IN THE SHADOWS: J. CARROL NAISH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

 

 

 

 

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IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: DEAD MEN WALK (1943)

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Here is my latest IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column, on the George Zucco/Dwight Frye horror movie DEAD MEN WALK (1943), up now in the January issue of THE OFFICIAL NEWSLETTER OF THE HORROR WRITERS ASSOCIATION.

Enjoy!

—Michael

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IN THE SPOOKLIGHT

By

Michael Arruda

January.  The dead of winter.

The time of year when DEAD MEN WALK (1943).

At least if you’re George Zucco, anyway.

George Zucco is one of my favorite character actors from the 1940s.  In the horror films of that decade, he often played a villain or a mad scientist, and while he never achieved a name for himself like Bela Lugosi or even John Carradine, he was quite good in many, many movies.  I always remember him for his brief bit as Professor Bruno Lampini in the Universal monster fest HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944), and he also played the High Priest Andoheb in three of the Universal Kharis MUMMY movies, THE MUMMY’S HAND (1940), THE MUMMY’S TOMB (1942), and THE MUMMY’S GHOST (1944).

Zucco plays the lead in DEAD MEN WALK, and as expected he’s quite good.  He plays a dual role in this one, as he portrays twin brothers, one good, the well-respected doctor Lloyd Clayton, and the other, the devil worshiping  Dr. Elwyn Clayton, not so good.

And if this weren’t enough, Dwight Frye even shows up as Zucco’s hunchbacked assistant, Zolarr.  As a result, in spite of being a no-budget thriller, DEAD MEN WALK is a real treat.

DEAD MEN WALK opens with a funeral, as Elwyn Clayton (George Zucco) lies dead in his coffin.  His twin brother Dr. Lloyd Clayton (George Zucco) declares his brother better off dead, since he was such an evil soul.  When Elwyn’s hunchback assistant Zolarr (Dwight Frye) shows up, he accuses Lloyd of murdering his brother.  Lloyd dismisses Zolarr’s accusations and says he acted in self- defense.

Anyway, faster than you can say “Fritz” or “Renfield” (take your pick) Zolarr resurrects Elwyn’s body and brings him back to life, and it’s easy to do, because we learn that Elwyn is now a vampire!  As a vampire, Elwyn wastes no time putting the bite on Lloyd’s niece Gayle (Mary Carlisle).  It’s now up to Lloyd to protect his niece and stop his undead brother once and for all.

DEAD MEN WALK isn’t anything more than a Grade Z horror movie, but Zucco and Frye raise it up a few notches and make it worth watching, which is a good thing because visually this one has little to offer.  There are very few exciting scenes, nor is there much atmosphere.  Director Sam Newfield’s idea of suspense is to have Dwight Frye peer menacingly through a window.

Even the vampire elements are downplayed.  All the bites occur off-camera, and when George Zucco plays the vampire twin, he wears no make-up.  The two characters are distinguishable because the good doctor wears eyeglasses and the evil vampire brother doesn’t.  Maybe his vision improved as an undead!

The script isn’t bad though.  It’s written by Fred Myton whose credits go back to the silent era.  In fact, his earliest credits date back to 1915.  One hundred years ago!  How about that?  The dialogue in DEAD MEN WALK really isn’t bad at all.  In fact, it’s actually pretty good, and for the most part, when the characters speak, they sound like real people.

Zucco’s great as he always is.  And he’s much more than just a screen villain.  In fact, his evil twin is pretty one-dimensional.  It’s the good brother, Lloyd, who Zucco actually makes more interesting.

And what else can you say about Dwight Frye other than it’s a shame he wasn’t able to make more movies.  After his roles as Renfield in DRACULA (1931) and Fritz in FRANKENSTEIN (1931), he was typecast as weirdos and hunchbacks.  He died young, at the age of 44 in 1943.  A shame.  Only Frye could give a dignified death to a character whose last lines are cries of “Master!  Master!”  Most other actors screaming these lines would be laughable.  When Frye screams them, as Zolarr lies trapped in a burning house, he generates legitimate sympathy for the character.

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Dwight Frye and George Zucco prepare to scare an unsuspecting victim in DEAD MEN WALK.

 

And really, Dwight Frye and George Zucco are the only reasons to see DEAD MEN WALK.  They lift the material and make this otherwise Grade Z movie enjoyable.

It’s cold.  It’s January.  It’s that time of year we’re all stuck inside.

To beat that claustrophobic feeling go out for a walk.  It’ll do you good.  And you won’t be alone.

Not when DEAD MEN WALK.