LEADING LADIES: BARBARA SHELLEY

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Barbara Shelley in DRACULA – PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1966).

Welcome back to LEADING LADIES, that column where we look at lead actresses in horror movies.

Up today it’s Barbara Shelley, a woman whose talent and beauty adorned some of Hammer Films’ best shockers.  Of course, Shelley starred in more than just Hammer horror movies, appearing in all sorts of movies and TV shows as well.  Here’s a partial look at her long and successful career, focusing mostly on her horror films:

MAN IN HIDING (1953) – Barbara Shelley’s first screen credit, under her real name, as Barbara Kowin, in this British whodunit murder mystery starring Paul Henreid and Lois Maxwell.

BALLATA TRAGICA (1954) – Betty Mason- Shelley’s first credit as Barbara Shelley in this Italian crime drama.

CAT GIRL (1957) – Leonora Johnson- Shelley’s first horror movie, a variation of the more famous CAT PEOPLE (1942), where she plays a young woman affected by a family curse that warns she will turn into a murderous leopard when angered.  Some girls have all the fun.

BLOOD OF THE VAMPIRE (1958) – Madeleine –  One of my favorite Barbara Shelley movies, this atmospheric horror movie about a mad scientist named Dr. Callistratus (Donald Wolfit) conducting strange blood experiments in a creepy prison is a subtle exercise in “thinking man’s horror.”  It looks and plays like a Hammer Film, but it’s not, but it was written by Jimmy Sangster, who wrote some of Hammer’s best shockers.

VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED (1960) – Anthea Zellaby – Probably my favorite Barbara Shelley movie, this science fiction classic about the strange children with the glowing eyes is one of the best science fiction horror movies ever made.  Also stars George Sanders, Michael Gwynn, and Laurence Naismith.

THE SHADOW OF THE CAT (1961) – Beth Venable – Shelley’s first Hammer Film, another cat tale involving murder and the supernatural. Also starring Andre Morrell and Freda Jackson.

THE SAINT (1962) – Valerie North – appeared in the episode “The Covetous Headsman” of this classic TV show starring Roger Moore.

THE GORGON (1964) – Carla Hoffman- co-stars with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee in this Hammer shocker that is topnotch throughout except for an ending that exposes some very weak special effects when the titlular monster is finally shown on screen. Major role for Shelley, as her character is integral to the plot. Directed by Hammer’s best director, Terence Fisher.

THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E (1965) – Bryn Watson – starred in the episode “The Odd Man Affair” of this classic secret agent TV show starring Robert Vaughn and David McCallum.

DRACULA- PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1966) – Helen Kent – Becomes Dracula’s victim in this excellent Hammer Dracula movie, the first direct sequel to HORROR OF DRACULA (1958) with Christopher Lee reprising his role as Dracula once again. Also starring Andrew Keir, Francis Matthews, Suzan Farmer, Thorley Walters, and Philip Latham. Directed by Terence Fisher.

RASPUTIN: THE MAD MONK (1966) – Sonia – Reunited with DRACULA-PRINCE OF DARKNESS co-stars Christopher Lee, Francis Matthews, and Suzan Farmer in this Hammer Film which also used the same sets from that DRACULA sequel.

THE AVENGERS (1961-1967) – Venus/Susan Summers – “From Venus With Love” (1967)/ “Dragonsfield” (1961)- Two appearances on the spy TV series starring Patrick Macnee.

FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH (1967)- Barbara Judd – Classic Hammer science fiction movie, part of their Quatermass series, originally titled QUATERMASS AND THE PIT. Stars Andrew Keir as Professor Quatermass.  This one’s got an impressive mystery and tells a neat story.  Also starring James Donald and Julian Glover.

GHOST STORY (1974) – Matron – Haunted house tale not to be confused with Peter Straub’s novel or the 1981 film based on Straub’s novel. Shelley’s final performance in a theatrical release.

DOCTOR WHO (1984) – Sorasta – appeared in the four part episode “Planet of Fire” of this classic science fiction TV show.  Peter Davison played the Doctor.

UNCLE SILAS (1989) – Cousin Monica – Barbara Shelley’s final screen credit to date in this horror TV mini-series starring Peter O’Toole as the mysterioius Uncle Silas.

Barbara Shelley was born on February 13, 1932.  She is currently retired from acting.

 

I hope you enjoyed this partial look at the career of actress Barbara Shelley, one of the more influential actresses from 1950s-1960s British horror cinema.

Join me again next time when we look at the career of another actress in horror cinema in the next edition of LEADING LADIES.

Thanks for reading!

—-Michael

 

 

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Leading Ladies: FAY WRAY

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Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) in King Kong’s clutches in KING KONG (1933).

Welcome back to LEADING LADIES, that column where we look at leading ladies in the movies, especially horror movies.  Up today, it’s Fay Wray, the woman who King Kong carried to the top of the Empire State Building in KING KONG (1933).

Fay Wray had a ton of credits.  She began her career as a teenager in silent movies, and so by the time she made KING KONG in 1933 at age 26, she had already amassed fifty four screen credits!

All together, Fay Wray had 123 screen credits, but none bigger than her role as Ann Darrow in KING KONG.

Here’s a partial list of Wray’s movie credits:

GASOLINE LOVE (1923) – Fay Wray’s first screen credit.

THE COAST PATROL (1925) – Beth Slocum- Wray’s first feature film role.

DOCTOR X (1932) – Joanne Xavier- horror movie with Lionel Atwill, famous for being shot in Technicolor.

THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME (1932) – Eve Trowbridge – Thriller directed by KING KONG director Ernest B. Schoedsack and featuring Carl Denham himself, Robert Armstrong.

THE VAMPIRE BAT (1933)- Ruth Bertin- classic horror movie featuring Lionel Atwill, Melvyn Douglas, and Dwight Frye.  Atwill is the mad scientist, Douglas the hero, Wray the heroine, and Frye is the creepy guy the villagers think is the vampire— but they’re wrong.  Very atmospheric creepy horror movie.

MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM (1933) – Charlotte Duncan – Reunited with Lionel Atwill in yet another classic horror movie.  Like DOCTOR X, it was also shot in color and was believed to have been lost for decades before being re-discovered in the late 1960s.  Directed by Michael Curtiz, who also directed that little wartime movie, CASABLANCA (1942).

KING KONG (1933) – Ann Darrow – the film that made Fay Wray a star, and she spends most of it screaming, as she is abducted and chased by Kong throughout.  Directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, with an outstanding music score by Max Steiner, and starring Robert Armstrong, Bruce Cabot, Wray, and of course King Kong.  Amazing special effects by Willis O’Brien.  This classic movie still holds up wonderfully today.  By the way, Wray was not blonde.  She wore a wig for her most famous role.  That is her real scream, though.

MASTER OF MEN (1933)- Kay Walling- The last of eleven movies Wray made in 1933!

BLACK MOON (1934) – Gail Hamilton – Horror movie about a voodoo curse, directed by Roy William Neill, the man who in addition to directing many of the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes movies also directed FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN (1943).

WOMAN IN THE DARK (1934) – Louise Loring – Crime movie starring Ralph Bellamy and Melvyn Douglas, based on a book by Dashiell Hammett.

THE CLAIRVOYANT (1934)- Rene – Effective mystery/horror movie with Claude Rains as a fake clairvoyant who suddenly finds himself with real predictive powers.

HELL ON FRISCO BAY (1955) – Kay Stanley – Film-noir with Edward G. Robinson and Alan Ladd.

CRIME OF PASSION (1957) – Alice Pope- more film-noir, this time with Barbara Stanwyck, Sterling Hayden, and Raymond Burr.

TAMMY AND THE BACHELOR (1957) – Mrs. Brent-  First of four “Tammy” movies, starring Debbie Reynolds, Leslie Nielsen, and Walter Brennan.

ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS – “Dip In The Pool” (1958) – Mrs. Renshaw/  “The Morning After” (1959) – Mrs. Nelson – two appearances on the ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS TV show.

PERRY MASON – “The Case of the Prodigal Parent” (1958) – Ethel Harrison/ “The Case of the Watery Witness” (1959)- Lorna Thomas/ “The Case of the Fatal Fetish” (1965) – Mignon Germaine – several appearances on the classic PERRY MASON TV show starring Raymond Burr.

GIDEON’S TRUMPET (1980) – Edna Curtis – Fay Wray’s final screen credit, in this TV movie starring Henry Fonda based on the true story of Clarence Earl Gideon.

Even though she never had a bigger role than Ann Darrow in KING KONG, Fay Wray enjoyed a long and successful movie career.  She passed away in 2004 at age 96.

Fay Wray – September 15, 1907- August 8, 2004.

I hope you enjoyed this edition of LEADING LADIES.  Join me again next time when we look at the career of another Leading Lady.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LEADING LADIES: VERONICA CARLSON

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Veronica Carlson

LEADING LADIES:  Veronica Carlson

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 Veronica Carlson, the Hammer starlet who burst onto the scene in the Hammer Dracula movie, DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE (1968) and would go on to add her beauty and elegance to several more Hammer Films before leaving the business altogether for two decades.  She returned to films in the 1990s and has since appeared in a few low budget movies.

But she’s best known for her roles in the Hammer movies, and if you’ve seen her, you know the reason why.  Sure, she was stunningly beautiful back in the day— she was a former model, after all— but she was also a decent actor.  It’s really too bad she didn’t make more movies.

In DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE Carlson plays Maria, a young woman who ends up being Dracula’s most sought after victim.  In this, the third film in the Hammer Dracula series, Dracula (Christopher Lee) seeks revenge against the Monsignor (Rupert Davies) who had exorcised his castle, and he does this by pursuing the Monsignor’s niece, Maria (Veronica Carlson).

Carlson is absolutely beautiful in this movie.  She shares most of her screen time with her goofy intellectual boyfriend Paul (Barry Andrews) who eventually gets to be the hero in this one, and she’s very convincing as a young lover infatuated with her handsome boyfriend.  She’s also sufficiently frightened and mesmerized by Dracula.

Carlson followed up this performance with the female lead in FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED (1969), Hammer’s darkest Frankenstein movie.  She plays Anna, engaged to a young doctor Karl (Simon Ward), and all is well until these two young lovers are blackmailed by Baron Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) into helping him with his latest creation.  This film also contains the most controversial scene in the entire series, where the Baron rapes Anna, a scene that Peter Cushing is on record as saying he did not want to do.

Anna (Veronica Carlson) tormented by Baron Frankenstein (Peter Cushing)

Anna (Veronica Carlson) tormented by Baron Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) in FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED (1969).

FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED is a lurid, brutal movie, and Veronica Carlson is up to the task at playing the tormented victim of Baron Frankenstein.  One of her best scenes finds her dragging a dead body which has been unearthed by a busted water main in her courtyard, and she has to do this while she’s pummeled by a forceful water spray, because if she doesn’t hide the body and the authorities discover it, she’ll either be arrested or worse, have to face the wrath of Baron Frankenstein.  It’s a chilling suspenseful scene.

Carlson also appeared in the next Hammer Frankenstein movie, THE HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN (1970), the only film in the series not to star Peter Cushing as Baron Frankenstein. THE HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN was Hammer’s failed attempt to re-boot the series with Ralph Bates playing a younger Baron Frankenstein in what amounted to be a remake of sorts of their first Frankenstein movie, THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957). THE HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN was directed by longtime Hammer screenwriter Jimmy Sangster, and unfortunately, he proved to be a better writer than a director. THE HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN is the worst film in the series with very little to offer other than a fine cast, which included Ralph Bates and Veronica Carlson.  Carlson is quite good yet again, but she’s simply not enough to save this movie.

Veronica Carlson would star with Peter Cushing one more time in THE GHOUL (1974), a mediocre horror movie about an attic holding a sinister secret. This one also co-starred a young John Hurt.

Carlson may return to the big screen here in 2015.  She’s listed in the credits of a still unreleased horror movie called THE RECTORY.  It would be nice to see her on the big screen again, even now at 70 years old.

Here’s a partial list of Carlson’s 21screen credits, concentrating mostly on her horror films:

SMASHING TIME (1967) – Movie Actress At Premiere- Carlson’s first screen credit, a bit part in a musical comedy starring Michael York and Lynn Redgrave.

DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE (1968) – Maria- Carlson impresses in her first starring role in this third Christopher Lee Hammer Dracula movie, the studio’s most profitable horror movie ever.  A box office smash.

FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED (1969) – Anna – tormented and terrorized by Peter Cushing’s evil Baron Frankenstein.  Probably Carlson’s most riveting performance.

CROSSPLOT (1969) – Dinah- small role in this thriller starring Roger Moore which also features Moore’s future Bond boss “M” Bernard Lee as well as Hammer supporting actor Francis Matthews.

PUSSYCAT, PUSSYCAT, I LOVE YOU (1970) – Liz – comedy starring Ian McShane with a screenplay co-written by Woody Allen.

THE HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN (1970) – Elizabeth Heiss – stars in her second Frankenstein film for Hammer, the only one without Peter Cushing.  Ralph Bates is OK as the devilish Baron Frankenstein, but Darth Vader himself David Prowse plays a pretty ineffective monster.

OLD DRACULA (1974) – Ritva – awful horror comedy starring David Niven as Count Dracula, released the same year as Mel Brooks’ YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, no doubt trying to cash in on that film’s success.  Also stars fellow Hammer actress Linda Hayden and Carlson’s FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED co-star Freddie Jones.

THE GHOUL (1975) – Daphne – Mediocre horror film starring Peter Cushing as a man with a sinister secret.  Also stars John Hurt.  Carlson’s last film appearance for 19 years.

BLACK EASTER (1994) – Veronica Carlson returns to horror movies in this B movie terror tale.

FREAKSHOW (1995) – Grace Harmsworth – Carlson in another B movie, this one an anthology, also starring Leatherface himself Gunnar Hansen from THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974).  Reportedly Carlson’s segment is the best.

THE RECTORY – An as-of-yet unreleased horror movie evidently in production at present with Veronica Carlson’s name in the credits.

I was fortunate enough to meet Veronica Carlson at a horror movie convention in the late 1990s.  It was one for the ages, as it was the same convention where I met Christopher Lee, Ingrid Pitt, and Michael Ripper.

Veronica Carlson will be forever remembered for her notable performances in two of Hammer’s best shockers, DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE, and FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED.

Hopefully we’ll see her on the big screen again.

Veronica Carlson was born on September 18, 1944, in Yorkshire, England, UK.   At present she is 70 years old and living in the U.S. where she enjoys a successful painting career.

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

LEADING LADIES: HAZEL COURT

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Hazel Court as Elizabeth in THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957, as the Creature (Christopher Lee) peers down at her through the skylight.

Hazel Court as Elizabeth in THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957).  That’s Christopher Lee’s Creature peering down at her through the skylight.

LEADING LADIES:  Hazel Court

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 Hazel Court, the beautiful actress who graced many of the horror period pieces of the 1950s and 1960s.  She played Elizabeth opposite Peter Cushing’s Baron Frankenstein in THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957), and her performance as Elizabeth in this movie just might be my favorite Elizabeth performance in a Frankenstein movie, with perhaps the possible exception of Madeline Kahn’s over-the-top performance in Mel Brooks’ YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (1974).

 

Hazel Court enjoyed a long career, appearing in movies and TV shows beginning in 1944 and continuing all the way up to 1981.  She has 71 screen credits.  While I know her most from her horror movie appearances, she also appeared in a bunch of TV shows in the 1960s, appearing on such shows as TWILIGHT ZONE (1964), THE WILD WILD WEST (1966), MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (1967), MANNIX (1967), and MCMILLAN & WIFE (1972).

 

I will forever remember her for her appearance as Elizabeth in the Hammer classic THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN.  What I enjoy about her most in this movie is the class she brings to the role.  Peter Cushing is an absolute devil as Victor Frankenstein, and Court’s Elizabeth is so beautiful, charming, and genuine, it makes what Victor does to her all the more painful, as he lies to her continually and cheats on her as well.

 

Her character seemed so genuinely interested in Victor’s work, I often wonder what her reaction would have been had Victor made good on his promise to tell her the truth about his work and show her his creation.  Would she have been horrified?  Or would she have been supportive?  Judging from her character in this movie, I’d guess it would be the latter, that she, unlike Victor’s former tutor-turned-assistant Paul Krempe (Robert Urquhart) would not have been offended but would have offered her help to her husband to make his dream of creating life come true.  But alas, this doesn’t happen, as Elizabeth is nearly murdered by the Creature (Christopher Lee), and thanks to Paul’s betrayal, Victor is sent to the guillotine.

 

My favorite Hazel Court scene as Elizabeth in THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN is when she boldly decides to search Victor’s laboratory on her own, to learn for herself just what it is that has caused such a rift between Victor and Paul.  She picks up a candle—the same one that Victor would use moments later to engulf his Creature in flames— and searches the area, and when she comes to the acid vat where Victor had been disposing his body parts, she brings her hand to her nose just as the Creature looks down upon her from the rooftop skylight. She looks up and cries out, “Who’s that?”  But the Creature is no longer there.

 

Here is a partial look at Hazel Court’s career, concentrating mostly on her horror film appearances:

 

CHAMPAGNE CHARLIE (1944) – Hazel Court’s first screen appearance, an uncredited bit in this comedy musical.

 

GHOST SHIP (1952) – ghosts on the high seas!

 

DEVIL GIRL FROM MARS (1954) – Hazel Court’s not the Devil Girl, but she is terribly sexy in this campy science fiction tale about a woman alien from Mars dressed in leather who’s come to Earth to dominate men.  Court plays a fashion model named Ellen Prestwick, and she definitely looks the part.  She’s never looked sexier!

 

THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957) – plays Elizabeth to Peter Cushing’s Victor Frankenstein in Hammer Films’ first horror hit.  That’s Court’s real life daughter Sally Walsh playing the character of Elizabeth as a child.  My favorite Hazel Court performance.

 

THE MAN WHO COULD CHEAT DEATH (1959) – Janine Du Bois- reunited with THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN director Terence Fisher, screenwriter Jimmy Sangster, and star Christopher Lee in this thriller from Hammer Films.

 

BONANZA (1960) – Lady Beatrice Dunsford – guest spot on the popular TV western in the episode named “The Last Trophy.”

 

DOCTOR BLOOD’S COFFIN (1961) – Nurse Linda Parker- low budget horror movie written by director Nathan Juran, who directed such classics as 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH (1957) and THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958), both films featuring special effects by Ray Harryhausen.

 

ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS (1958-1961) – appeared in four different episodes of this popular television show.

 

THRILLER (1961) – Leonie Vicek- appeared in the episode “The Terror in Teakwood” in this horror show hosted by Boris Karloff.

 

PREMATURE BURIAL (1962) – Emily Gault – stars opposite Ray Milland in this handsome horror movie directed by Roger Corman based on the Edgar Allan Poe story.

 

THE RAVEN (1963) – Lenore Craven – gets to star with Vincent Price, Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre, and Jack Nicholson in this horror comedy by Roger Corman, loosely based on the Edgar Allan Poe poem.

 

TWILIGHT ZONE (1964) – Charlotte Scott – stars in the episode called “The Fear” in this iconic science fiction series.

 

THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH (1964) – Juliana – in danger from Vincent Price’s evil Prince Prospero in this horror movie by Roger Corman based on the Edgar Allan Poe story.

 

THE WILD WILD WEST (1965) – Elizabeth Carter – appears in the episode “The Night of the Returning Dead” directed by Richard Donner, in this western TV series starring Robert Conrad and Ross Martin.

 

MISSION:  IMPOSSIBLE (1967) – Catherine Hagar – appeared in the episode “Charity” of this spy television series starring Peter Graves.

 

MCMILLAN & WIFE (1972) – Frances Mayerling – appeared in the episode “The Face of Murder” in this mystery TV series starring Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James.

 

 

Hazel Court passed away from a heart attack on April 15, 2008 at the age of 82.

 

Hazel Court.  February 10, 1926 – April 15, 2008.

 

Thanks for reading!

 

—Michael

 

LEADING LADIES: HELEN CHANDLER

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helen chandler

Helen Chandler as Mina in DRACULA (1931), setting her hungry eyes on her fiance’s throat.

LEADING LADIES:  Helen Chandler

By Michael Arruda

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

First up, it’s Helen Chandler, who played Mina in the Bela Lugosi classic DRACULA (1931).

I have to admit, in all the years that I’d watched and re-watched DRACULA, I never really paid much attention to Helen Chandler.  Obviously, I was mesmerized by Bela Lugosi, thrilled by Dwight Frye as Renfield, and equally impressed by Edward Van Sloan as Professor Van Helsing, but the two romantic leads, David Manners as “John” Harker, and Helen Chandler as Mina, I hardly noticed at all and dismissed them as the over-acting romantic lovers so often found in those early black and white movies from the 1930s.

But one day, about ten years ago or so, I focused on Chandler and noticed for the first time just how beautiful she was, and how sad a character she made Mina in this movie.  Suddenly, I was paying attention to her in her scenes, and I was hooked.

Helen Chandler made a bunch of movies, twenty-seven to be exact, but I’ll always remember her as Mina in DRACULA.

Chandler lived a sad life.  Early in her career, she enjoyed considerable success as a stage actress, but when she tried to make the jump to the movies, things didn’t work out as well, and she never became as popular in film as she was during her years performing on the New York stage.  She did make twenty-seven movies, her final one in 1938, a comedy/romance entitled MR. BOGGS STEPS OUT.

She was married three times, with two of the marriages ending in divorce.  Her acting career was derailed by alcohol and a sleeping pill addiction, and in 1940 she was committed to a sanitarium.  In 1950, she was disfigured in a fire, apparently the result of smoking in bed.  She died on April 30, 1965 from complications from surgery to repair a bleeding ulcer.

I’ve always thought that Helen Chandler would have made a fine Daisy Buchanan in THE GREAT GATSBY.  Interestingly enough, Chandler’s life shared parallels with GATSBY author F. Scott Fitzgerald’s wife Zelda.  Both women were sent to sanitariums, Chandler for alcoholism and sleeping pill addiction, and Fitzgerald for mental health issues, and both were victims of fires while there.  In Zelda Fitzgerald’s case, the fire was fatal.  Both women died in tragic fashion.

In her early scenes in DRACULA as Mina, Helen Chandler is so full of life.  When you look deeply into her face, you’ll find an expression of playful mischief in her eyes, especially in her scenes with Lucy and at the concert hall when she is first introduced to Count Dracula.

These early scenes are juxtaposed perfectly to her later scenes after she has been bitten by Dracula.  In these, she appears distant, lost, the vibrancy and life which had been in her eyes is now gone.  She appears almost—dead.  Of course, this is spot on, since she’s on her way to being undead, and during these scenes she’s in a state somewhere in the middle. She captures the feelings of being lost, of not knowing what is happening to her, perfectly, and she slides effortlessly from lively Mina to near-undead Mina in a heartbeat.

It’s easy to overlook these subtleties in her performance because she’s playing in these over dramatic love scenes with co-star David Manners, who hams things up more than she does, so on the surface it looks like she’s just over acting, but if you pay close attention to her, you’ll find a lot more going on.

She’s much better than Mae Clarke as Elizabeth in the Boris Karloff version of FRANKENSTEIN (1931), and her performance as Mina continues to grow on me each time I watch DRACULA.  I really wish her film career had taken off and she had starred in some other major releases.  Some more horror movies would have been nice.

It’s too bad that instead of making horror movies, her life itself became a horror story and ended on such a depressing tragic note.

But by watching DRACULA we can forget all that and enjoy and appreciate a wonderful acting performance that remains with us, timeless, throughout the ages.  Sure, in DRACULA, Chandler is overshadowed by Bela Lugosi, Dwight Frye, and Edward Van Sloan, and rightly so, because all three actors are terrific in the film, but Chandler’s performance as Mina shouldn’t be overlooked.  There’s more going on there than what initially meets the eye, and in a very subtle understated way, Helen Chandler captures perfectly the character of Mina and her struggles with being under Dracula’s spell, a woman trapped halfway between living and being undead.  She does this as well if not better than the host of other actresses who have played Mina in the movies.

Next time you watch DRACULA pay particular attention to Helen Chandler as Mina, especially watch was she does with her eyes and her expressions once Dracula has mingled his blood with hers.  You’ll like what you see.

Helen Chandler.  February 1, 1906 – April 30, 1965.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael