Mike Leeder finds that a new book tracing the history of Shapiro Glickenhaus and his unique contribution to action entertainment has an interesting theme but suffers from lack of focus…
The Untold In-Depth Outrageously True Story of Shapiro Glickenhaus Entertainment!
By Nadia Bruce Rawlings. Stephen A Roberts. Marco Siedelman.
There’s a lot for which we have to thank James Glickenhaus. He helmed some classic 80s and 90s action flicks, including The Exterminator, Codename The Soldier, Blue Jean Cop, Slaughter of the Innocents and McBain with line-ups and stars that included the likes of Robert Ginty, Ken Wahl, Scott Glenn, Peter Weller, Sam Elliot and Klaus Kinski, and – through his distribution company Shapiro Glickenhaus Entertainment – he distributed and financed all manner of video classics (including Tiger Claws, TC 2000, Maniac Cop, Basket Case 2 and Frankenhooker). If it wasn’t for James Glickenhaus trying to turn Jackie Chan into Dirty Harry for The Protector, we might never have got Police Story!
The story of Shapiro Glickenhaus Entertainment is a very interesting one… telling of a sadly long gone time in the film industry when independent producers were able to give the majors a run for their money, producing and distributing the kind of movies we love: action, martial arts, horror, exploitation, the type that, too often, the big studios looked down upon.
I was very excited when I heard about this book as I am a big fan of a lot of Glickenhaus’ work as a director and of many of the films SGE produced and distributed… many of which were covered back in the early days of Impact. But while the book is a very informative and entertaining read, it is somewhat disorganised, to say the least, in terms of content and presentation.
The strange choice to use quotes from films that were nothing to do with SGE at the start of many of the chapters, (quotes from Bladerunner and Back to the Future etc.) is a little confusing, and while there’s plenty of illustrations -including pre-production artwork, final posters, video covers, behind-the-scenes photos, candid personal pictures, invoices, contracts, trade ads and company documents, they are in a very random order and not credited or captioned until a listing at the end of the book.
It might also have helped to include an overview of the work and time line of the company and the people involved to begin the book, as if you don’t already have some knowledge of the company’s output and the people involved, (and who they were and what they did) it’s all a little confusing to say the least. The majority of the interviews could do with some judicious editing as opposed to being just transcripts including every “ah, oh, hmm” (and countless asides as to what is being drunk during the interviews) and several very sycophantic introductions “Oh I am talking to the most beautiful and wonderful person…” that begin several of the interviews.
However, there is some great stuff in the book. I did enjoy many aspects of it – but some simple editing and a better layout would have really helped improve the experience, as at times it became frustrating. There’s a very interesting and honest interviews with director William Lustig of The Maniac Cop series (the first of which was produced by SGE, but not the two sequels) who talks about the experience he had working with the company and the strained relationship he had with James Glickenhaus, while Frank Henenlotter whose Basket Case 2 and the insane Frankenhooker were produced under the auspices of SGE, talks of the very positive experience he had with the company. Director Joseph Zito talks about SGE releasing his under-rated Dolph Lundgren action Red Scorpion, while Cynthia Rothrock discusses her work in Hong Kong and the films she made that were distributed through SGE … as does Actor/Director/Producer Jalal Merhi (Tiger Claws). Actor/director/sfx maestro and swordsman Robert Chapin (whose recent work on The Hunted we’ve covered extensively) talks about SGE and their involvement in his starring vehicle Ring of Steel. There’s also some interesting discussion of the ambitious sci-fi thriller Moontrap distributed and produced by SGE and which stars William Koenig (Star Trek) and Bruce Campbell (Evil Dead). Nadia Bruce-Rawlings and Stephen A Roberts also give some nice inside recollection from their time at the company.
Strangely the most disappointing interviews are the couple with director/producer James Glickenhaus himself who sadly doesn’t come across very well in any of the conversations he had for the book. While it’s interesting to read Glickenhaus’ thoughts on his work, even those could have been explored in a bit more detail, especially given the people he has worked with both in front and behind the camera. Sadly he comes across very negative about so many key people he worked with, especially those in front of the camera.
His Exterminator leading man Robert Ginty is described as “…just wasnt someone I enjoyed working with that much, not as an actor but just as a person on the set‘ , seemingly for having his own ideas about the character and the way he wanted to perform. The Exterminator gave Ginty a solid B-Movie career, that according to Glickenhaus were some of the worst movies ever made. These films of course included Exterminator 2 which was made with no input or involvement from Glickenhaus, and one does wonder if that’s part of the issue – although according to him, Ginty would later pursue the opportunity to work with him again.
He touches upon the well documented ‘eccentricities‘ of Klaus Kinski (who briefly appears in Codename the Soldier), and the issues he had with Peter Weller on the shooting of Blue Jean Cop. What’s frustrating is how little he really talks about the films and the way they were made, and his experiences making them. There’s several lengthy interviews with Glickenhaus but you’re left with so many questions left unanswered because so much is touched upon so briefly. A couple of times he begins to talk about moments and cool stuff, but too often he seems more concerned with the issues he had with people as opposed to the projects he made. He comments on his non-relationship with William Lustig – without ever really explaining the reason – unfortunately comes across, at least to me, as somewhat bitter with regards to his career.
Of more interest to me, of course, is Glicknhaus’ thoughts about his work with Jackie Chan and Golden Harvest studios on The Protector, which – while under-performing at the US box office – is probably one of the most widely seen of Glickenhaus’ movies. He tried to change Chan’s screen persona into that of Dirty Harry, something which, of course, didn’t work. (The Protector is something of a guilty pleasure, it’s a rare chance to see Chan speaking English, swearing in English, “give me the f*cking keys!” when previously the worst thing we’d heard him say was “Wah!”, in its original American edit especially. It’s a dark early Steven Seagal-ish actioner with lots of bloody gunfights, female nudity and short bursts of stylish martial artistry. Glickenhaus seems to have had every available issue with Chan from day one: from issues with how (he believed) Golden Harvest had created a fantasy career and persona for Chan! (No, James, Chan was then- and still is – a huge box office draw in Asia, not just in Hong Kong but also in Japan, including as a best selling singer!). There was also Chan’s level of English, the style of film-making Chan and Hong Kong were famous for, and most bafflingly, issues with Chan’s level of martial artistry! (Dismissing them and Chan’s ability as a film-maker for the eastern sensibilities makes little sense, and questioning Chan’s level of martial artistry in the mid 80s, at the height of his abilities, really does make me laugh!) He also contradicts himself in a mid 90s interview with Impact, when he claims to have been completely aware of the alternate Hong Kong/Asian cut of The Protector.
Over my years in Hong Kong have spoken to many of the cast and crew including Chan about the experience of shooting The Protector and working with Glickenhaus, and they consistently have spoken of the frustration they had, with regards to Glickenhaus’ vision for the film, the way he wanted the fights shot , the language, the nudity, and the “we need to change your persona! You need to be Dirty Harry!” attitude. After Glickenhaus completed shooting, Chan would re-shoot and expand the action sequences featured in the movie including an additional fight scene for the films villain Bill Superfoot Wallace, and insert a subplot featuring Sally Yeh (The Killer) which has no connection to the Western cut. It eliminated much of the nudity and foul language). Chan’s frustration at the experience of making the movie, would inspire him to make the classic Police Story which gave him more international attention and helped revolutionise Hong Kong Action Cinema. Of course Chan’s international breakout would come about 19 years after the completion of The Protector, with the International release of Rumble in the Bronx and then Brett Ratner’s Rush Hour, these films broke out without Chan having to change his screen persona.
The book does pay respect to the late Alan Solomon who was a driving force at SGE before setting up his own company Amsell Entertainment that was producing and distributing all manner of actioner until his passing in 2010. Myself and Darren Shahlavi from Ip Man 2 and Pound of Flesh were meant to do a movie with Alan and his company, and he was a very interesting character… and its nice to see the book and several of the interview subjects reference him so well.
I’m a huge fan of these movies and I’d love to see a book about another lamented Producer/Distributor PM Entertainment, the movies they made and the people who made them, and this book does provide a good look at SGE. It’s a very good read but far from an organised one, so be prepared for a lot of back tracking and double checking to make sense of cit all. I am also looking forward to Marco Seidelman’s upcoming book on the life and works of American Ninja helmer Sam Firstenberg, and his career at Cannon Films.I hope that this new book will not suffer from the same issues.
This book clocks in at just under 500 pages for US$24:99 and is available to order from:
Rating: 5/10 for a random read, 7/10 for a true fan of the genre and the films featured!