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

March 26, 2013

Rondo Awards Voting Closes April 7!

Last Call! Voting closes Sunday! There are only 13 days a few days left for YOU to decide who wins this year’s Rondo Awards, so wait no more!

The Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards celebrate “the best in monster research, creativity and film preservation”. The ballot — 35 categories! — is huge, but you can vote is as many or as few categories as you like. All the info is here.

Should you wish to give us your support, vote FRANKENSTEINIA for Best Blog, Category 19. And if you would consider me for the Writer’s Award, enter Pierre Fournier in Category 28.

This post, by the way, is the 801st since I launched the blog back in 2007. I made 104 posts last year, tracking Frankenstein in films, books, comics, art and popular culture. Here, for your consideration, are some of my personal favorites from 2012…

Ballyhoo, Oz-style… A case study in 5 posts on how the 1931 Frankenstein was promoted in Brisbane, including a photo of Australia’s Tallest Man touring the country in Frankenstein makeup and costume.

Primo Frankenstein… Unseen for 55 years, Primo Carnera’s TV Monster of 1957!

Cagney Does Frankenstein… Fun find as James Cagney pays onscreen homage to his friend Boris Karloff in Footlight Parade (1933).

And finally, I am very proud of my Silent Frankenstein series, 8 posts in all, featuring new information about the Edison Frankenstein of 1910; Life Without Soul of 1915 — notably how the film resurfaced in 1931 to compete with the blockbuster Karloff film! and Il Mostro di Frankenstein of 1920 — featuring vintage trade ads and the only known photograph from this lost film! The Silent series also covered Frankensteinian themes in silent films such as The Golem, Homunculus, Alraune, and many other titles.

My favorite post of all from last year was The Silent Frankenstein’s Roving Props about the Edison film of 1910, in which we learn that Charles Ogle’s creepy, branch-like hands came… from Mars! True! Go look!

Thank you for your kind consideration. The Rondo Award ballot is here. Voting closes April 7.

March 22, 2013

Scary Monsters No. 85: Jack Pierce, Frankendesigner

Makeup legend Jack Pierce poses with some of his creations, including Monster and Bride, on this splendid wraparound cover for Scary Monsters Magazine by Terry Beatty.

In a busy field of horror film magazines, publisher/editor Dennis Druktenis’ Scary Monsters stands out as an engaging and uniquely fun title, a throwback to the “monsterfan” era down to its packaging, printed in black and white on cheap newsprint. Each hefty issue is crammed to the gills celebrating monster movies and the monster memories of Monster Kids. The eclectic offerings in the issue at hand include a meeting with the Black Lagoon’s Julie Adams, an article on the making of The Hideous Sun Demon, Charlton comics’ take on Reptilicus, and an entertaining look at mad scientist Boris Karloff’s pseudo-scientific wall scribblings from House of Frankenstein. And that’s not half of the content in this particular issue!

The cover feature is Larry (aka horror host Dr. Gangrene) Underwood’s defense of Jack Pierce as the true designer of the iconic movie Frankenstein Monster. In recent years, it’s been argued that others, and principally director James Whale, had considerable and even decisive influence on the character’s appearance. Underwood digs up and discusses a rich assortment of quotes pro and con. Underwood’s article is passionate and highly opinionated, leading to a perhaps foregone conclusion in Pierce’s favor, but the fun of the piece, and what makes it a great read, is that it is generous with quotes and references, allowing the reader to form his or her own conclusions. Another big plus is the complete text of a previously un-translated profile of Jack Pierce originally published in a Spanish-language newspaper.

Scary Monsters Magazine No. 85 is available directly from the publisher — come on, try a copy! — and Larry Underwood’s article, Jack Pierce, Frankendesigner is also available separately as an e-article for Kindle. 

Scary Monsters website.
Larry Underwood’s Dr. Gangrene blog

March 19, 2013

The Art of Frankenstein : Barry Sachs

A mixed media Bride bursts with electric colors, her signature white curls sizzling with lightning.

Pennsylvania-based artist Barry Sachs is a painter, graphic designer and illustrator whose portfolio reveals a love for the classic monsters. With paint and pixels, experimenting with bold color and design, Sachs has depicted, among others, The Bride’s famous mate, Lugosi’s Dracula, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, Vincent Price, the pulps’ The Shadow and the comic books’ Rocketeer.

There’s lots to see on Barry Sachs’ blog

March 13, 2013

The Art of Frankenstein : David Plunkert

Here’s a fabulous image by top-flight illustrator David Plunkert recently used by the New York Times to accompany a review of Roseanne Montillo’s The Lady and Her Monsters, a new book about the real-life medical and electrical experimenters who influenced Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

Plunkert’s distinctive collage style suits the Frankenstein theme to perfection, the floating display of peeled-back body parts, dissected frogs and archaic scientific gadgets approximating the actual, often implausible assemblages used by inquisitive galvanists and natural philosophers of Shelley’s era.

See more of David Plunkert’s superlative work on his website and blog.

March 8, 2013

Dance Hall Frankenstein

A musician is glimpsed wearing a classic over-the-head Don Post Frankenstein mask in a wild New Year’s Eve party scene — everyone else in party hats under flying confetti and a soap bubble machine working overtime — in Ealing Studios’ Dance Hall, in 1950.

Directed by Charles Crichton, the film chronicles the lives and loves of young working-class women in postwar London, set to big band music against the adolescent drama of a dance competition. The cast includes British Bombshell Diana Dors in an early, showy role, and Petula Clark, a former child star once known as “Britain’s Shirley Temple”, here in her breakthrough performance as a young adult lead, clinching the deal with her first romantic screen kiss. Clark would go from British popularity to European success as a multi-lingual entertainer and, eventually, worldwide super-stardom as a British Invasion Diva with a string of pop chart hits starting with Downtown in 1964.

Back to Frankenstein Monster’s surprise appearance, there’s a direct connection to be noted: Eunice Gayson, who has a supporting role in Dance Hall, would go on to play opposite Peter Cushing in Hammer’s The Revenge of Frankenstein in 1958. Gayson is perhaps best remembered as the first Bond Girl, playing James Bond’s girlfriend in Dr. No (1962) and From Russia With Love (1963).

The Monster mask used here is the absolute keystone of Monster collectibles, created under license from Universal Pictures in 1948 by the Don Post studios of California, purveyors of generic Halloween masks — pirates, witches, cowboys and indians —  sold in joke shops and novelty counters across America. In an era before there was any official monster merchandising, it was the first commercially available Frankenstein mask. “This Frankenstein mask is so real,” Post Studio promotions read, “it immediately runs anyone into a monster… Just pull it over your head as you would a bathing cap, and watch what happens.” It would prove immediately and phenomenally successful, with Post claiming that “seventy percent of all masks sold today are Frankenstein’s Monster Masks.”

Soon, men in Don Post Frankenstein masks popped up in touring “Spook Shows”, or worked sidewalks and theater lobbies, ballyhooing new monster movies. The mask would be featured on TV, notably worn by Rosemary Clooney’s backup singers in a 1957 episode of her variety show, when Boris Karloff guest-starred. That same year, the Shock Theatre package of Universal’s horror films syndicated to TV stations saw the emergence of horror hosts, with Don Post Frankensteins putting in guest appearances. In 1958, publisher James Warren donned a tuxedo and a Don Post Frankenstein mask, and posed with a blonde model for the cover of the first issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine. It was a defining moment, with the Don Post mask in attendance: The Shock package had ignited Monster Mania, and FMOF became its herald.

Cheaply made and inexpensive, packaged in distinctive green boxes, untold thousands of the Don Post Frankenstein masks were sold for Halloween parties or one-time gags, then thrown away. The thin rubber tore easily and nothing short of museum-grade storage would keep the flimsy masks from disintegrating over time. Today, only a couple of the original 1948 model are known to exist, commanding stratospheric prices.

Back in 1950, way over there in England, the Don Post Frankenstein mask made what is likely its first-ever feature-film cameo. It was just a throwaway gag, the musical Monster seen as fun and, as such, a harbinger of things to come. 

Image source: Rattlingdjs, with big thanks to David Rattigan.

March 4, 2013

The Art of Frankenstein : Travis Louie

Inspired by formal Victorian photography and Sideshow grotesqueries, American artist Travis Louie’s black and white paintings — exquisite acrylic washes over a graphite sketch — depict odd subjects with misshapen heads often sprouting horns, antennae or fezzes. Some characters resemble educated monkeys or well-dressed dogs and toads, others find their origins in the supernatural or the otherworldly. Disturbing, but never menacing, profoundly strange and always whimsical, Louie’s bizarre creatures look back at us across time and, apparently, another dimension, like long-forgotten and very peculiar ancestors.   

Louie grew up loving comic books, Fifties “atom-age” horror and science fiction movies, German Expressionism and Film Noir, a rich variety of influences that inform his unusual and very personal art. Occasionally, a movie monster appears, like Godzilla, sporting a monocle or, here, a unique and unsettling portrait of the classic Frankenstein Monster. Curiously, while Louie’s characters often sport too many eyes, this version of The Monster has too few. In fact, dare I say it, Travis Louie’s Frankenstein is the portrait of a one-eyed monster.

Travis Louie’s website.
An interview with the artist.