Posts Tagged ‘“Robert L. Lippert”

Now we’re those old film guys…


My first encounter with Robert L. Lippert was in 2004, after I’d called and asked him if he’d be willing to be interviewed about his legendary father, producer-distributor-exhibitor, Robert L. Lippert, Sr.  This was shortly after I purchased the 100+ feature film library produced and distributed by “Senior,” as Bob called him.   

Bob lived in Pebble Beach, California, with his lovely wife Hong Sook.  Their house was filled with world-class Asian antiques, and his living room walls lined with photographs of him and his many adventures…and he had a lot of adventures; as a film editor, producer, exhibitor, aviator, restaurateur, and I’m sure others he didn’t have the wall space to document.

Bob took me to breakfast and we talked about his father, then we went over to his stately home.  He led me downstairs to his office which was filled with posters from movies he had worked on, “High Noon,” “The Tall Texan,” “The Sins of Jezebel,” and many others. Soon the subject of conversation turned to Bob himself.  He had a lot to say, and did so with gruff, colorful language that you’d expect of a veteran of B-movie making.  No one had ever asked him about his life in the movies for 50 years, and he was delighted to have someone interested, especially an avid listener like me.  

We met several more times, most notably when he invited my wife, Donna, and I for lunch at the Pebble Beach Country Club.  I dressed nicely with a sport jacket, but wore jeans which I found out was taboo at the country club.  He took me back to his house and gave put on a pair of his slacks.  I was a size 32, and he was a shorter man who wore size 38.  I was quite a sight, but I didn’t care.

Bob’s passing saddened me because he was my last link to the “old school” filmmakers I so loved.  


My good friend, Steve Durbin, recently told me, “Remember those old film guys we loved to hear stories from?”…“Now we’re those old film guys.” 


Robert L. Lippert, Jr. Filmography:

Massacre (1956) Producer

The Black Pirates (1954) Co-producer

The Big Chase (1954) Producer *

Fangs of the Wild (1954) Producer

Sins of Jezebel (1953) Producer

The Great Jesse James Raid (1953) Producer

Bandit Island (3-D short)  Producer, director *

The Tall Texan (1953) Assistant film editor

Hellgate (1952) Assistant film editor

The Jungle (1952) Assistant film editor

High Noon (1952) Assistant film editor

FBI Girl (1952) Assistant film editor

Pier 23 (1951) Assistant film editor

Roaring City (1951) Assistant film editor

The Danger Zone (1951) Assistant film editor

The Steel Helmet (1951) Assistant film editor

The Bandit Queen (1951) Assistant film editor


All except “The Black Pirates” and “Bandit Island” are available on DVD.

* “Bandit Island” was later incorporated into “The Big Chase.” 


These passages appeared in a previous a previous post, “The Lippert-Fox Productions/Lippert Trivia”:


’The Black Pirates’ (1954) was shit, and ‘Massacre’ was no good either.” — Producer, Robert L. Lippert, 

After a day of filming “Massacre” (1956) in Guatemala Producer Robert L. Lippert, Jr. was relaxing in his hotel room and heard gun shots in the room next to him. Recalling that a General was staying there, he immediately calculated it was an assassination (it was.) Lippert didn’t want to be shot as an eye witness, so he jumped out the window and ran on foot all the way to Mexico, and the cast and crew, who were staying in another hotel, departed by plane.

Again during the filming of “Massacre,” Lippert, Jr. said he was on location in a rural town where he found the electrical power was at best unreliable. Of course power was essential. To proceed with filming he went to the local airport, such as it was, which was powered by a generator. He paid off government officials to obtain the airport generator during the daytime hours. Daytime air operations ceased, and each night the generator was returned to the airport thus enabling planes to once again take off and land.

There wasn’t enough money in the production budget to afford a pirate ship in “The Black Pirates” (1954), so the movie begins with the “pirates” arriving on shore in a row boat. They never leave land for the entire movie.


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This is a continuation of a discussion between Robert J.E. Simpson and Sam Sherman regarding Hammer Films and “The Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas”.

Sam Sherman has been actively involved in all aspects of film production and distribution for over 50 years, and is an encyclopedia of film knowledge.   

Robert J.E. Simpson is from Northern Ireland and is working on a PhD which will lead into one or two books about Hammer Films/Exclusive Films.  His PhD twitter feed is at, and there is a website which will be updated soon at

Hi Kit,

Thanks for that. Completely fascinating. I’ve never looked at the extant Hammer files on Snowman, so this is very intriguing reading.

I’m well aware that Hammer’s corporate dealings are a minefield. Even worse when you consider how much of the paperwork was discarded (I think we’ve talked about that before). I see a note on my files from Hammer regarding IIP’s stake, but many companies have a stake in Hammer product so that’s not particularly surprising.

Just had a browse through some of my Hammer books here. The authorised history THE HAMMER STORY certainly mentions Buzz as Lippert’s uncredited production company as part of the last in the Hammer/Lippert co-production deals.

I’m not disputing Clarion was a slightly different set-up to Hammer, but it was part of the Hammer group of companies. I’ve got paperwork relating to that.

According to my records here, Intercontinental certainly contracted Tucker, but it was Exclusive that contracted the producer and script, and Hammer Film Productions Ltd the rest of the cast (including Cushing), and the studio facilities. Obviously there’s more, and I see yet more mention of the litigation (as I say, first time I’ve ever looked at that dispute), but Hammer were most certainly involved. And Hammer’s name was heavily featured on contemporary advertising for the film, and the onscreen credits.


Below is Sam’s response.


Hi Kit,

Please forward this information as required. 

As a party to this project I have all of the legal paperwork and documents supporting the background of this film..


James Carreras

Clarion Films Ltd. was mainly owned by James Carreras and had a different corporate incorporation and legal setup than Hammer Film Productions Ltd.

AS was a co-production of Buzz Productions Inc. (the main producers) (as owned by
Robert Lippert, William Pizor and Irwin Pizor) and Clarion Films Ltd. 20th Century Fox was the sole distributor of the film world-wide, excluding UK and Japan. Note- the film was partially financed on the British end by the Eady plan.

Irwin Pizor acquired the Lippert interests and inherited his father (William Pizor’s ) interests.   My company, Independent-International Pictures Corp., acquired all of the Buzz interests from  my business partner Irwin Pizor. AS is not a Hammer Production and is setup differently than any Hammer film in such regards.

Hammer claimed to have acquired the Clarion interests to this film and in settlement of certain disagreements amongst Hammer, Fox and Buzz, Fox agreed to discontinue world distribution of this film (excluding UK and Japan.) In further settlement of such, my company acquired all world rights to this film, which it currently owns, with the exception of UK, Japan and US/Canada.

The film was unsuccessful when first released and considered a failure. When we took over the Buzz interests the film was heavily in the red. Since acquiring the Buzz interests we were helpful in promoting the film as a quality product and such production is now no longer in the red.

In my opinion AS is a fine production and one of the better such films Carreras and his companies were involved with.

James Carreras was a longtime friend and business associate of William Pizor and Irwin Pizor who were very important in the international film business and brought him in touch with Robert Lippert through distributing Lippert films in the UK and setting up a number of British coproduction’s between Carreras and Lippert.

-Sam Sherman


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A Hammer Film or not? 

Film historian Sam Sherman nails it….

(A series of emails between film historians Sam Sherman and Rick Mitchell as prompted by my blog) 

RICK MITCHELL: …but all Regal [“B” movies produced by Robert L. Lippert and released by 20th Century-Fox] films I’ve seen after that were credited in being in RegalScope, including British made THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN OF THE HIMALAYAS, which was actually shot in what’s now called Super 35; [a film collector] e-mailed me that his 35mm print credits Megascope, the term Hammer used for the films it shot in Super 35 and Columbia used on spherical films it released in Europe with anamorphic prints.  

SAM SHERMAN: There is so much information and especially mis-information on this title due to several reasons – The claims   that this is a Hammer film or a Regal film are completely Wrong.  The film was originally made as a US British co-production between (US) Buzz Productions Inc. (Bob Lippert, Bill PIzor, Irwin Pizor) [**]  and (UK) Clarion Films Ltd. (Jimmy Carreras) (a separate company and not legally part of Hammer) with Fox  handling all world-wide distribution outside of the Clarion territories of UK and Japan, as the film was a UK quota financed film there, as released by Warners.  The process listed was somewhere “Hammerscope” elsewhere “RegalScope”,   but was most likely regular Cinemascope.

In the Fox territories the film was cut by several minutes and re-titled ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN OF THE HIMALAYAS. Videos here are from the British master and show the Warners logo and UK credits.  The US Theatrical release was the top of a double bill with GHOST DIVER, which I think is a Regal film…, as second feature.  US TV was originally handled by Seven Arts (which had a Fox TV film group package) and later became part of Warners.  I have a Seven Arts 16MM TV print with different (US) credits which had a prominent credit for Buzz Productions, rarely seen elsewhere.  My company (IIP) [Independent International Pictures] is the owner of the Buzz Productions interests.  This is probably the best film that the Clarion and Hammer production team ever made. It is finally getting a reputation, is shown yearly at a special film festival at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood and fans finally have gotten to appreciate it.  When I took over the rights to this film and started working with Fox they thought nothing of the film until I told them it was great! They didn’t believe in it as they had mis-handled it originally and it made no money.  Once, due to my efforts, they reviewed all of these issues and they started marketing it to Cable TV in the US (including HBO) where they did a great deal of business. This film was in the Red from 1957 to the 1990s until I took it over and now, it is solidly in the black.

RICK: Kit Parker forwarded to me your comments about the rights history of this film, which sound very complicated because it was an international co-production.   ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN was shot by the technique known today as Super 35: full aperture spherical photography composed for 2.35, which would be extracted and squeezed to a dupe negative for release printing. This was originally done as Superscope but didn’t work as well on color films as with black-and-white and we are now discovering that a number of black-and-white films from the late Fifties released with anamorphic prints and advertised as being in CinemaScope or similar “Scopes” were actually shot that way. Megascope was Hammer’s term for films shot this way and Columbia used it on some films shot and released spherically in the US but with anamorphic prints in Europe, including THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD [1958]! 

SAM: I won’t believe this super-35 story on ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN until I see a piece of film in my hand like that.  I remember seeing some Superscope films in theatres (Tushinsky process) originally… especially INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS [1956]. It was inferior looking and very grainy from blowing up that negative. ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN always looks very good leading me to believe it was shot with an anamorphic lens and not blown up from part of a negative.  I worked on two films shot in Techniscope (a similar idea using half the negative) and squeezed into an anamorphic version – and it usually looked grainy and horrible.  If SNOWMAN was shot the same way, it should look equally bad which it does not.

Unfortunately, we have not had access to MGM’s files to get their side of this, only Panavision’s. Obviously, they couldn’t publicly announce it as it would have been in violation of their licensing agreement with Fox. One giveaway is there is a credit on these films saying “Process lenses by Panavision”, which was used when Panavision optical printer lenses were used for conversions. Through 1960, films shot with Panavision lenses, though credited as being in CinemaScope, carried a sub credit “Photographic lenses by Panavision. Unfortunately, this credit appears near the end of the main title sequence on the card with the copyright notice, etc., so you have to watch the film’s main title sequence to catch it. One other thing I noted was that the films’ original negatives were cut into A&B rolls so they wouldn’t have to go to another dupe stage for dissolves and fades, just title sequences and opticals. We’re fairly certain all their black-and-white “CinemaScope” pictures released in 1957 and 58 were done this way, but still need to research the 1959-60 releases because MGM had begun using Panavision lenses on its color films about that time. Marty has confirmed that THE GAZEBO, released at the end of 1959, was shot anamorphic.

[**]  The name “Buzz” probably came from Robert L. Lippert, who had just produced “The Fly” (1958).

Sam Sherman, writer, producer, distributor, and film historian:

Rick Mitchell, film editor and film historian.

Wide Screen 101:



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Ronnie James, one of the great unsung movie and television researchers felt that the Filmography would be more useful and telling, if it was in chronological order.  It started out that way, but I found too much conflicting information among my various research publications…but he’s right…it should be.

Film editor and film historian Rick Mitchell has great credentials when it comes to wide screen cinematography. He asked several excellent questions that I’m sure others have wondered about as well.

RICK MITCHELL: I believe there are some errors in the Lippert piece. I don’t believe Sam Fuller’s CHINA GATE and FORTY GUNS were made for Lippert but under a separate deal Fuller’s Globe Productions made with Fox, like Edward L. Alperson’s. THE FLY is not considered a Lippert production but an official Fox one.

THE FLY is definitely a Lippert production. Director Kurt Neumann came to Bob Lippert with the story, and Lippert felt it would be a big hit so, according to Dexter, authorized a $700 – $750K budget…astronomical for a Lippert production, but small by Fox standards. Most of the money went into special effects and, of course, it was filmed (in Canada) in color.  Lippert showed it to Fox president, Spyros Skouras, and he decided to make it a Fox “A” release.

KIT: Sam Fuller was the producer of both CHINA GATE and FORTY GUNS, released in 1957. 

 These were Lippert RegalScope productions that so impressed the Fox brass that they were released as Fox/CinemaScope pictures. Head of production was Bill Magianetti, and his assistant was Maury Dexter.  I spoke to Dexter and he confirmed this and also went into detail about the filming. Maury also told me some great Fuller stories connected with those two pictures which I’ll reveal in a future blog!

RICK: Are you sure THE FLY was filmed in Canada? I’d seen THE GIFT OF LOVE a few weeks before I first saw THE FLY and was shocked to see the same interiors of the house in both films. Fox did recycle standing sets: the schoolroom build for PEYTON PLACE appears in THE YOUNG LIONS and THE LONG HOT SUMMER with no changes, for example.

KIT:  Rick was mostly right…only some scenes were filmed in Montreal, the rest at Fox studios.

In one of my blogs I wrote that Lippert couldn’t put his name on any of his Fox productions because he totally alienated the unions by insisting on releasing his earlier productions to television and refusing to pay residuals.

RICK: Lippert takes executive producer credit on THE YELLOW CANARY (1963).

KIT: Yes, by 1963 the union problems were behind him.

RICK: The first Regal film credited on the film as being in CinemaScope; I haven’t seen any ads or trailers, so I don’t know what’s on them.

KIT:  I do know they used CinemaScope lenses on all of the Regal’s, but Fox didn’t want to use that name on low budget, black and white second features. One thing that continues to stump me is some of the Regal prints have the Fox logo, and other prints of the same picture say Regal Films! Maury Dexter didn’t know, either, so it is a probably a question that will never be answered.


RICK:  See attached frame blowup from a friend’s 16mm print of STAGECOACH TO FURY; I now have one of my own. It has the Regal Films logo at the head. I have not seen any of the other RegalScope films released in 1956 and don’t know how they were credited but all Regal films I’ve seen after that were credited in being in RegalScope, including British made THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN OF THE HIMALAYAS, which was actually shot in what’s now called Super 35; [a film collector] e-mailed me that his 35mm print credits Megascope, the term Hammer used for the films it shot in Super 35 and Columbia used on spherical films it released in Europe with anamorphic prints.

RICK: Incidentally, re your Lippert Pictures filmography, THE BIG CHASE was expanded from what was to be 3-D short, I believe BANDIT ISLAND.


KIT:  True; producer Robert L. Lippert, Jr. made both the 3D short and incorporated the footage (in 2D) into his feature film, THE BIG CHASE (1954).  The 3D short itself is not known to survive.

RICK:  I believe the color films Lippert did before the formation of Associated Producers were released as official Fox films because they were in color.

KIT: The only two color films that came out of Regal Films were THE FLY (1958) and THE DEERSLAYER (1957), which were released as Fox pictures, but produced by Lippert. When the Fox-Regal deal expired, a new one was set up under the name Associated Producers. Many of those were in color.

RICK: Were CATTLE EMPIRE, VILLA! (both1958) and THE OREGON TRAIL (1959) not part of the Lippert deal? They are credited as being produced by Richard Einfield, the son of a former Fox exhibition executive. I’d gotten the impression that all the obvious color B’s Fox released during the Skouras years went through the Lippert Unit. [condensed for clarity]

KIT: CATTLE EMPIRE, VILLA! And THE OREGON TRAIL are Lippert (API) productions.  I know IMDb isn’t the be-all-end-all of credits, but it doesn’t list CATTLE EMPIRE or VILLA! as Einfield films. Maury thinks Einfield “may” have produced CATTLE EMPIRE, and he did produce OREGON TRAIL.

Both Dexter, and VILLA! star, Margia Dean, confirm that Spyros Skouras’ son, Plato Skouras, produced VILLA!  Dexter says that Plato wanted to be a movie producer so his father assigned him to “produce” some Lippert’s, a way to get him off his back and still allow his son to call himself a producer, although his involvement usually wasn’t much more than as a figurehead.  Dexter adds it was a similar situation with Richard Einfield, whose father was indeed an exhibitor, and therefore a customer of Fox.  He added that Einfield did not have much to do with the actual producing, but did more so than Plato Skouras given Einfield had a background in film editing and directing.

Dexter has given me more details on THE FLY.  He says Lippert read the “The Fly” short story in a 1957 Playboy Magazine, at the suggestion of director Kurt Neumann.  He immediately dispatched someone to Paris to buy the movie rights from its author, George Langelaan.  Langelaan was paid $2,500, a little over $19,000 in 2010 dollars.

I’m thankful for Rick’s questions and comments, and hope he will contribute more.

GREAT NEWS!  Maury Dexter wrote an unpublished autobiography which I found to be a page-turner.  He has asked me to make it available at no charge.  I’ll get to work on the project as soon as I can figure out how to upload the book from a floppy disc!


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Please bear with me while I get over my passion for compiling lists!

I’ve spent weeks putting together a filmography pictures produced by various companies controlled by Robert L. Lippert.  So far there are over 300 (!) productions spanning a 20 year period commencing in 1945. It’s been interesting, fun, and definitely time-consuming!  My goal is to make this information definitive…not an easy task given many of the movies were made anonymously.   Look for it soon.  In the meantime I offer you the lists below.

Lippert Pictures: Unrealized Or Retitled Projects

During 1947-49, Lippert Pictures, and its predecessor, Screen Guild Productions, announced titles to trade publications become available in the “next season,” implying they were in production, or close to it, or “in preparation,” which was another way of saying little, if anything had been prepared other than the main title.

During my interviews with producers Maury Dexter and Robert L. Lippert, Jr., I was told by both that Lippert, Sr., almost always came up with a title before commissioning the screenplay, but did occasionally change his mind, ending up releasing the picture under another title.  For example, the announced title, “The Ghost of Jesse James,” could have been changed to “The Return of Jesse James,” which actually was released.  At this point we’ll never know which titles were abandoned, or actually released under other titles.

I’ve always wondering what a Lippert production of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, much less directed by Samuel Fuller, in CineColor, or a Wizard of Oz sequel would have looked like had Lippert Pictures actually produced them!

Titles announced as being available “next season”

20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA – Project sold to Walt Disney
























WOMAN WITH A GUN – Paulette Goddard

* Samuel Fuller eventually produced in 1951 for U.A. release

Titles announced as being “In Preparation”






Titles unrealized
















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“That Thanksgiving we had two turkeys”

The early days of television were a boon to independent producers like Lippert because they could now license their movies to television.  The big studios could too, but were afraid to alienate exhibitors they were dependant on to show their new releases.  Although Lippert had problems with exhibitors as well, his first major hurdle were the music composer and musician unions.  He had previously paid them when his movies were first made.  He had the right to show them anywhere, but the unions wanted additional compensation for TV, and threatened television stations if they dared to air them.  At first he replaced the original compositions with monophonic organ scores.  Eventually the original music was restored, but his problems were just beginning.

The Screen Actor’s Guild (SAG) told him that unless he gave their members residuals for television airings, he couldn’t use SAG actors in future productions.  Lippert’s position was the same, but he couldn’t make movies without actors, so he closed “Lippert Pictures.”

Lippert still wanted to produce movies, and 20th Century-Fox needed to get out from an edict it handed down to exhibitors.

The Fox problem began after it notified exhibitors that all of their forthcoming productions would be in color, CinemaScope, and stereophonic sound. But Fox still needed “B” movies as second features to its “A” product.  Also, drive-ins were coupling two B’s together as double features.  In any case, Fox couldn’t afford to make them in color.

Lippert and Fox head, Spyros Skouras, came together and created Regal Films, solving both of their problems with one name change.  Ed Baumgarten, former chief loan officer for the motion picture division of the Bank of America, and Vice-President of Lippert Pictures, became the straw man “president” of the company.  Lippert called all the shots, but with his name appearing nowhere in the credits, he was free to sell his movies without fear of union reprisal.

Concurrently, Fox got out of its ill-conceived “color, CinemaScope, stereo sound only” policy by informing exhibitors that the Regal films were independent productions, merely distributed” by Fox…technically true, even though Fox provided the funding.

All of the releases* were black and white and “RegalScope,” which allowed Fox to keep its prestigious “CinemaScope” name off low budget, black and white movies.  Earle Lyon, producer of three Regal films, told me that RegalScope was strictly a name change, and that the lenses used in the RegalScope productions were the same CinemaScope ones used for the regular Fox “A” titles.

Maury Dexter, who started out as Lippert’s assistant in 1956, and later became one of Lippert’s most prolific director and/or producers during the Lippert-Fox era, told me the budgets were only $100,000 (just under $800,000 in 2010 dollars), which is incredibly low considering the production values, such as they were.   I’m told Lippert got an additional $25,000 as a producer’s fee.  “The Fly,” which was in color, cost $700,00 – $750,000 (Approx. $5.5 million in 2010 dollars) according to Maury Dexter who was in charge of production at Lippert.

The only Regal color productions were “The Deerslayer” (1957), and “The Fly” (1958), which along with Samuel Fuller’s black and white, “China Gate” (1957), were released under the Fox/CinemaScope banner.  When I used to distribute those pictures through Kit Parker Films, there was an occasional instance where one print had a Regal logo, and another a 20th Century-Fox one…I have no idea why.

I asked former exhibitor Shan Sayles, if he played any RegalScope movies.  He told me “Yes, a western double feature that ran on Thanksgiving of 1957,” continuing, “that Thanksgiving we had two turkeys!”

One of the unfortunate hallmarks of many of the Regal titles is too much talk, too little action.    According to his son, Robert L. Lippert, Jr., the elder Lippert knew it was cheaper to film dialogue than action.

Producer Earle Lyon told mes a story about Lippert’s penuriousness while in Montana producing “Stagecoach to Fury” (1956), Lippert’s only Oscar nominee – for best black and white cinematography, when he got a call from the boss asking him to get to Las Vegas right away for an urgent meeting.  The “meeting,” according to Lyon, lasted about three minutes, long enough for Lippert to tell Lyon the movie was not to go one cent over budget.  “Do you understand, not one cent.  Now go back and go to work!”  Why Lippert spent money on a plane ticket to tell Lyon something that he and everyone else knew was an iron-clad rule, remains a mystery!

In 1959 Regal Films was abandoned altogether, but Lippert continued to produce low budget movies for Fox for another ten years.  It puzzles me that Fox didn’t release those films to television.  Instead, Lippert somehow gained control of the Regal library, and in the early 1960s sold them outright to National Telefilm Associates (NTA.)  Paramount is the current owner.

But there’s more to Lippert’s producing career…to be continued…

* At the time of the Regal deal Lippert had one unreleased picture, “Massacre” (1956), a USA-Mexico co-production Lippert and Intercontinental Pictures, Inc.  Fox’s involvement was only as distributor.

(References:  Robert L. Lippert, Jr., Maury Dexter, Earle  Lyon and Sam Sherman)


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Samuel Fuller’s “I Shot Jesse James” (1949)


Before Roger Corman there was Robert L. Lippert.

Producer/Exhibitor Robert L. Lippert’s low-budget productions are sometimes called Grade “C.”  Personally, I’ve never seen one below “B-,” and in fairness, he did put out some “B+,” “nervous A,” and who can call “The Fly” (1957) anything but an “A”?

Lippert felt there was an unmet demand for “B” product for his circuit of theatres, so in 1945 he and John L. Jones formed a production company, Action Pictures, and distribution company, Screen Guild Productions.   The first and sole release for 1945 was “Wildfire – The Story of a Horse,” in Cinecolor, starring Bob Steele.  Regular releases followed, and in 1949 Screen Guild , became “Lippert Pictures,” and in the final count, cranked out over 125 low budget movies, and released many more acquisitions and reissues.  He produced many more films for release by 20th Century-Fox…more about the Fox deal later…

The early Lippert productions were unremarkable B movies (okay, there may have been some C’s), with a few notable exceptions.  Things changed in 1949 when he rolled the dice and took a chance on a feisty independent newspaper reporter by the name of Samuel Fuller. Lippert gave Fuller, who had no movie experience, virtual free-reign, and his name above the title, to create a film about Jesse James’ assassin, Bob Ford.   It was released as “I Shot Jesse James” (1949), and became a critical and box office success, and today it is considered a classic, notable, among other things, for its extensive use of close ups.  Soon after, Fuller directed his second film, “The Baron of Arizona” (1950), a true story about a swindler who seized much of Arizona by forging Spanish land grants.  Vincent Price played the “Baron,” and many years later claimed it was one of his very favorite roles.  Truly, the Lippert/Fuller magna opus was the classic Korean War drama, “The Steel Helmet” (1951), which garnered first-run dates at prestigious theatres.  The three Fuller films are out on DVD from the Criterion Collection.

Lippert’s cause célèbre was to produce films as cheaply as possible, and still offer at least some entertainment value, particularly for the more unsophisticated movie patrons. No Lippert movies were allowed to go over budget.  Not egotiable…even for Fuller.

Robert L. Lippert, Jr. told me a story about filming of the climactic ending of “The Steel Helmet,” where a Korean temple is to be destroyed, and it almost didn’t come to be…  Fuller had shot all but the ending, and production was about to go into overtime. Lippert came on the set and literally pulled the power switch to shut down production.  Fortunately, after he left the set, Fuller turned the power on and filmed the finale.

In 1950, Lippert gave himself a challenge…produce a series of six Jimmy “Shamrock” Ellison-Russell “Lucky” Hayden westerns, all at the same time, using the same casts, sets, crew, and so on.  In one movie an actor may play a bad guy and a bartender in another.   A camera was be set up in the saloon, for example, and the saloon scenes for each movie would be shot sequentially, with actors rushing about changing costumes between each roll of the camera.  It must have been a nightmare for the script girl!  Robert L. Lippert, Jr. told me it was his father’s proudest achievement!  VCI released this series as a set under the “Big Iron Collection” banner.

Despite the puny budgets, minor classics resulted, including “Little Big Horn” (1951) and “The Tall Texan” (1953), both starring Lloyd Bridges.  There was also a distinctive film noir series filmed in Great Britain starting in 1953 when Lippert formed a production alliance with his British distributor, Exclusive Films, soon known as Hammer Film Productions.  Under the arrangement, Lippert would provide an American “star,” on the way down, but who still had some name value, plus cash to pay for part of the production.  Exclusive/Hammer and Lippert divided up the distribution territories.  The result was a series of good thrillers, supported by solid English casts, and many directed by Terence Fisher, in his
pre-horror film days.  The Lippert-Hammers are all available as part of the “Hammer Noir” collections released by VCI Entertainment.

Lippert, like Roger Corman after him, was able to gather together producers, directors, screenwriters, composers, and, of course, actors, willing to work on tight schedules for minimal pay.  There were stars who had lost their major studio contracts (Paulette Goddard, George Raft) or who had problems with the House on Un-American Activities (Lloyd Bridges, Lee J. Cobb).   Even Clint Eastwood and Jack Nicolson had roles in later Lippert productions.

Lippert was a master marketer.  When producer George Pal set out to mount a big budget Technicolor production of “Destination Moon” (1950), based on the science-fiction book by Robert A. Heinlein, Lippert saw an opportunity.  He capitalized on Pal’s media campaign by throwing together his own low (of course) budget “moon” (he changed it to “mars” to avoid a lawsuit)  picture,“Rocketship X-M” (1950).  It beat Pal’s movie into the theatres, stealing a good deal of the Technicolor epic’s thunder.   I’m told Mr. Pal was not amused.

Trouble, and opportunities, lay ahead for Lippert.

To be continued…


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Anyone interested in a bio on exhibitor/producer/distributor, Robert L. Lippert?  History kind of passed him by!


Future movie exhibitor and producer scion, Robert L. Lippert, was born March 11, 1909, and abandoned on the doorstep of the San Francisco Catholic Charities Orphanage.  He stayed at the orphanage for almost two years until he was adopted by Leonard and Esther Lippert of Alameda, California.

Lippert grew up in Alameda, and at age17 quit high school to marry his high school sweetheart, Ruth Robinson.

Capitalizing on his skill at the keyboard, he started show business as an organist for silent movies.  Through on-hand experience, he became knowledgeable about all aspects of motion picture exhibition. In 1929 he rented portable equipment and became a road showman, traveling to theatreless towns throughout the west, by then he was completely enamored by the motion picture business.

In 1936 he made an arrangement with a Detroit dish manufacturer and soon announced his greatest gimmick, “Dish Night.”  The concept called for exhibitors to give away a different dish, saucer, etc. every Tuesday over a period of 52 weeks.  Over the period of one year, the loyal movie patron would be rewarded with a complete set of dishes and, of course, countless hours of entertainment!

He toured the country selling his plan (and dishes) to exhibitors around country.  Not only did he make money, he developed relationships with exhibitors around the country…an asset to be used later when he went into motion picture distribution.

Lippert later used the same concept to promote “Book Night.”   This time inexpensive encyclopedias were given away weekly.  Miss a Tuesday and you have an incomplete set of books!

The origin of the Lippert Theatre Circuit came about in 1942 with his ground-up construction of the Grand Theatre in Richmond, California.  He particularly embraced drive-ins beginning in 1945 with the Malaga in Fresno, the first of its kind Northern California.  Eventually Lippert owned 118 theatres.

…okay, the part about his productions will follow…

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