A Thousand Faces, Thirteen Chairs, Two Gorillas and a Blind Bargain

Where were we? Ah yes, I was enumerating the films I’ve yet to see illustrated in Denis Gifford’s seminal A Pictorial History Of Horror Movies. As a kid I’d pour over these images and despair of ever seeing most of them. Now so many are within my grasp! It would have been nice to have seen more of them when I was tiny enough to be scared by them, though.

Page 56 — THE HANDS OF ORLAC. I’ve seen the classic Hollywood version, MAD LOVE, and I’ve even seen the dishwater-dull re-remake, but I’ve yet to see the Conrad Veidt original. It’s available, so I have been remiss. Must rectify.

lonch

63. A BLIND BARGAIN, with Lon Chaney (Snr) as both mad scientist and ape-man. That pretty well has to be worth seeing. NB: it no doubt is, but it’s a lost film, so I’m going to have to [a] find it, [b] make it, or [c] dream it.

64. Somehow I’ve always managed to miss the Chaney biopic MAN OF A THOUSAND FACES with James Cagney (terrible casting). I guess I’ll see it someday. The fact that I love both Chaney and Cagney explains my reluctance.

66. I’ve never seen THE MONKEY TALKS, which, perversely enough, appears to be a silent film. Never even read about it anywhere else. Gifford does dig up some obscurities.

70. THE MYSTERY OF THE MARIE CELESTE with Bela Lugosi, a very early Hammer film, is available somewhere, I think. Keen to see it, partly as reference for a horror project of my own. (Amazing what you can justify as “research”. It’s kind of like “tax deduction” in that sense.)

75. LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT has saved me the trouble of watching it by becoming a lost film, alas. But I have watched the reconstruction put together from production stills (they really documented the hell out of movies in those days. Too bad they didn’t look after the movies as well as they did the stills).

77. Was never very tempted by the Ritz Brothers, so I’ve passed THE GORILLA by, but with Lionel “Pinky” Atwill, Bela Lugosi and Joseph Calleia (Malta’s only move star?) it should be worth a look.

80. THE TERROR, 1928, is directed by Roy Del Ruth, so I’d expect snappiness, but it’s a very early talkie so it might not be quite as zippy as, say, BLESSED EVENT. Does Edward Everett Horton play the Terror? It would almost be a shame to see the film and find this isn’t so. (A lost film, but the sound discs survive.)

Opposite page, RETURN OF THE TERROR (ah-hah, it’s an Edgar Wallace adaptation!) has Mary Astor and Frank McHugh and therefore can’t, surely, be bad. Apparently it’s a 1934 remake, not a sequel at all. Same page, THE ALLIGATOR PEOPLE represents Del Ruth at the fag-end of his career. I seem to recall hearing that this movie comes with an advisory notice reassuring nervous patrons that alligator blood transfusions can’t really have the horrific effects depicted in the photoplay(basically, turning into a character out of The Banana Splits).

83. THE THIRTEENTH CHAIR. I’m on top of this one. Tod Browning, Bela Lugosi, I’m on it. THE GORILLA — a different gorilla from the Ritz Bros movie. This one is Walter Pigeon. THE MONSTER AND THE GIRL. Titles don’t come much more generic, but the cast features Calleia again, plus Paul Lukas, Onslow Stevens, Ellen Drew, all people I’d be happy to spend an evening with.

84. THE BLOOD DRINKERS. One of the more graphically gory images in the book. I remember showing the book to a younger friend, but having been instructed to “protect” her from the scarier images, I kept these pages sealed. Of course she demanded to see, and pronounced the image, “not that scary”. This Philippino vampire flick seemed impossibly exotic at the time, but it’s now easily available on DVD.

On the opposing page, THE VAMPIRE (1957) is one I still know nothing about.

92. MURDER BY THE CLOCK gets raves on the IMDb, and it’s from the terribly important year of 1931 so I’d love to see it. “You are either a genius or a killer – I find that you are both!!!”

103. Frustratingly, I can’t even remember if I’ve seen THE INVISIBLE AGENT (no puns please). I’ve seen some INVISIBLE MAN pseudo-sequels, but not all. This one’s written by Curt “idiot brother” Siodmak, so I expect hilarity.

More soon!

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28 Responses to “A Thousand Faces, Thirteen Chairs, Two Gorillas and a Blind Bargain”

  1. I saw the original Hands of Orlac by accident at the Cinematheque in Paris – we’d gone along to see Mad Love, but the print n’arrive pas so they showed this. It’s really excellent, with a particularly frenzied performance from Connie (one acting trope of his, where he seemingly attempts to cram his entire fist into his mouth, has seemingly disappeared entirely from the modern actors’ lexicon, which is a shame).

    The Man of a Thousand Faces is probably the reason I ended up doing this for a living (tv and film I mean, not pretending to be a blind Oriental hunchback). It’s really rather wonderful once you get past the initial problem that (a) Cagney doesn’t resemble Chaney in any way other than being a male human being and (b) it’s shot like a TV show (that’s exactly where the director, Joe Pevney, went – he’s all over the original Star Trek).
    The young me was astonished to discover that so much work went into the creation of movies, and seeing this movie (along with the unexplained arrival of a skipload of remaindered issues of Famous Monsters of Filmland) brought on a lifelong fascination with the fear merchants of classical Hollywood…

  2. Re The Hands of Orlac, Lotte Eisner talks about the way Conrad Veidt “dances a kind of Expressionist ballet, bending and twisting extravagantly, simultaneously drawn and repelled by the murderous dagger held by hands which do not seem to belong to him.”

    From what I have read about Connie, he seems to have become possessed by the character he was playing.

    Strange how he died from a heart attack at age 50. Perhaps it was mental/emotional exhaustion.

  3. Here’s a trailer clip from Orlac:

  4. A nice homage to Conrad Veidt here:

  5. My friend and fellow filmmaker Morag McKinnon can cram her fist into her mouth. I must try and get her to do it in a film as a Veidt tribute.

    I’m always horrified of that still of Cagney supposedly playing the phantom of the opera, and looking like a fat fool. I love Cagney and Chaney, but the conjunction is physically unacceptable. But, like the Donald O’Connor hagiobiopic of Buster Keaton, the idea exerts an unholy fascination and I must see it.

    A Veidt biopic has a certain appeal, I must say. Would the Germans pay to see it?

  6. David,
    I’ll try and see if I can get Veidt’s Orlac in your hands soon. Paul Duane, it’s funny you should mention those remaindered issues of Famous Monsters of Filmland, because that’s where my mind was going prior to your comment. I remember as a kid of ten looking at that array of back issues shown in the advertising pages of the magazine, wishing I had some way of acquiring them (as the oldest of seven kids there wasn’t always enough to go around). Yeah, monsters and monster movies were my first love, I write on my site of seeing Freund’s Mummy at the age of five, and what a vivid memory that was (and still is).

  7. That’s exactly the function Gifford’s book served for Fiona and I. I did manage to acquire a couple issues of Ackerman’s mag, in a seaside shop on a summer holiday (these holidays were otherwise periods of film-deprivation, since we had no TV in our campsite!) but regularly getting Gifford out the library allowed me to dream on unseen monsters.

  8. jason hyde Says:

    I believe that A BLIND BARGAIN is also among the lost Chaneys. I’ve also been searching for it since reading Gifford’s book and Calvin Thomas Beck’s Heroes of the Horrors, but have never come across a copy and I have a nagging feeling that I read somewhere that it was a lost film. Could be wrong.

    THE VAMPIRE is readily available on a Midnite Movies double feature with THE RETURN OF DRACULA. It’s not really that good, though. I prefer RETURN OF DRACULA, which has a nifty ‘SHADOW OF A DOUBT with Dracula in it’ vibe. And Francis Lederer.

    THE BLOOD DRINKERS is actually rather good. A bit slow at times, but visually striking with some nice theremin wailing on the soundtrack.

    I only recently got around to THE GORILLA. The Ritz Brothers had put me off of it for about 25 years, but it I ended up enjoying it more than I thought I would. Still deeply confused by the Ritzes themselves, though. They’re essentially a comedy team where all the members are more or less the same, which kind of defeats the whole purpose of a comedy team.

    I still need to see MURDER BY THE CLOCK, if ony for Irving Pichel, who looks impressively deranged in every still I’ve seen. Vintage Film Buff sells a copy of it:

    http://www.vintagefilmbuff.com/product-p/phor3.htm

    Although the box set they have of horror titles is definitely more tempting. SUPERNATURAL’s in it. Should be good quality, too. I ordered their disc of the Clive Brook SHERLOCK HOLMES a while back and was very pleased with the disc and amused by the film, which is utterly bonkers.

  9. You’re right — http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Blind_Bargain
    Another Chaney I won’t be seeing, probably (although see my piece on The Mountain Eagle for a possible solution to this conundrum).

    Wow, Brook as Holmes is an intriguing idea — substituting chin for nose, I guess. Supernatural is a good laugh, although my own copy of it is fairly lamentable.

    I enjoyed Terror is a Man (Francis Lederer) so I was hoping The Blood Drinkers would hold up — I’d heard mixed reports, but I’m more keen now.

    This is great, keep up with the handy tips, guys. I have two more quarters of the book to cover…

  10. jason hyde Says:

    Brooks’ Holmes is not bad, if a bit too prissy and upper-crust for my liking. The highlight of the film has to be when Holmes disguises himself as an old lady (voice by Elspeth Dudgeon, of course). The disguise even fools Moriarty (Ernest Torrance, who is excellent), despite the fact that it’s not in the least convincing. The other highlight is a genuinely impressive montage of grotesques at a carnival where Moriarty has his secret lair. In fact, it’s a very well-shot and atmospheric movie overall, but the story’s nuts, what with Holmes planning on getting married and becoming a chicken farmer and Moriarty importing American gangsters to blow up British pubs. Conan Doyle it definitely isn’t. Heck, it’s hardly even William Gillette.

  11. “Prissy and upper-crust” is Brook all over. When Dietrich asked what he co-star was going to be like in Shanghai Express, Sternberg reportedly told her, “He’s a chin.”

    The movie sounds kind of hilarious though, I must track it down.

  12. kevin mummery Says:

    You haven’t missed much by not seeing Man Of A Thousand Faces, David…it’s one of Cagney’s least interesting portrayals, and the only film I’ve ever seen in which Jane Greer looks unattractive. The Chaney make-ups are so far from the originals that it’s hard to believe they’re supposed to reperesent them. Jim Backus as Chaney’s agent is OK, but Robert Evans as Irving Thalberg shows us just why Evans became a producer, because he isn’t much of an actor. He gives “smarmy” a bad name in this film.

    But other than those criticisms, it’s mildy entertaining, I guess.

  13. You know, I’ve never seen Evans “act”, so that’d be kind of fascinating in itself… When he got his studio boss job, Peter Sellers supposedly said to him, “You silly cunt, you couldn’t even act the part.”

  14. Christopher Says:

    I’ve seen Man of a Thousand Faces at least a dozen times growing up(it was all over the television in the 60s and 70s)and I always thought it was pretty good for a 50’s Hollywood bio..It includes more and suprising tidbits about Chaney’s life than most bio films of the time would include about other Stars.True,Cagney dosen’t resemble Chaney,but he gives a great performance playing one of his own creations,adding subtle eye movments and facial expressions,giving you the impression of a man whos come up hiding his anger and torment over childhood taunts about him and his Parents..Its worth a look…..I agree about the The Vampire/Return of Dracula dvd..grab it for the Return of Drac movie…Lederer plays COUSIN BELLAC…Cousin Bellac comes to visit!..and you get such lines as .”Oh I hope he likes cheese sauce on his Asparagus”.and “Go up and see if Cousin Bellac would like some Pie”

  15. Hee hee! OK, got to see that one. Lederer is always worthwhile anyway.

    So much to see, so little time.

  16. Christopher Says:

    …I’d almost rather see a copy of A Blind Bargain re-surface than London After Midnight.I’ve quite overdosed from images of “London”over the years and the story is most familiar to me now thru the DVD Stills re-creation and Mark of the Vampire remake..I’m almost afraid it wouldn’t hold up for me..Music will help it immensely..I recently went thru the 3 Chaneys on the TCM Archives DVD set and I gotta stop and give praise to these Young Composers contest winners for their work on the films.THey truely added a dimension to these gems that a full orchestra or single instrument could possibly never have done..as a result the lesser of the 3 films,The Ace of Hearts,may well be my favorite.Its an unusual little story to be sure..I don’t think I’d have liked it half as much with music that merely played thru..

  17. Must get those movies. The scores sound great. Too often silent film scores add nothing but a wispy distraction, diminishing the films. I nearly always play my own musical choices, which is in a way a means of joining in with the deceased filmmaker.

    Agree re Blind Bargain, although the fact that London is a Tod Browning makes it especially appealing. Wallace Worsley doesn’t have the same cache, despite Hunchback.

  18. “Wallace Worsley doesn’t have the same cache, despite Hunchback.”

    There speaks a man who hasn’t seen The Penalty. Almost as beguilingly insane as West of Zanzibar and The Unknown, with the added attraction of an apocalyptic cult centred entirely around hat-wearing.

  19. You’re right, I haven’t, although the stills in Brownlow and Gill’s Hollywood book certainly fascinated me from an early age.

    I’m on it!

  20. Christopher Says:

    It is fun to ad your own music to a silent films(thats gotta be a great job in reality)..Its amazing how well things work out when you do..When I was a kid we used to run this old 200 ft. 8mm film of the 1939 Chas. Laughton ,Hunchback of Notre Dame with Guy Lombardo’s Ti-Pi-Tin off one of my Mom and Dads old Big Band records!…As ridiculous as it all is..it semed to work in an odd sort of way..Quasimodo,protecting his Rosita(of song)..from the angry Mob..Later I got a nice copy of Nosferatu in super 8 from blackhawk films..I used to like to run an old record I had of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor(pretty typical i know)What was good about it ,while the shocking liveliness of the Fugue in D matched Harker’s journey and encounter with the Count well,the album rather appropriately,was followed with the slower funeral like Tocatta,Adagio and Fugue in C..which matched the Counts enterance into Bremen where he spreads his disease amongst the citizens perfectly as if right on cue..

  21. Sometimes you can discover really interesting things about movies by doing this. Like, Nosferatu works well with scary music throughout. The romantic scenes at the start seem kind of funny and corny if you play romantic music, but there’s a disturbing quality to them that can really work if the music acknowledges their grotesque side.

  22. I did see “Man of a Thousand Faces” an aeon ago. While I won’t speak much for my memories of it, it *did* have a good performance by Dorothy Malone in (more or less) her “Tarnished Angels” period. Any film with both Malone and Jane Greer — even a post-*noir* Greer acting virtuous — has to be given the benefit of the doubt.

    And speaking of Greer … has anyone ’round here except for David E. seen the Cromwell-directed “Company She Keeps”? (I exceot David, ’cause one of the stars is Lizabeth Scott and I expect him to follow the Scott *oeuvre*.) Not much of a picture, but Greer’s performance is WONDERFUL.

  23. Yeah, the array of talent in Mo1KF is so impressive that even if they’re ALL misused it’d still be worth seeing. And reports make it sound as if Dorothy is in her element, looking HORRIFIED when she discovers that Chaney’s parents are, gasp, deaf!

    Haven’t seen the Lizabeth movie, but just downloaded her album. Wityh track titles like “Men”, “He is a Man”, “It’s so Nice to Have a Man Around the House” and When a Man Loves a Woman” I wonder if this recording was an attempt to prove (or disprove) something?

    Might make a suitable, if late, birthday present for Mr E if he hasn’t already got it…

  24. Re. the Lizabeth album, yes, it does sound as if something’s being overstated here. Of course, I’m sure that by your use of the word “disprove” you’re making reference to her rumored gender preference. By the way, a friend tells me that Keenan Wynn was gay, and at some point had a relationship with Peter Lawford.

  25. Wow, news to me. I’d heard Lawford was a pimp for the Kennedys, but not that he swung the other way. And K Wynn… that’s surpising. He hasn’t got the face for it, somehow.

    Lizabeth has a lovely, smoky and sultry singing voice — her rendition of “Willow Weep for Me” is very noirish.

  26. The Lawford talk puts me in mind of a line in “Fugitive Kind” which either (a) exists, or (b) is a product of my imagination. When Carol Cutrere dallies in the strore, I could swear that some of the Respectable Ladies in the background are heard to say “Degraded! Positively degraded!” Or was that in the stage version?

    In any case, it’s a useful line to remember. There’s hetero, there’s homo, and then there’s … um, *active*. [Cue for Jeanne Moreau’s line about sexuality in “La Truite.”]

  27. I can’t say for sure but it seems entirely plausible, from my memories of Fugitive Kind, that such a line could be in there.

  28. […] you can see here, here, here and here, the titles previously listed as unseen are gradually changing to blood red, […]

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