Harold Haxton: A Life In The Can
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Hollywood: 1947-1953
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Haxton In Hollywood: 1953-1957

Schmikler Pictures
The Schmikler Pictures Bear
The Schmikler Pictures "Bear" Logo

Maxmilian Schmikler produced many of Harold's films under the aegis of Schmikler Pictures. Schmikler had been president of Panoramic Pictures, but was forced to leave due to scandal. A contemporary of noted eccentric Howard Hughes, and an enthusiastic amateur pilot, Schmikler crashed his Travelair biplane into the swimming pool at Hearst Castle in 1948. No one was injured (except Max's pride), but he never achieved his former level of fame in the movie business after that...and his films got little positive coverage in any Hearst newspapers.

So he started his own production company, producing B- movies and C-grade "enchilada" westerns filmed in Tijuana. Schmikler saved money on horses by using burros, which were much smaller, cheaper to feed, and could work longer hours. This necessitated never shooting actors below the waist, so that you couldn't see the actor's feet dragging on the ground.

Obviously, he and Haxton made a great team. Arlen Ford recounts:

"Early on in their working relationship, Schmikler told Harold his film specialty had been the "horse opera". Oddly enough, Haxton didn't recognize this movie slang for "western". He once said to me, "If that Schmikler can get horses to sing and dance, he can sure as hell get my movies made". Hax had to have seen the term in Variety at some later point in his career...but I'd like to think he never did stop believing in those singin' horses."

Maximilian Schmikler

Max Schmikler at the Pasadena Country Club, 1940

What's Black & White & Red All Over?
Maxmilian Schmikler on the McCarthy years:

"1953 was a bad year in Hollywood...the Screen Actor's Guild had just let loose that press release pointing the finger at members with suspected Red sympathies. Blacklist hysteria was high. We already had most of Attack of the Tin Behemoth in the can, and we were real worried. You see, our leading man was named "Caspar V. Trotsky". Ironically, his real name was "William Thurston Smith". He'd changed his name to 'Trotsky" to sound more exotic. He was big on "Battleship Potemkin" or the "Ballet Russes" or some fruity deal like that. But he was all American -- heck, I think his relatives came over on the Mayflower. Well, I figured even bad attention is better than no attention, right?

To our surprise, nobody said a thing about our man Trotsky. Of course, this drove Haxton nuts -- he got so upset he went around town wearing this ridiculous black Russian fur hat (you know, the kind with the earflaps?). In Burbank. In the summertime. He even took up drinking vodka gimlets, which he ordinarily detested. But it was to no avail -- we couldn't get a drop of ink in the papers, never got asked to testify in court, nothing. And blacklisted? Hell, at the time, we could barely get listed in the telephone book."

Atomic Bombs
Attack Of The Tin Behemoth was also Haxton's inadvertent attempt at a 3D film. 3D was all the rage in 1953...movie studios were trying new gimmicks, desperate to compete with that newfangled "television set". But instead of filming with an actual 3D camera, Haxton just made frugal use of a bad negative (he used the cheapest film processing around, and they often screwed up). People saw weird, out-of-focus images and got a headache -- how could they tell it wasn't real 3D?

The UFO-attack movies Mars Needs Chicken! and Mars Needs Gravy! followed soon after, in 1954 and 1955. Playing on the anxieties of the Atomic Age, Haxton's films used "Martians" as a stand-in for "Russians". Unfortunately, he also used "a sombrero" and "a hubcap from a 1949 Buick Roadmaster" as a stand-in for alien spacecraft. Wilful suspension of disbelief can only go so far. Here it went about as far as the "Exit" door, where the audience was headed.

Knock On Wood
The Cold War years featured lots of wild parties at the elaborate bomb shelter beneath Schmikler's Pasadena backyard. One memorable party in 1957 included fellow B-movie director Edward D. Wood Jr., who got outrageously drunk and insisted on calling Haxton "Howard Hawks" (legendary director of films with Bogart and Grant, ex. The Big Sleep, His Girl Friday).

Edward D. Wood, Jr.

Director Edward D. Wood, Jr.

After being addressed as "Howard Hawks" for an entire evening, the furious Haxton and his faithful pal Arlen went out to Wood's car, intending to let the air out of the tires or pack the rumble seat full of cocktail shrimp. But an even better opportunity presented itself...on the front seat they found the original script to Wood's Plan 9 From Outer Space. Hax tore out every sixth page and returned the script to the car, while Arlen buried the loose pages under one of Schmikler's particularly large and garish lawn ornaments.

As a prank, it didn't have the desired effect...Wood never noticed the missing pages, and made the film from that very script in 1958. But if you were ever unfortunate enough to witness Plan 9, the movie makes a lot more sense aftering hearing this story, doesn't it?

Haxton on the phone

"Hello? Hello?" One of Haxton's favorite publicity shots

1957's Day For Night was Haxton's attempt at moving away from the horror/sci-fi genre, into a more Hitchcockian vein. Haxton, always working on a tight budget, is occasionally thought of as the father of the "day for night" shooting technique. The technique works like this: rather than actually shooting at night, the film is shot by day as usual, but special blue gels are used over the camera lens to simulate darkness. Of course, this saves a great deal of money on nighttime lighting equipment. However, naming his thriller Day For Night was perhaps a bit...obvious! Haxton's Day For Night is in no way related to Day For Night, the 1973 art film by Francois Truffaut...the major difference being that Haxton's Day For Night is considered "a movie", while Truffaut's is "ze feelm". NEXT

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