Welcome back to IN THE SHADOWS, that column where we look at character actors in the movies.
Today our focus is on Francis Matthews. If you’re a Hammer Film fan, you’re familiar with Matthews’ work, because of two key performances in THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1958) and DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1966).
With his distinctive voice, which sounds an awful lot like Cary Grant’s, Matthews made a lasting impression in these Hammer sequels.
Here’s a very brief look at the career of Francis Matthews, focusing mainly on his genre credits:
BHOWANI JUNCTION (1956) – Ranjit Kasel- Matthews’ first big screen credit is in this drama about English/Indian relations directed by George Cukor. Stars Ava Gardner and Stewart Granger.
THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1958) – Doctor Hans Kleve- Francis Matthews is memorable here as the new young assistant to Peter Cushing’s Baron Frankenstein, or as he is known in this movie since he’s supposed to be dead and is hiding from the authorities, Dr. Stein. Matthews and Cushing share a nice camaraderie in their scenes together, and it’s too bad the series didn’t continue with these two actors. The character of Hans is notable here because at the end of the movie he successfully transplants Dr. Stein’s brain into another body.
CORRIDORS OF BLOOD (1958) – Jonathan Bolton – co-stars with both Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee in this standard shocker featuring Karloff playing a doctor who becomes addicted to the powerful anesthesia he has created and as a result becomes involved in murder. Christopher Lee plays a grave robber named Resurrection Joe, and his supporting performance steals the show. The best part is Karloff and Lee’s climactic battle, pitting one “Frankenstein monster” vs. the other. Neat stuff! Matthews plays it straight as Karloff’s son and protegé.
DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1966) – Charles Kent – By far, my favorite Francis Matthews’ role. He plays Charles Kent, one of the four guests who find themselves spending the night in Dracula’s castle, and it’s Charles’ brother Alan (Charles Tingwell) who’s murdered by Dracula’s disciple Klove (Philip Latham) who then uses Alan’s blood to resurrect Dracula (Christopher Lee) in one of Hammer’s bloodiest and most gruesome scenes.
Charles then teams up with Father Sandor (Andrew Keir) to hunt down Dracula, but the vampire king complicates things by going after Charles’ wife Diana (Suzan Farmer) first.
This sequel to HORROR OF DRACULA (1958), arguably Hammer’s best shocker, is itself a really good movie, and its reputation has only gotten better over the years. Francis Matthews makes for a strong leading man, until that is, he has to face Dracula, which is as it should be. The later Hammer Draculas would stumble by having every random young hero best the vampire king when in all seriousness, that should have been something only the Van Helsings of the world could do.
Also, if you own the Blu-ray version of DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS, it includes a rare and very informative commentary by Christopher Lee, Barbara Shelley, Suzan Farmer, and Francis Matthews. All four actors sat down together for a screening of the film, and for most of them it was the first time they had watched the movie in years. All four actors add really neat insights. For instance, during the film’s pre-credit sequence, which begins with the ending of HORROR OF DRACULA, Lee was quick to point out that the ending they were watching was cut from the original version, and this commentary was recorded long before the recent restored version by Hammer.
The Blu-ray also contains rare behind-the-scenes footage on the set of DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS secretly filmed by Francis Matthews’ brother using an 8mm camera.
Sadly, of these four actors, only Barbara Shelley remains with us, as Lee, Matthews, and Suzan Farmer have all since passed away (Farmer in 2017).
RASPUTIN: THE MAD MONK (1966) – Ivan – shot nearly simultaneously as DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS, the film uses the same sets and much of the same cast, including Christopher Lee, Francis Matthews, Barbara Shelley, and Suzan Farmer.
THE SAINT (1964-1967) – Andre/Paul Farley – “To Kill A Saint”/”The Noble Sportsman” – appeared in two episodes of the popular Roger Moore spy show.
THE AVENGERS (1966-1967) – Chivers/Collins – “Mission – Highly Improbable”/”The Thirteenth Hole”- appeared in two episodes of THE AVENGERS TV show.
RUN FOR YOUR WIFE (2012) – Francis Matthews’ final screen credit is in this British comedy.
Francis Matthews has 106 screen credits, and I’ll always remember him for his two noteworthy performances in two of Hammer’s better sequels, THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1958) and DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1966).
Matthews was born on September 2, 1927. He died on June 14, 2014 at the age of 86.
Well, that’s all we have time for today. I hope you enjoyed reading about Francis Matthews, and please join me again next time on the next IN THE SHADOWS when we’ll look at the career at another great character actor in the movies, especially horror movies.
Thanks for reading!