Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Godspeed, Philip 'Tough' Nutman (an appreciation of an overlooked and could-have-been movie star)


Horror novelist and screenwriter Philip Nutman left this vale of tears yesterday. Despite my relative disinterest in horror, I ended up working with him several times, and he's the reason I left Los Angeles for Atlanta.

See, according to Phil, his first cinematic love was the Western, and many of his favorite films (GET CARTER, DIRTY HARRY) are also my favorites.

But I didn't meet him through a shared film appreciation, nor was I introduced to him through his writing work -- the bread-and-butter career for which he's known.

In fact, I may be the only person who came to know Phil first as an actor, a thing he had done only once by the time that I, in 2002, stumbled upon a VHS of DEATH COLLECTOR. Yes, it was his role as the villainous "Tough Nutman" in Tom Garrett's 1989 sci-fi film that made me take notice.


Philip Nutman and Frank Stewart on the set of DEATH COLLECTOR

I dug this cinematic noble failure in general (turns out, the filmmakers -- although making a futuristic yarn -- were influenced by all the same gritty tough-guy films I was). But I was especially impressed with Nutman's performance in particular. Completely oblivious to his actual career in the written word, I assumed he was the most pro, working actor of the entire cast.


Phil rehearsing DEATH COLLECTOR fight choreography

Here's what I wrote about Phil's performance in a 2003 issue of CULT MOVIES MAGAZINE:

"...But the film-best performance belongs to Philip Nutman, who plays 'Tough,' Hawk's gum-chewing henchman. Nutman is vaguely Malkovichian in appearance, and he seems capable of summoning the same amount of thespic sharpness, intensity, and menace as that Oscar-nominated actor. And yet this standout performer isn't even an actor by trade; Nutman is a Bram Stoker Award-nominated
novelist, a former British correspondent for FANGORIA magazine, a screenwriter, and a comic book author.


How did this writer come to land a major role (fifth billing and 52 minutes of screen time) in DEATH COLLECTOR, and how did he manage to be so damn good?

In 1987, Nutman was quitting his job in London at the BBC in order to 'take plunge into full-time writing.' He came to America for a few weeks -- partly as a holiday, partly to drum up some writing work -- and stayed in New York City with make-up effects artist Tom Lauten (THE TOXIC AVENGER). Lauten had been hired as DEATH COLLECTOR'S weapons expert, and Nutman met Garrett through him.

'With my hair slicked back, my Don Johnson stubble, my sunglasses, I walked in in the middle of a production meeting between Tom G and Tom Lauten," Nutman recalls. "Tom G took one look at me and went, 'Oh man, I gotta have you in my fucking movie!' And I'm like, 'Get the fuck out of here. I'm a writer, not an actor.'"

Nutman agreed to appear in the film, but he first made a side trip to Los Angeles with FANGORIA editor Anthony Timpone (their trip, by the way, is detailed in Timpone's editorial in FANGORIA #70). On the eve of Nutman's East Coast return, he attended an all-night party. And when he arrived back east, Nutman was picked up at the airport and driven straight to the shooting location where he was expected, sleep-deprived, to jump into the first film performance of his life.

Nutman's part was originally meant as 'one day, one scene, one cameo.' But the writer turned fledgling actor was so impressive that, as he puts it: 'They kept sticking me in more and more scenes.' Garrett affirms, 'He became the star of the trailer.' Nutman was flown from England the next year for the second shoot (and this novice even pulled some second-unit directorial duties before the shoot wrapped). But the DEATH COLLECTOR work was, as Nutman describes it, 'a career aberration.' He went on to a successful writing career, penning the 1993 novel WET WORK and winning the praise of such colleagues as Clive Barker. Still, it's something of a cinematic crime that Philip Nutman has not had subsequent film roles."



Phil at a DEATH COLLECTOR location


The above direct quotes of Phil came from my telephone interview with him, which we conducted late one '03 night -- me in my shoebox apartment in the Valley, he on his porch in Greater Atlanta. Through the phone, I heard locusts and crickets and other insect life I had forgotten about since moving to L.A. It made me homesick for the Southeast. And when I was ready to leave Southern California in 2004, Phil convinced me to move to Atlanta.

Once I relocated, Phil was very gracious, introducing me to his literary friends and other arts types. When I started seeing a young lady, I still didn't have an Atlanta social circle of my own, but I was always welcomed to bring her to one of the backyard, vaguely Polynesian-themed soirees that he had with then-wife Anya Martin.

In 2005, my brother bought a Sony DVCam, and he and I decided to make a high-concept cop parody as a short film. Being a fan of his acting ability (and living a mere 20 minutes away), I just *had* to have Phil in the short.

Phil and I in LOOK OUT! IT'S GOING TO BLOW!

I had promised Phil he would get fed on set, but his scenes were the last of the day, and the craft services (such as they were) were embarrassingly picked over by the time he arrived. So I also offered to buy him dinner at his beloved Trader Vic's. Every time we made plans for that dinner, he asked -- several times per conversation -- whether I had the meal covered. I assured him I did. His behavior seemed a little weird and pathetic, but I realize now that I was getting a glimpse into his desperate freelancer lifestyle -- a desperation I would later feel as my regulars got slow to pay, expected free work or otherwise jerked me around. I can easily imagine how this desperation contributed to Phil's main demon-vice, the one that ultimately killed him yesterday.

But later in 2005, Phil returned the casting favor five-fold, hiring me to be "Fast Eddie" (a part he based on me) in a horror feature entitled SHIVER, which was directed by another DEATH COLLECTOR alum, Michael Lang, who had become an even closer chum. I heard the budget estimated at $500k.

Phil admitted a boozing problem very publicly in the film's first all-hands-on production meeting, and it seemed like he was going to get help. But he was soon fired off the film. He had already written the script, but he would no longer be serving as the movie's producer nor would he -- to my personal dismay -- be playing the part of the violent 1920s pimp. The body of cinema was robbed of another Nutman performance (er, at least, it would have been, if SHIVER had ever been released).

I tried phoning Phil a couple times during that production but got no reply. A couple years later, we talked again, and it was obvious that he resented me for staying on the film. It wasn't pretty how he communicated that to me.

By 2011, Phil and I were on okay terms but weren't talking much. So I can't remember exactly why I thought to show him an early screener copy of THE SCARLET WORM, a microbudget Western I helped produce. Perhaps it's because I remembered his early love of Westerns. Whatever the case, he flipped over the movie in a way that wasn't merely polite out of friendship:


"...one of the best movies you’ll see soon ...
reinvents the Western ...
transcends its meager budget to show fledgling
filmmakers what can be achieved ...
a ballet of blood and pain and hurt and soil"


...was what he wrote for FANGORIA's website. He also praised SCARLET on a podcast segment of THE NIGHT CREW.

So why do I mention his journalistic coverage of our Western in a memorial piece that strives to focus on Phil's acting talents?

When it seemed like the SCARLET WORM team was going to receive Mexican financing for a sequel, THE REVELATOR, I thought of Phil for the Englishman part. Frankly, Phil wasn't even the right sort of Englishman for the role as written. But again, I really, really dug him as an actor, and I certainly appreciated his wholehearted support for our first horse opera. It seemed like the right thing to do, and I would have loved to put him in a Western, which likely was an unspoken dream of his. Alas, the funding fell through.

Thankfully, Phil got a couple more moments on screen in his last couple of years -- in DEAR GOD NO and ABED.

But still...

I sincerely wish life would have turned out differently for you, Phil. Wish it would have allowed us to be better chums. And I wish you could have had the chance to stomp more ass on screen. I hope you knew that I thought you were a tough-guy movie star. --Mike Malloy

Below are more shots from Phil's collection of DEATH COLLECTOR photos:






Sunday, December 9, 2012

Forster's career as told through clippings

At one time, your humble blogger tried to get a Robert Forster biography off the ground. And during the process of acquiring research materials, old newspaper and magazine clippings were collected. Some scans of such are presented below, completely non-chronologically.



Two different San Francisco papers ran articles on Forster within a day of each other in 1969. The other clipping begins with "So nude is now?" in reference to the fact that the actor had already gone fully nekkid in films twice (REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE and MEDIUM COOL) since his screen debut in '67.



In Marty McKee's 2002 interview with Forster for Mobius, the actor said that Columbia got sued over NAKIA by writer/actor/director Tom Laughlin for resembling Laughlin's BILLY JACK too closely.


A trade ad that unsuccessfully attempted to get Forster nominated for an Oscar for his role in the Mamet-written LAKEBOAT. I remember renting the DVD of this after ol' Bob himself recommended the film to me. They included the film's trailer on the DVD too, and embarrassingly, they misspelled Forster's name in the trailer!



TV GUIDE coverage of the unsold '80s pilot ONCE A HERO, which is part of the subgenre that also includes LAST ACTION HERO, ENCHANTED and PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO -- stories of a fictional character stepping into the harsh real world. Forster played a hardboiled detective, not for the first time (see also BANYON). Speaking of which ...



Forster is well-remembered by TV viewers of a certain age for starring as 1930s private detective Miles Banyon in the series BANYON -- despite the show being cancelled after only a half-season run. The show was well liked but expensive, and when one of the creators died, BANYON fizzled. Reportedly, the blue pinstripe suit that Forster is wearing in the top BANYON photo was the same one he wore in the poster for HOLLYWOOD HARRY, a good fifteen years later.

My career interview with Forster ended up in SHOCK CINEMA magazine, issue #31. It contained some real anecdotal gold, like how Forster once used some BANYON/BANACEK confusion to get past a security officer and into some NFL locker rooms to see O.J. Simpson.

--Mike Malloy

Friday, January 6, 2012

Random memory from a tough-and-gritty co-star


A quick, previously unpublished memory about Robert Forster during his much-hyped film debut by a certain co-star -- himself a tough-guy actor and now dearly departed.

"I remember Forster on the set of REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE. He was very shy. I felt that everybody was watching him to see how he'd perform. Forster was well aware what a great opportunity he had been given by [John] Huston. These are just my feelings. I never really socialized with him, and we didn't really have any scenes together."

--Gordon Mitchell, e.mail to Mike Malloy, 1-3-03


Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The toughest and grittiest '70s mags that never existed


Beginner vigilantes! Kick-ass crackers! Motocross accessories! Honest cops!

Seventies pop-culture authority Mike Malloy has been trying his hand at magazine cover design -- and dreaming up the most absurdly limited-appeal magazines to have never come out of the decade.

They're for sale on etsy (these designs are toughening up that site), and they look good in cheap, beat-up 9x11 (not 8x10) thrift-store frames.


Thusly, they make good Christmas gifts, especially if you know a beginner vigilante who has bare wall space that needs filling.

These are the first four designs in the series. More to come, and if there's significant interest, many more -- maybe even customs.




Sunday, September 11, 2011

A fistul of hi-res Cliff Robertson photos, In Memoriam

From my film-still collection, below are a few scans (click for super hi-res version) of the recently deceased Cliff Robertson (more of a character actor than a tough-guy lead during the all-important 1970s). Although I had already seen him in ESCAPE FROM L.A., I first became keenly aware of Robertson when I found a copy of 1976's SHOOT several years later. SHOOT was a riff on DELIVERANCE's "theme mixing" of sex, power and wilderness survival, and Robertson played one hell of an unlikable Alpha Male -- a guy who had to rule not only the hunting grounds, but also the business world (a furniture company, iirc) and the female population (including some of his buddies' wives). The version of the story in the novel had even more disturbing scenes, and Robertson's portrayal of the character fit perfectly into them. But as realistically reprehensible as Robertson's SHOOT character was, I grew to find the actor's screen presence likable over the years (when I caught up with 1975's THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR, 1976's OBSESSION, etc) so that when someone finally twisted my arm to watch SPIDER-MAN, I was pleased to see him in the cast. As soon as his character kicked, though, I was done with the movie. Seriously.

The stills below include three from PT-109 (1963), for which JFK personally selected Robertson to portray him, supposedly because Robertson didn't try to affect a Bostonian accent (he was cast despite being way older than Kennedy was during the WWII events in question). The last two are from SHOOT.






Sunday, May 8, 2011

REMEMBERING TOUGH-GUY ACTOR ROSS HAGEN....




News is circulating that biker-movie actor and general tough guy Ross Hagen passed away a couple days ago, and although this has not been confirmed by mainstream sources yet, we can take this opportunity to remember some of his work, no matter what his current condition (which I hope is "perfectly in the pink").


The following are some random excerpts from my interview with Mr. Hagen from January 15, 2007.


I remember calling to set up the interview with Ross, and he told me he had recently done interviews for projects about co-stars Nancy Kwan and Elvis Presley. So when I called for the actual interview, I told him, "Mr. Hagen, you said you've done interviews about other people lately, but I only want to talk to you about Ross Hagen." He laughed, and I hoped he felt flattered. --Mike Malloy


ON ACTING WITH CHARLES BRONSON:


“He was a fun guy to work with. Because when we were shooting The Virginian, everybody was, “Oh, Charlie Bronson. He’s mean. He’s weird. And when he came on the set, I was playing one of the roles then. I’m part of his gang. They always have the leader and then the gang.”


“So Charlie and I are sitting there, and I had never met him before, and he had never met me. And when we started rehearsing the scene, I started doing him, imitating him. [Imitates Bronson] And about five minutes into the rehearsal, he says, “What are you doing? You sound like me.” I said, “Well, I thought you were the star. I thought I was supposed to sound like you, because you’re the star of this episode.” He said, “No, no. You’re supposed to sound like yourself.” I said, “How come my acting teacher never told me that? I thought you had to sound like the star.” Of course, I was kidding."


We get ready to do the scene, and I say [in deep voice], “Is it better if I talk like this, Charlie? Do you like that better?” Because he didn’t have a voice as deep as mine. So we used to have the voice wars—who would have the deepest voice would win the contest.”


MUCH OF A RIDER? OWN A BIKE?


“Never. The great thing about that is that’s why we have stuntmen in Hollywood. You get on a bike, roll it into the shot and then get off. But in between, I let the stuntmen do that.”


“I could ride down the street, but not ride like you think of riding, like these really good riders.”





ON PRODUCING:


“You just get up in the morning and go out and do it. Most people are completely shocked that you could go out and actually make a movie. Because it’s been hidden – the secret of making a film.”


ON IVAN NAGY:


“Remember when that Heidi Fleiss stuff was going on? Well, he was one of her boyfriends for a while.”


“Ivan was a Hungarian guy, and he came over. He had a company that used to go around photographing stars—like paparazzis. And he got into this “wanting to make a film.” And he saw Sidehackers, and he called me and said, “Ross, jeez, we could make a movie, you know? And we went out and made two films together: Bad Charleston Charlie and Pushing Up Daisies—the original title was 'The Violent Breed.'"


“We shot Five Minutes of Freedom [Pushing Up Daisies] first. And I had a ranch in Malibu. We built all those sets on the ranch we had in Malibu. So that whole thing was constructed by our team of little filmmakers—the Mexican town, the villages, the blow-ups and stuff.”


Charlie was shot in Champagne, Illinois. We actually went on location with that film. That was our first attempt to go on location.” (...) “We needed all the old cars and all that stuff. So we went back to Champagne, and they gave us all of that stuff. They even took all the parking meters down and all the TV antennae off roofs and everything.”


ON DAVID CARRADINE IN 'ARMED RESPONSE':


“David was known for sometimes he’d miss a punch and actually hit somebody. And I said, 'No -- in this one, no hitting allowed.'"


WHAT LED TO MAKING MOVIES IN PHILIPPINES?


“We had our office at General Service Studios. And there’s a film called Midnight Cowboy that really took off ... The writer of that, James Leo Herlihy, a friend of ours, he gave me the next book that he had written. Called Hard Rain Falling [ed note: Herlihy wrote a book entitled All Fall Down]. He said, “You can make it if you want.” So I took the book around – a brilliant book – and every studio said, “No, no, no. We don’t want to make a film like that.” So I was sitting in my office, and I said, “You know this is really unbelievable.” The guy’s had a top film. Here’s his book that can easily be turned into a great screenplay. And yet nobody wants to do it. So I thought of the worst idea I could think of: “Wild Women of Cannibal Island”—the original title for Wonder Women. And I went upstairs to Art Marks, who was head of General Service, and I said, “I got this idea. This plane crashes on this island with all these women.” And he goes, “I love it. Let’s make a script.”


(...)


“The next thing we knew, Art had a deal in the Philippines with a guy named Ron Remy, and we were on the airplane going to the Philippines to make Wonder Women. And that was our first adventure out of the United States.”




ON FILMMAKING IN THE PHILIPPINES:


“John [Ashley] was the godfather. If you went into the Philippines, you went to John, and he would tell you who to deal with. Because he had cut the door open, and he knew all of the right players.”


"They’re such wonderful people, the [Filipinos]. It’s fun to work with them. They’re always laughing, and everybody’s having a good time. There’s none of that sourpuss stuff. So I’d say that our film experience in the Philippines was 100% good, happy times."


“Those guys take their cockfighting just as seriously as Spain does their bulls.”


“[Cockfighting] is their national sport. Just as we played it in Supercock is exactly what goes on there. That’s all authentic dialogue ... all of that cockfighting talk in there is exactly the way they talk. There’s not any added Hollywood stuff to that at all.”




"In Wonder Women, most of us stayed at the Intercontinental Hotel in Makati. And it’s a super-class five-star hotel. And of course, we were there, and we got caught in the typhoons of the Philippines, the great rains and stuff. So what we did is we took the ballroom of the hotel, and I produced the film, so I just turned the ballroom into a soundstage. We filmed a lot of the interiors right there in the hotel."


"Fowl Play, we used the old Manilla Motel, the one where MacArthur was in, because it had more of that seedy area. And then Imelda Marcos took it over, and now it’s one of the top hotels in the world. It’s beautiful now."


“COCK” USED AS DOUBLE ENTENDRE IN 'FOWL PLAY'/'SUPERCOCK'?


“Of course, but how nice when you can have a PG film with the name Supercock on it. And it’s PG—there’s no tits, there’s none of that stuff. That was the fun of it. The rating board here, when they were rating the film, they called me after they gave it a PG rating, and they said, “Ross, that title...” And I said, “It’s a chicken! The whole ad shows me running with a chicken!”


“Louisville, Kentucky—when we were opening the film there, they said, “We’re not going to run that ad. It’s pornography.” And I had to fly back to Louisville and convince them it was about a rooster. I said, “Look it up in Webster’s Dictionary. It has nothing to do with your penis."


ON GUS TRIKONIS DIRECTING 'FOWL PLAY':


“Gus is a hell of a director. He took a piece of material like that and shaped it into something that was totally entertaining.”


“Gus would add those little touches, like the bamboo sticks dancing. So he put a little of their culture in the film too.”


ON RUMORS HE DIDN'T ACTUALLY DIRECT 'THE GLOVE':


“No, there was one director. There was me. That was my first directing job. I owned the film. We were looking for a director. Bill Silberkleit was the exec producer, and we were running around, looking for a director, because I’m basically an actor. And we kept talking to different guys, and one day, Bill said, ‘Ross, you direct the damn film.’ And I said, ‘Hell, I don’t know how to direct a film.’ And he said, ‘You know the story well enough. We’ll get you a good cameraman.’ And then Julian Roffman, a guy from Canada, came on, and he had a lot of experience in film. So Julian came on as a producer, and I’ll never forget, Gary Graver."

Monday, December 27, 2010

Mike Malloy's "Elsewhere on the Web" Files #2 -- CROSS SHOT


Nigel Maskell's Italian Film Review (italianfilmreview.com) is a blog that gives one much the same feeling as cracking open an edition of Leonard Maltin's video guide in days of yore -- it's a good place to expeditiously (a) compare your opinion on a particular recent viewing, or (b) get advanced info on what to expect from an upcoming viewing, or (c) browse so as to bulk up your "to watch" pile. The obvious difference being that Nigel's blog is focused entirely on the cool world of Italian genre cinema (the Eurocrime and Giallo genres, primarily) and skips all that other fluff of MGM musicals, Buddy Hackett comedies and whatever else Maltin and his staff wasted their time reviewing. And while still short enough to qualify as capsule reviews, the Italian Film Review write-ups are about three times as long as the old Maltin-book ones. But even so, your humble writer was still too verbose and wordy when he submitted a review (see, Nigel enlists other reviewers too) of the 1976 John Saxon Eurocrime film, CROSS SHOT. So here's the breezy IFR version at the link, followed by a fuller version....

CROSS SHOT write-up on ItalianFilmReview

Where '70s tough-guy actors were concerned, John Saxon couldn't be beat for versatility. During the decade, the actor played equal amounts of leading and supporting parts, as both heroes and villains –- in a bevy of different countries, as a bevy of different ethnicities. But when Saxon made an incredibly prolific burst of 1976-1977 Eurocrime movies, the roles were a lot more lopsided towards villains and supporting parts –- you need only take a look at his nefarious criminal characters in VIOLENT NAPLES, MARK STRIKES AGAIN, SPECIAL COP IN ACTION, THE SWISS CONSPIRACY and THE CYNIC, THE RAT AND THE FIST. Although occasionally he would play a good guy (BLAZING MAGNUMS), only once did he play a heroic lead during his Eurocrime phase, in CROSS SHOT.


The story has Inspector Jacovella (Saxon) chasing a crew of armored-car heisters who killed a cop during the robbery. Jacovella catches up to some of the crooks (and delivers a nice groin kick to one), but another escapes by carjacking a vehicle. Because this new ride contains a briefcase belonging to a local mobster (Lee J. Cobb), the remainder of the film becomes a race between Inspector Jacovella and the mobster to locate the hiding crook.


CROSS SHOT is yet another DIRTY HARRY-inspired Italian cop movie about an angry-at-the-system police detective, but the script doesn't give Saxon much of a twist on this cinematic archetype, except an unusual (even for Eurocrime) penchant for excessive force (at one point, Jacovella pummels a kid for breaking into a cigarette machine). Perhaps to counter this, the film softens Jacovella by giving him a family, and we see him interacting lovingly with his wife and even racing slot cars with his son (played by Saxon's real-life kid -- awwww).


But the biggest twist that CROSS SHOT offers on the Italian angry-cop formula is that here the cop is not butting heads with his police superiors but rather the local newspaperman (Eurocrime fatty Renzo Palmer), who keeps whining that Jacovella's methods are not strictly by the book. Otherwise, all the genre staples are trotted out, from the hostage getting dumped from a moving car (see also CRIME BOSS, VIOLENT ROME, SPECIAL COP IN ACTION, etc) to the blind kingpin character (see also SYNDICATE SADISTS).


Saxon made another film with director Massi that year, playing the villain in MARK STRIKES AGAIN, which is the third in the “Mark the Narc” series. And who was the villain in the first two? CROSS SHOT's Lee J. Cobb.