Obituary: Aben Kandel
Friday 19 February 1993
THE WRITER Aben Kandel, who also sometimes went under the name Kenneth Langtree, was one of the last screenwriters who wrote for the American 'B-movies' of the Fifties, and their later imitations. They boasted such titles as I Married a Monster From Outer Space, The Crawling Eye, Attack of the Fifty Foot Woman and I Was a Teenage Werewolf - the last written by Kandel himself in 1957. But Kandel's career had started with more distinguished credits.
Kandel began as a novelist with Vaudeville (1927), Black Sun (1929) and City for Conquest (1936), which was made into a film, directed by Anatole Litvak in 1940. It told the story of a boxer's devotion to his younger brother and starred James Cagney, Anthony Quinn and Arthur Kennedy. Although pretentious in parts it was well produced and well regarded in the Cagney canon.
Kandel based one of his scripts on the football coach Frank Cavanaugh who became a military hero. The film, The Iron Major (1943), was directed by Ray Enright and starred Pat O'Brien as the Major. He also adapted the play Dinner at Eight by George Kaufman and Edna Ferber for the 1933 film of the same name, directed by George Cukor with a host of MGM vintage stars: Wallace Beery, Jean Harlow and Lionel Barrymore. The murder thriller They Won't Forget (1937), for which Kandel wrote the screenplay, was a powerful film, directed by Mervyn LeRoy, with Lana Turner in her first important screen role.
The term 'B-movie' came into being during the Thirties Depression when cinema audiences demanded a supporting feature and more for their money. Regarded as 'time-fillers' they were produced on very small budgets, sometimes with a shooting schedule of less than a week. Occasionally a classic would appear, such as Val Lewton's Cat People (1942), but mostly they were very poor quality, with appalling special effects, rubber monster-suits and cliched situations. Richard O'Brien wrote The Rocky Horror Show as a tribute to the genre.
A number of Fifties and Sixties films attempted to make this kind of B-movie which was popular with teenagers at drive-ins into a more mainstream position, with bigger budgets, but similar themes. Almost all were concerned with horror. Several US director/producers such as Roger Corman in The Pit and the Pendulum and The Mask of the Red Death (and others from his Poe series) were very successful, but Britain produced many 'turkeys'. Aben Kandel wrote for a number of these, including: How to Make a Monster (1958), The Headless Ghost (1958), Horrors of the Black Museum (1959), Konga (1961), Berserk (1967) and Joan Crawford's last film, Trog (1970), a dreadful film directed by the distinguished photographer Freddie Francis in which Crawford plays an anthropologist who discovers an apeman.
The appeal of the truly bad B- movie lives on, helped by personalities like Clive James, who still speaks affectionately of the Wild Women of Wonga, and Jonathan Ross, who celebrated their awfulness in the television series The Incredibly Strange Film Show.
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