So. To continue what I started with the Frankenstein silents, I'm going to take a look at Frankenstein's Monster as portrayed in all eight (eight!) Universal films. And this set of movies I can actually sink my comparison-loving teeth into; there's a veritable cornucopia of differences in makeup, costume, monster size and actor to look at.
And since you're already thinking it: no, I'm not a hundred percent sure that "comparison-loving" and "teeth" should really be tied together in a sentence like that. But I'm rolling with it.
Now, mind you, I'm not reviewing the movies themselves. I'm comparing the way the monster was portrayed in each film. Just so we're clear.
So this post will look at the first four films in the series: Frankenstein (1931), Bride of Frankenstein (1935), Son of Frankenstein (1939) and The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942). I think those will make for a pretty long post, so the last four films will go into a Part 2.
Most of the photos I'm using here are a mix of publicity stills and actual scenes from the films. As I was monotonously (and I do mean monotonously) sorting through search after search at Google Images, I saw a few sites repeatedly popping up with nice, big high quality photos for the entire series. So I eventually bypassed Google entirely and did my searching directly through those sites.
Which is a terribly roundabout way of saying most of the images I'm using came from one of those sites, and I will now without further ado name said sites: They are Dr. Macro's High Quality Movie Scans, Classic Movie Monsters and Universal Monsters Tribute. All three are well worth your time. Just sayin'.
So, the original idea with this whole thing was to compare four different aspects of the monster across different films/film series:
- a close up of the monster's face (differences in makeup design, etc.)
- the monster's full figure (comparing costuming and such)
- the monster's size alongside another person
- the monster alongside the actor who played it
Anyway. That was the idea. The reality I hit up against was one where the silent Frankenstein films (the first group I looked at) had little or no visual information available for me to compare. It. Was. Lame.
But such information poverty is not the case today. No, no it is not. So let's get a move on.
The Mug Shot:
|The Monster poses for his first portrait: "Okay, chin down... little more... great! Now: look pensive and dead."|
Okay. This particular photo (from a DVD cover) is a little airbrushed up for my taste, but it conveys what it needs to convey. Wow. This design is a Work. Of. Art. Well, all movie stuff like this is a work of art, but this is really amazing. Jack Pierce was, in no uncertain terms, brilliant. And Karloff's slender, angular bone structure really took Pierce's design and ran with it. It's one of the reasons I think Karloff pulled the design off, physically, better than later actors did. (And what do I mean by that?)
Well, Karloff was the actor physically working with Pierce as the makeup was actually being designed/applied/revised/reapplied etc. So I think Pierce instinctively adapted it, during that process, to Karloff's features--I think Karloff's features became part of the design (even more so than just the removing of the dental appliance thing). As a result, when that design was applied to later actors--all with very different features and bone structure than Karloff had--it came off looking less... organic, a little "bolted on," if you will. No pun intended. (Possibly a small pun intended.)
Sure, Lugosi was the studio's initial choice to play the role, but he said no, and by the time Pierce was actually doing mockups and physically testing out his design on an actor, it was Karloff sitting in the chair.
|The Monster, looking both gooily decomposed and drily desiccated. At the same time! That takes talent.|
Had to throw this photo in, too. It's well known, and was used in the promotional material, but with a close look you'll notice the design it shows isn't quite what was used in the movie. For filming, they went without the enlarged veins and clamps on either side of the forehead. So I'm guessing this photo was actually a preproduction test shot. But I think it's a great look, so I'm including it as a Mug Shot "alternate."
Also, this pic really shows off the synergy between Pierce's design and Karloff's facial structure: wide and squared off across the forehead, moving diagonally inward toward the chin--basically an inverted triangle (which the forehead veins actually mirror and accentuate). That downward wide-to-narrow movement gives the monster a sense of strength and frailty at the same time. I think it's is one of the reasons seeing this first incarnation of the monster is such a visceral experience.
Plus, the monster looks so... dead... in the photo. It's just a great shot. Okay. Enough on the closeup. Let's pull back to...
The Full-Length Cadaver Shot:
|Do *NOT* go in there. Woo!|
Ah, Ace Ventura. I hated that movie. Well. We've got what became the classic look here, obviously. The monster's dressed completely in black (a year before Johnny Cash was born), in stark contrast with his deadpale skin. And, to help us get that "eight feet in height, and proportionably large" feeling, the whole outfit is several sizes too small.
Except for the boots. Nothing small about them. Apparently, they were a boot style that asphalt spreaders of the time wore, with an extra sole glued to the bottoms, for height. (Lots of anecdotal stories out there on the various aspects of "how-they-did-what" in this movie, but this seems to be the general consensus on the boots.)
The entire outfit's cut from heavy cloth (along with Karloff wearing two pairs of pants), to add bulk and stiffen movement. Overall, the costume gives a nice feeling of bigness--breadth and height, which is impressive since Karloff was a reasonably slender and not overly tall fellow. And speaking of overly tall....
The Oversize Or Not Shot:
I've read that studio press releases described Karloff's monster as anywhere from seven to seven and a half feet tall. And, although characters from the various films refer to it as "huge" and "a giant", the Karloff monster's height is never explicitly pinned down in dialogue. (Later on, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein comes close, with a character describing Glenn Strange's monster as "about eight feet tall.")
Well, the reality of Karloff's monster was a bit less than eight, or even seven, feet. Karloff stood about 5' 11" and, with the boots and headpiece adding around 5 inches to his height, he settled in at about 6' 4" in full costume.
|The monster considers borrowing Ms. Clarke's heels to get himself a little closer to his publicized height.|
Which is about what we see in this photo, as the monster menaces Mae Clarke on her wedding night. He looks colossal enough at first glance. But Ms. Clarke was only about 5' 2". Here, we can give her a couple of inches for those heels she's wearing and say 5' 4". A little quick and dirty height adjusting to account for the monster's menacing-lean-forward and Mae's fearful-lean-back (I figure they cancel each other out), and you've got a monster that's probably about 6' 4" here.
However. This scene with Ms. Clarke notwithstanding, this movie did a fantastic job overall, using forced perspective and other tricks of the trade to give us a monster who looked well over his 6' 4" height in most scenes. It's hard to get perfectly consistent results using these techniques, but I seriously love and admire these film makers for trying as hard as they did.
I mean, it was tough to reliably portray a giant-sized character on film back in the days before you could just use your computer to create, appropriately size and insert the character into the finished product. Okay, that's a gross oversimplification. But still, these guys did a bang-up job using relatively primitive tools and techniques.
|Colin Clive accuses his creation is stealing his wife's shoes.|
As we can see in this shot with doc and the monster about to get into their climactic tussle. Colin Clive was reportedly 6 feet tall and Karloff's monster towers over him, looking to be at least his purported 7 feet.
It's worth a watch of this and the second film just to make note of their great use of forced perspective to manipulate the monster's perceived size throughout. I say the first two films, because the series kind of fell off the proverbial wagon after that--either resorting to the much-easier-but-less-effective "stand on a box" technique, or not bothering to portray the monster as giant at all.
Okay. Let's take a look at what changed by the time the monster was looking for his bride....
Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
The Mug Shot:
|Who are you calling delicate?|
So. Here we have the same actor, same makeup artist, four years later. Karloff, who was in his mid forties when he did Frankenstein, is maybe two years shy of 50 here. Looks like his face had filled out a bit, losing some of the angularity that I really liked in the first film. But it still works, because the former triangle-strength-frailty thing is replaced by a more square shape that adds a subtle sense of massiveness to the monster's face. Whereas Frankenstein's monster combined strength with delicacy, Bride's monster feels more solid.
Other than that, the design's been altered to reflect the monster's having been through a fire during the first film's climax. Hair has been burned away to expose more of the--I don't know what you call 'em... Sutures? Staples? ...used to close up his brain cavity. Burn scars on the face. Overall, I think it's a natural (and masterful) progression on the first film's look.
The Full-Length Cadaver Shot:
|Ooh, that's gonna leave a mark.|
Well, other than being covered in mud, ashes and soot (are ashes and soot the same thing?), this is the same look as in the first film. Again, Karloff fills the suit out a bit more than he did the first time around, which lends to the feeling of solidity and mass I think the monster shows in this movie. (Scroll up and take a look at Frankenstein's full-length shot, compared to this one, and see if you don't agree.)
Hmm. You know, I'd say the monster also looks... I don't know, a little less dead--less like a newly reanimated corpse, here. To be honest, I don't think that any of the other films in the series really replicate the "just back from the grave" vibe that the first monster gave out. I don't know why, or if it was intentional, or even if it's all in my head. But it definitely seems that way to me.
We could say it's a natural progression for the character, who in the series timeline actually was further and further from "just back from the grave" status, as each movie progressed. I'm quite sure 1930s-1940s era movie makers weren't entertaining such thoughts, but if it helps me sleep at night....
The Oversize Or Not Shot:
|Like, zoinks, Scoob! A monster!|
So, this is a great shot showing the kinds of camera work both this and the first film used to such advantage. At first glance, Karloff's monster and E. E. Clive's Burgomaster look like they're standing straight across from, and staring right at, each other. But take a look at their feet and you can see that the Burgomaster is actually standing a foot or foot and a half further away from the camera than the monster is--the Burgomaster's forward foot is about even with the monster's rearward foot. So they're actually offset and staring past one another in the shot.
This is classic forced perspective. Being even a foot or two closer to the camera, Karloff is perceived by it (and us) as being both taller and more massive than he actually is. Look at Karloff's head and hands compared to Clive's: there's a subtle but noticeable difference in size. Add in the fact that the Burgomaster is slouching his back and bending slightly at his knees, while Karloff is standing straight and tall, and the effect is intensified even more.
E. E. Clive was about 5' 10"--just an inch shorter than Karloff out of makeup. But this shot gives Karloff an appearance of way more than the 6' 4" height he had in costume, and mass to boot. These first two films really went all out to give us a monster that was as close to Shelley's size description as they possibly could. Kudos to them, cause there's nothing worse than sitting down to a Frankenstein movie (Universal or otherwise) and seeing an average-sized monster, with nothing but disfigurement to physically differentiate him from the other characters. Am I right? (I am so right!)
Okay. Moving on to the Son.
Son of Frankenstein (1939)
The Mug Shot:
|Middle-aged Monster... just wants to get through another day at the office.|
You may have figured out by now that I think the first two movies really shined, in almost every way imaginable. But Sequel-itis is bound to rear it's ugly head, at some point, in any series. You know about Sequel-itis, right? That illness most feared by film franchise lovers and characterized by shrinking budgets, haphazard continuity and a seeming "who cares?" attitude by the filmmakers. Now, I'm not saying Son suffers from any of those things in any big way. But for me, this was the first step down off the pedestal.
So.... Taking a look at Son's closeup: Still the same actor and makeup artist, and yet another four years gone by. Karloff was about 52--eight years older than he was in Frankenstein--when he did this one. His face has filled out even more than it had in Bride, and has a much softer look to boot. Honestly, this monster has lost its sense of strength and menace. It looks a little... harried and middle-aged to me. And while the overall makeup design is more or less the same as in the two earlier films, instead of strength and massiveness, what I get from this shot is melancholy and a sense of fatigue. I don't know if the lack of menace was intentional or not, but this is definitely a less than menacing monster, here.
The Full-Length Cadaver Shot:
|I am not threatening in any way whatsoever. And I am sad about it.|
With the bulkier outfit, Son's monster looks less tall and more wide than it has before. Now, Karloff was a long way from what anyone would call overweight; but he was filling in the way many men in their fifties tend to do. Regardless of whether Karloff is a bit heavier or it's just the new outfit... it's not working for me.
I mean, that outfit really underwhelms me. The sleeves are much less shortened than previously, leading to a tall-but-not-that-tall feeling. And while the vest adds bulk, it lacks the angular lines the original suit coat had. The vest gives a sort of soft bulk, as opposed to the suit coat's massive and muscular bulk. I see this monster more at home in an easy chair, with pipe and paper in hand, than I do out terrorizing villagers. Meh.
The Oversize Or Not Shot:
|6' 2" Basil looks at 6' 4" Boris.|
Not. As in not oversized. Scene after scene, throughout the entire film, we get a six and a half foot monster. Sure, when I see a six and a half foot guy on the street, I (might) think to myself: "Hey, that guy's pretty tall." But I don't think he's monstrously tall. I don't say: "Wow, if it was dark and rainy and he was in a too-small black suit, I might mistake him for Frankenstein's monster"! I do not.
Let's see if Lon Chaney improved things any, with his one-shot as the monster.
The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942)
The Mug Shot:
|Do NOT. Mess with me.|
Well. This is a very different monster than Karloff portrayed in any of his films. Jack Pierce is still on hand as makeup artist, and the design is pretty much classic 1931. And to be honest I think Chaney's monster is a step up from Karloff's last portrayal. But Karloff was 5' 11" and a slender 170 pounds, while Chaney was 6' 2" and 220 pounds, and this is where Karloff's features being part of the design lead to a doesn't-quite-fit look, here. Chaney's got a bit of a baby face, to boot, and mixing horrifying reanimated cadaver with chubby just-wanna-pinch-em cheeks doesn't quite work for me. But at the very least this monster looks like it means business, you know? Like bouncer-at-the-stripper-joint or mafia-bodyguard business.
The Full-Length Cadaver Shot:
|I am literally standing on a box.|
And... we're back to the black suit here, which is a welcome return. Chaney's too broad to give off any kind of dessicated corpse vibes, but he does look pretty massive overall. Big, but not especially tall. Which is weird, since he was reportedly about three inches taller than Karloff when both were out of costume. If he's getting the same 5 inch height-gain from boots and prosthesis, that would put him around 6' 7" in actual real-costumed-life. So I dunno. I guess there's nothing in this photo to judge his size against anyway, so what am I getting all worked up for?
Hm. That suit looks like it was tailored to fit. I feel like we're leaving movie-magic-monstery territory, and heading into slick-economic-film-property territory, here. That's what my gut's telling me, anyway. Gut or no gut, I'm saying Ghost's monster is a slight step up from Son's.
The Oversize Or Not Shot:
|I may or may not be 6' 7", and I may or may not be standing on a box.|
I was all set to say Chaney's monster is so standing on a box in this photo. But then I had the thought, above, about him being close to 6' 7" in costume and started thinking maybe there is no box. I don't know, what do you think? Lionel Atwill was around 5' 10".... That monster could be 6' 7", maybe a little more. Maybe he's standing on a small box. Or, Atwill could be bending a bit at the knees, just off camera. Hm. Either way, there's quite a bit of box-standing going on in this movie, as evidenced by...
|Move along! No boxes to be seen, here! Return to your homes....|
...this shot. Tell me there's not a box right next to that bed, being stood on by that monster! I won't believe you! Well. All in all, doing something to make the monster look taller in a Frankenstein movie is commendable. It's a long step down from the amazingly cool camera tricks being used in the first two films, but it's a step up from the third film's no tricks whatsoever.
The Head Shot(s):
Whew! We're about done.
Just for fun, and there's not much to comment on with this piece, here's a look at the actors from the first four movies, in and out of costume.
|I am not an animal! I am a human being!|
Okay, that last caption borders on being a little to irreverent. But I'm leaving it in. Cause it's a pretty good joke. You know, with him not looking very human beingish in makeup but looking quite human beingish out of makeup. It's funny. If your head is full of random film quotes. Anyway. Karloff's head shot is (I think) c. 1935, about midway through his monster stint. You know, to give a nice balance for his monster images--one when he was younger, one when he was older, and one that is jussst right! Very Three Bears of me, I think.
And, it's been so long since I started this damn post and pulled that head shot, that I'm not really sure if I'm making the whole circa 1935 thing up in my head. I do that sometimes. Well, anyway, it's Boris Karloff, and he's not, like, three, or anything, in it. Sooooo many commas inappropriately used in that sentence!
Huh. I feel like Chaney's monster and his head shot look more similar than they should. That's very mildly disturbing to me. Hah! Can you imagine the monster with that mustache?
Anyway, that about wraps it up for the first four movies in the series. I guess my opinion is no secret: up to this point, we had a great couple of monsters in the first two films, different in their own ways but both amazingly portrayed. We had the third film's monster taking a pretty big dive in pretty much every way possible. And we got a somewhat raising of the bar in the fourth film.
And... I am SO done with this post. Four years between starting this post and publishing the last one, and I puttered on putting this thing together for six months, to boot. Guess I don't have nearly as much time as I used to for these things. But still have all the OCD stuff to merit puttering with a two week post for six months. Roh Rell, Raggy. We'll see if the next one takes another four years.
Hah. You think I jest.