Empties

I love empty sets. They would take these stills for continuity reasons, but, like security camera footage, they always have an atmospheric quality. A little bleak, a little scary.

You may notice that the film is called DESTINY and the director is Siodmak (Robert). And you may know that no such film exists. What they were shooting was released as SON OF DRACULA, though in fact the main character is Dracula, not his son. He has no son.

It’s fun to imagine that Dracula might be as invisible to photography as he is to mirrors and shadows. So Universal, trying to record his exploits on celluloid, ended up with footage of a lot of empty rooms. They had to get John P. Fulton to put Drac in afterwards.

Or maybe it was just that Lon Chaney Jr. was off getting drunk somewheres.

My first thought on the trivial mystery of the non-existent movie DESTINY was, Of course! Screenwriter Curt Siodmak, the idiot brother, wanted a classier title and thought he might persuade Universal that DESTINY would be boffo box-office. What a maroon!

But I have a new-found respect for Curt after reading Donovan’s Brain. So I was pleased to find another explanation, or perhaps a deepening of the mystery.

This set photo is from HOUSE OF DRACULA, a much later entry in the Universal monster series (the last, in fact, not counting ABBOT & COSTELLO). I like how the bat-signal is apparently considered part of the set.

But look! This movie is also called DESTINY, according to the slate. Though it would be amusing to imagine Curt S. still gamely trying to get an evocative, poetic title accepted by the front office years later, he had nothing to do with this film, apart from having created Lawrence Talbot, the wolf man. So it seems like Universal always shot their horror sequels under this false title, maybe to control the publicity until they were ready for it, or something? I know there are a lot of people who know WAY more about this stuff than me, so maybe they can help solve the puzzle.

I have a lot more of these, if you like them.

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9 Responses to “Empties”

  1. Charles W. Callahan Says:

    Please sir, I want some more.

  2. Your wish shall be my command whenever I get around to it!

    Meanwhile, via Facebook, Perry Shields reports:
    “This was explained years ago by Greg Mank in his excellent book IT’S ALIVE. The writers would assign a lame title to the horror films (GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN was THERE’S ALWAYS TOMORROW) so that the producers would feel like they made a real contribution by suggesting a more appropriate title.”

    Brilliant stuff. Of course, at RKO the title came first, direct from the front office, so we have Cat People and I Walked With a Zombie.

    My question is, what was going on when Douglas Sirk’s Stopover, also at Universal, was retitled There’s Always Tomorrow?

  3. bensondonald Says:

    Sam Goldwyn legend: He announces he’s going to start reading the scripts, and retires to his office with a medieval epic. He bursts out shortly thereafter demanding the screenwriter.

    Goldwyn goes on a tear about how he didn’t have a fancy college education, but he knows damn well nobody said “Yessiree” or “Nosiree” in the old days.

    The screenwriter apologizes and assures him it would be changed. He knew better than to explain the lines in the script were “Yes, Sire” and “No, Sire.”

  4. Siodmak said he would put in a couple of deliberately terrible lines so the producer would have something to object to. In FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLFMAN he claimed (falsely, I think we may assume), to have written a scene where the titular monsters are walking across a field together.
    Wolf man: You know, every full moon I turn into a wolf.
    Monster: No kiddin’!

    It is questionable whether Siodmak’s bad lines were always removed.

  5. Brian Wall Says:

    Wondering if you know Martin Arnold’s “Deanimated”–he takes Joseph H. Lewis’s “The Invisible Ghost” and digitally erases the characters over the film’s course, leaving some very evocative empty spaces. Quite wonderful!

  6. Joe Dante Says:

    Actually STOPOVER was released as ALL I DESIRE, a crappy title for a good picture that would have been better off with the original vaguely noirish title.

  7. 1) I was excited about Deanimated but ultimately disappointed — the technology just isn’t there to make it workable on a budget. It would have to be seamless to work for me.

    2) Yes, of course you’re right. Sirk does say something (in Sirk on Sirk) about There’s Always Tomorrow being “an unfinished thought” from Stopover, which may be what lodged in my back-brain.

  8. Danny Carr Says:

    “Destiny! Destiny! No escaping that for me!”

  9. Ah yes — it all connects up! (But I always heard it as “No escaping death for me!”)

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