The Little Shop of Horrors (1960)

70 mins | Comedy, Horror | September 1960

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HISTORY

The working title of the film was The Passionate People Eater . Opening and closing actors’ credits differ slightly in order, and actress Dodie Drake is credited only in the opening credits. Some of the opening crew credits also appear in the end credits. Crew member Archie Dalzell is credited as “Cameraman” in the end credits and “Photographer” in the opening credits, and screenwriter Charles B. Griffith is listed in the closing credits as "Charles Griffith." The last name of the character “Seymour Krelboin,” which does not appear onscreen, is spelled different ways in various sources.
Although the film was not copyrighted at the time of its release, it was registered to Santa Clara Productions, Inc. in 1985 under the number PA-301-210.
       Before the opening title card, the voice-over narration of Wally Campo as “Det. Sgt. Joe Fink” begins describing how “the most terrifying period” in the history of his “beat” began at Mushnik’s shop. Line drawings of the skid row neighborhood appear under the title and credits at the beginning and end of the film. Campo speaks in a style parodying the character “Sgt. Joe Friday” of the television series and film Dragnet (See Entry). Campo's voice is heard occasionally in narration at other points in the film. At one point, he tells a character, “Just the facts, ma’am,” which is one of Joe Friday’s famous lines.
       In another joke in the film, "Audry" and Seymour refer to Luther Burbank, a California botanist who cross-bred plants, and in the same joke mention Burbank, Glendale and Pasadena, three cities in the Los Angeles area. The film includes several ... More Less

The working title of the film was The Passionate People Eater . Opening and closing actors’ credits differ slightly in order, and actress Dodie Drake is credited only in the opening credits. Some of the opening crew credits also appear in the end credits. Crew member Archie Dalzell is credited as “Cameraman” in the end credits and “Photographer” in the opening credits, and screenwriter Charles B. Griffith is listed in the closing credits as "Charles Griffith." The last name of the character “Seymour Krelboin,” which does not appear onscreen, is spelled different ways in various sources.
Although the film was not copyrighted at the time of its release, it was registered to Santa Clara Productions, Inc. in 1985 under the number PA-301-210.
       Before the opening title card, the voice-over narration of Wally Campo as “Det. Sgt. Joe Fink” begins describing how “the most terrifying period” in the history of his “beat” began at Mushnik’s shop. Line drawings of the skid row neighborhood appear under the title and credits at the beginning and end of the film. Campo speaks in a style parodying the character “Sgt. Joe Friday” of the television series and film Dragnet (See Entry). Campo's voice is heard occasionally in narration at other points in the film. At one point, he tells a character, “Just the facts, ma’am,” which is one of Joe Friday’s famous lines.
       In another joke in the film, "Audry" and Seymour refer to Luther Burbank, a California botanist who cross-bred plants, and in the same joke mention Burbank, Glendale and Pasadena, three cities in the Los Angeles area. The film includes several sight gags, among them: Seymour and “Dr. Farb” dueling with the dentist’s equipment; Seymour slipping on a banana peel thrown by a prostitute trying to attract his attention; and, in the scene set in a yard of toilets and sinks [which a modern source reported was shot at the Santa Fe train yards], Seymour disguising himself by placing a toilet seat around his neck. Several characters speak in malapropisms.
       Although in the screen credits and other contemporary sources only Griffith is credited as the screenwriter, in modern interviews, producer/director Roger Corman stated that he was also a co-writer. Corman continued that, contrary to legend, the script was carefully adhered to during shooting, although there were some improvisational exchanges between various characters. In a modern source, Griffith stated that he played the burglar and when he and actor Mel Welles, who portrayed “Mushnik,” forgot their lines during the robbery scene, they improvised.
       According to the Var review and a 30 Dec 1959 HR news item, The Little Shop of Horrors was shot in two days in late Dec 1959 for about $22,500, using two cameras and working from 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Although an 18 Dec 1959 HR news item reported that production began on 21 Dec 1959, Corman stated in his autobiography that the film was shot between Christmas and New Year's Eve of 1959. According to modern sources, Corman shot for two days on a soundstage, while Griffith debuted as a second unit director to film exterior shots. (Some modern sources state that portions of the film were shot late in the night.) Griffith hired street people and asked his father Jack to play bit parts, and his grandmother, the former radio performer Myrtle Vail, played Seymour’s mother. Modern sources also add Bobbie Coogan to the cast.
       One of the film’s most memorable scenes depicts a masochistic patient of Dr. Farb, portrayed by future Academy Award winning actor Jack Nicholson, who had appeared in only a few films prior to Little Shop of Horrors . In a modern source, Nicholson stated that the part was written for a forty-year-old, but he asked to audition for it. The “character” of Audry, Jr. was worked using monofilaments, according to a modern source. Modern sources state that Corman’s inspiration for the film came when his brother and fellow producer Gene offered him the use of a storefront set and wagered that he would not be able to use it.
       The DV review described the film as a “serviceable parody of a typical screen horror...[it is] one big ‘sick’ joke, but it’s essentially harmless and good-natured and there’s an audience for it. [The] film comes up with several good laughs via its wild disregard for reality and its wacky characterizations....Horticulturalists and vegetarians will love it.” At the box office, the film was moderately successful, but it covered the cost of the negatives plus a modest profit, according to a modern source. According to a May 1961 Var article, The Little Shop of Horrors was shown out of competition at the Cannes Film Festival.
       An unsourced Apr 1961 news item found in the file for the film at the AMPAS Library reported that The Little Shop of Horrors was pulled from general release and then shown in art houses. For thirty years, it appeared at midnight showings on college campuses and art houses, leading to its "cult" status. Like audiences for the 1975 The Rocky Horror Picture Show , audience members for The Little Shop of Horrors would sing along and shout out key lines. In modern sources, Corman stated that he believed The Little Shop of Horrors was his best loved film. In 1982, after the film's success on video, Alan Menken and Howard Ashman created an off-Broadway musical based on the film, which became an international success and was mounted on Broadway in 2003. In 1985, as noted in a Mar 1985 LAT news item, Rhino Records issued a soundtrack of the film featuring Fred Katz’s jazz-style score.
       In 1986, Corman negotiated a licensing deal with Warner Bros., the studio that released a 1986 musical film version called Little Shop of Horrors based on both the 1960 film and the Broadway musical. That film was directed by Frank Oz and starred Rick Moranis as Seymour and Steve Martin as Dr. Farb. The 1986 agreement stated that Corman could “put back his [original] film into the domestic theatrical marketplace six months after the new film was released" and that Warner Bros. would acquire certain rights to the property, including video rights to the 1960 film in 1991, following the expiration of Vestron Video’s video rights in that year. A Mar 1987 Billboard article reported that Corman threatened to sue public domain video suppliers of the film who refused to remove the black-and-white and colorized versions of the film from their catalogs. No further information about this action has been found.
More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Billboard
28 Mar 1987.
---
Box Office
3 Oct 1960.
---
Hollywood Reporter
18 Dec 1959
p. 17.
Hollywood Reporter
30 Dec 1959
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
31 May 1961
p. 6.
Los Angeles Times
17 Mar 1985.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
8 Oct 60
p. 877.
Variety
10 May 61
p. 6.
Variety
17 May 1961.
---
Variety
20 Jan 1986.
---
Variety
22 Jan 1986.
---
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
The Passionate People Eater
Release Date:
September 1960
Production Date:
began 21 December 1959
Physical Properties:
Sound
Ryder Sound Services
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
70
Country:
United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

On Los Angeles’ skid row, penny-pinching Gravis Mushnik owns a florist shop and employs sweet but simple Audry Fulquard and clumsy Seymour Krelboin. Although the rundown shop gets little business, there are some repeat customers; for instance, Mrs. Siddie Shiva shops almost daily for flower arrangements for her many relatives’ funerals. Another regular customer is Fouch, who eats the plants he buys for lunch. When Seymour fouls up dentist Dr. Farb’s arrangement, Mushnik fires him. Hoping Mushnik will change his mind, Seymour tells him about a special plant that he cross-bred from a buttercup and a Venus flytrap. Bashfully, Seymour admits that he named the plant “Audry, Jr.,” a revelation that delights the real Audry. From the apartment he shares with his hypochondriac mother, Winifred, Seymour fetches his odd-looking, potted plant, but Mushnik is unimpressed by its sickly, drooping look. However, when Fouch suggests that Audry, Jr.’s uniqueness might attract people from all over the world to see it, Mushnik gives Seymour one week to revive it. Seymour has already discovered that the usual kinds of plant food do not nourish his strange hybrid and that every night at sunset the plant’s leaves open up. When Seymour accidentally pricks his finger on another thorny plant, Audry, Jr. opens wider, eventually causing Seymour to discover that the plant craves blood. After that, each night Seymour nurses his creation with blood from his fingers, and although he feels increasingly listless, Audry, Jr. begins to grow. When the shop’s revenues increase due to the curious customers who are lured in to see Audry, Jr., Mushnik gives Seymour a raise and unofficially ... +


On Los Angeles’ skid row, penny-pinching Gravis Mushnik owns a florist shop and employs sweet but simple Audry Fulquard and clumsy Seymour Krelboin. Although the rundown shop gets little business, there are some repeat customers; for instance, Mrs. Siddie Shiva shops almost daily for flower arrangements for her many relatives’ funerals. Another regular customer is Fouch, who eats the plants he buys for lunch. When Seymour fouls up dentist Dr. Farb’s arrangement, Mushnik fires him. Hoping Mushnik will change his mind, Seymour tells him about a special plant that he cross-bred from a buttercup and a Venus flytrap. Bashfully, Seymour admits that he named the plant “Audry, Jr.,” a revelation that delights the real Audry. From the apartment he shares with his hypochondriac mother, Winifred, Seymour fetches his odd-looking, potted plant, but Mushnik is unimpressed by its sickly, drooping look. However, when Fouch suggests that Audry, Jr.’s uniqueness might attract people from all over the world to see it, Mushnik gives Seymour one week to revive it. Seymour has already discovered that the usual kinds of plant food do not nourish his strange hybrid and that every night at sunset the plant’s leaves open up. When Seymour accidentally pricks his finger on another thorny plant, Audry, Jr. opens wider, eventually causing Seymour to discover that the plant craves blood. After that, each night Seymour nurses his creation with blood from his fingers, and although he feels increasingly listless, Audry, Jr. begins to grow. When the shop’s revenues increase due to the curious customers who are lured in to see Audry, Jr., Mushnik gives Seymour a raise and unofficially adopts him. Impressed by Audry, Jr., teenaged girls decorating a float for the Rose Parade ask their committee for permission to buy $2,000 worth of flowers from Mushnik’s shop. As Mushnik dreams about building a greenhouse for Seymour to breed plants and owning a shop in Beverly Hills, Audry, Jr. wilts. The now anemic Seymour stays up all night feeding the plant his blood, but the plant, which has begun to talk at night, demands, “Feed me more!” Not knowing what to feed the plant, Seymour takes a walk along a railroad track. When he carelessly throws a rock to vent his frustration, he inadvertently knocks out a man, who falls on the track and is run over by a train. Miserably guilt-ridden, but resourceful, Seymour collects the body parts and feeds them to Audry, Jr. Meanwhile, at a restaurant, Mushnik discovers he has no money with him, and when he returns to the shop to get some cash, he secretly observes Seymour feeding the plant. Although Mushnik intends to tell the police, the next day, when he sees the line of people waiting to spend money at his shop, he procrastinates. When Seymour later arrives that morning, suffering a toothache, Mushnik confronts him about the plant’s “food.” Seymour claims that, based on information he read about the plants he cross-bred, Audry, Jr. should require no more feedings. Placated, Mushnik sends Seymour to Dr. Farb for his toothache, but at the office, Seymour sees other patients suffering and realizes the dentist is sadistic. He tries to flee, but Farb prevents him from leaving and tries to remove several of his teeth. Grabbing a sharp tool, Seymour fights back and accidentally stabs and kills Farb. Just then, a pain-loving patient, Wilbur Force, mistakes Seymour for the dentist and insists that Seymour treat his “three or four abscesses, nine or ten cavities” and other dental problems, and that he not use an anesthetic. Seymour gallantly does his best and Wilbur later leaves happily without several teeth. Seymour is disturbed that he has now murdered twice, but nevertheless feeds Farb to Audry, Jr. At the police homicide division, Sgt. Joe Fink and his assistant Frank Stoolie discover that Farb and the man at the railroad tracks have disppeared. They question Mushnik and Seymour, who acts suspiciously nervous, but conclude that he knows nothing. Audry, Jr., which has grown several feet tall, is beginning to bud, as is the relationship between Seymour and Audry, whom Seymour invites on a date. When a representative of the Society of Silent Flower Observers of Southern California comes to the shop to check out the plant, she announces that Seymour will soon receive a trophy from them and that she will return when the plant’s buds open. Unwilling to risk that the plant will eat more people, Mushnik decides to stay at the shop all night to watch it. When Audry, Jr. begins to call out for food, Mushnik refuses to feed it. Because he has no money, Seymour takes Audry home for dinner. Winifred has prepared a first course of cod liver soup garnished with sulfur powder. While eating chow mein flavored with Chinese herbs and Epsom salts, she tries to discourage Seymour and Audry from marrying until he buys her the iron lung he has promised her. When an armed burglar breaks into the shop, Mushnik hides in the refrigerator case, but is soon found by the burglar to whom he offers the contents of his cash register. When the burglar holds a gun to his head and demands more money, Mushnik directs him to look inside the open plant, and when the burglar climbs, he is eaten. The next day, Mushnik tells Seymour that they must destroy the plant after he receives the trophy and orders him to stand guard that night. Because Seymour must work at the shop that night, Audry suggests that they have a picnic there, and while they are eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, Audry, Jr. interrupts by yelling, “Feed me!” Unaware that the plant can talk, Audry assumes Seymour is being rude and leaves in tears. Seymour chases after her, trying to explain, but she will not listen to him. Angry, Seymour returns to Audry, Jr. and vows never to feed it again, but the plant hypnotizes Seymour to go out in search of “food.” In a trance, Seymour walks through the streets, past beckoning prostitutes, looking for food for the “master.” When another prostitute approaches Seymour, he thinks she is “volunteering,” knocks her on the head with a rock and carries her to the shop. Still lacking clues about the mysterious disappearances of the two men, Fink and Stoolie attend a special sunset celebration at the shop during which Seymour is to be presented with the trophy and Audrey, Jr.’s buds are expected to open. As the attendees look on, four buds open. Inside each flower is the face of one of the plant’s meals: the man at the railroad tracks, Farb, the burglar and the prostitute. Seymour panics and runs through the streets, and police lose his trail later when he takes refuge in a yard filled with sinks and commodes. Seymour eventually makes his way back to Mushnik’s shop, where Audry, Jr. is yelling for food. Ignoring the plant’s demands, Seymour blames it for ruining his life. He takes a knife and climbs into the plant, intending to cut it up. Later, when Audry, Winifred, Mushnik and the police return to the shop after searching for Seymour, another bud on Audry, Jr. opens, revealing the face of Seymour, who moans “I didn’t mean it!” +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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