Friday, April 11, 2014

Howard W. Koch, 1916-2001

April 11 marks the birth anniversary of producer/director Howard W. Koch. Koch's best work, or at least the best movies he was involved with, are probably as a producer, with several well-known and quite good movies to his credit in the 1960s and 1970s. These include The Manchurian Candidate, The Odd Couple, and Plaza Suite.

However, I think Koch's work as a director might be more interesting. Like many directors, he started off as an assistant, doing work on films as diverse as the docudrama He Walked By Night, to a western like The Naked Spur, with things like Million Dollar Mermaid in between.

In the mid-1950s, Koch got the opportunity to be the actual director of movies, not just an assistant. The movies aren't as good, but they might be more interesting. Bop Girl Goes Calypso is a terrible movie, but terrible in a way that will have you laughing if you can find a copy of it. Looking back more than half a century, the idea that calypso was going to take over from rock and roll seems utterly ludicrous. And, the way the movie presents this is also beyond belief.

Untamed Youth sees Mamie Van Doren as one of a pair of sisters who gets caught for vagrancy and sentenced to the youth labor farm by a corrupt judge (Lurene Tuttle) sending the youth to her boyfriend who runs one of the cotton farms and uses the kids almost as slave labor! It's not a bad idea, but it's also punctuated with several incongruous musical numbers, and awful dialog, that make the movie another unintentional hoot.

The Girl in Black Stockings is more serious and a better movie, but it's still decidedly a B-mystery, if you ask me. Mamie Van Doren shows up again, along with Anne Bancroft and Lex Barker.

Finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Andy Hardy Comes Home, the 1958 coda to the Andy Hardy series that has Hardy, now all grown up, coming back to his home town to try to convince them to build a defense plant.

With movies like this, perhaps it's not a surprise that Koch switched to being mostly a producer.

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