Last October I stuck to the 80s, a reason to watch all the Friday the 13th movies from that time. Also Chopping Mall and Sleepaway Camp which had intrigue me. Plus it was the decade of my birth. This time we’re doing pre-1980s. Also, I’m doing them in release date order. As much as possible since I couldn’t find months on a few films. So get ready to go back to the 1930s for week one. A note, there is no Frankenstein films since I’ve already seen the two most famous ones already. Now proceed.
Oct. 1st-Dracula from 1931 (Director: Tod Browning with Karl Freund, Writers: Garrett Fort and Based on both the 1897 novel by Bram Stoker and the 1924 play by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston, Stars: Bela Lugosi, Runtime: 85 mins)
I’m not going over the story, its Dracula you should have a decent idea of what its about. So, first off, Bela Lugosi’s performance is… I don’t know how to describe it. He looks good, sounds good, but he felt weird and out of place at times. Almost too unearthly, inhuman to take seriously. Making me wonder why people took him at face value rather than be scared of him on sight. I guess my opinion is colored seeing this film now. I find Lugosi better in films like White Zombie or the Black Cat (1934 film, he also did a movie of the same name in the 40s) both of which I did for one these October Watches some years ago. Might be that his English greatly improved afterward, I don’t know. Maybe better direction from those directors. I did really enjoy actors Dwight Frye as Renfield and Edward Van Sloan as Van Helsing. I was impressed by both. Tod Browning, or maybe cinematographer Karl Freund who took over, made a strange looking movie. The first portion of the movie in Transylvania looks very cool. The perfect atmosphere. The stuff in the crypt, castle-even the carriage was perfect. I like the look of the last portion of the movie. The rest is just set like a stage play which, to be fair, is what the film was mostly based on. Once it is set like a play it looks boring in comparison to the rest of the movie. The sets are fine it’s just, lackluster. Missing that gothic edge from other portions of the film. The lack of music was a fascinating choice and probably not a good one. I haven’t seen many 30s films so I don’t know if that was the norm. This film is admirable and has a lot of interesting stuff but I don’t think its a movie that aged well. At least not as well as Frankenstein or Bride of Frankenstein. Both horror films I liked better, though by no means am I the biggest fan of either film. I just think that aesthetically they both hold up nicely years later. Glad I watched Dracula but it would never make a list of my favorite horror films.
Oct. 2nd-Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde from 1931 (Director: Rouben Mamoulian, Writers: Samuel Hoffenstein and Percy Heath and Based on The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson, Stars: Frederic March and Miriam Hopkins, Runtime: 98 mins)
We continue in the 30s with this Oscar nominated, and winning, film. Frederic March won best actor for his dual role as the brilliant scientist and his violent alter ego. You should know the story for this one already so I’m going right into the review. This film, visually, is quite impressive. The opening POV style introduction of Jekyll is very cool. The make up effects transformation in the park, stunning. This film is incredibly well made. The sets all look great, the action well staged, and has a great gothic atmosphere. Obviously March is well recognized, but this is my second time seeing Miriam Hopkins and she is a fucking delight. I know her from my fave romantic comedy Trouble in Paradise (made a year or so after this) and I enjoyed her greatly here. She is cute, sexy, charming and funny. Seeing her play dramatic, scream queen makes me love her more. Now, on the downside, I did get a little distracted during parts. I guess my attention for films is getting worst. Just outside movie theaters though. I think maybe I have a little trouble with 30s horror films too. Probably because I grew up in the shadow of slasher films and then the mid to late 90s horror movies. That said, I did like this film. Enjoyed it more than Dracula. In fact, I think I really liked this movie. It’ll be one I can feel growing on me more and more over time.
Also, fuck MGM for trying to destroy this movie. Apparently they bought up all the copies of this film they could to destroy the prints before the Spencer Tracy version dropped. While that one has its fans, the the 30s film is more beloved. Interestingly, the ’41 version with Spencer Tracy redid the pronunciation of Jekyll into how its now commonly said.
Oct. 3rd-Murders in the Rue Morgue from 1932 (Director: Robert Florey, Writers: Robert Florey, Tom Reed and Dale Van Every and Based on short story by Edgar Allan Poe Stars: Bela Lugosi and Sidney Fox, Runtime: 61 mins theatrical)
This one was fascinating. Bela Lugosi, less than a year removed from Dracula, delivers what I believe is a far better performance as mad scientist Dr. Mirakle, a man looking to inject women with ape blood to change them so his ape can have a mate. Where in Dracula he seemed sometimes stiff, sharp in his movements and tongue, this performance has more energy and charisma. I’ve seen four (edit: just realized 5 with his small part in Ernst Lubitsch comedy classic Nintochka) Lugosi appearances and I honestly think Dracula might be his least interesting performance. Held on a pedestal due to timing and aesthetic. I also want to mention Leon Ames, who is very good as Pierre Dupin.
The films story itself, loosely based on a Poe story , is the weakest part of this film. The original story is recognized as the first modern detective story but much of the mystery removed to focus on Mirakle. There is a darkness to this film that is beautiful. A real gothic movie and I like that. I like the weirdness too. Some of these scenes are just wonderfully twisted like the crazed knife fight and the crying woman watching. The ape stuff is kinda silly, close ups with a real monkey and then ape suit but it was the thirties so I let it slide. The female performance from Sidney Fox is fine, she isn’t given much to do but she’s cute and plays the damsel convincingly. The film was by Robert F;orey with cinematographer Karl Fruend. I looked these guys up. Freund I mentioned helped on Dracula and now I think he had to film the best parts of that film. This award winning cinematographer greatly influenced all of film, as well as TV comedies with his work on I Love Lucy. I have two films coming up that are directed by him, both considered classics. Florey was a b-film legend who made classics in and out of b-film work. I really wonder about the planned Frankenstein him and Lugosi were to make before begin removed from that project to do this. Murders in the Rue Morgue is not a masterpiece but its a cool, slick, beautiful looking 30s horror flick. I really dug it.
Oct. 4th-Island of Lost Souls from 1932 (Director: Erle C. Kenton, Writers: Philip Wylie and Waldemar Young and Based on The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells, Stars: Charles Laughton, Richard Arlen, Leila Hyams, Béla Lugosi, and Kathleen Burke, Runtime: 71 mins)
This scifi/horror classic, based on a famous novel you’ve probably heard of, is my least favorite of the films I’ve watched so far. It takes a little while to get started, there doesn’t appear to be much (mad) science other than studying panther woman and the Parker character together, little with the humanoid creatures, and I just couldn’t care. Only a few performances really stood out to me. Specifically Charles Laughton who plays Dr. Moreau with a lot of charm. I looked him up, he directed the classic The Night of the Hunter which is an excellent movie. He was also one Daniel Day-Lewis’ favorite actors. I felt Bela Lugosi was partially wasted here. He plays the Sayer of Law and brings a dynamism in his limited role. His brief role might actually be the best known thanks to the band Devo. The other main male leads range from forgettable to competent. I thought the ladies were fine. Leila Hyams gets little to do but she makes the most of, overshadowing her male co-stars with the exception of Moreau. Kathleen Burke, a model who won the role in a contest, is captivating as Lota the Panther Woman. She doesn’t do much but her mannerisms make me wonder why she didn’t continue as an actress. Maybe would’ve been better as a silent film actress a decade earlier because she stands out visually. Speaking of visuals, the look of this film does not compare to the two previous films I’ve watched. Well, three as Dracula had some real cool moments and locations. Island of Lost Souls looks good but its such a step down. It is also no where as menacing or creepy as I think it should have been.
Oct. 5th-The Mummy from 1932 (Director: Karl Freund, Writers: John L. Balderston and Story by Nina Wilcox Putnam and Richard Schayer, Stars: Boris Karloff, Runtime: 73 mins)
This was the directorial debut of famed cinematographer Karl Fruend, who I spoke about on Dracula and Murders in the Rue Morgue. Since I had read about him on those films I was very curious going into this one. Unfortunately, I didn’t care for the Mummy. It had nothing to do with the look-this movie looks good. It’s settings, lighting, staging, atmosphere-it all works. I just could not engage with the story being told or most the cast. The opening was interesting but as the film progressed past that I found myself not really caring all that much about Ardeth Bay/Imhotep’s plan. Which, after being resurrected, ir out to reincarnate an Egyptian princess who is his lost love. I just did not care for any of the characters until the final act when I started to turn on Zita Johnson. I liked her more and more while most the other actors did not leave much impression. They weren’t bad, David Manners was better in this than in Dracula. I found him annoying in that, and I didn’t even realize it was the same actor either. (I just looked him up, he’s in 34’s Black Cat with Lugosi and Karloff. Talk about a competent actor who doesn’t ever command the scenes). I also did not much care for Boris Karloff as Imhotep. Blasphemy, right?
Of the classic Universal monster movies I’ve seen, I would but the first two Frankenstein flicks first followed by Creature from the Black Lagoon. I still need to see the Wolf Man. There’s others too…
Oct. 6th-Mad Love (aka The Hands of Orloc) from 1935 (Director: Karl Freund, Writers: John L. Balderston and Guy Endore and Based on Les Mains d’Orlac by Maurice Renard, Stars: Peter Lorre, Frances Drake, Colin Clive, Ted Healy and Sara Haden, Runtime: 68 mins)
This is another Karl Freund movie and his final work as a director, only three years after his first film for a total of six movies. Not counting his uncredited work on Dracula. It’s interesting watching this and his first film Mummy one after another. I believe here he had a better set of performers. Peter Lorre is the right amount of creepy. A gifted surgeon in love with an actress who works on her husbands crushed hands, giving him the hands of a killer. The other two main players include Frances Drake, who is stunning and exciting as the woman Loore’s character is infatuated with. Her husband is played by Colin Clive who is strong in this role. Which is very impressive as he has the least interesting role of the main players. Yet you see him high and him low, the fear gripping him. (Just looked him up, he was Dr. Frankenstein. He was very good in those two classics). The main supporting players, the killer and reporter, are both excellent as well. This is probably the best acted of the films I’ve watched thus far excluding Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Visually, it looks real good. Another excellent gothic style film. Love the setting of that theater, a macabre theater with its ticket sellers and taker plus their stage plays. It’s interesting that Feuend has other people do his his cinematography, but based on what I read in wikipedia he probably gave those guys a harder time. He went back to cinematography after this.
Now that I told you what I like, I have to be honest with you-I just think I have a hard time with 30s movies. I think I’ve seen a total of maybe a dozen or so my entire life. The pacing throws me off, lack of music in the background. That tends to be something too, its one of the problems I had with The Hustler from 1961, lack of music makes quiet moments drag. These films do move slow to build to the climatic evil and destruction of that evil, but I guess that’s just old school horror for you. Which explain why King Kong and Trouble In Paradise are my fave movies of the era. Still, I enjoyed this movie upon writing about it. The more I consider it, the more I dig it.
Good first week. While my attention did get distracted a few times, I generally enjoyed all the films for one reason or another. Starting Sunday we make quick stops in 40s and 50s before starting a long trip through the 60s.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Murders in the Rue Morgue
Dracula, Mad Love
Island of Lost Souls