Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Frankenstein on Film - Universal (Part 2 of 2)

Frankenstein on Film - The Silents
Frankenstein on Film - Universal Part 1
Frankenstein on Film - Universal Part 2
Frankenstein on Film - Hammer

Okay. So I think this post will be a little shorter than Universal Part One. Partly because that one took waaaay longer to write up than I wanted it to, and partly because... well, I just have less to say about these films than I did the earlier ones.

By this time, the monster had become a full fledged franchise--designed to be attached to a film, get the film churned out, and make some money--which mindset affected the way the monster was portrayed: less artistry and more "git-r-done."

Still fun to look at, though. Not AS fun. But fun.

So, this post will look at the last four films in the series: Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943), House of Frankenstein (1944), House of Dracula (1945) and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948).

Once again, the photos I'm using here are a mix of publicity stills and actual scenes from the films, and most of the images I'm using came from one of these sites: Dr. Macro's High Quality Movie Scans, Classic Movie Monsters and Universal Monsters Tribute.

And remember, the idea here is not to review the films per se, but to compare these aspects of the monster across the films:
  • 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
Although, I may not be able to keep myself from commenting on the films themselves from time to time. Okay. Let's get to it.



Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943)


The Mug Shot:


Daggers are coming out of my eyes. Right... now.

I just re-watched Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man the other night, to refresh my memory of the monster's scenes, and I was reminded of how little monster there really is in this movie, considering his name is right there in the title. Which monster-meagerness is apparently due to a couple of reasons.

Reason one is that test audiences sort of laughed at the monster speaking with Lugosi's Hungarian accent. And by sort of, I mean a lot. So, the studio decided to, ah, remove every shot of the monster speaking, from the film. Wow. Drastic. Now, I don't know how many scenes that amounted to, but it had to affect the storyline negatively, in addition to whittling down the monster's screen time.

Reason two, which may or may not have affected screen time but is damn irritating regardless, the monster was written and performed as being blind (which blindness had occurred near the end of the previous movie). But. The studio also decided to remove all reference to the blindness, which left a monster acting like he was blind for no apparent reason throughout this film. Which added to the weird, out-of-sync feel I had watching the thing.

Aside: You know, one of the fun things about writing purely for my own enjoyment is that I get to write just exactly what I want, even if it doesn't make perfect sense grammatically or thematically. Like making reason number two for less screen time have possibly little or nothing at all to do with screen time. Let me tell you, for a guy making his living as a technical writer--mucking about here, doing whatever the hell I want to do on the page, is pure nirvana. Anyway. Back to the monster. :End Aside

So what we ended up with, here, was what (I assume) started as a film pretty evenly matched--insofar as screen time is concerned--between Frankenstein's Monster and the Wolf Man, but ended up being a movie about the Wolf Man, with a few confusing monster scenes sprinkled around in it. Which is irritating to me, 'cause it's a pet peeve of mine, having potentially decent films mucked up by studio executive types who have no idea what they're doing at the level of actual film making. Hell, it's a pet peeve of mine when they do that to a film that's NOT potentially decent. Not that I know for a fact it was the executive types that made the decision, here. I'm just choosing to make it a fact in my own mind when it may be NOTHING OF THE SORT.

Okay. Five paragraphs into the Mug Shot and I haven't said a word about it. And I'm talking about the movie when I made a point of saying earlier that I wasn't going to write about the movies, just the monster in them. But I had to get that off my chest.

The mug shot: I had a tough time finding a decent closeup of the monster for this film. (Which closeup you can easily see, way up there, six paragraphs above this sentence.) The one I ended up with is a particularly unflattering shot, but it illustrates nicely the idea I brought up in the previous post, that the further you get (with the actor) from Karloff-like features, the worse-looking monster you end up with.

Lugosi had an exquisite Dracula face. But his rounded 1930s European leading man features did NOT mesh with the squarish design that Jack Pierce originally created with Karloff. And it was still Jack Pierce doing the makeup at this point, by the way. As far as IMDB tells me, anyway.

Here's a little experiment: Look at the mug shot above and put your hand in front of it so you can only see the top half of the monster's head. Looks pretty good, right? Now move your hand so you can only see the bottom half. Still looks pretty good, if not particularly Frankenstein's monster-like. But you pull that hand away to see the whole thing at once? There's a disconnect, and your brain says "Frankenstein's monster--no wait, not Frankenstein's monster--no--it is--but wait--not quite...."

There you have it. Experiments do not lie. I'd have to say, in my comparison-loving mind and heart, this movie's monster is the worst of the lot. It just doesn't work. And yes, that forehead scar has changed again.

While this movie's monster is the stuff of nightmares for all the wrong reasons, there are some monster scenes in the movie that work better than others. Know why? Cause there were several scenes with people other than Lugosi playing the monster. Wikipedia says between one and three additional people. Here's one of 'em. The guy's got a better face for the makeup than Lugosi did.

I have a square, monster-like chin. And a previously broken nose.

Let's see how Wolf Man's monster fared at full-length.

The Full-Length Cadaver Shot:


Pretty sure that belt is way above belly button height. Just saying.

Well. He does look better at long-range than he does in the closeup. Whoa, that belt line is riding high. Nothing really weird about the costume as a whole though; it's the basic black that was used and worked in all the others.

Barring the unfortunate Wooly Teddy Bear look they went for in Son of Frankenstein:

Who is cuddlier? It's a TIE!

Anyway. To be fair, none of the things mucking up the monster's monster-ness in Wolf Man are the actor's fault. I'm placing blame, as blame goes, squarely on studio/filmmaker decisions. I guess "blame" is a strong word. It was what it was. People making a fast buck; any cool creative stuff they might've snuck in was (a distant) second in importance. Sigh.

Well. Was the monster in Wolf Man at least gigantic?

The Oversize Or Not Shot:


Regular-sized monster, who thinks he's blind but isn't, feeling his way along the caverns.

No. He was not. We're back to the Son of Frankenstein days of not even bothering to find a box for the old fellow to stand on. Above we see Wolf Man Talbot and the monster, with the monster LOOMING over Talbot by a good two inches. Yawn.

I daresay Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man's monster was pretty unmonstrous in about every way imaginable. But we're not done yet. We've still got three more films to go. And even though all three had the same guy as the monster, there's still some comparing to be done.

These last three movies were all done in a four year span, so actor age changing the look wasn't a huge factor. And it looks like somebody made a point of having the monsters look as alike as possible in the first two of them. Which isn't a bad thing. Unless you're trying to compare differences between them.

Hey, here's something random and neat (random for sure; just possibly neat): You got eight films, separated into two mirror-symmetrical groups. The first set of films had Karloff playing the monster three times, followed by Chaney playing it once. Then you get Lugosi doing it once, followed by Glenn Strange playing it three times. You've got a 3 + 1 followed by a 1 + 3. Ooh, I like that. It's just how my brain works. No apologies.

Moving on to the next film.



House of Frankenstein (1944)


The Mug Shot:


I am a monster and I am holding a flashlight under my chin. BOO!

So. This is a couple of steps up from Wolf Man's monster. It's even a step up from Ghost's monster, two films back. It's nowhere near the artistry we saw in Frankenstein and Bride, but it's definitely heading back in the right direction. Glenn Strange had a better face for the makeup than either of the two previous actors did.

Check out this life mask he had taken for makeup development. He was a big guy, 6' 5" and maybe 220 pounds. Not musclebound and not super slim. His face is actually a good starting point for the Universal monster, overall. Has a big, fleshy kind of look to it. Very different from Frankenstein's inverted triangle (see Universal Part 1 for more on that), this face has mass that goes toe to toe with Ghost's mug shot, but it also has some long to go with it's wide, so you don't end up with pinchably round cheeks like Ghost's monster had. I like it.

And, you know, HofF's monster has it's own version of Frankenstein's "I am a monster through no fault of my own and I am very sad about it" vibe, too. A kind of not-happy-to-be-back-from-the-dead melancholy the first couple of films had, that went away later on.

But if I had to liken this monster's closeup to any of the others, it'd be Bride's. They both have that big, blocky, menacing thing going for them. Okay.

Let's take a look at this monster's full-body.

The Full-Length Cadaver Shot:


Former glory, here I come!

Huh. Not bad. Looks pretty massive and monstery. Also similar to Bride's. By the way, at this point, the whole monster sticking his arms out in front of himself had become "the way it's done." Never mind it was initially to indicate the monster was blind and feeling his way around the room. Said Monster blindness really only existed, plot wise, in the last few minutes of The Ghost of Frankenstein, but the straight-armed thing ended up sticking around.

That being said, the movie itself was fairly entertaining. It wasn't A movie material, story-wise, but it was solid B movie fare. Boris Karloff did a really nice job playing vengeful-ex-convict-scientist Niemann, and J. Carrol Naish did an amazing job playing hopeful-then-vengeful-hunchbacked-ex-convict-scientist's-assistant. Really amazing--the movie's worth watching for that alone.

So far our new monster is stacking up pretty well to days gone by. But how'd he do in the giant-ness department? Let's take a look.

The Oversize Or Not Shot:


Stay back, copper, or the doc here gets it!

I searched and searched for a decent production still with HofF's monster next to an average fella. The monster had even less screen time here than he did in Wolf Man, and most of it was spent on a slab. Finally just went with a screen shot of the monster and the mad doc (or the mad doc's stunt double, at least). And what it tells us is that...

...the monster did okay in the giant-ness department. At least, compared to the last film. But it was entirely through actor's merits, I'm afraid. While this movie and those that followed didn't lift a filmatic finger to make the monster look bigger than life, Mr. Strange did what he could to take care of that himself. The fellow was six and a half feet tall in his stocking feet, after all. Give him the same five inches we've given to all the other actors in makeup, and he's standing about 6' 10". Not too far from the seven foot minimum-for-respectability my mind has decided on for the monster.

So filmmakers lose points for not trying to give the monster even a little more height than Strange brought to the role, but Strange himself get points for, well, being a big guy and using that to the monster's advantage. Okay, I guess filmmakers get some credit, for choosing Strange in the first place. I am an equitable man.

On to the House of Dracula.



House of Dracula (1945)


The Mug Shot:


Don't come in! I'm nekkid! (Get it? NECK-id?)

Holy cow that monster's neck looks sooo looong right now! But rest assured he's pretty much identical to the monster in the previous film. The two were only released a year apart, and with the same actor and makeup artist (still Jack Pierce after all this time) for both monsters, they were bound to be twinners.

I'm pretty sure this movie gave the monster the very, very least amount of screen time of any of the Universals. His screen time had been declining ever since he started sharing his films with other beasties, starting with the Wolf Man. But he was barely in this film at all. And most of the time he did have on screen was spent lying around unconscious. Lame.

The Full-Length Cadaver Shot:


I am lurking about in the House of Franken--er, DRACULA!

Like I said, pretty much identical monsters in these last two films. I'm just going off faith and the photo's caption to know that this Cadaver Shot isn't actually from the previous movie. Still, he looks good though, huh?

The Oversize Or Not Shot:


It's an ORGY of VIOLENCE!

More of the same, here, bigness-wise. Nobody at the film's creative level is doing anything to make this monster larger than average, but Strange's real life height comes to the rescue again. 6' 2" Talbot and 6' 10" monster menacing each other. Wait, I guess Talbot has been cured (again) of his Wolf Man-ism by this point in the movie, so he can't really be very menacing to the monster, even with a gun. Guess it's the monster doing the menacing, then. It's nice to see the monster having a little headroom, in this set of films, regardless of how he came about it.

So, while there were a few unintentionally funny bits (for modern viewers, anyway) in some of these Universal films over the years, they were always played as straight up horror films, at least to this point. That (sadly, in my mind) changed with the next--and final--entry for the series.



  Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)


The Mug Shot:


Sleepy... I am getting SLEEPY... I mean, YOU are getting... oh, damn it.

This movie was designed from the ground up to be a horror-comedy. Now, I'm not a fan of horror-comedies in general, but this one is regarded pretty favorably. And, having seen it myself, it IS reasonably funny at times, even with my not being naturally attracted to such things. I enjoyed House of Frankenstein's straight up B movie horror-ness more than I liked what was well done attempt at A-List horror-comedy, here. But that's just me.

So. Let's take a look at Abbott and Costello's monster.

The big news here is that Jack Pierce, who had done makeup for every film we've looked at in the series so far, was gone for this one. He was replaced by Bud Westmore, a talented and well known makeup guy, known for his work on films like Creature From the Black Lagoon and This Island Earth. He didn't use Pierce's artistic build-it-up-from-scratch approach, favoring the newfangled (read as cheaper and quicker) rubber appliance approach. It led to a simpler look for the monster, overall, but he threw in his own changes to mark his territory as well.

Such as, you ask?

Let's see: that forehead scar has changed quite a bit from what it had more or less been, over the last few movies. And the neck bolts are a lot higher than they were. And, while it's not as apparent from the photos I have here (but having just re-watched the movie), I'd swear that his flat top forehead is considerably higher than in previous films.

The monster's eyelids look like they might be heavier, too. And I think his hair, at the sides of his head, had always run more or less vertically. But here, it looks like it's been brushed straight back. Also, the monster's always had maybe two staples visible at the top of his forehead, now he's got several. And I think the black of each of his lips is thicker, top to bottom, than previously.

Whew! That's a lot of little changes, all at once. But even so, the monster still looks like himself. Hmm. This mug shot reminds me a little of the Frankenstein mug shot alternate:


They both have that sense of... dim-witted pathos, for lack of a better phrase. A similar feel amid a lot of little, and not so little, physical differences.

Full length?

The Full-Length Cadaver Shot:


The monster picks up a few extra bucks working as a mime on the Universal back lot.

Again, no surprises, and isn't it nice to see our monster with his arms and hands somewhere other than straight out in front of him? Wow. Those boots are the fake-est, most movie-prop-iest boots I have ever seen on the monster. I bet they were also the most comfortable to wear, though. And that outfit is CLEAN. No stomping around in forests and swamps for this guy. At least, not on picture day.

Okay. One last size comparison....

The Oversize Or Not Shot:


We're so SCARY! And FUNNY!

Looks like a scene from a Scooby Doo cartoon. Which pretty much fits the movie's vibe, I guess.

I don't know for sure, but I'm thinking that the monster's boots, as well as his new Westmore foam rubber head appliance, are taller than they were in the last two movies. If so, our monster might just have grown that extra couple of inches he needed to get to his long ago publicized seven feet of height. Looks like it could be the case, from this shot, anyway. Then again, Abbot and Costello were 5' 8" and 5' 5", respectively. So maybe that's all I'm seeing, here.

Welp. That's it. Last film in the series has been monster-compared. All in all, I'd say the monster started off high in Frankenstein and Bride, then slid down over the course of Son and Ghost to his all time low in Wolf Man, followed by a moderate rise in glory with HofF, HofD, and ACmF. Never did reach his first heights, but the monster in those last few movies had his own low rent charm.

The End. Of my Universal Frankenstein's Monster comparison. w00t!



The Head Shot(s):


Look at that: The man just oozes Dracula. There is no monster oozing, though.

But not quite the end. We have these head shots to look at right quick. Amazing that such a handsome fellow as Lugosi was could look so wrong in that makeup.

Glenn Strange: The Comeback Kid. Get it? Cause he helped the monster make a comeback?

Man, I couldn't find any shots of Strange completely out of character, so a cowboy picture had to do. I think he was a little heavier by the time he was doing his monster roles. Anyway.

This! Is! Now! The! End! Really!!!

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