Whenever anyone mentions having seen this AIP eco-horror film released in 1972 (the same year it’s name star Ray Milland also acted in the infamous The Thing With Two Heads) the reply is almost always the same…”I saw this on a double bill with Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster (1971) and never forgot it.” Well, I too, saw it that way at a Market St. grindhouse in San Francisco filled with drunks and winos who hooted and howled at the funny way all the actors seem to walk into their deaths by almost killing themselves. I made a point during those years of never missing any AIP films that came to town during my college days living in the Baghdad by the bay. AIP had a branch office there that kept me supplied with press books and stills from all their latest product which included the sequel to Dr. Phibes (Dr. Phibes Rises Again!, 1972) and the last of the Bert Gordon insect on the loose flicks. Ray Milland had all but taken over the Boris Karloff roles left after the legendary actor passed away in 1969. Milland had that bad tempered old man role down pat by then, a kind of poor man’s John Houseman especially after Houseman won an Oscar for playing just that in The Paper Chase (1973).
It would be years later that I would learn more than I ever needed to know about the making of Frogs thanks to a friendship with a producer named George Edwards. George came into my life thanks to yet another AIP vet director, Curtis Harrington, who had made several of his films both commercial and for television with Edwards as his producer. George was a kind soft spoken man who loved the movies as much as anyone could and loved to talk show biz with anyone willing to listen. By the time I really got to know George he was working the underbelly of Hollywood exploitation, as was Curtis working in very low budget films with Gary Graver another cameraman turned director for hire. Edwards was the producer of Frogs and when I discovered this I harassed him until he had me over to his house on Dicks Street in West Hollywood to tell me what that experience was like for him.
The first thing George did was pull out some candid photos of the shoot in Walton County Florida. The home movie style photos are displayed here for the first time showing a rather young looking George Edwards smiling in the bright Florida sunshine with crew members looking busy but content. The first thing I asked him was what Ray Milland was like to work with and George went about telling me this “Ray was a total professional as you would expect him to be, however he was easily bored and found the heat almost unbearable…he wore a toupee and the heat would just melt it right off him…he was uncomfortable through much of the shoot. Ray was a salty talker and would say whatever came out of his mouth without any regard for who might be listening. He was under contract to AIP or rather Sam Arkoff whom he was always complaining about for one reason or another usually money. Ray was a very wealthy man by the time we made Frogs and really did not need to ever work again if that was what pleased him. The script was a constant source of complaint because Ray was a director himself and a pretty good one at that, he knew we didn’t have a premise beyond the poster art which was inspired beyond words. If the script could have captured what the one sheet had to say we would have had a classic on our hands. In any case, Ray just rolled his eyes at the various ways his relatives in the film came their respective ends. When it came time for his death scene he was so disgusted that he simply walked off the film three days before we wrapped. if you look at the end of the film there are scenes with his back to the camera which had to be done by a double. Ray just packed his bags early one morning and had his driver take him to the local airport and was back in Hollywood before we got up for the next days setups. I can’t blame him. Milland was a great star character man and deserved better than we gave him.
“Despite of all this I worked with him again on a film called The Attic (1980) with an actress named Carrie Snodgrass who became a close friend of mine. Ray said something I will never forget during that film some reporter asked him about what he thought of The Attic to which he replied, ‘Young man, this film is not even The Thing With Two Heads.'” George loved the fact that Frogs had a cult following by then which was around 1986 when we began discussing it. I told him I had been friends with Nicky Courtland who had a small part as one of Milland’s spoiled sons in Frogs.
George gave me one of his pursed smiles looking over his glasses at me. “Well, David, that boy was always on the make… more of a rent boy than an actor if you asked me…” I was not surprised by his assessment of Nicky so I just laughed and told him that he was not too off the mark as Nicky was a model more than an actor since I met him in New York through then editor of Afterdark magazine which kind of specialized in rent boys, if I remember it all correctly. I have written a bit more about Nicky Cortland in my Camp David column regarding Natalie Shafer, Let the Hips Move the Body…Nicky passed away in 1988 for complications from HIV.
I asked George about the shoot itself and he told me the director George McCowen was as talented as they come for fast set-ups and getting on with it, but on this film he was so non-plussed to be shooting what he felt was a grade z horror film that he simply got drunk through the whole picture, which made the cameraman in charge, more or less. At one particularly evil moment, McCowen actually nailed some toads to a wooden plank to keep them still. It was at that moment that he was relived of his duties so the A.D. finished that days filming. Sam Elliot was causing a sensation among the ladies on the picture as he was, as George put it, “Sex on a stick. This guy had stud written all over him and was getting seriously laid every night. Sam was destined for stardom.”
Many fans have taken note that Sam Elliot’s screen time has more than one occasion for him to lose his shirt. George remembered during filming Sam was prone to wearing no underwear so it was clear how well endowed he was to all that cared to look. This film led to Sam getting the lead in a film that provided him with one of his breakthrough performances. This is the film that got him noticed and Katherine Ross as well. They were married soon after the film came out. The film in question was Lifeguard, a classic coming of age sleeper that gave Sam Elliot one of his best early roles as a soon to be over-the-hill beach stud whose lifestyle was basically a string of one night stands. This carefree lifestyle runs sour after he attends a high school reunion and begins to realize that life was passing him by without achieving any goals other than pleasure.
Parker Stevenson plays his side kick and gives Sam his best line in the film when he has to deal with some stoned out surfer’s, Sam, buff and tan, stands his ground with the warning “back off assholes”….spoken as only the Elliot we would later see in The Big Lebowski ever could. The locations were striking to film as the mansion AIP used was the old Wesley House in Eden Gardens State park near the Choctawhatchee Bay. “Ray loved the look of the place but could not stand the bugs that tormented cast and crew alike from morning till night. His toupee was sliding off more than it was on during his time there. Joan Van Ark took some comfort in wearing what she thought was a real with it wardrobe since as she put it ” this film has a message for the environment don’t pollute the atmosphere or there will be consequences” She was very ambitious in fact all the young people on that film had their eyes on the horizons, career wise. Both Joan and Sam knew they were going places and the rest felt somewhat positive about doing a film any film that might be seen in Hollywood. Frogs has been seen by more people that it has a right to have considering what a beating it took from the press when it first came out back in 1972.
We are now a decade into the 21st Century and Frogs can be downloaded on the internet for anyone to check out. As of this writing the film has it’s own Facebook page and more and more fans are coming around to the pond for a giggle. If this film has anything to recommend it I would say that it captures a moment in time when things were a bit simpler and more relaxed. The poster art has always been the single greatest reason we all went to see it and those of us who followed the exploitation films of American International from the days of Roger Corman through the final days after the demise of James H. Nicholson with Sam Arkoff leading the studio to its last days of glory. Who can forget: “TODAY THE POND….TOMORROW THE WORLD!”