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The Fast and the Furious (1954)

A prison escapee commandeers a young woman and her hotrod in a mad dash to Mexico! (The exclamation mark may seem gratuitous, but when you're dealing with jailbirds on the run, fast cars, and fast women, the punctuation may as well get some extra gas too.) The Fast and the Furious (1955) was directed by John Ireland (who also starred in the lead role of Frank Webster) and Edwards Sampson (who was also the film editor). Another young man helps out behind the camera too: the fledgling and 28-year-old producer, Roger Corman. This second-unit direction marked Corman's first experience behind the camera and played a pivotal role in making him realize that he could direct his own films. For The Fast and the Furious Corman made the choice of putting Ireland at the helm as a way of getting the actor to take on the role for considerably less than his usual fee and it also allowed Corman, for the first time, to work with a "name" actor. Corman also gets credit for the story, filled in as a stunt driver, obtained Jaguar racing cars in exchange for product placements, and cribbed racing footage from the Jaguar Open Sports Car race at Monterey.

The Fast and the Furious was shot for $50,000 in nine days and, even though it was only the second film to come out under his full aegis, right after Monster from the Ocean Floor (1954), it has all the DNA of a classic Corman film. It's a simple story, made cheap and on the fly with several niche markets in mind, but it has so much moxie behind the camera that some of it can't help but bust out on the big screen. More importantly, The Fast and the Furious played a strategic and precedent-setting role in allowing Corman to negotiate a multi-picture deal that was pivotal in launching American Releasing Corporation (which soon thereafter changed its name to American International Pictures, or AIP) and it also gave him the financial structure he needed to make more movies. A lot more.

"The Fast and the Furious" it's a great title, one that grabs your attention. Rob Cohen certainly appreciated the impact of those simple words when he re-used them for his 2001 film starring Vin Diesel and Michelle Rodriguez but that film is not a remake and only the title rights, not the story rights, were purchased (on the audio-commentary for the DVD, Cohen says he gave Corman stock-footage in exchange for the title). With a fourth installment on the way, the title is certainly getting a lot of mileage.

In the 1955 film we are introduced to Connie Adair (Dorothy Malone), an upper-class blonde who drives her Jaguar along a windy road and takes a break at a diner for an egg salad sandwich and some pineapple juice. She meets a truck driver (Bruno VeSota) and sits at the counter next to a quiet and brooding guy in a leather jacket. As the waitress gets her order conversation is centered on the news reports involving Frank Webster, who was put in jail for intentionally running another truck off the road and killing the driver. As we find out that Webster broke out of jail and is wanted for murder the quiet guy at the counter starts to leave but is stopped when the trucker pulls out a revolver and asks him to show his I.D., resulting in a scuffle that leaves the trucker unconscious and our mystery man in possession of a gun which he now uses to grab Connie and her car for a trip across the border to Mexico. Yes, he's Webster but, no (as he later tells Connie), he did not murder anybody and has, instead, been set up with no hope of justice.

The story for The Fast and the Furious recycled ideas from the very first film Corman worked on called Highway Dragnet (1954), which he co-wrote and co-produced. It points to a theme that Corman admits "would recur time and again throughout my directing career," because he is "attracted to stories about outcasts, misfits, or antiheroes on the run or on the fringe of society." The character of Frank Webster is certainly all of those things, but the interesting revelation made by the film is that the woman he kidnaps has some things in common with him despite the fact that they appear to be complete opposites. This attractive and independent woman with a jaguar convertible is also an outcast and misfit because, as it turns out, she is barred from the racing circuit she wants to join due to the fact that it won't allow women to participate.

While few people will rush to cite Corman's The Fast and the Furious as a great cinematic example to advance the cause of women's liberation (mainly because Webster treats Connie like luggage throughout most of the film) it does present us with two strong characters that ultimately compliment each another. Webster's insensitive tough-guy persona is easily traced to the kind of no-nonsense roles that people like Humphrey Bogart cut their teeth on and, similarly, Connie's scrappy independence lives under the shadow cast by the likes of Katharine Hepburn. It was a time when even low-budget films destined for a quick-turnaround in marginal markets still catered to adults and didn't think twice about having a hound dog protagonist in his 40's trying to make time with a woman - in-between drag-races and car-chases, of course.

Producer: Roger Corman, Jack Milner
Director: John Ireland, Edwards Sampson
Screenplay: Roger Corman, Jean Howell, Jerome Odlum
Cinematography: Floyd Crosby
Film Editing: Edward Sampson
Music: Alexander Gerens
Cast: John Ireland (Frank Webster), Dorothy Malone (Connie Adair), Bruce Carlisle (Faber), Iris Adrian (Wilma Belding), Marshall Bradford (Mr. Hillman), Bruno VeSota (Bob Nielson).
BW-73m.

by Pablo Kjolseth

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The Fast and the Furious (1954)

Seeking distribution for The Fast and the Furious were Columbia, Republic, and Allied Artists, but Corman held out for something more because he wanted to set a precedent for a multi-picture deal. James H. Nicholson and Samuel Z. Arkoff were in the process of forming American Releasing Corporation and agreed to give Corman a three-picture deal, with The Fast and the Furious filling in the first slot.

The Fast and the Furious was crucial to the start of American Releasing Corporation, which later evolved into American International Pictures. A.I.P. went on to become the largest and most financially successful independent production and distribution company of the 1950's and 1960's.

The success of both A.I.P. and Roger Corman was made possible, in part, by the new markets that opened up in the wake of the Supreme Court's decision in May of 1948 that ruled in favor of theater divestiture from the major studios and brought with it an end to the monopolizing practice of block-bookings that had had a stranglehold on exhibition and distribution patterns. In the years that followed the big studios voluntarily divested themselves of their theaters rather than submit to court-ordered liquidations.

Samuel Z. Arkoff: "The early 1950's was the worst time for cinemas because of TV, the breakup of chains after the Consent Decree, and the fact that many of the old studio chiefs were dying or retired. Lots of exhibitors said there was no market for small pictures because TV would buy them up and show them to fill programming needs. Thousands of theaters went under a downtime for the industry. That's when we moved in."

Jonathan Haze is an actor with a long career working almost exclusively with Roger Corman, from his debut in Monster from the Ocean Floor (1954) to a cameo in Corman's The Phantom Eye (1999). He had an uncredited part in The Fast and the Furious as Connie's rescuer, and has this to say about the film: "It was a sports car racing picture. At the time, racing cars were gonna be big in movies, with a lot of big studio movies about car racing and Roger managed to get together this little old car-racing film with John Ireland... We went and borrowed sports cars from our friends and used car dealers and stuff and took 'em out, took the windshields off, and put numbers on them and shot racing scenes. In those days, it would have been impossible to go out and buy or rent those cars, so we borrowed them. There was a lot of that kind of stuff going on."

The racing footage in The Fast and the Furious made use of the Jaguar Open Sports Car race at Monterey, Port Dume and Malibu.

In what might seem an uncharacteristic move, the famously frugal Corman confesses to one scene that he deliberately botched in The Fast and the Furious: "I was driving the car in the final sequence where the lead heavy instigates a really manic auto race. John Ireland was supposed to pass me in his car while we were both going through a turn. After that, I was supposed to pass him and he, being the hero, was supposed to pass me back. Well, I passed him... but he never caught up with me to pass me back. The shot was ruined. Everyone was furious with me because we were working with so little time and money. They accused me of actually trying to win the race. I got very angry. 'I wasn't trying to win the race!' I yelled, 'But I wasn't about to slow down so some...some hero could pass me! It would look funny! It would look fake!' The fact of the matter is that I got so excited about driving a real race car that I drove to win the race. I wouldn't admit that to anybody at the time, of course, but I wasn't about to come in second just because the script said so. We had to retake the shot."

The Fast and the Furious inspired Roger Corman to direct films himself. The most obvious perk associated with this career movie is usually that of having more artistic control, but for Corman it might be said that the main advantage to being director was that it meant saving money on one of the major expenses normally associated with filmmaking.

Compiled by Pablo Kjolseth

SOURCES:
The films of Roger Corman: Brilliance on a Budget, by Ed Naha.
The Films of Roger Corman, by Alan Frank
How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime, by Roger Corman with Jim Jerome.
Psychotronic Video, Number 27 (Jonathan Haze, interview by Justin Humphreys)

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The Fast and the Furious (1954)

Since The Fast and the Furious marks so many "firsts" for Corman himself, it's worth remembering the names of others who got their first directorial chops at the "Corman film school." As is oft cited, Corman is credited with having launched the careers of several directors who went on to bigger budgets and critical acclaim. They include Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Peter Bogdanovich, Joe Dante, Jonathan Demme, John Sayles, Ron Howard, and James Cameron.

As to Corman himself, although commonly referred to as "King of the Bs" (in reference to the hundreds of films he's made that many people think of as "B-movies"), Corman resisted the term "B-movie" because the proper definition of that term points to an old distribution pattern used by the studio system for short and cheap "filler" films that were meant to be paired up with bigger-budgeted "A-movies" that had recognizable actors. Instead, Corman thought of himself, initially, as a maker of "exploitation films" in the vein of, for example, earlier RKO pictures that were stand-alone and low-cost features powered by showmanship in their appeal to broad audiences. In the mid-seventies, when horror and science-fiction films obtained blockbuster status with the likes of Jaws (1975) and Star Wars (1977), Corman began describing himself as a "genre filmmaker." What moniker does he prefer now? If his official website is any indicator, it seems he likes the ring of "Reigning King of Independent Films."

According to the Internet Movie Database, "a running gag in Hollywood was that Corman could negotiate the production of a film on a pay phone, shoot the film in the booth, and finance it with the money in the change slot." If that seems like an exaggeration, consider that he set the world's record for the shortest shooting schedule for a feature film by making The Little Shop of Horrors (1960) in two days. That makes the nine days it took to shoot The Fast and the Furious seem like chump change, by comparison. And, speaking of change:

When Corman branched out into distribution with his brother (Gene Corman) via their company New World Pictures in 1970, along with all the usual films one might associate with Roger Corman, he was also responsible for importing to the U.S. such notable European art-house staples as Bergman's Cries and Whispers (1972), Fellini's Amarcord (1973), Truffaut's Small Change (1976), Kurosawa's Dersu Uzala (1975), and Herzog's Fitzcarraldo (1982). Corman's own website boasts that "in a 10-year period, New World won more Academy Awards for Best Foreign Film than all other studios combined." Lest the Canadians be forgotten, it should be mentioned that David Cronenberg also got a boost from New World Pictures when it distributed Rabid (1977) and The Brood (1979). And speaking of Canadians:

John Ireland (1914-1992) started out as a performance swimmer in a water carnival but he went on to land acting parts on Broadway before becoming a film actor in the 1940's. A well-known lothario, Ireland also found himself in the tabloids in connection to such starlets as Natalie Wood and Sue Lyon. In Red River (1948), Howard Hawks added a scene in which Ireland and Montgomery Clift compare gun sizes in an allusion to how Ireland was physically endowed. In 1949 he became the first Vancouver-born actor to be nominated for an Academy Award® for Best Supporting Actor as a reporter in All the King's Men (1949). In the early 1950's Ireland mostly worked in "B" pictures, but still got the occasional supporting role in a major motion picture, such as Spartacus (1960). A few years after the release of The Fast and the Furious, when Ireland was 45, he was quoted on his affair with 16-year-old Tuesday Weld as saying "If there wasn't such a difference in our ages I'd ask her to marry me. That and her mother are the only things that stop me."

Ireland wasn't the only cast member from The Fast and the Furious to get award kudos. Cinematographer Floyd Crosby (1899-1985, father of musician David Crosby) won the Academy Award® for his work on Tabu (1931) and also earned a Golden Globe® for High Noon (1952). Only three years after playing Connie in The Fast and the Furious, Dorothy Malone received the Oscar® for Best Actress for Written on the Wind (1956). Roger Corman has been feted several times with "Lifetime Achievement" awards and, in 1998, received the first Producer's Award ever given at the Cannes Film Festival.

The writers: Jerome Odlum (1905 1954) would die of a heart-attack soon after the release of The Fast and the Furious. He was better known as a novelist, and fans of prison films would surely recognize a couple of his works to make it to the screen: Each Dawn I Die (1939) and Dust Be My Destiny (1939). Jean Howell (1927-1996) was mainly a TV actress, but she had a brief role in The Fast and the Furious as Sally Phillips and was married to Larry Thor, who also had a role in The Fast and the Furious as Detective Sergeant. Where Kevin Bacon has his six degrees of separation it seems like Roger Corman connections could be made with far fewer degrees of separation (and Corman would milk them all for far more).

Compiled by Pablo Kjolseth

SOURCES:
The Film Encyclopedia by Ephraim Katz
VideoHound's Complete Guide to Cult Flicks and Trash Pics
Internet Movie Database
Roger Corman, Blood-Sucking Vampires, Flesh-Eating Cockroaches, and Driller Killers by Beverly Gray
B-Notes User's Guide to Dubious Movies, by Jabootu

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The Fast and the Furious (1954)

"...the dramatic sequences by Ireland and Dorothy Malone were consistently rewarding. Interestingly, Ireland showed a subtly vulnerable side in his portrayal of a man on the run that one seldom got to see in his screen work, while Malone was a memorably independent and self-actualized female screen figure for the early 1950s. The Fast and the Furious is one of the more enduring titles out of Corman's early output as a producer, and plays well even 50 years later, with the added allure that many of the racing cars shown in the rally sequences have since become classics in their own right."
- Bruce Eder, All Movie Guide

"Working class fugitive carjacks a Jaguar and kidnaps its upper class female owner, then tries to sneak out of the country as part of a touring road race. Early effort by a team that was about to start calling itself American International and take the B movie world by storm. Not a great movie, but surprisingly entertaining and creative, yet no longer politically correct enough for most audiences today. Recommended for B movie enthusiasts and fans of vintage sports cars."
- B-Notes User's Guide to Dubious Movies

"...while The Fast and the Furious isn't exactly an edge-of-your-seat nailbiter, it's fun to watch if you're into low-budget exploitation flicks from the 50s, and especially if you're a Roger Corman fan. And it actually has real people driving real cars. You even get to see Dorothy Malone tearing ass down the highway in one scene, which is cool in some weird sexual way that I can't even begin to explain. Plus, it was made twelve years before Vin Diesel was even born, so there's absolutely no danger of him being in it."
- BumsCorner.com

"Chase meller with sports car racing theme; for lower-case programmer dates. High-priced sportscar bombs furnish most of the action for The Fast and the Furious, a modestly budgeted chase meller that is slanted for lowercase programmer bookings. Racing footage is interesting but becomes repetitious and helps string out the running time to an unnecessary 73 minutes, an unhandy length for supporting play dates. New indie distribution outfit, American Releasing Corp. is handling the Palo Alto production as the first of four features from the latter unit... Producer Roger Corman furnished the story."
- Variety

"...a second feature for the masses... This is a heavy picture and the leading character is by no means a pleasant personality and little sympathy for him is aroused. Most of the action consists of motor journeys and en route there is much quarrelling and bickering. The acting is satisfactory, but the players have little real opportunity. The film is a modest second feature."
- CEA Film Report

"After a promising start, the film quickly fades; dialogue is artificial and inept, the playing of John Ireland and Dorothy Malone barely manages to hold an indifferently constructed story together, and we are left with a few motor racing sequences which might have made the film worthwhile had they been rather more fast or furious."
- Monthly Film Bulletin

Compiled by Pablo Kjolseth

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The Fast and the Furious (1954)

Bob Nielson, Truck Driver (Bruno VeSota): "Is that what you run that jalopy on? Pineapple juice?"

Frank Webster (John Ireland): "I like quiet women. Stay that way!"

Connie Adair (Dorothy Malone): "I guess I should be grateful you haven't murdered me yet."Frank: "Don't tempt me."

Connie: "I hate you."
Frank: "Just hate me all the way to Mexico."
Connie: "I don't just hate you. I dislike you."
Frank: "I always did have trouble making friends."

Connie: "Why didn't that officer recognize you back there?"
Frank: "Maybe he's not one of my fans."

Connie: "I said I was sorry."
Frank: "You're about the sorriest creature I've ever known."
Connie: (Slaps him.)
Frank: (Kisses her.)
Connie: "Please, leave me alone."
Frank: "I intend to."

Frank: "This country reminds me of the time I'd been bitten by a rattlesnake. Only five years old. Me, not the snake. Snake died."
Connie: "It figures."
Frank: "What's the matter? Did you get up on the wrong side of the car?"

Connie: "You know, for some reason I'm going to miss you."
Frank: "Thanks. Maybe you won't get a chance. Who's in those sportscars? Racers maybe? Headed for the race"
Connie: "I suppose."
Frank: "Mexico, eh?"
Connie: "They'll recognize you."
Frank: "Not if you're a good girl. And if you are, when this is all over, you'll still be alive. And beautiful."
Connie: "You'll never get away with it."
Frank: "Maybe not. But I'm going to try. Viva Mexico."

Connie: "Well... Now that we've parked, we could stop and have lunch. Or is that impossible?"
Frank: "It is."
Connie: "Maybe you'd rather register for the race? Or is that impossible too?"
Frank: "Register? Look, Connie, will you give me a break?"
Connie: "Why should I? You drive people off roads, leave injured men unconscious..."
Frank: "Maybe someday I can explain... Alright, don't give me a break. Just remember: I have a gun and I know how to use it."

Connie: "The way you drive you didn't drive that truck off the road by accident."
Frank: "I thought you'd already decided that. Would you like to win the race?"
Connie: "I always like to win."
Frank: "I don't think I can make it."
Connie: "I don't think you will."
Frank: "Thanks."

Frank: "You're smart like I said, Connie. But not smart enough."
Connie: "Frank! I swear..."
Frank: "Got anymore hideouts, cute-spots, picnic spots nobody knows about? Trust somebody... You see why I don't?"
Connie: "Well what do you expect? You hate the world, and the world hates you. And that specifically, and especially, includes me!"

Connie: "I'm tired."
Frank: "Exercise is good for your figure."
Connie: "There's nothing wrong with my figure."
Frank: "I've noticed."

Frank: "It isn't what you are that counts."
Connie: "It is!"
Frank: "It's what you get taken for."
Connie: "Someday what you really are is going to catch up to you. It'll be worth fighting for. I just hope it isn't too late."

Connie: "You could've run away instead of helping him. Why didn't you?"
Frank: "Because you're right Connie. And I'm going back. Besides, I'm getting used to you."
Connie: "Oh, Frank, what you really are is worth fighting for. And it isn't too late."
Frank: "Perhaps it is just the beginning."

Compiled by Pablo Kjolseth.

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teaser The Fast and the Furious (1954)

A prison escapee commandeers a young woman and her hotrod in a mad dash to Mexico! (The exclamation mark may seem gratuitous, but when you're dealing with jailbirds on the run, fast cars, and fast women, the punctuation may as well get some extra gas too.) The Fast and the Furious (1955) was directed by John Ireland (who also starred in the lead role of Frank Webster) and Edwards Sampson (who was also the film editor). Another young man helps out behind the camera too: the fledgling and 28-year-old producer, Roger Corman. This second-unit direction marked Corman's first experience behind the camera and played a pivotal role in making him realize that he could direct his own films. For The Fast and the Furious Corman made the choice of putting Ireland at the helm as a way of getting the actor to take on the role for considerably less than his usual fee and it also allowed Corman, for the first time, to work with a "name" actor. Corman also gets credit for the story, filled in as a stunt driver, obtained Jaguar racing cars in exchange for product placements, and cribbed racing footage from the Jaguar Open Sports Car race at Monterey.

The Fast and the Furious was shot for $50,000 in nine days and, even though it was only the second film to come out under his full aegis, right after Monster from the Ocean Floor (1954), it has all the DNA of a classic Corman film. It's a simple story, made cheap and on the fly with several niche markets in mind, but it has so much moxie behind the camera that some of it can't help but bust out on the big screen. More importantly, The Fast and the Furious played a strategic and precedent-setting role in allowing Corman to negotiate a multi-picture deal that was pivotal in launching American Releasing Corporation (which soon thereafter changed its name to American International Pictures, or AIP) and it also gave him the financial structure he needed to make more movies. A lot more.

"The Fast and the Furious" - it's a great title, one that grabs your attention. Rob Cohen certainly appreciated the impact of those simple words when he re-used them for his 2001 film starring Vin Diesel and Michelle Rodriguez - but that film is not a remake and only the title rights, not the story rights, were purchased (on the audio-commentary for the DVD, Cohen says he gave Corman stock-footage in exchange for the title). With a fourth installment on the way, the title is certainly getting a lot of mileage.

In the 1955 film we are introduced to Connie Adair (Dorothy Malone), an upper-class blonde who drives her Jaguar along a windy road and takes a break at a diner for an egg salad sandwich and some pineapple juice. She meets a truck driver (Bruno VeSota) and sits at the counter next to a quiet and brooding guy in a leather jacket. As the waitress gets her order conversation is centered on the news reports involving Frank Webster, who was put in jail for intentionally running another truck off the road and killing the driver. As we find out that Webster broke out of jail and is wanted for murder the quiet guy at the counter starts to leave but is stopped when the trucker pulls out a revolver and asks him to show his I.D., resulting in a scuffle that leaves the trucker unconscious and our mystery man in possession of a gun - which he now uses to grab Connie and her car for a trip across the border to Mexico. Yes, he's Webster but, no (as he later tells Connie), he did not murder anybody and has, instead, been set up with no hope of justice.

The story for The Fast and the Furious recycled ideas from the very first film Corman worked on called Highway Dragnet (1954), which he co-wrote and co-produced. It points to a theme that Corman admits "would recur time and again throughout my directing career," because he is "attracted to stories about outcasts, misfits, or antiheroes on the run or on the fringe of society." The character of Frank Webster is certainly all of those things, but the interesting revelation made by the film is that the woman he kidnaps has some things in common with him despite the fact that they appear to be complete opposites. This attractive and independent woman with a jaguar convertible is also an outcast and misfit because, as it turns out, she is barred from the racing circuit she wants to join due to the fact that it won't allow women to participate.

While few people will rush to cite Corman's The Fast and the Furious as a great cinematic example to advance the cause of women's liberation (mainly because Webster treats Connie like luggage throughout most of the film) it does present us with two strong characters that ultimately compliment each another. Webster's insensitive tough-guy persona is easily traced to the kind of no-nonsense roles that people like Humphrey Bogart cut their teeth on and, similarly, Connie's scrappy independence lives under the shadow cast by the likes of Katharine Hepburn. It was a time when even low-budget films destined for a quick-turnaround in marginal markets still catered to adults and didn't think twice about having a hound dog protagonist in his 40's trying to make time with a woman - in-between drag-races and car-chases, of course.

Producer: Roger Corman, Jack Milner
Director: John Ireland, Edwards Sampson
Screenplay: Roger Corman, Jean Howell, Jerome Odlum
Cinematography: Floyd Crosby
Film Editing: Edward Sampson
Music: Alexander Gerens
Cast: John Ireland (Frank Webster), Dorothy Malone (Connie Adair), Bruce Carlisle (Faber), Iris Adrian (Wilma Belding), Marshall Bradford (Mr. Hillman), Bruno VeSota (Bob Nielson).
BW-73m.

by Pablo Kjolseth

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