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Title: MANSTER (1959) Questions

James Cheney - September 22, 2011 12:39 AM (GMT)
We just watched this fun, ludicrous yet somewhat creepy, two-headed (or two-halved) monster movie. I remembered parts of it from childhood TV watching days and assumed it must be famous enough to be thoroughly documented (moments of it are memorable enough to have been ripped off or paid tribute to in other films after all)- but we're coming up short in researching it on the web, save for the most basic information.

What's the story behind this American-Japanese co-production? Is it all an American take on Japanese culture as the credits suggest or was the collaboration more two-sided or headed? How American is it really? A number of the stars are Brits playing Yanks. Was it even shot in Japan? It may have been but the primary Japanese actors appear to have been English speakers imported from elsewhere. Especially bewildering is the identity of female star 'Terri Zimmern', a Eurasian-looking actress with no other credits. My wife saw a resemblance to France Nuyen. Someone at IMDB did too but a Nuyen-devotee strongly disagreed. Also, was the Manster remembered by Joe Dante when he created his own cranky, embittered mutant the Mant? (I know there's a long line of cranky, embittered mutants but the name is rather similar.) Finally, the version we saw on Netflix ended amazingly abruptly. Did the film makers lose the last page of script or run out of money? Is there a slightly longer variation out there?

Jeff McKay - September 22, 2011 01:48 AM (GMT)
Don't really have any answers, but I do remember Retromedia's DVD release had several seconds or so missing from the ending making it close very abruptly - that may be the print that Netflix has. The Alpha DVD version is apparently better and the ending is intact. DVD-Maniacs reviewed it here:

James Cheney - September 22, 2011 02:12 AM (GMT)
Very intriguing, thanks! Wonder what's in those last few seconds. "You're under arrest!" or "Under the circumstances, you're free to go and star on THUNDERBIRDS and your wife in CIRCUS OF HORRORS"?

I've found a little more though most of the questions remain. The director (one of them) George P. Breakston, a former juvenile actor, specialized in American films and TV shot abroad, was a globetrotter just like journalist hero turned MANSTER Larry Stafford. He was the co-auteur of the really curious GEISHA GIRL(easily found on the web), a combination Service comedy and spy film with Steve Forrest filmed in occupied Tokyo. Co-director Kenneth G. Crane was an exploitation machine who ingested and spat out everyone from Ed Wood through Ed McMahon in the course of a long career. Maybe he shot the horrific bits while Breakston focused on local color?

The rest is still wreathed in Mystery like volcanic clouds round Mount Fuji. Further answers are most welcome.

Marty McKee - September 22, 2011 02:41 AM (GMT)
It obviously influenced a scene in Sam Raimi's ARMY OF DARKNESS.

Bill Warren covers THE MANSTER in KEEP WATCHING THE SKIES! Among some tidbits:
  • Kenneth Crane was married to Terry Zimmern
  • It was made in Japan as a co-production between United Artists of Japan and George Breakston Enterprises
  • No major Japanese actors were used
  • Was shot in English
  • Was released on a double bill with HORROR CHAMBER OF DR. FAUSTUS
  • May have been filmed as early as 1959

James Cheney - September 22, 2011 05:05 AM (GMT)
Thanks! Each of your bullet points elicited an Aha! from me, just what I was looking for.

Keith Aiken - September 22, 2011 05:42 AM (GMT)
I knew the late Jerry Ito, who played Police Superintendent Aida in THE MANSTER, and he provided some background info on that film. Jerry is best known as the lead villain in the original MOTHRA, and one of the actors playing his henchmen-- Tetsu Nakamura-- was also the mad scientist Dr Suzuki in THE MANSTER.

THE MANSTER was shot in Japan in 1958. During production the film went by the title THE SPLIT, and it was also marketed internationally under that name. It was released in Japan in July 1959 as SOTO NO SATSUJINKI (双頭の殺人鬼, meaning "The Two-Headed Killer"), and the US release as THE MANSTER followed in March, 1962.

On my website we ran a tribute to Jerry Ito in 2007. The article included a poster for THE SPLIT and a cast and crew photo (dated 12/17/1958) from Jerry's private collection...

Here's a link to a Japanese site showing the poster and a lobby card...

Tim Rogerson - September 22, 2011 12:48 PM (GMT)
In the UK it was released as The Split. The BBFC got a copy as early as December 1959 which they passed after unspecified cuts.

However, the film does not appear to have been released (on a limited scale) until Summer 1962 when it was double-billed with The Snake Woman.

Brian Camp - September 22, 2011 03:20 PM (GMT)
Tetsu Nakamura, who plays Dr. Suzuki in THE MANSTER (and was sometimes billed as Satoshi Nakamura), spoke fluent English (he was born in Canada) and was in tons of Toho monster/sci-fi films we know and love, some of which featured western actors (e.g. MOTHRA), but also in a lot of co-productions where his English skills came in handy, e.g. LATITUDE ZERO, RED SUN, THE LAST DINOSAUR. He was in the Breakston-involved Japanese co-productions including the aforementioned GEISHA GIRL and something with Martha Hyer called ORIENTAL EVIL (1951).

I first took note of Nakamura in a movie called TOKYO FILE 212, an independent U.S.-Japan co-production with two top-billed American stars, Florence Marly (QUEEN OF BLOOD, TOKYO JOE) and Lee Frederick, and a Japanese supporting cast, that was distributed in the U.S. by RKO. It's a B-spy thriller, but was shot entirely on location in Japan. I bought it on VHS at Kim's Video several years ago.

Nakamura was also in a film I'm eager to see called FUTARI NO HITOMI (1952), which pairs former U.S. child star Margaret O'Brien (MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS) with the then-reigning teen recording star in Japan, Hibari Misora, who was in a 1955 color musical called JANKEN MUSUME, which I've seen and written about on my J-pop blog.
Here's a shot of Misora in JANKEN MUSUME (she's on the right):
user posted image

I've seen THE MANSTER. It's not a good movie, but it's a fascinating one. I don't remember my criticisms of it, but I think it needed a more interesting lead actor for it to have worked. I don't remember if it had a truncated ending or not. I believe I taped it off a pre-TCM TNT.

James Cheney - September 22, 2011 07:35 PM (GMT)
I appreciate the flow of information everybody. The Jerry Ito insights are cool. Nakamura also shows up right after the war in co-director Breakston's GEISHA GIRL, again as the heavy. The lead actor is odd and awkward even without the extra head. It seems as if he's attempting a Joseph Cotten or Dana Andrews imitation, rather surly and snappish but also very wooden and square. I do like his primal screams during the transformation scenes and the eye on his shoulder, however. What's especially odd is that this Yank was really a Brit and so was his wife who plays the same role here. He's best known as one of those exaggeratedly American voices emanating from puppet heads in THUNDERBIRDS ARE GO!

Brian Camp - September 28, 2011 07:50 PM (GMT)
Like the Man said, "Seek and ye shall find." I ordered GEISHA GIRL from Amazon today and FUTARI NO HITOMI from CDJapan yesterday. What a find! :)

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