July 7, 2011

A Premiere in Perth

He sought to be a god… using modern science he made a frightful monster from dead bodies… he sewed in an abnormal brain and sleeked down the hair over the purple furrow… When it stirred with life, he became a screaming madman and let it escape, snarling, gibbering and roaring with murderous frenzy upon a peaceful countryside… until the monster that had never felt a woman’s kiss turned upon him.

Frankenstein’s arrival in Western Australia was trumpeted with this striking, verbose and highly original newspaper ad in the April 10, 1932 edition of Perth’s Sunday Times. The mysterious Monster appears dead center as a menacing, knockout silhouette.

By the time Frankenstein made it Down Under, the film was already a blockbuster in America, it’s heady reputation preceding it. On March 1st, 1932, Perth’s West Australian met with Dan Casey, a local businessman newly appointed as Universal’s General Manager in Australia. The article stated that “the present types of film most in demand by the public were witty comedies and mystery thrillers of the eerie type. Universal, according to Casey, “had always been keen on securing good attractions and well-known works likely to be even more valuable when adapted to the screen. The outstanding Universal film for the year would be “Frankenstein”, an eerie drama, written by the wife of the poet Shelley over a hundred years ago. It would be released about April in Perth. The cast includes Boris Karloff, who had been acclaimed as the successor of Lon Chaney, Colin Clive, Mae Clarke and John Boles.

In a golden era when films still vied with vaudeville, long before the days of corporate advertising and strict “on message” campaigns that make all advertising exactly the same worldwide, local exhibitors were free to create their own ballyhoo. The studios provided an array of posters and promotional materials that could be creatively mixed and matched. Print ads, as seen here, would sometimes feature original art, locally commissioned.

The Ambassadors’ ad uses a couple of Universal’s well-worn tag lines, Dare You See It? and To have seen “Frankenstein” is to wear a badge of courage, otherwise there’s a large block of original copy of pulp prose selling the concept. Nice to know that Frankenstein carefully combed over the scars where the abnormal brain was “sewed in”! The blurb about The Monster’s lips “that had never felt a woman’s kiss” was another line from Universal’s original campaign.

On the same page as the ad, the paper ran a still of Karloff and Clive, with a caption referring to “The widely-discussed film...”, and a short review, shown here at left. The part about the makeup weighing in at 48 pounds was repeated whenever the film was mentioned in Australia.

For all the enthusiastic hype of its Perth release, Frankenstein’s Australian career would be cut short. On June 12, 1932, the Sunday Times published a short, terse notice…

Frankenstein had enjoyed a terrific showcase in the sumptuous Ambassadors Theatre. Built in 1928, it was modeled after the Riviera Theatre of Omaha, Nebraska, a delirious “atmospheric” designed by the legendary playhouse architect John Eberson. The massive, 1993-seat auditorium was ringed with Greek statues, pergolas and Mediterranean courtyards, painted trees on the back wall and a starlit night sky overhead. It boasted Australia’s largest Wurlitzer organ.

Alas, the wedding cake decorations of the silent era-built theatres fell out of favor and by 1938, a mere decade after it first opened, the Ambassadors was given a thourough streamlining, its statues retired and the Moorish façade reworked in a sleek Moderne style. The organ was shipped to Melbourne in 1946 where, after modifications, it would be featured in several recordings. By the Seventies, the theatres of yesteryear could no longer fill their cavernous auditoriums. A few “grand old ladies” were saved, refurbished and repurposed as concert halls, but the storied Ambassadors Theater of Perth was not so lucky. It was closed and quickly demolished in February 1972.

Frankenstein in Australia
Australian promotion for Bride of Frankenstein

1 comment:

Christopher said...

I lived in Perth from 1964-66...and vaguely remember certain theatres downtown(also in Sydney)still ran old classic horror with lobby cards and posters displayed.