April 9, 2012
Frankenstein is referenced in this 1935 ad in Film Daily for a proposed Karloff movie to be made in England. The announced director, Graham Cutts, a co-founder of Gainsborough studios and once a powerful figure in British films, had seen his career decline with the advent of talkies. For reasons unknown, the project was shelved and Karloff was recast in a mad scientist yarn, The Man Who Changed His Mind, directed by Robert Stevenson and released in 1936.
Karloff would have made a formidable Nikola, a super-villain character forgotten today but said to have been as popular as Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes — and twice as deadly as Professor Moriarty.
Created by Australian-born Guy Boothby (1867-1905), Dr. Nikola was a charismatic occult villain bent on world domination. His quest for immortality yielded five best-selling novels between 1895 and 1901, a hit London play in 1895 and two silent films, in 1909 and 1917. With his weird laboratory, international connections and nefarious methods, Boothby’s criminal mastermind is believed to have influenced Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu (1913) in many ways. Even Fu’s pet marmoset is thought to be the equivalent of Nikola’s black cat companion. Note the ad, artist unidentified, showing a greenish Karloff with a black cat on his shoulder, a typical Nikola pose found on book covers and the stage play’s poster.
In a curious connection involving Karloff, it has been suggested that another Boothby story, A Professor of Egyptology (1904), inspired the screenplay to Karloff’s The Mummy (1932).
Dr. Nikola was one of 17 films advertised by England’s premiere studio, Gainsborough Pictures, in a colorful 8-page spread appearing in an October 1935 issue of the New York-based Film Daily trade paper. Other titles promoted included the early science-fiction adventure Transatlantic Tunnel, two Hitchcock films: The 39 Steps and Secret Agent, and two Conrad Veidt vehicles — “Women fight for Conrad Veidt!” — King of the Damned and The Passing of the Third Floor Back. Another Universal classic, The Invisible Man (1933) was name-checked — “The Invisible Man makes the future visible” — in an ad for The Clairvoyant, with Claude Rains and Fay Wray.
With thanks to Joe Schwind.