Coleman C. Francis (January 24, 1919 January 15, 1973) is regarded as the leading challenger to Ed Wood for the title of Worst Film Director of All-Time. Starting out as an actor, he struggled to find work. He had bit roles in films like This Island Earth. He didn't even score a film credit til appearing as a detective in Roger Corman's Stakeout on Dope Street. Wanting to try his hand at filmmaking, at some point he met up with a highly decorated artillery gunner named Anthony Cardoza, who had the money to finance Francis' films. Both would appear in the films as well.
He directed three films, and all of them have been featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000.
His death was as dark and murky as his films: according to co-producer Anthony Cardoza, he was found one day dead in the back of a station wagon, with a plastic bag around his head and a tube going into his throat (or around his neck, Cardoza never bothered to find out which because they were on the outs at the time.)
The Coleman Francis Trilogy:
Coleman Francis' films contain examples of:
- Amateur Cast: Because of budget restraints, Coleman couldn't afford to hire real actors so he and Anthony resorted to casting friends and family to star in his films. He was able to afford John Carradine for Red Zone Cuba since John was known in the industry to star in any movie that paid him. Tor Johnson wasn't cheap either, but there was almost no production costs spent on Beast.
- B-Movie: The films he directed fall well below the quality of ones he was taking bit roles in at the time.
- Bookends: Almost certainly unintentional, but his first film, The Beast of Yucca Flats starts with Lanell Cado's character being killed by the mutated Dr. Javorsky, and his last film, Red Zone Cuba ends with another character played by Cado being wounded (and possibly killed; it's not very clear) in a shoot-out.
- The Cameo:
- Anthony Cardoza, Coleman's financier and producer, appears in every one of his films. Additionally, quite a few of the extras in The Skydivers are all members of Coleman's and Cardoza's extended families.
- Francis himself narrates Beast, appears as a gunman at the end of Skydivers, is the gas station attendant and newspaper buyer in Beast, and plays the lead in Cuba—a performance only enjoyable due to his physical resemblance to Curly Howard.
- Francis appeared in a bit part in This Island Earth.
- Creator Killer: Red Zone Cuba marked Coleman's final directing credit as the production of this and his other films took time away from producer Anthony Cardoza's day job and family, along with taking a toll on his finances. The two's working relationship soured after filming wrapped and Coleman spent the rest of his life taking bit roles in other movies.
- Driven to Suicide: The details of Coleman's death have never been publicly revealed, but considering the themes of his movies, the description of the scene where his body was found, and what Anthony was able to recount regarding his personal life, it's become widely accepted amongst film historians that Coleman had taken his own life.
- Dull Surprise: A disease endemic among Coleman Francis' casts.
- Fandom Rivalry: He has one with Ed Wood, specifically on which one was the worst director.
- Fanservice: Coleman Francis makes sure large breasts are thrust into the camera Once per Episode. Not that the male viewers object, mind you.
- Fauxlosophic Narration:
- The narrator from Beast of Yucca Flats.Narrator: Flag on the moon. How did it get there?
- Red Zone Cuba also experiences this at the very end when, out of nowhere, a voiceover suddenly says "Griffin. Ran all the way to hell, with a penny and a broken cigarette."
- Reportedly, "Beast" ended up this way because all the audio was accidentally erased after filming. It is more likely that it was filmed without dialog, however.
- The narrator from Beast of Yucca Flats.
- Heterosexual Life-Partners: Him and Anthony Cardoza were this until the financial strains from producing Red Zone Cuba caused them to have a falling out.
- Leave the Camera Running: Used far too many times to count - the scene where Griffin tries to put up the roof of the convertible in Red Zone Cuba comes to mind.Servo: OK, I'm just a bush, you can pan away from me now.
- Motifs: Coffee, death, cigarettes, terrible depressing tragedy, light aircraft, Tony Cardoza, people getting shot from light aircraft, a mountain somewhere in Kern County, women getting brutalized, and vigilante justice.
- No Budget: All three of his movies, but The Beast takes it further by having next to no audio in an effort to save time and money on post production ADR.
- Padding: His films are heavily made up of scenes where almost nothing happens on screen.
- Public Domain Feature Films: The three movies he directed fell into this sometime after his death, along with a few he had bit roles in.
- Random Events Plot: None of his movies stick to any straightforward plot; instead, they wander about with side characters and subplots that often go nowhere.
- Reality Subtext: It's very likely that Coleman was suffering from depression during his directing career and that it had an effect on the above-mentioned motifs in his films. On top of the mysteriousness of his death, evidence for this comes from an Anthony Cardoza interview where he reveals that Coleman's wife had divorced him prior to Beast's production and that he was addicted to Aspirin and rumored to be a heavy alcoholic off set. Given that his movies failed to get him recognized in Hollywood note and only served to destroy his relationship with Anthony certainly didn't help.
- Reclusive Artist: Not much is known about Coleman's personal life other than he was a bit actor from Oklahoma and previously lived in Texas during The Great Depression. Anthony himself admits that all he knew about Coleman while working with him was that he was divorced and a supposed alcoholic off set.
- "Shaggy Dog" Story: All three films. Red Zone Cuba goes one step further and Shoots The Shaggy Dog. Not a very sympathetic one, though.
- Stuffed into the Fridge: Only four female characters survive to the end of a Coleman Francis movie. One is a blind/deaf girl who is raped and left without any means of support; the second is widowed and lives the rest of her life as a depressed hermit. Another is shot and wounded by Coleman's character. The last one is left with a husband who's been winged with a bullet by a gun-crazy policeman and two sons who were nearly killed by the Beast.
- Trope Codifier: Coleman's filmography can be considered the first official example of the Z movie, as his films established many of the characteristics associated with the term. All three were produced outside of both Hollywood and the indie film industry with next to no money he raised out of pocket, and often try to pass off local areas as locations that they're clearly not note ; not to mention their poor production vales and cast members made up of friends and family rather than actual actors.