Happy Birthday, Bela Lugosi!

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bela lugosi - dracula

October 20 is Bela Lugosi’s birthday.

Lugosi was born on October 20, 1882.  And what better way to celebrate his birthday than by watching one of his movies this Halloween.  DRACULA (1931) is the obvious choice, but if you’re looking for something different, there is no shortage of classic Bela Lugosi movies, films like MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE (1932), WHITE ZOMBIE (1932) , and THE RAVEN (1935), with Boris Karloff, to name just a few.

You could watch him in his second most memorable role after Dracula, as Ygor in SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939) and THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN (1942).

son of frankenstein ygor

Bela Lugosi as Ygor.

Or if you really want to have fun, watch Bela in one of the many Grade Z horror movies he made, films which would be long forgotten if not for Lugosi’s appearance in them, films where in spite of their non-existent budget, bad acting, and often silly writing, Lugosi would bring his “A” game and save the show.  Films like THE DEVIL BAT (1940), THE APE MAN (1943), THE CORPSE VANISHES (1942), or Lugosi’s only color film, SCARED TO DEATH (1947).

bela lugosi_scared_to_death

Bela Lugosi in SCARED TO DEATH (1947).

Or maybe you want to see Lugosi play a vampire in movies other than DRACULA.  In that case, check out MARK OF THE VAMPIRE (1935) or THE RETURN OF THE VAMPIRE (1943), two films in which Lugosi delivers memorable performances as an undead.

Or you could watch Lugosi’s only other screen appearance as Dracula, in the comedy classic ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948).  Lugosi delivers a commanding performance here, and like his fellow horror actors in this one, remains dignified and scary throughout, allowing Bud Abbott and Lou Costello to get all the laughs, although truth be told, Bela does get to deliver a few comedic zingers here and there, and they work.

Whichever you choose, be sure to invite Bela into your home this Halloween.  Light some candles, eat some cake, make a wish, and settle in for a fun night at the movies with the Bela Lugosi movie of your choice.

Happy Birthday Bela!

 

—Michael

 

Books by Michael Arruda:

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.

InTheSpooklight_NewText

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com.  Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, short story collection by Michael Arruda.  

For The Love Of Horror cover

Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.  

 

 

 

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SHOCK SCENES: IT’S ALIVE!!!!!

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SHOCK SCENES:  IT’S ALIVE!!!!! Frankenstein - 8mm

By Michael Arruda

Welcome back to SHOCK SCENES, the column where we look at memorable scenes in horror movie history.

We’re celebrating a birthday today.

Sort of.

Today we celebrate the birth— and rebirth— of the Frankenstein Monster in the Universal Frankenstein series.

We’ll be looking at the various creation scenes in the Universal Frankenstein movies.  Technically, the Monster was only created once, in the first film, FRANKENSTEIN (1931) but Henry Frankenstein did such a good job creating life that his Monster in spite of the best efforts of angry villagers and exploding castles and laboratories just couldn’t seem to die.  So, while the Monster would be “killed” at the end of each movie, he’d be “revived” in subsequent films.

In today’s SHOCK SCENES column, we’ll look at the Monster’s various turns in the laboratory and compare how they all stack up.

By far, the best creation scene was the first, in James Whale’s classic FRANKENSTEIN.  Who can forget Colin Clive shrieking “It’s alive!!” as he watches his creation come to life.  The lab equipment by Ken Strickfaden (later used again in Mel Brooks’ YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (1974) with its flashing lights and zip-zapping electrical sounds was strictly for show and had very little scientific relevance, but oh what a show!  It set the precedent for all the Frankenstein movies to come.

Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) prepares to create life in FRANKENSTEIN (1931).

Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) prepares to create life in FRANKENSTEIN (1931).

Even more memorable than the whirring electrodes and blinking lights was the everlasting dramatic image of the lab table with the unborn body of the Monster lying on it rising to the top of the towering ceiling of Frankenstein’s lab making its way through a giant opening high into the sky into the raging thunder and lightning.  Henry Frankenstein literally raises his unborn creation into the heavens to give it its life spark.

And when he brings the table back down to the ground, and we see the Monster’s hand moving and witness Henry Frankenstein’s reaction, “It’s alive!” it provides one of the most iconic scenes in horror movie history.

I can only imagine how terrified movie audiences were back in 1931 watching this story unfold for the first time of a dead body coming to life, and in that moment, seeing for the first time that the corpse on the table wasn’t a corpse anymore but a living being.  It must have been chilling.

The creation scene in FRANKENSTEIN is not only the best creation scene in the Universal series, but it’s also the best creation scene in any FRANKENSTEIN movie period!  Countless Frankenstein movies have been made since.  None have matched this scene, and few have come close.  The closest is Hammer’s THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957) but that’s a story for another day.

James Whale’s sequel to FRANKENSTEIN, THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935) has the distinction of being the only Frankenstein film in the series in which the Frankenstein Monster (Boris Karloff) doesn’t spend any time on a laboratory table getting zapped with life-reviving electricity.

When the film opens, it’s revealed that the Monster survived the fire in the windmill at the end of FRANKENSTEIN, and so he’s already up and running when this movie begins.  There’s no need for him to receive a laboratory “pick me up.”

Of course, there is a creation scene in BRIDE, and it’s the climactic scene near the end where the Monster’s Bride (Elsa Lanchester) is finally brought to life.  As creation scenes go, it’s a good one, and the staging here by director James Whale is more elaborate than in FRANKENSTEIN, but as is often the case, bigger isn’t necessarily better.  And it is bigger, as the lab set is larger, and the sequence where the lab table rises through the roof is on a grander scale than the original and includes kites flying into the lightning-charged sky.

There’s a lot to like in this scene.  The dramatic electrical equipment is back again, and not only do you have Colin Clive back as Henry Frankenstein, but you also have Ernest Thesiger’s Dr. Pretorious, as well as Karloff’s Monster who’s in the lab to prompt Henry to keep working to make his bride.  Heck, Clive even gets to shout “She’s Alive!’

It’s a very good scene.  However, it’s nowhere near as shocking or dramatic as the creation scene in the original FRANKENSTEIN.

SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939) is the first film in the series in which the Monster (Boris Karloff) is viewed as a patient in need of ongoing medical treatment.  Ygor (Bela Lugosi) tells Wolf Frankenstein (Basil Rathbone), the adult son of Henry Frankenstein, that the Monster is “sick” and “weak” and needs to be strong again.

Ygor (Bela Lugosi) and Wolf Frankenstein (Basil Rathbone) examine their "patient", the Monster (Boris Karloff) in SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939).

Ygor (Bela Lugosi) and Wolf Frankenstein (Basil Rathbone) examine their “patient”, the Monster (Boris Karloff) in SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939).

The Monster “died” at the end of THE BRIDE OF FRAKENSTEIN when the entire lab blew up, but as we learn in this movie, Henry Frankenstein and his electric rays were so successful at creating life that basically the Monster cannot die- or at least he’s more difficult to kill than ordinary human beings.  And so when we first see him in this film, he’s lying on a table in a semi-conscious state.  In fact, he spends a lot of time in this movie in a semi-conscious state which is why a large chunk of this film is less compelling than the two movies which preceded it.  The Monster isn’t up and running and scaring people until two thirds of the way into this one.

There really isn’t a creation scene in SON OF FRANKENSTEIN.  After some preliminary examinations, Basil Rathbone’s Wolf Frankenstein uses a much smaller assortment of electrical devices to attempt to bring the Monster back to full strength.  It’s all very undramatic. SON OF FRANKENSTEIN is a very entertaining movie, the most elaborate of the entire series, but its “creation” scene is a dud and probably the least dramatic of the entire series.

The fourth film in the series THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN (1942) saw Lon Chaney Jr. taking over the role of the Monster, replacing Boris Karloff.  Chaney played all four of the major movie monsters (the Wolf Man, Dracula, the Frankenstein Monster, and the Mummy) and played them well; however, his portrayal of the Frankenstein Monster was his least satisfying.

In THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN, the Monster (Lon Chaney Jr.) is revived without the help of electrical equipment in a laboratory, as Ygor (Bela Lugosi) simply finds his friend buried in a Sulphur pit where he fell at the end of SON OF FRANKENSTEIN and he simply digs him out.

The more dramatic laboratory scenes come later.  Ygor takes the Monster to see Henry Frankenstein’s second son Ludwig (Sir Cedric Hardwicke), who’s a doctor who treats mental illness, but no, he doesn’t hold psychiatric sessions with the Monster in this one.  He does attempt to use his laboratory equipment to destroy the Monster, before changing his mind when he’s visited by the “ghost” of his father who inspires him to keep the Monster alive.

The more dramatic “creation” scene happens at the end of THE GHOST OF FRAKENSTEIN when the devious Dr. Bowmer (Lionel Atwill) conspires with Ygor to secretly transplant Ygor’s brain into the Monster in order to give the all-powerful creation a sinister mind to use on a world-conquering power trip.  Alas, the actual transplant occurs off-screen, and so visually this scene has little to offer, but in terms of story, it’s all rather dramatic and exciting.

The next film in the series, FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN (1943) contains my second favorite creation scene in the entire series.  Again, the Monster doesn’t need a lab to bring him back to life.  This time around, Wolf Man Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.) discovers the body of the Monster (Bela Lugosi) frozen in ice and simply digs him out.   The Monster doesn’t even have to be revived after being frozen for all those years, as he simply steps out of the ice and is feeling as right as rain.

The creation scene once again comes at the end of the movie, a pattern which would continue for the rest of the series.  This time around, Dr. Mannering (Patric Knowles) agrees to use Dr. Frankenstein’s notes to put Larry Talbot out of his misery, a plan proposed by Talbot himself, as he’s seeking release from his werewolf curse.  So, they set up shop in Dr. Ludwig Frankenstein’s old laboratory from THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN, and Mannering attempts to transfer Talbot’s energy (thus killing him) into the Monster, but Mannering, like all good scientists in these movies, becomes obsessed with the Monster and decides to pour all the electrical juices into the creature to bring him back to full strength.

The Monster (Bela Lugosi) regains his sight in FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN (1943).

The Monster (Bela Lugosi) regains his sight in FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN (1943).

When the Monster finally gains his strength, he smiles a sinister smile, and it’s a great moment for Lugosi’s Monster.  In the original script, the Monster was supposed to be blind, a side-effect of the brain transplant at the conclusion of THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN, and it’s this moment when the Monster regains his sight, which is why he smiles.  All references to the Monster being blind were cut from the final print, but even so, Lugosi’s smile here is still very effective.

And what follows is the climactic battle between the Monster and the Wolf Man inside the laboratory.  It’s a great sequence, one of the best in the series.

Sadly, the Monster would take a huge step backwards in the next two films in the series, as would the creation scenes. HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944) is significant because it added Dracula (John Carradine) to the mix, giving the movie three monsters, as the Frankenstein Monster (now played by Glenn Strange) and the Wolf Man (Lon Chaney Jr.) returned.  It also marked the return of Boris Karloff to the series, although not as the Monster but as the evil Dr. Niemann, a protégé of Dr. Frankenstein, who is more insane and ruthless than any of the Dr. Frankensteins who appeared earlier.  Niemann is much closer in spirit to Dr. Pretorious from BRIDE and Peter Cushing’s interpretation of Baron Frankenstein in the Hammer movies.

Alas, the Monster spends the majority of this movie as an unconscious body, lying in wait for Niemann to restore his strength.  This occurs at the end of the movie, in a brief sequence, and the Monster is only on his feet long enough to be instantly chased and “killed” by the angry mob of torch wielding villagers who chase him into a pit of quicksand where he and Dr. Neimann sink to their deaths.

Ditto for the next film in the series, HOUSE OF DRACULA (1945).  All three monsters return again here, but once again the Frankenstein Monster is reduced to being a reclining patient and isn’t revived until the final seconds of the movie.  Very sad.

Ironically, it would take turning the series into a comedy with ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948) to return the monsters to prominence.  Bela Lugosi returned as Dracula, Lon Chaney Jr. was back as the Wolf Man, and Glenn Strange finally had much more to do as the Frankenstein Monster than just lie on a table— he even gets to talk!—and so in spite of the fact that this is a comedy, the monsters all fare well.

Likewise, the creation scene in ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN is also a good one.  This time around, Dracula plans to put Lou Costello’s brain into the Monster.  With the electrical equipment whirring and buzzing, both Lou and the Monster are strapped to tables, but when Bud Abbot and Larry Talbot burst into the lab to the rescue, Talbot turns into the Wolf Man and instantly tangles with Dracula, while the Monster breaks from his binds and promptly tosses Dracula’s sexy female assistant out a window!

Seriously, this creation scene in spite of being played for laughs, is one of the more memorable scenes in the series.

Who knew that it would take Abbott and Costello to give the Universal Monsters a proper send off?  This would be the final film in the series.

So, there you have it.  A look at the creation scenes in the Universal Frankenstein movies.  By far, the original creation scene in FRANKENSTEIN is the best.  None that followed even come close, but if I had to rank the next couple, I’d go with the creation scene in FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN second, THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN third, and ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN fourth.  The rest hardly warrant a blip.

Hope you enjoyed today’s column, and I look forward to seeing you again next time on a future installment of SHOCK SCENES.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

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

PICTURE OF THE DAY: FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN (1943) – ICY CAVE

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Larry Talbot aka The Wolf Man (Lon Chaney Jr.) and the Frankenstein Monster (Bela Lugosi)  emerge from an icy cave in FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN (1943).

Larry Talbot aka The Wolf Man (Lon Chaney Jr.) and the Frankenstein Monster (Bela Lugosi) emerge from an icy cave in FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN (1943).

PICTURE OF THE DAY:  FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN (1943) – ICY CAVE

Whenever we’re stuck in a cold and snowy winter, I think of FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN since a key scene in this classic monster movie bash from Universal pictures takes place in a snowy icy cave.

The scene I’m talking about, pictured here in today’s PICTURE OF THE DAY, is when Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney, Jr.) discovers the Frankenstein Monster (Bela Lugosi) frozen in a slab of ice.  It begins when the mob of angry torch-wielding villagers chase the Wolf Man into the countryside.  The beast, fleeing the mob, accidentally falls through some loose earth and lands in a frosty subterranean cave.  After trying futilely to escape the cave, and after some dramatic flip flops in the snow, looking like a pet dog playing in the snow for the first time, the Wolf Man passes out.

When he awakes, he’s back in his human form as Larry Talbot, and as Talbot, he notices the body of the Frankenstein Monster buried in ice.  He chips away at the ice and releases the Monster from his icy grave, and he’s interested in the Frankenstein Monster because he’s looking for Dr. Frankenstein’s notes on his experiments, because Talbot believes that since Frankenstein was such a medical genius, in his notes there may be something there indicating how he Larry Talbot- a man cursed to eternal life as a werewolf- could actually die.  Why Talbot doesn’t get hold of a silver bullet and do the job himself, I don’t know!

Also, since he’s never laid eyes on the Frankenstein Monster before, how does he know that that’s the Monster frozen in the ice?  Perhaps those electrodes sticking out of his neck gave him away!

And of course the Monster comes right to life— no need for any new electric shocks to recharge his batteries— because, like Talbot, he’s cursed with eternal life.  That’s because Dr. Frankenstein made him so he could never die.  Quite the scientist, that Dr. Frankenstein from the Universal monster movies.  Not only did he create life, build a body from other bodies, and then brought it to life, he also built so it would live forever!

In this photo, we see the Frankenstein Monster in the familiar pose with his arms stretched out in front of him.  As I’ve written in previous articles, Bela Lugosi was the first actor to portray the Monster in this fashion, with his arms outstretched in front of him, and this was because in the original script for FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN, the Monster was blind, as he lost his vision at the end of the previous film in the series, THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN (1942).  Sadly, all references to the Monster’s blindness were eventually cut from the film, making Lugosi’s performance puzzling until you realize he was supposed to be blind.

It’s really too bad this was cut from the film because it made perfect sense.  At the end of THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN, Dr. Bohmer (Lionel Atwill) puts the brain of the evil Ygor (Bela Lugosi) into the Monster.  So, in FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN, it made sense for Lugosi to play the Frankenstein Monster, because the brain of Ygor was now inside the Monster’s body, and originally the Monster was to speak with Ygor’s voice in FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN.  Again, to the misfortune of Lugosi, all of dialogue as the Monster in FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN was cut from the final film, again taking away from Lugosi’s performance as the Monster.  Evidently, Universal thought an evil Frankenstein Monster speaking with Ygor’s voice was too frightening for movie audiences, and they balked at the idea and cut all references to Ygor from the film.  There was also some concern, supposedly, that the Monster’s plans to take over the world were too close to the real life rants of Adolf Hitler who in 1943 was trying to do just that.  We can only imagine how much better FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN would have been had the original concept of the Monster with Ygor’s brain been kept in the film.  Lugosi would have had a field day.

So, back to walking with his arms outstretched, again Lugosi was the first actor to play the Monster in this fashion, and it would make sense for a blind person to walk this way.  Karloff’s Monster didn’t move this way, nor did Lon Chaney Jr. in THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN.  Interestingly enough, Glenn Strange in his three performances as the Monster in the final three films of the series, did walk this way with his arms outstretched, even though in those three films his sight was restored.  How do we know this?  Well, at the end of FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN, with Dr. Mannering (Patric Knowles) pumping electricity into his body, Lugosi gives his Monster a sinister smile, and it’s because it’s the first time in the film that he can see again.

But early on, as he is in the scene pictured here, he’s as blind as a bat, which is why he walks with his arms stretched out in front of him.

Hey, bundle up guys!  It’s freezing in that cave and neither one of you are wearing a heavy coat!

Maybe that’s where the Monster is taking Larry Talbot.  He knows where the winter gear is stored.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

IN THE SHADOWS: LIONEL ATWILL

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Inspector Krogh (Lionel Atwill) confronts Wolf Frankenstein (Basil Rathbone) in SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939), arguably Atwill's finest role.

Inspector Krogh (Lionel Atwill) prepares to tell Wolf Frankenstein (Basil Rathbone) how the Monster tore his arm off when he was a child, in SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939), arguably Atwill’s finest role.

In The Shadows: LIONEL ATWILL

By Michael Arruda

Today In The Shadows, the column where we honor character actors from the movies, especially horror movies, we look at the career of Lionel Atwill, who divided his career between playing scary people and police inspectors in the Universal monster movies from the 1930s and 1940s.

He began his career as a leading man, appearing in the lead role in such films as MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM (1932), MURDERS IN THE ZOO (1933) and THE VAMPIRE BAT (1933) before being relegated to smaller roles in the Universal monster movies, usually as a police inspector.

He became typecast as a police inspector because of his terrific performance in SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939) where he played Inspector Krogh, and it’s one of his all-time best performances. Interestingly enough it wasn’t the first time he played a police inspector in a horror movie, as he played Inspector Neumann in MARK OF THE VAMPIRE (1935).

His performance as Inspector Krogh in SON OF FRANKENSTEIN is my favorite Lionel Atwill performance. Krogh suspects Baron Wolf Frankenstein (Basil Rathbone) has secretly brought his father’s creation, the Monster (Boris Karloff) back to life, putting both his family and the entire village in danger. Krogh spends the entire movie trying to prove this while protecting those under his watch in the process.

And Krogh has extra motivation, since as a young boy, he had his arm torn from his body by the Monster. Yes, he’s the one-armed Inspector, famously spoofed by Kenneth Mars in Mel Brooks’ YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (1974). But there are no laughs here, as Atwill is as serious and focused as a Police Inspector can be. It’s a solid powerful performance, most likely Atwill’s best.

Atwill’s career was derailed by a sex scandal in which he was accused of hosting an orgy at his home, and there was a rape charge as well. His career never recovered, and he was shunned by the major film studios afterwards. He died in 1946 at the age of 61.

Here is a partial list of Lionel Atwill’s 75 movie credits, concentrating mostly on his appearances in horror movies from the 1930s and 1940s:

DOCTOR X (1932) – The lead baddie, the demented Doctor Jerry Xavier.

THE VAMPIRE BAT (1933) – Dr. Otto von Niemann – again an evil doctor, this time experimenting with vampire bats.

MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM (1933) – Ivan Igor – terrorizes Fay Wray in a role made famous twenty years later when Vincent Price starred in the 3D remake HOUSE OF WAX (1953).

MURDERS IN THE ZOO (1933) – Eric Gorman – another evil scientist, this time mixed up with deadly zoo animals.

MARK OF THE VAMPIRE (1935) – Inspector Neumann – plays a police inspector opposite Bela Lugosi’s vampire, Count Mora, in this atmospheric remake of Lon Chaney’s silent classic LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT (1927), both versions, incidentally, directed by DRACULA director Tod Browning.

SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939) – Inspector Krogh- Atwill’s signature role, the relentless incorruptible Inspector Krogh, who matches wits with Baron Wolf Frankenstein and eventually tangles with the Monster (Boris Karloff).

THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES (1939) – Dr. James Mortimer – Doctor who hires Basil Rathbone’s Sherlock Holmes to take on the Baskerville case.

MAN MADE MONSTER (1941) – Dr. Paul Rigas. Back in the mad scientist seat, this time zapping Lon Chaney Jr. with electricity and turning him into a monster.

TO BE OR NOT TO BE (1942) – Rawitch – Part of the ensemble cast in this classic Ernst Lubitsch comedy starring Jack Benny and Carole Lombard.

THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN (1942) – Doctor Theodore Bohmer – Atwill’s second of five appearances in the Universal Frankenstein series. Here he plays Dr. Bohmer, a mad scientist who transplants Ygor’s (Bela Lugosi) brain into the body of the Monster (Lon Chaney, Jr.)

PARDON MY SARONG (1942) – Dr. Varnoff – messing around with Abbott and Costello.

NIGHT MONSTER (1942) – Dr. King – another disreputable doctor, in this murder mystery/horror movie co-starring Bela Lugosi.

SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE SECRET WEAPON (1942) – Professor Moriarty – matching wits with Basil Rathbone’s Sherlock Holmes.

FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN (1943) – Mayor – received a promotion in this one, as rather than playing a police inspector, Atwill is Mayor of Vasaria.

HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944) – Inspector Arnz – back to being a police inspector again.

HOUSE OF DRACULA (1945) – Inspector Holtz – yet another police inspector in a Universal monster movie. Atwill would die before the next film in the series, ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948).

And there you have it. A brief look at some of Lionel Atwill’s memorable film performances.

Lionel Atwill: March 1, 1885 – April 22, 1946

Thanks for reading everybody!

—Michael

THE HORROR JAR: UNIVERSAL FRANKENSTEIN Series

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Boris Karloff in the role that made him famous, the Frankenstein Monster.

Boris Karloff in the role that made him famous, the Frankenstein Monster.

THE HORROR JAR: UNIVERSAL FRANKENSTEIN Series

By Michael Arruda

Welcome back to THE HORROR JAR, your home for lists of odds and ends about horror movies.

Up today, a list of the UNIVERSAL FRANKENSTEIN movies, the Frankenstein films from Universal Studios that made Boris Karloff famous and created a cultural icon with its flat-headed bolts-in-the-neck Monster.

FRANKENSTEIN (1931)
The Monster: Boris Karloff
Henry Frankenstein: Colin Clive
Fritz: Dwight Frye
Directed by James Whale
Screenplay by Garrett Fort and Francis Edward Faragoh
Music by Bernhard Kaun (uncredited)
Running Time: 70 minutes

THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935)
The Monster: Boris Karloff
Henry Frankenstein: Colin Clive
The Bride: Elsa Lanchester
Dr. Pretorious: Ernest Thesiger
Directed by James Whale
Screenplay by William Hurlbut
Music by Franz Waxman
Running Time: 75 minutes

SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939)
The Monster: Boris Karloff
Baron Wolf von Frankenstein: Basil Rathbone
Ygor: Bela Lugosi
Inspector Krogh: Lionel Atwill
Directed by Rowland V. Lee
Screenplay by Wyllis Cooper
Music by Frank Skinner
Running Time: 99 minutes

THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN (1942)
The Monster: Lon Chaney Jr.
Ludwig Frankenstein: Sir Cedric Hardwicke
Ygor: Bela Lugosi
Directed by Erle C. Kenton
Screenplay by Scott Darling
Music by Hans J. Salter
Running Time: 67 minutes

FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN (1943)
The Monster: Bela Lugosi
Larry Talbot/ The Wolf Man: Lon Chaney Jr.
Baroness Elsa Frankenstein: Ilona Massey
Maleva: Maria Ouspenskaya
Directed by Roy William Neill
Screenplay by Curt Siodmark
Music by Hans J. Salter
Running Time: 74 minutes

HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944)
The Monster: Glenn Strange
Doctor Niemann: Boris Karloff
Larry Talbot/ The Wolf Man: Lon Chaney Jr.
Dracula: John Carradine
Daniel: J. Carrol Naish
Directed by Erle C. Kenton
Screenplay by Edward T. Lowe, Jr.
Music by Hans J. Salter
Running Time: 71 minutes

HOUSE OF DRACULA (1945)
The Monster: Glenn Strange
Doctor Edelmann: Onslow Stevens
Dracula: John Carradine
Larry Talbot/ The Wolf Man: Lon Chaney Jr.
Directed by Erle C. Kenton
Screenplay by Edward T. Lowe, Jr
Music by William Lava
Running Time: 67 minutes

ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948)
The Monster: Glenn Strange
Chick: Bud Abbott
Wilbur: Lou Costello
Dracula: Bela Lugosi
Larry Talbot/ The Wolf Man: Lon Chaney Jr.
Directed by Charles Barton
Screenplay by Robert Lees, Frederic I. Rinaldo, and John Grant
Music by Frank Skinner
Running Time: 83 minutes

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

 

 

IN THE SHADOWS: DWIGHT FRYE

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Dwight Frye as Renfield in DRACULA (1931).

Dwight Frye as Renfield in DRACULA (1931).

In The Shadows: DWIGHT FRYE

By Michael Arruda

Welcome to another edition of In The Shadows, that column where we honor character actors from the movies, especially horror movies.

Character actors add so much to the movies they’re in, it’s hard to imagine these movies without them. Never receiving the praise heaped upon the major actors and stars of the genre, these folks nonetheless are often every bit as effective as the big name leads.

Last time out we paid homage to one of my favorite character actors from Hammer Films, Michael Ripper. Today we look at one of my favorite character actors from the Universal Monster movies, the great Dwight Frye.

After a successful theatrical career in the 1920s, Frye hit it big immediately on the big screen with his groundbreaking performance as Renfield, the fly-eating madman in the Bela Lugosi version of DRACULA (1931). Other than Lugosi as Dracula, Frye steals the show, making Renfield the most memorable character in the entire movie.

Nearly every scene Frye has as Renfield is impressive. Who can forget his speech to Van Helsing about Dracula and the rats:

RENFIELD: A red mist spread over the lawn, coming on like a flame of fire. And then he parted it. And I could see that there were thousands of rats with eyes blazing red, like his, only smaller. And then he held up his hand, and then they all stopped, and I thought he seemed to be saying: Rats. Rats. Rats! Thousands! Millions of them! All red blood! All these will I give to you if you will obey me!

Frye immediately followed up his phenomenal performance as Renfield with another memorable performance, this time as Fritz, Henry Frankenstein’s hunchbacked assistant in the Boris Karloff version of FRANKENSTEIN (1931).

While Fritz is a smaller part than Renfield, Frye nonetheless makes the most of his scenes. Fritz plays an integral role in one of the major plot points in the film, when he mistakenly steals an abnormal brain from a college lecture hall for Henry Frankenstein to put inside the skull of the Monster.

As Fritz, Frye does a lot of little things in FRANKENSTEIN that really add depth to his character. When Henry Frankenstein sends him down the long winding stone staircase to see who is banging at their laboratory door, Fritz chatters all the way down, going on about how he doesn’t have time for this sort of thing, that he has too much to do, and at one point he stops on a step to pull up his socks.

In one of the movie’s more dramatic scenes, Fritz takes both a whip and a torch to the Monster (Boris Karloff) as he torments Frankenstein’s creation. Of course, this doesn’t end too well for Fritz, as he gets a little too close to the Monster, and in one of the film’s more chilling images, we see the shadow of Fritz’s dead body hanging from the ceiling, murdered by the Monster.

Unfortunately, for whatever reason, Frye’s genius and talent weren’t really recognized back in 1931, and what should have been a very successful film career never materialized. Sadly, after these two superb performances, Dwight Frye was forever typecast in small thankless roles as weirdoes and lunatics.

He also had the misfortune of having his roles in future Universal horror films cut. For example, his role as Karl in THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935) was cut significantly before the film’s release. Originally, Karl was to have been a much more important character to the plot, as he was supposed to have murdered his parents and then blamed the murder on the Monster, which is why at the end of the film, the Monster goes out of his way to kill Karl. In the final print, this subplot is gone, and Karl is little more than a grave robber who works for Dr. Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger), although we do get to see a flash of Karl’s menacing personality when he murders a young woman in order to supply Pretorius and Henry Frankenstein with a fresh heart.

His role in the third Karloff Frankenstein film, SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939) was cut entirely, and he doesn’t appear in the movie.

Tragically, Frye died of a heart attack on November 7, 1943 at the age of 44. While in life his career never materialized the way it should have, today, we can look back, appreciate, and enjoy his remarkable talent. Through the magic of the movies, Dwight Frye lives on.

Here’s a partial list of Dwight Frye’s 62 film appearances, concentrating solely on his appearance in horror movies from the 1930s and 1940s:

DRACULA (1931) – Renfield

FRANKENSTEIN (1931) – Fritz

THE VAMPIRE BAT (1933) – Herman Gleib

THE INVISIBLE MAN (1933) – Reporter (uncredited)

THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935) – Karl

THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN (1942) – Villager (uncredited)

DEAD MEN WALK (1943) – Zolarr

FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN (1943) – Rudi

These are the films in which I became familiar with Dwight Frye. Of course, he made many more movies than just these, appearing in 62 of them.

Dwight Frye made his mark early, in two powerhouse performances as Renfield in DRACULA, and as Fritz in FRANKENSTEIN. You can make the argument that other than the two leads in these movies, Lugosi as Dracula, and Karloff as the Frankenstein Monster, it’s Frye who steals the show, although in FRANKENSTEIN he does get some competition from Colin Clive as Henry Frankenstein, and Edward Van Sloan is also in both movies doing his professor shtick, but it’s Frye who creates two of the livelier characters in both films.

I also really enjoyed Dwight Frye as Herman in THE VAMPIRE BAT, in which he plays a simple-minded fellow who loves bats, and who unfortunately is blamed by the villagers for the vampire-like murders plaguing the community, and he’s hunted down and murdered. Of course, his death is all for not, as the true culprit in this one is the evil Dr. Otto von Niemann, played by Lionel Atwill.

It’s a shame Dwight Frye didn’t get to do more. He could have added so much to so many more movies. Don’t believe me? Check out his work in DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN and you’ll be convinced.

Dwight Frye: February 22, 1899 – November 7, 1943

Thanks for reading everybody!

—Michael