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Saturday, April 9, 2011

William Castle Tribute II: Crime and Westerns

William Castle is well known for his horror movies- especially "House on Haunted Hill", "The Tingler", and "Homicidal", but he didn't start out in my favorite genre.

Castle actually got his start working on Broadway in various jobs from set construction to even acting.  All of this experience would help him in the future when, at the age of 23, he moved out west to Hollywood and got started in the movie industry.  Even before he directed his first film at the age of 29, he'd worked with such people as Orson Welles as his assistant.  He worked on his film, "The Lady From Shanghai"- doing most of the second unit location work.

In 1943, William Castle directed his first film- "The Chance of a Lifetime", which was a crime drama feature the character of "Detective Boston Blackie".  Castle claimed that he had been "saddled with a hopeless project", and in order to make the film watchable, he had to re-arrange the reels in the editing room.

For most of the 1940's Castle directed mostly crime drama with a couple of westerns mixed in.  He made films in "The Whistler" series, as well as the "Crime Doctor" series- four films for the former, and three for the latter.  This wasn't uncommon for directors as the crime drama/mystery genres were popular- many being based on the radio shows in the same genre.  "The Whistler" series itself was actually based on a radio show of the same name.  Orson Welles said of Castle's 1944 film, "When Strangers Marry":

"It isn't as slick as Double Indemnity or as glossy as Laura, but it's better acted and better directed . . . than either."
The early and mid 1950's saw William Castle bringing the movie audiences more westerns.  Films such as "Conquest of Cochise," "The Battle of Rogue River", "The Law Vs Billy the Kid", "The Gun That Won the West," and "Duel on the Mississippi".  Many of these films were low budget- "The Battle of Rogue River" was set BEFORE the American Civil War, but the costumes were the standard Post-Civil War costumes most westerns used at the time.  William Castle also directed a couple of low budget historical dramas as well during this period- "Serpent of the Nile" about Cleopatra and Marc Anthony, and "Slaves of Babylon," and "The Saracen Bride" among them.

Then 1958 hit...

That is the year that Castle gave the world, "Macabre".  That is the year that he started a long relationship with the horror genre.  That is the year he started to work his way into the hearts of horror fans.

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