June 28, 2009

The Posters of Frankenstein :
Early Promotional Art, Frankenstein (1931)

Following up on my last post, here’s a good look at that early Lugosi/Frankenstein promotional illustration from 1931. Thanks — again! — to James Phillips for spotting this on eBay.

I’d only seen small reproductions of this one, and seeing it large really makes it pop. There’s a lush, painterly feel to it. You can see the brushstrokes. The bold rainbow-striped sky recedes from purple to yellow, creating depth. The Giant, struck by lightning, is cast in green light and sculpted with sharp, dark blue shadows. The artist, Kulz, would produce a number of classic, fully-painted posters for Universal. It was golden era when he, Grosz, Froelich and other top-notch illustrators had free reign, creating vastly original, highly individualistic works.

Size makes details emerge. Note the skyline and lit windows visible through the legs, the Giant rising like a ghostly apparition. The transparent effect is also used in the title, with the Giant’s head and background colors shining through.

The character in the Giant’s hand is clearly a scientist, dressing in a white lab coat, clutching a test tube. I zoomed in and rotated the image, revealing a textbook mad doctor with mustache, goatee and owl glasses. Knowing that Lugosi wanted to play the title character, not The Monster, could this have been his appearance? You could even say the character’s profile is Lugosi’s.

This ad is famous, of course, for announcing Bela Lugosi as the film’s lead. The success of Dracula in February ’31 kicked the actor’s career into high gear, with Universal promoting him as their new horror star. On April 1st, Variety reported that the studio had “other parts in mind” for Lugosi, “one of them being Frankenstein, a medical melodrama”. Press releases also associated him with Murders in the Rue Morgue and a proposed remake of The Hunchback of Notre-Dame.

Frankenstein was turned over to director Robert Florey who wrote a script with Garrett Fort and, in mid-June, directed the infamous, now lost screen test with Lugosi as The Monster. Lugosi balked at playing the mute, makeup-heavy character, but he was still attached to the project after James Whale replaced Florey. News of Lugosi being “switched” to Murders in the Rue Morgue surfaced in mid-July, but his replacement, Boris Karloff, was not named until late August when the film began shooting.

The Frankenstein ad appeared in The Big Book from Universal 1931-1932, a large, lavish exhibitor’s catalog with full-color art. Like Frankenstein, many of the films listed were in early pre-production with credits still tentative. Some of the films ballyhooed were never made. In years to follow, the Universal exhibitor catalogs would announce Boris Karloff as The Invisible Man, a part that eventually went to Claude Rains, or Karloff as the devil-like Cagliostro, a project that somehow transformed into The Mummy. Among the films that never came to be: Karloff was touted as Bluebeard, and Karloff with Lugosi in something called The Monster of Zombor.

The Kulz pre-production painting was eventually recycled as a theatrical poster for the Spanish-dubbed release of Frankenstein with minor corrections, namely giving the Giant a flatter head and requisite neck bolts.

Frankenstein Sticker
The Selling of Frankenstein, parts one, two, three, and four


rob! said...

Good catch, re: the scientist guy that looks a little Lugosi-ish.

Such a beautiful poster, I wish I had the creative guts to use those kinds of day-glo colors when doing a monster/horror-related piece--but dang it, it works!

Christopher said...

LOOK!..Its a giant Farley Granger!
This has always been a curious poster.."No woman ever felt his white hot kiss.."What kind of monster are they suggesting here?..Seems they had other plans at this time.The artwork is lovely tho..

TS Rogers said...

They just don't make posters like that anymore. Inspiring.

Christopher said...

One of the things interesting about this is early 1930's people scampering around to get away like characters on Posters for later 1950s and 60s Sci-fi monster movies.

Jeff H. said...

I've always thought of this as "the Maxfield Parrish" poster. Not exactly appropriate, I know!