RIP Dennis Hopper, 1936-2010
(This piece originally appeared in Providence Monthly’s July edition, albeit in an altered, shortened form.)
In the long, ever strange history of Hollywood, Dennis Hopper shall stand fast as one of the most vivid flesh-and-blood parameters of an American industry turned inside out and eventually splintered and rendered all too soporific. Born in Dodge City, Kansas he was a pure-bred farm boy whose family eventually moved to San Diego in the late 1940s. He apprenticed at that city’s well-known Old Globe Theatre and became a very young contract player at Warner Brothers, building a budding career until a now apocryphal 1958 showdown with one of the then movie industry’s most macho despots, director Henry Hathaway, wherein the rebellious and cocksure young actor refused to give into Hathaway’s direction and faced him off in a widely viewed and reported public showdown that supposedly went on for some 80 takes, which resulted in a newfound status as a Tinseltown pariah.
Last month, the Academy finally saw fit to give Roger Corman an honorary Lifetime Achievement Oscar. Well, it's about time. But Joe Bob Briggs gave Rog a Lifetime Achievement Award at the First (and only?) Annual World Drive-In Movie Festival and Custom Car Rally way back in 1982, and in my book, that's a lot more impressive.
Still, this is obviously a major milestone: recognition from an industry who looked down their noses at him for his entire career, yet had to marvel at his ability to always turn a profit. Corman and his partners at American International Pictures didn't invent ballyhoo or exploitation, but they perfected in a way few others have.
In recognition of this belated honor, I'm going to run down what I consider to be the ten best movies Roger Corman ever directed. When Corman is honored these days, it's usually as a producer who spotted a lot of great young talent, but between 1955 and 1971, he was furiously working behind the camera, churning out low-budget hit after hit--53 in all over those mere seventeen years!!
Of course not all of them were great, but even some of the mediocre ones had unforgettable titles. Check out 1957's The Saga of the Viking Women and Their Voyage to the Waters of the Great Sea Serpent.
On second thought, don't check it out. Check these out instead: