Archive for The Love of Zero

The Batman

Posted in Comics, FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 12, 2015 by dcairns

The Batman from David Cairns on Vimeo.

This is from the Robert Florey-directed THE PREVIEW MURDER MYSTERY (1936). At a certain point in the story, we get glimpses of different movies being shot on different stages of a studio which is being targeted by a murderer/terrorist, who turns out to be… well, I won’t spoil it. But we get to see Hank Mann and Snub Pollard as clowns doing crosstalk patter instead of the slapstick they were famed for (Mann plays the drunken millionaire in CITY LIGHTS, among many other roles through a long career beginning at Keystone), but much more interestingly we witness the shooting of an expressionist horror movie, featuring a character called The Batman. He wears a dark cape and is accompanied by a grotesque figure with a painted grin.





This is all very interesting as the DC Comics Batman (known as THE Batman in his early appearances) didn’t make his first appearance until 1939. Creators Bill Finger & Bob Kane always credited the movies, though they mentioned THE BAT WHISPERS (1930) and THE MAN WHO LAUGHS (1928). And indeed, the Bat and Gwynplaine look a lot more like the comic book characters than these doofuses, with the quaint twist that the Bat was a villain and Gwynplaine a hero, rather than the other way around.


I’m also slightly amused that The Batman in Florey’s film looks so much like Brandon Lee in THE CROW, a much later descendant of the costumed crime fighter.

Florey, of course, directed for-real horror movie MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE and *nearly* got to do FRANKENSTEIN, but for me the more relevant credits are his early shorts, THE LOVE OF ZERO and THE LIFE AND DEATH OF 9413, A HOLLYWOOD EXTRA. Both are made in a Caligariesque kind of cardboard expressionism, and the latter is even a behind-the-screen story of moviemaking like THE PREVIEW MURDER MYSTERY.

As for the actors — the screen’s first Batman turns out to have been German character player Henry Brandon, best known for playing Scar in THE SEARCHERS. IMDb refers to his sidekick as “the gnome,” and the actor is my hero, John George, from TRAIL OF THE OCTOPUS. A dynamic duo by anybody’s standards!

The Sunday Intertitle: Mad March Flair

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on March 13, 2011 by dcairns

My copy of The Believer, featuring my article on William Cameron Menzies, arrived in the post today. I photographed it by torchlight and it came out looking funny. Probably due to ghosts.

Of course, this calls for a Menzies-related intertitle, so here’s one from THE LOVE OF ZERO, an expressionist short directed by Robert Florey (a director seemingly fated to work in low-budget B-pictures, and then TV, for life, despite his obvious imagination).

I’m not sure how Menzies, a highly-paid studio employee, came to be working on this  avant-garde adventure in style, made for $200: presumably he was just tempted by the possibility of breaking rules and indulging himself. He did later go on to produce musical shorts in the early ’30s so he obviously had no prejudice against the short form. But most Hollywood employees have a prejudice against not getting paid, so it’s somewhat remarkable that he branched out so far.

The film also features text on screen that’s actually a prop positioned in frame with the actors — walk-in intertitles, or outertitles, or something. A unique case?

The plot sure ain’t much, but it’s a visual feast, showing the clear influence of CALIGARI on Menzies’ distinctive style.

Ah, here it is on YouTube ~