Sam Katzman’s films may not have been fancy, but he gave big returns to studios on low investments. Starting his career work as a stage laborer when he was just thirteen, he made films in Hollywood for four decades. Movies were such a part of his life that he was even married on the set of Fox’s The Diplomats.
He made multiple movies for Monogram, including nine movies with Bela Lugosi, as well as several serials for Columbia at the same time. He made so many movies that it’s hard to keep track of all of them — Monogram cameraman Robert Cline believed that in six years, they made more than a hundred movies — and while he was notoriously cheap, he certainly got things done.
It’s funny because people either tell stories of how hard he was to work for, how thrifty he was or how they learned from him. Sometimes, all three. But the most telling quote comes from no less a hullabaloo artist than William Castle, who said, “Few people in the motion picture industry took him seriously as a producer of quality films, but to me, Sam was a great showman.”
Katzman made horror, science fiction, action, rock and roll teen movies — anything that would make a buck. He told Variety that “A picture that makes money is a good picture — whether it is artistically good or bad. I’m in the five and dime business and not in the Tiffany business. I make pictures for the little theatres around the country. I don’t get ulcers with the type of pictures I make.”
By the end of his career, Katzman produced 239 movies and even directed five (all in 1937). Given the nickname “Jungle Sam” from all of the serials and adventure movies he made, his career spans such disparate genres as The East Side Kids, Superman, hippy movies, biker films and even MGM Elvis movies. And perhaps craziest of all, some claim — this sounds like a kayfabe story, but here it is — that he invented the term beatnik.
The story claims that the producer was at a recording studio overseeing the mix on one of his teen movies when he overheard the musicians discussing why one of them didn’t show up for the session. The answer was, “That cat was just beat, Nick,” which Katzman misheard as “beat, Nick.” He liked the sound of the word and started using it in his movies. I love this story, but as a Jewish man, Katzman had to know Yiddish. The same goes for Herb Caen, who also gets credit for inventing the word in his San Francisco Chronicle writing.
If you’d like to check out four of the many films that Katzman made, Arrow Video has you covered.
Arrow Video’s new Cold War Creatures: Four Films From Sam Katzman set includes The Zombies of Mora Tau, Creature with the Atom Brain, The Werewolf and The Giant Claw. Each film has a 1080p blu ray presentation, along with a fully illustrated 60-page collector’s book featuring extensive new writing by Laura Drazin Boyes, Neil Mitchell, Barry Forshaw, Jon Towlson and Jackson Cooper, as well as 80-page collector’s art book featuring reproduction stills and artwork from each film and new writing by historian and critic Stephen R. Bissette, the former artist of Swamp Thing. Plus, you get two double-sided posters featuring newly commissioned artwork by Matt Griffin and reversible sleeves for each movie with original and newly commissioned artwork for each film by Matt Griffin.
Creature with the Atom Brain has extras like an introduction by historian and critic Kim Newman, audio commentary by critic Russell Dyball; Sam Katzman: Before and Beyond the Cold War Creatures, a brand-new feature-length illustrated presentation on the life, career and films of Sam Katzman by Bissette; a condensed Super 8mm version of Creature with the Atom Brain, a trailer and an image gallery.
The Werewolf has tons of great extras, like an introduction by Kim Newman, commentary by Lee Gambin, a visual essay concerning the role of women in the films of Sam Katzman by historian and critic Alexandra Heller-Nicholas and a Super 8mm version of this movie.
The Zombies of Mora Tau has plenty of extras, including an introduction by Kim Newman, commentary by critic Kat Ellinger, a visual essay exploring the intersection of mythical horror creatures and the rational world of science in the films of Sam Katzman by critic Josh Hurtado, the theatrical trailer and an image gallery.
The Giant Claw has extras including an introduction by critic Kim Newman Brand, commentary by critics Emma Westwood and Cerise Howard, a visual essay from Mike White examining the theme of Cold War paranoia in Sam Katzman monster movies, a trailer, an image gallery and a condensed Super 8mm version of the movie.
You can get this set from MVD.