THE RAVEN (1935, USA, 61m, PG) ***½
dist. Universal Pictures; pr co. Universal Pictures; d. Lew Landers; w. David Boehm (based on the poem by Edgar Allan Poe); exec pr. Stanley Bergerman (uncredited); ph. Charles J. Stumar (B&W | 1.37:1); m. Clifford Vaughan; ed. Albert Akst; ad. Albert S. D’Agostino.
cast: Boris Karloff (Edmond Bateman), Bela Lugosi (Dr. Richard Vollin), Lester Matthews (Dr. Jerry Holden), Irene Ware (Jean Thatcher), Samuel S. Hinds (Judge Thatcher), Spencer Charters (Col. Bertram Grant), Inez Courtney (Mary Burns), Ian Wolfe (Geoffrey “Pinky”), Maidel Turner (Harriet).
Lugosi plays a spurned surgeon who seeks revenge using Edgar Allan Poe’s devices of torture and a hideously disfigured Karloff. Lugosi gives a commanding interpretation of madness in this lean horror that makes up in enthusiastic performances what it lacks in the sophistication and black humour that a director like James Whale would have brought to the proceedings. Karloff makes a late entrance and once again gives a strong physical performance mixing both pathos and threat. Ware makes a sparkling, if screechy, heroine and the final act in Lugosi’s chamber of horrors is enjoyably tense.
THE BLACK CAT (1934, USA, 65m, PG) ***½
Crime, Horror, Thriller
dist. Universal Pictures; pr co. Universal Pictures; d. Edgar G. Ulmer; w. Peter Ruric (based on a story by Edgar G. Ulmer & Peter Ruric and suggested by a story by Edgar Allan Poe); pr. Carl Laemmle Jr. (uncredited); ph. John J. Mescall (B&W | 1.37:1); m. Heinz Roemheld; ed. Ray Curtiss; ad. Charles D. Hall.
cast: Boris Karloff (Hjalmar Poelzig), Bela Lugosi (Dr. Vitus Werdegast), David Manners (Peter Alison), Julie Bishop (Joan Alison (as Jacqueline Wells)), Egon Brecher (The Majordomo), Harry Cording (Thamal), Lucille Lund (Karen), Henry Armetta (The Sergeant), Albert Conti (The Lieutenant).
Dark and macabre story sees Manners and Bishop as a newlywed couple who share their train coach with Dr Vitus (Lugosi), a psychiatrist. Later, they share a bus that crashes in a storm and they move to the fortress-like home of the sinister Hjalmar Poelzig (Karloff). This effective horror thriller suffers from a loose script and uneven direction but is heightened by the expert performances of Karloff and Lugosi. Mescall’s shadowy photography and Hall’s stylish production design add to the atmosphere. Watch out for John Carradine as the organist during the cult ritual. Aka: THE HOUSE OF DOOM; THE VANISHING BODY.
ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948, USA) ***
Comedy, Horror, Sci-Fi
dist. Universal Pictures (USA), General Film Distributors (GFD) (UK); pr co. Universal International Pictures (UI); d. Charles Barton; w. Robert Lees, Frederic I. Rinaldo, John Grant; pr. Robert Arthur; ph. Charles Van Enger (B&W. 35mm. Spherical. 1.37:1); m. Frank Skinner; ed. Frank Gross; ad. Hilyard M. Brown, Bernard Herzbrun; rel. 15 June 1948 (USA), August 1949 (UK); BBFC cert: PG; r/t. 83m.
cast: Bud Abbott (Chick), Lou Costello (Wilbur), Lon Chaney Jr. (Lawrence Talbot / The Wolfman), Bela Lugosi (Dracula), Glenn Strange (Monster), Lenore Aubert (Sandra Mornay), Jane Randolph (Joan Raymond), Frank Ferguson (Mr. McDougal), Charles Bradstreet (Dr. Stevens).
Abbott and Costello play two hapless freight handlers who find themselves encountering Dracula, the Frankenstein Monster and the Wolf Man. Enjoyment of this horror comedy will depend on your tolerance of the antics of the comedy duo who lack the sophistication, inventiveness and dignity of Laurel & Hardy, but became immensely popular nonetheless. One or two amusing moments do surface, and it is great to see Lugosi, Chaney and co. in action again. Lugosi is particularly effective returning to his signature role of Count Dracula. Watch out for the final gag, which is the best of the production. In 2001, the Library of Congress selected this film for preservation in the National Film Registry. On screen title: BUD ABBOTT AND LOU COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN. UK Title: ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET THE GHOSTS.
SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939, USA) ****
Sci-Fi, Horror, Drama
dist. Universal Pictures (USA), General Film Distributors (GFD) (UK); pr co. Universal Pictures; d. Rowland V. Lee; w. Wyllis Cooper (suggested by the novel “Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus” by Mary Shelley); pr. Rowland V. Lee; ph. George Robinson (B&W. 35mm. Spherical. 1.37:1); m. Frank Skinner; ed. Ted J. Kent; ad. Jack Otterson; rel. 13 January 1939 (USA), January 1939 (UK); BBFC cert: PG; r/t. 99m.
cast: Basil Rathbone (Baron Wolf von Frankenstein), Boris Karloff (The Monster), Bela Lugosi (Ygor), Lionel Atwill (Inspector Krogh), Josephine Hutchinson (Elsa von Frankenstein), Donnie Dunagan (Peter von Frankenstein), Emma Dunn (Amelia), Edgar Norton (Thomas Benson), Perry Ivins (Fritz), Lawrence Grant (Burgomaster), Lionel Belmore (Emil Lang), Michael Mark (Ewald Neumüller), Caroline Frances Cooke (Frau Neumüller), Gustav von Seyffertitz (Burgher), Lorimer Johnston (Burgher), Tom Ricketts (Burgher).
Rathbone is the son of original Frankenstein who returns to the ancestral castle long after the death of the monster (Karloff). There he meets the mad shepherd Ygor (Lugosi) who is hiding the comatose creature. To clear the family name, he revives the creature and tries to rehabilitate him. The third in the series was successful enough to re-ignite Universal’s interest in the genre. Whilst the plot may be familiar, there are still many iconic moments here that make this another high quality addition to the series. Lugosi is superb as the bitter and twisted (both mentally and physically) Ygor and Atwill enjoys himself as the police inspector with an artificial arm (lampooned hilariously in Mel Brooks’ YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (1974)). Rathbone too rises to the occasion with an energetic performance. Karloff continues to add pathos and a physical presence to the role of the creature, but here he is given less to do. The expressionistic set design and shadowy photography are first class and Lee directs the material with a sure hand. The series would descend into routine hokum starting with THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN (1942).
THE WOLF MAN (USA, 1941) ***½
Distributor: Universal Pictures; Production Company: Universal Pictures; Release Date: 9 December 1941 (USA), 13 March 1942 (UK); Filming Dates: 8 September 1941 – 25 November 1941; Running Time: 70m; Colour: B&W; Sound Mix: Mono (Western Electric Mirrophonic Recording); Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Spherical; Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1; BBFC Cert: PG.
Director: George Waggner; Writer: Curt Siodmak; Executive Producer: Jack J. Gross; Producer: George Waggner; Director of Photography: Joseph A. Valentine; Music Composer: Charles Previn, Hans J. Salter, Frank Skinner (all uncredited); Music Director: Charles Previn; Film Editor: Ted J. Kent; Art Director: Jack Otterson; Set Decorator: Russell A. Gausman; Costumes: Vera West; Make-up: Jack P. Pierce; Sound: Bernard B. Brown; Special Effects: John P. Fulton (uncredited).
Cast: Lon Chaney Jr. (Larry Talbot – The Wolf Man), Claude Rains (Sir John Talbot), Warren William (Dr. Lloyd), Ralph Bellamy (Colonel Paul Montford), Patric Knowles (Frank Andrews), Bela Lugosi (Bela), Maria Ouspenskaya (Maleva), Evelyn Ankers (Gwen Conliffe), J.M. Kerrigan (Charles Conliffe), Fay Helm (Jenny Williams), Forrester Harvey (Twiddle), Jessie Arnold (Gypsy Woman (uncredited)), Leyland Hodgson (Kendall – Butler (uncredited)), Connie Leon (Mrs. Wykes (uncredited)), Doris Lloyd (Mrs. Williams (uncredited)), Ottola Nesmith (Mrs. Bally (uncredited)).
Synopsis: A practical man returns to his homeland, is attacked by a creature of folklore, and infected with a horrific disease his disciplined mind tells him cannot possibly exist.
Comment: Universal’s second Werewolf film after WEREWOLF OF LONDON (1935). It is a fun outing with a strong sense of atmosphere, created by Valentine’s moody photography and Pierce’s impressive make-up. Chaney is Lawrence Talbot, who returns to father Rains’ estate and falls for antique shop-girl Ankers. After visiting a gypsy camp, where he meets the mysterious Lugosi he is bitten by a werewolf and his nightmares begin. Chaney is too stiff to carry off the leading man role but is better when in full make-up and snarling at his intended victims. Rains delivers the best performance, capturing subtly his character’s dilemma of not wanting to believe his son is the murderous monster, but deep down knowing he must do what is right. Waggner directs with pace and the movie proved to be a success. Chaney would appear as the Wolf Man four more times, but only as part of multi-monster offerings. Followed by FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN (1943) and remade as THE WOLFMAN (2010).
Dracula (1931; USA; B&W; 75m) **** d. Tod Browning; w. Louis Bromfield, Tod Browning, Max Cohen, Dudley Murphy, Louis Stevens; ph. Karl Freund; m. Philip Glass (1999 release). Cast: Bela Lugosi, Helen Chandler, Dwight Frye, Edward Van Sloan, David Manners, Herbert Bunston, Michael Visaroff, Frances Dade, Joan Standing, Charles K. Gerrard, Dorothy Tree, Tod Browning. The ancient vampire Count Dracula arrives in England and begins to prey upon the virtuous young Mina. The original Universal horror shows many signs of its age – from its static stage play background, lack of musical score to build the tension and hammy acting – particularly from Lugosi in the lead. However, these faults have to be taken in the context of the history it helped create. Despite his sometimes overwrought delivery, Lugosi does create a hypnotic spell over his victims and the audience. Frye gives the film’s best performance as Dracula’s fly-eating servant, his descent into which is set up in the opening sequence. The production design is truly gothic and helps create an atmosphere of unease. Much better was to follow, but this is still a historic moment in cinema history. Universal released a newly restored version of the film in 1999 that included a musical score by Glass. The original “Swan Lake” music during the opening credits was removed. Based on the play by Hamilton Deane, John L. Balderston and Garrett Fort adapted from the novel by Bram Stoker. Followed by DRACULA’S DAUGHTER (1936). [PG]