Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Roger Corman and Harry Belafonte: Going into their Nineties with Style

On the Hollywood front, this week’s big story involves the release of Going in Style. The comedy -- an updating of  a 1979 flick that featured George Burns, Art Carney, and Lee Strasberg – involves three senior citizens who scheme to rob the bank that mishandled their pensions. In the new version, the leading roles are played by movie veterans Michael Caine (age 84), Alan Arkin (83), and Morgan Freeman, who will celebrate his 80th birthday in June. Also involved is one-time bombshell Ann-Margret, who turns 76 this month. The tag line says it all: “You’re never too old to get even.”

As someone who’s getting older myself, I’m always pleased to see attention being paid to performers who are hardly spring chickens. In a society that applauds youth, it’s heartening that oldsters too sometimes get allotted juicy roles. But while saluting the still-impressive talents of octogenarians Caine, Arkin, and Freeman, I also want to recognize two nonagenarians who continue to make a difference within the entertainment industry. They are very different from one another, but both are alike in not wanting to be put out to pasture anytime soon. 

My former boss, B-movie maven Roger Corman, turns 91 tomorrow, April 5. Roger is well known within the film industry for directing 50 low-budget films (including such classics as House of Usher and The Little Shop of Horrors). He is also revered for giving a leg up to some of the industry’s best and brightest, including directorial aces Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Jonathan Demme, Peter Bogdanovich, Ron Howard,  and James Cameron. The honorary Oscar Roger accepted in 2009 is testament to the fact that, despite his years as an indie maverick, he’s now regarded as a Hollywood elder statesman. But this hardly means that Roger’s ready for a rocking chair. His tiny company still churns out outrageous creature-features (like 2014’s made-for-TV Sharktopus vs. Pteracuda and the upcoming Cobragator). And he’s also revisiting old glories with remakes of such one-time hits as Death Race 2000 (now Death Race 2050) and Piranha (soon to be called Piranha JPN). I’ve just read that my old Concorde-New Horizons pal Katt Shea has been hired to direct a remake of her Dance of the Damned, which will apparently be retitled Dance with a Vampyre. At this stage of his career, Roger gets few points for originality. But, hey, he’s still functioning. Happy birthday, Roger! May you live long and continue to prosper!

Then there’s my mom’s favorite heart-throb, Harry Belafonte, who entered his nineties on March 1 of this year. Back in the day, of course, Belafonte was known for his calypso crooning and for the open-necked shirts that revealed his buff physique. He did well in some acting roles (see, for instance, Odds Against Tomorrow) but spent most of his time touring with his well-polished concert act, when not actively campaigning for civil rights in the company of such leaders as Dr. Martin Luther King. Today he no longer has hair on his head, and it’s been years since I’ve heard him sing, but he continues to make waves as a dedicated champion of the oppressed in every corner of the globe. His best role, it seems, remains that of a voice for the voiceless, and it’s wonderful to think that advanced age isn’t slowing him down. In 2015 Belafonte was honored with the Academy’s  Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award: it’s hard to think of anyone who has deserved it more.
You’re never too old to get even? Roger Corman and Harry Belafonte prove that you’re never too old to continue doing what you love.

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