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!

Claude Reigns Supreme: THE UNSUSPECTED (Warner Brothers 1947)

As a classic film blogger, I’m contractually obligated to cover film noir during the month of “Noirvember”, so every Tuesday this month I’ll be shining the spotlight on movies of this dark genre!


Claude Rains  received second billing in 1947’s THE UNSUSPECTED, but there’s no doubt who’s the star of this show. Nobody could steal a picture like Rains, as I’ve stated several times before – his sheer talent commands your attention! Here, he gives a chilling portrayal of a cold, calculating murderer in a Michael Curtiz noir based on a novel by Edgar Award-winning mystery writer Charlotte Armstrong, and runs away with the film. Joan Caulfield gets top billing, but let’s be honest – it’s Claude’s movie all the way!

The film begins with a frightening scene played mostly in shadow, as a figure creeps into the office of Victor Grandison (Rains) and murders his secretary Robyn Wright while she’s on the phone. The call is cut off as she screams, and the figure hangs her body from the chandelier to make it look like a suicide. We get a brief glimpse of the killer’s face reflected in the polished desk…

That face belongs to Grandison, who we learn is the host of a radio series called “The Unsuspected”, and here Rains (as Grandison) uses his mellifluous cultured voice to relate true-crime tales of terror to his listening audience. A surprise birthday party is given in his honor at the mansion he lives in, owned by his late niece Matilda Frazer. Accompanied by his producer Jayne Moynihan, Victor’s greeted by his guests, including his other niece, the slutty Althea Keane and her lush of a husband Oliver, whom she once stole from Matilda. Homicide detective Richard Donovan, a friend of Victor’s, is also on hand, as is a mysterious stranger named Steven Howard.

Howard, it seems, married Matilda before she died in an accident at sea. Victor is suspicious of Howard, thinking he’s out for Matilda’s money (which Victor’s been lavishly living off), and has Donovan do a background check. Turns out Howard has money of his own (his dad’s in oil), and Althea takes an interest in him. But Matilda is not dead, and she returns home with no recollection of who Howard is…

The strength of THE UNSUSPECTED lies in Rains’s performance as Victor, a smiling cobra who’s smooth as silk and deadly as a razor. Victor is outwardly  kind and gentle, masking the murderous beast within. He’s wound tighter than a drum, and it’s not until the final scene where, while broadcasting his show, he realizes he’s been found out and is trapped, that he cracks under pressure and makes his confession. Anyone interested in a Master Class in film acting need only to watch Claude Rains perform in this film – or any of his films, for that matter!

Nominal star Joan Caulfield (Matilda) was a popular player in the 1940’s and early 50’s, usually cast in lighter, more comedic fare. She’s okay in this one as the loving niece of Rains, but let’s be honest… the film’s remembered today as a showcase for Rains’s talent. Constance Bennett (Jayne) was a big star in the 30’s, now moved into character roles as she’d gotten older. Audrey Totter , adding another superb ‘Mean Girl’ characterization to her impressive film noir resume, is at her bitchy best as Althea. Hurd Hatfield doesn’t get much to do as soused spouse Oliver, Fred Clark (making his film debut) as Donovan is good as always, and Jack Lambert stands out as Victor’s sometimes accomplice Poole. Michael North (usually billed as Ted) failed to impress me in the key role of Howard.  There’s plenty of other Familiar Faces to spot: Nana Bryant, Bess Flowers (in the birthday party scene), Art Gilmore (as Victor’s radio show announcer), Douglas Kennedy , Harry Lewis, and Ray Walker .


This was Curtiz’s first film for his new production company and he made the most of it. His skillful direction is aided by DP Woody Bredell , who worked on all those 40’s Universal Horror flicks and with Robert Siodmak during that director’s Universal run of film noir classics. Frederick Richards’s editing really stands out, and Franz Waxman provides another classic score. There are echoes of LAURA and GASLIGHT in THE UNSUSPECTED, but the film’s not derivative; it’s a powerful noir drama made by pros, and though it may not be at the top of anyone’s film noir lists, it’s a damn good one, with Claude Rains leading the way in another memorable performance.

Halloween Havoc!: THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (Universal 1943)

Universal’s 1943 remake of the 1925 Lon Chaney Sr. classic THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA is definitely an ‘A’ movie in every way. A lavish Technicolor production with an ‘A’ list cast (Claude Rains, Nelson Eddy, Susanna Foster) and opulent sets (including the Opera House interiors built for the ’25 silent), it’s the only Universal Horror to win an Oscar – actually two, for Art Direction and Cinematography. Yet I didn’t really like it the first time I saw it. It’s only through repeated viewings I’ve softened my stance and learned to appreciate the film.

Claude Rains’s performance in particular has made me a convert. As Erique Claudin, he’s a sympathetic figure, and one can’t help but feel sorry for him. When he’s let go from the orchestra by the maestro, after twenty long years as a violinist, his arthritis causing his playing to become subpar, I felt pity for a man who gave so much for his art. Though he commits the murder of the publisher he believes has stolen his concerto, Erique didn’t deserve to have acid flung in his face by an angry secretary. His howls are that of a wounded animal as he escapes into the sewers below the streets of Paris. Rains, with his black cloak and hat, his grotesque face covered by a stage mask, cuts a fine figure as The Phantom. His only motivation is to further the career of budding soprano Christine, whom he’s loved from afar, and he’s determined to eliminate everything that stands in the way of that goal. His mind has become as scarred as his face, and like the best of monsters, he’s a figure to be pitied, not hated.

Nelson Eddy (Anatole) and Susanna Foster (Christine) are in fine voice; even though opera’s not really my thing, I can certainly appreciate their talents. I could do without the love triangle with Christine, Anatole, and Inspector Raoul Dubert (Edgar Barrier), but it’s necessary to the plot as constructed by writers Eric Taylor and Samuel Hoffenstein, who took several liberties with Gaston Leroux’s 1910 novel in order to fit in Universal’s newest star Eddy, who’d recently left MGM after seven years under contract.

A better-than-average supporting cast features J. Edward Bromberg , Leo Carrillo , a young Hume Cronyn , Jane Farrar, Fritz Feld, Steven Geray, Miles Mander, Frank Puglia, and Special Guest Star Franz Liszt! Actually, it’s not the famous composer (who’d been dead since 1886), but actor Fritz Leiber (father of science fiction writer Fritz Leiber Jr. ), who plays an important part in the proceedings. The score by Edward Ward consists of original operatic music especially composed for the film (though better ears than mine will notice some Tchaikovsky and Bach thrown in), and was also Oscar nominated (but lost to THIS IS THE ARMY, a patriotic flag-waver based on the music of Irving Berlin).

Director Arthur Lubin took time off from helming Abbott & Costello vehicles to make PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, and does a fine job. The famous chandelier scene is thrillingly staged, and the unmasking of The Phantom deep inside the catacombs (a highlight of the ’25 version) is sufficiently gruesome, although Jack Pierce’s makeup can’t hold a candle to Chaney’s iconic original. I admire the film today, with reservations. It’s more a Nelson Eddy/Susanna Foster vehicle than Universal Horror, and I would’ve liked to have seen more emphasis on Claude Rains’s Phantom. As it stands, it’s an uneven but interesting and watchable entry in the history of the horror film.  

Halloween Havoc!: THE INVISIBLE MAN (Universal 1933)

James Whale’s FRANKENSTEIN set the bar high for horror, and his follow-up THE OLD DARK HOUSE is one of the blackest comedies ever made. But with THE INVISIBLE MAN, Whale raises that bar by combining gruesome terror with his macabre sense of humor. THE INVISIBLE MAN doesn’t get the respect of other icons in the First Horror Cycle (Frankenstein’s monster, Dracula, Imhotep), but Claude Rains’s outstanding performance as the mad scientist Jack Griffin, driven to insanity by the chemicals he’s pumped into his veins, is as sick and deranged as any you’ll find in the genre… and the fact Rains does much of his acting using only his voice is an amazing feat, and a testament to the man’s acting genius.

Whale’s opening shot sets the eerie tone, as a solitary figure, his face swaddled in bandages, trudges through a snowstorm and enters the Lion’s Head Inn seeking solitude. The patrons seem freaked out by the man’s visage, but the mercenary Mrs. Hall (Una O’Connor , far less annoying than in BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN) sets him up with a room. We soon learn the man is Jack Griffin, a scientist whose dabbling with an exotic drug called monocaine has rendered him invisible. He’s searching for an antidote, unaware the drug has a side effect that causes madness. But Griffin’s far too late, as the insanity has begun to consume him, and he causes chaos at the Inn, terrorizing the locals.

Griffin coerces his former colleague Kemp (William Harrigan) into doing his bidding, and here Rains, covered in bandaging, uses his vocal talents to convey the madness within: “We’ll begin with a reign of terror, a few murders here and there, murders of great men, murders of little men – well, just to show we’ll make no distinction. I might even wreck a train or two… just these fingers on a signalman’s throat, that’s all.”  A manhunt has begun to capture The Invisible Man, and the frightened citizenry, listening to radio reports of his misdeeds, lock their doors and bolt their windows in fear. Kemp calls in Griffin’s fiancé Flora (Gloria Stuart ) and her scientist father (IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE’s Henry Travers), and also betrays Griffin to the police, causing the madman to vow to murder him the next night at ten o’clock. Griffin makes good on his promise, despite the police protection surrounding Kemp, and commits mass murder and havoc on a grand scale, before a fortuitous snowstorm, like the one which began the film, leads to his ultimate demise.

Rains is brilliant as the mad Jack Griffin, even wrapped in bandages or not on screen at all save his voice. One of my favorite parts occurs when we see Mary Gordon (Sherlock Holmes’s future landlady) screaming down the road in terror as a pair of pants chases her down singing, “Here we go gathering nuts in May, nuts in May, nuts in May”, another example of Whale’s bizarre black humor. Rains is aided by the special effects wizardry of John P. Fulton, who uses early “black screen” technology to make us believe an invisible man exists. The effects hold up surprisingly well 85 years later… well, maybe not so surprising, as Fulton was one of Hollywood’s pioneer effects men, sought after by everyone from Alfred Hitchcock (REAR WINDOW , VERTIGO) to Cecil B. DeMille (THE TEN COMMANDMENTS ), and won three Oscars over the years for his work.

Though THE INVISIBLE MAN is one of the best films in the First Horror Cycle, the character itself doesn’t get the respect it should because each subsequent film has a different Invisible Man. The 1940 sequel THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS has Vincent Price made invisible by the brother of Jack Grifffin, and later films in the series all feature other characters as  Invisible Men. The sequels are all well made, with Fulton Oscar nominated for three of them, but can’t hold a candle to James Whale’s original, with a star-making performance by the great Claude Rains.

 

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service: Errol Flynn in THE SEA HAWK (Warner Brothers 1940)

Warner Brothers pulled out all the stops for their 1940 epic THE SEA HAWK. There’s dashing Errol Flynn swashbuckling his way across the Silver Screen once again, the proverbial cast of thousands, high seas action, romance, political intrigue, superb special effects, and a spirited score by Erich Wolfgang Korngold. The only thing missing that could’ve possibly made this movie better is Technicolor, but since Jack and his bros had already spent $1.7 million (equivalent to almost thirty million today) to produce it, why quibble?

Flynn is in fine form as privateer Geoffrey Thorpe, captain of the pirate ship Albatross, in service to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth I. When they attack and plunder a Spanish ship carrying Ambassador Don Alvarez de Cordoba and his beautiful niece Maria, Captain Thorpe is reprimanded and told to lay off the Spanish. Spain, however, is building up their Armada with world conquest in mind, and Don Alvarez has been sent to conspire with the traitorous Lord Wolfingham. Thorpe and his crew have a plan to attack the Spaniards on land in The New World where they’re looting Native gold to finance their plot for domination. The Queen tells him no officially, but off the record gives Thorpe the okay. This leads Thorpe and company into a trap, captured, and sentenced by Spain to life imprisonment as Spanish galley slaves.

Of course Thorpe, being Errol Flynn and all, hatches an escape plan, and he and his men take over the Spanish ship after learning the Armada is headed for England. The valiant Thorpe returns to the motherland and engages in a deadly swordfight with Wolfingham, an action scene that rivals Flynn’s duel to the death with Basil Rathbone in THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD . Flynn is quite the handsome rogue in this one, although the kicker here is he’s shy around women! An in-joke, to be sure! Anyway, he wins the hand of the fair Maria before returning to sea and his swashbuckling ways.

Beautiful Brenda Marshall plays Maria, at first repelled by Flynn’s buccaneer ways but soon falling for him. Miss Marshall starred in some memorable films (CAPTAINS OF THE CLOUDS, THE CONSTANT NYMPH, BACKGROUND TO DANGER), but her screen career lasted a mere five years. She retired after becoming Mrs. William Holden. Claude Rains lends his villainous presence to the part of the unctuous Don Alvarez. His co-conspirator Lord Wolfingham is none other than Henry Daniell, one of the screen’s great villains (CAMILLE, JANE EYRE, THE BODY SNATCHER ). Daniell is noted for his appearances in three Sherlock Holmes films, including a turn as Professor Moriarty in THE WOMAN IN GREEN. Flora Robson interprets Queen Elizabeth I a bit differently than Bette Davis in THE PRIVATE LIVES OF ELIZABETH AND ESSEX (also starring Flynn); her speech at film’s end rallying her subjects to fight against the enemy is a not-so-subtle plea against German aggression in those days before U.S. involvement in World War II.

Other cast members are burly Alan Hale Sr. as Thorpe’s second in command Pitt, Una O’Connor as Maria’s servant, Gilbert Roland as Spanish Captain Lopez, and a veritable Who’s Who of Familiar Faces: David Bruce , Edgar Buchanan , Clyde Cook, Donald Crisp , Pedro de Cordoba, Ian Keith , J.M. Kerrigan, Frank Lackteen, Jack LaRue, Montagu Love, William Lundigan, Lester Matthews , Gerald Mohr, Nestor Paiva, Jay Silverheels , James Stephenson, Victor Varconi , and others too numerous to mention. It seems like everyone who wasn’t employed at the time took part in this one except Rin Tin Tin!

Master storyteller Michael Curtiz directs the film, his tenth and last with Flynn in five short years. Though the two weren’t exactly best buds (to put it mildly), their films together are among Hollywood’s finest. Korngold’s majestic score is certainly among the greats as well, adding to the pageantry and spectacle. Special effects were handled by Byron Haskin (later the director of WAR OF THE WORLDS) and Hans Koenekamp (THE BEAST WITH FIVE FINGERS ), and for 1940 they’re pretty damn good! Howard Koch and Seaton Miller wrote the screenplay, and knew just when to insert some comedy or heat up the action. I’d love to see THE SEA HAWK on the big screen, as it was meant to be seen, but if I have to settle for the comfort of my living room, I’m okay with that, too. It’s one of the grandest of entertainments produced during Hollywood’s Golden Age, and one you definitely need to keep an eye out for!

Spy in the House of Love: Alfred Hitchcock’s NOTORIOUS (RKO 1946)

You won’t find a more glamorous pair of spies than Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman in Alfred Hitchcock’s NOTORIOUS… except maybe in other films that feature Cary Grant as a spy! The Master of Suspense once again goes full speed ahead in bringing this exciting espionage caper to the screen loaded with the usual “Hitchcock Touches”, and introducing a few new ones along the way.

Alicia Huberman’s father has just been convicted of treason, and party girl Alicia soon finds herself seduced by suave T.R. Devlin. Awakening the next morning with a massive hangover, Alicia discovers Devlin’s a government agent (ours, of course!) charged with recruiting her to infiltrate a nest of ex-Nazis in Brazil. The target: Alexander Sebastian, a former flame of hers. The wealthy industrialist Sebastian is snack-dab in the middle of a fiendish Nazi plot, and Alicia’s job is to find out what’s going on. Meanwhile, the two fall madly in love.

Alicia gets invited to a dinner party loaded with Sebastian’s co-conspirators, including his suspicious mother. There’s something sinister about those wine bottles, but there’s a fly in the ointment: Sebastian asks her to marry him to prove she’s not in love with Devlin! Devlin, ever the company man, gives her the brush-off, and Alicia continues her mission as Mrs. Alexander Sebastian. Alicia steals the key to the wine cellar and, at a lavish party, she and Devlin investigate, finding bottles full of “some kind of metal ore”. Sebastian discovers the truth about Alicia’s allegiance, and he and his mother decide the only way out is to slowly poison her…

Ingrid’s Alicia Huberman is no Ilsa Lund, that’s for sure! In fact, the implication is she’s a high-priced call girl, but the censors preferred the more demur term “party girl”. Cary Grant is as sophisticated as ever, and he and Bergman make a crackling screen team (the pair would later team again in 1958’s INDISCREET). Speaking of those censors, it seems they had a rule forbidding onscreen kissing longer than three seconds (Good Lord!). Hitchcock, ever the innovator, got around this by having Grant and Bergman embrace in a passionate lip-lock for two-and-a-half seconds, then murmur a few sweet nothings, then kiss again. This went on for two-and-a-half minutes, and though it may sound strange, the scene is actually pretty damn hot! Leave it to Hitch to beat the devil at his own game!

The outstanding supporting cast is headed by Claude Rains as Alexander Sebastian. As usual, Rains commands the screen whenever he’s on it, really tough to do when you’re opposite Grant and Bergman! Veteran Austrian actress Leopoldine Konstantine makes her first (and only) American film appearance as Madame Sebastian, as knee-deep in the conspiracy as her son. Familiar Faces include Bea Benaderet, Wally Brown , Louis Calhern , Gavin Gordon, Donald Kerr , Moroni Olsen, and Ivan Treisault. Bess Flowers can be spotted in the huge party scene, along with Hitchcock in his regular cameo.

That party scene begins with an overhead shot atop the staircase (a favorite Hitchcock motif) that tracks all the way down to Alicia’s hand, which holds the key to the wine cellar and the plot. This and all the other fantastic camerawork come courtesy of DP Ted Tetzlaff, whose cinematography credits include classics MY MAN GODFREY, EASY LIVING, and THE MORE THE MERRIER. Tetzlaff was also a director in his own right, helming the 1949 film noir THE WINDOW . RKO’s music man Roy Webb delivers one of his best scores, and the screenplay by Ben Hecht is downright perfect. With all that talent in front of and behind the camera, it’s no small wonder NOTORIOUS was one of 1946’s biggest hits, ranking #7 at the box office and scoring Oscar nominations for Rains and Hecht. The movie is as glamorous and entertaining today as it was then, with Hitchcock, Grant, Bergman, and Rains all at their best, and makes a good place to start for those few out there (are there any?) who have yet to discover the work of Alfred Hitchcock.

Here’s Looking at You On The Big Screen, CASABLANCA!

Longtime readers of this blog know CASABLANCA is my all-time favorite film. It’s blend of stars, supporting cast, script, direction, drama, romance, and humor is the perfect example of 1940’s Hollywood storytelling,  when Tinseltown was at the peak of its moviemaking powers . I’ve seen the film at least 80 times in many different formats, from broadcast television to cable and satellite, from VHS to DVD to DVR, but never before on the big screen – until this past Sunday, that is!

Fathom Events, in conjunction with TCM, presents classic films on a monthly basis in theaters across the country. In my area, they’re shown at Regal Cinemas in Swansea, MA, a half hour drive down the highway. I’ve been tempted to make the trip a few times, but never got around to it for one reason or another. But when I heard CASABLANCA was this month’s feature, I knew I had to be there, despite the drive, the multiple personal viewings (hell, I own it in two formats!), and the $12.50 ticket price (not to mention the requisite popcorn and soda!). This was an opportunity to see my favorite movie on a big screen, and I wasn’t about to pass it up!

Even though it was a Sunday afternoon during football season, a three-quarters full crowd gathered to attend the 2:00 showing. The fact that our Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots didn’t play hated rivals the Denver Broncos until 8:30PM certainly didn’t hurt matters (and by the way, we kicked their asses!).  The audience was a good mix of older viewers and, to the delight of my classic movie lovin’ heart, some younger fans, giving up their Sunday afternoon to watch a 75-year-old Black & White movie in a theater. Just goes to show what I’ve known all along – a great film will always draw an audience, no matter how old it may be.

After a filmed introduction and some solid background info from TCM’s own Ben Mankiewicz, it was showtime. Seeing this film up there larger than life was an awesome experience for yours truly, even though I know it by heart and can recite the dialog like singing along to an old song on the local classic rock radio station. Every line on Bogart’s world-weary face was there, all the pain and self-pity indelibly etched in vivid detail when Rick Blaine meets up with his long-lost love Ilsa Lund, now accompanied by Czechoslovakian freedom fighter Victor Laszlo. The scene where Rick, drinking himself to oblivion in the darkened Café Americain, orders his piano playing friend Sam to play “As Time Goes By”, stirring memories of his and Ilsa’s affair in Paris before the Nazis marched in, brought tears to even the most jaded of eyes – including my own. I guess Captain Renault would label me a “sentimentalist”, too!

Ingrid Bergman looked beyond beautiful on the big screen, her dewy-eyed, ethereal face conveying powerful emotions boiling just under the surface. Paul Henreid looked more heroic than ever as Victor Laszlo, especially during the inspirational scene where he leads the patrons of Rick’s in “La Marseillaise”:

Claude Rains  as Captain Renault gets most of the best lines, and got the biggest laughs from the crowd, including that “I’m shocked – shocked to find that gambling is going on here” one. The diminutive Rains dominated every scene he was in, and very nearly steals the picture from the Bogart/Bergman/Henreid triangle with his acting skills. S.Z. “Cuddles” Sakall as Karl got his share of laughs, too, whether looking at Rick all googly-eyed after the boss allows a young refuge couple to win at roulette, or the charming scene he shares with Mr. and Mrs. Leuchtag (Ludwig Stossel, Ilka Gruning) as they demonstrate their command of the English language – or rather lack of it!

Dooley Wilson has never sounded better, and his musical interludes on “It Had to Be You” and “Knock On Wood” felt like a live concert event, surpassed only by the iconic song “As Time Goes By”. Peter Lorre , Sydney Greenstreet, Conrad Veidt – such an amazing cast! And being the inveterate Familiar Face spotter that I am, it took all my strength not to shout out the names of the character actors who pop up in scene after scene (Frank Lackteen! Dan Seymour! Madeleine LeBeau! Gino Corrado!), many of whom were real-life refugees who escaped the Nazi terror in Europe and came to America to ply their trade.

All in all, celebrating CASABLANCA’s 75th Anniversary on the big screen was a dream come true, and an experience I’ll not soon forget. The perfect film in the perfect venue, surrounded by like-minded fans – I couldn’t ask for a better way to spend a Sunday afternoon. I could go on and on, but instead I’ll let the great Dooley Wilson take this post home. Play it, Sam:

 

Jurassic Joke: THE LOST WORLD (20th Century Fox 1960)

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s adventure novel THE LOST WORLD was first filmed in 1925 with special effects by the legendary Willis O’Brien  . O’Brien gets a technical credit in Irwin Allen’s 1960 remake, but his wizardry is nowhere to be found, replaced with dolled-up lizards and iguanas designed to frighten absolutely no one. This one’s strictly for the Saturday matinee kiddie crowd, and though it boasts a high profile cast, it’s ultimately disappointing.

Genre fans will appreciate the presence of The Invisible Man himself, Claude Rains , in the role of expedition leader Professor Challenger. The 71 year old Rains is full of ham here, playing to the balcony, and still managing to command the screen with his sheer talent. Challenger claims to have discovered “live dinosaurs” in the remote Amazon rainforest, a claim scoffed at by the scientific community, especially rival Professor Summerlee (the equally hammy Richard Hayden). The crusty Challenger asks for volunteers to accompany him on a return journey, and we meet the rest of the cast: Michael Rennie as big-game hunter Lord Roxton, David Hedison as intrepid reporter Ed Malone, Jill St. John as Roxton’s girl Jennifer Holmes (complete with a teacup poodle), and Ray Strickland as her younger brother David.

The crew fly to South America, where guide Manuel Gomez (Fernando Lamas) and his partner Costa (Jay Novello) will take them by chopper to the unchartered plateau deep in the wild. We get some breathtaking shots of the Amazonian jungle along the way (presumably by DP Winton Hoch ) before landing, where a giant lizard destroys the helicopter, stranding the expedition. The monsters they encounter are a sorry lot indeed, just blown-up reptiles and (in one scene) a goofy superimposed green spider. I mean, the studio sprung for Cinemascope and DeLuxe Color, and they give us el cheapo special effects! Not to mention they had Willis Freakin’ O’Brien on the payroll!

There’s a love triangle between Rennie, St. John, and Hedison that fails, mostly due to the sexist script by Allen and Charles Bennett. The dialog’s on a par with Allen’s sci-fi shows like LOST IN SPACE, dumbed down to children’s level. Lamas tries to bring some panache to his role, as Gomez holds a dark secret, but he too is doomed by the script. There’s a subplot about the lost city of El Dorado that didn’t amount to much. In fact, the film as a whole doesn’t amount to more than a semi-pleasant diversion.

THE LOST WORLD could’ve been much better, but is sunk by the crummy special effects and ludicrous script. You’d be better off watching the 1925 silent, and you can, if you’re interested. It’s in public domain, so instead of me babbling on about how lousy the newer version is, here’s 1925’s THE LOST WORLD in its entirety:

 

Why I Love THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (Warner Brothers 1938)

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Readers of this blog know CASABLANCA is my all-time favorite movie, but THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD is definitely in the Top Ten, maybe even Top Five (I’d have to think about it… sounds like a future post!). The story’s been told on-screen dozens of times, from the silent 1922 Douglas Fairbanks swashbuckler to Disney’s 1973 animated version to the recent Russell Crowe/Ridley Scott offering. But it’s this 1938  classic that remains definitive, thanks to a marvelous cast, breathtaking Technicolor, and the greatest cinematic swordfight in history.

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You all know the legend of Robin Hood by now, so no need for a recap. Instead, I’ll go right into what makes this film so great, starting with Errol Flynn as the brave Sir Robin of Locksley. Flynn was at the peak of his career here, after starring in such action-packed hits as CAPTAIN BLOOD   , THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE, and THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER. The dashing Australian’s charisma jumps through the screen in scene after scene, and his athletic performance is a joy to behold. Maid Marion puts it best when she says, “He’s brave and he’s reckless, yet he’s gentle and kind”.

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Marion of course is Olivia de Havilland , in the third of her eight films with Flynn. Olivia was 22 at the time, and this film cemented her status as a movie star. Lady Marion Fitzwalter isn’t just some stereotypical damsel in distress. A haughty noblewoman at first, looking down her nose at the outlaw Robin, she soon has a change of heart when she sees firsthand the plight of the oppressed Saxons. Marion aids in freeing Robin from the gallows, and is imprisoned for her troubles. Her love scenes with Errol are electricifying; you can see the warmth they have for each other in their eyes.

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Basil Rathbone  is at his evil best as Sir Guy of Gisbourne. He’s just so despicable, I can just imagine the booing and hissing of 1938 audiences. Imperious, full of himself, conniving, and deceitful, Rathbone is the baddest of screen bad guys here. Both Rathbone and Flynn were accomplished fencers, and their climactic duel to the death may very well be the most exciting three minutes in Hollywood history. Basil’s matched in the villain department by Claude Rains’ Prince John, the effeminate usurper to his brother Richard’s throne. Both men were among the greatest actors of Hollywood’s Golden Age, and together they’re a terrific pair of foils for the jaunty Flynn.

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Let’s not forget Robin’s Merry Men, consisting of a fine cast of character actors. Patric Knowles makes a charming Will Scarlet, ever loyal to Robin. Alan Hale Sr., an offscreen pal of Flynn, is just right as Little John, and their first meeting battling with staffs over who’s going to cross that log is just one of many memorable moments. Gruff voiced Eugene Pallette gives a rowdy edge to Friar Tuck, who also meets Robin under not the best of circumstances. Even Herbert Mundin (Much the Miller) and Una O’Connor (Marion’s handmaiden Bess), both of whom I usually find annoying, are welcome additions to the cast.

Familiar Face spotters will want to catch Ian Hunter as good King Richard, and Melville Cooper as the rotten Sheriff of Nottingham. Look closely for Lionel Belmore, Harry Cording, Frank Hagney, Holmes Herbert, Carole Landis, Lester Matthews, and Leonard Mudie. Oh, and there’s another star appearing in this: Roy Rogers’ horse Trigger, as Marion’s steed!

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Michael Curtiz took over the directorial reigns from William Keighley, though both receive screen credit. Curtiz was Warner’s go-to guy, and doesn’t get the recognition he deserves. The fact is, this is the man who directed CASABLANCA, ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES, CAPTAIN BLOOD, MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM , THE SEA HAWK, YANKEE DOODLE DANDY, MILDRED PIERCE, LIFE WITH FATHER, and WHITE CHRISTMAS, among many others. I’ve said it before: anyone with that kind of resume deserves to belong in the conversation of all-time great directors. Period.

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The stirring score by film music pioneer Erich Wolfgang Korngold won an Oscar, as it should have. It’s one of Hollywood’s most exciting pieces of music, and can be enjoyed without the movie. Indeed, it’s been played by numerous symphonies for decades now. The art direction (Carl Jules Weyl) and editing (Ralph Dawson) also won Oscars, and the costumes by Milo Anderson and cinematography by Tony Gaudio should have. Norman Reilly Raine and Seton I. Miller crafted the perfect action script, well-balanced with humor and romance. Producer Hal Wallis does his usual meticulous job getting every detail right, and the Technicolor is bright and vivid. If you want to turn young kids on to classic films, this is the one to show them.

THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD is for kids of all ages, from five to ninety-five. It’s must viewing for lover’s of classic film, and as close to perfection as a movie can get. This enduring film has passed the test of time, and will be remembered and viewed as long as there are movie lovers left alive. Don’t miss it!

Halloween Havoc!: THE WOLF MAN (Universal 1941)

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We’re heading down the Halloween Havoc! homestretch and for the last week of October I’ll be dusting of my Universal Classic Horror tapes (yes I still have a VHS player…doesn’t everybody?) From watching them on late night TV to reading about them in “Famous Monsters of Filmland” and “Castle of Frankenstein” magazines, these are the films that got me started as a life-long lover of macabre movies. So let’s take a trip down Monster Memory Lane with one of my personal favorites, THE WOLF MAN.

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Prodigal son Larry Talbot returns to his Welsh home of Llanwelly after spending 18 years in America. Father Sir John Talbot is an astronomer, and through the telescope Larry spies beautiful village girl Gwen Conliffe. Fun loving Larry is captivated by her, so he heads to her father’s antique shop to work his charm on the lass. Larry flirts away,  and on impulse buys a cane with a silver wolf’s head attached. This is where we hear that famous poem for the first time: “Even a man who is pure at heart and says his prayers by night/ May become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the Autumn moon is bright”. (I tried to find a YouTube clip but no dice! Sorry!)

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Gwen agrees to go to the gypsy camp to have their fortunes read, dragging along her friend Jenny Williams. When Bela the gypsy reads Jenny’s palm, he sees doom in her future. She’s attacked by a wolf and Larry bashes its head in with his silver cane, getting bit in the process. Gwen and Maleva, gypsy mother of Bela, bring Larry home, but the next day Bela’s dead body is discovered in the wolf’s stead. Larry’s wound is mysteriously gone, in its place a pentagram…the sign of the werewolf!

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Lon Chaney Jr always said Larry Talbot was his “baby”, and the role made him a star at Universal. The transformation from happy-go-lucky Larry to conflicted, morose victim of lycanthropy earned Chaney the title of “The Screen’s Master Character Creator” in Universal’s advertising hype. Chaney is the only actor to portray all the studio’s major monsters: Frankenstein’s Monster, Dracula, and The Mummy, as well as appearing as The Wolf Man in four sequels. His roles in mainstream films like OF MICE AND MEN, HIGH NOON, and THE DEFIANT ONES brought critical acclaim, but Chaney’s lifelong battle with the bottle saw him ending his career in B-Westerns and Al Adamson schlockers. Larry Talbot was his signature role, and his contributions to cinematic horror will not be soon forgotten.

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“A Universal Cast is Worth Repeating” and nowhere is that truer than in THE WOLF MAN. Scream Queen Evelyn Ankers was Universal’s go-to girl when it came to horror, and she’s at her best in this one. Bela the gypsy is of course horror icon Bela Lugosi. Lugosi only gets about two minutes of screen time as the doomed gypsy, but he makes the most of it, playing the part with an understated melancholy. The Invisible Man himself, Claude Rains lends dignity to Sir John, who refuses to believe his son is a werewolf. Also giving a dignified performance is diminutive Russian actress Maria Ouspenskaya as Maleva. The twice Oscar nominated Ouspenskaya returned to the role in the sequel, FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN. Warren William, Patric Knowles, and Fay Helm (the unfortunate Jenny) lend good support, but Ralph Bellamy is annoying as the local constable.

Curt Siodmak wrote the intelligent script. The German immigrant never achieved the success of his brother, director Robert (THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE, THE KILLERS, CRISS CROSS), but was a major figure in the horror genre. His novel Donovan’s Brain is a classic, and his screenplays for THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS, I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE, and THE BEAST WITH FIVE FINGERS hold up well. As for his directorial career…well, he was a good writer! George Waggner directed this one, and while his screen career is undistinguished, he found his niche working on television shows like 77 SUNSET STRIP, THE MAN FROM UNCLE, and BATMAN. Makeup artist Jack Pierce created one of his masterpieces for Chaney, and the Wolf Man’s visage still  manages to frighten. THE WOLF MAN ranks with the best of Universal’s 30s classics, and while the recent remake wasn’t all that bad, it was missing one key element. Sorry Benicio Del Toro, but you’re just no Lon Chaney Jr!