Archive for Boris Karloff

Maids and Monsters

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , on April 21, 2018 by dcairns

Ernest Thesiger’s Dr. Pretorius (OS) tempts Boris Karloff’s monster with a bottle of House of Lords Scotch Whisky in THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN. I mean, why waste good gin? I guess the publicity slogan for that beverage would have to be “Gets you drunk as a lord.” Although I actually like the House of Lords this week because they’re fucking with Brexit. The Brexiteers are outraged, a lot of people belatedly noticing that we have this antiquated branch of government and it isn’t democratic. Well, I guess that’s it’s purpose, to be undemocratic, to stop democracy propelling us off cliffs. I rather doubt it’s the best way of doing this, but the paralysis it produces, as with America’s three-branch system, CAN be a cause for gratitude sometimes.

Other things noticed in BRIDE: the movie is famously disrespectful to its original, recasting Elizabeth from an American blonde to a brunette English teenager, and dropping the stupid old Baron with the unsightly thing on his neck without explanation. Actor Frederick Kerr had died in the interim from causes unconnected with his unsightly neck-thing, and Pretorius congratulates Henry on having inherited the title, but the absence goes otherwise unremarked. One of my students suggested that at the end of the first film, where he’s drinking a toast to the house of Frankenstein, and all the maids are giggling — they’ve poisoned his champagne.

 

All the pretty, giggling maids have disappeared by the sequel too — replaced by screeching harridan Una O’Connor. Looks like Elizabeth has taken over running the household already…

 

But, despite playing fast and loose with what we would call “series continuity,” the sequel has one delicious call-back I hadn’t noticed before: once the monster learns to speak, his first words to his creator are a very emphatic “SIT – DOWN!” with a downward wave of the hands. Well, in FRANKENSTEIN, the first words we hear Henry speak to his creation are “Come in,” but the second are “Sit down,” with the exact same gesture. The monster is very purposely letting Henry know that the giant tar-spreader’s shoe is on the other foot now.

Another big-screen discovery: the monster’s decision to let Henry live at the end comes out of left field, a change of character seemingly unmotivated by anything. But it was not always thus: as Henry runs off into the night with Elizabeth, he can still be seen in the exploding lab, a startling feat of bilocation ~

(Pretorius and the Bride are on the right in white, the monster is scarcely visible between the two electrical towers, but Henry is vividly pressed against a wall screen left, about to be crushed along with everyone else by the falling roof.)

Henry is one lucky fellow — reanimated after a fatal fall in the first film, re-re-animated under slightly different circumstances in the second, and then saved from exploding by a last-minute reshoot. Universal appear to have been convinced their audience wanted Frankenstein to live. I’m not sure they were right (and I’m sure the crowd would have cheered if Karloff had found time to throttle Una O’Connor). Possibly a third film was already anticipated, for which a mad scientist would be required. Sadly, Colin Clive would have passed away by the time that happened, leaving his character to die as his father had done, vanishing between films, through a crack in the continuity.

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The Monster Talks!

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on April 22, 2017 by dcairns

Jack Pierce from David Cairns on Vimeo.

A find! From S. Sylvan Simon’s 1937 short subject, HOLLYWOOD SCREEN TEST, a glimpse of makeup maestro Jack Pierce at work. I’d seen photos, I think maybe I’d seen moving picture film of Pierce (Boris Karloff makeup test? The green one?) But I’d never heard him talk.

Delightful to see that Pierce’s character, as presented here anyway, is just what I’d heard — you might say “irascible.”

The Man Without Bogart’s Face

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 1, 2016 by dcairns

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Welcome to Shadowplay, the daily blog about DARK PASSAGE.

Looking at part two of DARK PASSAGE, where it all kind of goes to shit. And where Bogart actually HAS Bogart’s face, having acquired it via plastic surgery performed by seedy rhinoplasterer Housely Stevens. Would you buy a used face from this man?

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“Change it back, doc, change it back!”

Spoilers from the start.

The more the movie deals with who killed Bogie’s wife, the less compelling it becomes, and not just because his real wife, Lauren Bacall, is standing right in front of us, very much alive. It’s because this is all backstory, dealing with someone we never met, and it’s of interest to us only if it can solve the true plot problem, Bogie’s being wanted by the law for a crime which, it so happens, he didn’t commit. The movie seems to totally misunderstand our requirements of it: it thinks that as long as we find out whodunnit and the guilty party is somehow punished, we’ll be satisfied. But while that kind of closure + justice is important, what the movie has set up as its dramatic problem is Bogart being a wanted man. And at the end of the movie he HASN’T cleared his name, he never will, but he gets to retire to Peru with Betty Bacall. It feels somehow unsatisfying. Maybe also because the film’s version of San Francisco was maybe one-fifth actual location footage, and Peru is a special effects and studio fantasia. It’s like ending the film in a dream sequence.

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But this floundering second half is kind of fascinating in the abstract, even if it’s not dramatically engaging. One weird thing is the way Bogart keeps presiding over fatal accidents. He basically shoves Clifton Young off a cliff — very good, grim shot of Young lying crumpled at the bottom. It suits him. At this point it’s going to be impossible for him to clear his name, and he IS somewhat guilty and so the movie’s prospects are derailed. And then Agnes Moorehead somehow auto-defenestrates, without meaning to, though given her dialogue before the fact and the typically frenzied manner she brings to her confrontation with Bogie, it would have made more sense as a strategic suicide. Instead, it feels like Bogie WILLED her through the skyscraper window, even though he needs her alive. It reminds me a bit of the abrupt climax of AMERICAN GIGOLO, where at least Richard Gere gets to grab the plummeting man’s legs and TRY to stop his death-plunge (again, he needs the defenestratee to clear his name).

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But a bigger similarity is with THE WALKING DEAD, in which Boris Karloff plays a Bogie-like gangster raised from the beyond who goes seeking revenge on his killers. Strangely, Karloff never lays a finger on his enemies, he just slow-walks them to their doom, backing off the edge of railway platforms and under approaching trains, etc. It’s as if he’s come back from the dead but he’s brought death with him, as an ally or as a sort of miasma that surrounds him, focussing in on those whom he directs his malevolent glare towards.

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It’s like Oscar Wilde wrote: “Karloff does it with a look, Lee Marvin with a towel.”

It’s been pointed out that John Boorman’s POINT BLANK plays like a hip remake of TWD, with Lee Marvin as the gangster who may have died (John Boorman has spoken of a possible Owl Creek Bridge reading of both his Lee Marvin movies) and who wreaks revenge on his foes without actually inflicting bodily harm on them himself. Its slick visuals, rat-a-tat cutting and Donald Westlake plot ingenuity make this the most engaging of the films under discussion, and by burying Lee Marvin’s revenant status deep in subtext, it makes it more fun to unpeel. THE WALKING DEAD is a little too somnolent for me, though you can certainly argue that’s appropriate.

POINT BLANK, of course, also plays out in San Francisco and features a spectacular sidewalk dive, this one from old Dean Wormer himself, John Vernon.

“Someone has to put his foot down, and that foot is me.”

And I guess GHOST STORY has a place in here too.

Anyhow, Bogart’s affinity with sudden death in DARK PASSAGE suggests both the shifty narrator of DETOUR (people just keep dying around me, honest!) and the fatal pro/antagonists of WALKING DEAD and POINT BLANK. Maybe Boorman would suggest that Bogie dies when the San Quentin barrel crashes downhill in scene 1, and the rest of the plot is just his dying fantasy. It would certainly give a meaning to the otherwise obscure title (there’s no significant literal passageway in the plot). And it would kind of explain how Bogart becomes a helpless passenger in his own movie. The “first person shooter” opening robs him of identity, and then his every action seems to be dictated by chance meetings, with a cabbie, a detective in a diner, the guy who picks him up who turns blackmailer. And all the deaths in the film just happen, Bogart doesn’t plan them or really want them. He’s the passive recipient of a narrative.