib and manic Joey DePalma (Anthony Franciosa).  With the help of Joey, Rhodes becomes the spokesman for a fake energy supplement, Vitajex.

As Rhodes’ fame grows, so does his ego.  After dumping Jeffries, Rhodes impulsively marries a 17 year-old majorette (Lee Remick).  His show also goes national and Rhodes soon starts to use his influence to try to both promote an incompetent, business-backed Presidential candidate and to destroy anyone who he considers to be an enemy.  As his show’s disillusioned head writer (Walter Matthau) puts it, Rhodes has become a “demagogue in denim.”

A Face In The Crowd is a personal favorite of mine.  Director Kazan deftly mixes satire with melodrama and, with the exception of the weak ending, the film’s vision of media manipulation and demagogic celebrities probably feels more plausible today than when it was first released.  The film is full of great performances, from the avuncular Walter Matthau to vulnerable Patricia Neal to the innocent-and-then-not-so-innocent Lee Remick.  Anthony Franciosa is wonderfully glib and sleazy and it’s a lot of fun to watch his joy at discovering how easy it is to manipulate the world.

Ultimately, however, the film’s success is mostly due to Andy Griffith’s amazing performance as Lonesome Rhodes.  Griffith, displaying all of the folksiness but none of the empathy that would be displayed in his later television show, turns Rhodes into a force of nature, a smiling charlatan and a charismatic sociopath who manipulates for the pure enjoyment of manipulation.

To make the obvious comparison, it’s very easy to imagine Lonesome Rhodes getting his own show on MSNBC, where on a nightly basis he could bark orders at his followers and ridicule anyone who dares to question him.  But even beyond that, the character of Lonesome Rhodes resonates.  I’m from the South.  I grew up down here and I live down here.  I can tell you, from my own personal observations and experiences, that we still have our share of demagogues.  Some of them run in elections and some of them preach on Sunday but all of them have got a bit of Lonesome Rhodes inside of them.

For that reason, A Face In The Crowd is probably more relevent today than it’s ever been.

Other Entries In The 44 Days of Paranoia 

  1. Clonus
  2. Executive Action
  3. Winter Kills
  4. Interview With The Assassin
  5. The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald
  6. JFK
  7. Beyond The Doors
  8. Three Days of the Condor
  9. They Saved Hitler’s Brain
  10. The Intruder
  11. Police, Adjective
  12. Burn After Reading
  13. Quiz Show
  14. Flying Blind
  15. God Told Me To
  16. Wag the Dog
  17. Cheaters
  18. Scream and Scream Again
  19. Capricorn One
  20. Seven Days In May
  21. Broken City
  22. Suddenly
  23. Pickup on South Street
  24. The Informer
  25. Chinatown
  26. Compliance
  27. The Lives of Others
  28. The Departed