March 31, 2012

Frankenstein Themes in Silent Films

The Silent Era was rich in Frankenstein themes. Artificial life was explored with Paul Wegener’s Golem Films, four different versions of Alraune and a major serial, Homunculus.

Wegener, a superstar of early cinema, first essayed the Jewish legend in 1915 with Der Golem, aka The Monster of Fate, a lost film, save for a short clip from the film’s climax. Set in modern times, it has the clay giant pulled from the rubble of an old synagogue and reanimated, with the expected results. In 1917, Der Golem und die Tänzerin (The Golem and the Dancing Girl) was a bit of whimsy in which Wegener parodied himself as an actor who plays The Golem. In 1920, collaborating with writer Henrik Galeen and director Carl Boese, Wegener mounted a spectacular telling of the original story with Der Golem, wie er in die Welt kam (The Golem, or How He Came into the World). The film played around the world, with The New York Times giving it a glowing review and noting its Frankenstein connection: “like the creature of Frankenstein’s creation, the Golem does not remain obedient…

Wegener’s formidable Golem, hacked out of clay, stomped around in massive boots, foreshadowing Karloff’s Monster. Both creatures harrowingly encountered little girls, but where it spelled doom for the child in Frankenstein, it was the waif in Der Golem who precipitated the monster’s end.

Alraune, a legend novelized by Haans Heinz Ewers in 1921, tells of a child born of a prostitute who was inseminated with a mandragore root, grown from the semen of a hanged murderer. Quite the origin story! Without a soul, emotionless, unable to love, Alraune grows from a child who tortures small animals into a wanton Femme very Fatale who destroys her lovers. The story was filmed twice in 1918, in Hungary and Germany, with much confusion today as to who directed or who played what. As an example, the dubiously reliable IMDB — and repeated on Wikipedia — names Gyula Gal as the Hungarian Alraune, but Gal was a male actor. The part has since been attributed, but still problematically unconfirmed, to Margit Lux, who would go on to appear in Drakula halala (1923).

The most famous version of Alraune came in 1928 at the hands of writer/director Henrik Galeen, with Brigitte Helm as the stunning and glacial menace and Paul Wegener as the scientist, Prof. Jakob ten Brinken. Helm reprised the part just two years later opposite Albert Bassermann in a film directed by Richard Oswald. Helm, of course, played another significant artificial creature, the fabulous robot in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1926). The San Jose Evening News of August 24, 1927 addressed her Frankenstein roots, noting, “This girl-machine becomes a Frankenstein, destroying her creator.

Completing the silent Alraune saga, one of the most tantalizing of all unmade films must be Alraune und der Golem, announced in 1919. It might have been the first “monster rally”. A series of beautiful posters were produced, but the project never made it to the screen.

Perhaps the most popular Frankensteinian film of the Silent Era was Homunculus, the massive six-part serial of 1916, totaling some eight and a half hour of screen time. The story has elements of Mary Shelley’s novel in the relentless pursuit by the scientist creator of his wicked creation. This monster is a perfect lab-made man, a charismatic tyrant who plans the very destruction of Mankind. The films were such a hit that Danish-born actor Olaf Fonss became a European matinee idol and the character’s wardrobe inspired popular fashion. The series culminated with a battle between the Homunculus and a second artificial man created to destroy him. In the end, the Homunculus is struck and vaporized by lightning.

A variation on laboratory-provoked life, H.G.Wells’ Frankensteinian novella, The Island of Dr. Moreau, in which animals are tortured into human shape, was adapted in Germany as Die Insel der Verschollenen (1921). Umberto Guarracino, The Monster in 1920’s Il Mostro di Frankenstein played “the product of the secret workshop”. The film has survived but is rarely shown and no photos have been circulated yet.

A number of films explored the Frankensteinian concept of restored life with resuscitation by electricity or transplant surgery, often to comic effect. In several shorts, gorilla brains, hearts or glands were swapped in, resulting in the protagonist behaving like a monkey. More dramatically, murder victims or the mistakenly executed were given a second chance through electricity, injections or various pseudo-scientific means in The Return of Maurice Donnelly (1915), The Inspiration of Harry Larrabee (1917), The Devil to Pay (1920) and Legally Dead (1923).

A 1914 melodrama, Lola, also known as Without a Soul, had Clara Kimball Young playing an ingénue struck by a car and galvanized back to life in her father’s laboratory. Shades of Alraune, the gentle girl turns into a soulless seductress, dumping her boyfriend and taking up, scandalously, with a married man. When she falls deathly ill, she begs her father to resuscitate her again, but he chooses to destroy his electrical apparatus and Lola dies a second and final death. Variety referred to Lola as “Miss Young’s lady Frankenstein”.

A similar situation with a different outcome was found in the British-made The Man Without a Soul (1916) when the revived title character, after much beastly behavior, finds his lost soul through prayer. The 1920 hit Go and Get It had a criminal brain plunked into a gorilla’s skull, resulting in a hairy missing link character played by Bull Montana. The Pittsburgh Press called it, “a modern Frankenstein, reversing the Darwinian plan.”

In 1924, On Time, a rowdy adventure yarn starring Richard Talmadge, “the dare-devil stunt king of motion pictures”, aka “The man without fear”, included a gorilla brain swap sequence. The story was written by Garrett Fort, who would eventually collaborate with Robert Florey, and later James Whale, on the script of Frankenstein (1931).

The great Lon Chaney flirted with Frankenstein themes in The Monster, a 1925 horror-comedy where he’s a flat-out mad-as-a-hatter scientist experimenting with soul transference, but the most direct Frankenstein connection was made earlier, with A Blind Bargain (1922) in which Chaney played Dr. Lamb, a scientist who, “in his hidden chamber of human experimentation”, grafts monkey glands to humans, supposedly giving them eternal youth. Chaney also appears as a tragic, crooked-legged manservant, the apish result of a failed gland switcheroo.

Frankensteinian themes of artificial life and reanimation permeate popular culture, and many films of the distant Silent Era explored these topics in unusual ways. I’ll be revisiting many of the titles here, in due time, in greater detail as new information and images continue to surface.

I had a great time exploring The Silent Frankensteins over the last two weeks. I hope you enjoyed the posts.

March 27, 2012

Those Other Silent Frankensteins

The Edison Frankenstein (1910), Life Without Soul (1915), and Il Mostro di Frankenstein (1920). The first has survived to this day, the other two, barring a miracle, are lost, but the saga of the Silent Era Frankenstein Films does not end with these three titles.

The 1910 Edison Kinetograph film was the first true Frankenstein film, but another film with “Frankenstein” in its title predated it by a full decade. Called The Frankenstein Trestle (1899), the scariest thing about this one was the precipitous height of its railroad track, supported by spindly iron framework, crossing a gorge at Crawford Notch, New Hampshire. The trestle took its name from the nearby Frankenstein Cliff, itself named after the celebrated artist, Godfrey Frankenstein, who had painted the panoramic scene in the late 1840s.

Showing a train crossing the span, the film was one of countless “scenics” that brought distant sights and exotic landscape views to local Nickelodeons.

The Frankenstein name was next applied to a devious but non-monstermaking character in the 1914 melodrama Sylvia Gray, aka The Strange Story of Sylvia Gray. Reviewing the film when it played the Vitagraph Theater at Broadway and 44th Street, The New York Times described it as “the life history of a vain, dissatisfied woman who gives up husband and child for life with a wealthy clubman who soon tires of her.

The tear-jerking action builds to “a logical climax — the daughter of Sylvia Gray, a pliable subject under the influence of Dr. Frankenstein, a disreputable hypnotist, is about to kill her blind father for his money, when vengeance overtakes the villain through a dagger thrust by the hand of his jealous wife.

The nefarious Dr. Frankenstein was played by Charles Dietz, the actor’s only known screen credit. The hypno-influenced daughter was played by Helen Gardner, yet another forgotten superstar of the silent era. Gardner, known as the movie’s first “vamp”, was also the first woman to establish her own production company, picking her projects, serving as producer, film editor and occasional costume designer. With husband Charles Gaskill as writer and director, Garner mounted an epic Cleopatra in 1912. At 90 minutes, it was reputedly the first full-length feature made in America and it would play around the world for years to come. In 1914, in addition to Sylvia Gray, Garner appeared as Miss Jekyll and Madame Hyde.
There might have been another non-Frankenstein Frankenstein silent film, but this next one was never committed to celluloid. A Paramount Pictures ad in the 1921 Motion Picture Studio Directory and Trade Annual announced An Assisted Frankenstein as one of several upcoming Wallace Reid vehicles, directed by Frank Urson from a story by Charles E. Van Loan.

Van Loan was a famous writer of sports fiction — best known for his baseball tales — of whom the Philadelphia Public Ledger said he had “the largest following of men readers of any magazine fiction writer”. As an editor, he published and championed a young Ring Lardner. Van Loan’s An Assisted Frankenstein was originally published in the June 17, 1916 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. I couldn’t find any further information on the story, but Van Loan made references to Frankenstein — in the sense of someone or something of one’s own creation going out of control — in at least two other stories.

The dashing Wallace Reid, “the screen’s most perfect lover”, was a reluctant matinee idol who had shown talent and a preference for writing and directing. Severely injured in a train wreck while filming Valley of the Giants (1919), he became addicted to morphine. He died, only 32 years old, in 1923.

For all these near- or ersatz Frankensteins, there was one last “true” silent Frankenstein film proposed but, alas, never made. In 1927, special effects pioneer Willis O’Brien floated an adaptation of Frankenstein with its Monster animated through stop-motion photography. O’Brien’s career yielded tremendous successes: The Lost World (1925), his masterpiece King Kong (1933) and Mighty Joe Young (1949) for which he earned an Oscar, but the long intervening years were weighted by frustration when elaborate, high-concept projects such as Creation, Gwangi, and War Eagles went unrealized.

Years later, O’Brien revived his Frankenstein project, this time with The Monster as a giant going head-to-head with King Kong but, again, it wasn’t to be. Eventually, O’Brien’s King Kong vs. Frankenstein story idea was sold to Japan’s Toho Pictures who substituted their own giant monster in the Frankenstein part and released King Kong vs. Godzilla in 1962. 

The illustration here is O’Brien’s concept for the later, giant Frankenstein Monster, conceivably inspired or informed by his original designs from 1927.

With many thanks to Robert Kiss for information on THE ASSISTED FRANKENSTEIN.
One more post to go! Next up: Frankenstein themes in silent films.

March 25, 2012

Il Mostro di Frankenstein (1920)

Revealed: Umberto Guarracino in Il Mostro di Frankenstein (1920), the last silent Frankenstein film. Movie strongman Guarracino made a formidable-looking, bullet-headed Monster. The actor went on to play another artificial man, “the product of the secret workshop”, in Die Insel der Verschollenen (1921), a German-made adaptation of H.G.Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau. 

The Mostro photo surfaced on the Italian site Sempre in penumbra, devoted to silent films and dedicated in its search for new information on the lost Frankenstein of 1920.

Of the silent movie Frankensteins, Il Mostro has proven the most elusive. Posters for showings in 1922 and 1926, as well as a Belgian program book, have surfaced (posted here and here), otherwise precious little is known about the film. The Penumbra site recently uncovered multilingual ads for an August 1922 screening in Port Said, Egypt. Also on the bill was a Snub Pollard comedy short from 1920, Call a Taxi.
Producer Luciano Albertini, who played the scientist, gets all the attention: “Original drama in 4 parts” the copy reads, “interpreted by SAMSON otherwise known as Luciano Albertini, the formidable artist of world fame.

Albertini (1882-1945) was a former circus performer and trapezist who parlayed his athletics and gentlemanly good looks into a career as stunt-performing matinee idol and one of Italy’s biggest silent stars. He also made films in Russia and Germany, with a short and uneventful stint in Hollywood, circa 1924. His most famous role, referenced on one of the Egyptian posters for Il Mostro, was in The Bridge of Sighs, a 1921 costume drama.

Here, with thanks to collector George Chastain, is a very rare, autographed postcard of Albertini.
By all appearances, Il Mostro di Frankenstein circulated widely, and was still being shown six years after it was made. Research continues — and we’ll be keeping an eye on the superlative Penumbra site — as slowly, piece-by-piece, information surfaces and the Mostro puzzle comes together.

NEXT UP: Silent Movie Frankenstein Week is extended a few days as we look at all those OTHER Silent Frankenstein films (!?!!).

Coverage of Il Mostro di Frankenstein on Sempre in penumbra here, here and here.
A detailed biography of Luciano Albertini on Film Star Postcards.
Il Mostro di Frankenstein as covered here, on Frankensteinia.

March 23, 2012

The Great Frankenstein Title Fight of 1931

It was March 25, in 1931, that Karl Krug of The Pittsburgh Press broke the news: “Universal is to make a talkie of Frankenstein, said to be more horrible than Dracula.

Through Spring, Summer and into the Fall, newspaper gossips would track progress on the film right up to its release. When Frankenstein opened in November, the anticipation was palpable and, when the film delivered on its promised shocks, the box office went ballistic.

Universal had secured the rights to and based their film on a 1927 British stage adaptation by Peggy Webling, reworked by John L. Balderston. Of course, the original source, Mary Shelley’s novel, was a public domain title and, theoretically, anyone could make a Frankenstein movie. Given the magnitude of Frankenstein’s success, it was perhaps only a matter of time until someone did. The challenge came to light in the December 30, 1931 issue of the New York-based trade paper, Film Daily.

Headlined “U Sues to Stop Indi Using ‘Frank’ Title”, a short article reported on Universal bringing action in the New York Supreme Court against one Mike Mindlin “to prevent him from selling a feature under the title of ‘Frankenstein’”. Universal stated damages would amount to $400,000 “owing to the fact that it is distributing its own hit by the same title”. The defendant claimed that the title in question “is common property owing to its general usage over a long period of years”.

Universal took the case very seriously, hiring Nathan Burkan as their counsel. In 1924, Burkan had co-founded ASCAP, successfully arguing for copyright extension, representing such luminaries as Irving Berlin and John Philip Sousa, and obtaining royalties for composers and lyricists when their works played on the radio. Burkan also represented famous entertainment personalities such as Charlie Chaplin, Al Jolson and, famously, a young Mae West after police closed down her sensationalistic revue called Sex.

The surprise here is that someone had a Frankenstein film readymade and ready to go. A clue to this bothersome, competing Frankenstein lies in the last line of the Film Daily article: “The Mindlin picture, produced by Oceanic Film Co., at present is without dialogue but talk is to be added later.” In other words, after 15 years, Ocean Films’ Life Without Soul had resurfaced.
The case was handled quickly. On January 2, 1932, Film Daily reported that Supreme Court Justice Churchill had granted Universal an injunction “to restrain Mindhyam Theatrical Co. and Michael Mindlin from ‘unfair competition’ in exploiting ‘Life Without Soul’ as the ‘original version of ‘Frankenstein’.” Judge Churchill stated, “It is apparent that the only purpose of the use of the word ‘Frankenstein’ in the advertising, exploitation and publicity of the defendant’s motion picture, ‘Life Without Soul’ or ‘Body Without Soul’ would be to confuse and mislead the public.

The injunction was temporary and Film Daily reported Universal as winning “the first round” but, apparently, the case was dropped and Defendant Mindlin quickly moved on to other projects. By the end of the year, the Russian-born producer’s Vision Pictures would unleash This Nude World, also known as Back to Nature, a purported documentary — "guaranteed educational!"on the morality of nudism. It cobbled together German and American nudist camp footage of sunbathers in the altogether, the inevitable nude volleyball game, and scenes from Paris’ Lido Theater.

Another infamous Mindlin production was Hitler’s Reign of Terror (1934), an early exposé of the Nazis as World Threat. Reviewing the film in The New York Times, critic Mordaunt Hall declared it “scarcely lives up to expectations”, its sensationalized revelations having “been seen here before from different angles” and deploring its lack of subtlety and its many staged scenes; “Even Hitler comes to the screen at one point personated by some player”. The New York State Censor Board refused it a license, but somehow Mindlin still managed to show it to capacity crowds over a two-week run at Manhattan’s Mayfair — the same theater that premiered Frankenstein in 1931.

One thing learned from the Frankenstein Title Fight is that a copy of Life Without Soul was still around in 1931. Mindlin, in exploitation mode, had planned to give it a soundtrack, perhaps simple and inexpensive narration, maybe some sound effects, a little music, and then he could have ballyhooed a 15-year old silent as The Original Frankenstein!

When an exploitation expert was unable to squeeze a few dollars out of it, Life Without Soul was doomed. Outdated, unexploitable, its worst sin being a silent film in a bold new era of sound, Life Without Soul would be neglected, soon forgotten and, ultimately, lost.

March 21, 2012

Stupendous in Its Execution!
Life Without Soul's Cast and Crew

The cast of Life Without Soul appears in Motography, a silent-era movie magazine. William A. Cohill played the Frawley/Frankenstein character, Lucy Cotton was Elizabeth and Percy Standing was “The Creation”.

Cohill’s film career was brief and unremarkable. He appeared in some 30 films, mostly shorts, between 1914 and 1919. He passed away in 1931, age 48.

Lucy Cotton was a popular performer on Broadway before transitioning to film in 1910. She would make only a dozen pictures over the next ten years, her acting career vastly overshadowed by her flashy socialite life. She married a press magnate in 1924, inheriting a sizeable fortune when hubby passed away two years later. Four more high-profile marriages followed, the last one in 1941 to a Russian Prince. From then on, even after their separation, Cotton called herself Princess Eristavi-Tchitcherine and expected to be addressed as “Princess” or “Your Royal Highness”. She lived alone and lavishly in a palatial Miami home she named after herself, Villa Lucia. Tragically, in late 1948, she fell ill and died from a drug overdose. Scandal sheets called her the “Showgirl-to-Princess Sleeping Pill Victim”, publishing photos of Cotton in sumptuous gowns and furs, and her estranged husband in traditional Russian garb and sword.

A highly respected actor, British-born Percy Standing, billed here as Percy Darrell Standing, came from a very prominent theatrical family that included his father, three brothers, and assorted relatives down to this day. Most of his films, over 40 in all, were made in America. Parts included a turn as Professor Moriarty to Ellie Norwood’s Sherlock Holmes in The Final Problem (1923), and an appearance in Harmony Heaven (1930), the first British “all-talkie” color film. Standing passed away in California, in 1950, age 67.

The Ocean Film Corporation was organized by John I. Dudley and Jesse J. Goldburg, and capitalized by investors to the tune of $200,000. Life Without Soul was the company’s initial offering and very much an in-house affair: Dudley produced, Vice President Goldburg wrote the script and Production Manager George DeCarlton played Frawley/Frankenstein’s father. Offices were secured in New York’s Candler Building, at 220 West 42nd Street. An early, 1914 skyscraper built with Coca-Cola money, the Candler, still a dramatic presence in Times Square, earned a listing on the National Register of Historic Places. Today, the ground floor hosts the world’s largest MacDonalds. According to Motography, it is here, on Sunday, November 28, 1915, that Life Without Soul got its first showing, “given for state rights buyers, exchange men, the reviewers of the motion picture journals and the trade in general.

Ocean’s announced policy was to produce unusual features of themes never heretofore touched, largely adaptations from literary masterpieces”. Eight features were planned, each with its own separate cast and crew, “in order to allow each as much time as is necessary to complete a perfect photoplay, without the haste that has characterized some of the features heretofore made.

For all its promise, Ocean Film made only two more features, The Fortunate Youth and Driftwood, both in 1916. That same year, Life Without Soul was re-released through the Raver Film Corporation with added color tints and tacked-on documentary footage on how fish reproduce.

In time, Life Without Soul was lost to us, but not before resurfacing one last time, 15 years on, when the most famous of all Frankenstein films was first released. That story is coming up next!

Next up: It’s Percy Standing vs Boris Karloff as Silent Frankenstein Week continues!

With thanks to Joe Thompson.

March 20, 2012

Life Without Soul (1915)

Revealed: “The Creation” in Life Without Soul. Directed by Joseph W. Smiley for the Ocean Film Corporation in 1915, it was the second Frankenstein film and, at 70 minutes, the first feature-length Frankenstein. This rare photograph of actor Percy Standing on a Florida Beach was used, as a drawing, as the central figure on the only known poster/herald advertising the film.

The film is lost to the ages, but a contemporary review by Thomas C. Kennedy published on December 4 in the film magazine Motography reveals a story that hews fairly close to Mary Shelley’s novel. Certainly, Life Without Soul made a bold attempt at capturing the world-spanning sweep of the tale, filming in St. Augustine and Jacksonville, Florida, and Dahlonega, Georgia, with additional scenes shot on a steamer sailing from Savannah to New York.

Scripter Jesse J. Goldburg, VP and general manager of Ocean Film, provided a framing device wherein a physician named Victor Frawley (William A. Cohill) discovers a “life-giving fluid”. Knocking off work, he dozes off while reading a copy of Mary Shelley’s novel.

The action picks up in Europe, with Frawley, his fiancée and friends transformed into corresponding characters from the book. As Frankenstein, Frawley uses his elixir to bring a clay statue to life. Shunned by all, the mountainous Monster demands a mate. When Frankenstein reneges on his promise to comply, The Creation embarks on a murderous rampage, killing Frankenstein’s young sister, his friend Henry Clerval and, on their wedding night, Frankenstein’s bride, Elizabeth. More mayhem ensues aboard a sea-going ship, with Standing’s brute throwing the entire crew overboard. In a climactic confrontation, Georgia cliffs standing in for the Grand Canyon, Frawley/Frankenstein traps The Creation in a cave and blows it up with dynamite, leaving the indestructible Monster trapped underground forever. Frankenstein dies from exhaustion, whereupon Frawley wakes up and promptly destroys his invention.
The Motography review called the film “good screen material” providing “many unusual developments and melodramatic situations. The action, which carries the spectator from the dissecting room through mountainous country, desert land and on the high seas, does so with unflagging interest.” The film’s Monster, as should be expected, is the key element: “The superman, a creature of superb physique who, without conscience, makes no attempt to restrain the cravings of his healthy body, is an exceptionally suspenseful figure for the photoplay.” A minor quibble, “In places the action is confusing, but it is not a fault to the scenario or the director, and the addition of a few properly placed subtitles probably would overcome this.

Acting throughout is pronounced as “splendid… convincing”, with Percy Darrell Standing’s interpretation singled out as “excellent He acts with consistency and his performance is one that is certain to meet with general approval.

After its initial run, a color-tinted version of Life Without Soul toured in 1916, and the film resurfaced again — problematically, as we shall see later this week — in 1931.

Next up on SILENT FRANKENSTEIN WEEK: The Ocean Film Corporation story, promotional materials, and we’ll meet the cast and crew of Life Without Soul.

With many thanks to Joe Thompson for his stellar research.

March 18, 2012

The Silent Frankenstein's Roving Props

The Edison Kinetograph Company’s Frankenstein was released 102 years ago today, on March 18, in 1910. It is the only one of three Frankenstein films from the silent era to have survived for us to appreciate. It has been heavily studied, interpreted and analyzed, yet we find that we can still discover new things about it. Case in point, props from Frankenstein were used in at least one other Edison film, and therein might hide a clue to the singular appearance of The Monster in Frankenstein.

The film in question, embedded here, is A Trip to Mars, released on February 18, exactly one month before Frankenstein.

Director Ashley Miller made over 100 short films, many for Edison’s company, eventually working in different productions with Frankenstein alumni Augustus Phillips, Mary Fuller and Charles Ogle (in a film intriguingly called Van Bibber’s Experiment (1911). A Trip to Mars was no doubt inspired by Georges Méliès’ wildly successful A Trip to the Moon of 1902, still influential after nearly a decade. A Trip to Mars, however, is not a copy of the earlier film. Its Martian tableaus are whimsical, but its photographic tricks are not nearly as elaborate or magical as those staged by Méliès.

Both films borrow from H.G.Wells’ “The First Men in the Moon”. Méliès’ lunar explorers encountered Wells’ flowering moonscape and insect-like Selenites, while the Edison film used Wells’ propulsion system, Cavorite, here called “Reverse Gravity”. Like Wells’ Professor Cavor, Edison’s scientist tests his chemicals on a chair, causing it to hit to the ceiling. The scientist then douses himself with Reverse Gravity Powder and floats out the window and across space to Mars.

The obvious shared prop is a laboratory skeleton. It is prominent in Frankenstein, providing a touch of the macabre, sitting like a long forgotten guest in the foreground, in front of the witches’ cabinet where the scientist boils up his Monster. The same skeleton, with its distinctive ribcage and flat pelvis, hangs decoratively on the back wall of the Mars Voyager’s lab. Probably papier-mâché, it resembles a Dia de Muertos figure. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this skeleton used in other films as a standard prop for experimental labs and doctor’s offices.

The second shared prop is more of a guess, a possibility, but the evidence is compelling…

On Mars, the Voyager encounters fantastical sights. One short scene has him stumbling through a forest of grotesque, giant Ent-like living trees. They sway and waved their claw-like hands in mild menace. On the left-hand side, highlighted here in a screen cap, one of the tree giants has long, branch-like fingers that are strikingly similar to the Frankenstein Monster’s bizarre hands. Note the shape and length of the fingers, and the curiously bent thumb. Are these the Frankenstein Monster’s hands?

Both films were shot close together, this much is certain. Kinetograph films were routinely shot, edited and in release within a few short weeks. Frankenstein lensed in January, but I could not find any shooting details for A Trip to Mars. Mars was released before Frankenstein, suggesting but not proving that it was made before Frankenstein. The question, of course, is which film came first, providing ready-made props for the other.

I have always thought of The Monster’s inexplicably curious hands as branch-like, and it would certainly explain things if actor Charles Ogle, donning his extreme makeup for Frankenstein, used the recently made and readily available Mars prop gloves for effect.

Compare images, compare films, A Trip to Mars posted above, and Frankenstein here. The question is posed: Were the Frankenstein Monster’s curious hands really Martian appendages?

Next up this week, information and rare photographs from the 1915 Frankenstein epic: LIFE WITHOUT SOUL.

March 17, 2012

Silent Frankenstein Week!

From the pages of the local Daily Herald, May 14, 1910, the New Lyric Theatre of Palestine, Texas, presents the High-Class Comedy, Songs and Dances of Ball & Dorris, the music of the seven-piece Triece’s Orchestra, and a program of High Art Motion Photographs, led by Edison’s feature film, Frankenstein.

Starting Sunday, and running all week, we will be celebrating the Silent Movie Frankensteins: Edison’s Frankenstein (1910), Life Without Soul (1915), and Il Mostro di Frankenstein (1920).

Turn off the sound and join us for High-Quality Motographic Archeology, High-Class Discoveries, High-Falutin’ Revelations, and Rare, High-Eye-Popping Photographs!

It starts right here, tomorrow!

Related Posts:
Life Without Soul:The Silent Frankensteins

March 14, 2012

Shelley's Ghost in New York

An important exhibition celebrating the literary and cultural legacy of Percy Bysshe and Mary Shelley, and Mary’s parents, William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft, first presented at Oxford’s Bodleian Library a year ago, has come to North America. Shelley’s Ghost is presently showing until June 24 at the New York Public Library.

The exhibition includes letters, diaries, art and artifacts and, seen for the first time ever outside England, actual manuscript pages from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. A number of companion activities are scheduled, with more to be announced along the way.

There are a number of documents online: The NYPL’s exhibition page and companion website featuring numerous links, and an Illustrated Biography of Mary Shelley by Charles Cuykendall Carter and artist Derek Marks.

There is also an exhibition companion volume available from the Library’s bookshop.

I’ll be traveling to New York to see this later this spring, and I’ll report back.

Shelley's Ghost at the Bodleian

March 6, 2012

The Covers of Frankenstein : The Believer 2012 Film Issue

On the cover of the current, March-April issue of The Believer, artist Charles Burns likens movies to campfire tales, with Karloff’s Frankenstein Monster as the scare story being told.

In an extraordinary case of collaboration, Burns has illustrated every cover — 88 and counting — for The Believer, published by McSweeney’s. The artist’s love of classic monsters is evident is all his work, including his covers for the magazine’s annual Film Issue. Last year, Bela Lugosi’s Dracula appeared and the 2010 issue featured the dead martian from Hammer Films’ Five Million Years to Earth.

I blogged previously about Charles Burns. Click here to see his fabulous Frankenstein/Dracula group portrait and numerous links to his work.

The Believer magazine's 2012 Film Issue with excerpts from the featured articles.

The Believer 2012 Film issue order page.

With thanks to Kevin L. Ferguson.

March 4, 2012

Mike Mignola's World Horror Convention Poster

Always a thrill to find a new Frankenstein illustration by the great Mike Mignola. Here, under a dark crescent moon, a sawtooth Dracula and a flayed Monster pose amidst a rifled cemetery, a bat-haunted castle and a gearwork laboratory.

This image was produced for this year’s World Horror Convention, in Salt Lake City, March 29 to April 1, where Mignola is Artist Guest of Honor. A high quality poster print will be available, strictly limited to 100 copies and going for $100.

The World Horror Convention 2012
The Art of Mike Mignola

Hellboy Meets FrankensteinMike Mignola’s Bride of Frankenstein
Art of Frankenstein: Mike Mignola
The Covers of Frankenstein: The Frankenstein Dracula War
The Bride and the Betrothed

March 1, 2012

National Theater Frankenstein Encores

The UK’s National Theater has released a new trailer announcing encore screenings of its triumphant 2011 production of Frankenstein, written by Nick Dear and directed by Danny Boyle.

Despite universal acclaim, a stack of important awards and petitions by fans, the National has no plans to produce a DVD of the play, theater being, by definition, an ephemeral experience. Not to mention complex issues of performance rights. Still, this remarkable Frankenstein will be coming ‘round again this summer in a “limited season” of screenings through the NT Live circuit of movie houses around the world.

If you’ve seen this production, I suspect you might want to see it again, as I will. If you haven’t seen it, I urge you to do so. It’s as perfect a production of Frankenstein as anyone can hope for, brilliantly acted by Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller, switching parts on alternate evenings as Victor Frankenstein and his Creature. There are many moments that have stuck indelibly with me, from the athletics of the creation scene under a canopy of over 3000 light bulbs, through the scenes with the blind DeLacey, Frankenstein haunted by little William’s ghost, the Creature’s harrowing encounter with Elizabeth, and a profoundly moving arctic finale. Best of all was a brief, poignant sequence where the Creature dances with his dream Bride.

Frankenstein will be screening this summer, beginning in June. The National Theatre’s Frankenstein page has a link to its NT Live venues. Whether all the venues listed will carry the encore performances is not specified. You might want to check with your local theater.

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