ROCK ‘N’ROLL MONSTERS: THE AMERICAN INTERNATIONAL STORY by Bruce Hallenbeck (Hemlock Books) paperback pages 280 published August ,2016
U.K. £16.25 http://www.hemlockbooks.co.uk/Shop/category/7
U.S.: $47.85 https://www.amazon.com/Rock-Roll-Monsters-American-International/dp/0993398936/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1477073892&sr=8-1&keywords=rock+n+roll+monsters
Author /film historian Bruce Hallenbeck has published another must have book for lovers of movies. After giving us wonderful books on many of the British companies Amicus and Hammer, Bruce Hallenbeck turns his focus on the little upstart company that grew and challenged the majors in areas where they could not or did not compete. American International Pictures finally began to become a major, only to find that the other studios were now churning out higher end versions of the type of movies that AIP had done, and so the studio vanished into corporate buyouts after 26 years.
AMERICAN INTERNATIONAL PICTURES began when studios began to lose audiences to television. Small independent producers began to create their own films outside the studio system after the United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc., 334 US 131 (1948) forced theatres to divest themselves from owning theatres and keeping out other producers.
Rock ‘n’ Roll Monsters: The American International Story is a 2016 book by Bruce G Hallenbeck (The Amicus Anthology; The Hammer Frankenstein; The Hammer Vampire), published by British-based Hemlock Books.
In the early 1950s, the traditional American film industry was facing a crisis due to one thing: television. Two men from totally different backgrounds pooled their talents and tapped into the burgeoning ‘teenage’ market, and American International Pictures was born.
Founded by James H. Nicholson, a fantasy /science fiction horror fan (he had known Forrest J Ackerman since High School and had even published an early fanzine together) who had worked his way through the industry up to writing campaigns for Realart’s re-releases of Universal horror classics.
When Realart distributed MAN MADE MONSTER (Universal,1941) under the title ATOMIC MONSTER*, producer Alex Gordon had a script with the same title, he sought a legal settlement. The lawyer he brought had been seeking an entrance into film production by the name of Samuel Z. Arkoff. Arkoff got Gordon a $500 settlement but more important the three men all hit it off with their similar love of making movies. In a strange way, Universal had created a monster that rose to challenge their status as a maker of creature features.
Nicholson and Arkoff sought completed product to start their new company. They had tested the waters with a small documentary in 1953 called OPERATION MALAYA released by their company AMERICAN RELEASING CORPORATION. ** The man credited as producer on that film also became an important component to the company’s development, Herman Cohen.
However, the company had its first real success when they met the filmmaker who made them a viable entity, Roger Corman. The filmmaker had a film called THE FAST & THE FURIOUS (1954, released nationally in 1955). He had been thinking of having another studio distribute his film, but after being taken around by Nicholson to the various sub distributors, he was so impressed that he decided to take a chance with the new company.
With borrowed money to keep the doors open, the film became profitable enough that company was off and running. The studio was also smart enough to capitalize on a market that the major studios were neglecting, teenagers.
While many of their early films starred older performers, as the company developed, younger actors took the spotlight and became the heroes and heroines. Young audiences responded with their newly available dollars.
As the 1960s began, the studios moved into more expensive productions, and made Edgar Allan Poe a hot property.
Bruce Hallenbeck tells the story of the studio with clarity and affection, and has done a lot of research. His choice of mostly British lobby cards is most welcome to an American fan of the genre such as myself.
Towards the final portion of the book, there is a sense of rushing to the end. That may be because of editorial choices wishing to keep the book under the mass of a Stephen King novel. One wishes that the author had been allowed to expand his research into two books, as there is a very rich history. Also, except for a few brief references, Nicholson’s contribution to the success of the company is often overlooked and Arkoff’s a bit overblown. Several people felt that Nicholson was the creative force behind the studio, and several of the artists disliked dealing with the crude Arkoff.
*-This was a script that Alex Gordon had co-written with Ed Wood that was also known as ‘Bride of The Atom” before finally being titled BRIDE OF THE MONSTER (1955, released through Banner Productions, oddly, not ARC / A.I.P.)
**-if you were not a major company, you had your film distributed by several small regional sub distributors.