Archive for Edward Van Sloan

The Gift of Life

Posted in FILM, literature, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , on February 19, 2013 by dcairns

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Finest Christmas gift this year was the Universal Monsters Blu-Ray, which got slapped into the Maidstone player as soon as decency allowed. While Fiona was out and her brother was dozing, I previewed THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, a snoozy film but a very fine transfer, with super-saturated Technicolor seeping from every frame.

Then, in the evening, FRANKENSTEIN! Roddy enjoys this one very much, and Fiona and I are big Whale fans. I’ve owned it on VHS, DVD, and now Blu. I’m not sure I’d watched it in the last ten years, though, so it all seemed quite fresh, helped by the munificent new detail…

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Had we seen that the bouncy skeleton at the medical school has something clenched between his teeth? I don’t think so, and I’m still not sure what it is he’s got there: Fiona proposes a rubber surgical glove, I thought it might be a rolled-up piece of paper. You would need a screen as wide as Victor Buono’s ass to be sure, and we only have the James Coco model.

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We saw the little dust-clouds stirred up by Karloff’s feet as he tries to escape. We laughed hysterically at Dwight Frye’s mood swings, his tiny walking stick which makes movement more difficult, and the way he pauses to pull up one sock before hurrying to assist at the monster’s birth. We gazed in wonderment at the sheer majestic scale of John Boles’ big dull head. We marveled at the fact that Edward Van Sloan, a Dutchman from Minnesota, choose to play a German doctor with a prissy Scottish accent.

Maybe it was the new clarity of the image, or the fact that I’d forgotten the original experience of viewing the film, or my arguable greater maturity, but the emotional arc of the movie, which is all Karloff’s, though smuggled in as a subtext beneath the romantic sufferings of Colin Clive and Mae Clarke (eyes scanning fearfully in search of approaching grapefruits) , hit home with greater clarity. I had remembered the sublime reaching for the light, and the scene by the lake with the little girl, but in isolation. I also remembered that Karloff spends a lot of the time snarling in an almost feline manner. But putting the famous moments in order and experiencing them again meant seeing how the monster moves from innocence through fear to anger. And realizing that the moment when the little girl offers him a flower inspires his first ever smile brings a lump to his throat.

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Clive and Karloff stare at each other through the windmill’s central cog, and it resembles a giant wooden zoetrope: their POV’s blur into each other as the rotating timber flashes by — monster and maker become one, and mad science and cinema are conflated.

There’s also the horrible nastiness of the monster’s fate, burned to death in that windmill (he’s created in a mill too), when fire is his greatest fear. I’m glad Whale was to revive him, only slightly singed, to meet a death of his own choosing, blown to atoms. Of course Karloff played the part again, and the monster continued to lumber about after Boris kicked off his tar-spreader’s boots, but Whale’s diptych is a self-contained thing of beauty, and the characters are all finished with when he’s finished with them.

vlcsnap-2013-02-18-20h44m51s155All images come from the old DVD, I’m afraid.

Buy: Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection [Blu-ray] [1931][Region Free]

Age Cannot Wither Him (more than it already has)

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 28, 2013 by dcairns

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THE MUMMY (1932) is historically unique in being the only Universal horror movie with a main title carved out of waffles.

It’s also a really beautiful movie, and Universal’s Blu-ray does it justice. Sadly my images here are from the DVD as I don’t have Blu-ray frame-grabbing skills or technology yet. A lot has been written about the film so I can’t swear my observations are original, but here, in the interests of promoting a spectacular new box set, are my ~

TEN PLUGS OF ANCIENT EGYPT

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1) David Manners’ character name here is absurdly apt: Frank Whemple. One just can’t imagine another actor embodying that name so perfectly.

2) I love how Karloff’s magic pool shows him flashbacks of Ancient Egypt without sound — because sync sound is a new development in Hollywood, so obviously they couldn’t have had it in Ancient Egypt.

3) They’ve shamelessly cloned the plot of DRACULA, but it gets even more interesting now that the threat isn’t just foreign, but non-white. The movie becomes a struggle for the soul of the half-English, half-Egyptian Helen Grosvenor (Zita Johann). Obviously, her Aryan side has to win.

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4) Helps that Karloff is so thin — he actually has the perfect physique for this, whereas he needed padding out for FRANKENSTEIN.

5) That opening scene — “He went for a little walk” — is really a perfect horror short. It would stand alone without any trouble.

6) Karloff’s mummification scene gave me nightmares, or at any rate disturbed me deeply as a kid, watching the BBC2 Friday night horror double feature. Don’t know if I had actual nightmares, but I was too scared to sleep right away. I guess I saw DRACULA the first week but wasn’t allowed to stay up any later for FRANKENSTEIN. The second week must’ve been THE MUMMY and BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, because I didn’t see the Whale films until a few years later. In week three, though, I saw SON OF FRANKENSTEIN, and found that far more exciting than the two more languid movies I’d thus far experienced.

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7) I love Karl Freund’s theatrical lighting changes — where did he get that idea? There’s the lighting change on Karloff’s eyes which shows his hypnotic power, and there’s the mood lighting around Boris’s psychic paddling pool.

8) Zita Johann (in her Vera West costumes) is indeed alluring. She was married to John Houseman but John Huston put her through his windscreen in a drunk driving incident, and did that lead to divorce? One can picture Huston trying to explain what she was doing in his car: “I put her face through the windscreen but that’s as far as it went, honest!” (She was OK.)

9) Edward Van Sloan doesn’t seem to be doing his strange quasi-Scottish accent here. Where did a Minnesotan with a Dutch name acquire that posh Kelvinside lilt?

10) Can’t wait to watch the Jack Pierce documentary, but Fiona would kill me if I ran it without her.

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Buy this thing ~

Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection [Blu-ray] [1931][Region Free]

Headgear

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 4, 2011 by dcairns

“He’s worse with a hat on!” I declared, and Fiona agreed with me.

The subject of discussion was Regis Toomey, star of the spicy pre-code triumph UNDER 18, which we enjoyed very much. And it was a strange discovery to make. I’d thought I just didn’t much like Toomey, didn’t like his face, like that of a juvenile clown whose makeup has become grafted to his skin; didn’t like his voice, a raspy instrument more suited for frightening cats than human speech. But when I saw him sans chapeau (a rare condition for a male actor in 30s movies), I found him not without a certain vulnerable appeal. Let once a cap, fedora or helmet adorn his brow, however, and repulsion, anger and intolerance made hay with my disposition.

I mean, look at this (UNDER 18) ~

And this (SHE HAD TO SAY YES) ~

And this (THE FINGER POINTS) ~

And normally I like hats. I’ve never found an attractive one that would fit my bulbous, William-Hurt-sized head, but I like them on other people. Normally. It’s just that on Toomey, his pursed, shrunken clown face takes on a new and ghastlier hue when shaded neath the brim of an otherwise inoffensive lid, be it homburg, boater, fedora or Moorish tarboosh.

Still, that aside, Toomey is sympathetic in a difficult role in UNDER 18 (the title is an irrelevance): anybody who has to act cross with Marian Marsh is doing very well to not make the audience hate him. And she does well too — a peaches-and-cream cutie playing a naive ingenue type with big googly eyes, she could easily become punchable, but she holds the film together, aided by Warners Brothers’ typical no-nonsense approach, which hits story points hard and fast, and even manages to deliver sentimentality in a blunt manner.

Case in point: the movie begins with Marsh’s sister getting married (to future director Norman Foster, so we know there’s trouble ahead). Director Archie Mayo holds a long shot on the girls’ dad, as he slowly tears up. It’s sweet and gently funny, but it’s followed by a quick dissolve to the old guy’s gravestone, as we move into the future, the stock market crash, and marital difficulties which for the big sister which soon have Marsh questioning the viability of romance. And when a girl’s in that frame of mind, the arrival of a feckless millionaire played by Warren William is apt to represent a temptation.

WW, who gets to smirkingly emit the line he was born to say — “Why don’t you take off your clothes and stay awhile?” — is on very good form, as is Mayo, one of the less distinguished but still damn good Warners directors. Here, his attention to the bit part players is especially commendable.

“Watch your step,” says the elevator operator (Otto Hoffman) to Marian as she alights at Williams’ penthouse fuck pad. And then he drives his double entendre home with a meaningful look.

This delivery boy (name unknown) gets TWO looks, a bored/nosy/dopey one as Marian signs for her delivery, and an obsequious/lecherous one when he makes eye contact. The guy makes his mark.

The movie also finds space for sparky Claire Dodd, cadaverous Clarence Wilson, an unusually camp Edward Van Sloan, and many other attention-grabbing artistes.

And for 1931 this is a remarkably fluid piece of work, with long camera moves and expressive angles unhampered by the demanding microphone. Here, setting up Williams’ shagging palace, Mayo proves himself a regular pre-code Ozu with the three building-block establishing views he uses ~

Of all the pre-code parties, this may be the best, even if the host suffers a near-fatal injury.

For B. Kite.

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