Archive for La Phrenologie Burlesque

Gifford’s Most Wanted

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 6, 2010 by dcairns

Inspired by the BFI’s Most Wanted campaign to unearth 100 lost movies, I’m turning to my readers to help locate the TEN MYSTERY FILMS from Denis Gifford’s A Pictorial History of Horror Movies which I still haven’t tracked down.

(There are still lots I haven’t seen, but these are the only ten I haven’t been able to find copies of.)

Your help is needed! Facebook and tweet this post to all your filmy friends, and anybody who runs/works for/is an archive. I must see those movies!!!

I offer unspecified rewards. And you know those unspecified rewards are going to be pretty cool when I eventually specify them, right? Damn straight.

I’m going to write a little piece on each over the coming weeks, but here’s the Top Ten Lost Monster Movies in capsule form —

1) THE FAIRY OF THE BLACK ROCKS:  a 1905 period yarn with a skeleton flasher.

2) CASTLE SINISTER: still don’t know anything about this, except it’s Britain, 1948, produced by “British Equity”, whoever they were.

3) THE COUGHING HORROR: a 1924 melodrama that gives me a tickle in the throat just thinking about it.

4) MARIA MARTEN, OR THE MURDER IN THE RED BARN: not with Todd Slaughter, but an earlier, silent version. Another version, directed by Maurice Elvey in between these two, is considered lost, according to the BFI.

5) FIGHT WITH SLEDGE HAMMERS: likewise, a silent melodrama described as “The most thrilling film ever taken.” Taken where?

6 & 7)THE GORILLA: the 1927 version with Walter Pigeon, and the 1930 remake, again with Pigeon. Never seem to show up ANYWHERE.

8 & 9) THE TERROR: Roy Del Ruth’s silent Edgar Wallace adaptation with Edward Everett Horton and THE RETURN OF THE TERROR: Howard Bretherton’s sequel with Mary Astor.

10) THE EXPLOITS OF ELAINE: with Pearl White. I’m sure this is hard to see, but not impossible, I hope! It qualifies for Giffordom by virtue of featuring a cameo by Jekyll & Hyde.

There are also four lost films (assuming none of the above are lost). The rules of See Reptilicus And Die do not allow me to neglect movies on the mere basis of their non-existence. So I’m going to see these too!

A BLIND BARGAIN:  a lost film, this, so a more creative solution is required.

THE CAT CREEPS: 1930 version with Jean Hersholt, Lilyan Tashman, directed by Rupert “PHANTOM OF THE OPERA” Julian. I wondered about this for ages, why it never showed up. Turns out it’s lost, a fact confirmed by the fact that it’s reviewed on the IMDb by fantasy novelist and wingnut F. Gwynneplaine Macintyre, who has reviewed nearly every prominent lost fantasy film. As a situationist stunt, this wins some admiration from me, though I wonder at the ethics of writing slams of films one hasn’t seen (unless one is ninety years old).

LA PHRENOLOGIE BURLESQUE: lost Melies — I’m resolved to bring this back into existence by sheer willpower (and, if necessary, bribery).

BALAOO THE DEMON BABOON: apparently fragments of this exist in Canada. Is there any way to see them without crossing the pond? Don’t make me come over there!

How does one see lost films? In ones’ dreams, certainly, the way Fiona saw Hitchcock’s THE MOUNTAIN EAGLE on my behalf. Or by reconstructions, which allowed me to stretch a point and tick LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT off my list. Or else by seeing fragments and trailers which might be said to stand for the whole, the way an organism can be cloned from a single cell. There may be other techniques, and rest assured, I’m open to all of them!

NB: such is the speed of development in my INSANE QUEST, I already have news about several of the top ten, which I shall report to you in following posts. But for now, I’m open to all info.


Win One for the Gifford

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 8, 2010 by dcairns

Watched HOUSE, or HAUSU, as the Japanese call it — our friend Kiyo had recommended we obtain it, and then we read a glowing FaceBook recital of its many virtues from regular Shadowplayer and critic Anne Billson. Eaten by a piano? Drowned in cat’s blood? This sounded like a film to give Ozu a run for his money.

What concerns us for the moment, however, is a moment relatively early in the film, which has an unusually long preambular sequence setting up the arrival of seven cheeky Japanese schoolgirls (soon to be dead and possibly naked) at the titular haunted hausu. We’re on a coach, heading into the country. But what’s this extra on the left reading?

“The Gifford!” cried Fiona, startling me worse than anything in the movie would.

What a nice tribute from director Obayashi-san: Denis Gifford’s A Pictorial History of Horror Movies (far left of frame), suggesting a possible clue to his movie’s patchwork style — he’s been inspired by the random collection of images approach taken by Gifford in illustrating his Big Green Tome.

As I’m working my way through all the films illustrated in this book, it was a pleasure indeed to find a fellow fan.

So how am I doing?

Candace Hilligoss, so effective in her goose-like beauty in CARNIVAL OF SOULS, makes her only other appearance in CURSE OF THE LIVING CORPSE (that’s not her above, though), a movie that actually does try hard to be good, and even seems to have a partial, coffee-stained map guiding it in the right general direction. Period flavour has been aimed for, unusual dialogue attempted (“The body is a long insatiable tube!”), and suitable actors engaged (a nubile Roy Scheider, not yet tanned to alligator-hide perfection, is particularly effective). Plus a decent nasty plot premise, in which some insufferable rich folks in period New England are wiped out (perhaps by a departed relative) in the manner of their worst fears. Lest the gimmick and the talking stuff don’t quite carry the day, some gore and some decorous semi-nudity are laid on. It doesn’t quite make it to being memorable or actually, y’know, good, but one can’t fault the intent.

Attempts to obtain THE ALLIGATOR PEOPLE have so far defeated me — anyone out there can help?

I have, however, got my sweaty mitts on FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD, a Japanese kaijin flick using the man-made man, grown to giganticular proportions, as protag. Can’t wait to sample this Ishiro Honda weirdfest.

Also obtained but not yet watched: the 1957 THE VAMPIRE, which for some reason Gifford illustrates twice; THE PHANTOM OF SOHO, in two distinct versions;

Enjoyed two surviving Melies masterworks, THE VANISHING LADY, from which Melies produces three frame enlargements for a before-during-and-after account of M. Melies magic trick, and THE GIGANTIC DEVIL, whose oddly simpering Satan I had long admired in still form. This year I intend to recreate, in my own fashion, the lost movie LA PHRENOLOGIE BURLESQUE, so I can tick that one off my list also.

CRY OF THE WEREWOLF was directed by I LOVE A MYSTERY’s Henry Levin, but disappointed on most levels: there IS a werewolf, but it’s played by a large-ish dog, and the transformations are just crummy dissolves. Nina Foch lends low-budget class, but it’s all uphill.

VOODOO MAN amuses pretty thoroughly (especially George Zucco runnign a gas station) and DR RENAULT’S SECRET is genuinely, like, good, with an affecting monster act by J. Carrol Naish. Appallingly, I mainly knew this fine thesp for his swan song, DRACULA VS FRANKENSTEIN, a truly tragic affair in which his struggle to keep his false teeth inside his head while mouthing idiotic lines is the sole memorable feature, unless you count a mute Lon Chaney Jnr, who, like his great father, had been robbed of the power of speech in the last months of his life, and thus appears here as a wordless monster.

THE MAGIC SWORD, known to Gifford as ST GEORGE AND THE SEVEN CURSES, making it slightly trickier to track down, is a full-to-bursting confection of sub-Harryhausen fantasy FX. Not half bad by Bert I Gordon’s standards (and he does have standard — though if challenged I’m not sure I could quite explain what they are). The prosthetic hag in Gifford’s still turns out to be Maila Nurmi, AKA Vampira, and the hero turns out to be Gary Lockwood of 2001 fame. Basil Rathbone and Estelle Winwood heap on the ham, but the film’s finest thespian delight turns out to be busty nonentity Anne Helm, playing “Princess Helene” in the manner of a concussed cosmetologist. It’s so wrong it’s exactly right.

THE MAN OF A THOUSAND FACES seems to exist not to honour MGM’s 25th anniversary, as suggested, but merely to prove that even James Cagney’s talents have their limits. The real casting coup is Robert Evans as Irving Thalberg, before Evans made the transition from tanned-yet-pallid toyboy leading man to high-powered, wide collared exec. It’s perfect casting, with what one might politely call Evans’ limitations as an actor (Peter Sellers, on hearing of Evans’ appointment as head of Paramount: “Why, you silly cunt, you couldn’t even act the part!”) serving him well in the role of the ultimate empty suit.

In fact, it’s a pity Chaney never played The Invisible Man, robbing us of the sight of two shirt collars, encircling vacuum, nodding in cheerful agreement.

Skull Daze

Posted in Comics, FILM, Science with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 30, 2009 by dcairns

LA PHRENOLOGIE BURLESQUE — that is the name of the nameless Georges Méliès film illustrated in Denis Gifford’s monster movie book! I owe this information to two people:

(1) Shadowplayer Douglas Noble, an excellent cartoonist as well as a cinephile, recognized the image as one that had been used by artist/filmmaker Dave McKean (MIRRORMASK) as the basis for a poster in his “Nitrate” series —

(2) McKean himself, illustrator of the awesome Arkham Asylum among many many other stupendous things, answered my plaintive tweet with the information requested, information he himself had only come by after producing the artwork and naming it, in desperation, “Méliès.” He has since been show authentic documents establishing beyond doubt the film’s true title and authorship.

Thanks to both of these Extraordinary Gentlemen. I love not only the fact that my quest had a happy result, but that it depended for that outcome upon a renowned artist being inspired by the same photograph as caught my eye.

My sole remaining task was to procure a copy of the elusive masterpiece, and this I proceeded to attempt. BUT! I met with no success. The film does not appear in the Flicker Alley box set, for which information I must thank (3) Shadowplayer Brandon, which I learn from (4) Glenn Erickson’s typically informative and lively review contains “nearly all of Méliès’ surviving films.” Nearly all, but not quite all… I somehow doubt Flicker Alley’s acoompanying booklet will supply us with names of those films which do survive but are not included in the collection. They’re good, Flicker Alley are, but nobody’s THAT good.

So independent research is indicated. I turn to the IMDb, where I find a review! This does not cause me to become incautiously optimistic, since I remember reading a review, since deleted, of THE GOLEM AND THE DANCING GIRL (a lost film), proffering the slogan “Her muddy buddy is no fuddy-duddy.”


“Gorbo” from the Czech Republic writes:

“In 1901, Henry C. Lavery, a self-described “profound thinker” of Superior, Wisconsin became certain that phrenology was true and spent his next 26 years endeavoring to put this science into a machine. On January 29, 1931, he and his partner, Frank P. White, a businessman who had taken his life savings of $39,000 out of stock in a local sandpaper manufacturer – the 3M company – to finance the venture, announced the invention of such a machine – the “Psychograph.” The machine consisted of 1,954 parts in a metal carrier with a continuous motor-driven belt inside a walnut cabinet containing statements about 32 mental faculties. These faculties were each rated 1 through 5, “deficient” to “very superior,” so that there were 160 possible statements but an almost unlimited number of possible combinations. The “score” was determined by the way the 32 probes, each with five contact points in the headpiece, made contact with the head. The subject sat in a chair connected to the machine and the headpiece was lowered and adjusted. The operator then pulled back a lever that activated the belt-driven motor, which then received low-voltage signals from the headpiece and stamped out the appropriate statement for each faculty consecutively. Thirty three machines were built, and a local office in Minneapolis flourished. The machines were leased to entrepreneurs throughout the country for $2,000 down plus $35 a month. They were popular attractions for theater, lobbies and department stores, which found them good traffic builders during the depression. Two enterprising promoters set up shop in the Black Forest Village at the 1934 Century of Progress Exposition in Chicago and netted $200,000 at their standing-room-only booth! Phrenology in Europe had been abandoned as nonsense long before this time. The brief success of the Psycograph lasted until the mid-thirties when the company closed because of increasing skepticism and declining income. The machines were returned and packed away in storage until the mid-sixties, when John White, the founder’s son, and I put several back into working order.”

Thanks, Gorbo! Can I just say that I particularly admire the phrase “walnut cabinet”, in part because it makes the think of a little cabinet hewn from a single walnut, and in part because it makes me think of the glorious Victorian craftsmanship of Rod Taylor’s chronoperambulator in George Pal’s film of THE TIME MACHINE.

But, sad to say, I have been unable to ascertain for certain, as yet, whether this films exists or does not exist. It’s like Schrödinger’s cat. If it exists, I can find it, probably. If it partially exists, the somewhat elastic rules of my See Reptilicus and Die quest (whereby I must view every film depicted in Denis Gifford’s A Pictorial History of Horror Movies)  allow me content myself with viewing whatever there is of it. That’s what I’m going to have to do with BALAOO THE DEMON BABOON. If the film is completely lost (and bear in mind that when Le Grand Méliès quit movies, he destroyed all the films in his possession), I have several options.

In the case of LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT, the Tod Browning-Lon Chaney Scooby Doo vampire-detective flick, I can tick that one off my list because I’ve seen a reconstruction of the film made from stills. No reconstruction may exist of LA PHRENOLOGIE BURLESQUE, but there’s nothing to stop me MAKING ONE, using the single still, Mr McKean’s artistic riff on it, and my own imagination. Alternatively, I can do what I did with THE MOUNTAIN EAGLE, Hitchcock’s lost film, for Hitchcock Year — either dream the film, or get someone I know to dream it for me. These are all legitimate solutions.

I fully realize that, ideally, while dreaming the film, I should have my skull measured by Mr Lavery and Mr White’s psychograph, and if I can arrange such a thing you can rely on me to make it happen.

But I would not feel right in myself, enacting any of these solutions, without first establishing for a definite fact whether the putatively lost film is in fact lost. Over to you, archivists of the world.

Unsatisfied ciné-phrenologists are referred to the Beatles cartoon YELLOW SUBMARINE, which contains an entire SEA of Phrenology.

Georges Melies: First Wizard of Cinema (1896-1913)