Francis was a film director and actor. He has become known in recent years for the abysmal production quality of his three self-produced 1960s films. His films are composed of murky black-and-white scenes in desert locations (always the area surrounding Yucca Mountain in Nevada) with poor acting and repetitive plot devices; a preoccupation with light aircraft and parachuting; coffee or cigarettes serving as a prop or a center of conversation; and a vigilante-style gunning down of suspects without a trial to conclude the film. The plots of his films often wander inexplicably, to the point that some critics have suggested it represents an intentional artistic style.
Francis was born in Greer County, Oklahoma in 1919. Sometime around the Great Depression he moved to Texas, then in the 1940s headed for the bright lights of Hollywood. He worked on several films during the late 1940s and 1950s without credit: Blondie's Reward, Scarlet Angel, The Girl in White, This Island Earth, She Couldn't Say No, Twilight for the Gods, and P. J. In 1958 came his first break in a credited role, Stakeout on Dope Street, where he played a detective. He went on to play minor parts in dozens of other films.
In 1961, he began writing, producing, and directing films, with the help of his friend, Anthony "Tony" Cardoza, a welder by trade. Francis started with The Beast of Yucca Flats. He went on to direct, write, and produce two other movies: The Skydivers, and finally Red Zone Cuba (Night Train to Mundo Fine). He appeared in Russ Meyer's 1965 film Motorpsycho, and his last work in the film industry was in 1970, when he played a drunk in Meyer's Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.
He married Barbara Francis and had two sons, Alan Francis and Ronald Francis, both of whom appeared in the films he directed.
Francis was overweight and developed health problems. He died in California in 1973. Though arteriosclerosis is listed as the official cause of death, Cardoza says Francis' body was found in the back of a station wagon at the Vine Street Ranch Market with "a plastic bag over his head and a tube going into his mouth or around his throat."
Francis is interred at the Columbarium of Remembrance in the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles.
Instead of fading into the annals of cinema history, in 1994 his films gained cult status after being featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000. All three films that he directed, wrote and produced have been featured on the show.
Blondie's Reward (uncredited, 1948)
The Girl in White (1952)
Scarlet Angel (uncredited, 1952)
Killers from Space (uncredited, 1954)
She Couldn't Say No (uncredited, 1954)
This Island Earth (uncredited, 1955)
The Phantom Stagecoach (uncredited, 1957)
Stakeout on Dope Street (1958)
Twilight for the Gods (uncredited, 1958)
T-Bird Gang (1959)
The Jailbreakers (1960)
Spring Affair (1960)
Cimarron (uncredited, 1960)
The Beast of Yucca Flats (uncredited, 1961)
The Skydivers (uncredited, 1963)
The Thrill Killers (uncredited, 1964)
Lemon Grove Kids Meet the Monsters (1965)
Red Zone Cuba (1966)
The Last American Hobo (1967)
P.J. (uncredited, 1968)
Body Fever (1969)
The Dirtiest Game (1970)
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1971)
Sergeant Preston of the Yukon (4 episodes, 1955–1957)
Highway Patrol (1 episode, 1959)
Dragnet (3 episodes, 1957–1959)
M Squad (1 episode, 1960)
Tales of Wells Fargo (1 episode, 1961)
The Beast of Yucca Flats (1961)
The Skydivers (1963)
Night Train to Mundo Fine (aka Red Zone Cuba) (1966)
1.^ Weaver, Tom. "Anthony Cardoza Recalls the Fallout From Yucca Flats". bmonster.com.