One Hit Wonders #26: “We’ll Sing in the Sunshine” by Gale Garnett (RCA Victor 1964)

New Zealand born, Canadian bred Gale Garnett sang her way to #4 on the Billboard charts during the summer of 1964 with a song that’s since become a summertime folk-rock classic, “We’ll Sing in the Sunshine”:

Gale herself penned the tune and performed it with her band The Gentle Reign. Folk music was still big in those early days of Beatlemania, and Gale’s song, with it’s liltingly lovely harmonica and whistling refrains, had young lovers swooning in the summer breeze. Gale and her group copped a Grammy for Best Traditional Folk Recording, and made the rounds of all the TV shows, but “We’ll Sing in the Sunshine” was their one and only hit record.

But that didn’t stop Gale Garnett! She was already a starlet of note, appearing on TV shows like HAWAIIAN EYE, 77 SUNSET STRIP, and BONANZA, and would soon be featured in animated form as the beautiful but deadly Francesca, robot assistant to Baron Frankenstein (voiced by the one-and-only Boris Karloff! ) in the Rankin-Bass cult classic MAD MONSTER PARTY?, a stop-motion tribute to horror films that remains beloved by 60’s Monster Kids of all ages! Gale also gets to sing two of the film’s tunes, “Never Was a Love Like Mine” and “Our Time to Shine”, in which she sings and dances with an animated Count Dracula!:

Gale continued to act in TV (KOJAK, KUNG FU: THE LEGEND CONTINUES) and in features. She played Joanne Woodward’s best friend in MR & MRS. BRIDGES and had a funny turn as Aunt Lexy in MY BIG, FAT GREEK WEDDING. She’s also written a series of romance novels, making her an artistic triple threat! As of this writing, Gale Garnett is alive and well at age 76, and though she’s done many things in her career, she’ll always be remembered for the haunting summer hit “We’ll Sing in the Sunshine”. Thanks, Gale!

10 Horror Stars Who Never Won An Oscar

It’s Oscar night in Hollywood! We all may have our gripes with the Academy over things like the nominating process (see my posts on THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND STAN & OLLIE and THEY SHALL NOT GROW OLD ), but in the end, we’ll all still be watching – I know I will!

One of my gripes over the years has always been how the horror genre has gotten little to no attention from Oscar over the years. Sure, Fredric March won for DR. JEKYLL & MR. HYDE , but there were plenty of other horror performances who’ve been snubbed. The following ten actors should have (at least in my opinion) received consideration for their dignified work in that most neglected of genres, the horror film:

(and I’ll do this alphabetically in the interest of fairness)

LIONEL ATWILL

 Atwill’s Ivan Igor in MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM goes from cultured sophisticate to raving lunatic in the course of 77 minutes, and was worthy of a nomination. His Inspector Krough in 1939’s SON OF FRANKENSTEIN has become an iconic portrayal over the years (just ask Mel Brooks !). But the real crime is Atwill being passed over for his villainous Colonel Bishop in CAPTAIN BLOOD (though the film did receive a Best Picture nomination).

LON CHANEY JR. 

Many consider Chaney a one-note actor of limited range, but his performances as the simple-minded Lenny in OF MICE AND MEN and retired lawman Mart Howe in HIGH NOON prove Chaney could act when given the right material. And as Lawrence Talbot in THE WOLF MAN , Chaney gives an Oscar-worthy performance as the glib young man who becomes a tortured soul after getting bit by a werewolf. The low-budget SPIDER BABY found Lon shut out of Oscar consideration again as Bruno, chauffeur/caretaker to the bizarre Merrie Family.

PETER CUSHING 

Cushing could probably read the phone book and make it more dramatic than any ten actors working today. He never gave a bad performance in whatever he did, but Academy bias against horror never gave him the recognition he deserved. Of all his roles, I’d cite his Baron Frankenstein in Hammer’s first in the series, THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN , and Sir John Rowan in the (admittedly) out-there cult classic CORRUPTION as Oscar caliber. Then there’s his Gran Moff Tarkin in a little thing called STAR WARS

BORIS KARLOFF

When Boris Karloff first appeared on the screen as The Monster of FRANKENSTEIN , audiences across the country screamed at the sight of this hideous, inhuman thing, but thanks to Karloff’s acting skills, he imbued The Monster with a spark of humanity, and definitely deserved at least a nomination for his breakout performance. Equally deserving was his Ardeth Bey (aka Imhotep) in THE MUMMY , a romantic terror tale of love and death across the centuries. Boris’s work as twin brothers in THE BLACK ROOM is among his best, and his films with Val Lewton feature two distinctly different but fine portrayals: the murderous John Grey in THE BODY SNATCHER and the decadent Master Sims in BEDLAM . King Karloff was also denied a nomination for his turn as faded horror star Byron Orlok in Peter Bogdanovich’s brilliant TARGETS.

CHRISTOPHER LEE 

Oscar never recognized Lee for any of his outstanding roles, and the fact that his Lord Summerisle in THE WICKER MAN was ignored is truly an Oscar crime! Lee also should have got some Oscar love for playing against type as Duc de Richleau in THE DEVIL’S BRIDE , and his part as grave robber Resurrection Joe in CORRIDORS OF BLOOD, though a smaller role, should have  warranted some Supporting Actor attention.

PETER LORRE

Although not primarily a horror star, Lorre gave the genre two of it’s best performances, both Oscar worthy: the creepy child killer Hans Beckert in Fritz Lang’s M and the deranged, obsessed Dr. Gogol in MAD LOVE . And I think his role as the humble immigrant turned crime boss Janos Szabo in the horror-tinged noir THE FACE BEHIND THE MASK was worth a nomination. As for his non-horror roles, there’s CRIME AND PUNISHMENT, THE MALTESE FALCON, THREE STRANGERS, BEAT THE DEVIL….

BELA LUGOSI

Lugosi’s iconic Count DRACULA , still as death and evil as anyone in movie history, didn’t get past Oscar’s garlic-laced gates, and neither did Bela during his career. Granted, the Hungarian star made some poor choices over his movie days, but I’d say his Poe-obsessed Dr. Richard Vollin in THE RAVEN and broken-necked Ygor in SON OF FRANKENSTEIN deserved at least a look by the Academy. I could cite his Dr. Carruthers in THE DEVIL BAT and Dr. Vornoff in BRIDE OF THE MONSTER as examples of how a bad film can be elevated by a good performance, but I’d be stretching if I said they should have got Oscar consideration. One can dream, though, can’t one?

VINCENT PRICE

Price was known to ham it up on occasion (and parodies that notion in HIS KIND OF WOMAN ), but take a look at his work in film noir and discover Vinnie when he tones it down – he’s a great actor. Of his horror films, Price does fine work in the Roger Corman Poe series: Roderick Usher in HOUSE OF USHER, Prince Prospero in MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH, and Verden Fell in TOMB OF LIGEIA all find Price giving subtle, nuanced performances; and his witch hunter Matthew Hopkins in Michael Reeves’ THE CONQUEROR WORM is as finely etched a portrait of evil as you’ll ever see. Even when he cranks it up to 11, as in THEATER OF BLOOD , he’s more than watchable, and his Edward Lionheart in that film is an unforgivable Oscar snub! Price also should have been considered for his short but pivotal role as The Inventor in Tim Burton’s EDWARD SCISSORHANDS.

CLAUDE RAINS

Like Peter Lorre, Rains wasn’t primarily a horror star, but his dazzling performance as Dr. Jack Griffin in James Whale’s THE INVISIBLE MAN is a tour de force of both physical and vocal acting, and the fact that Oscar didn’t see it is (wait for it) Another Oscar Crime! However, of all the great actors on this list, he’s the only one recognized by the Academy for his work – Rains received Supporting Actor nominations for MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON, CASABLANCA , MR. SKEFFINGTON, and NOTORIOUS . He didn’t win for any of them (but should have for CASABLANCA!)

ERNEST THESIGER

“And the winner is… Ernest Thesiger for BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN !” That phrase was never uttered during Oscar’s banquet honoring the films of 1935, as the Supporting Actor category wasn’t initiated until a year later, but if it had been in effect, I’d place my money on Thesiger’s Dr. Pretorious to win it all!

Honorable mentions go to Colin Clive’s mad Henry FRANKENSTEIN and John Carradine’s strangler Gaston Morrell in Edgar G. Ulmer’s BLUEBEARD, and I’m sure you Dear Readers can think of many other Oscar-worthy performances in the horror field, so have some fun while we all wait for tonight’s Academy Awards ceremony… and I’ll have more on that little shindig later tomorrow!

Cleaning Out the DVR #21: Halloween Leftovers 3

Time to reach deep inside that trick-or-treat bag and take a look at what’s stuck deep in the corners. Just when you thought it was safe, here’s five more thrilling tales of terror:

YOU’LL FIND OUT (RKO 1940; D: David Butler) – Kay Kyser and his College of Musical Knowledge, for those of you unfamiliar…

…were a Swing Era band of the 30’s & 40’s who combined music with cornball humor on their popular weekly radio program. RKO signed them to a movie contract and gave them this silly but entertaining “old dark house” comedy, teaming Kay and the band (featuring Ginny Simms, Harry Babbitt, Sully Mason, and the immortal Ish Kabibble!) with horror greats Boris Karloff , Bela Lugosi , and Peter Lorre . It’s got all the prerequisites: secret passageways, a creepy séance, and of course that old stand-by, the dark and stormy night! The plot has Kyser’s band hired for Helen Parrish’s 21st birthday party at said spooky mansion, with band manager Dennis O’Keefe as her love interest. Bela gets the juiciest part as flamboyant phony medium Prince Saliano, Boris is a shady family friend, and Lorre his usual sinister self. Alma Kruger plays Helen’s aunt who’s into spiritualism, which sets things in motion, and bumbling Kay gets to solve the mystery. Nothing earth-shaking going on here, but fun for fans of the Terror Trio. Fun Fact: The film received an Oscar nomination for Best Song, “I’d Know You Anywhere”, written by Jimmy McHugh and Johnny Mercer, and sweetly sung onscreen by Ginny Simms, who had a brief film career of her own after leaving the band in 1941.

THE LEOPARD MAN (RKO 1943; D: Jacques Tourneur) – One of producer Val Lewton’s most unheralded films, chock full of his trademark use of sound and shadows. A black leopard gets loose from nightclub performer Jean Brooks’ act, and a series of gruesome murders follow in a small New Mexico town. This tense, gripping ‘B’ is loaded with eerie scenes; I especially liked the one in which a young girl gets locked in a cemetery and stalked by the killer cat (or is it a human – the movie will keep you guessing!). Dennis O’Keefe is Jean’s publicity agent whose stunt goes awry, Margo (later married to Eddie Albert) a castanet-clicking dancer/victim, and Isabel Jewell shines as a Gypsy card reader. Mark Robson’s marvelous editing job on this and Lewton’s CAT PEOPLE got him promoted to the director’s chair for THE SEVENTH VICTIM later that year. This chilling horror-noir doesn’t get the attention of other Lewton films, but deserves a much larger audience. Fun Fact: Based on the novel “Black Alibi” by prolific pulp author Cornell Woolrich, whose many books and short stories were made into film noir classics.

THE DISEMBODIED (Allied Artists 1957; D: Walter Grauman) – Ice Princess of Horror Allison Hayes IS Tonda, jungle voodoo queen in this low-budget shocker that wasn’t as bad as I expected, far as jungle voodoo epics go. Paul Burke costars as a filmmaker who brings his wounded friend to Allison’s doctor husband John Weingraf’s jungle compound, but let’s face it – the main reason to watch this is Allison Hayes, thoroughly evil and sexy as hell! And that memorably sensuous voodoo dance she performs…

Hot Damn! She’s the whole show in this minor chiller directed by Walter Grauman, who later helmed 1964’s LADY IN A CAGE and tons of TV (including 53 episodes of MURDER, SHE WROTE). Fun Fact: Weingraf gets off the best line when he tells Allison, “There are only two places where you belong. The jungle – and the place where I first found you!”. Burn!!!  

BEAST FROM HAUNTED CAVE (Filmgroup 1959; D: Monte Hellman) – An uneven blend of the horror and crime genres courtesy of the Corman Brothers finds crook Frank Wolff and his gang (including his perpetually soused moll Sheila Caroll) plotting a gold bar heist using an explosion at a mine as a diversion. Wolff and his cohorts (perennial Corman actor Wally Campo and Frank Sinatra’s cousin Richard!) use good-looking ski lodge instructor Michael Forest to lead them on a cross-country ski trip to make their getaway, but the blast awakens a not-so hideous monster from its slumber that tracks them down! First film for director Hellman has its moments, but the rock-bottom budget defeats him. Filmed on location in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Fun Fact: The unscary monster was designed and played by actor Chris Robinson, the original “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV” commercial ad guy!

HORROR HOTEL (Vulcan/Trans-Lux 1960; D: John Llewellyn Moxey) – Also known as CITY OF THE DEAD. New England 1692: accused witch Elizabeth Selwyn curses the town of Whitewood, MA as she’s burned at the stake. Present Day: college student Nan Barlow wants to do her term paper on witchcraft and devil worship, and is directed by her history professor Alan Driscoll to travel to his hometown of Whitewood for research. He even recommends she stay at The Raven’s Inn, run by Mrs. Newless (who bears a striking resemblance to Elizabeth!).

Nan immediately notices strange things about Whitewood: the fog-shrouded town doesn’t look like it’s changed in 200+ years, the townsfolk aren’t very friendly, the old reverend warns her “Leave Whitewood”, and weird noises emanate from the cellar. The only person who welcomes her is the reverend’s granddaughter Patricia, newly arrived herself and running an antique bookstore. Curiosity gets the best of her and… DON’T GO IN THAT BASEMENT, NAN!!

When Nan doesn’t return home after two weeks, her brother Ronald and boyfriend Bill become worried. Patricia, too, is worried, and pays a call on both Ronald and Prof. Driscoll. The men decide separately to go to Whitewood and investigate, and that’s when the fun really begins! This is probably Moxey’s best feature film, though he does have some good TV Movies on his resume (THE NIGHT STALKER, HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS, NIGHTMARE IN BADHAM COUNTY). Christopher Lee is dark and ominous as Driscoll, but it’s Patricia Jessel (A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM ) who stands out in a truly bloodcurdling performance as Elizabeth Selwyn/Mrs. Newless. The rest of the cast (Betta St. John, Valentine Dyall, Venitia Stevenson, Dennis Lotis) is equally good, and the British actors do a fine job maintaining their American accents. This incredibly creepy nightmare of a movie is an old favorite of mine, and highly recommended! Fun Fact: This was a Vulcan Production from Max Rosenberg and Milton Subotsky, who soon changed their company’s name to Amicus , premiere makers of horror anthologies in the 60’s & 70’s.

Halloween Havoc! Extra: Boris & Bela’s “Forgotten” Universal Film!

I’ve covered every Universal Horror Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi made together on this blog but one… it’s a Universal Picture, but not a horror! Instead, the Demonic Duo make cameo appearences in 1934’s GIFT OF GAB, an “all-star comedy with music” featuring the likes of Edmond Lowe, Gloria Stuart , singers Ruth Etting and Ethel Waters, Victor Moore, and others. In this scene, Paul Lukas , Binnie Barnes, Chester Morris, Roger Pryor, and June Knight perform a murder mystery sketch in which the Twin Titans of Terror make all-too-brief cameos:

The Terror Twins worked together one other time, in a 1938 guest shot on Ozzie Nelson’s radio program, “singing” (if you could call it that!!) a little ditty called “We’re Horrible, Horrible Men”:

Thankfully, Boris and Bela stuck to acting… though I have to admit, their singing’s pretty scary, too!!

Happy Halloween from Bela and Boris!

Halloween Havoc! Extra: Boris & Bela Do THE MONSTER MASH!

Bobby “Boris” Pickett’s 1962 hit “The Monster Mash” was not only a graveyard smash, but has become an annual Halloween tradition here on Cracked Rear Viewer. This season, I’ve picked out a Monster Mash-Up of clips starring Universal Horror icons Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi set to Pickett’s groovy ghoulie tune. Break out your dancing shoes and get ready to Do The Mash with Boris and Bela:

Have a Happy HORRORween, Dear Readers!

Halloween Havoc! Extra: Boris Karloff in THE SNAKE PEOPLE (Columbia/Azteca 1971) Complete Horror Movie!

Boris Karloff frightened the nation in 1931’s FRANKENSTEIN , and continued to terrify audiences for over three decades. In 1968, at the age of 81 and suffering from emphysema and crippling arthritis, Boris signed on to do four low-budget horror films for a Mexican production company. Unable to travel, Karloff’s scenes were shot in Hollywood by Jack Hill (SPIDER BABY, THE BIG DOLL HOUSE, SWITCHBLADE SISTERS). These films had a limited release here in the U.S. in 1971, two years after Karloff’s death, then went straight to late night TV.

THE SNAKE PEOPLE is probably the best of the quartet (which admittedly isn’t saying much!), featuring some bizarre imagery, flesh-eating zombies, voodoo rituals, human sacrifice, and other cool stuff! Karloff looks ill (and he was), but still manages to command every scene he’s in. Enjoy a last visit with the King of Horror, Boris Karloff, in THE SNAKE PEOPLE!:

Halloween Havoc!: BLACK FRIDAY (Universal 1940)

The Twin Titans of Terror, Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, reteamed for their fifth film together in 1940’s BLACK FRIDAY. Horror fans must’ve been salivating at the chance to see the duo reunited after the success of the previous year’s SON OF FRANKENSTEIN, but left the theaters let down upon discovering Boris and Bela share no scenes together, and the bulk of the action is carried by character actor Stanley Ridges in a dual role.

The movie’s a variation on the old Jekyll & Hyde theme, with a twist: instead of a secret formula, the change occurs via brain transplantation! The preposterous premise finds Karloff on death row as Dr. Ernst Sovac, walking that last mile to his fate in the electric chair. Sovac hands his notes and records to a sympathetic newspaper reporter, and our film begins in earnest. Flashbacks relate the tale of kindly old English literature Professor George Kingsley, struck down by a car driven by gangster Red Cannon, who is trying to escape a hit by his former gang. Both men are badly hurt in the crash, with Kingsley being mortally wounded and Red paralyzed. To save his friend Kingsley’s life, Sovac transplants part of Red’s brain in Kingsley’s head (which of course kills the gangster).

While Kingsley convalesces, Sovac learns Red has a half million dollars in ill-gotten loot stashed away in New York City. The doctor brings his friend to The Big Apple under the pretense of “a change will do you good”, hoping to jog the Red Cannon part of his brain into revealing the money’s whereabouts, so he can fund more brain transplanting research. This works all too well, as the familiar surroundings cause the Red Cannon part of Kingsley’s brain to slowly take over, especially after seeing his former moll, nightclub canary Sunny Rogers. Aware that he’s unrecognizable in his new body, Red goes on a killing spree against the four mobsters that tried to rub him out…

The script by Curt Siodmak and Eric Taylor seems tailored for Lugosi to play the mad Dr. Sovac and Karloff as Kingsley/Red, right down to the character names and some of the dialog. But for whatever reason (reports vary), Karloff insisted on taking the Sovac part. It’s not like he’d never played a gangster before (see THE CRIMINAL CODE or SCARFACE for examples), but Karloff got his way. Bela wound up being wasted in the part of crook Eric Marnay (and though he’s quite good, it’s a minor role), and Ridges (who was probably slated to play Marnay) got the juicy role of Kingsley/Red. Ridges is effective, but it would have been a much better film if the original casting had stood.

Director Arthur Lubin adds a nice touch using the old “spinning newspaper effect” with Sovac’s notebook to transition scenes, with Karloff adding narration. DP Elwood “Woody” Bredell does a good job painting with shadows and light, warming up for future jobs on PHANTOM LADY , CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY, and THE KILLERS . The supporting cast features Familiar Faces Murry Alper, Raymond Bailey , Virginia Brissac, James Craig (the sympathetic reporter), Paul Fix, Anne Gwynne, and Anne Nagel, but on the whole this is the weakest of the Karloff/Lugosi pairings (except for maybe RKO’s YOU’LL FIND OUT, with Peter Lorre and Kay Kyser and His Kollege of Musical Knowledge). *sigh* If only they’d stuck to the original casting…

Halloween Havoc!: TOWER OF LONDON (Universal 1939)

Rowland V. Lee followed up his successful SON OF FRANKENSTEIN with TOWER OF LONDON, reuniting with stars Basil Rathbone and Boris Karloff in a take on the story of Richard III that mixes historical drama with horror. This “Game of Thrones” is filled with political machinations, royal court intrigue, and murder most foul as the crook backed Richard kills his way to the top of England’s heap, aided by his chief executioner Mord.

You won’t find any Shakespeare here or historical accuracy, but Lee and his screenwriter brother Richard N. Lee craft a tale of bad intentions to capitalize on the renewed interest in the horror genre. Rathbone exudes evil from every pore as Richard, the Duke of Gloucester, who along with his brother King Edward VI, has seized power by imprisoning the feeble-minded Henry IV. But there are six heirs standing in Richard’s way to succession, and he keeps figurines of his enemies in a little dollhouse, tossing them into the flames as they fall one by one. Basil plays Richard as a coldly calculating killer, using his power and influence to reap the bounty of his murderous objective. One of the screen’s greatest villains, Rathbone’s chillingly sinister portrayal makes him a human monster who’ll stop at nothing, including ordering the murders of his young nephews, to quench his thirst for power.

Karloff is equally as frightening as Mord, the bald, club footed executioner who worships Richard as a God, and delights in torture and killing. We first lay eyes on him in his torture chamber sharpening his axe, a raven perched on his shoulder, cruelly denying a chained prisoner water. Mord lives only to serve and kill, and Karloff plays him unsympathetically, unlike some of his horror characterizations. He crushes a young chimney sweep under his clubbed foot, thrusts a dagger into the back of the pathetic Henry IV, and carries out the murders of the child princes without remorse. Karloff, under Jack Pierce’s makeup, added another brutish portrait to his growing Rogue’s Gallery with Mord.

My favorite scene involves another horror star, young Vincent Price in his third film, playing the effeminate Duke of Clarence. Price, who made his film debut in Lee’s 1938 comedy SERVICE DE LUXE, gets a tutorial in terror sharing a scene with Boris and Basil when, after Clarence is charged with treason and sent to the tower, he engages in a drinking duel with Richard. Seeming to win, the drunken Duke is overtaken by Richard who, along with Mord, drowns him in a vat of wine (“He asked for malmsey”, Richard coolly states). Price, Karloff, and Rathbone would be reunited a quarter century later (along with Peter Lorre) for a horror of another kind, THE COMEDY OF TERRORS .

The large cast includes Ian Hunter as the equally despicable Edward VI, Barbara O’Neil as his wife Elyzabeth, John Sutton and Nan Grey as the young lovers John Wyatt and Lady Alice, and Leo G. Carroll as Lord Hastings. Familiar Faces involved are Lionel Belmore, Stanley Blystone, Ernest Cossart, Rose Hobart , Miles Mander, Michael Mark, John Roister (Rathbone’s son), and Walter Tetley. Horror buffs carp that TOWER OF LONDON falls more on the historical drama side than horror, but the performances of Rathbone and Karloff (and Price, to a certain extent) make it a worthy entry in the Universal Horror canon. They may not be Count Dracula and Frankenstein’s Monster , but Richard III and Mord certainly belong alongside them.

Halloween Havoc: SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (Universal 1939)


Horror films took a hiatus from Hollywood from 1937 to 1939. The British Horror Ban forbid monster movies from being screened without an X rating, curtailing the export of terror-inducing tales. The Production Code was in full effect, with Joseph Breen and his censorship minions clamping down on what they considered wasn’t suitable for the public. Lastly, Carl Laemmle Sr. (and his son) were ousted from Universal Studios, the company he founded, with J. Cheever Cowdin taking over as Chairman. Cowdin was a money man with a tight hold on the bottom line for the cash-strapped Universal.

Then in 1938, a Los Angeles theater desperate for business featured a triple-bill consisting of FRANKENSTEIN , DRACULA , and KING KONG , playing to sold-out crowds, and a nationwide rerelease saw similar box-office success. The Universal Monsters were back in business, and a third sequel to their profitable series based on Mary Shelley’s novel was readied for production – SON OF FRANKENSTEIN, reuniting horror icons Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi , and teaming them with another villainous star, Basil Rathbone .

We begin with some exposition, as village leaders debate the return of heir Wolf von Frankenstein and his family, followed by more exposition from Wolf aboard a train. Now that we’re all caught up on the legend of Frankenstein, the film begins in earnest, with those villagers not exactly giving Wolf and family a warm welcome! Arriving at the ancestral home (which features a large portrait of Colin Clive in the library), Wolf is called on by Inspector Krough, who warns of danger from the villagers due to a series of unsolved murders rumored to be the work of the “ghost” of his father’s creation. Krough gives Wolf his father’s papers, then relates the tale of how he acquired his wooden arm… seems The Monster ripped his limb out “by the roots” as a child!

Wife Elsa isn’t a fan of the creepy old Gothic manse (and it is creepy indeed, an Expressionistic nightmare filled with shadows), and is worried for son Peter (who doesn’t seem to worry about anything). Wolf, ever the determined scientist, explores his father’s old laboratory, and is almost killed by a falling  boulder. He discovers the grotesque, broken-necked Ygor, a former body snatcher for pater Frankenstein, who was hanged for his crimes but miraculously lived. Ygor takes Wolf to his sick “friend” – The Monster, lying in a catatonic state! “Make him well, Frankenstein”, croaks Ygor, and Wolf, being his father’s son, sets out to revive The Monster and vindicate dear old dad…

Producer/director Rowland V. Lee was tasked with reviving the franchise, and his film has echoes of James Whale’s style combined with a more modernistic approach. Lee, who began his career in silents, had success in the Pre-Code Era and helmed some popular swashbucklers (1934’s THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO, 1935’s THE THREE MUSKETEERS), wasn’t happy with the script by radio’s Willis Cooper (LIGHTS OUT), and did an extensive rewrite, throwing out some ideas, adding new ones, and beefing up the character of Ygor. Together with cinematographer George Robinson (who’d go on to do a number of Universal shockers in the 40’s) and Art Director Jack Otterson, Lee creates a world populated by shadows, a rich dark texture giving SON OF FRANKENSTEIN the look and feel of those early 30’s classics while updating things for modern (1939) audiences unfamiliar with the earlier movies. And he succeeds, thanks to his collaborators both behind and in front of the camera.

Basil Rathbone as Wolf von Frankenstein is a bundle of nerves with a mad gleam in his eye, a far cry from his cool, calm, and collected Sherlock Holmes persona. He even gets to perform a bit of swashbuckling himself at the film’s conclusion. Rathbone was one of Hollywood’s vilest villains, though here he’s as much misunderstood anti-hero as dastardly mad scientist. Lionel Atwill’s Inspector Krough was one of his best parts before a scandal reduced him to ‘B’ movie status (and yes, you can’t help but think of Kenneth Mars in YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN when you see him – thanks again, Mel Brooks!). Boris Karloff, in his third outing as The Monster, isn’t given much to do but growl and just be a killing machine. Where he obtained that fur vest he wears is never explained – a Christmas gift from Ygor, perhaps? Josephine Hutchinson plays the thankless role of wife Elsa. A lot of horror critics harp on little Donnie Dunagan’s acting as young Peter, but HEY… HE WAS JUST A FIVE YEAR OLD KID AT THE TIME! LEAVE HIM ALONE (besides, Donnie more than made up for it when he supplied the voice of BAMBI)!

Then there’s the great Bela Lugosi as the broken-necked Ygor, arguably his last great film part. Lugosi hadn’t been seen onscreen in over a year, and Lee was determined to keep the actor working by giving him a bigger part in the film. Ygor pops up everywhere in the movie, so the Hungarian star would continue to get paid by skinflint Universal. Lugosi responded with his best performance since THE RAVEN , not just playing Jack Pierce’s monstrous makeup but creating a full-bodied character. His gravelly voice is unrecognizable from his Count Dracula days, and the scene where he spits at one of the village leaders (“bone gets stuck in my throat”) is a highlight. Ygor is the only one who can control The Monster, and after his demise all bets are off! Ygor should’ve led to better roles for Bela Lugosi, but his poor choices and addiction to morphine instead sunk him, like Atwill, to Poverty Row programmers at PRC and Monogram.

SON OF FRANKENSTEIN was a hit, and Universal was back in the monster business. But it would be the last big budget effort for the Universal Monster brigade. The studio decided to concentrated on quick, cheap flicks during World War II, as we shall see…

Halloween Havoc!: THE INVISIBLE RAY (Universal 1936)


THE INVISIBLE RAY, the third Universal teaming of Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi , is probably the least discussed of their seven films together. And I don’t quite know why, because I find it an entertaining meld of horror and science fiction that holds my interest for its 80 minute running time. The two stars are well spotlighted, with Bela as one of the good guys (for a change!) and Boris giving a hammy but well crafted performance as a scientist unhinged by his newest discovery.

A curly-haired Karloff stars as Dr. Janos Rukh, awaiting the arrival of a group of his fellow scientists for a demonstration of his Invisible Ray as a storm rages outside. Rukh’s wife Diana and blind Mother Rukh greet them: Sir Francis Stevens and his wife Lady Arabella, French astro-chemist Dr. Felix Benet, and Lady Arabella’s nephew Ronald Drake, who’s along for the ride. Rukh brings them to his planetarium/lab, where his ray scans the Andromeda Galaxy to reveal Earth’s history from millions of years past. They witness a meteor crashing into the African continent bearing the powerful but deadly new element known only as ‘Radium X’.

The group commissions an expedition to the Dark Continent, and Rukh separates rom the rest to search for the meteor’s location. Finding it, he’s hoisted down into a crater and extracts ‘Radium X’: “More power than any man has ever known”. But there’s a side effect: Rukh begins to glow in the dark (I’ve always imagined it as a ghastly green like the old Aurora Monster “Glow in the Dark” models!) and his touch brings death! Seeking help from Benet, Rukh is told the element has poisoned him, and may affect his mind. Benet comes up with an antidote to counteract ‘Radium X’s’ effects, but warns Rukh he’ll never be completely cured.

Benet informs Rukh that Stevens has returned to Europe tp announce the element’s discovery, causing the distraught Rukh to accuse them of thievery. Worse: the neglected Diana has written him a “Dear John” letter and fallen for Ronald! Rukh, after curing his mother’s blindness by harnessing the element’s power, heads to Paris and fakes his own death, then plots revenge on those he thinks have betrayed him by utilizing his “touch of death”…

You can ignore the scientific mumbo-jumbo in John Colton’s script and just enjoy an over-the-top Karloff as the crazed Rukh. Boris lets loose and has a ball with the part, and Bela seems to be enjoying himself too in a fairly straight role as Benet. Frances Drake (MAD LOVE ) does fine as Diana, but I find Frank Lawton (THE DEVIL DOLL ) a bit on the boring side as Ronald. Walter Kingsford and Beulah Bondi are good as the Stevens’, Violet Kemble Cooper a standout as Mother Rukh, and KING KONG’s Frank Reicher has a small part as one of Karloff’s victims.

There’s a third star in this show: John P. Fulton’s amazing special effects. And Boris’s lab is full of electronic gadgetry that must be the work of an uncredited Kenneth Strickfaden. Franz Waxman’s score is as underrated as the film itself. Director Lambert Hillyer does yeoman’s work keeping things moving – he’d move on to the next Universal Horror, as we’ll find out tomorrow. As for now, I’m recommending those who love these old school horror movies and haven’t seen THE INVISIBLE RAY do so ASAP – Boris and Bela never fail to deliver the chills!