IN THE SHADOWS: J. CARROL NAISH

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J. Carrol Naish as Daniel the hunchback in HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944)

 
Welcome back to IN THE SHADOWS,  the column where we look at character actors in the movies, especially horror movies.

Today in the shadows it’s J. Carrol Naish, one of the most respected character actors of his day, and while he’s certainly known for his horror roles, one of my favorite Naish roles is not from a horror flick at all, but from a superhero tale.

No, they weren’t making Marvel movies back in the 1930s and 40s, but they were making DC serials, and Naish starred in one of the best, BATMAN (1943), starring Lewis Wilson as Batman. This 15 episode serial marked the first time Batman would appear on the big screen, and it remains one of the better interpretations of the Caped Crusader, even all these years later. Another reason this one is so memorable? J. Carrol Naish plays the evil villain, Dr. Daka.

Since Naish was known for his multitudinous accents, he was a natural choice to play the Japanese Dr. Daka.  Remember, this was 1943, smack dab in the middle of World War II, and just two years after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and so it made sense to feature a villain of Japanese descent. Still, this one unfortunately contains some racial slurs which were redubbed in the VHS release, then restored in the later DVD release. Interestingly enough, Naish was originally signed to play the Joker, but the villain was changed to fit into a more contemporary and pressing storyline. Some remnants of the Joker still remain, like his hideout being inside a carnival.

I love Naish’s performance in BATMAN. Every time he gets the upper hand on one of his victims, and they lament, he tends to say, “Oh, that’s too bad.” Not quite a catch phrase, but there’s just something about his delivery that cracks me up every time.

But horror fans remember Naish for his horror roles, especially that of Daniel, the sympathetic hunchback in HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944).

Here’s a partial look at Naish’s whopping 224 screen credits, focusing mostly on his genre films:

THE OPEN SWITCH (1925) – Naish’s first screen appearance is in this silent crime drama.

GOOD INTENTIONS (1930) – Charlie Hattrick – Naish’s first screen credit. Another crime drama.

DR. RENAULT’S SECRET (1942) – Noel – horror movie also starring George Zucco as the mysterious Dr. Renault. Naish plays Noel, Renault’s strange assistant, whose real identity, is Dr. Renault’s secret.

BATMAN (1943) – Dr. Daka – 15 episode serial remains one of the better screen interpretations of the Batman. Also the first. Naish plays the villain, the evil Dr. Daka, which happens to be my favorite Naish role.

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J. Carrol Naish as the evil Dr. Daka in the 15 episode serial BATMAN (1943). 

SAHARA (1943) – Giuseppe – Classic Humphrey Bogart World War II adventure tells the story of a group of survivors in an army tank facing the Nazis in the desert. Naish was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

CALLING DR. DEATH (1943) – Inspector Gregg- Horror movie with Lon Chaney Jr. where Chaney plays a doctor who believes he has murdered his wife.

THE MONSTER MAKER (1944) – Markoff – Naish plays a mad scientist who injects his victims with a serum that causes them to become seriously deformed. Why? Because he can! Also stars Glenn Strange as the giant, who would go on later that year to play the Frankenstein Monster in HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944), which would also star Naish.

JUNGLE WOMAN (1944) – Dr. Carl Fletcher – horror movie featuring Paula the ape woman. (Not to be confused with Mildred the Monkey Woman. Or Clara the Cat Woman. Or Madge the Avon Lady. Seriously, though, Paula the ape woman???) Also stars Evelyn Ankers.

HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944) – Daniel – my second favorite J. Carrol Naish role after Dr. Daka. Naish plays the hunchback Daniel, assistant to Boris Karloff’s evil Dr. Niemann, who falls for the beautiful gypsy woman Ilonka (Elena Verdugo) but his love is not returned as she has eyes for the doomed Larry Talbot/The Wolf Man (Lon Chaney Jr.) in one of the film’s better story arcs. With Boris Karloff as Dr. Niemann, Lon Chaney Jr. as the Wolf Man, John Carradine as Dracula, and Glenn Strange as the Frankenstein Monster.

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Naish and Karloff searching the ruins of Frankenstein’s castle in HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944).

A MEDAL FOR BENNY (1945) – Charley Martin – Second and final time Naish was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in this war drama based on a story by John Steinbeck.

STRANGE CONFESSION (1945) -Graham – another horror movie with Lon Chaney Jr.

THE BEAST WITH FIVE FINGERS (1046) – Ovidio Castanio – classic horror movie starring Peter Lorre about a murderous severed hand. Written by Curt Siodmark.

THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E (1966) – Uncle Giuliano- guest spot on the popular 60s spy TV show in the episode “The Super-Colossal Affair.”

GET SMART (1968) – Sam Vittorio – guest spot on the classic Don Adams comedy in the episode “The Secret of Sam Vittorio.”

DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN (1971) – Dr. Frankenstein – Naish’s final film role is in this dreadful horror movie which falls under the “it’s so bad it’s good” category. Plays a wheel chair bound Dr. Frankenstein. Also notable for being Lon Chaney Jr.’s final movie. He actually fares worse here than Naish, as his character doesn’t even have any dialogue. Horrible, grade Z stuff.

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Lon Chaney Jr. and J. Carrol Naish in DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN (1971), the final film roles for both these actors.

 

Naish passed away on January 24, 1973 from emphysema at the age of 77.

J. Carrol Naish – January 21,  1896 – January 24, 1973.

I hope you enjoyed this partial look at the career of J. Carrol Naish, one of the hardest working and most effective character actors of his day.  His horror movies were few and far between, but he was always memorable in them.

Thanks for joining me today on IN THE SHADOWS and I hope you’ll join me again next time when we look at the career of another great character actor.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

 

 

 

 

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LEADING LADIES: EVELYN ANKERS

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LEADING LADIES:  Evelyn Ankers evelyn ankers

By Michael Arruda

Welcome back to LEADING LADIES, the column where we look at leading ladies in horror movies, especially from years gone by.

Today we look at the career of Evelyn Ankers, the Universal starlet best remembered for starring opposite Lon Chaney Jr. in the classic horror movie THE WOLF MAN (1941).  She would go on to star in a bunch of horror movies in the 1940s, most of them with Chaney, and when the horror boom died down after World War II, Ankers’ career quieted as well.  In the 1950s, while only in her thirties, she “retired” from the big screen to raise a family with her actor husband Richard Denning [THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954)], although she continued to appear on the smaller screen of TV sets across the nation in guest spots on various television shows. She came out of retirement for one last movie role in 1960 co-starring with her husband Richard Denning in NO GREATER LOVE, a drama about Christian missionaries in Africa.

I’ve always enjoyed Evelyn Ankers’ performances in the Universal horror films from the 1940s.  She was particularly good as Gwen Conliffe in THE WOLF MAN, the woman who Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.) falls in love with.  The role of Gwen Conliffe was more than the usual standard love interest.  For starters, Gwen is engaged to be married to Frank Andrews (Patric Knowles) and so she has no business giving Larry Talbot the time of day, yet she does.  Further complicating matters is her fiancé Frank is the gamekeeper for the wealthy Talbots, and so he works for Larry Talbot’s family, a reminder that she— the daughter of a storekeeper— really isn’t supposed to be in the same social class as Larry Talbot.

For Larry, he’s taken with Gwen as soon as he lays eyes on her, and Gwen for her part is clearly interested in Larry, not enough to break off her engagement, but enough to take a moonlit walk with him to see the gypsy fortune tellers, a walk that directly leads to Larry’s being bitten by a werewolf.  In fact, Gwen is directly connected to Larry’s ill-fated destiny to become the wolf man.  She’s the first character to mention werewolves to Larry, citing the “even a man who is pure in heart” ditty.  She makes that walk with him to see the gypsy fortune teller, who unbeknownst to them is a werewolf.

She’s also the last person to see Larry before he turns into a werewolf for the first time, and he gives her the pendant he received from Maleva (Maria Ouspenskaya) so she can protect herself from the werewolf.  And if there’s any doubt about her true feelings towards Larry, at the end of the movie, she’s searching the fog filled woods for Larry, which puts her directly in the path of Larry’s murderous alter ego, the Wolf Man.

Gwen Conliffe is a complicated female lead, and Ankers nails Gwen’s character completely.

Ankers also starred as Dr. Ludwig Frankenstein’s (Sir Cedric Hardwicke) daughter Elsa in THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN (1942) in which Lon Chaney Jr. played the monster, and she also starred as Claire Caldwell opposite Lon Chaney’s Dracula in the underrated SON OF DRACULA (1943).  She’s very good in both these movies.

Here’s a partial look at Ankers’ 62 screen credits, concentrating mostly on her horror film roles:

FORBIDDEN MUSIC (1936) – A Lady of the Court – Ankers’ first film role, uncredited.

MURDER IN THE FAMILY (1938) – Dorothy Osborne – Ankers’ first credited role in a feature-length film.

HOLD THAT GHOST (1941) – Norma Lind – stars opposite Abbott and Costello in this comedy in which Bud and Lou spend time in a haunted house.

Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.) and Gwen Conliffe (Evelyn Ankers) on their fateful moonlit walk through the fog shrouded woods.

Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.) and Gwen Conliffe (Evelyn Ankers) on their fateful moonlit walk through the fog shrouded woods.

THE WOLF MAN (1941) – Gwen Conliffe – Ankers’ signature role, and the role she’s most remembered for today.  She’s more than just Larry Talbot’s love interest in this film.  For starters, it’s a forbidden love, since she’s engaged to another man, and secondly, she’s instrumental in leading him towards his fate of becoming the wolf man, introducing him to the idea of werewolves and being with him on the fateful night when he was attacked and bitten by a werewolf.

NORTH TO THE KLONDIKE (1942) – Mary Sloan- co-stars with Lon Chaney Jr. and Broderick Crawford in this adventure about settlers tangling with outlaws in the Klondike.  This was actually shot before THE WOLF MAN but released after it, making it the first time she co-starred in a movie with Lon Chaney Jr.

THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN (1942) – Elsa Frankenstein- again co-starring with Lon Chaney Jr.  Ankers plays Elsa Frankenstein, the daughter of Dr. Ludwig Frankenstein, while Chaney plays the Monster, taking over the role from Boris Karloff.  Bela Lugosi’s second stint as Ygor is the best part of this movie, while Chaney’s Monster lacks all of Karloff’s nuances and emotion.  Ankers is OK as Elsa Frankenstein, but the role is rather standard.

SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE VOICE OF TERROR (1942) – Kitty – meets up with Sherlock Holmes (Basil Rathbone) and Dr. Watson (Nigel Bruce) as they take on the Nazis.

CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN (1943) – Beth Colman – Universal monster movie where mad scientist John Carradine turns a female gorilla into a human woman.

SON OF DRACULA (1943) – Claire Caldwell – Once more Ankers plays opposite Lon Chaney Jr., this time going up against him as he plays Count Dracula.  Her role in this one is rather peripheral, as the main heroine in this underrated thriller from Universal is Louise Albritton as Claire’s mysterious sister Katherine who loves the supernatural and actually allows Dracula to make her a vampire so she can in turn make her true lover Frank (Robert Paige) immortal and ditch Dracula!  Take that, Drac!  I told you this one was underrated.  I actually really like Chaney’s interpretation of Dracula.  While it’s not Lugosi, it is a far cry from his sympathetic Larry Talbot, and it’s nice to see Chaney play a true evil character.

THE MAD GHOUL (1943) – Isabel Lewis- another mad scientist movie, this one with George Zucco, Robert Armstrong and Turhan Bey, about a scientist who turns a student into a ghoul.

WEIRD WOMAN (1944) – Ilona Carr- Back with Lon Chaney Jr. again, Ankers plays a woman suspicious of Chaney’s new wife, who has an island native heritage and is mixed up with voodoo.  She’s one weird woman!

JUNGLE WOMAN (1944) – Beth Mason – it’s the return of the ape woman from CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN, this one with J. Carrol Naish.

THE INVISIBLE MAN’S REVENGE (1944) – Julie Herrick – The third film in the INVISIBLE MAN series, none of them direct sequels, follows a fugitive Robert Griffin (Jon Hall) who becomes invisible and then exacts revenge on a family he believed had cheated him.  Ankers’ Julie is the daughter of the couple Griffin terrorizes, and she’s also the object of his affection, although she is not interested in him.  Smart girl!

THE PEARL OF DEATH (1944) – Naomi Drake – back with Sherlock Holmes (Basil Rathbone) and Dr. Watson (Nigel Bruce) again, this time in a tale about murder and a valuable pearl.

THE FROZEN GHOST (1945) – Maura Daniel – Ankers co-stars with Lon Chaney Jr. for the last time in this thriller about a mentalist (Chaney) who feels his powers are to blame for a man’s death and decides to get away from it all by hanging around a mysterious wax museum.  Hmm.  I think he needs a better travel agent.  Ankers’ final genre film.

BLACK BEAUTY (1946) – Evelyn Carrington – co-stars with her husband Richard Denning in this horse drama.

TARZAN’S MAGIC FOUNTAIN (1949)-  Gloria James Jessup – Tarzan film written by THE WOLF MAN screenwriter Curt Siodmak starring Lex Barker as Tarzan in a tale involving the fountain of youth.

NO GREATER LOVE (1960) – Evelyn Ankers’ final film appearance, co-starring with her husband Richard Denning in this tale about missionaries in Africa.

While I’ll always remember Evelyn Ankers for her role in the classic THE WOLF MAN, she added a lot of class to a lot of other movies as well, especially horror movies from the 1940s, and I certainly enjoyed her performances in such films as THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN and SON OF DRACULA.

Evelyn Ankers passed away on August 29, 1985 from ovarian cancer.  She was 67.

Evelyn Ankers.  August 17, 1918 – August 29, 1985

Thanks for reading!

—Michael