IN THE SHADOWS: EDWARD VAN SLOAN

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Edward Van Sloan as Professor Van Helsing in DRACULA’S DAUGHTER (1936).

 

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

Up today, an actor known to horror fans for three key roles in three classic horror movies, and that actor is Edward Van Sloan.

Edward Van Sloan played three similar roles in three of Universal’s best horror movies from the 1930s.  He played Professor Van Helsing in DRACULA (1931), Dr. Waldman in FRANKENSTEIN (1931), and Dr. Muller in THE MUMMY (1932).

As Dr. Van Helsing, a role he had played earlier on stage opposite Bela Lugosi’s Dracula, he’s one of the best.  While Peter Cushing is my all time favorite movie Van Helsing, Edward Van Sloan came closer to the Stoker interpretation than Cushing did, but even he deviated from the way Stoker wrote the character.  Probably the closest I’ve seen an actor capture the literary Van Helsing on-screen would be Frank Finlay’s performance as the vampire hunter/professor in the BBC production COUNT DRACULA (1977), starring Louis Jordan as the Count.

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Van Sloan and Lugosi square off in DRACULA (1931)

But for Edward Van Sloan, it’s all about presence and authority, something he definitely wields in DRACULA.  Bela Lugosi is absolutely mesmerizing as Dracula, and his performance dominates the movie.  Yet Van Sloan is up to the task of matching wits with Lugosi, and his Van Helsing is a worthy opponent for the vampire king.  The scene where Dracula tries to use hypnosis to overpower Van Helsing is one of the strongest scenes in the film, acted so expertly by Van Sloan, as you can see it in his eyes as he’s resisting Dracula’s powers, and for a split-second, Van Sloan’s eyes go blank, and at this instant the audience shudders, begging that he doesn’t succumb to Dracula’s powers, and when he rallies and resists Dracula, it’s a great moment in the movie.

As Dr. Waldman in FRANKENSTEIN, Van Sloan plays Henry Frankenstein’s former professor, who for most of the movie, acts as the voice of reason.  He tries throughout to talk sense to Henry Frankenstein and is constantly urging caution.  As Dr. Waldman, he gets one of the best lines in the movie, when he warns young Henry.  “Your success has intoxicated you!  Wake up!  And look facts in the face!—  You have created a monster, and it will destroy you!”

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Edward Van Sloan as Dr. Waldman in FRANKENSTEIN (1931).

Prophetic words.  Actually, they were more on the money regarding Waldman’s fate, because later in the movie, the Monster (Boris Karloff) kills the professor.  In fact, Professor Waldman’s death is one of the more shocking moments in FRANKENSTEIN, a film which contains more than a few of them, and it’s a testament to Edward Van Sloan’s screen presence.  Van Sloan was so effective as Professor Van Helsing in DRACULA, so convincing when he destroys Dracula, it strikes audiences as an absolute shock when he doesn’t do the same in FRANKENSTEIN, when in fact it’s the Monster who kills Professor Waldman, and not the other way around.

And Edward Van Sloan is one of only two actors— the other being Dwight Frye who played Renfield in DRACULA and Fritz in FRANKENSTEIN— to star in both DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN.

In THE MUMMY (1932), Van Sloan plays Dr. Muller, a variation of his Van Helsing/Waldman characters.  This time, he’s an expert on Egyptology, and he matches wits with Boris Karloff’s Mummy, Imhotep.  THE MUMMY is an excellent horror movie, as good if not better than DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN.  Once again, Van Sloan nails the role of the heroic professor and is completely believable as the knowledgable scholar who takes on the supernatural Imhotep.

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Edward Van Sloan takes on Boris Karloff’s Imhotep in THE MUMMY (1932).

As for the rest of  Edward Van Sloan’s career, here’s a partial look at his 88 screen credits, focusing mostly on his horror film roles:

SLANDER (1916) – Joseph Tremaine – Edward Van Sloan’s first film credit is in this silent movie from 1916, the only silent film Van Sloan made.

DRACULA (1931) – Professor Van Helsing – probably Van Sloan’s most famous role, and the role he is most remembered for.  Van Sloan’s work as Van Helsing in this movie is as memorable as Lugosi’s Dracula and Dwight Frye’s Renfield.

FRANKENSTEIN (1931) – Dr. Waldman – Another famous role for Van Sloan, this time playing Henry Frankenstein’s former professor and the man who tries to convince Frankenstein to destroy his creation.  We all know how that turned out.

BEHIND THE MASK (1932) – Dr. August Steiner/Dr. Alec Munsell/Mr. X – a crime drama marketed as a horror movie due to the presence of Boris Karloff in a small role.  Van Sloan plays the villain here, in a role that Karloff probably would have played had this movie been made a few years later.

THE DEATH KISS (1932) – Tom Avery – a comedy/mystery notable for reuniting three cast members from DRACULA:  Bela Lugosi, David Manners, and Edward Van Sloan.

THE MUMMY (1932) – Doctor Muller – takes on Boris Karloff’s evil Imhotep in this horror classic.

DELUGE (1933)- Professor Carlysle – early “disaster” film as New York City is threatened by an earthquake and tidal wave.

AIR HAWKS (1935) – Professor Schulter – weird hybrid of drama and science fiction. Ralph Bellamy plays the owner of an airline company who hires a mad scientist— played by Edward Van Sloan— to build a death ray to force down his competitors’ planes.

THE LAST DAYS OF POMPEII (1935) – Calvus – Historical adventure set in the doomed Roman city, directed by KING KONG directors Ernest B. Schoedsack and Merian C. Cooper. With Basil Rathbone as Pontius Pilate.  A box office flop.

DRACULA’S DAUGHTER (1936) – Professor Van Helsing – reprises his Van Helsing role in this well-made sequel to DRACULA.  The movie starts right where DRACULA left off, and Van Helsing finds himself arrested for the murders of Dracula and Renfield.  Before he can be officially charged, however, the bodies disappear, whisked away by Countess Zaleska (Gloria Holden) who happens to be Dracula’s daughter, and who’s now in London with an agenda of her own. Smart horror film, well-written, acted, and directed.

THE PHANTOM CREEPS (1939) – Jarvis – Science fiction serial from Universal reunites Van Sloan with Bela Lugosi, as Lugosi plays a scientist hell-bent on taking over the world.

BEFORE I HANG (1940) – Dr. Ralph Howard – This time Van Sloan is reunited with Boris Karloff, as Karloff plays a doctor on death row for mercy killings, who injects himself with a serum that turns him into a Hyde-like villain.

THE MASK OF DIIJON (1946) – Sheffield – Erich von Stroheim plays a magician who uses his hypnotic powers to seek vengeance.

SEALED VERDICT (1948) – Priest – Edward Van Sloan’s final screen credit in a World War II war drama starring Ray Milland.

THE UNDERWORLD STORY (1950) – Minister at Funeral – Edward Van Sloan’s final film appearance, an uncredited bit as a minister at a funeral in this film noir crime drama.

There you have it, an abbreviated look at the film career of Edward Van Sloan.

Edward Van Sloan died on March 6, 1964 at the age of 81 in San Francisco, California.

While he enjoyed a long and successful career as a character actor in the movies, for horror fans, he will always be remembered for his roles in three of Universal’s best horror movies from the 1930s:  DRACULA, FRANKENSTEIN, and THE MUMMY.  Van Sloan made for a fine hero in all three of these films.

Edward Van Sloan -November 1, 1882 – March 6, 1964.

I hope you enjoyed this IN THE SHADOWS column.  Join me again next time when we look at the career of another notable character actor.

Thanks for reading!

—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.

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 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.  

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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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IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: DRACULA’S DAUGHTER (1936)

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Dracula's Daughter - PosterHere’s my latest IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column, currently appearing in the August HWA Newsletter, on DRACULA’S DAUGHTER (1936).

  IN THE SPOOKLIGHT

BY

MICHAEL ARRUDA

DRACULA’S DAUGHTER (1936) might be forever stuck in the shadow of Universal’s more famous classic monster sequel, THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935), and there’s a reason for this.  BRIDE isn’t just the superior sequel.  It’s one of the best horror movies of all time.

But DRACULA’S DAUGHTER, while admittedly not as good a movie as THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, is still a damn fine little flick, one that certainly shouldn’t be ignored.

The movie opens right after the events of DRACULA (1931).  The police discover the dead bodies of Renfield and Dracula and promptly arrest Professor Van Helsing (Edward Van Sloan) for the crime, as he admits to driving a stake through Dracula’s heart.  Van Helsing seeks the help of his friend and colleague Dr. Jeffrey Garth (Otto Kruger) with his legal defense.  He wants to argue that vampires exist, that Dracula was a vampire, and that he shouldn’t be sentenced to prison for destroying Dracula.  Garth wants Van Helsing to hire a lawyer instead, and he doesn’t really believe his mentor, but he does trust Van Helsing, and so he tells his friend that he will be there to support him.

Meanwhile, the police’s case against Van Helsing takes a hit when Dracula’s body disappears from police custody.  That’s because it’s stolen by Countess Marya Zaleska (Gloria Holden), who just happens to be Dracula’s daughter.  She and her very creepy manservant Sandor (Irving Pichel) cremate Dracula’s body in a large bonfire, in one of the movie’s more memorable images.

You might wonder why the Countess simply didn’t try to resurrect her undead daddy, and the answer might be that all was not well in the Dracula family.  It turns out Countess Zaleska isn’t happy being a vampire, and she turns to Dr. Garth for help, telling him she wants to be treated for an “obsession.”

With Van Helsing’s help, Garth comes to the conclusion that the Countess is a vampire, Dracula’s daughter to be exact, and that doesn’t sit well with him.  It doesn’t do much for the Countess, either.  She kidnaps Garth’s beautiful and feisty girlfriend Janet (Marguerite Churchill), who also happens to be his assistant, and threatens her life if Garth doesn’t help her.

The Countess flees to Transylvania, taking Janet with her.  Garth pursues them, as does Van Helsing and the police, and they all arrive at Castle Dracula for the film’s conclusion.

DRACULA’S DAUGHTER has an excellent cast.  Gloria Holden is OK as Countess Zaleska, aka Dracula’s Daughter, and the argument can be made that of the main cast, she’s the least effective.  That’s not saying she’s a disappointment in the role, but that everyone around her is that much better.

Leading the way is Edward Van Sloan as Professor Van Helsing, reprising his role from DRACULA (1931).  Along with Bela Lugosi as Dracula and Dwight Frye as Renfield, Van Sloan was excellent as Van Helsing in DRACULA, and these three men dominated that movie.  Only Van Sloan is back for the sequel, and he’s just as good here, although the role of Van Helsing is reduced to a supporting player this time around, as he takes a back seat to Otto Kruger’s Jeffrey Garth.

Still, Van Sloan has his moments.  My favorite is when the police inspector tells Van Helsing that Garth has taken a flight to Transylvania in pursuit of the Countess, news which causes Van Helsing to exclaim, “Stop him!  He’s going to his death!”  It’s a fine moment by a very talented actor, my second favorite film Van Helsing, behind Peter Cushing, of course.

Otto Kruger is also excellent as Jeffrey Garth, making the psychiatrist very heroic.  He more than holds his own against the Countess, and he’s one of the more memorable screen heroes from the classic monster movies of the 1930s.

And Irving Pichel, who would go on to enjoy both a productive acting and directing career, is perfectly creepy as the Countess’ servant Sandor.  He’s certainly the main villain in this movie, as he’s far more sinister than Countess Zaleska.

But my favorite performance in DRACULA’S DAUGHTER belongs to Marguerite Churchill as Garth’s assistant and love interest Janet.  She’s kind of Garth’s version of Pepper Potts.  Churchill is full of energy, feisty, funny, and terribly sexy in this movie.  When I think about the women roles in the 1930s monster movies, there aren’t a whole lot that stand out.  Churchill is the exception.  She’s great in DRACULA’S DAUGHTER, so good in fact, I wish there were other movies with her character and Kruger’s Garth.  They’re fun to watch and share genuine chemistry.  I would have liked to have seen them tangle with other Universal monsters.

As I said, Gloria Holden is okay as Countess Zaleska.  She’s at her best when seeking her victims.  Her best scene is when she seduces a young model under the premise that she wants the young woman to pose for her.  Of course, the Countess is only interested in one thing, the girl’s blood.  It’s a sexually charged scene, a welcomed sight in a 1930s movie.

Holden is less effective in her scenes with Kruger’s Garth, as she comes off as stagey and forced, although she does get to utter the famous “I never drink— wine” line.

Director Lambert Hillyer is not known for his genre work.  He was mostly a B movie director, although he did direct the Boris Karloff/Bela Lugosi flick THE INVISIBLE RAY (1936).  He also directed the BATMAN serial from 1943, the better of the two Batman serials from the 1940s.

I enjoyed Hillyer’s work on DRACULA’S DAUGHTER.  He creates some atmospheric scenes and successfully captures the eeriness of Transylvania in the film’s conclusion.  He also gives the film some much needed sensuality.  The sequence where the Countess seduces the attractive young model, for instance, is beautifully shot and full of sexual tension.  And then there’s the playful sexual energy throughout the movie between Kruger’s Garth and Churchill’s Janet.

Garrett Fort wrote the screenplay, and it’s a nice follow-up to DRACULA.  He creates likable characters and tells a logical story (Van Helsing is arrested for murder, for instance), although I wish the Countess was a bit more sinister like her father.  She spends a lot of time feeling sorry for herself and wishing she wasn’t a vampire.  Fort also worked on the screenplay for FRANKENSTEIN (1931), as well as the play on which the Lugosi DRACULA was based.

When you think of classic 1930s monster movie sequels it’s THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN that comes to mind, and rightly so.  But DRACULA’S DAUGHTER is an excellent sequel and horror movie in its own right.

Attending some family gatherings this summer?  Be sure to visit DRACULA’S DAUGHTER.  I hear she does a pretty mean barbecue.  What’s that in the bonfire?  Is that a body?

—END—

If you enjoyed this column, feel free to check out my IN THE SPOOKLIGHT collection, available now as an EBook at www.neconebooks.com, and as a print edition at https://www.createspace.com/4293038.  It contains 115 horror movie columns, covering movies from the silent era and 1930s to the movies of today.  Thanks!

—Michael