March 28, 2013

Playing Another Karloff: Thursday's Child (1943)

It is impossible to overstate the impact of James Whale’s Frankenstein (1931) and how Boris Karloff’s stunning box-headed Monster became an instant icon, recognized the world over. In short order, The Monster was sampled in cartoons and films as a reference or a comedy foil, appearing with, among others, Betty Boop, Mickey Mouse, the Ritz Brothers and Olsen and Johnson.

In what may be its first British cameo, The Monster appeared in 1943’s Thursday’s Child, a title catalogued by Frankenstein expert Don Glut, but frustratingly unseen until now. The film has surfaced and we can enjoy The Monster’s scene, which I’ve isolated in the clip posted above. The whole film is up on YouTube.

Thursday’s Child, featuring 13-year old Sally Ann Howes in her film debut, is about a young girl whose movie stardom creates conflict within her family. Stewart Granger, a British star before his late-Forties move to Hollywood, appears as the girl’s father.

The Monster’s scene comes roughly 39 minutes into the proceedings. Set in a film studios’ commissary, the girl’s mother, played by Kathleen O’Regan, is in a cafeteria line, unaware that an actor in Frankenstein Monster makeup stands behind her. Another extra, dressed as a Nazi officer, greets him. “Hello Jack!” he says, “Playing another Karloff?”. 

When O’Regan starts to leave, the Frankenstein character holds her back: “You’ve forgotten your pudding, Madam!”. She turns and we get a tight closeup of The Monster. Watch the reaction.

This Frankenstein Monster wears a white smock and crude but effective makeup with long, wispy hair. In closeup, the makeup is a bit more elaborate, textured for effect. The film was makeup man Bob Clark’s first screen credit. His career stretched until 1967.

Young Sally Ann Howes was discovered by her next-door neighbor, writer and director Rodney Ackland. She would go on to an exceptional career, running well into the 90s, as a singer and actress in films, theater and television.

Thursday’s Child was produced at the Welwyn Garden Studios in Hertfordshire, a facility used for quota quickies, b-movies, a Bulldog Drummond film, and picking up the overflow from Elstree Studios. Alfred Hitchcock made The 39 Steps (1935) here and returned to make a couple of propaganda shorts in 1944. Famous films include the crime classic Brighton Rock (1947) and The Dark Eyes of London, aka The Human Monster (1939), an Edgar Wallace mystery-horror starring the visiting Bela Lugosi. Welwyn Studios, originally built in 1928 and showing its age fell into progressive disuse by the late Forties and was sold off for warehouse space in 1950. The site was leveled in 2007.

The Monster’s cameo makes for a fun, throwaway scene, typical of The Monster’s frequent service as an all-purpose boogieman, with Boris Karloff name-checked as a bonus. If anyone can ID the actor, please share!

Thursday’s Child on YouTube
A history of  Welwyn Studios, on BritMovie

The Monster appears on a lobby card for Thursday's Child (1943)
Dance Hall Frankenstein


Robert Kiss said...

An image of this scene was also employed on one of the front-of-house stills (the British equivalent of lobby cards) used to promote the movie at theatres. Here's a link to a scan of the rather well-used example from my collection:

It's interesting to see the scene that the image illustrates... which turns out to be a good deal livelier than I'd imagined!

Pierre Fournier said...

Yes, the scene is a lot of fun and the closeup reactions are very effective. And thanks for sharing that great lobby card!

Rick said...

Thanks for this, Pierre. Another long-mysterious item sneaks its way back into the world. Can LIFE WITHOUT SOUL be far behind?!?!?!

I wish.