Friday, October 17, 2008

Beautiful Monsters


I love Universal horror movies of the early thirties. Absolutely love them. And my wife and I (who also loves them - and me) have passed that love on to the youngest in our family, my wife's daughter of seven, who adores The Bride of Frankenstein. She loves horror and mystery overall but her favorites are The Bride and Margaret Rutherford's Miss Marple movies from the sixties. My God, I must've seen each one of those ten times by now, in their entirety or just in parts here and there. The youngest wishes they had made more than four, and given how much I love Margeret Rutherford myself, despite the mediocrity of the films, I wish they had made more too. But Universal did make more horror movies, one after another, in the thirties and forties, and it was their early forays into the genre that have become personal favorites over the years.

Even though I don't particularly care for the play version of Bram Stoker's Dracula, which the 1931 movie was based on, and Tod Browning's static direction leaves much to be desired, I do love Bela Lugosi in the lead. It gives me great pleasure to watch him in those early scenes in the castle with Renfield, played by the wonderfully over the top Dwight Frye. And I enjoy his famous scene with Van Helsing later ("For one who has not lived even a single lifetime, you're a wise man, Van Helsing."). The movie's a bit on the creaky side but still a pleasure to sit down to and watch Lugosi work his magic.

Then there's James Whale. Now that man could direct. His movies are beautiful to behold and the two Frankenstein films for which he is most famous are masterpieces of Gothic mood and design. His camera flows through the landscape and settles itself into perfectly framed paintings of light and shadow. I could watch them over and over and have, especially The Bride of Frankenstein if only because the youngest won't let me avoid it. But he also did The Old Dark House, another personal favorite to be written up a little later this month, and The Invisible Man, a movie of a madman scientist played by Claude Rains that stands as one of my favorite movies ever.

Then there's Boris Karloff, one of the great English actors, who should have several Oscar nominations listed on his bio but does not. Richard Dix received a nomination for Cimarron in the same year that Frankenstein was eligible, and it's unfortunate that the voting members of the Academy couldn't recognize how masterly Karloff was in his portrayal of the monster, and how ham-fisted Dix was in Cimarron. But playing a murmuring monster wasn't something the Academy was ready to notice. Karloff was magnificent as the monster but also terrific in his portrayal of Ardath Bey in The Mummy, directed by Karl Freund, in 1932. The Mummy is another personal favorite of mine that I watch every October.

Finally, there is Elsa Lanchester, responsible for so many wonderful and eccentric performances in the movies for decades (my personal favorite of hers is in The Big Clock) but forever branded onto the minds of the movie going public as the re-animated, iconic Bride. Her performance occupies but minutes of screen time and yet I can't imagine anyone else ever properly tackling the role like she did. In just a few minutes she covers an amazing array of facial expressions that convey fear, disgust, confusion and even satisfaction as in those last moments when the monster decides everyone but the good doctor Frankenstein and his wife will die and Elsa gives a delightfully and demonically satisfied sneer.

In tribute to those early Universal favorites, here is a short and sweet montage of Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff and Elsa Lanchester in their four most famous roles (Dracula, the monster, the bride of the monster and Ardath Bey/Im-ho-tep). This is the last montage until the Kill Fest finale on the 31st. Enjoy.



video

Available on YouTube here.

56 comments:

Sh! The Arbopus said...

When I was courting Mrs. Arbogast towards the end of the last century, I took her to a double feature of The Invisible Man and The Mummy, the latter of which she stated was "so romantic." And they are, even if the romance is a little weird by conventional standards. (I also took the future Mrs. A to a museum screening of the original King Kong - she knew what she was in for.)

Beautiful Creatures really gets the uncanny attraction of these creations, who are at once instantly recognizable as actors and inseparable from the "monsters" they played. Whatever faults one might find with Tod Browning's Dracula, Lugosi is a force of nature as The Count and that's doubly true for Karloff as The Monster and Lanchester as his Bride. You just can't take your eyes off them. They are literally amazing, incredible, unforgettable.

Sh! The Arbopus said...

And I want that banner on a tee shirt!

Dr. Pretorius Lapper said...

Arbo, I don't know if the original actors, directors and make-up artists like Jack Pierce would be insulted or complimented that I find them beautiful to behold and take great comfort in watching them on the screen. And The Mummy is romantic in an unconventional way.

I'm always amazed at how much haunting atmosphere the directors of the time were able to infuse into these movies made at the studio on assembly line created sets. For instance, in Dracula that entire opening quarter, from Renfield arriving in town and heading to the Borgo Pass and finally at the castle - it feels real, like you're really there. I think Browning did a fine job with this part of the film and then was possibly bored with the later London section. I would've loved to have seen what Whale could've done with it.

And I'll start silk screening those tee shirts for the Cinema Styles store's Grand Opening in the Spring. Glad you like it.

bill r. said...

Nice job, Jonathan. I loved the "eyes" sequence.

I've long been playing with a theory that a person can be defined by which group of horror films they prefer: Universal, Val Lewton, or Hammer. I think there's probably truth to that, but I haven't been able to figure out what any of it might say about a person. This is an important element to my theory.

Dr. Pretorius Lapper said...

But I love all three. True, Universal was my first love, but I love the others too, as well as the Gothic works of Roger Corman like Tales of Terror and The Raven which kind of fit in with the other three as well.

I'm assuming loving the Universal classics says about a person that they are highly intelligent, charming, handsome and witty.

Dr. Pretorius Lapper said...

And I love the eyes scenes as well. From the monster, to Bey, to the mummy, to the Bride resembling the mummy. Those images make me feel good.

bill r. said...

You don't have to hate the other two in order for it to work, you just have to have a preference. My own preference is for Lewton. Again, I don't know what that means, but I feel confident that it means, in some general sense, that I'm "better" than you.

Dr. Pretorius Lapper said...

If by "better" you mean "not as intelligent" then I must agree. I am more intelligent than you. A wise observation on your part. For someone who has not lived even a ... you know the rest.

bill r. said...

I was going to yell at you and call you names for that insult, but then I remembered that you're not feeling well today, and had a scary afternoon yesterday. So now I can't.

Well played, Professor Lapper. Well played indeed...

Dr. Pretorius Lapper said...

I was hoping you would so I could play the martyr and lay a guilt trip on you. Dammit! You play the game well Bill.

By the way, no pun intended considering the subject matter of this post, but this place is dead today. To quote Charlton Heston from the opening scene of Planet of the Apes, "I feel... lonely." Of course weekends always suck for blogging. People do weird things like hang out with loved ones and stuff.

bill r. said...

But it's Friday. This place should still be hopping. Maybe everyone thinks you're completely laid up. You should get on the horn and tell everyone you're open for business.

Fox said...

By the way, no pun intended considering the subject matter of this post, but this place is dead today.

...

But it's Friday. This place should still be hopping.

This may surprise y'all but I've been so flooded at work today that I've been unable to check on my comfort blogs.

Plus, Marilyn and I have been putting together a GET WELL party for Lapper and it's taking up a lot of our time. (It's harder to get Peter Bogdonavich on the phone than you'd think!!!)

Countess Frye said...

My favorite thing about Todd Browning's Dracula is Dwight Fry. As a matter of fact, Dwight Frye is one of my favorite things about Universal monster movies in general.

Frye is always amazing in any role and so fun to watch in everything he did. He was also incredibly cute in my humble opinion but I have strange tastes when it comes to men (...looking lovingly at my Dwight Frye Sideshow doll as I type this...).

Sh! The Arbopus said...

I have strange tastes when it comes to men

Me, too. (Sneaks a peak at his Frankenstein Monster bobblehead.)

bill r. said...

Countess, is Sideshow the same company that put out those "Nosferatu" and "Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" figures? I have the "Nosferatu" one, and I'd like to pick up some of the others. They is cool.

Dr. Pretorius Lapper said...

I have strange tastes when it comes to men

Me, too. (looks lovingly in mirror, kept around neck at all times)

Countess, I love Dwight Frye too. The sheer mania he brings to the enslaved Renfield is mesmerizing to watch.

Sh! The Arbopus said...

I would think you'd prefer to look at yourself in two mirrors so that you shouldn't have to suffer seeing your great beauty backwards.

Dr. Pretorius Lapper said...

Fox, glad you could make it. Peter and I had a falling out last year so that's probably why he's not returning your calls. Tell him it's for Bill and he'll probably answer. It's a deceptive way to get a hold of him but he and I should make up anyway. I feel bad now for calling him Welles' lapdog.

Dr. Pretorius Lapper said...

Arbopus, a capital idea! I shall devise a two mirror contraption this very minute!

Dr. Pretorius Lapper said...

Bill, Countess - I want some of those too! Now, I'm jealous.

bill r. said...

Arbopus, a capital idea! I shall devise a two mirror contraption this very minute!

You're tampering in God's domain again, Jonathan. We're all God's madmen, you know. And so on.

Dr. Pretorius Lapper said...

Wow, that comment published like 10 times!

bill r. said...

What in the world just happened? Who did that? Jonathan, is this because of all your God's-domain-tampering??

Dr. Pretorius Lapper said...

Yeah, Bill that was me. I used my old blogger log in, cfk41, which are the initials of Charles Foster Kane and the 41 standing for 1941 when it was released. I haven't used that login in like a year so I have no idea why I chose to use it just now. So then I saw it and thought, "Oh let me delete that and start again" and then, holy shit! It appeared like seven or eight times.

I shall stop doing God's work at once!

Fox said...

Jesus Bill! How many comments are you gonna delete at one time???

Jonathan-

Nothing is funnier to me than the footage of John Ford telling Bogdanovich how stupid his questions are in Directed By John Ford.

bill r. said...

No no, you're not "doing God's work", you're "tampering in God's domain". Those are two completely different thing.

Dr. Pretorius Lapper said...

Oh well in that case...

Back to doing God's work!

Dr. Pretorius Lapper said...

Fox, I don't recall that. Was that in the Ford documentary done in 1970 or so? I saw it, but don't remember that.

Fox said...

Yeah... I don't remember the exact words, but Bogdanovich asks Ford something like (paraphrasing):

"Do you agree that The Searchers is about the death of the romantic western and that Ethan represents..." and Ford just says "no." Then the questions continue, and Ford kinda looks around and says something like "what is this sh*t?!?!?!".

Dr. Pretorius Lapper said...

TCM showed the documentary last year and it was great. Now I more recall what you're talking about. I was thinking it was more of a direct takedown but yeah, I remember Ford's perfectly staccato answers.

Fox said...

If they were still alive, can you imagine the looks someone like Ford or Hawks would give someone if they were asked to do commentary for one of their movies for a DVD??

Dr. Pretorius Lapper said...

"commentary!" they'd say, "the goddamn movies speak for themselves!"

And they'd be right.

Fox said...

btw... when we do our The Exorcist remake, I would appreciate it if everyone comes back for a group commentary track. I expect Bill will dominate.

Dr. Pretorius Lapper said...

Marilyn will put him in his place don't worry.

The Man with the Arbogast Eyes said...

I can't be dominated. You'll have to kill me outright.

Dr. Pretorius Lapper said...

Perhaps a Rick Olsen/Arbogast Death Match is in order after all.

Fox said...

I think Olsen is still mad at The 'Gast for calling him a "palindrome head", so he might be very well be ready for a battle.

mouseonmoon said...

excellent clips, as always.

Remember, Bela was first offered the role of the Frankenstein Monster -he didn't like the 'speaking parts' lol - of course he later played the role -and did a fine Igor.
Dwight Frye- spooky guy -love all of 'em ...even the campy later Universal monster mash ups -
Carradine's great as Dracular -House of Dracular and House of Frankenstein, and the Daughter and Son are fun views- wild music

best

The Man with the Arbogast Eyes said...

Carradine's great as Dracular

Are you saying "Dracular" ironically? That's how people in my hometown would pronounce it.

The Man with the Arbogast Eyes said...

I think Olsen is still mad at The 'Gast for calling him a "palindrome head"

Ha! When I'm done with that fool, he won't know whether he's coming or going!

Brian Doan said...

J-La,
Several things:

1) I was very busy yesterday, and only now read about your health scare yesterday. I'm so sorry to hear about that, and I hope you are doing better. Pretty nice of those Sox to pull out a win and cheer you up, eh?

2) Thanks for posting that old school Universal logo, which I adore. I sometimes think I like watching thirties and forties films as much for their company logos as for the films themselves (nothing in Citizen Kane looks quite as cool as that RKO tower).

3) Cimmaron is far scarier than any other movie you are blogging about. My god, what a wretched piece of crap that movie is.

4) Have you seen Spirit of the Beehive? It's a very cool Spanish film from 1973 or so, and it involves the Karloff Frankenstein and a touring movie show that turns up in a small Spanish town around the time of the Spanish Civil War. I won't say more than that, but I think you'd like it a lot.

Dr. Pretorius Lapper said...

Brian, thanks. I love the old logos too, and the credits. The opening credits for My Man Godfrey being among my favorites because it used miniatures.

And I've never seen Spirit of the Beehive but that description sure is intriguing.

And oh yeah, Cimarron sucks. Hard.

The Man with the Arbogast Eyes said...

Another vote for Spirit of the Beehive. The child actress grew up to star in the decent snuff horror film Tesis, which was directed by the guy who went on to do The Others, a good old fashioned (style) horror movie from 2001.

And why does Lapper get all the sympathy for his whatever-it-was? I almost expired from auto-erotic asphyxiation yesterday, coming close to falling and cracking my skull on the genuine ivory chest in which I store my child pornography, and nobody gives me any sympathy.

Dr. Pretorius Lapper said...

Um... yeah... uh, sorry about that.

Uh... so anyway... um... glad you're doing better.

Rick Olson said...

Yet another vote for Spirit of the Beehive ... I thought it was marvelously and effectively creepy.

Why does Fox think I'm mad all the time? Why do people spell my name with an 'e' instead of a second "o"?

Does a palindrome have anything to do with a pork-barreled airport in Alaska?

Questions, questions ...

And Jonathan: I hope it's nothing terribly serious with your leg.

Rick Olson said...

One more thing: you have a gift for montage. Well done.

Legend of Hellhaus said...

Back in the very early Sixties, a local television channel showed The Mummy every day for a week. I saw it three or four times.

As for Dracula, I have the DVD in part because of the Philip Glass soundtrack, and also because I think the girls in the Mexican version are cuter.

Another vote for Spirit of the Beehive. and if you haven't seen it, Gods and Monsters.

Countess Veidt said...

Bill - I think Sidehsow did make Nosferatu figures but I don't know about the Caligari figures (I would LOVE a Conrad Veidt doll myelf. He's another one of my favorite actors along with Dwight Frye). I only have a couple of the Frankenstein related figures Sideshow made (the Monster, Fritz and the Bride) but I love them! I'm a bit Frankie obsessed.

And 'll also toss in another good word for Spirit of the Beehive. I wrote a little bit about the movie over at Cinebeats last year.

mouseonmoon said...

= the man with the arbogast eyes said...
Carradine's great as Dracular

Are you saying "Dracular" ironically? That's how people in my hometown would pronounce it. =

was thinking of Bela actually,ha!
(then again, that is the way i pronounce Dracula !
and speakiing of 'speakiing parts' ...
Carradine was known as "The Bard of the Boula-vard"

wrote a song about this (on "Invisible Man...Returns" >The Invisible Man needs a good voice ..." He would have been excellent as IM.

(is that Carrdene or Carradine ? Basel or Basil ?Atwill or Atwell ?)

great blog here > never heard of the 'Bee Spirit'

( going on the road awhile shortly, best to all at the movies!

Dr. Pretorius Lapper said...

Thanks Rick, I love putting montages together. And I'm feeling much better now, thanks.

Dr. Pretorius Lapper said...

Peter, I never really like Glass' score for that, although that was one of the reasons I bought it, to hear it. But it just doesn't work for me. Usually, I play it with the score off. But I do like the Spanish version, even though it runs a little long.

And yes I've seen Gods and Monsters but Spirit of the Beehive sounds like a must see at this point. Some highly respected writers are recommending it to me. It must be queued and now!

Dr. Pretorius Lapper said...

Countess, it's definitely decided: Brian, Arbo, Peter, and now you all recommending a movie cannot be ignored.

bill r. said...

I've seen it, too, but my final opinion of it is still unformed, until a second viewing. It's definitely interesting, though.

Jonathan Lappaccini said...

Well that makes five. I will be the final judge.

shahn said...

I really enjoyed your montage. Great editing!

Jonathan Lapper said...

Thank you Shahn, I appreciate that. I love these characters and enjoyed every moment of putting this together.