On this day in 1914, William Castle was born. I have a great fondness for the independent filmmakers of that time. Just getting a film made was a major accomplishment. And getting people to go out and watch it was even more so. On the first count, I think his films stand up rather well today. Too much has been said on the second point, but there is no doubt that he was one of the greatest promoters in film history. To get an idea of what he did, check out the sadly neglected Matinee where John Goodman plays a character clearly based on Castle.
Castle worked in the studio system, even working as second unit director on Orson Welles’ The Lady from Shanghai. But he wanted more, so he mortgaged his house (not the last time he would do so), and made Macabre. The film is mostly memorable because of the $1,000 life insurance policies that all audience members received in case of “decease by fright.” Silly and wonderful at the same time. According to Wikipedia, the film cost $90,000 to make and grossed $5 million in the decade after its release.
Perhaps the greatest bit of real time silliness came in the initial release of The Tingler. Castle had technicians install buzzers onto a couple of theater seats that were activated at the climax of the film. That must have had quite an effect on the audience. Of course, it was all in good fun as you can see in the following opening to the film. Castle looks like he’s about to burst out laughing:
Ultimately, Castle’s career is the prototypical American story. He was hugely successful. But he was never allowed into the inner circle. He continued to make “B” films for all his career. Near the end of his life, he managed to acquire the rights to Rosemary’s Baby. But the studio would not allow him to direct it, going instead with Roman Polanski. It’s hard to complain with that selection, but I’m sure the decision was entirely in-group/out-group politics. Success doesn’t much matter in the United States. It has to be the right kind of success. That’s why Bernard Madoff is (rightly) in jail but not the drug money laundering executives at HSBC.
Happy birthday William Castle!