Kendra Steiner Editions (Bill Shute)

June 23, 2020

I CANNOT, YET I MUST by Anders Runestad (Radiosonde Books)

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 12:37 am
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I CANNOT, YET I MUST: THE STORY OF…ROBOT MONSTER

by ANDERS  RUNESTAD

published by Radiosonde Books, 683 pages

available from Amazon or Barnes & Noble

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/i-cannot-yet-i-must-anders-runestad/1123330634?ean=9780692576625

visit the author’s website at https://runestadwrites.com/

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THE SURVIVING FEATURE FILMS DIRECTED BY PHIL TUCKER:

ROBOT MONSTER (1953)

DANCE HALL RACKET (circa 1954)

DREAM FOLLIES (circa 1954)

BAGDAD AFTER MIDNIGHT (circa 1955)

TIJUANA AFTER MIDNIGHT (circa 1955)

BROADWAY JUNGLE (circa 1955)

THE CAPE CANAVERAL MONSTERS (circa 1960)

(PRESENTLY) LOST FEATURE FILMS DIRECTED BY PHIL TUCKER:

SPACE JOCKEY (circa 1953)

PACHUCO (circa 1957)

A book about maverick independent film-maker PHIL TUCKER is long overdue. Rob Craig, author of excellent analytical books on the films of Larry Buchanan, Andy Milligan, and Ed Wood—-and a fellow Phil Tucker fan—-told me a few years ago he would love to someday do a similar book on Tucker’s films, but now seemingly out of the blue a massive and massively-researched book on Tucker’s works and career came in 2015 from Anders Runestad, and until one of Tucker’s lost films surfaces, it’s surely the last word on Mr. Tucker and his body of work and the milieu in which he labored. The author spent a decade researching the subject, and does it show! He’s combed through local newspapers from areas where Tucker lived and worked, he’s talked to the surviving people who worked with or knew (or knew people who knew!) Tucker, he found interviews with people who knew Tucker but have passed away, he gained access to Tucker’s personal notes and some tape-recorded interviews, he worked with Tucker’s son to get his memories and details, and he even got access to the script from Robot Monster, and a huge chunk of the book is devoted to an analysis of the script and how it differs from the finished film. This is how a film book should be researched and written.

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Lenny Bruce (center) and Timothy Farrell (R) in DANCE HALL RACKET

In my earliest days with VHS home video, say the mid 1980’s, I had only a handful of films, many of them so-called “cult films” that weren’t yet in general circulation, and the one I watched perhaps more than any other was Phil Tucker’s DANCE HALL RACKET. I would guess I watched it 30-40 times (by the way, I see from this book that there are THREE distinct versions of the film—-mine was the one without the repeated footage and without the copyright notice in the credits). Not only do I have the film’s many lines memorized, my family members do. Even today, decades later, I will raise an eyebrow to my wife, and suggest we take “a trip to Hawaii.” Out of the blue, I may say in a scratchy, whiny voice, “hey, Mr. Scali,” and I’m fortunate to have friends who will catch an “Icepick” reference, if I make one.

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What impressed me most about DANCE HALL RACKET was not only its entertainment value, the jazzy library music score, and the quirky characters who seem to exist in some kind of alternate universe that I very much want to be part of….but especially the fact that a feature film that’s a crime film could be made so cheaply, yet still put a smile on my face and have me consider it an hour well-spent (multiple times).

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It’s nice to learn that Phil Tucker did not come to a sad end, the way some other cult-film figures did, but he was able to work his way into the larger (legitimate) film industry…and also to learn that  he was an affable, good-natured kind of fellow. His sense of humor comes through in his work.

There’s also a long and detailed analysis of what is in many ways Phil Tucker’s most fascinating work, BROADWAY JUNGLE (see pic below).

broadway jungle

BROADWAY JUNGLE is a true piece of outsider cinema, which is interesting because clearly Phil Tucker COULD make a competent micro-budget exploitation film within the traditional parameters of the z-grade grindhouse and drive-in market. BROADWAY JUNGLE almost resembles something by Andy Warhol from 8-10 years later. Even today, the film gives off an uncomfortable vibe, as if you shouldn’t be watching it, while at the same time being full of broad humor….and a lot of slaps in the face of pretentiousness  in the film industry in all its forms.

And speaking of drive-ins, the author’s research has  uncovered how much long-term drive-in action even the most obscure 50’s exploitation films got in backwater towns across the nation. I was never aware how many tens of thousands of people, if not hundreds of thousands, paid to see something like GIRL GANG or DANCE HALL RACKET or the AFTER MIDNIGHT series, even well into the early 60’s.

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I haven’t even mentioned ROBOT MONSTER, Tucker’s first film (actually, it was an ambitious start—- a 3-D movie that dealt in its own way with very serious themes and got some industry attention in its day, also an early credit for one of my favorite actors, George Nader, who ALWAYS knew exactly what level to pitch his performance on, when he was working in genre-films), which is the book’s main focus. Not only do you get the script, but a deep analysis of how it was shot, scene by scene, what was cut, what was adapted for the final version, etc.

Let’s hope someone someday does a restoration of CAPE CANAVERAL MONSTERS, although that’s not that likely as it’s in a kind of rights limbo. Perhaps some filmmaker or video company owner with money can make it a passion project….it would be great to see that film in an acceptable form, not the murky, dupe-y version presently floating around.

Anyone who has enjoyed ANY of  Phil Tucker’s films—-and pretty much EVERYONE who has an interest in vintage exploitation films or cult films has enjoyed more than one, I’m sure—will be amazed that this book exists and how much first-hand reportage it contains. You’ll also learn a lot about Tucker-related figures such as Wyott Ordung and Al Zimbalist, both of whom are colorful and fascinating figures. I never thought I’d have my long-time questions about the 1954 film SERPENT ISLAND starring Sonny Tufts answered….and answered in a book about Phil Tucker, who had nothing to do with the film! Phil Tucker has always been in a class of his own, IMHO. This book is a worthy document to his memory.

In case you’ve never seen Tucker’s DANCE HALL RACKET, it’s available below, via You Tube. Who cares if the credits fonts don’t match and the director often lets the master shot provide primary coverage of the scene played out in front of the camera. This is pure entertainment: Lenny Bruce was clearly a big fan of the Bowery Boys’ Leo Gorcey and performs his role accordingly, while the great Timothy Farrell (see pick of the two of them below), who is ALWAYS worth watching, shows once again why he is the Brian Donlevy of low-budget exploitation films. Phil Tucker and the actors here knew exactly what they were doing and what their audience expected….give the film a few laughs and a few cheap thrills, and a grimy overall feel (it’s supposed to be a crime film, after all), and people will go home (or drive home from the rural drive-in) satisfied. Viewers intuitively knew that this was a grungy exploitation film and did not expect it to, or want it to, resemble some studio film. It’s kind of aiming at the level of, say, a Lippert or Monogram or PRC crime film, but with 1/8 the resources those poverty row outfits had.

If it helps, just imagine you are watching each scene performed in five feet in front of you on a tattered small stage in a basement somewhere by some local fringe theater group.

dance hall

I CANNOT, YET I MUST: THE STORY OF…ROBOT MONSTER is the most interesting and best-researched book on exploitation films I’ve read in the last few years (and no, I do not own and have not read the massive Andy Milligan tome that came out recently, though I have that author’s earlier book on Milligan). It has my highest recommendation!

……….

1 Comment »

  1. Great review, Bill!

    Comment by Christopher Stigliano — June 23, 2020 @ 6:04 am | Reply


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