3 Cheers for American International Pictures

We’ve had over 70 occasions to mention American International Pictures (AIP) on Travalanche, but no real uber-post to link to. I’ve done a couple on their most famous auteur Roger Corman, but, shock of shocks, believe it or not, Corman is NOT synonymous with AIP, nor did he direct or produce all of their films. The company was co-founded by James H. Nicholson (1916-1972), former marketing man for Realart Pictures (which re-released old movies) and before that, a projectionist and theatre manager; and Samuel Z. Arkoff (1918-2001), a lawyer, who’d gotten his show biz start producing The Hank McCune Show, the first sitcom to employ a laugh track.

Founded in 1954 AIP was and is best known for producing low budget films with gimmicky angles to sell tickets, mostly in the genres of horror, crime/exploitation, and teen interest (highlighting fads like drag racing, surfing, and motorcycles). Often, innovations resulted from crossing genres, such as teen horror. Within a few years, AIP was successful enough that they could risk hiring well-known actors, usually either A) gone-to-seed stars from Hollywood’s classic era, B) TV stars or other entertainers looking to get a foothold in films, or C) up-and-comers. Corman’s Poe Cycle with Vincent Price et al and the Frankie-and-Annette beach party movies are only some of the better known of the company’s hundreds of films.

In 1972, Nicholson left to form Academy Pictures, producing The Legend of Hell House and Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry before dying at the end of the year. Arkoff sold off AIP in 1979 and formed another AIP, Arkoff International Pictures, which produced such things as Q – The Winged Serpent (1982).

Years ago, the studio was widely regarded as a sort of intrinsic joke by movie-lovers, merely a purveyor of bad, tastleless movies. A couple of generations later a great deal has changed, and most people I know (particularly myself) regard them with an appropriate amount of respect. The resourcefulness their tight budgets required often inspired very clever solutions, and one is often in awe of all that they accomplished. Yes, the results were often hokey, or what have you, but it’s not as though they didn’t know it. It was about brass, baby! In both senses — chutzpah AND shekels. Show me another way to survive on this planet without an inheritance!

Some of this respect is likely due to another fact: that so many distinguished directors of the New Hollywood generation came out of AIP: Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Peter Bogdanovich, Jonathan Demme, etc. FYI, one of the most famous actors to emerge from the studio, Jack Nicholson, was apparently no relation to founder James.

At any rate, the Halloween season approaches and you can rest assured I’ll be spending a lot of time with AIP’s charming little confections, as always. For a good time, I recommend you do the same!