Following their discussion of DREAM HOUSE, Steve Biodrowski and Dan Persons took a few minutes to discuss this year’s Halloween haunt at the Universal Studios theme park and the upcoming, STAR WARS-themed photo book, Dark Lens. Also, Dan sends a personal greeting to one of our far-flung listeners.
Here’s an extended Sneak Peek for COWBOYS AND ALIENS.
Starring: Daniel Craig, Olivia Wilde, and Harrison Ford.
Based on the graphic novel by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg, directed by Jon Favreau, from a screenplay by Damon Lindelof, Alex Kurtzman, and Roberto Orci.
Due out July 29th from Universal Pictures. Via Trailerboe
According to Deadline.com , Guillermo del Toro may have to leave his AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS project in favor of another production.
Frustrated with delays from Universal on greenlighting the big budget version of the H.P. Lovecraft novel-inspired movie, Del Toro may move on to Legendary Pictures PACIFIC RIM, a giant monster feature written by Travis Beacham (CLASH OF THE TITANS).
Despite James Cameron’s interest in producing the film, and Tom Cruise’s tentative agreement to star, Universal has been understandably hestiant to commit to a $150 Million dollar, R-rated Lovecraftian sci-fi/horror/adventure film. They’ve apparently been trying to get the movie scaled back in terms of budget and probable audience rating.
(This must be due to the script, as there is nothing in the original material that would call for an R-rating. Lovecraft was a fairly bloodless writer. His horrors were mainly disturbing conceptually, rather than viscerally.)
According to the article, if Guillermo del Toro doesn’t hear back from Universal by the end of today, he will go with Legendary Pictures, and try to go back to MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS after completing PACIFIC RIM — possibly at another studio.
UPDATED: Guillermo del Toro’s next film project will be PACIFIC RIM. At Deadline , he indicated he’d like to return to the Lovecraft project, down the road. He said:
“Frankly, I think we’ve come so close with Mountains that to me it’s an indicator of the great possibility we will get to make it, as soon as possible. As long as the idea stays fresh and no one beats me to it, in terms of the origins of the monsters, the scope and the aspect of Antarctica where these creatures are discovered, I will continue to press forward. I’m knocking on wood.
I have great partners in Jim Cameron and Lightstorm, and Don Murphy and Susan Montford, great partners in this adventure who are not giving up and not letting me give up.”
In 1938, Universal Pictures was one of the lesser major film studios in Hollywood. In the sound era, only Universal, Columbia, and Republic Pictures made serials, with a few independents turning out a handful. Unlike the early silent films, wherein chapterplays (a series of short films about the same story and characters) like the PERILS OF PAULINE appealed to a wide audience, by the 1930’s cliffhangers were aimed at the kid’s matinee market. Universal had a big hit with 1936’s FLASH GORDON, and began to look to comics and radio for material likely to be popular with youngsters.
Republic Pictures had made two serials based on the Lone Ranger, THE LONE RANGER, and THE LONE RANGER RIDES AGAIN. Though successful, George Trendle had been less than entirely pleased with the productions, specifically the liberties the studio had taken with the character, including showing the Ranger unmasked. Thus he and his legal advisor Raymond Meurer determined to take a direct and personal interest in seeing that the Green Hornet was translated to the screen in a manner that would be true to the radio show.
The Green Hornet, Inc. insisted on actor approval, both via pictures of the players and voice recordings. Gordon Jones, a likable young actor, was chosen to play Britt Reid. In later years, Jones would specialize in comedy roles, and is perhaps best known for his role as the blustery Mike the Cop on THE ABBOTT & COSTELLO SHOW. For the role of Kato, Chinese-born artist-turned-actor Keye Luke was selected. Luke had a long career in Hollywood, appearing in the Charlie Chan series as Number One Son, and playing Master Po on the TV series KUNG FU. Universal, also leery about a heroic Japanese character at a time of growing hostilities, decided to have Kato declare himself Korean in Chapter One. Anne Nagel (MAN MADE MONSTER) was cast as Lenore Case. In addition to being an attractive woman with striking eyes, Nagel had a pleasant, cultured speaking voice, which surely was a plus in getting the role. Veteran character actor Wade Boteler was chosen as Mike Axford, and in most scenes wore a derby, just as in publicity artwork for the radio series. Philip Trent played Jasper Jenks, one of the various Daily Sentinel reporters that appeared on the radio show. Joe Whitehead played Gunnigan, the often harassed and irascible Editor of the paper, while Myrtis Crinley played Clicker Binnie, wise-cracking lady photographer.
Leading the villains was Cy Kendall as Munroe. Kendall had been the crime boss in Grand National’s THE SHADOW STRIKES in 1937. He put his henchmen through their paces in schemes that relied both on radio scripts by Fran Striker provided by Green Hornet, Inc. and the stock footage that Universal had on hand from other films, serials and real-life newsreels. Collapsing tunnels from shoddy construction material, as well as train wrecks, fires due to arson, and flight school insurance-murder rackets would appear. Future star Alan Ladd played played young Gilpin, an aspiring pilot who nearly falls victim to the deadly scheme.
The thirteen-episode chapterplay began filming on September 7th, 1939 under director Ford Beebe (THE INVISIBLE MAN’S REVENGE, 1944). Within a week, Ray Taylor (DICK TRACY, 1937) was brought in to alternate with Beebe –- it was not at all unusual for serials, with their break-neck pace to be handled by two directors. With only 26 days allotted for filming, it became a necessity.
THE GREEN HORNET was filmed on the Universal back lot’s New York street, and all over the studio. Some familiar edifices, such as the mansion seen in a number of horror films such as SON OF DRACULA, and the steep inclined rail tracks from THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS can be glimpsed. Locations nearby the studio, such as Mulholland Drive and a cliff-side stretch of road familiar to movie fans helped open up the film.
Though Gordon Jones was quite good as Britt Reid, to insure that The Hornet sounded right to the audience, radio actor Al Hodge made a trip to Hollywood to dub in the masked man’s dialog. This was simple, as the Green Hornet of the serials wore a mask that covered the entire face— usually.
There seems to have been at least three different masks used in the serial, one made of cloth for the stunt work, and two fairly rigid ones, possibly made from leather, varnished cloth, or papier-mache. One of these two, seen in some of the early chapters, revealed Jones’ mouth and jaw from some angles, and was likely replaced for that reason. One plus is that it also allowed the Hornet to be a brilliant mimic, by simply dubbing the actor he was impersonating over the footage. In the serial, kids got to see the Hornet’s gas gun, vaguely described as looking like a “foreign automatic” on the radio show. Universal’s prop men crafted an interesting weapon along those lines. Though it appeared to have gas cylinders, on-screen the gun seemed to fire a gas pellet, which broke on contact —it was sometimes described that way on the air. The effect in the film used a pyrotechnic charge from the muzzle, with a gas cloud explosion nicely superimposed over the victim.
They also got to see the Black Beauty, played by what appears to be a 1937 Lincoln-Zephyr fitted with fancy “stream-lined” chrome mudguards.
THE GREEN HORNET is a pretty exciting serial, with a lot of verve, intelligent plotting, and better than average acting for a cliffhanger. Some viewers may carp at the low budget and obvious use of stock footage, along with a distinctly episodic feel.
However, all serials are episodic by nature, and THE GREEN HORNET script by George H. Plympton, Basil Dickey, Morrison Wood, and Lyonel Margolies and the photography by Jerome Ash (FLASH GORDON) and William Sickner (THE MUMMY’S GHOST) gives the production a lot of the feel of a crime B-movie of the period.
It’s more than a collection of action sequences for the kiddies, strung together with just enough story to connect the fights, chases and other set-pieces. Other serials might simply and repetitively follow a MacGuffin back and forth between heroes and villains for 12 or 15 weeks, while this one has many plot threads and situations for variety.
Though generally listed as a 1940 release, it seems THE GREEN HORNET opened in some theaters in November of 1939. It was a hit with its audience, and by December of that year a sequel premiered.
THE GREEN HORNET STRIKES AGAIN returned most of the actors to their roles, with the major exception of the lead. For whatever reason, now lost to the mists of time, Gordon Jones did not reprise his part of Britt Reid.
Replacing him was the more mature Warren Hull (THE WALKING DEAD, 1936), who had previously played Mandrake the Magician, and Richard Wentworth/The Spider/Blinky McQuade in THE SPIDER’S WEB (1938)and THE SPIDER RETURNS for Columbia Pictures.
Hull was good choice, despite being less physically imposing than Jones. Possessing an easy charm and a fine voice, it seems that The Green Hornet, Inc. didn’t feel it necessary to have the Hornet’s dialog dubbed this time around. As a result, some of his lines are slightly muffled (under a new lighter colored mask), but much worse were the few occasions when supervising editor Saul Goodkind saw fit to dub his own raspy voice in places where he felt lines were missing.
Warren Hull would soon leave the movies for radio, and later television, usually to host programs such as VOX POP and game shows, most notably STRIKE IT RICH.
Jasper Jenks was not in this serial. Instead, comic actor Eddie Acuff (the hard-luck mailman in the BLONDIE movies) played reporter Ed Lowery (voiced by Jack Petruzzi in on radio) and Jay Michael, one of the WXYZ regulars made it out to Hollywood for the serial, playing the sinister-voiced gangster Foranti in Chapters 14 and 15.
The lead villain, Crogan, was character actor Pierre Watkin, who played Perry White in the two Columbia SUPERMAN serials. Among those backing up his criminal syndicate was familiar face James Seay (KILLERS FROM SPACE, THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN )as the slick gangster Bordine.
It should be noted that Kato’s role in these serials (as in the radio show) tends to be more that of a skilled inventor and trusty aide. The Green Hornet handles the overwhelming majority of the fights and action, mostly limiting Kato to rescues of the hero and to take out only the occasional gangster with a timely karate chop from behind. In STRIKES AGAIN, we learn that Kato is relatively well-connected in local scientific circles.
THE GREEN HORNET STRIKES AGAIN runs 15 chapters, featuring interesting setups, including pre-WWII preparedness themes dealing with schemes to take over vital aluminum production via impersonating a naive heiress (Dorothy Lovett) and borderline science fiction aerial projectiles designed to foul plane engines.
The serial is nicely shot at times (Jerry Ash again, solo), but even more stock footage dependent, and a little sloppy and rushed in the editing, notably in the music cues. They often don’t seem properly timed or appropriately selected to match the onscreen events. Someone also thought it would be funny to bring in an Irish jig (The Irish Washerwoman), whenever possible on Mike Axford’s entrances and exits. Rear projection backgrounds are used in a number of scenes to tie into stock footage of locations, and work fairly well.
Ford Beebe returned as director, this time alternating with John Rawlins (SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE VOICE OF TERROR). Both serials were produced by Henry MacRae, who directed the first werewolf film (THE WEREWOLF, 1913), now sadly lost. He’s listed as “Associate Producer”, but this was an idiosyncrasy of Universal Pictures at the time, which considered that the Studio was the actual producer of the film.
Universal ended the series here, and though there was some discussion on a Universal Lone Ranger serial, that never came to fruition. Seeing as the radio series would connect the two characters, that might have been interesting to see.
The Green Hornet looked good in B&W on the silver screen. His next appearances would put him color —4 colors, to start.
THE GREEN HORNET and THE GREEN HORNET STRIKES AGAIN are available on restored editions DVDs from VCI Entertaiment.
THE GREEN HORNET STRIKES AGAIN is also available in an inexpensive regular edition in the CINEFANTASTIQUE STORE
PAUL is a comedy by Nick Frost and Simon Pegg (SHAUN OF THE DEAD).
“Simon Pegg and Nick Frost reunite for the comedy adventure Paul as two sci-fi geeks whose pilgrimage takes them to America’s UFO heartland. While there, they accidentally meet an alien who brings them on an insane road trip that alters their universe forever.
For the past 60 years, an alien named Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen) has been hanging out at a top-secret military base. For reasons unknown, the space-traveling smart ass decides to escape the compound and hop on the first vehicle out of town-a rented RV containing Earthlings Graeme Willy (Pegg) and Clive Gollings (Frost). Chased by federal agents and the fanatical father of a young woman that they accidentally kidnap, Graeme and Clive hatch a fumbling escape plan to return Paul to his mother ship. And as two nerds struggle to help, one little green man might just take his fellow outcasts from misfits to intergalactic heroes…”
Directed by Greg Mottola (SUPERBAD), PAUL also stars Kristen Wiig, Jane Lynch, Sigourney Weaver, Jason Bateman, and Jeffrey Tambor.
Due in theaters March 18th, 2011 from Universal Pictures.
After Universal’s announcement that it was pulling the prequel to THE THING from its April 2011 release date, producer Marc Abraham confirmed to Hitflix that they are going back into production for “additional photography”.
These will include some of the principal performers, including star Mary Elizabeth Winstead. He isn’t calling these re-shoots, but says they need to “enhance existing sequences”, clarify some plot points and add “punctuation” to the film.
Special effects unit photography is ongoing, but that’s to be expected in post-production on this kind of feature. Reshoots with the main actors are usually a sign of more serious trouble with a film; script problems, unsatisfactory footage/performances, or ommisions in coverage—sometimes not noticed until the rough cut is finished.
THE THING is director Matthijs van Hijningen Jr.’s first feature-length film.
The article states that a cut of the film exists, and that the producers expect the film to be ready early next year—though a new spot will have to be found for THE THING on Universal’s schedule.
The L.A. Times reports that THE THING, the prequel to to the 1982 John Carpenter version, has been pulled from its previously announced April 29th, 2011 release date by Universal Pictures. At present, the film has no release scheduled.
The reason, according the studio is that THE THING is “not ready”, and that they are eager to move FAST FIVE, the fourth FAST & FURIOUS sequel from its original June 10th date into the Spring opening.
It’s unknown what might be the cause of the delay for the film, helmed by first-time director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. Ownership of Universal Pictures is passing from GE to the new owner, Comcast. Possibly the studio heads are playing it safe during this transition period.
Antarctica: an extraordinary continent of awesome beauty. It is also home to an isolated outpost where a discovery full of scientific possibility becomes a mission of survival when an alien is unearthed by a crew of international scientists. The shape-shifting creature, accidentally unleashed at this marooned colony, has the ability to turn itself into a perfect replica of any living being. It can look just like you or me, but inside, it remains inhuman.
In the thriller THE THING, paranoia spreads like an epidemic among a group of researchers as they’re infected, one by one, by a mystery from another planet.
Paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) has traveled to the desolate region for the expedition of her lifetime. Joining a Norwegian scientific team that has stumbled across an extraterrestrial ship buried in the ice, she discovers an organism that seems to have died in the crash eons ago. But it is about to wake up.
When a simple experiment frees the alien from its frozen prison, Kate must join the crew’s pilot, Carter (Joel Edgerton), to keep it from killing them off one at a time. And in this vast, intense land, a parasite that can mimic anything it touches will pit human against human as it tries to survive and flourish.
THE THING serves as a prelude to John Carpenter’s classic 1982 film of the same name.
Ever since Knott’s Berry Farm began basing their annual Halloween Haunt mazes on titles like THE GRUDGE 2 and QUARANTINE, there has been a tendency for Halloween attractions to seek inspiration from horror and fantasy movies. No one has taken the concept further than Universal Studios in Hollywood, whose annual Halloween Horror Nights features, among other fearful entertainments, the House of Horrors, a year-round walk-through attraction loaded with many more monsters during the October season. House of Horrors is a bit like a trip through the history of the genre, starting with an older black-and-white style of horror, and moving through the generations toward more modern variations.
For 2008 (as seen in the video), the House of Horrors included characters from THE STRANGERS. A larger version of the video is embedded below.
Knott’s Berry Farm’s annual Halloween Haunt pioneered the concept of basing walk-through haunted attractions on movies, usually tied in with some new release (THE GRUDGE 2, BEOWULF, QUARANTINE), but over the last few years Universal Studios Hollywood has taken the idea to its ultimate degree, building haunts around hit horror franchises for its Halloween Horror Nights presentation. Thus we saw mazes built around A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, FRIDAY THE 13TH, and THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE in 2007 and 2008. Last year’s horrors were based on SAW, HALLOWEEN, and MY BLOODY VALENTINE. 2010 sees the return of the SAW maze, along with new mazes based on the remakes of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET and FRIDAY THE 13TH.
Unfortunately, in aping horror film franchises, Halloween Horror Nights has become a little bit like one, churching out sequels and remakes that convey that “been there, done that” feel. Universal continues to succeed at its intended goal, which is to bring horror movies to life, turning them into amazingly detailed walk-through mazes that immerse fans in the worlds of their favorite movie monsters. Unfortunately, focusing on individual films (such as the recent Freddy and Jason remakes) leads to a certain monotony. In each maze, Jason/Freddy jumps out at you in the first room, then the second room, then the third room, etc – and it’s always the same character with the same appearance. (The previous Elm Street and Friday mazes benefited from being based on franchises with lots of sequels, which offered some variety when it came to depicting the characters: for example, Jason could appear with a bag over his head, as in FRIDAY THE 13TH PART II, instead of the familiar hockey mask.) Here is a rundown of the horror-movie-inspired thrills and chils at Halloween Horror Nights’ 2010: FRIDAY THE 13TH: KILL, JASON, KILL. Jason’s back, but this maze is remarkably different from the ones seen in 2007 and 2008. Unfortunately, Jason isn’t really given enough room to show off the difference between his current incarnation and the versions seen during previous Halloweens. The new Jason is supposed to take his cue from the performance by Derek Mears in the remake, who made the character more of an Olympic athelete, rather than the slow and steady menace that he was when played, most famously, by Kane Hodder in the FRIDAY THE 13TH sequels VII through X (it was Hodder’s performances that set the style for Universal’s previous “Friday the 13th” mazes). Setting that aside, the new “Friday the 13th” maze does justify bringing the character back, by showing him in new settings and situations, with lots of new gore gags. A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET: NEVER SLEEP AGAIN. Like the “Friday the 13th” maze, this one lives up to the promise of offering something new, this time a grim Freddy based on the 2010 remake. Unfortunately, the attempt fares less well. The remake’s new Freddy makeup is not that impressive when translated into the live medium – it looks like putty smooshed around the face. And by focusing on a single film, the maze looses the variety made possible by pulling the best bits and pieces from several sequels. The result loses the “Nightmare” on Elm Street: it’s fairly generic, with burlap tunnels and tight corridors that force you to walk past windows and doors from which Freddy can make his expectedly unexpected appearances. There area few nice touches, fortunately: solid walls that disappear, revealing Freddy behind them, or that stretch as if pressed from behind (recreating a memorable image from the original film that was botched in the remake thanks to cartoony CGI). SAW: GAME ON. Against our expectations, “Saw: Game Over”turned out to be the highlight of 2009’s Halloween Horror Nights, so we are not complaining when we saw that this year’s incarnation is a virtual duplicate. There are a few nice gruesome bits included, such as the “rack-crucifix,” which neatly – well, not so neatly – twists off its victim’s arms. (We are not gore fans, but this one effect is almost worth the price of admission -although flashing lights and screams may distract you from seeing what’s happening.) The interesting point here is that most of Universal’s mazes try to feature the villain as much as possible, but “Saw: Game On” maintains Jigsaw as an off-screen voice, focusing attention on the mechanical traps and torture devices. Our only disappointment was with a recreation of a scene from the original SAW, in which one victim must dig a key out of the body of another victim in order to unlock a device before it kills her; for some reason, the actress playing the role was camping it up, simply flopping her fingers through bloody guts as if playing a game, not engaged in a life-or-death race against the clock. VAMPYRE: CASTLE OF THE UNDEAD. This is set in Universal Studios year-round walk-through attraction, thes House of Horrors, which was designed to provide a sort of tour through the history of the horror genre, starting with old-fashioned classic horror movies like DRACULA and moving through the decades to include PSYCHO, CHILD’S PLAY, etc. For the last couple years, Universal Studios Hollywood has taken to re-branding the attraction for Halloween: last year it was “Chucky’s Funhouse”; this year it is “Vampyre: Castle of the Undead.” The layout and sets remain much the same – this is a fixed location – the main difference is that the walk-through is haunted by a bunch of ugly vampires based on a comic-book tie-in. The inspiration here seems to be to go anti-TWILIGHT, which is fine with us, but that will take you only so far. The vampyres need something of their own to make them memorable, beyond the fact that they are not like Edward Cullen; what we get are fairly generic, if effective at hissing and scaring in the dark. There is also a problem with the setting: House of Horrors is designed to feature several different environments: in some the vampyres seem appropriate (like Dracula’s Castle); in some they do not (like Chucky’s toy story or Frankenstein’s laboratory). There is corridor of mirrors that we do not remember from years past – creating some visual distraction that allows the vampires to make effective surprise appearances from concealed doors, and there is a very effective bit at the very end, with a headless corpse that turns out to be alive. ROB ZOMBIE’S HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES: IN 3D ZOMBIEVISION
It may be Zombievision, but it’s barely 3D. The flimsy cardboard spectacles create some color separation that makes certain highlighted objects stand out, but for the most part the techniques does not yield particularly memorable results. The walk through the various ghoulish scenes is creepy enough to be worthwhile, but the characters have not truly achieved the cult status that makes them ideal choices for a Halloween maze. Rob Zombie’s fans will probably feel differently – and have a great time – but the average Halloween enthusiast will be less sanguine. BACK LOT TERROR TRAM: CHUCKY’S REVENGE is another awkward attempt to insert the killer doll into a location where he does not fit: last year it was in the House of Horrors; this year it is on the backlot. It’s starting to feel like a pay-or-play situation, with an actor under contract who gets slotted into some movie just because the studio has already paid his salary and wants to get something back for its investment rather than letting him collect his check for doing nothing. The problem here is that, in spite of numerous sequels, the CHILD’S PLAY films were always a second-rate franchise, and although talking dolls are always creepy and unnerving, the tiny tike is just not credible as a serial killer.
To some extent, Halloween Horror Nights acknowledges this by not featuring Chucky very much on the walking part of the tour (I saw one small actor in a mask and costume, a stationary doll or two, and some pint-sized silhouettes). Instead, most of the monsters are storm-troopers with de rigueur chainsaws. There are also some nicely camouflaged “plant” monsters, who blend in with the vegetation on the dark hillside.
Chucky is truly featured only on the video played on monitors aboard the tram, and truth be told, this footage is amusing – a parody of true-life documentaries charting the fading careers of celebrity has-beens. Chucky is seen in a montage of clips and still that portray him descending into drink as the career opportunities fade. In a gambit that borders on bad taste – but is pretty funny – we are told that the official explanation for the devastating 2008 fire on Universal’s back lot was a cover story; the real culprit was a vengeful Chucky, angry at the way the studio had abandoned him.
The facades and scenery are more or less the same as in previous years, but retroffited to accommodate Chucky (i.e., it’s dolls hanging from the tree, not Jason’s victims). Also, the path has been altered in some cases to give you a slightly different view as you pass from the Bates Motel to the Psycho House, where you can see more “Mothers” (i.e., Norman Bates in drag) than you can shake a stick at. The effect is more campy than frightening.
The airplane crash site is just as awesome as ever, but the storm troopers do not do much to enhance it. In past year’s, this area worked best when used to convey a sense of apocalyptic horror, in which the world seemed to be in total chaos, with zombies feeding on helpless victims in the yards of nearby homes. If Universal really wants to do something interesting with this area next year, they should fashion it into something based on LOST – now that would be interesting.
Halloween Horror Nights would be better if it made greater use of its own classic movie monster movie legacy. It is certainly a shame that, on the 50th anniversary of Alfred Hitchock’s PSYCHO, Universal Studios could not have found some way to feature the famous franchise. Yes, one could argue that Norman Bates is dated, but so is Chucky. Canning the killer doll in favor of Norman – or just about any other Universal monster – would be an easy improvement (and it would tie in nicely with the back story for this year’s Terror Tram).
Bottom Line: If you have not been to Universal Studio’s Halloween Horror Nights, you really owe it to yourself to make the effort. However, if you have attended on previous occasions, there may not be enough new and novel frights to make a return trip an absolute necessity. If you have not already seen King Kong 360 3-D and the Simpsons motion-simulation ride, this is certainly a good opportunity to do so.
By the way, if Universal was going to bring back both Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees for Halloween Horror Nights 2010, would it have really killed them to stage a Freddy vs. Jason fight somewhere on theme park’s lot?
Recollections from the late actress on working with director James Whale on THE OLD DARK HOUSE and THE INVISIBLE MAN
Today’s mainstream audiences remember the late Gloria Stuart, who died on September 26, 2010, for the box office blockbuster TITANIC, but for cult fanatic and horror buffs the actress holds a special place in film history, having worked with FRANKENSTEIN-director James Whale on two of his classic horror pictures, THE OLD DARK HOUSE (1932) and THE INVISIBLE MAN (1933). In these films – more than in FRANKENSTEIN and, perhaps, even its sequel BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN – Whale indulged his penchant for sly humour, using the conventions of the horror genre as a springboard for satire and black comedy. In both cases, Stuart had the possibly thankless task of’ playing the leading lady – that is, one of the normal characters whose lot on screen is to act as the equivalent of a straight man in a comedy team, while the eccentrics or the mad scientist gets all the good lines. Nevertheless, she managed to inject a little personality into her roles, and even garnered some of the laughs in THE OLD DARK HOUSE when her character, Margaret Waverton, alone and unprotected in the titular manse, notices the spooky shadows cast by the firelight – and instead of reacting in fear, proceeds to make a series of hand-shadows on the wall.
Gloria Stuart started her film career in the early 1930s as a contract player at Universal Pictures, the studio where Whale had made FRANKENSTEIN. Her third picture was THE OLD DARK HOUSE, which is one of the earliest examples from the sound era of the now-familiar archetypal horror film plot: a group of innocent travelers is forced to take shelter in a scary house filled with strange characters, in this case the Femms, a family ranging from the eccentric (Ernest Thesiger and Eva Moore as brother and sister Horace and Rebecca) to the threatening (Boris Karloff as their butler) to the outright homicidal (Brember Wills as Said).
Rather like her character in TITANIC, Stuart had vivid memory of events from decades past. Of her stint on THE OLD DARK HOUSE, she recalled:
“It was wonderful working with James. He was brilliant. He came on the set every morning with the script, and on the blank side he had all the setups that he’d pencilled in the night before. It was very precise. He knew exactly what he wanted, which in those days for film directors was not usual, because most of them had been silent directors. They weren’t used to dialogue, and they weren’t used to directing dialogue; they were used to directing silent action. So it was refreshing working with him, particularly because I wanted to be a stage actress, and I was very snobbish about film. I felt I was slumming, but I need the money, and the money was in film.”
Although Stuart respected Whale as a director, she did not always understand the method to his madness. For example, when she and her compatriots first take shelter in the Femm household, Margaret Waverton changes from her wet clothes into a fancy evening dress, not at all suited to her gloomy surroundings. “The gown was bias-cut, very pale pink silk-velvet,” she explained. “I said to James, ‘We come in out of the rain; we’re muddy; we’re tired. It’s late. And I change into this pale pink dress with jewellery. Why?’ He said, ‘Because, Gloria, when Boris chases you through the house, I want you to appear like a white flame.’ I said, ‘Okay, I’m a white flame, but I still don’t understand it.’ That’s how precise he was. When I change and get down to my chemise,” she adds with a laugh, “I had a big audience on the set.”
Stuart credited Whale for adding humour to the film, a sort of tongue-in-cheek comic relief that plays off the awkward social tension in the scenario – for instance, Horace Femm’s forced civility at the dinner table, when he practically demands that each guest eat a potato.
“Ernest Thesiger was one of the great character actors,” said Stuart. “When he says, ‘Have a po-ta-to,’ and when he throws the bouquet of flowers into the fireplace, that’s all James. All those very sardonic, witty points of view and presentations – all James, not in the script. He was a wonderful man to work for.”
Stuart also credited the film with inspiring the creation of the Screen Actors Guild of America. She and Melvyn Douglas were the only US citizens in the cast; Karloff, Thesiger, Moore, Charles Laughton, Raymond Massey and Lillian Bond were English, and during production the Americans got a glimpse at how actors were treated outside Hollywood.
“THE OLD DARK HOUSE is the reason that you have SAG, with almost a million members,” Stuart claimed. “It was a wonderful happenstance. James imported all the English actors, with the exception of Melvyn Douglas, who had just come from the New York Theatre, and me.”
Stuart and Douglas noted that the English cast broke for tea at eleven and four each day – an option not offered to the two Americans.
“James joined all the English actors,” Stuart recalled. “So on one side of the set they had their ‘elevensies’ and `foursies,’ and Melvyn and I would be sitting together, not invited. One day, Melvyn said to me, `Are you interested in forming a union together?’ I said, ‘What’s a union?’ He said, ‘Like in New York – Actor’s Equity. The actors get together and work for better working conditions.’ I said, ‘Oh wonderful,’ because I was getting up at five every morning; in makeup at seven, in hair at eight, wardrobe at quarter of nine, and then sometimes if production wanted you to, you worked until four or five the next morning. There was no overtime. They fed us when they felt like it, when it was convenient for production. It was really very, very hard work. He said, `We’ll have a meeting, and we’ll try to get overtime, eight hour days, eight hours in between for ourselves.’ So I started working as an organizer for SAG. Actually, my union number is 183, because I was so busy canvassing and getting others to join, that I forgot to join myself. Anyway, I’m one of the few remaining founders of the Guild. That’s one reason I’m very grateful to THE OLD DARK HOUSE. I thank that English cast for having their elevensies and foursies.”
Afterward, Stuart appeared in several non-horror films at Universal, including one directed by Whale called KISS BEFORE THE MIRROR, which, according to Stuart “was considered very sexy in those days, but believe me, it wasn’t!”
Then in 1933 she played the fiancee of Jack Griffin, the ambitious scientist whose experiments turned him into THE INVISIBLE MAN. The titular role was essayed by Claude Rains; it marked his first “appearance” in film, although his face was not seen unti the final fadeout. THE INVISIBLE MAN also featured Una O’Connor in a supporting role; her over-the-top hysterical reactions to the strange happenings play like a preview of her similar role in Whale’s THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN.
Stuart characterized the shooting as “an extraordinary experience,” adding that “we werent’ allowed on the set when Claude became invisible, and it was a very big thing on the Universal lot. There’s a reat deal of wit in ths picture, especially O’Connor.”
Despite the invisibility of his character, Rains did work with Stuart, during scenes in which Griffin is clothed, with his head wrapped in surgical bandage and his eyes covered with dark glasses.
“Claude had not made any films up until this time; he came from the New York stage,” said Stuart. “He was what we call ‘an actor’s actor.’ He was completely involved in being an actor, which doesn’t make for fun and games on the set. Besides,” she laughed, “he was shorter than I was, so either he was on a platform, or I was in a trough.”
Stuart found that Rains employed a few tricks he had learned on stage ot keep audience attention focused on himself, but thanks to the medium of film she managed to hold her own.
“On the stage, whatever happens goes that night, and you don’t go back and do it over again,” she explained. “The first day of shooting on the film, Claude and I had a scene together, and he would upstage me. He would take me [by the arm] and all of a sudden he’s with his full face to the camera, and I had my back to the camera. I stopped in the middle of filming – you don’t do that with Whale; he was a very strict disciplinarian – and I said, ‘James, look what he’s doing to me’ He said, ‘This is movies, not the theatre, and if we don’t get it right the first time, we can do it over again and again.’ Rains said, ‘Oh, I’m sorry. Oh, Miss Stuart, please forgive me.’ I said, ‘It’s all right, Mr. Rains.’ The next take he was upstaging me again. I didn’t have to stop; James stopped it.
The final take features Stuart and Rains evenly blanace din the shot. “So our relationship during the – I guess it was normal between an actor’s actor and – well, I hope I’m not an actor’s actress,” laughed Stuart.
THE INVISIBLE MAN turned out to be Stuart’s last picture with Whale. Shortly thereafter, Universal sold her contract to Columbia Pictures, and she went onto appear in such films as Busby Berkeley’s GOLD DIGGERS OF 1935 (sort of the MOULIN ROUGE of its day) before retiring in the mid-1940s. During the decades that followed, she tried her hand at painting, and even learned to work a printing press in order to publish her artwork in coffee table books. Then – the mid-1970s, she started acting again, mostly in made-for-television movies like THE LEGEND OF LIZZIE BORDEN and TWO WORLDS OF JENNIE LOGAN, although she did appear in some theatrical films (including MY FAVORITE YEAR). Finally. in 1997, she gave an Oscar-nominated performance in TITANIC.
“For thirty-three years I’d been in the past, you might say, and Cameron brought me back,” Stuart recounted. “It changed my life completely. I was so reclusive, working hard with painting and printing. What happens to an Academy nominee is unbelievable. One day in my patio and on my front yard, there must have been four companies with cameras and lights setting up to interview me about ‘How does it feel to be an Academy nominee.’ After that. I’ve done so much in the last six years that I feel like I’m back in the business; I’ve become more active in the Screen Actors Guild, too. In my old age, I feel that anything I can do to help. I would like to.”
Looking back on her films, Gloria Stuart considered her two favorites to be THE OLD DARK HOUSE and TITANIC (“naturally”), but she seemed prouder of her work in the 1997 Oscar-winner. As for the older film, she gave all credit to the director.
“James Whale is a cult figure in England, and I think he should be here in the United States, too,” she said. “All of his films have great individuality; all of his films are imaginative and witty. He was an actor and a cartoonist, and a newspaper man. He brought all of his talent and his taste to film. I think that of all the directors I’ve worked for – with the exception of James Cameroa, who is a writer, a director, a producer, everything – James was the most wonderful man that I’ve worked with. He knew exactly what he wanted, having been an actor – which none of the other directors that I worked with had been. It’s very difficult, as an actor; if the director can’t tell you what he wants.”
This is a revised version of an article that originally appeared in 2003. Copyright by Steve Biodrowski.