Archive for Lon Chaney

Hull-Hound

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on September 8, 2016 by dcairns

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We never get a clear look at Warner Oland’s chubby werewolf, and that has to be a good thing.

It’s taken me this long to watch WEREWOLF OF LONDON, and God knows I’ve tried. As a kid I was no doubt eager to see it, but it never seemed to turn up on UK TV. As an adult, I was excited to finally get my hands on the thing, and then found it impossible to sit through.

This time around — third time’s the charm — it didn’t seem THAT bad — despite several strikes against it, it has a number of appealing images and ideas.

First the bad — Henry Hull is written as a completely unsympathetic boor, and that’s just how he plays it, with an added suggestion of indifference and superiority to the material. In the abstract, it’s kind of interesting the way the character perversely contradicts his own motivations — he’s jealous of his wife but either ignores her or drives her a way, he quickly becomes convinced he is indeed infected with “werewolfery” (or worse, “lycanthrophobia”) but rejects offers of help from the man who infected him. In practice, these traits are frustrating and dramatically self-defeating. “It defeats its own purpose,” as Jake LaMotta would say.

Hull lacks the physical presence and skill to make a convincing transformation, and his werewolf performance consists largely of making a face like he’s going to sneeze.

The comedy relief, zesty and startling in a James Whale film, is lumbering and ugly here. Last time I watched, I got as far as the two drunken landladies (one of them, Ethel Griffies, is the ornithologist from THE BIRDS — not that old, she would live another forty years). The film is full of menopausal women, Fiona pointed out, and they’re all played as clowns. Spring Byington (“So romantic, with the Thames lapping at one’s very threshold”) is the main culprit. Worse is the way the so-called hero’s lunar depredations are followed by jocular scenes at Scotland Yard, with the police chortling away together despite the wave of manglings sweeping the metropolis.

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Good stuff — going all the way to Tibet to get bitten by a werewolf is gloriously excessive.

Gratuitous killer plants! An entirely satisfying horror movie about rival botanists could probably be concocted with no need for werewolfery at all. Although, there’s THE WOMANEATER to prove me wrong.

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Warner Oland in a role maybe planned for Lugosi — now he’s a professor from the University of the Carpathians, with a Japanese name. And he’s a LOVELY werewolf, much nicer than H.H.

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Ah-ah-ah…. CHOO!

But I dig the way Hull remains somewhat compos mentis when wolfing about — he actually turns into a werewolf and then PUTS ON A HAT to go out. And he gets a deathbed speech in werewolf form. Though the principles of Lon Chaney wolfman mythos are being laid down here in an early form, the story is still in large part Jekyll & Hyde.

Also — GREAT first transformation, using foreground columns which occlude the frame, in a relay of shots connected by hidden wipes, so that Hull’s makeup (by Universal monster supremo Jack Pierce) can develop in yak-fur increments.

Things Roddy said during House of Dracula

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on May 3, 2016 by dcairns

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Haven’t done one of these for a while. Fiona’s brother Roddy, who has the chromosomal disorder Williams Syndrome, hasn’t been to visit for ages, because he’s no longer really able to travel without disastrous consequences. There’s really very little information about the effect of aging on Williams people, but as Roddy enters his fifties he’s clearly less self-sufficient, more nervous, and his behaviour is more unpredictable and problematic, necessitating more care and less excitement. He still likes the horror movies he grew up with, though, so we took one round to his place in Dundee to view as he was just released from hospital after having a minor collapse.

As usual, Roddy kept up an attentive non-director’s commentary on Erle Kenton’s HOUSE OF DRACULA, apart from when he briefly fell asleep. Fiona and I also interjected.

The movie begins with John Carradine flapping up to the home of Dr. Edlemann (Carradine is, initially, a bat, which makes his self-introduction as “Baron LaForce” seem questionable).

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Roddy: “What’s he doing ? Is he coming downstairs?”

Fiona: “Has Baron Laugh-horse or whatever his name is put the hypnotic vibes on him?”

We asked Roddy how he would react to John Carradine’s Dracula in real life. He takes a hard line on Romanian immigrants ~

Roddy: “I would say, ‘Get back to your grave where you came from!'”

When Dracula announces he wants to be cured of his vampirism, I took a poll as to whether he should be trusted:

Fiona: “I’d trust him, the way Carradine plays him.” Roddy: “I wouldn’t.”

Roddy: “Two nurses, hmm! There were lots of nurses where I’ve been.” Roddy likes nurses.

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Larry Talbot: “Do you believe that a man can be transformed into an animal?” Roddy: “I do!”

Larry Talbot: “Do you think he can cure me?” Roddy: “Of course he can, Mr. Werewolf Man! He’ll give you a cure for your werewolf impression.”

Dr. Edlemann: “Siegfried! Siegfried!” Fiona: “Chickpea? I’m hearing everyone’s name wrong!”

Roddy: “But where’s the monster? Hiding somewhere?”

Fiona: “So how come he hasn’t become a skeleton?” Roddy: “Don’t ask me, I’m not a doctor!”

Roddy: “Where’s he going?”

Fiona: “He didn’t want to be cured of vampirism, you were right!” Roddy: “YES.”

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Fiona: “He’s transfusing himself with vampire blood? Surely that means he’s going to turn into a vampire?” Me: “Precisely. The one flaw in his plan.”

Me: “And that’s the end if Dracula. HE won’t be back in the next film of the series. We can be quite sure of that.”

Fiona: “Oh, we’re having a weird… thing!”

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Roddy: “What are they doing now?”

Dr. Edlemann’s cat, sensing his new vampiric nature, hisses at him. The doc throws a shoe at it. Roddy: “Missed!”

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Fiona: “Mrs. Overall!”

Roddy: “Was that Frankenstein did something there?”

 

The Sunday Intertitle: A Twist in the Tale

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 8, 2015 by dcairns

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I’d never seen the 1922 OLIVER TWIST, directed by Glasgow’s own Frank Lloyd (why don’t we do a retrospective on his amazing career, which includes MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY?) despite owning it in T-shirt form. It’s billed as an “all-star” version, but Time has anonymized the cast to the point where only Jackie Coogan as Oliver, Lon Chaney as Fagin, and, rather dimly, Esther Ralston as Rose have any vestigial fame left. Ralston should have chosen to play Nancy if she was looking to be memorable, but she had a good-girl image to protect (she protested when Dorothy Arzner tried to sex her up in undies) — Gladys Brockwell is rather good in the role, with her strong features, aspiring to the condition of a symbolist painting.

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Audiences today are likely to come for Chaney’s sake, and he rewards with a fascinating makeup and physical performance. This is Fagin as grotesque, with the more sympathetic aspects added by Lionel Bart and Ron Moody in the musical quite some way off, but it’s not the icky ethnic stereotype of Alec Guinness either — Chaney avoids the crude beak effect, extending his nose DOWN towards his lips rather than hooking it. The straggly beard adds character, and he essays a marvelous hunch, just by stooping — no vast plaster hump required here. Despite his simpering villainy, the last shot of Fagin in prison still inspires pathos.

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Good though Chaney is, the miracle of Jackie Coogan still holds the film together. Still hanging onto his infant cutes, Coogan delights with Chaplinesque business which makes Oliver far pluckier and scrappier than any other rendition of the character. In a sound film, Coogan’s accent would have killed it, but he has an edge over most filmed versions prior to the Polanski. For some reason, despite being raised in a workhouse, Oliver is always played posh. As if his mother being a respectable woman means that young Ollie would be genetically superior and would be born speaking like a BBC presenter. John Howard Davies and the eerie Mark Lester both cemented this idea so firmly that when we imagine the phrase “Please sir, I want some more,” most of us probably still hear it in a plummy soprano.

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Coogan’s pantomime performance includes great details like Oliver swiping finger-smudges of gruel off the ladle even as he’s being lambasted for his temerity in requesting seconds. Details like this make the character a feisty hero, not a passive victim, and make us care MORE, even if he suffers less than most of his successors in the role.