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Roger Corman Wows Crowd at TCM Classic Film Festival

Published by Roscoe Reiners

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The film was the original The Little Shop of Horrors. The low-budget movie master told a screening at the second annual TCM Classic Film Festival he shot the 1960 camp comedy over just two days and a single night.

Jack Nicholson Has Small Role in Just His Fifth Film

While little time and money were spent, Little Shop still provoked good-natured laughter Friday night, with its mix of mock horror, arch dialogue (dripping with Yiddish inflection and one-liners) and an early, almost subversive performance by 23-year-old Jack Nicholson, playing (for laughs) a maniacally masochistic dental patient.

The film holds up remarkably well, despite low production values which provoked winces in Friday’s more sophisticated 21st century audience.

Little Shop became a cult classic in the 1970s. It inspired a wildly successful musical remake in 1986 starring Rick Moranis as the hapless florist shop flunkie Seymour Krelboin. Seymour drives the story by cross-breeding two plants – one a Venus flytrap – with the startling result being a rude, talking hybrid demanding human blood (and eventually, flesh) to grow and thrive. Jonathan Haze originated the role in the 1960 version.

Roger Corman Improvises Way Through Two-Day Shoot

Following the film, TCM on-air personality Ben Mankiewicz engaged Corman in a lively Q-and-A session. Mankiewicz couldn’t resist pointing out two continuity goofs in the film listed on the Internet Movie Database website (imdb.com). He quickly came to Corman’s defense. “You shot the picture in two days,” Mankiewicz said, grinning. “They (the imdb) should hug you.”

Corman revealed one strategy for controlling the budget. He discovered SAG pay rates actually favored hiring actors for a week over the usual daily rate. So he invoked the weekly rate, then closed production down after two days.

Sometimes, Corman ruthlessly improvised to keep production moving. For example, in one scene, two characters fight in a dental office. But during the on-camera scrap, the dentist’s chair was accidentally damaged. Told it would take hours to fix it, Corman declared the scene finished. It was on to the next setup.

Rare Corman Flop Starred William Shatner

Corman made his name as a hyper-low-budget filmmaker from the mid-1950s onward, producing and directing horror and youth exploitation movies for American International Pictures and Allied Artists. He boasted of having “17 to 19 consecutive winners,” or money makers, before his first flop, The Intruder, starring a pre-Star Trek William Shatner.

True to his nature as a businessman, Corman told the crowd that, thanks to latter-day DVD sales of The Intruder, “we finally got our money back.”

Corman cited directors John Ford and Howard Hawks as personal influences. And he’s long been known for fostering young filmmaking talent, including Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Monte Hellman and many others.

“I do take pride (in that),” he said. “We think of them as graduates of our film school.” As such, his company once handed out letterman-style jackets to crew members, which celebrated Corman’s no-nonsense, guerrilla-style attitude and collegial, esprits de corps attitude.

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