September 28, 2007

The Lake of Frankenstein

On this day, September 28, and on the 29th, in 1931, director James Whale and his crew, with actors Boris Karloff, Michael Mark, and 7-year old Marilyn Harris, shot the controversial drowning scene at Malibou Lake (not ‘Malibu'), about 30 miles west of Universal studios.

Karloff was uneasy with the scene, but Whale insisted it was necessary. A few weeks later, preview audiences were appalled and the scene was removed. Ironically, the resulting jarring cut, just as The Monster reaches for the little girl, suggests a fate worse than drowning for poor Maria. The scene, thought lost, was found in the late 70s and restored to the film.

The location, a man-made lake, had filled up in 1926 after sitting dry for 3 years. Frankenstein was only the second motion picture to visit there, but the location was soon to become a movie favorite. Films shot there include Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator (1940) and Monsieur Verdoux (1947), the Noir classic The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), and the cult science-fiction I Married a Monster from Outer Space (1958).

In the 30’s, The Malibu Club charged $1000 a day “for the use of the lake and adjoining property” and extra for lodging and food. A local newspaper reported that Hollywood money had gotten “the lake and its members out of serious debt. In eight short years the lake reduced its debt from $235,000 to a mere $20,000.”

UPDATE: The site reports that Frankenstein’s cinematographer, Arthur Edeson, built himself a home on South Lakeshore overlooking the dam at Malibou Lake in 1926. He may very well be the one who suggested the location for The Monster's only outdoor scene in an otherwise stage-bound film.


Anonymous said...

Really appreciate the accurate information concerning such an historic and memorable movie landmark. For many years the true location of the Little Maria scene has been something of a mystery, and still today some dispute the matter. I am convinced you have set the question straight once and for all.

Pierre Fournier said...

Credit where credit is due: I believe it was film historian Greg Mank who positively identified Malibou Lake and found the exact spot (now a private home) where the scene was shot. There is no real dispute anymore about it. There was an article a while back in Midnight Marquee magazine with pictures taken that perfectly aligned with the original shot.

Anonymous said...

Fascinating! I've always wondered where this was shot. Which issue of Midnight Marquee was this in? I'd love to get that. Thanks,

Pierre Fournier said...

I checked, it's Midnight Marquee No. 60, from 1999. Still available through the publisher:

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Pierre. I've ordered it. Also, I was so excited about this, I drove out to the lake and I believe I found the exact spot! I took pics and have posted them here: