In this 1927 article written by cinematographer Gunther Rittau, he discusses the many groundbreaking special effects that were devised for the film. Metropolis took an astounding 310 days to shoot in 1926, requiring the services of hundreds of technicians, and Gunther Rittau shared the camerawork with Karl Freund, who like Lang came to Hollywood where he photographed many memorable movies, including Dracula and Murders in the Rue Mougue.
SPECIAL EFFECT IN THE FILM METROPOLIS
By Gunther Rittau
The shots which use the Eugen Schǘfftan process make up a special chapter in the area of special effects. Had all the colossal constructions needed for Metropolis been built on the intended scale, the costs would have been astronomical and most of all, precious time would have been lost. The Schufftan process offered the only possibility for a practical solution and this was used a great deal. With the help of partially finished constructions and miniature Shufftan models, not only were parts of the overwhelming street scenes shot, but the atmospheric cathedral scenes as well. With Schufftan shots, the visual trademark is dictated entirely by how the camera is adjusted, and how lighting is used for model constructions. Unusually difficult were the visionary shots of the Moloch-machine, also produced with the help of the Schufftan process. Other shots occurring with the course of movement, for which the Schufftan process was not applied, were completed using model constructions. These included the shots of the traffic-congested main thoroughfare, the explosion in the heart machine room, and the blanket of dust.
Whether shooting model constructions or building models; whether lighting a scene or setting adjustments for equipment, the utmost precision was necessary. To illustrate the difficultly involved in making such shots: it took nearly 8 days to make 40 meters of film capturing model-generated scenery, since every frame had to be shot individually, and 40 meters of film contain approximately 2,100 frames. In the actual film, this amounts to 10 seconds of footage (By these figures, it is clear that Metropolis should be projected at 20 frames a second.)
By far, the cameraman’s most interesting job was designing the light effects for the scene in which the android is brought to life in the laboratory of the inventor, Rotwang. In the film this occurs during a transfer of electric currents that pass between the android and Maria’s human form. Electric currents of this kind usually remain invisible. Here, however, to emphasize this fantastic-secretive process, they had to be visible to the eye. Making this shot work called for weeks of preparatory experiments in the laboratory, and making equally long calculations connected with the shooting. The photographic chemistry was anything but unimportant, and while preparing this shot the strangest of technical aids were used.
An in-depth description of the process would too time consuming here, as well as counter productive. It should only be kept in mind that concealing iridescence, soft soap, vignettes, and complicated technical constructions of one’s own design played a decisive role. For days on end, workers had to be versed in operating equipment that demanded accuracy based on dealing with fractions of seconds. Individual filmstrips were exposed as often as 30 times and people with knowledge of photography know exactly what this means. With works of this nature, everything depends on meticulous calculations, highly precise working methods and equipment and most of all, on the nerves and patience of the cameraman. I can safely assume that shots like these were never shown before.
The best film of the year is easily the newly restored version of Fritz Lang’s science-fiction masterpiece, METROPOLIS which features twenty- five minutes of missing footage that hasn’t been seen since the movie had it’s premiere in Berlin, 83 years ago. This new footage restores important subplots and makes it clear just how badly METROPOLIS had been butchered by Paramount when they “improved” it for American audiences.
Unfortunately, while the beautifully restored Metropolis is showing at theatres around the country this summer, it appears that in most cities it will be projected at the sound speed of 24 frames per second, even though there is much evidence to suggest the film should be shown at 20 frames per second. In 2001, Enno Patalas of the Munich Film Archive showed a previously restored version of the film at The San Francisco Film Festival and Festival director Peter Scarlet noted, “Metropolis runs 147 minutes at its proper projection speed of 20 frames per second.” Likewise, cameraman Gunther Rittau in discussing the stop-motion effects used for creating the cityscape of Metropolis provides figures that indicate the film should be shown at 20 frames per second. It also seems probable that Lang shot the movie at a frame rate between 18 and 20 fps.
Apparently the main reason the film was transferred to DVD and is currently being shown at 24 frames a second is due to notations on the original score by Gottfried Huppertz. However, according to Stefan Drossler, the current head of the Munich Film Museum, silent films in Germany were routinely shown at frame rates much higher than they were shot at, and projectionists even had to be warned about “speed limits.” Martin Koerber who oversaw the current restoration of Metropolis says, “The premiere of the film took place at the Ufa-Palast am Zoo in Berlin, on January 10, 1927. At the time, the length of the film was 4,189 meters: at a projection speed of 24 frames per second (we can only guess at this today), meaning the showing lasted 153 minutes. …The actual projection speed for the premiere is unclear. Noted on the deleted piano accompaniment for the shortened version is a projection speed of 28 frames per second.”
With such confusion surrounding the proper projection speed, a simple viewing of the film at 24 fps indicates many of the chase sequences and characters appear to be moving too quickly. When seeing Metropolis at the slower rate of 20 fps the characters movements appear much more natural.
However, Metropolis at any speed is a real treat to see up on the big screen, in a print that makes the film look absolutely gorgeous, excepting the 25 minutes of badly damaged 16mm footage that has now been carefully inserted into the film. To celebrate, here is Fritz Lang talking about Metropolis with his friends, Willy Ley, Tonio Selwart and Herman G. Weinberg as recorded and transcribed by Gretchen Weinberg and published in Cahiers Du Cinema in 1965. Fritz Lang places his hands on the coffee table, while looking at a series of photos from Metropolis spread out before him. FRITZ LANG: Do you know that there is a shot of my hands in each of my films? Ah, here is Brigitte Helm in Metropolis. God, she’s beautiful! You know, Metropolis was born from my first sight of the New York skyscrapers in October 1924, before I went to Hollywood where UFA was sending me to study American methods of production. It was terribly hot at that time. While visiting New York I felt it was the crucible of the multiple and confused human forces, with blind men scrambling around in the irresistible desire to exploit one another, thus living in perpetual anxiety. I spent an entire day walking the streets. The buildings seemed to be a vertical veil, very light and scintillating, a luxurious backdrop suspended from the gray sky to dazzle, distract and hypnotize. At night the city gave only the impression of living; it lived as illusions do. I knew that I must make a film of all these impressions. On returning to Berlin, in a burst of energy, Thea von Harbou (Lang’s wife) started to write the script. We imagined, she and I, an idle class living in a great city thanks to the subterranean work of thousands of men on the verge of rebellion, led by a daughter of the people. To prevent this rebellion the head of the city asks a scientist to invent a robot in the image of the girl in question. So the robot, Maria, turns against her people and incites the workers to destroy the machine that is the heart of the city, which controls it and gives it life. I have often said that I did not like Metropolis and this is because I can’t accept today the leitmotif of the message of the film. It is absurd to say that the heart is the intermediary between the hands and the brain, that is, of course, between the employee and the employer. The problem is social and not moral. Naturally, during the shooting of the film, I liked it, if I hadn’t I couldn’t have continued to work on it. But later I started to understand what didn’t work. I thought, for example, that one of the faults was the way I had shown the work of the man and the machine together. You remember the clocks and the man who works in harmony with them? He became, so to speak, a part of the machine. Well, that seemed to be too symbolic, too simplistic in its evocation of what is called “the evils of mechanization.” Now, several years ago, I had to revise my judgment again at the sight of our astronauts in their promenade around the world. They were scientists but still prisoners of the space capsule, nothing else—almost a part of the machine that was carrying them. Lang looks at more photos from Metropolis: the children fleeing the flooded underground city, the robot Maria, the revolt of the workers in the chamber of the machine and the immense stadium used by the children of the ruling class. FRITZ LANG: See, here’s a shot by Shufftan, it’s Eugene Shufftan who did it. You asked me, Willy, what technical problems we encountered. Well, that scene we shot thanks to mirrors. Shufftan scratched the glass on certain parts of the mirror; then he placed it facing the camera lens so that part of the set–constructed to human scale–appeared in the mirror, which also reflected a miniature set representing the machines in motion. These miniatures extended the real set, because it would have been too costly and too complicated to build for such a short scene. This combination of reality and artifice was then filmed (instead of being done in the lab like it would be now), and that was due to the ingenuity of Shufftan. Lang looks at a photo of the cityscape of Metropolis. FRITZ LANG: We constructed a miniature set of the streets about seven or eight feet long, in an old studio with glass walls and we moved the little cars by hand, inch by inch, one frame per movement, filming image by image. We moved the planes and photographed them in the same way. This scene that takes only one or two minutes on the screen took six days to shoot! Ultimately the worse difficulties we encountered were not in the shooting but in the lab. The cameraman had told the technician to develop the film normally. But the head of the lab, knowing the time we had spent filming this short scene, decided to develop it himself. No one had thought it necessary to tell him that for reasons of perspective, the cameraman had filmed the background a little out of focus to give the impression of great distance. The head of the laboratory started to develop the negative focusing the background and not the foreground. The scale of dimensions was then destroyed. I tried to keep my calm. “These things happen, my children,” I said, “Let’s start again.” And we did. (The first thing I discovered about making films is that you never make them alone. Your crew helps you. And I had a remarkable crew.) As for the videophone scene, it was done by projecting a part of the film shot previously in the rear of a telephone apparatus, across a translucent screen, one foot by two. This was the first rear projection and the first transparency. We didn’t realize the importance, the scope of what we had done, for if we had we would have made a fortune patenting a process universally employed today. At the time we only knew that there was a problem that had to be solved. My cameraman, Gunther Rittau, was determined not to fake the shooting; he used his intelligence to arrive at this solution: he synchronized the camera with a projector that was to project the picture of a man on the videophone. That was done with linked rods connected by mobile joints going from the camera to the projector, which were, because of the shooting stage, rather far from each other. Then, when the scene started, the two machines worked at the same time in perfect synchronization. The flooding of the workers city was real, shot in normal scale. Hoses at street level projected water like geysers.
Another camera effect concentrated on creating the robot Maria. The concentric rings of light that surround her and move from top to bottom were in fact a little ball of silver rapidly turning in a circle and filmed on a background of black velvet. We superimposed those shots, in the lab, over the shot of the robot in a sitting position that we had filmed previously.
The city lit up at night was done with an animated drawing. The way we filmed the explosion of the heart machine was one of the first uses of the subjective camera, giving the audience the same impression that the actors feel of the shock. The camera was attached to a swinging pulley on a vertical board that advanced toward the machine on the platform then moved back to give the effect of the explosion.
Sergei Eisenstein visited me in the studio and we had a controversy about the moving camera versus the fixed camera, but we weren’t able to discuss it for long because of my shooting schedule. I planned to see him several days later, but he had already left Berlin and I never saw him again. Someone told me that he did a study on my working methods on the first Dr. Mabuse, which I’m told was published in Russia.
Speaking of camera effects, there are some that can only be done thanks to make-up. For example, in The Testament of Doctor Mabuse, when Doctor Baum meets the ghost of Mabuse at night, he sees on its head the living brain he had dissected that very morning, in order to discover what anomaly had made Mabuse a great criminal. This is how it was done: we had a special skull on which we put glass tubes outlining the form of the brain. The tubes were filled with mercury so the liquid moved whenever Mabuse did. Between the glass tubes the make-up man put bits of white hair, like Mabuse had in real life, which gave the public the impression of seeing his brain through the skin. To enhance the horrible aspect of the spectre, a bit of eggshell was placed over each eye and the cornea was painted in a deformed way. Lang looks at a photo of Peter Lorre in M. FRITZ LANG: Peter Lorre. I discovered him for M, you know. I loved him very much. We were friends for 35 years.
THE GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVE (1986) has just recently been re-issued on Disney DVD in an all new digital restoration and the movie now looks better than ever. It was one of the first animated films to emerge from the studio after Michael Eisner, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Roy Disney took over and brought new life to Disney animation, as can be seen in Don Hahn’s current documentary WAKING SLEEPING BEATTY. In fact, Don Hahn was the production manager on THE GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVE, which was directed by John Musker and Ron Clements, who would go on to great animated success with THE LITTLE MERMAID, ALADDIN, and most recently THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG. The Great Mouse Detective also marked the first and only time Disney asked Vincent Price to voice a character in one of their feature animated films. Glen Keane who was supervising animator for the character of Ratigan related how Vincent Price came to be cast in the film: “We found the voice for Professor Ratigan while watching the 1950 movie Champagne for Caesar. We originally decided to view the film since it starred Ronald Colman, and we were considering his voice as a possible model for Ratigan’s. Vincent Price played the villain in that movie and as soon as he came on, we realized we had found the perfect actor for the role. Price’s expressive voice and attitude inspired us to further redesign the character.” Originally Ratigan had been designed as a thin and wiry rodent, but as Glen Keane notes, Vincent Price’s magniloquent rendering of Ratigan’s voice led the filmmakers to turn the part into a much larger and more powerful character. Below are some of Vincent Price’s comments made in 1985, when the film was still titled Basil of Baker Street. Q: How do you feel about the musical scores in your movies? Boris Karloff felt that background music sometimes got in the way of an actor’s performance.
VINCENT PRICE: It all depends on how well it’s done. Laura has one of the most famous scores ever written and I never felt it got in the way at all. When we all went to see Laura on opening night, Gene Tierney, Clifton Webb, Judith Anderson, Dana Andrews and myself, we had never heard the score! That was written long after the film was finished. So we sat there and thought, “isn’t that marvelous.” We also watched ourselves, as well. Sometimes though, the score does get in the way. I must say with some of those Alfred Newman scores, you often felt that the orchestra was swelling behind you, but nothing was swelling on the screen. For the most part I think the scores have fit very well. David Raksin, who did Laura was really a very good composer. I just recorded a song a few weeks ago with Henry Mancini, who is doing the score to a full-length animated Disney feature called Basil of Baker Street. Henry Mancini wrote two songs for me and one of them is done like a big Busby Berkeley production number called The World’s Greatest Criminal Mind.
Q: You play the arch-villain?
VINCENT PRICE: Yes… naturally. He’s really Professor Moriarty but he’s called Ratigan, because although he’s a rat, he likes to think of himself as just a large mouse. It’s a Sherlock Holmes story, but Sherlock is a mouse called Basil. Strangely enough, I seem to be overrun with Sherlock Holmes these days because every week I introduce a new episode of Sherlock Holmes on (The PBS-Television show)Mystery. Q: You’ve done animated films before this, although this is the first time you’ve done a Disney animated feature.
VINCENT PRICE: Yes and Disney is really a magical name to me. They had never offered me one of these parts before, so I really wanted to do it because when you’ve been around as long as I have what you look for are new challenges and voicing Ratigan was a real challenge! Of course I’ve always been visually minded and a big fan of animation, but when they first asked me to do it they wanted me to audition. If anyone but the Disney people had asked me to do that I would have been offended. I was actually in a state of real terror, because I didn’t know what they wanted. In the end it turned out to be a very enjoyable experience. I loved doing it because I got to see the behind-the-scenes process of making an animated movie. The artists showed me hundreds of character sketches they had already made for Ratigan and they gave me the freedom to expand on that, because they wanted my interpretation of the character. So I was a part of the creative process. They ended up basing a lot of Ratigan’s personality on my gestures and movements, because while I was recording the dialogue in the studio they videotaped me. It was wonderful, because in the final movie you can see the character taking on your humanity, which is what they like because the more human the mouse or the rat is, the better it is for the picture. Q: Do you play Ratigan with a sense of humor?
VINCENT PRICE: Yes, he’s got a huge sense of humor about himself, although he is deadly serious about crime. Ratigan is a real larger than life villain, so I did the part by exaggerating it. Besides being a great villain, Ratigan is also a great actor who plays at being a great villain in the story, which all great villains should be. This is his theory and it’s mine, too. A hero is just a hero, but a villain has to fool you all the time. He has many more facets to his character. He has to be charming, witty, decadent and funny. Everything is going on at the same time, so he’s much more fun to play. Q: I understand that the animators screened your old movie Champagne For Caesar thinking they could use Ronald Colman’s voice as a guide for Ratigan and when they heard your voice in the film they thought you would be a good fit for the part.
VINCENT PRICE: Well, you know Champagne For Caesar is one of my favorite pictures. It was one of the funniest scripts I’d ever read and my favorite actor of all the actors I ever saw on the screen was Ronald Colman. I really worshiped him. When I was a beginning actor, I made my first movie, Service DeLuxe (1938) and it was a disaster, because I didn’t know how to do movie acting. So I went to a woman, Laura Elliot, that everybody in the theater who came out to Hollywood went to. Helen Hayes and so on, they all went to her to study the technique of film acting. It involved learning how to control your face, because when you are thrown up on a huge screen, and your face is 20-feet high, when you start to talk it can suddenly look like your eating the screen, and a lot of actors do! So she taught us how to control our face, so we don’t mug, because actors in the theater tend to mug a bit. She was invaluable, and we learned a great deal from her. One of her recipes for all of us, was to go and see two actors. She said, “I would recommend that you go and see any film that you can, whether it’s a new film, or an old film, with Charles Boyer or Ronald Colman.” So I went to see every film of theirs that I could to learn and I found that Ronald Colman was the master of his craft. He never really eye-contacts anyone, it’s always a sort of lower case thing, so you wonder who’s he’s talking to. Then one day I found out I was being cast by my friend (director) Richard Whorf in Champagne For Caesar with Ronald Colman. Ronnie was one of the most charming men in the business and I did his last picture with him, a little fantasy called The Story of Mankind that was a dreadful picture! A reporter came into the dressing room while Ronnie, Cedric Hardwicke and I were sitting around and this interviewer said, “Mr. Colman, where did they get the story for this picture?” He said, “from the jacket of the book!”
With the re-make of Clash of the Titans hitting theaters this week, Warner Bros. has released the original 1981 film on Blue-Ray disc. To celebrate, here is part V of my interview with Ray Harryhausen, discussing his hand-crafted approach to creating the film’s special visual effects. Mr. Harryhausen, who will celebrate his 90th birthday in June, will be having a retrospective exhibition of his original stop-motion models and related items at the Academy of Motion Pictures Gallery the same month. LAWRENCE FRENCH: Did you supply the original story for CLASH OF THE TITANS? RAY HARRYHAUSEN: No, it was Beverly Cross who came up with a 25-page outline called Perseus and the Gorgon’s Head, taken from Greek mythology. Beverly has worked with us for some time. He also worked on Jason and the Argonauts and Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, and had written a picture for Charles (Schneer) called Half a Sixpence. We had quite a good relationship with him on all of those films. He is also a Greek scholar, which was important and rather rare. In his college days he studied all the Greek classics, so he also knew all the stories of ancient Greece. Beverly also lived in Greece for quite some time and he told me that while he was living on a Greek island in the Aegean Sea, he felt he could develop something with Perseus. I had always wanted to do the Perseus story, in fact right after Jason I wanted to make it, but I never clearly saw the development of the story. So Beverly came up with quite a good outline of how we could get a progressively good story out of the tale. Then I went my way and made some drawings of what I thought the visual elements should look like and Beverly enhanced his treatment, incorporating my visuals, because in our type of picture we have to start with the visuals. LAWRENCE FRENCH: You took certain liberties in adapting the Perseus myth to the screen, didn’t you? RAY HARRYHAUSEN: Yes, because most mythologies are rather fragmented, with many of the climaxes occurring in the first reel. In Greek mythology, the stories are so episodic you have to rob from one legend and put it into another. You can’t just take the Greek myths the way they are. You have to shape it and glamorize it. I like to glamorize my skeletons and I like to glamorize my dinosaurs. I think if you just took Greek mythology and put it on the screen you’d find it would be a big bore to everybody, because you don’t have a natural development of what is needed for a screenplay. We don’t like to tamper with the myths, but for example, in CLASH OF THE TITANS, we found that according to the legends, Pegasus is supposed to come from Medusa’s blood. Well, if we left it that way, we couldn’t have Pegasus come into the picture until reel eleven. Since we wanted to use Pegasus throughout the story, we had to develop another concept to account for him, which we did by having Zeus explain that Calibos was once a normal person, who was given a certain area to control on Earth and he slew all the herds of Zeus’s wonderful flying horses. That accounted for the fact that Pegasus came into the story before Medusa got her head cut off. LAWRENCE FRENCH: The idea of the Gods playing with the life of the human characters was an idea you carried over from Jason and the Argonauts, wasn’t it? RAY HARRYHAUSEN: Yes, we really needed a transition between the Gods and the mortals, like the chessboard we used in Jason. You’re dealing with an almost surrealistic type of film that needed to depict the Gods, so I came up with the idea of a miniature amphitheater where the Gods could put these miniatures figures into the arena and shape their destinies. LAWRENCE FRENCH: On CLASH OF THE TITANS, you had your biggest budget ever. Did you still find you had many shots that could have been improved? RAY HARRYHAUSEN: Oh yes, many. You always run into that problem. You see, there’s this delusion, where people on the outside of filmmaking think you take a camera and just put it down under ideal conditions. But when you’re on location, taking 80 people from country to country, there are many compromises you have to make, because of the weather, because of accommodations in the summer, because of many things. For example, we had to shoot some plates in very bad weather, and I regretted that, but we’re not in a position to keep re-shooting scenes until we get it perfect. On all the pictures we had to compromise, because we usually had very tight budgets, especially compared to pictures that are made today. Today a picture can cost $100 million dollars and you don’t even see half of it on the screen, or if you do see it, you can’t understand the story. But as somebody once said, “these are the conditions that prevail.” LAWRENCE FRENCH: What about the seagull that appears behind the opening titles of CLASH OF THE TITANS. Were you satisfied with that? RAY HARRYHAUSEN: Well that was done mostly with high contrast mattes in the optical printer. After we had filmed the seagulls, we took them out and put them in a different background, simply because we were in no position to find a talented seagull to take with us to the Amazon jungle and put them in the proper background we had chosen for the trip to Mount Olympus. LAWRENCE FRENCH: If you were offered the chance to make a film with a $100 million budget, what would you do? RAY HARRYHAUSEN: I think I would faint! Seriously, working as I did on mostly very tight budgets it made you think about cheaper ways of doing things. I had to do that right from my first solo effort, The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, which only cost $200,000, so I had to devise a simplified way of combining the models with a live action background. Even with a bigger budget, you still have to find short cuts and make compromises. LAWRENCE FRENCH: Is that what happened with the Kraken scene in the finale of CLASH OF THE TITANS? It looks like there is a background plate of the sky that is missing. RAY HARRYHAUSEN: Yes, I had always planned to have dark and threatening storm clouds behind the Kraken for the sacrifice of Andromeda, along with lightning effects to suggest the wrath of the Gods, but because of time and budget considerations, we were never able to complete the scene to my satisfaction. LAWRENCE FRENCH: The Kraken is actually taken from Scandinavian mythology, isn’t it? RAY HARRYHAUSEN: The name is, but the sea monster is from the Greek myths. However, in the Greek stories, the sea monster was never actually named which is why we borrowed the name from the legends of the great giant squids of medieval times, when sailors didn’t have a name for a giant squid, so they called it a Kraken. John Wyndham wrote a story called The Kraken Wakes (1953) and several other stories have been written using that name, as well. But the Kraken is definitely a much later name than the sea monster that is supposed to devour Andromeda in the Greek legend. And since we had to give our creature a name and we didn’t want to call it Leviathan or Behemoth from the Bible, we decided to settle on the Kraken. LAWRENCE FRENCH: Was CLASH OF THE TITANS the first time you had assistance on the animation? RAY HARRYHAUSEN: Yes, because we had deadlines and had to get the film out by a certain date. As I result, I had to take on help. So I asked Jim Danforth to come in and animate Pegasus, because I had seen a horse he had done for a commercial some years before, while he was at Cascade. It was a commercial for a floor wax that showed a herd of horses that went rushing across the floor, so I felt he would be the right man to do the flying scenes of Pegasus. He also animated Dioskilos, the two-headed dog. Then we hired a young English animator, Steven Archer, because I had seen some of his work with clay figures. He had done three or four test subjects on his own, just for fun, but under very distressing circumstances, so I thought he would work out well. Steven ended up doing most of the animation for Bubo, the owl. Then both Jim and Steven did bits and pieces of the Kraken, because we had spasmodic pieces of film shot for each sequence of the Kraken. LAWRENCE FRENCH: You mentioned earlier that one of the keys to your long collaboration with Charles Schneer was that you never agreed. Couldn’t that be a real problem if you and Jim Danforth or Steven Archer had differences of opinion on how to animate a sequence? RAY HARRYHAUSEN: Not really, because most of the sequences had already been laid out in storyboard form, so there was already a broad outline for both Jim and Steven to follow. Of course, any animator has to use his own judgment, because while you are animating on the set, so many things can be suggested. Once you are on the set, one pose suggests another, so most of the animation has to be done right there on the spot. So what I tried to do was to focus everyone’s attention towards the one specific channel that I thought would work for our overall purpose. LAWRENCE FRENCH: Earlier you said you never wanted to do a scene like the skeleton fight in Jason again, but you didn’t make things very easy for yourself when you gave Medusa all those snakes in her hair. RAY HARRYHAUSEN: Well, with Medusa we needed to have a lot of snakes in her hair, otherwise she wouldn’t look right. After all who wants a Gorgon that’s skimpy on snakes! We ended up giving her twelve snakes, plus one on her arm. Each snake had a head and a body with a ball and socket armature, so I had to animate twelve snakes for each frame of film, plus the rattle of her tail, keeping all of that in synchronization. Then, because she plays opposite Harry Hamlin in a ten-minute scene and had to shoot arrows, we had to have an intricate model that was fully jointed. The final puppet had 150 joints throughout her body. Each of her fingers was jointed as well, so she could shoot arrows. We also built a much larger Medusa model, but it didn’t photograph with as much detail, so it wasn’t used in the final film. LAWRENCE FRENCH: What was your inspiration for the design of Medusa? RAY HARRYHAUSEN: I did a lot of research, and looked at Benvenuto Cellini’s bronze sculpture in Florence which shows Perseus holding Medusa’s head up at arm’s length. But I found that most of the classical Medusa’s were simply a rather attractive looking woman’s face with snakes in her hair. That wouldn’t turn anybody to stone, unless I miss the point of Greek mythology. Most artists, other than Cellini, all pictured her as a normal woman who simply had snakes in her hair. That wouldn’t be very dramatic for a motion picture, so I gave her a scaly face, and a more evil face than most of the classical concepts. Then I thought that the serpentine motif could be extended, by making her into a snake woman, which is something you find in German Gothic concepts. They used to combine the snake and the woman—no reflection on womanhood—but many of the early Gothic concepts involved that type of idea. Maybe that came from my Germanic background. LAWRENCE FRENCH: The Snake woman in THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD was sort of a early version of Medusa, and there’s a beautiful color sketch of her in The Art of Ray Harryhausen (on page 158). RAY HARRYHAUSEN: That was just a simple tinted watercolor. The Snake woman was a forerunner of Medusa, but she had a bra. For Medusa we also started out by giving her a boob tube, but we didn’t like it, we thought it would look too vulgar, so we just decided to light her very discreetly. We wanted her to appear in a very mysterious kind of lighting to maintain the mood. LAWRENCE FRENCH: In An Animated Life you talk about the film Noir type of lighting in MILDRED PIERCE (1945) that influenced the Medusa sequence. RAY HARRYHAUSEN: Yes, I was very impressed by Mildred Pierce which I had seen years ago, and how they did the lighting on Joan Crawford’s face where she was moving in and out of shadows. So I tried to get that type of lighting on Medusa. That lighting was all dictated by what was going on in the background plate that had already been shot by our cameraman, Ted Moore. We had flames flickering throughout the sequence from braziers on the full-size live-action set, so I had to have a flicker effect on Medusa to match it, otherwise she would look like she had just been pasted on. I did all the lighting myself and devised a red and orange color wheel that cast colored light on the Medusa puppet, so it appeared as if she was lit by torch fire. LAWRENCE FRENCH: And Tod Browning’s FREAKS (1932) inspired Medusa’s initial entrance. RAY HARRYHAUSEN: Yes, I remembered seeing FREAKS, which had a man in the circus with no legs who had to pull himself along the ground with his arms. So when I began animating Medusa that image came to my mind, because she has no legs either. I thought it would be a good way to have her enter the scene—having her pull herself along with her arms. It gives a very weird impression when you first see her. She seems like a freak, so you feel a bit sorry for her. LAWRENCE FRENCH: How did you achieve the effect of having Medusa’s arrow knock over Perseus’s shield? RAY HARRYHAUSEN: On the live-action set we had a long wire going up to the shield, and off camera we had a man who shot the arrow. The arrow rode along on the wire, and we put hydrochloric acid on it so it would smoke as it went by. Then when I went to animate Medusa, I put her in the right position, so when she releases the miniature arrow it matched the rear-projection plate that was behind the model. LAWRENCE FRENCH: After Perseus decapitates Medusa what did you use for the ooze that comes out of her neck? RAY HARRYHAUSEN: That was done with wallpaper paste tinted red. It was quite effective and originally it was supposed to poison anyone who touched it. But we found we didn’t want to go into that kind of extreme detail for the scene, so in the end we didn’t use it. LAWRENCE FRENCH: Did you ever think about having Medusa speak? RAY HARRYHAUSEN: No, because then you’d be getting into the realm of the puppetoon, and we didn’t want that. It’s all right for puppetoons, but it’s never convincing for an animated character. No matter how carefully you animate a creature like Medusa, if you attempt to use dialogue you are really trying to play God, and that’s not my mission in life. LAWRENCE FRENCH: Is that why you decided to use an actor for Calibos, alongside the stop-motion model? RAY HARRYHAUSEN: Yes, because we initially started out with Calibos as being only a bestial character, with one cloven hoof and a tail. Naturally you can’t find an actor with a cloven hoof and a tail, so originally Calibos was just going to grunt and groan, a la ONE MILLION YEARS, B.C. Then we decided in the final screenplay that we would need to have some exposition and dialogue from him, in order to keep him from being a dull character. LAWRENCE FRENCH: Calibos also has a touch of pathos about him. When he gives Andromeda the necklace, it invokes the memory of their past love and what he once looked like. RAY HARRYHAUSEN: Yes, Desmond Davis, the director was trying to get the feeling of Jean Cocteau’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST into those scenes. Calibos was simply the victim of circumstances. Zeus turned him into this apparition of horror because they were whimsical Gods who were created in man’s image and they seemed to like revenge, which is really not very God-like. But in those days the Gods had many whims. LAWRENCE FRENCH: CLASH OF THE TITANS was the first and only time you had a cast of big name actors to work with. RAY HARRYHAUSEN: Yes, we never really had stars in our pictures. We didn’t think we needed them because the pictures didn’t have star parts. Instead we tried to keep a minimum of dialogue and stress the fantasy aspects of the pictures. CLASH OF THE TITANS was the only one where MGM felt it was necessary to have some star names. We got some notable actors, mostly to play the Greek Gods. Beverly Cross had written a section into the script that glamorized the Gods, which I think worked out quite well, because who else could play Zeus, but Laurence Olivier? Maybe Charlton Heston, since he played God*, but Laurence Olivier was ideal. Although he wasn’t very well at the time—he was sort of on his last legs, and in rather poor health, but he gave a good performance. So I was most grateful we had at least one picture with a lot of stars in it. Of course, the stars got more money working for two weeks than I got for working two years! But that’s the way the cookie crumbles and you can’t worry about it. LAWRENCE FRENCH: In your earlier films, although you didn’t have star names, you always had excellent British character actors, like Douglas Wilmer, Laurence Naismith and Patrick Troughton. In fact, all those actors appeared in Sir Laurence Olivier’s film version of RICHARD III. Did you see RICHARD III when it came out in 1955? RAY HARRYHAUSEN: Oh yes, although that was many years ago. And as you say, we always had very talented actors, even if they were not what today you would call stars. But they were all very competent actors: Douglas Wilmer was brilliant as King Pelias in Jason and later we used him in THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD as the Grand Vizier. Laurence Naismith was also in JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS, and we used him again in THE VALLEY OF GWANGI. LAWRENCE FRENCH: What led you to retire after making CLASH OF THE TITANS?
RAY HARRYHAUSEN: I had enough of spending my time in a dark room after everybody else went home. I spent most of my life in a dark room, painted black, which can be depressing if you are aware of it, although I was never aware of it. I also felt that tastes had changed. After CLASH OF THE TITANS, we were going to do a follow-up, and I helped Charles develop a script with Beverly Cross called FORCE OF THE TROJANS, although a lot of the effects work would have been farmed out to someone else. But even though CLASH OF THE TITANS had made a lot of money for MGM, they didn’t want to back it. They felt costume pictures weren’t suitable, and the pictures the studios wanted you to make all had to have explosions in them every five minutes. So I’m grateful that I got in on the tail end of the great days of Hollywood. FOOTNOTE:
Actually, Heston played Moses in THE TEN COMMANDMENTS and John the Baptist in THE GREATEST STORY EVERY TOLD, but not God himself.
The talented fantasy writer Charles Beaumont died tragically young at the age of 38 in 1967. He is now the subject of a fascinating new documentary film by Jason V. Brock that explores his life and career. CHARLES BEAUMONT: THE SHORT LIFE OF TWILIGHT ZONE’S MAGIC MAN will be showing on Saturday, March 27, 2010 at 3:00pm at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, where many of Beaumont’s friends will be on hand to discuss his career after the screening, including Ray Bradbury, William F. Nolan, George Clayton Johnson, John Tomerlin and director and producer Jason and Sunni Brock. Marc Scott Zicree, the author of that excellent book, The Twilight Zone Companion will serve as moderator.
That same night, The Egyptian will pay tribute to Beaumont by showing a double bill of Beaumont’s 1961 adaptation of his own novel filmed by Roger Corman, The Intruder, starring William Shatner, along with Burn Witch, Burn, Beaumount’s collaboration with Richard Matheson in adapting Fritz Leiber’s novel Conjure Wife to the screen.
Since Richard Matheson will be unable to attend the Egyptian Theatre premiere of the film, due to his bad back, I recently spoke with him asking him to share some of his memories about his good friend Charles Beaumont. Here is what he told me: LAWRENCE FRENCH: When did you first meet Charles Beaumont?
RICHARD MATHESON: After I first moved out here in 1951 he stopped by to visit me with a friend of his at my apartment and then I later went to visit him and I met his wife, Helen and his baby son, Chris. We became friends right away and decided to collaborate on writing scripts for half-hour TV-shows, because we were both new at it and television was still very new. So we started writing scripts and learning from each other. We wrote for many different shows, including a lot of westerns. The first one we did was Buckskin, followed by Wanted: Dead or Alive and later on, I wrote six episodes of Lawman on my own. By the time The Twilight Zone came along, we were both established so we wrote all of our Twilight Zone shows on our own. LAWRENCE FRENCH: Had you seen or were you influenced by the classic John Ford and Howard Hawks movies before you began writing the western TV shows you worked on? RICHARD MATHESON: Oh, sure. I’d have seen quite a few of them, but whether they influenced me or not, I have no idea. LAWRENCE FRENCH: When you were starting out, both you and Beaumont shared the same agent, Ingo Preminger, who was Otto Preminger’s brother. Did that connection ever get you any interviews for a job with Otto Preminger? RICHARD MATHESON: It did for Chuck, because at one time he was going to write the screenplay for Bunny Lake is Missing. He had met Otto Preminger when he went out to Michigan and watched them shooting Anatomy of a Murder with James Stewart and Lee Remick. I don’t know exactly what happened, but Chuck never wrote the screenplay for Bunny Lake is Missing. LAWRENCEFRENCH: By the time you collaborated on Burn Witch, Burn, both you and Charles Beaumont were already established as solo scriptwriters, so what led you to do this particular script together? RICHARD MATHESON: We went out to a bar one night and started talking about the novel Conjure Wife by Fritz Leiber. It had already been made into a movie at Universal that was called Weird Woman with Lon Chaney, but we both felt it hadn’t been done very well. We also thought that someone should re-make it. Being good friends, we decided to do it ourselves. At the time, Chuck and I were both working for American International, so we did it on speculation, because we knew we didn’t have the rights to the novel. When we finished the script we showed it to Jim Nicholson (the President of American International), and Jim Nicholson liked it very much. AIP then brought the rights to the book from Universal and paid each of us $5,000 for the script. LAWRENCE FRENCH: How did your collaboration actually work? RICHARD MATHESON: What we did is have a meeting and work out the basic storyline and then we divided up the writing, so I wrote the first half and Chuck wrote the second half. Our script writing styles were very similar, so after we wrote our own sections, we met again and combined our two sections into a final draft. We would also make comments and suggestions about the work we each had done on our own. LAWRENCE FRENCH: Who decided to call it Burn Witch, Burn? RICHARD MATHESON: I think it was probably Jim Nicholson. I didn’t like that title, because it was taken from a totally different novel [by A. Merritt], who had also written Seven Footprints to Satan. Chuck and I wanted to use the original title from the novel, Conjure Wife. I remember Chuck also had this idea for promoting the film, suggesting that every man should wonder if his success was really due to his own efforts, or if he was possibly married to a witch. LAWRENCE FRENCH: In England the picture was re-titled The Night of the Eagle. RICHARD MATHESON: Which was a slightly better title. Later, I did a script for AIP that was an adaptation of my short story “Being.” I expanded the story into an action–science-fiction picture. It was about a couple on a cross-country trip and they get caught on this farm where a farmer and his wife imprisons them so they can feed them to an alien creature. That was when I learned to never make a joke at AIP. This creature was a bunch of ooze, so I said, “Listen, we can call it ‘Galactic Octopedular Ooze,’ and you can call it G.O.O. for short.” Then the next thing I know, there was an announcement from AIP that they are making a picture called G.O.O! Don’t open your mouth and make bad jokes, because they’ll come back to haunt you. That was the lesson of that. That was actually a very good script, but once again it never got made. Later on AIP turned it into a TV movie called It’s Alive (1969) with Tommy Kirk. I never saw it, but I’m sure it was awful. LAWRENCE FRENCH: That’s interesting, because Daniel Haller told me that right after Peter Lorre made The Comedy of Terrors, he had a meeting with Lorre about directing him in your script for Being, and he said Peter Lorre was quite excited about playing the farmer who feeds people to this creature and that Elsa Lanchester was going to play his wife! RICHARD MATHESON: Yes, and Peter Lorre was also going to appear in another script I wrote for AIP called Sweethearts and Horrors, where he played an inept magician who had this fire sequence in his magic act and he burns down every theater he has ever worked in. Unfortunately, Peter died before they could get it made, but he was a very charming man. Early on, they did a TV show from my short story “Shipshape Home” that featured Peter Lorre as a janitor in this apartment building, but it was re-titled something else. I think my original title was The Janitor With Three Eyes – that’s what sticks in my mind, but it was only shown on some obscure TV show, so it was hardly seen [The show was actually re-titled Young Couples Only and shown in 1955 on Studio 57, a little-known anthology series.] LAWRENCE FRENCH: You and Charles Beaumont each did four scripts for Roger Corman, mostly for his Edgar Allan Poe films. The big exception was when Charles Beaumont did the rather daring script for The Intruder in 1961, which was about racial tensions in the south. Did either Beaumont or Corman ask you to appear in that picture? RICHARD MATHESON: Yes, they did but I just didn’t feel like going out to Missouri while they were shooting it. The Intruder may actually be Roger’s best picture, yet it was the only time he made a film that didn’t make any money. I thought William Shatner was superb in it. LAWRENCE FRENCH: William Shatner also appeared in two episodes you wrote for The Twilight Zone around that time: “Nick of Time” and the classic “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.” RICHARD MATHESON: Yes, and those were two of my own favorite episodes. I thought Bill Shatner did a marvelous job in both of them. In fact, when I moved back to Long Island in 1954, I used to go out of my way to watch Bill Shatner whenever he appeared on a television show, so I was very pleased when he was cast in those episodes of The Twilight Zone. LAWRENCE FRENCH: What was your reaction after Charles Beaumont started acting so strangely due to his illness? RICHARD MATHESON: Well, initially we all thought he was drinking too much, but it turned out that wasn’t the problem. He was becoming ill, but for a long time nobody had any idea of what was wrong with him. Finally the doctors diagnosed him as having either Alzheimer’s or Picks disease. LAWRENCE FRENCH: What were some of your favorite short stories by Charles Beaumont? RICHARD MATHESON: “Black Country” was one of my favorites. I remember Chuck reading it to all of us when we got together at his apartment one night, and we were all blown away by it. LAWRENCE FRENCH: “Black Country” is mentioned in Jason Brock’s documentary as the first work of fiction that ever appeared in Playboy magazine. RICHARD MATHESON: Yes, and Chuck wrote some great articles for Playboy, as well. He became a regular contributor, and wrote an article about Chaplin, and he and Bill Nolan got together and wrote this anthology of racing articles called The Omnibus of Speed. LAWRENCE FRENCH: That’s something else that is brought out in this new documentary, Beaumont’s love of car racing. Did you ever go to see him race? RICHARD MATHESON: No, I never did. I wish I had. LAWRENCE FRENCH: Since Beaumont died so young it’s strange to consider that he might just as easily have died in a car racing accident. RICHARD MATHESON: Yes, and that would have probably been a better way to go! LAWRENCE FRENCH: After seeing this new documentary on Charles Beaumont, I started reading some of his early stories and I was astounded by how subversive some of his ideas must have seemed during the conformist McCarthy era of the ’50s. In “Miss Gentilbelle,” a sadistic mother makes her son dress up and act as if he were a little girl, while in “The Crooked Man,” (first published in Playboy in 1955) Beaumont gives a very vivid description of a gay sex club in the future, where same sex couples are the norm, and heterosexual marriage is outlawed! RICHARD MATHESON: Yes, Chuck wrote some really wonderful stories. LAWRENCE FRENCH: Even before “The Crooked Man” appeared, I was surprised to find the scene in your first novel, Fury on Sunday (1953), where you have the main character allow a brutal guard in a mental hospital to have sex with him, then afterwords he kills the guard and escapes! Years later, you included another graphic depiction of a gay rape scene in Hunted Past Reason. RICHARD MATHESON: Yes, and when I wrote a screenplay forHunted Past Reason, which I originally wanted to call To Live, I cut that rape scene out because it really accomplished nothing. There was already enough motivation for him to chase the guy, so it really wasn’t needed. I also wrote a six-hour mini-series with Peter Straub, for ABC. It was based on Philip Wylie’s old novel, The Disappearance. It was the study of what the world would be like if there were nothing but woman, and what the world would be like if there was nothing but men. Wylie tried to explain it with Mickey Mouse Science-Fiction, which was really unnecessary. LAWRENCE FRENCH: Both The Crooked Man and The Disappearance would certainly end the debate over gay marriage! RICHARD MATHESON: Yes, or else everybody would have to become celibate, like a priest. LAWRENCE FRENCH: You don’t use a computer or the Internet, do you? RICHARD MATHESON: No, I’m still living in the past. LAWRENCE FRENCH: It’s rather strange that two noted science-fiction writers like yourself and Ray Bradbury don’t use a computer or the Internet. RICHARD MATHESON: That’s right. I just finished a new novel and it was all written down by hand. LAWRENCE FRENCH: The last time we spoke you told me you hadn’t written anything for over a year, because you weren’t in a writing mood. Then after Bill Nolan heard that he said, “So what. You’ve already written enough!”
RICHARDMATHESON: Yes, but since then I got back in the writing mood and I started a new novel that I’ve just now finished. It will be coming out early next year. It’s called TheOther Kingdom, but I don’t believe in telling people what it’s about beforehand. But now I don’t feel like writing again! LAWRENCE FRENCH: You also have a lot of upcoming movie projects in development. Hugh Jackman will be starring in Real Steel, based on your short story “Steel “; Summit Entertainment is preparing Countdown, based on your story, “Death Ship”, and the producers Walter Parkes and Laurie MacDonald are going to make your ghost story Earthbound into a movie. RICHARD MATHESON: Yes, I just signed the contract for Earthbound. LAWRENCE FRENCH: Did you make any suggestions to them about who you would like to see direct it? RICHARD MATHESON: No, I had nobody in mind. I think two women are going to be producing and directing it. LAWRENCE FRENCH: Really? Maybe Katherine Bigelow will direct it. RICHARD MATHESON: I don’t think so, but she would be a good choice. LAWRENCE FRENCH: Are you writing the script for Earthbound? RICHARD MATHESON: No, I seldom do scripts anymore. I did write a script for Earthbound a long time ago when Roger Corman wanted to buy the book from me. I had lunch with Roger and he wanted to shoot it at his studio in Ireland and I had already written the script, but for everything, all the rights to both the script and the book he only offered me $25,000! I would have retained no rights or residuals, whatsoever. By that time I didn’t need the money, so I turned him down. It wouldn’t have made any money for me, compared to what it would have made for Roger. LAWRENCE FRENCH: Did you see the presentation to Roger Corman of his honorary Academy Award? RICHARD MATHESON: Yes, I watched that on TV and it was nice, because Roger has been a good independent producer for a long time. LAWRENCE FRENCH: After writing the first two Poe movies for Roger Corman do you recall why he asked Charles Beaumont to write The Premature Burial instead of you? RICHARD MATHESON: I couldn’t do them all. I only wrote with one hand! The type on one would still be warm, and they’d be at my door, ready to shoot the next one. I was probably busy doing something else at the time, so Roger got Chuck Beaumont and Ray Russell to write The Premature Burial. At the time, we were both working on The Twilight Zone, so when I wasn’t available to do The Premature Burial, Roger called in Chuck. LAWRENCE FRENCH: I see you have just been inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame, in Kansas City. RICHARD MATHESON: No, it’s in Seattle. Or maybe it’s in Kansas too, I don’t really know. LAWRENCE FRENCH: I thought it was sponsored by The University of Kansas, but I never heard of them before, so maybe I’m wrong. RICHARD MATHESON: I had never heard of them, either. LAWRENCE FRENCH: It’s nice though, because it’s an award for your lifetime of achievement. RICHARD MATHESON: Well, my lifetime still isn’t over yet, although I’m only alive thanks to my doctors! LAWRENCE FRENCH: For which all your fans are very grateful. In fact, since Charles Beaumont’s career mirrored yours in so many ways, it’s fascinating to speculate on the great success he might be enjoying now, if only he had lived. RICHARD MATHESON: Oh, there’s no doubt that if Chuck hadn’t died he would have become one of the top screenwriter’s in the business. He was such a talented man. Chuck was also much more involved in writing for major movies than I was.
LAWRENCEFRENCH: One thing I liked about this new documentary on Charles Beaumont was that nearly all of his friends are interviewed and talk about him. The only major voice missing is Rod Serling, due to his own early death. RICHARD MATHESON: Yes, sadly both Chuck and Rod died before their time. Additional information and tickets for the screening of Charles Beaumont: The Short Life of Twilight Zone’s Magic Man can be found at the Egyptian Theatre website. The DVD can be pre-ordered HERE.
Today, on Lincoln’s birthday you can see the Oscar wining actor and horror film fan, Benicio Del Toro take on the iconic role of Lawrence Talbot, the tormented protagonist from Universal’s 1941 Lon Chaney, Jr. classic, The Wolf Man.
Given Universal’s sorry track record with their recent re-makes of horror film classics, I was not expecting very much from this new version of The Wolfman, especially since director Joe Johnston replaced Mark Romanek only three weeks before the start of principal photography. Which is why I was rather pleasantly surprised when I loved how this re-imaging by star Benicio Del Toro and director Johnston has turned out. However, it certainly appears that this new re-make won’t be winning much mainstream critical praise. In fact, a friend of mine who attended the press screening with me felt that the movie was “incredibly bad!”
Yet, I really can’t imagine anyone who grew up watching horror films on late night TV, or reading Famous Monsters of Filmland, as Benicio Del Toro did, won’t find something to like about this movie. For me, I found it to be a sheer delight, combining as it does, references to Universal, Hammer, AIP and many other classic horror films. It starts out with a close-up on a tombstone, with the classic werewolf poem, “Even a man who is pure in heart…” as some blood red credit titles unfold over a nearly black and white background. It ends over 100 minutes later with more beautiful end credits, again in blood red, over drawings and diagrams taken from books on lycanthropes, werewolfs and loup-garous’s. It reminded me of nothing less than the stunning satanic opening credits to the Hammer film masterpiece, The Devil Rides Out.
In short, for aficionados of classic horror films, there is very much to admire in this exquisitely crafted re-make. All others, I’m sure, will be much happier watching the DVD of Universal’s re-make of The Mummy, or one of it’s insipid sequels. I thought they were all awful, but awful films can also make an awful lot of money, can’t they!
In any case, just looking at the artistic talent that worked on this film, one can only be very impressed. It’s also rather marvelous to see how many key players of the film are actually real genre aficionados, including make-up artist Rick Baker, composer Danny Elfman, production designer Rick Heinricks, screenwriter Andrew David Walker and even producer Rick Yorn. Now, add on top of that, these top artisans: Film editor Walter Murch, costume designer Milena Canonero, Cinematographer Shelly Johnson, and many others far too numerous to mention. The end result is the combined talents of over ten Academy Award winners. Which is even before we add the stellar cast into the equation!
At any rate, it appears that by co-producing the film, Mr. Del Toro and Rick Yorn were able to assume enough control to make the movie into a serious homage to the original picture, rather than the kind of the absurd and totally over the top mis-mash of monster lore that Universal unleashed with their truly awful Van Helsing movie.
Benicio Del Toro recalled that one of his earliest recollections of the art of acting was while watching Lon Chaney, Jr. playing The Wolf Man when he was growing up in Puerto Rico. ” We wanted to honor that classic movie,” explains Del Toro, “and also the Henry Hull movie The Werewolf of London. We knew it would be exciting to make it in the classic, handcrafted way. ”
Producer Rick Yorn adds, “Growing up, these monster films really had an effect on my brothers (including Pete Yorn) and me. When I first came out to Hollywood, I wanted to remake one of them. Then, a few years ago, when Benicio and I were walking out of his house, I saw the framed one-sheet for The Wolf Man. It shows a close-up of Lon Chaney, Jr. as the monster. I looked at the poster, then back at Benicio—who had a full beard at the time—and said, ‘How would you feel about remaking The Wolf Man?’ ”
The result of that interaction between a star and his agent is this stylish horror film, which beautifully captures the Gothic atmosphere of the Universal horror classics, as well as much of the pathos the audience feels for a hero who is beset upon by fate.
As Curt Siodmak noted, he based Lawrence Talbot on Aristotle’s Greek notion of Hamartia. “It means that a person must suffer by the whim of the gods, though he has not committed a crime,” as Mr. Siodmak explained in his 1993 introduction to his original script for The Wolf Man. “We all have Hamartia in us, and suffer in life’s mishaps and pain, without having been guilty of any misdeed. That was the pivot of my idea for The Wolf Man.”
Scriptwriters Andrew David Walker (Sleepy Hollow) and David Self have embraced that concept and brought even more psychological depth to the movie by making Del Toro’s character a successful actor, like Edwin Booth, who has specialized in playing Hamlet on stage in America. When he is called back home to investigate the death of his brother, Ben, Larry Talbot is faced with an Opedial crisis in his real-life, and Anthony Hopkins as his distant father, even gets to utter the famous line from Hamlet, “To be or not to be.”
It turns out that Larry Talbot’s mother died early in his childhood, and that tragedy has turned his father, Sir John Talbot, into a morose and moody man, who can no longer face reality. So he sends the young Larry off to America, and in his sorrow, he lets the family estate drift into a kind of beautiful decay.
But Sir John also has a few skeletons in his closet, that he has never revealed to his children. Like Claude Rains in the original movie, Sir John is superbly played by Anthony Hopkins, (who ironically is Welsh), which suggests nothing so much as the tragic figure Vincent Price played as Locke in Roger Corman’s Poe story, Morella.
Of course, although Vincent Price’s work in horror films remains beyond reproach, I really can’t say that Mr. Price was a better actor than Anthony Hopkins. Nor is Lon Chaney a better actor than Mr. Del Toro. But that brings up my biggest objection to the re-make of The Wolfman.
Namely, why couldn’t some name “horror” stars be included in the cast. Couldn’t Elena Verdugo be included in a cameo role? And while Geraldine Chaplin is quite a fine actress, her two major scenes as Maleva are quite a disappointment. Since Maleva’s scenes are very much underwritten, what was needed to give them more power was was to have a great genre actress play the part. In this regard, Barbara Steele would have been rather perfect, but then again, when you compare the Moscow Art Theatre’s great Maria Ouspenskaya against any actress living today, you are going to be a little bit disappointed. Even Katherine Hepburn couldn’t better Maria Ouspenskaya when Warren Beatty persuaded Hepburn to take Ouspneskaya’s old role in his re-make of Love Affair.
In another aside, I find it quite strange that I watched Orson Welles perform King Lear in his 1953 debut on TV last night on the just released DVD of King Lear. Which made me think of how high-brow this version of The Wolfman actually is. Which is why I think the two writers of the script have to be given special note: Andrew Kevin Walker and David Self. I found it rather astonishing that the two writers of this movie get only two short paragraphs in the press notes, while there are ridiculously long credit bio’s for some executive producers who probably had next to nothing to do with the movie.
No doubt, Orson Welles would not have approved.
And here is what Orson Welles himself had to say about death, which is ultimately what most horror films are really about:
ORSON WELLES: King Lear is Shakespeare’s masterpiece and, stripped of its classical or stage trappings, it’s as strong now and as simple and as timeless as any story ever told. And what is simple for the story of King Lear—what is truly important—is not that the tragic hero is an old king, but that he’s an old man. Just such an amiable, egocentric family tyrant as holds sway in the domestic scene even nowadays. Of course, we’ve been so famously liberated from the spice of the forbidden that nothing can be counted as truly obscene. But there is one exception: death.
“Death” is our only dirty word. And King Lear is about death and the approach of death, and about power and the loss of power, and about love. In our consumer society we are encouraged to forget that we will ever die, and old age can be postponed by the right face cream. And when it finally does come, we’re encouraged to look forward to a long and lovely sunset.
“Old age,” said Charles de Gaulle, “old age is a ship wreck”—and he knew whereof he spoke. The elderly are even more self-regarding than the young. To their dependents the elderly call out for love, for more love than they can possibly receive, and for more than they are likely—or capable—of giving back. When old age tempts or forces a man to give away the very source of his ascendancy over the young—his power—it’s they, the young, who are the tyrants, and he, who was all-powerful, becomes a pensioner.
Now, after that digression, let us return to The Wolfman. I must say I found it quite wonderful that the writers decided to set the story in the Victorian age of Bram Stoker, Jack the Ripper, and of course, Queen Victoria. I also found it rather strange that, just by chance, I had watched the Hughes brothers film about Jack the Ripper From Hell , last week, and was rather astonished to find that in The Wolfman, Inspector Aberline was lifted from the real-life story of Jack the Ripper. Now, just imagine if Johnny Depp had agreed to reprise his role as Inspector Aberline in The Wolfman?
Of course, that could never happen, given that Depp makes over $15 million a movie these days, but it’s still sort of fun to think about. But it’s also a sad commentary on stars and their agents. Johnny Depp couldn’t possibly be expected to play a supporting role in a movie, could he?
No, of course not, but thankfully, who cares, because I found it was a masterstroke of writer’s acumen, making The Wolfman all the more exciting by having an actor like Hugo Weaving brilliantly handling the role of Aberline. And speaking of Queen Victoria, Emily Blunt, who plays the old Evelyn Ankers role of Gwen Conliffe, certainly knows something about the Victorian era, after playing The Young Victoria herself. Before I saw The Young Victoria, I went in not unlike how I approached The Wolfman. I had thoughts of the original Broadway cast in my mind, in this case, Helen Hayes and Vincent Price playing Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, although I had never actually seen them perform in the play.
However, after I saw The Young Victoria, those images had been completely erased from my mind. So it was for The Wolfman. Ms. Blunt certainly has proved her worth as a period actress, and gives a marvelous performance as Gwen, evoking the kind of pathos Elena Verdugo did with Lon Chaney as Larry Talbot in her gypsy role as Ilonka in House of Frankenstein.
Hopefully, I will have more to report on the wonderful make-up effects done for The Wolfman by Rick Baker in the future. But as Rick Baker himself told me when he was asked to work on Wolf, with Jack Nicholson, the studio handler’s would not even let him get near Mr. Nicholson, which almost ended Baker’s participation on that film.
Likewise, while I’d love nothing more than to present a long and detailed interview with Rick Baker here at CFQ, I doubt it will actually happen, as the handlers at Universal probably won’t be interested in such a story.
At the age of 83, Roger Corman will finally receive his long overdue reward from Hollywood: A golden Oscar statuette. Here are some of Corman’s thoughts about finally receiving an Oscar, as well as his comments on the many Oscar winning people he first discovered.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: When we talked a few years ago you said you never thought you would get an honorary Oscar.
ROGER CORMAN: Yes, exactly, which is why I was very surprised when they called me and said I was getting the award. I was truly amazed! I had heard they were considering me and I thought, “they aren’t going to give an Oscar to me, because I’m a producer and director of low-budget pictures.” So when they called and told me, I was quite surprised! I really thought I had no chance of ever winning an Oscar.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: In 1979 when the Museum of Modern Art held a 25th anniversary retrospective of American International Pictures, Vincent Price quoted something Sam Arkoff said: “If you wait long enough, everything becomes good taste.“
ROGER CORMAN: That’s right, I think you really have to live a very long time. However, there are probably also a number of other reasons to account for why they decided to give me the award. Partially, I think it’s because of the films I have directed myself. Partially, I think it’s for the many directors, producers, writers and actors who started out with me and who then went on to great success in their careers.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: That list is quite long and most of those people are now Academy members, so that probably helped you out, as well.
ROGER CORMAN: Yes, and there’s also the fact that I brought a great number of foreign films to America for distribution through New World Pictures. In one period during the seventies New World handled more pictures nominated for the best foreign film Academy Award than all the other studios combined. We distributed films by Ingmar Bergman, Federico Fellini, Francois Truffaut, Alain Resnais, Akira Kurosawa and Werner Herzog. At the time, we were distributing films from all of the world great directors.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Did you meet Ingmar Bergman when you picked up Cries and Whispers for American distribution in 1971?
ROGER CORMAN: Yes, I did meet Ingmar Bergman and he was rather formal, but a very intelligent and quite an intense man. He was a little bit quiet, but that’s probably because English is not his first language. If we had been speaking in Swedish, maybe he would not have been quite as quiet. I told him the first film of his that I had ever seen was The Seventh Seal and that I admired it greatly. I think it is a wonderful picture. We mostly talked in general though, and I liked him very much.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: You discovered many young people who went on to win Academy Awards, starting with Jack Nicholson in 1957, followed by Francis Ford Coppola, Robert DeNiro, Martin Scorsese, Robert Towne Jonathan Demme and James Cameron. After this pattern of discovering top talent became apparent to you, did you ever attempt to tie anyone down with a two-picture deal, or perhaps a long-term contract?
ROGER CORMAN: No, because I’ve never had that much money. I always backed my films with my own money. I had some outside investors, but not that many. I couldn’t put up the millions of dollars out of my personal savings for someone to make a film. I simply didn’t have that much money. So I assumed that people would make their first low budget film for me, and then would go off and make their next film at a major studio for a much bigger budget.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: One of the directors you started on his career in 1968 was Peter Bogdanovich with Targets. He was also the only director who returned to make a film for you at New World Pictures, when he directed St. Jack in 1979. Did you ever try to lure anyone else you had discovered back to work for you?
ROGER CORMAN: No, because once directors move on and start doing big budget films, it becomes very difficult to get back into the swing of making a low-budget movie. You have to work very quickly, with a great deal of preparation and you have to be willing to make certain compromises or you’re not going to get the picture made. Once you’ve done a big-budget film, it is really very difficult to go back again.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: In 1981, at a party for the opening night of the San Francisco Film Festival I met Vincent Price at Francis Ford Coppola’s house in San Francisco and when I wandered into Coppola’s projection room in the basement, I was amazed to see a 16mm print of The Young Racers! Wasn’t Coppola the sound man on that film?
ROGER CORMAN: Yes, that’s right. Francis was my assistant on a number of films. He worked as a sound man on The Young Racers, a Grand Prix racing film I did in Europe, but where Francis worked more specifically on a horror film for me was on The Terror with Boris Karloff and Jack Nicholson. He actually shot a lot of it, because after I had shot two days with Boris on the sets leftover from The Raven, there was great deal of additional work that needed to be done and since I didn’t have very much money, I couldn’t afford a union crew. I was signed with the unions, so I couldn’t shoot with a non-union crew. As a result, Francis took a small crew up to Big Sur and shot for a week with Jack Nicholson and Dick Miller in northern California. Afterwards, Francis did some editing for me as well.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Didn’t Gary Kurtz who produced Star Wars work on The Terror, as well?
ROGER CORMAN: Yes. He and all those people from UCLA and USC were floating in and out. Francis was specifically my assistant and he worked for me a year or two. Gary was a production assistant and later on an assistant director. Then, even later a production manager on several films. I can barely remember which ones they were, though.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Strangely enough, two of your discoveries, Gary Kurtz and Irvin Kershner ended up working together on George Lucas’s The Empire Strikes Back. That same year you made your own big budget science-fiction film, Battle Beyond the Stars, which started James Cameron on his movie career.
ROGER CORMAN: That’s right! Jim Cameron was building model spaceships for Battle Beyond the Stars. And a long time before that I had backed the first film Irvin Kershner directed, Stakeout On Dope Street. Early on, I generally would have ideas and give them to people who wanted to make movies. For Stakeout on Dope Street it was kind of a mutual thing. Andy Fernady was the producer and Irvin Kershner was the director. They wanted to make a film and I said I would put up the money. They raised a little bit of money themselves, along with Haskell Wexler, who was going to be the cameraman. So we discussed various ideas and then we mutually decided on that particular story.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: You will be receiving your Oscar alongside the noted cinematographer Gordon Willis, who worked with Francis Coppola on his three Godfather movies and photographed you as a Senator in The Godfather, Part II. What I find fascinating is how you also discovered so many important cinematographers early in their careers, such as Haskell Wexler, Lazlo Kovacs, Nestor Almendros and John Alonzo, who shot Bloody Mama. How did you pick your cameraman?
ROGER CORMAN: I usually would chose a cameraman by listening to other people who had worked with them, looking at their previous work and then talking with them in person. It was also partially due to luck, because in the case of Johnny Alonzo, I didn’t even see any of his previous work. I simply had gotten good recommendations from the people he had worked with before and when I talked to him, I felt he would work out well, so I hired him to shoot Bloody Mama.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: How did you come to hire Nicholas Roeg to photograph The Masque of the Red Death?
ROGER CORMAN: The reason I hired Nic Roeg was due to English labor laws, which wouldn’t allow me to use Floyd Crosby, my regular director of photography at the time. Nic was a young English cameraman, who had been a 2nd unit cameraman on Lawrence of Arabia, and I think he may have done a couple of other pictures. After I’d seen some of his work and I talked with him, I felt he would be able to bring the kind of chiaroscuro lighting quality I was looking for to capture Poe’s world in The Masque of the Red Death. I think he did a truly brilliant job on the film and he even won an award at some European film festival for the picture.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: After you worked with Martin Scorsese on Boxcar Bertha, he used a clip from Tomb of Ligeia in his next film Mean Streets for the scene where Robert DeNiro and Harvey Keitel go to the movies.
ROGER CORMAN: That’s right. Marty called me to ask if he could use that clip, because of certain legal rights and I said, “sure, go ahead.” I thought that was fine.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: It was a very nice homage to you, because Scorsese establishes this re-occurring flame motif in Mean Streets, and of course you used fire symbolically in Ligeia, as a sort of eternal love theme. You have the characters walking by Stonehenge and the ocean, representing some of the oldest things on the planet. Was that a theme you consciously worked out with Robert Towne while you were working on the script?
ROGER CORMAN: Yes, most of those things were conscious decisions. I particularly wanted to shoot at Stonehenge, but because I couldn’t afford to take a full crew there, I had my assistant Paul Mayersberg shoot those scenes as a second unit, using doubles for Vincent Price and Elizabeth Shepard. But there was always a great deal of thought put into the Poe films. They were planned and conceived very carefully and meant to be experienced on multiple levels. At the same time, I think that anybody working in a creative medium is working partially out of the conscious mind and partially out of the unconscious mind. So I’m sure some things did creep in there unconsciously. It’s inevitable.
Master of Disaster Roland Emmerich outdoes himself with his new special effects extravaganza.
It is safe to assume that most people going to see Roland Emmerich’s spectacular new disaster movie, 2012, won’t be expecting a beautifully crafted script, nor will they be overly upset to find there is no great nuance to the performances from its large cast of very competent actors. No, this is a movie whose whole raison d’être is the simple fun and enjoyment of watching a visual effects extravaganza on such a grand scale.
I’ve never been much of a fan of Roland Emmerich’s science-fiction films (I found the script for Independence Day especially preposterous), which may be why 2012 really took me by surprise. Mr. Emmerich and his co-writer, Harold Kloser have wisely added plenty of tongue-in-cheek elements to go alongside the catastrophic proceedings, making for a far more satisfying experience than any of his earlier movies. It is also one of the main reasons 2012 succeeds so well. It is simply a fun filled thrill-ride, which careens along from one epic disaster to the next, while keeping the more absurd elements that marred Emmerich’s previous movies to a bare minimum.
The storyline for 2012 follows George Pal’s 1951 Oscar winner, When Worlds Collide rather closely, except instead of a rogue planet crashing into the Earth, the crisis begins when the Sun’s neutrinos start going haywire, causing the molten core of the Earth to overheat. This triggers a massive realignment of the earth’s crust that will set off world wide Armageddon, as predicted by the Mayan calendar on December 21, 2012. Scientists and world leaders then frantically begin constructing a series of massive arks that will allow humanity to survive the impending deluge.
We get all the typical stock characters, familiar from past disaster movies, starting with John Cusack’s everyman hero who reconnects with his family during the crisis, rather conveniently lifted from Tom Cruise’s character in Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, to the hard-hearted chief of staff to the President (Oliver Platt), modeled after John Hoyt’s self-centered businessman in When Worlds Collide. I daresay, this is one movie where nobody connected with it will utter the typical Hollywood statement: “It’s all about the characters and the effects are just used to support the story.” Obviously, this is a rather flimsy story; the effects are the true stars, and rightly so.
Visual effects supervisor Marc Weigert notes that, “More than half of the movie is visual effects. I think Roland has found a way to stick almost every natural disaster you can imagine into this film. L.A. is destroyed in a 10.5 earthquake by page 30. Yellowstone Park goes up in a thirty-mile-wide explosion of lava. But the real reason why it’s so much fun to work with Roland is that he brings something new, something different to every single scene. You might think, ‘I’ve seen movies with an earthquake.’ Well, no, you haven’t.”
Indeed, Weigert and Volker Engel along with over 1,000 effects artisans have managed to create stunning work on a realistic scale that is far and away beyond anything that has been seen in previous disaster movies. In fact, 2012 may go down in cinematic history as the disaster movie par excellence, far surpassing anything Irwin Allen ever made – cramming as it does nearly every calamity possible to imagine into a single film. We literally see a large portion of Los Angeles fall into the Pacific Ocean. We see a volcano rise in Wyoming and then erupt, spewing out fireballs as John Cusack and his family attempt to flee the devastation in a small private jet. We see a massive tidal wave overturn a huge ocean liner in the South China Sea. We see a Russian cargo plane crash land in the Himalayas. We see the destruction of major cities, from Los Angles and Washington D.C. to the Vatican in Rome and monasteries in Tibet.
All this mayhem is created mostly by computer graphics, but it’s done so vividly and it is so incredibly realistic, that it easily makes 2012 the leading contender for this years Best Visual Effects Academy Award. “The objective is that the viewer can’t tell what we actually built and what’s a visual effect, made in the computer,” explains production designer Barry Chusid. “Hopefully, in the end, you watch the movie and ask, ‘Where did they find the mountain to build (those Arks) in?’ ” Special note must also go to cinematographer Dean Semler whose beautifully sharp live-action photography has been expertly married with the digital effects work.
Special Effects Supervisor Mike Vezina was in charge of all of the story’s seismic activity – which he achieved by actually shaking huge sets. “We’ve had some of the biggest rigs I’ve ever seen,” he says. “We went though 500,000 tons of steel just to build all of these big rigs for all the big shaky decks. Roland likes to see everything real. So all of these effects, running out of the house, earthquake scenes, or at the airport and there’s an earthquake scene, we actually build these huge decks that float and shake. They are about 8,000 square feet, so that he could build his set, put cars on it, put trucks, planes, and everything would shake accordingly. It was quite easy for him to make it real for the actors to react as if an earthquake of that magnitude was really happening.”
In short, 2012 shows off the Hollywood technical arsenal working at the absolute peak of its powers. For those expecting a more thoughtful script about the possible end of the world, you may be tempted to wait for the upcoming adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer prize winning novel, The Road. Unfortunately, having already seen the film version, I can honestly say that 2012 is a far better movie in every way possible. 2012 (2009). Directed by Roland Emmerich. Produced by Harald Kloser, Mark Gordon, and Larry Franco. Written by Harald Kloser & Roland Emmerich. Special Visual Effects Supervisors: Volker Engel and Marc Weigert. Director of Photography: Dean Semler ACS ASC. Production Designer: Barry Chusid. Edited by David Brenner, A.C.E. and Peter S. Elliot. Costume Designer: Shay Cunliffe. Music composed by Harald Kloser and Thomas Wander. Cast: John Cusack, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Amanda Peet, Oliver Platt, Thandie Newton, Woody Harrelson and Danny Glover.
Last February, I suggested on this site that Roger Corman was a director and a producer who the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences should consider honoring with a special Oscar. Today, the Academy’s Board of Governors (to my great surprise and delight) have decided to heed that advice, and voted an Honorary Oscar that will be awarded to genre legend Roger Corman.
The Academy’s official statement notes:
The Honorary Award, an Oscar statuette, is given to an individual for “extraordinary distinction in lifetime achievement, exceptional contributions to the state of motion picture arts and sciences, or for outstanding service to the Academy.
Roger Corman is the director and producer of such notable low-budget films as “It Conquered the World,” “The Little Shop of Horrors” (1960), “The Intruder,” “The Raven,” “The Masque of the Red Death,” “The Wild Angels,” and “The Trip.” He has directed more than 50 films and produced more than 300 during his five-decade career. In addition to his own credits, Corman is widely known for the opportunities he provided as a producer to a number of filmmakers as they embarked on their careers, including Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, James Cameron, Jonathan Demme and Ron Howard.
In the genre, Roger Corman is well-known for the science-fiction and horror films he directed in the ’50s and ’60s, which reached a zenith with his stylish series based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe, featuring Vincent Price and many other great horror stars. The films included The House of Usher, The Pit and the Pendulum, The Premature Burial, Tales of Terror, The Raven, The Haunted Palace, The Masque of the Red Death and Tomb of Ligeia.
During his long career as a director and a producer, which began in 1954, Corman has never won – or even been nominated for – an Academy Award.
However, as a producer, Corman has given many major directors, actors and writers their first job at making movies. As Corman liked to note, the people who started their careers with him won a nearly clean sweep of the top Oscars that were awarded during the 1974 ceremony. They included Francis Ford Coppola as best director, Ellen Burstyn as best actress, Robert De Niro as best supporting actor and Robert Towne for best screenplay. Corman joked that only Jack Nicholson (losing to Art Carney as best actor), and Ingrid Bergman (winning over Talia Shire and Diane Ladd) prevented the Corman alumni from winning all of the top Oscars that were awarded in 1974.
Now Roger Corman will have his own Oscar… and it’s a safe bet some of his famous alumni will also be nominated at next years awards.
In June 1967, the professional film journals announced that Orson Welles would direct an episode of the omnibus film Histoires Extraordinaires or Spirits of the Dead as it came to be known in America. By September, it was made public that Welles’s episode would be replaced by one directed by Federico Fellini. The final film comprised episodes based on three lesser-known stories of Edgar Allan Poe, directed by Roger Vadim (Metzengerstein), Louis Malle (William Wilson) and Federico Fellini (Toby Dammit or Never Bet the Devil Your Head).
Early on, Ingmar Berman was also supposedly approached about directing an episode. In his book Encountering Directors (1972), Charles Thomas Samuels talked with Federico Fellini about the three original directors who were under consideration for the project. Fellini said: “I was still under contract to make The Voyage of Mastornafor (Dino) De Laurentiis and was in total confusion. Then along come these French producers who begged me to participate in a multi-episode film. They assured me that of the three stories, I would make one, Bergman another and Welles the last. So I said yes. Then it turned out that they had lied about Bergman. Welles, who didn’t trust them, refused to sign. I continued anyway, simply because this was a way of freeing myself from De Laurentiis. When they told me my partners were to be Malle and Vadim, I could have legally refused. With me, Welles, and Bergman—-three visionary artists whose images have a richness of meaning-—there would have been some common quality in this homage to Poe. That’s why I signed, not for monetary considerations.”
Needless to say, the mind boggles at the though of the “richness of images” we might have received if an anthology of Poe stories had been directed by Fellini, Bergman and Welles! It certainly would have been far more memorable than what eventually emerged as Spirits of the Dead. The Bergman episode, in particular, would have been fascinating, since, at the time, the Swedish director was in the midst of his own “horror” phase, having just directed Persona and Hour of the Wolf, and soon would be filming the real-life horrors depicted so memorably in Shame and The Passion of Anna. Poe’s story “The Masque of the Red Death”also more than likely inspired Bergman’s 1957 movie The Seventh Seal; and there’s no doubt The Seventh Sealinfluenced Roger Corman when he made his own movie from the Poe story in 1964 with Vincent Price playing Prince Prospero.
Even more intriguing is to discover that Bergman wrote a never published 11-page story in 1938, when he was only 20-years old, entitled “A Peculiar Tale,” which appears to have been influenced by Poe. In it we first come across the figure of a personified death in Bergman’s writings, which would appear later on in The Seventh Seal. Maaret Koskinen, an authority on Bergman’s work describes “A Peculiar Tale” as follows:
It is an emotionally charged story of an anonymous narrator who encounters a beautiful yet highly perfumed woman in a florist’s. She turns out to be a prostitute, a widowed mother and an intravenous drug user. Towards the end of the story the narrator finds her beaten to death by one of her clients. Her neighbor, a garrulous old woman, tells him about the assailant:
“And last night I met her on the stairs with a man. And the way he looked gave me a chill of fear. His appearance was completely white, and it didn’t look as if he had any eyes, and he had a big floppy hat, and a long black cape”
The tale ends with the narrator walking out onto the street, his collar turned up against the “rain and autumn storms”, having gone up to the dead woman and stroked her forehead: “Poor little thing, I thought. You wanted to be Death’s pretty little harlot, and he paid you in his fashion.”
For his episode, Welles had planned to mix Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death”with “The Cask of Amontillado.” An undated copy of the English version of the script, co-written by Welles and Oja Kodar, is in the collections of the Filmmuseum in Munich.
The title page indicates the principal roles, and notes the script would be combining two of Poe’s short stories into one episode:
The following script comprises two stories by Edgar Allan Poe, including a free adaptation of “The Cask of Amontillado.” The two are grouped together under the title:
THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH
By Orson Welles and Oja Kodar
In the first ten pages of the 57-page script, Prince Prospero shuts himself up with his friends in his medieval castle in order to escape the Red Death, the horrific plague that is ravaging the countryside, but at the last stroke of midnight the personified figure of the Red Death mysteriously appears in the midst of the great costume ball and his mere presence is enough to end the revels of all the revelers.
Welles writes in his screenplay:
As the last of the fires flicker out, the only light to remain comes from the windows. A great cloud of scarlet colored dust hangs motionless over the monstrous heap of dead revelers frozen in the last agonies of the Pest, sprawling grotesquely on the ballroom floor…
The story ends with Poe’s famous lines:
“And now was acknowledged the presence of the Red Death. He had come like a thief in the night. And one by one dropped the revelers in the blood-bedewed halls of their revel, and died each in the despairing posture of his fall. And the life of the ebony clock went out with that of the last of the gay. And the flames of the tripods expired. And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.” Then, after a beat, we hear murmurs followed by applause, and we see a close-up of the Narrator who has just finished reading the above text from a book and acknowledges the applause. The Narrator proceeds to stand up and walk through the ballroom, while all the dancers who had just enacted the roles of guests at the Masque come to their feet. Then, as the Narrator approaches the Prince we see: He who played the role of the Prince gets to his feet. We realize that the mask he is wearing is a precise mirror image of the face of the Narrator. As the Narrator approaches, he removes the mask and bows. The Narrator is, in fact, the true Prince and lord of the castle where this weird little performance has been given. The actor playing the Prince is, in fact, the real Prince’s Majordomo. That the Prince in the play has worn a mask that duplicates the real Prince is just the sort of complicated joke he most relishes.
Although casting was never finalized, it appears that Welles would have played the part of both the Narrator and the Prince, while the English Shakespearian actor Charles Gray (who appeared with Welles in The Merchant of Venice and several episodes of the Orson’s Bag TV show), might well have played the Majordomo. Oja Kodar would have played Fortunata. In the script Welles describes the Prince as a cross between Lord Byron and Oscar Wilde:
A great dandy, he is most elaborately primped and corseted; his hair is dyed and curled, his cheeks are rouged, and under it all he looks like one of the very late Roman Emperors gone badly to seed. And yet, in a way, he manages to give the impression that the ruin and decay is of something rather impressive. He is flourishing (like the Green Bay Tree) a few years after the death of Byron, and somewhat before the rise of Oscar Wilde, but there is something of both in him; a matter of style, however, not of genius. The truth? He has flair, personality; it doesn’t go much further than that. The evil is real enough, though. There are thick dossiers on His Highness’ escapades in every police department in civilized Europe.
At the end of the play, we also realize the real setting of the story is the Prince’s Italian castle in 1860. Welles’s then merges the script into a second Poe story, a free version of “The Cask of Amontillado” by having the Prince bring in another novelty to entertain his guests: A circus troupe from Trieste. Among the performers is a beautiful rope-dancer named Fortunata, who some time earlier had spurned the unwanted advances of the Prince. However, she has failed to realize that she will be performing for the Prince “like a strange and beautiful lizard.” It is only when she goes to claim her payment, and all the other circus performers have mysteriously disappeared, that Fortunata realizes that the paymaster is none other than the Prince himself. When the Prince makes a crude proposition to her, Fortunata replies, “I am a rope-dancer, not a whore.”
The Prince then assumes the Montresor role from Poe’s story and lures the lovely Fortunata to the catacombs beneath the castle, taking great relish in his attempts to frighten her with morbid tales of terror and torture, such as the true to life story of the famous child molester, Gilles de Rais:
THE PRINCE: …Children, babies, murdered slowly, all of them, by the most exquisite torture. …Ghouls exist not only in dreams and in nightmares… but in the real world… there are men and women who drink blood …I myself am (one of them.)
When they reach the dank depths of the catacombs, the Prince chains Fortunata to the wall and begins to entomb her while yet alive, telling her: “Dear child, indeed you are a burden. A burden of flame and fire. The flame must be quenched.”
The Prince’s motives are both obscure and complex, fueled by love, jealousy, impotence and sexual desire, as detailed in Welles’s script:
His requisite is darkness. Just as the girl is light itself, sunshine. He must put out that light, black it out, kill the sun. But in his heart, does he really want her to die? All he is sure of is that he wants her to fear death, to fear it in his own person. He feels that to the girl he has been, up to now, only a sort of harmless ghost, a ghost she neither fears nor even quite believes in. He has never been real to her, but now he will make himself real. Through terror, she will learn to believe in him. This is a last, despairing gesture of impotence. Assuredly, he is a sick man yearning to infect the object of his love with his own fatal disease, his own Red Death.
The Prince offers to release Fortunata from her tomb, if only she will cry out and admit her terror, but she valiantly resists him, unwilling to give in to his perverse desires:
Fortunata remains a shadowy figure motionless against the wall. Silence. No power on Earth will make her break that silence.
Unable to make Fortunata submit to his will, the Prince’s ego leaves him little choice but to abandon her in the catacombs. As the script explains:
The Prince requires from her (his victim) that seriousness without which the whole distorted fabric of his dreams will fall into dust. …It also depends (like most sexual kinkiness) on a certain solemnity.
Having met a will that is stronger than his own, and one he cannot begin to fathom, since Fortunata is willing to accept death rather than saving her life on the Prince’s perverse terms, the Prince returns to his own insular world, where Fortunata’s complete rejection of him, and everything he stands for, will (as with so many of Poe’s protagonists) drive the Prince hopelessly insane:
The Prince gives a “hoarse and terrible roar, like the roaring of some rabid beast. It is the Prince in hopeless pain, a voice out of hell… but we see that there is no real place for him to go. He will never escape.
See color shots from the French pressbook for Histoires Extraordinaires at my Facebook page HERE.
SPIRITS OF THE DEAD
By Edgar Allan Poe
Thy soul shall find itself alone
‘Mid dark thoughts of the grey tomb-stone;
Not one, of all the crowd, to pry
Into thine hour of secrecy.
Be silent in that solitude,
Which is not loneliness – for then
The spirits of the dead, who stood
In life before thee, are again
In death around thee, and their will
Shall overshadow thee; be still.
The night, though clear, shall frown,
And the stars shall not look down
From their high thrones in the Heaven
With light like hope to mortals given,
But their red orbs, without beam,
To thy weariness shall seem
As a burning and a fever
Which would cling to thee for ever.
Now are thoughts thou shalt not banish,
Now are visions ne’er to vanish;
From thy spirit shall they pass
No more, like dew-drop from the grass.
The breeze, the breath of God, is still,
And the mist upon the hill
Shadowy, shadowy, yet unbroken,
Is a symbol and a token.
How it hangs upon the trees,
A mystery of mysteries!
One final “mystery of mysteries” is whether Welles might have been in any way influenced by Fellini’s “Toby Dammit” episode of Spirits of the Dead. The ending of Welles’s The Other Side of the Wind bears some interesting similarities to “Toby Dammit,” in which Terence Stamp plays a handsome young film star who has come to Rome to appear in the first “Catholic Western,” because he has been promised a new Ferrari by the film’s producers. Toby attends a surreal awards ceremony where he is to receive an honorary “She-Wolf” and during a drunken speech Toby even recites lines from Macbeth. Likewise, in The Other Side of the Wind, director Jake Hannaford (played by John Huston) is planning to give his leading actor, John Dale, a brand new red Porsche. In the end, both Jake and Toby drive off in their shiny new sports cars, only to meet death who come “driving down the highway” to claim them.