Guest Programmer: John Landis - 12/10
This month, filmmaker John Landis makes his second appearance as a TCM Guest Programmer, having first appeared in that capacity with Robert Osborne hosting in 2009. Now Landis returns, sitting with Ben Mankiewicz to talk about his programming choices ranging from the obscure to the celebrated, from the comic to the dead serious.
Born in Chicago, Landis moved to Los Angeles as a child, and as a teen he began his career in the film industry as a mailboy at 20th Century Fox studios. He made his feature debut as a director in 1973 with Schlock, a tribute to monster movies. In addition to directing dozens of movies and television productions, Landis has often served on his films as producer, director and actor. Recent directorial credits have included the feature Burke and Hare (2010) and an episode of TV's Franklin & Bash (2012).
Among the classic film comedies directed by Landis are National Lampoon's Animal House (1978), The Blues Brothers (1980), An American Werewolf in London (1981), Trading Places (1983) and Beverly Hills Cop III (1994). He also directed Michael Jackson's music videos "Thriller" and "Black or White."
As his first film choice for the night, Landis chooses a little-known B movie from Paramount Pictures, The Monster and the Girl (1941, TCM premiere). He says he first saw this one on TV when he was around 11. It has remained a favorite because it is "such an unusual melange of genres: film noir, courtroom drama, white slavery, gangster, mad scientist, gorilla picture and a boy-and-his-dog movie!"
Stuart Heisler directed the movie in which George Zucco plays a scientist who salvages the brain of a gangster (Phillip Terry) and transplants it into the head of a gorilla. The cast also includes Ellen Drew, Robert Paige, Paul Lukas and Charles Gemora, the actor in the gorilla suit. Landis notes his fascination with such effects, which dates to his days on Schlock with special-effects artist Rick Baker.
As a great fan of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, Landis chooses two of their MGM comedy shorts from the sound era, Helpmates and Towed in a Hole (both 1932). The first deals with the disastrous results when Stan tries to help Ollie clean up from a party while Ollie's wife is gone; the second, with the boys' attempts to become fishermen despite a malfunctioning boat.
"I genuinely love Stan and Ollie," says Landis. "I think they're angels. They're so professionally brilliant as performers, and these characters they created are so universal."