Cliff Robertson was truly one of the last great leading men of the Studio Contract Era. One of his most notable early roles was playing a pre-White House John F. Kennedy in the wartime biopic PT 109 (pictured above). Often playing the prototypical rugged “man’s man,” Robertson broke type in 1968′s Charly. An adaptation of Daniel Keyes’ novella Flowers for Algernon, Charly tells the story of a mentally-challenged factory worker who is given the chance to become a genius by participating in a medical experiment. His sensitive and at times haunting portrayal of Charly earned Robertson an Academy Award for Best Actor. Robertson enjoyed a prolific career on television as well as in movies, and in recent years gained a new generation of fans as Uncle Ben Parker in the latest Spider-Man film franchise
The Official Blog of Krasker Film/Video Services at Boston University
Alfred Hitchcock’s very first film has surfaced at The New Zealand Film Archive. The acclaimed auteur filmed the 1923 silent melodrama The White Shadow at the tender age of 24 and the film was long thought lost. To read more about this amazing discovery, check out this BBC article.
Dame Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor, DBE
February 27, 1932 – March 23, 2011
3 February 1957 – 5 April 1994
Filmmaker Marlon Riggs life and career were sadly cut short when he died of complications from AIDS on 5 April 1994, while making the film Black Is…Black Ain’t (which thankfully was finished posthumously in Riggs’ honor by his friends and fellow filmmakers ). The film world lost a rare talent, for Riggs not only gave voice to the African American experience but to the African American gay male experience–something that is rarely discussed or even acknowledged. Truth-seeker and trailblazer, poet and provocateur, activist and educator–Riggs and the films he made are as relevant today (and sorely needed) as they were when he made them.
Riggs is widely taught at BU in African American, film and LGBTQ studies classes. Films in the Krasker Collection available for classroom use include the following:
Ethnic Notions (1987) – Riggs’ seminal work: this Emmy Award-winning documentary takes an emotionally-seering and disturbing look at the racist representations of African Americans in American popular culture. Covering everything from minstrel shows to Mammy, Ethnic Notions takes the viewer on what is both a dark and illuminating journey.
Tongues Untied (1991) – a tribute to the joy and complexity of black gay life. Using poetry, personal testimony, rap and performance, this film describes the homophobia and racism that confront black gay men. It became the center of a national controversy in 1991 when many public television stations refused to air it and later when it was excerpted by Republican presidential candidate Patrick Buchanan as part of a muck-racking television campaign.
Color Adjustment (1991) – This wonderful companion piece to Ethnic Notions turns a critical eye on how African American representation on television has evolved (and in some instances not evolved) from the 1940s, which brought Amos ‘n’ Andy from radio to television, to the early 1990s and the mega-success of The Cosby Show.
Anthem (1991, 9 min short included on the anthology DVD Boys’ Shorts: The New Queer Cinema) – an experimental music video that politicizes the homo-eroticism of African American men. With images–sensual, sexual and defiant–and words intended to provoke, Anthem was Riggs’ reassertion of the “self-evident right” to life and liberty in an era of pervasive anti-gay, anti-Black backlash and hysterical cultural repression.
No Regret (Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien, 1992) – Through music, poetry and, at times quiet, five African American gay men speak of their individual confrontations with AIDS, illuminating the difficult journey men of color throughout America make in coping with the personal and social devastation of the epidemic.
Black Is … Black Ain’t (1995) - This documentary, Riggs’ last film, weaves together the testimony of those whose complexion, class, gender, speech or sexuality has made them feel “too black” or “not black enough”. Scholars and artists, including Bill T. Jones, Essex Hemphill, Angela Davis and
bell hooks, as well as everyday people not in the public eye, movingly recall their own struggles to discover a more inclusive definition of “blackness”. Threading the film together is Riggs’ own deeply personal quest for meaning and self-affirmation as his health deteriorates.
And bear in mind, that while we have chosen to highlight Marlon Riggs during Black History Month, EVERY MONTH OF THE YEAR is a great time to explore the works and contributions of filmmakers, actors, screenwriters, composers and other technical film artists of color.
~Mary Bowen, Krasker Film/Video Services
I have always had a fascination with the chapterplays, or the “cliffhangers”, the old serials of yesteryear. Having just recently finished the 1915 French serial Les Vampires (directed by Louis Feuillade and pictured at left), I was struck by how little the formula changed over the decades when the serials were at their peak and how much their motifs are still in use today. The serials lasted well over four decades, from the silent era until the mid-1950s (for a fairly complete listing of the major serials and their years of production, see this link): List_of_film_serials
In the silent era, the most famous American serial star was Pearl White, star of THE PERILS OF PAULINE and many others. Dangling from cliffs, speeding to her doom in runaway cars or plummeting to certain death was all in a day’s work for Miss White. Forget Mary Pickford – many a red-blooded American girl (especially in the constricting society of the 1910s and ’20s) wanted to be Pearl White. Therein lied one of the major attractions of the serials: for 15 minutes each week, you could get lost in the fast-paced adventure unfolding on your local movie screen, full of brave heroes and heroines, dastardly villains and inescapable death traps … or were they? There was only one way to find out – come back next week!
So with coin in hand, you would rush back to see how Pearl (or whoever) got out of her latest scrape. It usually involved a “cheat”, a crucial piece of footage not shown at the end of the previous chapter. You would groan and shake your head, but were willing to go along with the deception (and the continuing deception) for the next twelve to fifteen chapters, because it was so fun.
Pearl was the most famous of silent heroines, but she was by no means the only one. Other notable scrappy serial stars included Helen Holmes and Ruth Roland, as well as lesser-known stars Kathlyn Williams, Mary Fuller and Norma Phillips. The silent chapterplays were heavily female oriented, coinciding with the Women’s Suffrage Movement and the first wave of feminism, but with the coming of sound and the expansion into new subjects, that would soon change.
By the 1930s, the serial cliches were firmly set in place. The basic plot went something like this: hero/heroine (plus various comic relief sidekicks and red herrings) are on the trail of a treasure/invention that can be used for the good of humanity. Enter villain (who can be posing as one of the good guys/red herrings and is often hooded/masked/disguised) who will now Stop At Nothing to get his/her (yes, there were female villains, as well) hands on said treasure/invention (usually NOT for the good of humanity). As each death trap fails to kill off our stalwart heroes, the villain tries something even MORE outlandish until the final chapter, where he/she gets their final unmasking and comeuppance (and more often than not, meeting a horrible death at the hands of one of their own death traps). What was needed now was where to draw inspiration to keep the crowds coming back for more. Hollywood, always on the lookout for the Next Big Thing, took their cue from what the public was following – in the 1930s, that was the radio thrillers, the pulp magazines and the Sunday Funnies.
Tarzan, Tailspin Tommy, The Shadow, The Spider and more Western serials than you could roll a sagebrush at regularly made their rounds in America’s movie houses of this time. It wasn’t until 1936, however, that the chapterplays really hit paydirt. Those who worked in serials knew their core audience was mainly kids – they were the return customers who sweated it out every week to see how their hero escaped immolation, decapitation or worse. It was their hard-earned dimes that kept the movies going – especially during the Great Depression, when discretionary income of ANY kind was hard to come by. The studios knew what the kids wanted and who their most beloved heroes were, and so Universal gambled (and won big time) with Alex Raymond’s FLASH GORDON.
This one had it all – spaceships, swordfights, dinosaurs, Hawkmen, Lion Men, Shark Men … and the best serial villain of them all, Ming the Merciless (played to perfection by Charles Middleton). Olympic swimming champion Larry ‘Buster’ Crabbe won the role of Flash and was forever wedded to the role. The serial was so successful, it spawned two sequels (the only serial with that distinction).
The serials thundered along into the 1940s, with every genre imaginable thrown up onto the screen. Like air battles? You could watch SKY RAIDERS, ADVENTURES OF THE FLYING CADETS, JUNIOR G-MEN OF THE AIR and more! Air travel make you sick? Prefer something at sea? There was SEA RAIDERS, THE HAUNTED HARBOR and DON WINSLOW OF THE NAVY to choose from. Keep in mind that America was now firmly embroiled in World War II, so Axis criminals abounded and saboteurs were running rampant! Ordinary heroes and superheroes had their hands full with the Nazi Menace and their cronies. From jungle adventures to spy thrillers, and from Mounties to Medieval heroes, the serials had their Golden Age during this era.
Sadly, all good things must come to an end. The children of the ’30s and ’40s had grown up, the harsh realities of a Depression and a World War had eroded a lot of the magic of the movies, and with the dawning of the 1950s, a new threat emerged – one that the serials could not survive: television. Serials were always made on a low budget; with the changing times, growing costs and fewer return customers, the writing was on the wall. The last serials were made in 1956 and then it was all over. Those who could, made the leap to television – veterans like director William Witney and John English (who co-directed my personal favorite serial, 1941′s THE ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN MARVEL) and actors like Buster Crabbe continued and flourished in the new medium. Ironically, television became the center of the rebirth of the serial, both literally and figuratively. In the early days of TV, network programmers were starved for content and took to showing a number of the old serials in their afternoon time-slots. It was a perfect match and the kids loved it: a chapter a day, Monday – Friday, with plenty of time to squeeze in the all-important commercials.
Today? Take any given night on TV and look at the listings. Some of the most popular and highly rated shows are the serialized cliff-hanger dramas, the ones with a continuing “mythology” that people follow from week to week to find out what is going to happen to their favorite characters. A perfect example was the soap opera DALLAS. On March 21st, 1980, the season ended on a cliffhanger ending – and America demanded to know, “Who shot J.R. Ewing?” It was the highest-rated television episode in TV history at that time, and other shows quickly took notice. Many serialized shows (such as 24) now regularly end their season on a cliffhanger – following an honorable tradition that stretches back 100 years.
Walter von Bosau, Krasker Film/Video Services
Today we give a shout out to all those budding scoops out there–the students in the Journalism Department! Now when reporting the news, a journalist is supposed to be like Detective Friday on the classic cop show Dragnet: you’re supposed to want “just the facts ma’am”. But here at Krasker, we have a collection of feature films set in the world of journalism that may just teach you a thing or two–and some of them will leave you rolling on the floor with laughter! But whether it’s drama or comedy, these films are sure to “hook” you in from the word go!
THE FRONT PAGE (1931) Directed by Lewis Milestone, this is the first film adaptation of the hit Broadway play about a newspaper editor and his ace reporter who battle each other while fighting civic corruption in Chicago, each in pursuit of an exclusive story with an escaped inmate from death row. The Front Page marks film favorite Pat O’Brien’s screen debut and co-stars such classic stars of stage and screen as Adolphe Menjou & Edward Everett Horton.
NOTHING SACRED (1937) The undisputed Queen of Screwball Comedy Carole Lombard shines in this tale of a small-town girl who thinks she is dying of a rare disease–by the time she discovers there’s been a misdiagnosis, she’s already been made “The Sweetheart of New York City” due to a wily reporter’s publicity stunt. Fredric March plays the newsman who falls for Lombard whilst trying to get her out of this journalistic jam. An engaging satire of the press’s power as “star maker,” Nothing Sacred features the witty direction of William Wellman.
HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940) One of the all-time great screw-ball comedies of Hollywood’s Golden Age, His Girl Friday follows an ace lady reporter and her slick city editor–who just happens to be her ex-husband–as they put their “noses for news” together in the hope of getting an unjustly condemned man off death row. Directed by Howard Hawks and showcasing the irresistible team of Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell at their sparkling best, His Girl Friday is also an inventive reworking of the famous newsie play The Front Page (The original was about two male reporters–friends only! See above.)
ACE IN THE HOLE (1951) In Billy Wilder’s classic, Kirk Douglas give a fierce performance as Chuck Tatum, an amoral newspaper reporter caught in dead-end Albuquerque who happens upon the story of a lifetime–and will do anything to ensure he gets the scoop.
THE FRONT PAGE (1974) Before you groan, “Oh no, not another remake!” let me tell you this gem has Billy Wilder directing one of the greatest comedic film duos of all time: Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau. Now, try to beat that! The stellar supporting cast includes Carol Burnett, Susan Sarandon, Vincent Gardenia and Charles Durning.
ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN (1976) Okay, now it’s time to really get serious: All the President’s Men chronicles reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s landmark investigation into the Watergate break-in and subsequent cover up by the Nixon Administration. Based on their best-selling book, this film inspired a generation of journalists and takes a riveting look at the 4th Estate’s potential roles as “muckrakers” and political power players. It’s also a darn good nail-biting mystery at times. Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman star as the famous pair of newshounds. Jason Robards co-stars. Directed by acclaimed director Alan J. Pakula.
ABSENCE OF MALICE (1981) Paul Newman and Sally Field give powerhouse performances in director Sydney Pollack’s dissection of journalistic ethics: Michael Gallagher, a legitimate business man, reads in the paper that he is the subject of a criminal investigation. Suddenly, everything he has ever worked for is in jeopardy. He confronts the author, Megan Carter (Sally Field), a relentless investigative reporter who may have been playing fast and loose with sussing out her sources. With Gallagher’s life hanging in the balance, the two potential adversaries join forces to uncover the truth.
BROADCAST NEWS (1987) Forget Morning Glory, Broadcast News was there first! James L. Brooks’s laugh-out-loud look at the personal and professional politics on a television news program still packs a punch. Featuring stellar performances by William Hurt, Holly Hunter and Albert Brooks. Keep your eyes open for a young Joan Cusack in a scene-stealing supporting role.
GOOD NIGHT AND GOOD LUCK (2005) Actor George Clooney steps behind the camera to direct this black-and-white paean to Edward R. Murrow’s brand of “morally courageous” journalism during the dark days of the McCarthy Era, depicting the controversial steps the famed newsman took to question Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s anti-Communist tactics. David Strathairn brings Murrow to bold life in a mesmerizing performance. Clooney co-stars as Fred Friendly, Murrow’s producer and confidant.
Please Note: Since this post was first published, Krasker has moved! Current BU Students, Staff and Faculty can watch films at our new facility, located at 771 Commonwealth Avenue in Mugar Library, Basement Level. Krasker is usually open for screening during regular library hours, however patrons wishing to view materials outside of 9am-5pm, M-F, are encouraged to call ahead at 617-353-8112.
Film legend Vivien Leigh was born Vivian Mary Hartley on November 5th, 1913 in Darjeeling, India, where her father served as a British Officer in the Indian Cavalry. Soon Vivian, who would later change the spelling of her name to Vivien with an “e” on the advice that it looked more feminine, found herself in her English homeland. At the tender age of six, her parents sent her alone to the UK to attend the Convent of the Sacred Heart boarding school in Roehampton. The subsequent culture shock and homesickness were understandably rough at first but it was during her years at Roehampton that her desire to be an actress became set in stone.
Later she attended the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, though for awhile it looked as though her acting ambitions would be eclipsed (and her RADA studies were suspended) by her marriage at 19 to barrister Leigh Holman (the source of her stage name “Leigh”) and the birth of a daughter, Suzanne. But the newly-christened Vivien Leigh was bound and determined to be a star and threw herself into building a successful career. Early stage victories like her sensation-producing turn in the 1935 production The Mask of Virtue caught the attention of theatre star Laurence Olivier and the rest as they say was history. Her fiery affair with Olivier and later marriage captured the imagination of audiences–they are still considered to be one of the great couples of all time–and not too long after their meeting, Leigh conquered America and the silver screen by snatching perhaps the most-coveted female role in film history: Scarlett O’Hara in 1939′s Gone with the Wind).
She would go on to give several well-received performances in film and on stage, winning Academy Awards for Gone with the Wind and her riveting performance as Blanche Dubois in the 1951 screen adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ play A Streetcar Named Desire.
Sadly, throughout her life, Leigh was plagued by both recurring tuberculosis (the disease that eventually took her life at the age of 54) and severe manic depression. In addition, her marriage to Olivier was a rocky one, and the couple divorced in 1960. In her final years, she did not make many screen appearances but her last role is an acting triumph: Mary Treadwell in 1965′s Ship of Fools.
She died on July 7th, 1967 in her home in England, due to complications from a tuberculosis relapse she suffered that spring while rehearsing for a West End production of the play A Delicate Balance. Considered one of the most beautiful actresses to ever grace stage or screen, Leigh’s skills as an actress were never quite given their due during her lifetime–despite the two Oscar wins–but since her death, it is happy to note, her talents as a performer have drawn greater recognition and praise. Dear Vivien, who left us all too soon, will always be remembered fondly in our hearts.
~By Mary Bowen, Krasker Film/Video Services
It has only been in the past year that we at Krasker began tagging titles in our catalog with the subject heading Films: Feature Foreign (Canadian/Quebecois French), but the need for such a designation is clear. Canadian cinema is fertile ground for critical analysis–a country whose home-grown talent offers up a unique perspective on the world and which is, increasingly, exploring this point of view with daring visual gusto.
Too often Canadian filmmakers have been overlooked in this country–or rather their “Canadianness” has been overlooked, as scholars and critics treat their works as a sort of extension of U.S. cinema, thereby blurring the borders that define Canadian cultural and aesthetic experience to the point of invisibility. Furthermore, when an attempt to distinguish Canadian Cinema from our own is made, Canadian film is all too often portrayed as a counterpoint to the United States experience–the quirky neighbor to the North, a pale imitation of the United States, Hollywood on a shoe-string budget in a colder climate. Adding a complicated layer to these modes of interpretation is the long-standing tradition of Hollywood, lured by financial incentives, to use Canadian locations as “stand-ins” for places in the United States. Indeed, the repackaging of Canada as the United States has been a profitable business for our northern neighbors, and an ironic detriment to the native Canadian film industry. A shrewd analysis of this practice’s effect on global and native perceptions of the Canadian cinema can be found in David L. Pike’s essay (featured in Bright Lights Film Journal) Across the Great Divide: Canadian Popular Cinema in the 21st Century.
So “What does Canada say about us?” cries the US! Often the answer is a smug confirmation of the States’ “superiority,” with portrayals of Canadians as quaint, ineffectual rubes that stand no chance of undermining the U.S.’s premium on “savvy”. One consistent Canadian response to this arrogance is to revel in self-deprecation, exploring the Canadian “inferiority complex” through the medium of comedy, a tactic that, when taken to its subversive extreme has succeeded in launching a huge cream pie in the puss of its southern cousins. At the epicenter of this rebellion is the iconoclastic comedy troupe The Kids in the Hall, whose television show which ran in the 1980s and 90s set the gold standard for Canadian rebellion–in contrast, the weak as water cuppa served up by fellow comedian Mike Myers missed the mark with its air of pandering to Hollywood’s perception of Canada as a nation with a perpetually low self-esteem.
And hence we return to the sad state of affairs that Canadian film has rarely been assessed in its own right, leaving us to ponder the question, “What is the Canadian voice, if not merely a tentative acquiescence to U.S. superiority?” Like most cinema produced outside the U.S., it has been credited with a greater cerebralness, taking stock in the hallmarks of independent cinema: less flash, more talk, more thought. Indeed, one of the seminal works of Canadian cinema, Patricia Rozema’s I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing (1987) is a film that sensitively portrays people whose lives fall outside the false glitter and glamour of the Hollywood dream factory, and has been warmly embraced as a story that rings truer than the template-driven popcorn movie. However it must not be overlooked that Rozema’s masterwork offers up a unique and daring aesthetic that helped usher in a greater emphasis on avant-garde sensory experience and it is crucial to note that one of the major attributes that increasingly distinguishes Canadian film today is the realm of the visual–as more and more filmmakers push the envelope of ocular rapture.
The visual? Ocular rapture? Canada? Again we confront the limitations people feel compelled to place on Canadian artistic expression. Yet to discover Canadian cinema as a landscape with more to offer than snowy vistas and maple leaves is to be delighted–and one such filmmakers that exemplifies this trend (and whose work can be found in the Krasker collection!) is Guy Maddin.
It is hard to describe the work of Guy Maddin…a few words and phases come to mind: a pastiche, cinematic collage gone wild, a fusion of silent era filmmaking aestethic and the contemporary, certifiably insane. Perhaps you just have to check it out for yourself and two works in our collection that Maddin is perhaps most identified with are The Saddest Music in the World (2003) and Brand Upon the Brain! (2006). The Saddest Music in the World tells the warped saga of a Winnipeg-based brewery owner Lady Port-Huntley (Isabella Rosselini), who also happens to be a double amputee covetous of a man’s glass prosthetic limbs, and her deranged search for–you guessed it!–the saddest music in the world. She launches an international contest to find this elusive musical treasure and subsequently several storylines converge as people race to Winnipeg for the contest. Maddin sets his Winnipeg in the dark days of the Great Depression, and appropriately plumbs the depths of 1920s and 1930s cinema in creating an at times overwhelming visual experience. If Joseph von Sterberg and Busby Berkeley had a child, who then proceeded to go on an acid trip and take us a long for the ride, the result would be this film.
Along the way, Maddin makes some deft observations about U.S.-Canadian relations: one of the central characters is a patriotic Canadian at odds with his American ex-pat son and visions of a drab Winnipeg are tensely juxtaposed with over-the-top Hollywood styling. Furthermore, the at-all-times surreal aesthetic constantly considers and challenges stereotypical perceptions of Canada as the United States’s “plain Jane cousin,” and in so doing, Maddin casts Canadian filmmaking (and Canadian filmmakers) in the role of aggressor–assaulting the viewer with a visual feast that makes the usual U.S. fare taste bland in comparison.
Brand Upon the Brain! likewise provides a stunning visual experience, but whereas The Saddest Music in the World also revels in the aural Brand goes in the very opposite direction: it’s a silent film. Intriguingly, it is a film about Guy Maddin…or at least a version of Guy Maddin. In Brand we follow a young Guy as he wiles away his days on a strange island he will one day inherit. Mystery and odd characters abound, naturally, and the viewer can’t help but wonder what is Maddin trying to say about himself and his art? The silent film device begs a connection between the Canadian artist and a “silencing” of Canadian culture in general; the silence of Guy’s world makes the viewer ever-presently aware of it. At a time when sound film is the norm, the realm of the quiet grabs our attention as much as the silent screams of the bold cinematography and production design make us cock our heads to listen. It is worth noting that the original film did not have a recorded sountrack and upon initial screenings boasted live accompianment and foley artists for the production of sound effects–creating further distance between the Maddin’s Canada captured on screen and the ability to create a sound, a voice if you will, that people will pay attention to. A musical score was added later, however, and is provided on the Criterion DVD release available in the Krasker collection.
~By Mary Bowen, Krasker Film/Video Services
Ah, the month of October! Summer is gone and there’s a brisk nip in the air giving you fair warning that Winter will soon be upon us – but before it arrives, we have Fall. That in-between time, too warm for Winter yet too cold for Summer, a time of changes, both seasonal and personal. The light clothes are put away and the sweaters come out. The nights get darker earlier and the houses are decorated – with every sort of ghoul and goblin imaginable. Why? Because Fall is also the time for Halloween. Forget Christmas – many a child will tell you that Halloween is REALLY their favorite holiday, that one special night they get to stay up late, get dressed in a costume and go door-to-door trick-or-treating for candy. I still recall a year I went out with my son and he went non-stop for three hours! It’s also the season to revisit old friends and family … but not the kind you’d invite to dinner.
While Thanksgiving is the traditional family reunion time, I’ve always looked at Halloween as a time to revisit the cinematic aunts and uncles who made me the unabashed horror fan I am today. It’s a tradition I passed on to my son when he was young, and one I hope he continues. If you’re looking for something spooky to show to the young and/or timid of heart, may I recommend the Universal Studios Classic Monster Collection. An eight disc DVD boxed set, it’s a crash course in monster-dom; specifically the Old School monsters of Universal Studios.
Are you a Twi-hard? Love the vamps of TRUE BLOOD or THE VAMPIRE DIARIES? Then check out their great-granddaddy Bela Lugosi in DRACULA (1931, 75 minutes). Originally released on Valentine’s Day in 1931, it was advertised as “the story of the strangest passion the world has ever known!” Director Tod Browning was no stranger to vampires, having directed Lon Chaney in the (long lost) LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT in 1927. Sadly, seen today, his DRACULA is no better than a curiosity, almost filmed as if it were a stage play, with very little camera movement to bring it to life (as it were). That’s where the joy of the Special Edition DVD kicks in: on the same disc is the SPANISH edition of the film, shot on the same sets with a different cast and director (George Melford), and with a creeping feeling of terror the Lugosi version never masters. They are both eerie in their own ways, and make for a fascinating night of side-by-side comparisons.
Vampires leave you cold? How about something a little more … stitched-up? Then you need to check out director James Whale’s one-two punch of FRANKENSTEIN (1931, 71 min.) and BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935, 75 min.) – both with the gifted Boris Karloff. He was indelibly linked to the Frankenstein Monster his entire career, calling the character “my old friend”, and had an amazing gift for pathos under the heavy makeup and pounds of costuming. Even today, you still feel the creature’s plight, thrust into situations not of his making, wanting only love and companionship and shunned and attacked on all sides. If possible, see these with a young horror fan, who is just seeing them for the first time – it’s a revelation what the kids come up with. Karloff said many times that when children wrote him fan mail, they always understood and sympathized with his portrayal of the creature, and felt bad for him. BRIDE is a Hollywood rarity: a sequel better than the original. Both Karloff and Whale were familiar with and more assured in their roles, and it shows. The addition of Elsa Lanchester as the titular Bride, with her electric hairdo, remains a stunner today.
If vampires and monsters are STILL too much for your timid audience, then start them out with 1933′s THE INVISIBLE MAN (71 min.) – another James Whale film, this time with Claude Rains in the (unseen) titular role, with ground-breaking special effects by John P. Fulton. Of all the films so far discussed, this one was closest to it’s original source, the novel by H. G. Wells. DRACULA, although based on Bram Stoker’s novel, more resembles the stage play by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston, while FRANKENSTEIN and BRIDE were a mish-mash from all over, taking bits of Mary Shelley’s original novel and spreading it out over two films, along with play adaptations and original bits from Whale himself. THE INVISIBLE MAN sticks very closely to the novel, and thrilled audiences of the time, especially with Rains’ dramatic unveiling of … nothing … underneath his bandages, before going on his crime spree.
We now turn to my personal favorite in the collection, 1932′s THE MUMMY (74 minutes). Another masterful performance by Boris Karloff under the brilliant (and daunting) makeup of Jack Pierce, THE MUMMY still brings chills today. I have written about the film before in greater detail, so rather than rehash it again, may I direct you here: mummy-january-1992.html.
For those of you who prefer monsters of the more hirsute variety, there’s the 1941 production of THE WOLFMAN (70 minutes). Lon Chaney, Jr. portrayed the cursed Lawrence Talbot for the first time in this film which, like Karloff’s Frankenstein Monster, would become his signature character. Bitten by a werewolf at a gypsy camp (Bela Lugosi), Talbot is now eternally cursed with the affliction of lycanthropy and all it entails. His father, Sir John Talbot (Claude Rains), believes none of this, eventually killing his own son with his silver-headed cane … until the next sequel. Of all the films in this set, I think this one has the most quotable lines (courtesy of writer Curt Siodmak), such as my favorite, “Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright.” The film still holds up well today and was the basis of a criminally ignored remake in 2010 starrring Benicio Del Toro in the Lawrence Talbot role.
The weakest link in the set is provided by 1943′s PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (93 minutes). Supposedly a remake of the 1925 Lon Chaney version, this Technicolor extravaganza forgets who the story is supposed to be about, concentrating more on the opera performers (Nelson Eddy and Susanna Foster) than the Phantom himself (Claude Rains) – ironically, by shifting the mood away from horror to romance, it predates the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical version, which was one of his most enduring successes. The film is still worth seeing, but you would be better served tracking down the original silent Chaney version to see the story done properly.
The collection ends with Universal’s last great original monster: THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954, 79 minutes). I still have fond feelings for this old chestnut, as it was the first film I saw in 3-D (at a re-release showing). I was so taken by it I ran a 3-D double feature of it and IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE one weekend at my college, and those silly glasses were popping up all over campus for months afterwards! Sadly, the version here is not in 3-D, but the film holds up well in whatever dimension you view it in. The tale of scientists who come across a missing link ‘Gill Man’ deep in the Amazon and his fascination with the woman aboard the expedition (Julia Adams), it’s the deepest (no pun intended) themed film here. A lot has been written and seen in this film that I’m not sure director Jack Arnold ever intended: themes of conservation vs. destruction of native environments, of erotic interspecies romance, etc. Sometimes a monster movie is just a monster movie, I say! It is another title that holds up as well today as when it was first made, and is another favorite of mine – I have a stuffed Creature behind me in my office as I type this, so I have to watch what I say!
Finally, if you have any interest in or love for the old Universal Horrors as I do, it would be remiss of me to end this article without mentioning a book from 2009, Michael Mallory’s Universal Studios Monsters: A legacy of Horror. Filled with stories and anecdotes about the films mentioned above and more, by the people who made them, this is an AMAZING oversized book, crammed with detail and behind-the-scenes photos, many of which I’ve never seen published before. It’s a perfect complement to the DVD set for the horror fan in your life.
So when the pumpkins have all been carved and the trick-or-treaters have all been served, sit down and turn off the lights and get to know your Halloween family all over again – you’ll be glad you did.
Walter von Bosau, Krasker Film/Video Services
Well, perhaps “resurrection” is just a dash hyperbolic. Nevertheless we are here to announce our faithful bloggers are back in action after a sizable hiatus. Over the last two months Krasker has been abuzz with cataloging new films, getting acquainted with new professors and booking new film orders for the fall semester…now with the semester well under way we find ourselves exhausted but ready to stretch those ol’ phalanges at our keyboards once again to entertain, inform and impress you with our cinephilic ardor & know-how. So as the Halloween season approaches, get out your torches and pitch forks peasants–the monster is once more on the loose!