Archive for November 23, 2010

Now Wash Your Hands

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on November 23, 2010 by dcairns

Boris Karloff, dusky-hued in BEHIND THAT CURTAIN.

Boris again, dusky-hued again, in ISLE OF THE DEAD.

It’s Boris Karloff’s birthday!

It was only last year that I learned about Boris’s Indian ancestry. It seemed to make so much sense. It accounts for the darker pigmentation around his eyes, and may even account for his stage name: by assuming a Slavic name, William Henry Pratt could account for his colouring without admitting to any non-white heritage. This was in an age when the British spoke of someone like Boris having ” a lick of the tar-brush.”

Even if his appearance were accounted for, Boris still found the only parts he could get were exotic types, and sinister westerners. Without the simple ethnic explanation, those shadowy eyes became a repository for malevolent projections. Or maybe he was just naturally scary-looking.

Still, Boris had more range than he’s credited with: see FIVE STAR FINAL, an excoriating attack on yellow press scandal sheets from Mervyn LeRoy and Warner Bros. Eddie Robinson is the editor who destroys a whole family with his muck-raking tactics, and Boris is boozy reporter and sex pest (“Don’t get in a taxi with him”) T. Vernon Isopod. He’s grotesque, yes, simpering and slurring and lisping and leering, but he manages to be hilarious until the sheer repulsiveness of his profession tips him over into monstrousness of a different kind.

Happy Birthday Boris!

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