American International Pictures and The Rise of New Hollywood Part 7

The Seeds of Change.

Continued from Part 6

More articles by Phillip López Jiménez

What a trip

1967 was the year for rebellion at the cinema and not just at AIP but the majors as well. Bonnie and Clyde, Cool Hand Luke, The Dirty Dozen and The Graduate all appealed to the burgeoning counter culture. Bonnie and Clyde and The Dirty Dozen could have been AIP pictures, with their youthful non-conformist actors and characters. It was beginning to be quite obvious that AIP had been onto something, but The Trip would be something completely different than anything anyone had seen before. Roger Corman really wanted to stretch himself and experiment with this one and that’s exactly what he did.

Peter Fonda plays Paul Groves, a TV commercial director in the middle of a divorce from wife Susan Strasberg and decides to open up his mind to a new experience with his friend John a sort of LSD guru, a part played by Bruce Dern. Scriptwriter Jack Nicholson originally wrote the part for himself but Director Roger Corman felt Dern was the stronger actor.  In the film they meet up at Max’s pad (played by Dennis Hopper, who also shot some 2nd unit footage) so he can supervise Paul’s “trip.” That’ about the whole plot. The rest of the film is Paul’s hallucinations.

The Trip shows Corman at his most experimental with quick flash editing, liquid light projections on bodies similar to Maurice Binder’s James Bond main titles, (these scenes would also be Corman’s first time shooting nudity.) The crowd scenes during these moments have quite few local celebs like Rodney Bingenheimer, Graham Parsons, Peter Bogdanovich, Angelo Rossitto (Freaks, and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome) and Corman regulars Luanna Anders and Dick Miller.

Corman took a non-biased approach to the picture, he didn’t want to say drugs were bad or good. This approach was a concern at AIP in particular with Jim Nicholson. He made some changes without Corman’s involvement. Sam Arkoff and Jim Nicholson tacked on an intro saying that “the use of ‘mind bending chemicals’ could be fatal” and that “this picture represents a shocking commentary on a prevalent trend of our time and one that must be of great concern to all.” At the very end of the picture Paul Groves having come down from his trip walks outside and looks toward the rising sun. Originally the shot was to ‘fade to black’ and credits roll leaving the audience to figure things out for themselves. As it ends now, AIP has the shot become a freeze frame, and then an animated crash, like the lens cracked suggesting things didn’t work out too well for Paul.

Needless to say Roger Corman was pretty upset by this as AIP always gave him autonomy and now they were tampering with his art. This would mark the beginning of a falling out with Sam and Jim. He would still do two more pictures for them, which I’ll get into later, but the salad years where over.

The lovely Susan Hart

Corman wasn’t the only one to have a falling out. While working on Dr. Goldfoot and The Bikini Machine Jim Nicholson fell in love with one of its co-stars, the lovely Susan Hart who was 25 years his junior and they had an affair. Jim and Sam had always been very close. Their families often ate together and socialized together giving the company a very wholesome family atmosphere. Jim divorced his wife and married Susan. Jim’s ex-wife got half of his shares and Sam was not happy with Jim’s ex having a say in their company. So Sam bought her out making him the main shareholder. Sam had a rep for being a hardball so he started to exert his power, slowly pushing Jim aside.

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After The Trip proved successful, stars Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper approached Corman about producing a biker picture they wrote called “The Loners” it would be a road picture and, like The Trip, would feature drugs. Hopper would direct and Bruce Dern would play straight lawyer character. Roger instantly said yes and brought it over to AIP. Sam was concerned about Hopper directing so he said he’d do it but if Hopper falls more than three days behind schedule he’d be replaced. Fonda and Hopper protested this decision.

“The lineage from Roger to Rider was obvious…he was a teacher without being a teacher.” – Peter Fonda

Jack Nicholson was working as a writer on The Monkees movie Head with Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider, whose old man was head of production at Columbia pictures. Jack Nicholson asked Hopper and Fonda if they could broker a deal with Columbia if they would be willing to replace Bruce Dern with himself? The boys said sure and that’s how Easy Rider became a BBS production distributed by Columbia Pictures and become the biggest grossing independently made film of all time until John Carpenter’s Halloween.


Jack Nicholson was a good guy about it as he cast Bruce Dern in his directorial debut Drive, He Said and the two would star together in Bob Rafelson’s King of Marvin Gardens both of which were BBS Productions so there was no bad blood between them.

The Family That Slays, Together Stays Together.

Roger was now unhappy with AIP and losing out on Easy Rider and wanted a change, but he had a couple more pictures to do for Sam and Jim. The first one was a gangster picture starring Shelly Winters and a young New York actor making his first major role, Robert De Niro, (previously he had made a couple of pictures for Brian DePalma) The picture was called Bloody Momma.

“De Niro was probably the most intense actor I ever worked with. He prepared in great detail and came in with powerful emotions for his scenes.” – Shelly Winters.

After reading a bunch of lousy scripts AIP had sent him Corman settled on Bloody Mama which he felt was really good. Bloody Mama tells the story of “Ma” Barker and her four criminally deranged sons who go on a crime spree in the rural south of the 1930s.

Once Shelly Winters signed on she helped Corman cast her bloody brood. Along with De Niro was Don Stroud, Bobby Walden, Clint Kimbrough and everyone’s favorite psychopath Bruce Dern as an ex-con who joins up with the gang. Documentary cinematographer John Alonzo would shoot the picture (he’d later shoot Chinatown, Scarface and many others.) making this his narrative film debut.

With all the method actors, Bloody Mama proved to be quite an interesting shoot. De Niro, whose character is a glue sniffing junkie was weak most of the time because he was starving himself to look gaunt. Once he was supposed to cry after Winters throws a bottle at him, but just couldn’t so unbeknownst to him Winters grabbed a real bottle of wine and threw it just above his head! Visibly shaken, he cried.

Bloody Mama has something for everyone homosexuality, drug addiction, incest, nudity and plenty of violence. It’s a crazy looney picture, definitely Corman’s sleaziest with each of the actors just chewing up the material they have work with and making it even more over the top. Bloody Mama is in my opinion the precursor to the sleazy exploitation pictures his company New World Pictures would deliver in the 70’s. Which brings us to the close of the 60’s and the close of this installment.

Next : James Nicholson and Roger Corman call it quits.
AIP’s protégés take over mainstream Hollywood and what was once considered “b-movies” become big budget blockbusters
Can AIP survive?

-Phillip López Jiménez

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