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Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Victorian Thrillers of the 1930s & 1940s

Victorian London, steeped in a dark and romantic aura, has always been the ideal setting for murders and mysteries in films of the 1930s and 40s. Lurking beneath the white facade of stately manors inhabited by fashionable ladies and gentlemen with high morals and social sensibilities lay seedy districts reeking with crime and misery....districts where foul deeds were not uncommon. Opium-addicts, prostitutes, music hall wenches, and rum-guzzling sailors were wildly cavorting with Destiny on a nightly basis.

It was this contrast between wealthy society and dredging poverty that gave birth to so many tantalizing stories of horror in the "Penny Dreadful”'s of the day; stories with characters like Sweeny Todd the Demon Barber of Fleet Street and Jack Sheppard. All of them were loosely based on news accounts these authors were reading about on a daily basis of the serial killer Jack-the-Ripper.

In these gentle times even whispers of innuendo were received by ladies with a good dose of smelling salts, nevertheless, these tales of true-life terror were repeated throughout the city and developed into short stories of legendary fame. They featured crimes that super-sleuths like Sherlock Holmes could solve on a weekly basis or settings that gentlemen thieves such as Raffles could prowl around in. Once motion pictures gained popularity, these stories were brought to life in visual splendor. One of the earliest films to depict this atmospheric era to perfection was Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde ( 1931 ) starring Frederic March, Mariam Hopkins, and Rose Hobart. Director Rouben Mamoulian's pre-code horror classic transported audiences to a dark and dangerous London of the late 1800s, where they were able to witness first-hand the transformation of the reserved Dr. Jekyll into the hideous Mr. Hyde. 
Here are a few more well-known Victorian London thrillers brought to the silver screen :

The Mystery of Mr. X ( 1935 ) - This decisively Jack-the-Ripperish story features Robert Montgomery as our light-fingered gentleman hero who is being implicated as the killer of nine grisly London murders done by a murderer who always strikes in a different neighborhood and leaves his mark next to his victims…the signature of Mr. X! Peter Lawford starred in a color remake of this tale in MGM’s The Hour of 13 ( 1952 ). 
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes ( 1939 ) - A grisly midnight murder in a secluded city park, mysterious South American funeral dirges, suspiciously heavy footprints, missing crown jewels from the Tower of London and a puzzling drawing of an albatross add up to making this one of Sherlock Holmes’ most intriguing cases. Ida Lupino and Alan Marshall star with Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce in this second Sherlock Holmes feature from the 20th Century Fox studios. A visual Victorian feast for the eyes it be.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde ( 1941 ) - MGM pulled out all the stops in this ultra-glossy gaslit masterpiece based on Robert Louis Stevenson's classic tale of a man's double nature - the law-abiding Dr. Jekyll and the positively hairy sexual sadist Mr. Hyde, the creature within himself that he created whilst experimenting to scientifically suppress the evil nature residing within mankind. The all-star cast includes Spencer Tracy in the title role, Ingrid Bergman as buxom barmaid Ivy, Lana Turner, Donald Crisp and Ian Hunter. Directed by Victor Fleming. 
The Lodger ( 1943 ) - Laird Crager, a great burly hulk of an actor, portrayed the very essence of a creepy social recluse in The Lodger where, as Slade - a quiet pathology student residing at the home of the Burtons ( Sir Cedric Hardwicke and Sara Allgood ) - he is suspected of being none other than Jack the Ripper. Gasp! The gorgeous moody photography of John Brahm transports us into the cobblestoned mire of Whitechapel through its heavy fog-encased settings, period detail, and its disturbing visual vignettes. George Sanders and Merle Oberon also star.

Gaslight ( 1944 ) – Charles Boyer, Ingrid Bergman and Joseph Cotton star in this intrepid MGM remake of the 1940 British classic Gaslight featuring Anton Walbrook and Diana Wynyard. Twenty years after a wealthy woman was murdered in her home in Thorton Square her niece moves into the London dwelling with her husband….a suave and sinister gentleman who plots to drive his wife mad because he has a dark secret to hide. MGM attempted to destroy all available prints of the English version of this psychological thriller but fortunately a few remained and today we can enjoy both editions on DVD. 
The Picture of Dorian Gray ( 1944 ) - Oscar Wilde's fantasy about the inner state of the soul of one Dorian Gray was given A-class treatment in director Albert Lewin's pet project The Picture of Dorian Gray, released through MGM. Silky smooth 26-year-old Hurd Hatfield played the title character ( a role which made him very unpopular in Hollywood ) along with an impressive cast including George Sanders, Donna Reed, Angela Lansbury, Peter Lawford and Sherlock Holmes veteran actor Miles Mander. Incidentally, Sherlock Holmes himself ( Basil Rathbone ) wanted the role of Lord Henry but was overlooked because he was already being too closely identified with the legendary detective of Baker Street. Stunning cinematography, a strong narrative, and eye-popping Technicolor sequences make this a most memorable film.
Hangover Square ( 1945 ) - Laird Cregar returned to the screen as another downright suspicious madman, this time as a pianist who had to struggle with mental turmoil - and the compulsion to wreak destruction - whenever he hears the ping! of a certain note. Eee Gads! what a way to go through life. John Brahm’s filming is atmospheric and eerie in its dreamlike sequences and the picture has a great cast including George Sanders and Linda Darnell.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

The Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie Game - Halloween Special

With Halloween just around the corner, a special edition of The Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie Game is called for......this one may be a very familiar scene to some of you ( especially if you have been watching TCM lately ), or it may look as strange as the man in the photo. What monstrous apparition could be scaring him?

As always, if you are not familiar with the rules to the Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie game or the prize, click here!


GAME OVER. 

Congratulations to Rick for correctly guessing The House of Frankenstein ( 1944 )! In this scene, Herr Strauss ( Michael Mark ) is tied up and thrown into a gypsy wagon after being kidnapped by Doctor Niemann ( Boris Karloff ). 

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Jack Pierce and the Creation of Frankenstein's Monster

The word "Frankenstein" conjures up in most people's mind the image of Dr. Frankenstein's creation, his pastiche of bodily parts that he gave life to. We picture him as a huge fearsome man with a flat head, bolts protruding from his neck, scars on his face, long arms, and wearing tightly fitted clothes and giant heavy boots. This image is often credited to Mary Shelley, the author of the original novel "Frankenstein", published in 1818. But is this creature really her creation or Jack Pierce's, the make-up artist who re-imagined Frankenstein for the 1931 Universal horror picture?

As Mary Shelley describes Dr. Frankenstein's creation, he seems to have been intended as quite a handsome fellow but what resulted was not what the doctor had ordered: 

"His limbs were in proportion, and I had selected his features as beautiful. Beautiful! Great God! His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing; his teeth of a pearly whiteness; but these luxuriances only formed a more horrid contrast with his watery eyes, that seemed almost of the same color as the dun-white sockets in which they were set, his shriveled complexion and straight black lips."

Black flowing hair, watery white eyes, a shriveled complexion, and black lips.....quite a horrible sight, indeed! 

Charles Stanton Ogle as the "monster" ( 1910 )

The first illustrations for the book - steel engravings dating from the 1831 edition - display the size of the creature, his thin skin covering, and his long black hair ( see illustration above ). Other drawings show him wearing a cloak, a toga-like covering. 

For the first film adaptation, made in 1910 by Edison Studios, the monster had a grotesque face hidden under mounds of unruly strands of hair and long deformed fingers. As you can see in the close-up, he was beastly. In 1920, an Italian silent film Il mostro di Frankenstein - now considered lost - portrayed him as a bald giant with facial features not unlike the Deutsch vampire Nosferatu. 

It was eleven years later that the monster returned to the screen, this time in the Universal Pictures film Frankenstein ( 1931 ). Jack Pierce, an extraordinary make-up artist heralding from Greece, was assigned to create the monster, portrayed by the fabulous Boris Karloff. 

In 1926, Pierce had helped director Raoul Walsh create the right look for actor Jacques Lerner who played a man impersonating a primate in the film The Monkey Talks. His make-up work was so richly detailed that it caught the attention of Carl Laemmle, then head of Universal Studios. He hired Pierce for a full-time position as a makeup artist and promptly put him to work in The Man Who Laughs, where he created the iconic look of Conrad Veidt's character Gwynplain, which in turn inspired Bob Kane's character of The Joker in his "Batman" comic book series. 
His most important work prior to Frankenstein was undoubtedly that of creating Bela Lugosi's ghostly pale Count Dracula in Dracula ( 1930 ). After the resounding success of this film, Universal Studios decided to adapt other classic horror novels into films, selecting Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" as their next project. It was Pierce's task to take Dr. Frankenstein's monster from the pages of her book and transform him into a monster that could walk on-screen.

As James L. Neibar describes in his book "The Monster Movies of Universal Studios" : 

"Make-up artist Jack Pierce is responsible for creating the iconic makeup for the monster. Collaborating with Karloff, it was Pierce who designed the rectangular shape of the head with the flat top, the protruding brow, and the electrodes on either side of the monster's neck, while Karloff removed his partial dental plate, causing his face to indent......Pierce's vision of the Frankenstein monster has since become the most noted representation of the character. "
Envisioning what kind of creation a doctor from that period of time could have assembled took Pierce nearly six months of research. Before tests were undertaken on Karloff, Pierce had created a clay model of what he hoped to achieve. Jack Pierce describes this process...

“It was a lot of hard work, trying to find ways and means, what can you do? Frankenstein wasn’t a doctor; he was a scientist, so he had to take the head and open it, and he took wires to rivet the head. I had to add the electrical outlets to connect electricity in here on the neck. I made it out of clay and put hair on it and took it in to Junior Laemmle’s office. He said, ‘you mean you can do this on a human being?’ I said, ‘positively’. He said, ‘all right we will go to the limit.’"

Boris Karloff spent four hours each morning in the makeup chair, letting Pierce apply heavy putty to his eyelids, thick grey makeup all over his face, and heavy electrodes to his neck....makeup which in addition took nearly an hour each day to remove.

When Frankenstein was released in theatres, it was an immediate box-office hit. This imagining of Mary Shelley's character became so famous that within four years the monster had to be resurrected from his untimely death to return to frighten other villagers, this time in The Bride of Frankenstein. He would also return in Son of Frankenstein ( 1939 ), and The Ghost of Frankenstein ( 1942 )...the first film that Jack Pierce received screen-credit for his work on the monster. 
That is perhaps the saddest foot-note of all; that viewers at the time did not know and could not know who was the real inventor of the monster that they loved to watch onscreen - Jack Pierce. During the 1930s, make-up artists were often not given credit for their work, but Pierce certainly deserved screen-credit for this creation since it was so imaginative and so unlike Mary Shelley's description of the creature. 

Thankfully, today most film fans recognize the name of Jack Pierce and know his body of work. But to help educate others, the next time you dress up as the monster or see him at a Halloween costume party, be sure to call him by his proper name - Dr. Pierce's Monster. 

To read more about Jack Pierce and his work in Hollywood check out our article The Faces of Jack Pierce.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

The Witches and the Grinnygog ( 1983 )

Those Brits have a knack for knowing how to spin a good yarn...especially when it comes to mystery, horror, and fantasy tales. Author Dorothy Edwards penned a particularly juicy children's mystery story entitled "The Witches and the Grinnygog" in 1981 which was made into an equally engrossing six-part miniseries for ITV in 1983. 
This intriguing tale of magic and witchcraft was aimed towards children of the pre-teen variety. Each 25-minute episode followed the adventures of four youngsters - two being the offspring of the local minister - as they try to piece together clues from an ancient diary belonging to an old vicar which are coinciding with strange events going on in their village. 

These bizarre happenings began to brew when the neighboring village's church of St. Cuthbert was dismantled. The old stone building is being rebuilt in a new location. A small gargoyle-like statue from the church falls off the back of the lorry carrying it en route to the new location. The mother of one of the children picks it up and, seeing that it would make a perfect "little man" for her father's garden, takes it home to Gramps ( John Barrard ). 

It happens to be a Grinnygog and its three guardians aka witches, magically appear in town to keep an eye on the garden statue. Also in town, is the enigmatic African anthropologist Mr. Alabaster ( Olu Jacobs ) who wants to see that the Grinnygog is returned to its rightful place. 

The Witches and the Grinnygog is very entertaining TV fare, but unfortunately, it ends with a number of loose ends not quite tied up. The audience is served bits and pieces of a puzzle in each episode that, at its conclusion, do not make a complete picture. Flashback sequences hint that witches were burned in the village in olden times but we are to suppose that the three guardians, endowed with eternal life, managed to escape with the Grinnygog, one of them losing her daughter as she fled. This girl comes to town later, appearing to not just the children, but the vicar as well, in search of her mother. But why did it take all these years for her to find her mother? Were the witches in limbo while the Grinnygog was safe and only now appear in the flesh again?
Sheila Grant, Anna Wing, and Patricia Hayes star as the three kindly guardians with Eva Griffith - whom some may recall as the blind girl in the BBC adaptation of The Day of the Triffids ( 1981 ) - portraying the missing daughter. The children's roles are played by Giles Harper, Heidi Mayo, Adam Woodyatt, and Zoe Loftin, who all give very natural and pleasing performances. 

Like most British kiddies, the appearance of witches in town does not startle them very much. This reminds me of the scene in Walt Disney's Bedknobs and Broomsticks when the children observe Mrs. Price taking her first whirl on the broom: "Look! She's flying on her broomstick," one of them says. "That's what witches do," the other calmly replies. Sure, everyone knows that...but it would startle most people to see it actually happen!

The Witches and the Grinnygog has not been released on DVD yet, but it is available for viewing on Youtube. Simply click here if you want to check it out - and I highly recommend that you do. Especially since it makes for great not-too-spooky Halloween viewing. 

Friday, October 12, 2018

From the Archives: Werewolf of London ( 1935 )


Henry Hull hiding behind loads of facial hair in this still from the Universal horror classic Werewolf of London ( 1935 ) which also featured Warner Oland, the beloved actor of the Charlie Chan series. 

From the Archives is our latest series of posts where we share photos from the Silverbanks Pictures collection. Some of these may have been sold in the past, and others may still be available for purchase at our eBay store : http://stores.ebay.com/Silverbanks-Pictures

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir ( 1947 )

"Haunted.....how perfectly fascinating!"

Recently widowed Lucy Muir has left her London lodgings - and her in-laws - to come to White Cliff-on-the-sea with her daughter and loyal housemaid. There, situated atop a lovely coastal cliff, she finds her ideal home....Gull Cottage. It is up for rent.

"And priced at only 54 pounds per week. That's very inexpensive for a furnished house."

Strong-minded Lucy will not even let the thought of a ghost scare her away from Gull Cottage. The idea of returning to London and the life she led before is not a choice she wants to consider. Yea, even the gruff and determined Captain Daniel Gregg - the apparition she comes to meet there one dark and stormy night - yields to her wish to remain at his beloved home.

He had been frightening away, with his boyish pranks, all prospective tenants to Gull Cottage for the last several years and the fact that Mrs. Muir chooses to stay in spite of knowing he haunts the house wins her his admiration. 

During their coming year together, a gentle love blossoms between this roguish sea captain and the spirited Victorian widow. She comes to see Captain Gregg not only as a dear friend but as an anchor and a pillar of support. Their relationship deepens when Lucy – forced to earn money for payment of the cottage – pens the captain’s memoirs, “Blood and Swash”. However, when she meets the suave author Miles Fairley ( George Sanders ) while at the publishing house, the Captain realizes that his “Lucia” may be wanting the love, companionship, and reality of a mortal man.

"Real happiness is worth almost any risk…. but be careful me dear, there may be breakers ahead" 

Joseph Mankiewicz's wonderfully whimsical fantasy was released in theatres in 1947 to great commercial success. It was based on the novel, “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir “ written two years earlier by author Josephine Leslie, who - like her character Lucy Muir - published her book under a much more masculine pseudonym...R.A. Dick.

20th Century Fox purchased the rights to the story shortly after its publication and selected Philip Dunne to rework it into a fitting screenplay for a feature film. Philip Dunne was a very talented screenwriter who had been nominated for an Academy Award in 1941 for How Green Was My Valley. He retained much of the essence of the book, and much of the plot, too - with the exception of eliminating the character of Mrs. Muir's son. 
What resulted from his penwork was a sweeping romance like none other of the era. The script, the actors, Mankiewicz’s direction, the breathtaking cinematography ( by Charles Lang Jr. ) and Bernard Herrman’s beautifully haunting score all combined to make The Ghost and Mrs. Muir one of the most enchanting, timeless, and delightful films ever made in Hollywood.

Rex Harrison is superb as our beloved sea captain – handsome, brawny, and blazed-eyed….a man in every sense of the word. While Gene Tierney is his perfect mate - beautiful, prim and respectable. What they both shared was the spirit of adventure in their souls.

"How you’d of loved the North Cape and the fjords and the midnight sun…to sail across the reef at Barbados where the blue waters turn to green….to the Falklands, where a southerly gale rips the whole sea white…..Oh, what we’ve missed Lucia! What we’ve both missed." 

The rest of this excellent cast includes George Sanders ( playing his usual deliciously sly self ), character actress Edna Best as Mrs. Muir’s right hand arm and dear companion Martha, little Natalie Wood as daughter Anna, English stage legend Isobel Elsom as Lucy’s mother-in-law,Robert Coote as the real-estate agent, Anna Lee as “the wife”, and Austrian actress Vanessa Brown as the grown-up Anna. 

While “flesh and blood”, Captain Gregg must have been a magnificent seaman and one can imagine the loyalty he inspired in his men ( and perhaps some fear, too ) while aboard ship. Square shouldered, steadfast and weathered from his voyages, he was wise beyond his years, or as he described himself…

"I did not lead a very wise life but it was a full one and a grown-up one. You come to age very quickly through shipwreck and disaster and at the heart of the whirlpool some men find God."

Lucy Muir is quite an independent woman for the turn-of-the-century. Young, innocent and idealistic, she had married a man who had swept her off her feet, only to discover that he was not the romantic she had thought him to be. After his death, she wants to live a life of her own, free to make decisions without anyone warning her of society’s views on her actions. She finds her true self and her peace at Gull Cottage. And there amongst the splendor of the ocean she does not dream of her husband returning to life, but rather of a Gothic hero, a Flying-Dutchman spirit of adventure. A man who worships her as much as the fairest Lady he ever knew...the mighty Sea herself.

But is Captain Gregg a dream, or is he a man full of life and vigor just as much as Lucy? 

Years later, when Mrs. Muir’s hair is white and the driftwood by the beach battered and worn by the crashing tide, she still reflects upon her “dream” of the captain. In spite of being a very beautiful woman, she had chosen to live her days in the seclusion of Gull Cottage. And we have the notion that men were not something Mrs. Muir ever pursued again. The ideal nature of the captain and the comradery they shared would be hard for any mere mortal man to duplicate.


Instead, all of Lucy’s real relationships are with other women….her maid being the only lasting friendship she has known. Her daughter later has her own life to lead and as such becomes as remote as the rest of the world that Lucy has turned her back against. But loneliness is something our heroine never knows, for she feels content and secure in her memories and secretly lives in hope of something as real as what she was dreaming of all those years.
In the hands of another director, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir may have been a tragic story...a story of lost love and regret and of a woman living out an empty life of isolation. But instead, under the direction of Joseph Mankiewicz, it becomes a magnificent mystical romance. Gentle and warm and humorous, too. A tale of love transcending all boundaries.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Pandora and the Flying Dutchman ( 1951 )

"The measure of love is what one is willing to give up for it....

....Who said that?" muses archeologist Geoffrey Fielding. He had been observing American beauty Pandora Reynolds, an enchantress who lures men into loving her and then casts them aside when she discovers their love does not satisfy her longing. What is she longing for? Pandora herself does not know. That is, not until Hendrik van der Zee sails into the sleeping Spanish seaport of Esperanza and into her life. 

This mysterious, peaceful, and well-educated sea captain captures the attention of many, but particularly Pandora. Like the Grecian legend, it is he who is the box of delights that Pandora is curious to open and partake of. 

The measure of love is what one is willing to give up for it. The men Pandora ( Ava Gardner ) had dated were willing to give up anything for her. Bullfighter Juan Montalvo ( Mario Cabre ) had scorned his mother - an almost unpardonable sin for a Spaniard - to have the opportunity to spill his blood for her in the bullring. Reggie Demarest ( Marius Goring ) had given his life. He committed suicide. "I felt relieved," Pandora calmly exclaims. Her current beau, racing champion Stephen Cameron ( Nigel Patrick ) is willing to push his car, his beloved hand-built racer, over a cliff to prove his love for her. And yet, Pandora still is not happy. 

"Why don't you come down to earth, Pandora? Happiness lies in the simple things," Stephen tells her. 
It is not until she meets Captain van der Zee aboard his yacht one evening that she feels differently. Perhaps it is the first time she truly feels love and not merely selfish pride over the men she conquested. Indeed, she does become a gentler woman after having met the Dutchman. 

"I've changed so since I've known you. I'm not cruel and hateful as I used to be, hurting people because I was so unhappy myself. I know now where destructiveness comes from. It's a lack of love. It's as simple as that."

But what happens when the object of your love is a ghost? A sailor from the 17th-century doomed to an eternal life.....until he can find a woman willing to die for him. When Henrick tells her that the time for him to leave is fast approaching, Pandora's measure of love is put to the test. Will she be willing to make the sacrifice of death for him?

Pandora and the Flying Dutchman is an enticing blend of romance, mystery, fantasy, and tragedy. The story and script, written by the film's director Albert Lewin ( The Moon and Sixpence, The Picture of Dorian Grey ) draws the audience into the dramatic happenings of its characters, all of whom are well-fleshed. The story takes its inspiration primarily from Richard Wagner's 1843 opera "The Flying Dutchman" and the writings of Heinrich Heine, who created the concept of a man who is given a chance to return to earth once every seven years to search for a woman who can redeem him from his bondage of eternal life. 

"I would long for death, but death would deny me!"

James Mason gives a marvelous performance of this enigmatic gentleman and Ava Gardner is stunning, looking radiant in her first Technicolor film. Harold Warrender, who portrays the archeologist Geoffrey Fielding, acts as the narrator to the story and, with his inquisitive nature, becomes one of the few to uncover Hendrik's secret. Also in the cast is the lovely Sheila Sim, who plays a young woman in love with Stephen Cameron. 
Jack Cardiff, who had won an Academy Award in 1948 for his cinematographic work on The Red Shoes, beautifully filmed Pandora and the Flying Dutchman. Cardiff used a limited range of colors, emphasizing navy blue filters for the night sequences and muted tones to cleverly make the bold colors, when they were used, literally pop out of the screen. The racing sequence is particularly well-filmed and edited. Most of the picture was shot on location in Catalonia, Spain, where today, a statue of Ava Gardner has been erected on the hill overlooking the beach. 

Pandora and the Flying Dutchman was a British film released through Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, who delayed the picture's release until after Show Boat was distributed in order to capitalize on the rising star power of Ava Gardner. It was a great success at the box-office and justly so - the film has a mysterious beauty that makes it timeless entertainment. Some legends never grow old.

This post is our contribution to The James Mason Blogathon being hosted by Maddy Loves Her Classic Films. If you like Mason - and who doesn't? - then check out the complete roster of reviews of James Mason's films by clicking here

Thursday, October 4, 2018

The Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie Game

Here's a scene from a beautifully filmed classic. Who could the chap in the cart be and where is he going when he passes this young woman on the road? Hmmm.....

As always, if you are not familiar with the rules to the Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie game or the prize, click here!