Wednesday, May 4, 2011

R.I.P.: William Campbell

William Campbell
30 October 1926 (Newark, NJ) – 28 April 2011 (Woodland Hills, CA)

To say that William Campbell, who died on April 28th at the age of 87 at the Motion Picture & Television Country Home and Hospital in Woodland Hills, CA, was never a big star is a bit of an understatement, but for that he had an unforgettable and familiar face to generations of couch potatoes that caught his numerous guest appearances and bit parts on television shows since the early 1950s (he made his television debut in 1951 in the episode "New Year for Margaret" on the long forgotten program The Bigelow Theatre and his last acting appearance was in the episode "Chill Ride" on King Fu: The Legend Continues in 1996.) But it was his probably his appearances on the original Star Trek that made his face for most of us: in the episode "The Squire of Gothos" his energetic portrayal of Liberace – I mean, Trelane – is fondly remembered by all who ever saw it (including, one might assume, John de Lancie, the actor who played the reoccurring character Q in the later Star Trek spinoffs), and Campbell's easy smile also served his characterization of Koloth on the classic episode "The Trouble with Tribbles" extremely well.
But if Campbell never managed to gain a firm grip as an A-grade film actor, he did do a number of unforgettable and enjoyable films of the B-level, including at least one true low-budget horror classic and a few others worth watching despite their flaws.
And for that reason, here at A Wasted Life we feel he is a man to be honored.

The Breaking Point
1950, dir. Michael Curtiz
One of four films – after the classic Bogie & Bacall version from 1944 (trailer) and before both Wetbacks (1956) and Don Siegel's The Gun Runners (1958) – based on Ernest Hemingway's novel To Have and to Have Not, The Breaking Point is the second to last film of John Garfield (of East of the River, 1940), who, unlike many at the time of the McCarthy Era, had the balls to not name names and, as a result, suddenly found it extremely difficult to find work despite his popularity as a star. It is also the debut film of William Campbell as "Concho," a part so small that it never gets mentioned in any of the plot breakdowns of the films, let alone earn him a credit on the poster.

Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison
1951, dir. Crane Wilbur
Another film in which his part (as Nick Ferretti) is so small that that it never gets mentioned in any of the plot breakdowns of the films, let alone earn him a credit on the poster. But this message film is included here because it was written and directed by Crane Wilbur, a forgotten Hollywood director and writer who, among other things, wrote the script to and directed the Vincent Price version of The Bat (1959 / full film) and also was involved in the writing of numerous genre faves such as House of Wax (1953 / trailer), Crime Wave (1954 / trailer), The Amazing Mr. X (1948 / full film), He Walked by Night (1948 / full film) and Mysterious Island (1961 / trailer), among others. Also, Johnny Cash credits this film as being the inspiration for his classic hit Folsom Prison Blues, which you can listen to in the clip below. The narration of the film, by the way, is done by Folsom Prison itself.

The People Against O'Hara
1951, dir. John Sturges
Based on Eleazar Lipsky's novel The People Against O'Hara, this is an atypical Spencer Tracy film noir in which Tracy plays an alcoholic ex-lawyer named James Curtayne who re-enters the arena to defend a man, John O'Hara (James Arness), accused of murder. Due to alk and lack of practice, Curtayne loses the case, condemning the man to death, but when sudden (unusable) evidence leads Curtayne to realize O'Hara is truly innocent, he puts his life on the line to save him. Campbell plays a small but important role as the verbally adroit and manipulative Frank Korvac, the main witness against O'Hara, who claims to have been the driver of the getaway car... As good and as important as Campbell's part was, he still wasn't deemed worth putting on the poster.

Holiday for Sinners
1952, dir. Gerald Mayer
The same year that he married Judith Campbell Exner – who, as enquiring minds ought to know, later claimed to have been JFK's mistress the same time that she was supposedly bonking Chicago's Godfather Sam Giancana – William Campbell played the career-driven reporter Danny Farber, a man not above betrayal and manipulation for self-gain, in this dud of a drama about three old friends who get together for a Mardi Gras weekend in New Orleans in an attempt to forget their troubles. His part was important enough to get him on the lobby cards (below), but not to get his name on the poster (above).

Big Leaguer
1953, dir. Robert Aldrich
William Campbell finally makes it on the poster of this inconsequential film, of worth noting primarily for being the directorial debut of Robert Aldrich (and probably least interesting film he ever made). E.G. Robinson plays a baseball trainer, Campbell one of the various hopefuls – or less-hoping hopefuls, seeing that he character actually dislikes the game (smart man) and only plays it for the love of his dad. You can even see him in the trailer at TCM, ever so briefly, if you look closely.

Code Two
1953, dir. Fred M. Wilcox
A low-budget cop flick – cops on motorcycles chasing cattle rustlers – directed by the man brought you the science-fiction classic Forbidden Planet (1956 / trailer), Campbell's part as "Murderer" is minuscule at best, which explains why he is neither on the poster nor to be seen in the trailer at TCM.

Escape from Fort Bravo
1953, dir. John Sturges

Well, he ain't on the poster to this here western, but there he be in the trailer – he done went play the part of Cabot Young. Don't it jest look like a mighty fine film? (Naaght!) Tells the tale of a some brave Confederates trying to escape imprisonment from them nasty Yankees....

The High and the Mighty
1954, dir. William A Wellman
Although putting any John Wayne film (other than Genghis Kahn [1956 / fan-recut trailer], maybe) on this blog might seem sacrilegious, The High and the Mighty is an early template of the disaster movie in general and the airplane disaster movie in specific, and therefore must be included in the eulogy. Campbell, as Second Officer Wheeler, might not be on the poster, but he gets real credit in the trailer – a trailer so stilted that it almost seems to be a comedy. Aside from Campbell, another interesting face in the cast is Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer as Ensign Keim.

Running Wild
(aka The Girl in the Cage)
1955, dir. Abner Biberman
"The Stark Brutal Truth About Today's Lost Generation!"
Learn the truth and nothing but the truth in this crime drama starring William Campbell and no one less than the impressive Mamie van Doren (of The Girl in the Black Stockings [1957], amongst others). To quote Leonard Maltin (who?): "Tawdry, actionful account of young police officer getting the goods on car thief gangs." An early JD hotrod flick about a rookie cop who infiltrates a teenage ring of car thieves and manages to win the love a curvaceous blonde bombshell. Try to guess who played who... Containing the first credited film appearance of the great John Saxon, the film is also supposedly based on the 1954 pulp novel The Girl in the Cage by the forgotten crime novelist Ben Benson.

Cell 2455 Death Row
1955, dir. Fred F. Sears

Above is a scene from an unjustly forgotten film by an unjustly forgotten low budget genre filmmaker, Cell 2455 Death Row was his first starring role and should have given William Campbell a "real" career – but it didn't. Cell 2455 Death Row was the first of four books written by the convicted murderer-rapist-"kidnapper" Caryl Chessman (seen here in the B&W photo) while he sat on Death Row in California in the 1950s. Convicted of being the "Red Light Bandit," a brutal lover's lane rapist/robber of post-war LA, Chessman admitted many crimes but denied being the bandit. He was finally gassed on May 2, 1960, missing his last reprieve by seconds because the secretary executing the call first dialed a wrong number. William Campbell plays Chessman, who for some odd reason is called Whit Whittier in the movie... the actor playing Whittier as a boy is Campbell's brother, R. Wright Campbell, who among other things co-wrote the script to The Masque of Red Death (1964 / trailer).

1956, dir. John Sturges

More or less William Campbell's last A-film where he receives poster or trailer credit, a "psychological western" in which he has a part as an unlikeable hot-shot young gun named Johnny Cool who adds danger and distraction to Jim Slater's (Richard Widmark) fatalistically-ending search for his father. Donna Reed costars as Karyl Orton, whose hair and makeup can impeccably withstand the worst the desert has to offer. Nice poster, no?

Love Me Tender
1956, dir. Robert D. Webb

The film debut of Elvis Presley, and oddly enough one of his better movies – possibly because his part is a supporting one and the movie is more or less a straight western with a few song interludes – one of which Elvis sings with William Campbell! Campbell and Elvis are two of the four Reno brothers, and aside from being the only "Elvis film" in which Elvis does not receive top billing, it's also the only one that ends with his death...

Man in the Vault
1956, dir. Andrew V. McLaglen)
"Forced Into Crime To Save The Girl He Loved!"
Based on a Frank Gruber novel The Lock and the Key, according to DVD Verdict, "Man in the Vault does not aim high." But any B&W crime flick film with a young and curvaceous Anita Ekberg in it can't be all that bad, or? Nice poster, in any event.

Eighteen and Anxious
(aka No Greater Sin and Young Mother)
1957, dir. Joe Parker

Featuring (in a small part) no one less than the original TV Uncle Fester (Jackie Coogan), Eighteen and Anxious also features the film debut of Yvonne Craig, fondly remembered by most of us as the original TV Batgirl, as well as (possibly) the debut of Connie Stevens, all to be seen somewhere in the background of this teenage pregnancy film starring William Campbell as the trumpet-playing stud asshole.

The Naked and the Dead
1958, dir. Raoul Walsh

For this film from 1958, the same year that he divorced his first wife Judith Campbell Exner, William Campbell was not even mentioned on the posters. Hell, he doesn't even get shown or listed in the trailer, while even Lili St Cyr (shown below – not from the film) at least makes it on the latter. Based on the book of the same name by Norman Mailer, the film has so much testosterone that it seems to have been filmed on steroids. Included in this list primarily as an excuse to include a nice photo of Ms. St Cyr.

Natchez Trace
1960, dir. Alan Crosland Jr.
Possibly the only feature-length theatrical film of television director Alan Crosland Jr. Campbell plays Virgil Stewart, who swears revenge when John Morrow (Zachary Scott, in his last headlining role) accidentally kills his father. Of course, there is a woman torn between the two of them. Nice posters – makes the film look like a David F. Friedman production. Herewith, William Campbell slid 100% into B-movieville and television.

Night of Evil
1962, dir. Richard Galbreath

The only known feature film of director Richard Galbreath, Night of Evil features both Campbell and, in a bit part, his second and now ex-wife Barbara Bricker – although, since the film was actually filmed in 1960, she was still wife-to-be when it was made. In any event, the film was released in 1962, the year Campbell married his third and final wife, Tereza Campbell, with whom he remained until his death. Night of Evil is an unknown and forgotten film described on Ozus's World as "A cheapie camp melodrama that unconvincingly depicts a real situation of the downfall of a vulnerable and luckless teenage female, who is a victim of a cold society." Anyone remember Earl Wilson? Me neither, but he introduces the film as a true story: naïve good-girl cheerleader (Lisa Gaye) gets raped by football star, is thrown out by foster parents, tries to use her beauty to change her situation but ends up marrying a sadist conman (Campbell) before sliding into stripperdom and skid-row poverty. Lesson learned: always do a background check before saying "I do."

The Young Racers
1963, dir. Roger Corman
"They treated beautiful women as if they were fast cars...ROUGH!"
First film William Campbell made for Roger Corman, written by Campbell's bother R. Wright Campbell and costarring Mark Damon (of Let Them Pray [1967 / a trailer]), Luana Anders and Patrick Magee... cast sound familiar? This was the movie Francis Ford Coppola was assisting Corman with in Ireland when he convinced Corman to let him use the same stars (minus Damon) and set to make his far-superior classic B-horror Dementia 13. Campbell plays an asshole stud racing driver whose bro (R. Campbell) keeps his wife distracted so he can sow his oats; Damon plays an ex-racer turned writer who decided to write an exposé – big accident later, Campbell turns out not to be an asshole after all and all's well that ends well.

Operacija Ticijan (1963, dir. Rados Novakovi) /
Portrait in Terror (1965, dir. Rados Novakovi)
Little seems to be known about this film directed by the Serbian Rados Novakovi, but seeing that he is also listed as the director of the 1965 horror release Portrait in Terror, featuring the same cast, one can only assume they are one and the same film – in fact, according to Tim Lucus of Video Watchdog, 1965's Portrait in Terror is simply a re-cut version of "Operation Titian" with William Campbell (and Patrick Magee) added into the new version of the film. (Wikipedia, on the other hand, says that both Magee & Campbell were involved in the original Serbian, Corman-paid production.) The new plot, according to Amazon, is as follows: "Magee plays a sadistic killer hiding out in a cheap motel in California. Campbell is a deranged artist trying to steal a rare painting..." Portions of the film were also integrated into the 1966 Jack Hill horror film Blood Bath, which supposedly never got released...

Dementia 13

For years Dementia 13 was always given as Coppola's debut film, but that honor belongs to the 1962 nudie cutie Tonight for Sure (review). But Dementia 13 is his first feature-length general release, and what a release it is! The atmospheric, well-shot and violent B&W semi-gothic Psycho-inspired horror film features a gold-digging Louise Haloran (Luana Anders, whose last film appearance was in American Strays [1996]) trying to get herself written into the will of her dead husband's mother before anyone can find out he is dead – but her plans are crossed by the rather crazed family and an unknown, ax-yielding killer. A truly great cult film, well worth watching if you haven't seen it yet and watching again if you have – which is why we have embedded the complete public domain film here (from the great Internet Archives) for your viewing pleasure.

The Secret Invasion
1964, dir. Roger Corman
Odd that William Campbell gets no poster credit seeing that he is one of the main characters, one of five "bad" men who have a chance to redeem themselves or die trying by crossing enemy lines on a deadly and impossible mission. Sound sort of familiar? Well, three years later Robert Aldrich brought out a version of the same basic tale but with 12 instead of 5 bad men who have a chance to redeem themselves entitled The Dirty Dozen (trailer).

Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte
1964, dir. Robert Aldrich

Roger Aldrich's follow-up to What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962 / trailer), originally meant to feature the same two stars (Bette Davis and Joan Crawford), but Crawford bowed out and was replaced by Olivia de Havilland. William Campbell has an extremely minor role as Paul Marchand in this fun film with a killer cast, so he's neither on the poster nor in the trailer. The film is much better than the trailer, which virtually gives away the main surprise. Catch it the next time it's on TV; you'll like it.

Blood Bath
1966, "dir." Jack Hill

Full Film:

Two years before Jack Hill made his undeniably odd classic Spider Baby (1968 / trailer) and long before he made the Blaxploitation classic Coffy (1973 / trailer), he was given the job to recut and film new scenes for the 1963 Serbian production Operacija Ticijan. The final product was Blood Bath, which supposedly never got released but was in turn recut by Stephanie Rothman, who also added new scenes, and then released as Track of the Vampire. Thing is, although Track of the Vampire has been rereleased on a double-DVD (with Nightmare Castle [1965 / full film]), on-line I can find only things related to Blood Bath. The website Fantastic Movie Musings says that the film is "a bloody mess [and] ... looks like it was edited with a Cuisinart." Check it out for yourself above, thanks to Internet Archives.

Pretty Maids All in a Row
1971, dir. Roger Vadim
By this film William Campbell's film career was pretty much over; even here, in a small part as Grady, his presence is so small that it is almost a joke to say that it is of any importance. For that, Pretty Maids All in a Row, which stars Rock Hudson and Angie Dickenson, is not only Roger Vadim's first US directorial job, but is also a popular 42nd Street cult film written and produced by no one less than Gene Roddenberry on a bad day. At Oceanfront High School, where the young guy named Ponce (John David Carson) is a walking virginal erection, pretty girls are being murdered one after the other. Roger Elbert was quiet right when he wrote: "Rock Hudson sex comedies sure have changed since 'Pillow Talk'." The A.V. Club has a great, detailed review of the film here.

Black Gunn
William Campbell's last film appearance, and the second to last film by forgotten English trash master Robert Hartford-Davis, the man behind such unforgettable films like Corruption (1968 / trailer). Go here for a review of this less than exceptional but mildly diverting Blaxploitation flick.


Cathy Janiak said...

William Campbell was my second cousin. Thanks for doing a complete job of covering his career with videos and posters. He was a fun loving guy and I know his fans will miss him as well..Rest in peace Bill...


Cathy Janiak

Abraham said...

Glad to hear that you liked the eulogy. I can imagine he was a fun-loving guy; he often comes across so in his films – even when the character he is playing is a jerk, one always has the feeling that he'd be fun to have a beer with. Did he ever mention to you what his real involvement was with the film "Operacija Ticijan" (1963, dir. Rados Novakovi)? Was he actually part of the original shoot, or was he edited in later?

Keptin Koloth said...

Bill Campbell is the best!

Anonymous said...

William Campbell is so good! I buying all his movies+ my favorites Man in the Vault& Dementia13.So good-looking.Thank you for the review of his films. That was nice reading his cousin writing in some one who really knew him

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