Archive for Boris Karloff

The Sunday Intertitle: Your sins shall find you out

Posted in FILM, Politics, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 28, 2018 by dcairns

The reassuring smile of Boris Karloff

Weird coincidences. We have a great view of the moon from our front window, in the early evening. During the full moon, we had a double bill of John Carpenter’s THE FOG, which turned out to take place during the full moon, a fact we had forgotten (fun, and I hadn’t seen it since the days of my school film society) and PRINCE OF DARKNESS (not so hot), whose very first shot is the full moon.

Last night, looking for a spooky silent film to cull an intertitle from, I plumped for THE BELLS (James Young, 1926). Which turned out to have a much more disturbing contemporary relevance. I sort of thought I knew the story from having watched Bill Morrison’s THE MESMERIST, which is based around decayed fragments of the movie, but I’d forgotten, if I ever knew, that the plot (by fantasy writers Erckman-Chatrian, a sort of second-string ETA Hoffmann), centres on the murder of a Jewish traveler. The film’s attempt to find sympathy for the guilt-tormented murderer played by Lionel Barrymore fell on somewhat deaf ears, since I was preoccupied with thoughts of the anti-semitic terror attack in Pittsburgh.

The film attempts to enlist compassion for Barrymore from the start, even though he’s attempting to ingratiate his way into political office by giving away free beer. When this leads his finances to a desperate state, he murders the traveler on New Year’s Eve in order to steal the money belt full of gold the guy rather injudiciously shows off. Now, Barrymore has been depicted explicitly as NOT anti-semitic, as he welcomes the traveler at his inn when others are more hostile. But that sort of kindness only goes so far. With my sensibilities perhaps heightened by the day’s tragic and horrible news story, I couldn’t escape feeling that while Barrymore doesn’t hate the Polish Jew for who he is, he is able to see his way to murdering the guy because he’s Not One Of Us.

So I’m afraid I couldn’t really get behind his quest for redemption.

But my, it’s a beautifully made movie. And features an early exploitation of Boris Karloff’s unique physiognomy. And Barrymore is good. There’s also an early iteration of that trick with filters made famous by Mamoulian in DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (and also used in SHIT! THE OCTOPUS!), where Lady Macbeth-style phantom bloodstains appear and disappear on Lionel’s hands, all in one shot (revealed and concealed by a red filter. If you ever carried a Coke can into a dark room and watched half the design disappear when the red light made the red and white parts of the can look the same, you’ve seen this rather uncanny effect in action).

 

But a creeping discomfort about the film’s attitudes remains, and the intercession of a plaster Virgin doesn’t alleviate it.

Advertisements

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.

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.”