IN THE SHADOWS: GEORGE ZUCCO
Today IN THE SHADOWS, that column where we look at character actors in the movies, especially horror movies, we examine the career of George Zucco.
My first time seeing George Zucco in a movie was probably HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944) where he played Professor Lampini. It’s a small role, but he’s very memorable in it.
Zucco also appeared in several of the Universal MUMMY series as High Priest Andoheb.
Zucco was born on January 11, 1886 in Manchester, England, UK. He enjoyed a long and varied film career, but I always remember him for his memorable appearances in the Universal Monster series. Here’s a partial list of Zucco’s 98 screen credits, focusing mostly on his horror films:
THE DREYFUS CASE (1931) – Cavaignac- Zucco’s movie debut.
AFTER THE THIN MAN (1936)- Dr. Kammer- The second of the Thin Man movies starring William Powell and Myrna Loy as husband and wife crime solvers Nick and Nora Charles. This one also featured a young James Stewart in the cast.
THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES (1939) – Professor Moriarty- Plays villain Moriarty, taking on Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in this second film in the Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce Sherlock Holmes series, which had the misfortune of debuting on September 1, 1939, the day Nazi Germany invaded Poland, the day World War II began.
THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (1939)- Procurator – Supporting role in this quality version of Victor Hugo’s tale starring Charles Laughton as Quasimodo. Featuring Maureen O’Hara and Sir Cedric Hardwicke.
THE MUMMY’S HAND (1941) – Professor Andoheb- Memorable role in this Mummy movie from Universal. Zucco plays Professor Andoheb, an advisor to our heroic archeologists, except that in reality Andoheb is secretly the Egyptian high priest who is controlling the mummy, Kharis. The first of the Kharis Mummy movies, and the only one in which Lon Chaney Jr. did not play Kharis, as Tom Tyler wears the bandages in this above average thriller from Universal.
THE MONSTER AND THE GIRL (1941) – Dr. Parry- Zucco plays a mad scientist (of course) who transplants the brain of a man wrongly accused of murder into a gorilla. Enjoying his new gorilla body, the man— well, now he’s a gorilla—then seeks revenge against the mobsters who forced his sister into prostitution.
MY FAVORITE BLONDE (1942) – Dr. Hugo Streger- plays another doctor in this Bob Hope comedy.
THE MAD MONSTER (1942)- Dr. Lorenzo Cameron – once again Zucco is a mad scientist, this time turning Glenn Strange into a werewolf.
DR. RENAULT’S SECRET (1942) – Dr. Robert Renault- Zucco is back again as yet another mad scientist, once more conducting experiments with humans and apes.
THE MUMMY’S TOMB (1942)- Andoheb- Zucco reprises his role as Egyptian High Priest Andoheb in this sequel to THE MUMMY’S HAND. The action takes place 30 years after the first film, and so Zucco is made up as a very old man as he teaches young protégé Mehemet Bey (Turhan Bey) how to care for Kharis, the Mummy, now played by Lon Chaney Jr. This is my favorite of the Kharis Mummy movies by Universal.
DEAD MEN WALK (1943) – Dr. Lloyd Clayton/Dr. Elwyn Clayton – I guess one doctor was no longer enough. This time around Zucco plays twin doctors, one good, one evil, in this tale involving murder and devil worship, also starring Dwight Frye.
SHERLOCK HOLMES IN WASHINGTON (1943) – Heinrich Hinckel aka Richard Stanley – once more plays the villain in this Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes vehicle.
THE BLACK RAVEN (1943) – Amos Bradford aka The Raven – Murder and mystery in an old dark house. Also starring Glenn Strange.
THE MAD GHOUL (1943) – Dr. Alfred Morris – Fed up with turning people into apes, George Zucco this time plays a mad scientist who turns people into ghouls! Also stars Evelyn Ankers, KING KONG’s Robert Armstrong, and from THE MUMMY’S TOMB Turhan Bey.
VOODOO MAN (1944) – Nicholas – Zucco steps aside and lets Bela Lugosi play the mad scientist in this one. Zucco plays Lugosi’s assistant, and John Carradine is also on hand as another baddie in this thriller about voodoo and hypnosis.
THE MUMMY’S GHOST (1944) – Andoheb- Zucco’s third and final turn as Egyptian High Priest Andoheb, this time tutoring John Carradine in the art of caring for Kharis the Mummy (Lon Chaney, Jr.). The third in the Universal Kharis MUMMY movies, and the second starring Lon Chaney Jr. as Kharis.
HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944) -Professor Bruno Lampini- Zucco does not play a mad scientist this time around. That honor goes to Boris Karloff as the demented Dr. Niemann. Of course, Niemann murders Lampini and impersonates him, but that’s as close to a mad scientist as Zucco gets in this one.
HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN was the first time Universal put three of their monsters in the same movie, Dracula (John Carradine), the Wolf Man (Lon Chaney Jr.) and the Frankenstein Monster (Glenn Strange). Also notable for the return of Boris Karloff to the series, this time playing mad scientist Gustav Niemann rather than the Monster.
FOG ISLAND (1945) – Leo Grainer – Revenge and murder on a mysterious island. Also stars Lionel Atwill.
THE FLYING SERPENT (1946) -Professor Andrew Forbes – Zucco plays yet another mad scientist, this time discovering the titled creature and using it to exact revenge on his enemies. After all, what else is a self-respecting mad scientist supposed to do?
SCARED TO DEATH (1947) – Dr. Joseph Van Ee- This one is so bizarre it’s narrated by a dead woman! The type of movie best watched in the wee, wee hours of the morning, after midnight. Bela Lugosi stars in this one, notable because it’s Lugosi’s only film shot in color.
LURED (1947) – Officer H. R. Barrett – Zucco plays a policeman in this thriller about a murderer who preys upon women and taunts the police by sending them cryptic poems before each murder. This early Lucille Ball vehicle also stars Boris Karloff, George Sanders, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Alan Napier, and of course George Zucco.
TARZAN AND THE MERMAIDS (1948) – Palanth, the High Priest. Zucco is the evil high priest who tangles with Johnny Weismuller’s Tarzan in this jungle adventure.
THE FIRST LEGION (1951) – Father Robert Stuart – Zucco plays a priest in his final credited role, in this drama starring Charles Boyer.
DAVID AND BATHSHEBA (1951) – Egyptian Ambassador (uncredited) – this Biblical epic starring Gregory Peck was Zucco’s last movie, an uncredited performance as the Egyptian Ambassador.
After suffering a stroke in 1951, Zucco retired from film. He died on May 28, 1960 from pneumonia at the age of 74.
George Zucco is one of my favorite character actors from horror movies in the 1940s. Definitely make it a point to check out some of his movies.
That’s it for now. I hope you’ll join me again next time on IN THE SHADOWS where we’ll look at the career of another notable character actor from horror movies.
Thanks for reading!