Archive for Boris Karloff

Between the Frames

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on October 3, 2015 by dcairns


First screening for students this academic year — THE SPIRIT OF THE BEEHIVE. Seen it a few times, screened it a few times. Was mildly worried it might be too slow an opener for our fresh intake of students, but they lapped it up. Good discussion afterwards, in which I admitted I’m still finding new things in it.

(Shadowplay and I are now so old I had to check I hadn’t written about this one before. But all I found was this — and I have no memory either of writing it, or of the events described.)


The whole movie takes place because of the lacuna in James Whale’s 1931 FRANKENSTEIN created by the censor. For decades, the movie was screened without the depiction of the little girl’s death, making Boris the monster’s implied actions more inexplicable and terrible. With the restored footage, her drowning is clearly an accident, since the monster doesn’t realize that children don’t automatically float. But little Ana Torrent in SPIRIT sees the truncated print (also dubbed into Spanish, with the introduction “Well, we warned you!” revoiced as an apt but unheeded “Don’t take it too seriously,”) and, confused by the scene and by her slightly twisted older sister’s explanations (which seem to fuse Mary Shelley with a child’s version of Catholic mythology), drifts into an anxious world of fantasy.


Ana Torrent’s eyes are big black dots, like those of the mouse in DUMBO, and in their obsidian depths, what dreams may come? Monsters are brought forth.

Early on, the mother in the movie writes a letter, seemingly to a lover. When her daughter disappears, she burns another letter. On this viewing, I flashed on a  possible interpretation, again informed by Catholicism, and in this case, Graham Greene and The End of the Affair. Is the mother bargaining with God? I destroy my lover’s reply, and will be a faithful wife now, if my daughter is returned safe.


None of the students (I just typed “other students” by mistake, but I could just as well let it stand) had reached this conclusion, but I think only one of them had seen the film before, and none had an alternative interp. The beauty of Erice’s poetic and allusive style is that, while some connections (between plot points, between strands of the film’s rich imagery) seem definite, others can be pondered endlessly, as if this movie, too, had a missing scene that would make all clear.

The Sunday Intertitle: Hello, Mabel

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on August 24, 2014 by dcairns


No wonder the Goldwyn lion looks grumpy: he’s only a painting. In those days, lions were only paintings. I guess it was Mayer who fleshed him out.

Two more Mabels. Mabel Normand left Keystone for the same reason nearly everyone else left — Sennett paid badly — and for another reason, that she was tired of being on the bottom of the bill with short films while everyone else was making features and getting all the respect.


At Goldwyn, she made WHAT HAPPENED TO ROSA which is pretty funny in places but only really gets going when Mabel drags up. The romantic comedy angle suffers from a lack of any real problem to solve, and the movie fizzles out. But the “plot,” in which gullible counter-hopper Mabel is convinced she has an exotic Spanish other self, at least allows her to be exotically glam. But it’s funnier seeing her as a boy with a coal-smudged face, throwing herself all over the furniture.


Much more interesting, we thought, was THE NICKEL-HOPPER, produced by Hal Roach. Roach had the right slapstick sensibility, and Mabel excels as a taxi-dancer whose work-shy father ruins all her chances at romance, until…


There’s a great back garden chase climax on this one. It’s a weird length, 37 minutes, but it’s jam-packed with shenanigans. And the cast! In one scene we get Oliver Hardy as an exuberant jazz drummer — and it’s impressive to see one of the most distinctive movie outlines inhabited by a whole different personality, sans moustache and equally shorn of his trademark fiddliness — and Boris Karloff, playing the same kind of Not Safe In Taxis sex louse he would essay so memorably in FIVE STAR FINAL (under the name T. Vernon Isopod, which I never get tired of saying).

Just a gorilla who can’t say no

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 22, 2014 by dcairns


Look, I made it a gif! It depicts Kay Kyser being violated by a stuffed gorilla. Yes, I *am* proud of myself. Why do you ask?

YOU’LL FIND OUT (1940) is worth resenting slightly because it unites Karloff, Lugosi and Lorre but is nothing but a silly comedy with not very good comedians. Kyser tries way too hard and isn’t funny. Sidekick Ish Kabibble tries less and is almost funny. On the other hand, Kyser also stars in John Barrymore’s last film, PLAYMATES, so we should be lenient on this one. And none of the ghouls is embarrassing, in fact all get to do their accustomed stuff and do it well. They are the reason to watch.


There’s also some fun stuff with electronic voice effects, Sparky’s Magic Piano style, which play a big role in the plot. I want to use this feature to decode the film’s writing credits. Director David Butler and James Kern are credited with the story, which is nothing much — an old dark country house spookshow with Scooby Doo explanation. Kyser and his band are playing a gig at this joint, so it’s like THE GANG’S ALL HERE with ectoplasm. Butler directed a lot of “zany” films which aren’t good like HELLZAPOPPIN. He worked with Kyser and with El Brendel and Eddie Cantor and did ROAD TO MOROCCO. Jerome Kern, a former attorney and singer wrote the script itself — I guess they needed someone with an education.


But three more schmoes are credited with “special material.” Monte Brice seems like a real Pat Hobby character, a silent era hanger-on with lots of vague credits for “story construction” or “special material,” mainly in comedy. One title intrigues: the lost WC Fields version of TILLIE’S PUNCTURED ROMANCE. We can assume it’s lost because it has an IMDb review by our old friend F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre. I suspect Brice may be responsible for the more visual-comedy material, such as the ape assailant above, and maybe the film’s one real inspired gag, the dog playing fetch with a stick of dynamite. Comedy with real terror, as whenever the petrified comics hurl the high explosive away from themselves, the playful pooch brings it back.

Andrew Bennison is also credited, and also has silent movies on his CV, but mainly as a titles writer, so I expect he was writing cheesy quips for Kay and Ish.


And then there’s the mysterious R.T.M. Scott, who has no other screen credits at all. But I think I now who he is. Musician Raymond Scott worked with early electronic music. He also contributed tracks to David Butler’s earlier ALI BABA GOES TO TOWN. So I suspect he came up with the electronic vokes. I have no idea what the TM stands for though. Scott’s real name was Harry Warnow.

The guy credited for providing the film’s “Sonovox” equipment, however, is someone called Gilbert Wright, so that confuses things. But my theory is that Scott knew of the Sonovox and suggested it to Butler as a plot device. This is of no importance whatsoever. Thank you for your time.



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 631 other followers