Happy Birthday, Boris Karloff!

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Boris Karloff as the Frankenstein Monster in FRANKENSTEIN (1931)

Happy Birthday, Boris Karloff!

Karloff, the king of horror, was born on November 23, 1887.

Karloff made over 70 movies before playing the Monster in FRANKENSTEIN (1931), the film which changed his career and made him a household name.  He would reprise the role twice, in THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935) and SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939), and of course would go on to make a ton of horror movies over the next four decades, from the 1930s to the 1960s.

To celebrate his birthday, here’s a look at a handful of Karloff’s most memorable horror movie performances:

FRANKENSTEIN (1931) – The Monster- there’s a reason this role turned Boris Karloff into a star.  His Monster is both brutal and sympathetic.  Insanely powerful, he can kill in a heartbeat, and yet this newly born creature is simply terribly misunderstood and maltreated.  With a remarkable make-up job by Jack Pierce, no movie Frankenstein monster has ever looked as much like a walking corpse as this one.  If you only see one Boris Karloff movie in your life (which would be shame- see more!) see FRANKENSTEIN.

THE MUMMY (1932) – Imhotep – For my money, Karloff’s interpretation of Imhotep remains the most effective movie mummy performance of all time.  There still has not been another one like it.  In spite of a plot that is very similar to DRACULA (1931), THE MUMMY is a superior horror movie, and Boris Karloff’s performance as Imhotep is a major reason why.

imhotep

Karloff as Imhotep in THE MUMMY (1932)

THE BLACK CAT (1934) – Hjalmar Poelzig – In this classic first-time pairing of horror icons Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, Karloff plays the devil worshipping Hjalmar Poelzig, pitted against Bela Lugosi’s heroic Dr. Vitus Werdegast.  Superior horror film has little in common with the Poe tale on which it is so loosely based, but it has a top-notch script full of classic lines, and it features two performances by Karloff and Lugosi in their prime, doing what they do best.  Best watched late at night with the lights out.

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Karloff in THE BLACK CAT (1934).

BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935) – The Monster- The Monster speaks!  So boasted this movie’s tagline, and it’s true, Karloff’s monster learns to speak in this classic sequel to the iconic original.  Critics consider BRIDE to be the best FRANKENSTEIN movie of all time, but I still slightly prefer the original, if only because it remains much scarier.  But Karloff takes his performance as the Monster here to another level.  It’s arguably the best performance of the Frankenstein monster of all time.

THE RAVEN (1935) – Edward Bateman -The second Boris Karloff/Bela Lugosi pairing. Karloff plays Edward Bateman, a criminal transformed into a hideous monster by Lugosi’s insane Poe-obsessed Dr. Richard Vollin. Another classic pairing of these two iconic horror film stars.

THE BLACK ROOM (1935)- Baron Gregor de Berghman/Anton de Berghman – Karloff has a field day in a dual role as twins, one good, one bad.  Karloff delivers one of his best performances in this little known period piece horror drama.  Look fast for an uncredited Edward van Sloan as, of course, a doctor.

THE BODY SNATCHER (1945) – John Gray – Another superb Karloff performance.  He plays John Gray, the body snatcher who robs graves for Dr. “Toddy”  MacFarlane (Henry Daniell). Based on a short story by Robert Louis Stevenson and the real life story of Dr. Knox and grave robbers Burke and Hare.  Produced by Val Lewton and directed by Robert Wise. Horror film making at its best.  Also features Bela Lugosi in a small supporting role.

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Karloff in THE BODY SNATCHER (1945).

ISLE OF THE DEAD (1945) – General Nikolas Pherides- Karloff plays a hawkish general who uses his ruthless methods to protect a group of islanders who believe they are being hunted by a vampire-like creature in this intriguing well-made chiller by producer Val Lewton.

THE TERROR (1963) – Baron Victor Frederick Von Leppe –  An aging Karloff stars opposite a young Jack Nicholson in this haunted house tale, reportedly shot by director Roger Corman in four days.

BLACK SABBATH (1963) – Gorca – Karloff is at his scary best in this horror anthology by Mario Bava.  Karloff appears as a “Wurdalak” or vampire, and he’s downright frightening.  This is the only time Karloff ever played a vampire in the movies.

So, there you have it, just a few of Boris Karloff’s more memorable horror movie roles. To celebrate his birthday, you can’t go wrong watching these or any of Karloff’s 205 screen credits, for that matter.

Happy Birthday, Boris!

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

 

 

 

 

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Halloween Special 2: Karloff, Lugosi, Chaney,Jr., Lee, and Cushing Talk Monsters

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Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff

Welcome back to another Halloween Special.

Once again I’m conducting a mock interview with horror greats Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney Jr., Christopher Lee, and Peter Cushing. And while this interview is completely imaginary, their answers to my questions are real, taken from quotes they really said.

So, without further hesitation, let’s get started.

MICHAEL:  Welcome everyone to a very special treat.

Joining me today on this Monster Panel are Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney Jr., Christopher Lee, and Peter Cushing. Thank you all for joining me today.

Today I want to talk about monsters, specifically, your thoughts on just who is the greatest movie monster of all time.  And before you answer, I’m going to guess that you all will be partial to the monsters you played in the movies.  And as a famous comedian once said, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

Bela, let’s start with you.  Your thoughts on the greatest movie monster of all time.

BELA LUGOSI: Every actor’s greatest ambition is to create his own, definite and original role, a character with which he will always be identified. In my case, that role was Dracula.

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Lugosi as Dracula in DRACULA (1931).

MICHAEL:  So, you’re going with Dracula?

(Lugosi nods)

CHRISTOPHER LEE:  I agree.

Dracula is different; he is such an exciting person.

And it doesn’t bother me to be remembered as Dracula.
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Christopher Lee as Dracula in DRACULA – PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1966).

MICHAEL:  It doesn’t?
CHRISTOPHER LEE: Why should it? What does bother me is when people say, “Ah yes, there goes Dracula,” or “There goes the horror king.” It simply isn’t true. I’m quite annoyed when people don’t acknowledge that I’ve done anything else.
PETER CUSHING:  People look at me as if I were some sort of monster, but I can’t think why.
 (Everyone laughs)
 PETER CUSHING: In my macabre pictures, I have either been a monster-maker or a monster-destroyer, but never a monster. Actually, I’m a gentle fellow. Never harmed a fly. I love animals, and when I’m in the country I’m a keen bird-watcher.
 MICHAEL:  Boris, what about you?
 BORIS KARLOFF: The Frankenstein Monster.
Yes, the monster was the best friend I ever had.
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Karloff as the Monster in FRANKENSTEIN (1931).

 PETER CUSHING:  I know what you mean.
It gives me the most wonderful feeling. These dear people love me so much and want to see me. The astonishing thing is that when I made the Frankenstein and Dracula movies almost 30 years ago the young audiences who see me now weren’t even born yet. A new generation has grown up with my films. And the original audiences are still able to see me in new pictures. So, as long as these films are made I will have a life in this business — for which I’m eternally grateful.
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Peter Cushing as Baron Victor Frankenstein in THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957).

CHRISTOPHER LEE:  Yes, and for me, quite frankly, I’m grateful to Dracula.
If people today remember me in the role and still enjoy it, I’m flattered. If, through some strange twist of fate, I was able to take a character some 25 years ago and create an impact where by I suddenly became known throughout the world, how can I complain?
 BELA LUGOSI: And never has a role so influenced and dominated an actor’s role as has the role of Dracula.
 MICHAEL:  We haven’t heard from you yet, Lon.  What’s your opinion on these classic movie monsters?
 LON CHANEY JR.: All the best of the monsters played for sympathy. That goes for my father, myself and all the others. They all won the audience’s sympathy.
  The Wolf Man didn’t want to do all those bad things. He was forced into them.
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Lon Chaney Jr. as The Wolfman, in THE WOLFMAN (1941).

 MICHAEL:  So, monsters are pretty special.
BORIS KARLOFF: My dear old monster. I owe everything to him. He’s my best friend.
 LON CHANEY JR.: The trouble with most of the monster pictures today is that they go after horror for horror’s sake. There’s no motivation for how monsters behave.
  CHRISTOPHER LEE:  That’s one of the reasons I will play no more monsters.
 Now villains are different.
Most people find my villains memorable because I try to make them as unconventional as possible. They are not overt monsters.
It’s easy to play a “heavy” straight down the middle, 100%, but it’s boring. I don’t think I’ve ever played a villain who didn’t have some unusual, humanizing trait. When I look back at my men with the black hats, they’ve always had something else going for them, whether it be a sardonic sense of humor or a feeling of desolation. I always try to throw as many curves the audience’s way as possible. That’s probably why people enjoy my villainy.
 LON CHANEY JR.:  There’s just too much of that science-fiction baloney.
 BELA LUGOSI:  Science fiction, perhaps.  Baloney, perhaps not.
Dracula has, at times, infused me with prosperity and, at other times, he has drained me of everything.
It’s a living, but it’s also a curse. It’s Dracula’s curse.
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Lon Chaney Jr. and Bela Lugosi in THE WOLFMAN (1941).

 PETER CUSHING:  Yes.  In the early days I played a lot of comedy in the theater and on television. But once an actor becomes well-known in any kind of part, he tends to get stereotyped.

After I played Frankenstein, I was only thought of in that light. Of course, some actors are better at drama and some are better at comedy. But they can certainly have a stab at both. An actor should be able to do it all.

(Laughter)

BORIS KARLOFF: Before we go, since we’re talking about movie monsters, I just want to acknowledge Jack Pierce— the best make-up man in the world.

I owe him a lot.

MICHAEL:  Thank you all for joining me tonight.  I appreciate your taking the time to answer my questions.  And that’s all the time we have.

Thanks for reading, everybody!

—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.  

 

 

 

NUMBERS: Halloween

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NUMBERS:  Halloween Jack O Lantern

 

By Michael Arruda

Here’s a list of some random fun numbers in time for Halloween:

350 million – copies sold of books written by Stephen King.

35 million- pounds of candy corn estimated to be bought for Halloween 2015 in the U.S., according to ABC news.

40,000– Dollar amount stolen by Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) in PSYCHO (1960).

278- The number of screen credits for Christopher Lee, according to IMDB.

22– The number of movies Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee made together

10 – The number of movies in the HALLOWEEN franchise.

8 – The number of times Colin Clive says “It’s alive!” in the creation scene in FRANKENSTEIN (1931)

5– The number of times Lon Chaney Jr. played Larry Talbot/the Wolf Man in the movies.

3– The number of times Boris Karloff played the Frankenstein Monster in the movies.

2– The number of times Bela Lugosi played Dracula in the movies.

1 – Number of times Christopher Lee played Frankenstein’s Creature in the movies.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

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

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

PICTURE OF THE DAY: FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN (1943) – LOBBY CARD

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The Wolf Man (Lon Chaney Jr.)  trudges through the snow in FRANKENTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN (1943)

The Wolf Man (Lon Chaney Jr.) trudges through the snow in FRANKENTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN (1943)

PICTURE OF THE DAY:  FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN (1943) – Lobby Card

 

Even the Wolf Man has to deal with the snow this winter!

Love this lobby card from the Universal classic FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN, showing the Wolf Man (Lon Chaney Jr.) in the snow, and that’s exactly why this particular lobby card caught my eye this week: the snow.

You see, I’ve had it with this winter of 2014.  I’ve had my fill of those Artic blasts of cold air, and the snow that’s gone along with it.  And so when I saw this image of the Wolf Man trudging through the snow, I felt a kindred spirit.  Hang in there, Mr. Wolf Man.  It’s March.  The snow will be melting soon.

Of course, this scene is taken from the sequence where the Wolf Man has fled from some angry torch wielding villagers, escaping to an underground icy cave, where shortly when he awakes as Larry Talbot, he’s about to find the Frankenstein Monster (Bela Lugosi) buried in ice.  Nice stuff.

I love these old lobby cards, and it’s fun to collect them, even though originally they were only intended for use at the movie theaters and not for public sale.  I also love the colors used in this particular card.  It’s good to see the Wolf Man in color, since all the Wolf Man films were shot in black and white.

Jack Pierce created the make-up for Lon Chaney Jr. as the Wolf Man, and he did the make-up for all of Ch;aney’s Wolf Man movies.  I think his best make-up job was in FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN, and you can get a good look at Pierce’s superb work in this image.

So, next time you see tracks in the snow, and you’re trying to figure out what kind of critter has trotted across your path, remember to add the Wolf Man to the list of possible suspects, especially if you’re out after a full moon.

Happy snow trails!

—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