This 80-odd-minute award-winning tribute to the enterprising cult Hollywood film-maker was included in Columbia's box set dedicated to him released in 2009 which repackaged some of his already existing films on DVD plus debuting some of his rarer stuff; being already the owner of the majority of these, I did not spring for the collection myself and proceeded to acquire this documentary likewise from ulterior sources. In fact, I finished off my 20-title celebration of the great man's centenary with this very item; having just watched the PSYCHETTE: WILLIAM CASTLE AND "HOMICIDAL" featurette from 2002 – included on that film's disc, I realized that not only do they share the same director, but that segments from that 8-minute short were incorporated into the later feature-length look at Castle's life and work.
While most of his more celebrated collaborators have passed on (Vincent Price, Joan Crawford) or declined to appear (Roman Polanski), there is still an impressive gallery of talking heads waxing their genuine enthusiasm for the late cinematic showman: directors John Badham, Budd Boetticher (who himself died back in 2001!), Roger Corman, Joe Dante, Stuart Gordon, John Landis, Fred Olen Ray, Jeannot Szwarc and John Waters, actors Diane Baker, Darryl Hickman and Marcel Marceau, historians Forrest Ackerman, Bob Burns, David Del Valle, Donald F. Glut, Leonard Maltin and Bob Thomas. Although there are some good pre-fame stories – notably desecrating his own theatre and passing it off as Nazi retribution at the start of WWII; meeting with George Stevens in a bar which led to his first Hollywood job as a dialogue director on the Cary Grant drama PENNY SERENADE (1941); and his being hired as an assistant director on Orson Welles' THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI (1948) after getting bypassed for direction – regrettably his generic stint at Columbia under the aegis of producer Sam Katzman is very quickly dealt with and his best film from this early period, the Robert Mitchum/Kim Hunter-starring noir WHEN STRANGERS MARRY aka BETRAYED (1944) does not rate a mention at all.
Once we reach his career-altering departure with MACABRE (1958) early on, at least we are taken in some detail into the production of each of his gimmick-led films up till LET'S KILL UNCLE (1966)
but, again, the quintet of outright comedies he made during this phase of his career are completely neglected! The highlight here is hearing about Castle's having to submit to Joan Crawford's every whim on the set of STRAIT- JACKET (1964)! Luckily, I have just acquired a copy of Castle's own memoirs, "Step Right Up: I'm Going To Scare The Pants Off America!" and, hopefully, they will shed some light as to what made him decide to change pace when he had discovered a successful formula after having been denied recognition for so long. Needless to say, the almost inevitable rivalry between Castle and his self-confessed idol Alfred Hitchcock is alluded to and we get to see several personal appearance the director made in the theatrical trailers and screenings of his own movies – not to mention get to listen to his own voice during what seem to be radio interviews.
Apart from the obvious reason of the audiences' changing tastes, I had often wondered why Castle's directorial career suddenly seemed to peter out at the tail end of the 1960s and I never knew that the curse of ROSEMARY'S BABY (1968) – that proved fatal to its Polish composer Krzysztof Komeda and, obviously, Mrs. Roman Polanski herself, Sharon Tate – was also to blame for Castle's semi-retirement as he was struck down with a life-threatening ailment
having already been disappointed in being replaced by the much younger auteur! By the time, he went back work, his brand of horror was passé and he only managed to produce a short-lived TV series GHOST STORY (1972-3) – which again is almost entirely omitted here – and the improbably intriguing BUG (1975). Amusingly, director Szwarc decries the fact that his film's box office chances were demolished by its being released on the same day as JAWS
but he fails to mention that he got the lucrative assignment of helming its first sequel 3 years later! Thankfully, famous mime Marceau appears here to reminisce about working with Castle on what proved to be his last and finest directorial achievement, the utterly unique concoction SHANKS (1974) – a legitimate home video release of which is elusive to this day. Ultimately, this emerges an entertaining, affectionate and illuminating portrait of a beloved Hollywood personality and, while it also sees the participation of his surviving family members, the film-makers here unwisely elected to finish off with them clowning for the camera...