Film Review – THE MASK OF FU MANCHU (1932)

Pre Code Confidential #4: Boris Karloff in THE MASK OF FU MANCHU ...THE MASK OF FU MANCHU (USA, 1932) ***½
      Distributor: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM); Production Company: Cosmopolitan Productions / Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) ; Release Date: 5 November 1932 (USA), 24 November 1932 (UK); Filming Dates: 6 August 1932 – 21 October 1932; Running Time: 68m; Colour: B&W; Sound Mix: Mono (Western Electric Sound System); Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Spherical; Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1; BBFC Cert: PG.
      Director: Charles Brabin; Writer: Irene Kuhn, Edgar Allan Woolf, John Willard (based on the novel by Sax Rohmer); Director of Photography: Tony Gaudio; Music Composer: William Axt (uncredited); Film Editor: Ben Lewis; Art Director: Cedric Gibbons; Costumes: Adrian; Make-up: Cecil Holland (uncredited); Sound: Douglas Shearer; Special Effects: Warren Newcombe (uncredited).
      Cast: Boris Karloff (Dr. Fu Manchu), Lewis Stone (Nayland Smith), Karen Morley (Sheila Barton), Charles Starrett (Terrence Granville), Myrna Loy (Fah Lo See), Jean Hersholt (Von Berg), Lawrence Grant (Sir Lionel Barton), David Torrence (McLeod), Everett Brown (Slave (uncredited)), Steve Clemente (Knife Thrower (uncredited)), Willie Fung (Ship’s Steward (uncredited)), Ferdinand Gottschalk (British Museum Official (uncredited)), Allen Jung (Coolie (uncredited)), Tetsu Komai (Swordsman (uncredited)), James B. Leong (Guest (uncredited)), Oswald Marshall (Undetermined Role (uncredited)), Chris-Pin Martin (Potentate (uncredited)), Lal Chand Mehra (Indian Prince (uncredited)), Edward Peil Sr. (Coolie Spy (uncredited)), Clinton Rosemond (Slave (uncredited)), C. Montague Shaw (Curator Dr. Fairgyle – British Museum Official (uncredited)), E. Alyn Warren (Goy Lo Sung – Fu Manchu Messenger (uncredited)), Olive Young (Cantina singer (uncredited)).
      Synopsis: Englishmen race to find the tomb of Ghengis Khan. They have to get there fast, as the evil genius Dr. Fu Manchu is also searching, and if he gets the mysteriously powerful relics, he and his diabolical daughter will enslave the world!
      Comment: Karloff is excellent as Sax Rohmer’s evil Dr Fu Manchu in this pre-Hays code adventure controversial for its racial overtones. Stone leads an expedition to Africa in search of the tomb of Genghis Khan to claim the sword and mask from within. Karloff seeks the treasures for his own benefit. Sumptuously designed and with torture scenes that would have pushed the censors a couple of years later, it is a fascinating adaptation of Rohmer’s simplistic story if rather leaden due to the static camerawork. Loy is deliciously treacherous as Karloff’s daughter who seduces Starrett – the pair being an obvious influence on FLASH GORDON’s Emperor Ming and Princess Aura. Charles Vidor was fired after a few days of shooting and replaced as director by Brabin. Rohmer’s original novel was serialized in Colliers between 7 May and 23 July 1932.

Film Review – THE MUMMY (1932)

Image result for the mummy 1932THE MUMMY (USA, 1932) ****
     Distributor: Universal Pictures; Production Company: Universal Pictures; Release Date: 22 December 1932 (USA); Filming Dates: mid September – mid October 1932; Running Time: 73m; Colour: B&W; Sound Mix: Mono (Western Electric Noiseless Recording Sound System); Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Spherical; Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1; BBFC Cert: PG – mild horror and violence.
     Director: Karl Freund; Writer: John L. Balderston (from a story by Nina Wilcox Putnam & Richard Schayer); Executive Producer: Carl Laemmle; Producer: Carl Laemmle Jr.; Associate Producer: Stanley Bergerman (uncredited); Director of Photography: Charles J. Stumar; Music Composer: James Dietrich (uncredited); Film Editor: Milton Carruth; Art Director: Willy Pogany (uncredited); Costumes: Vera West (uncredited); Make-up: Jack P. Pierce (uncredited); Sound: Joe Lapis (uncredited); Special Effects: John P. Fulton.
     Cast: Boris Karloff (Imhotep), Zita Johann (Helen Grosvenor), David Manners (Frank Whemple), Arthur Byron (Sir Joseph Whemple), Edward Van Sloan (Doctor Muller), Bramwell Fletcher (Ralph Norton), Noble Johnson (The Nubian), Kathryn Byron (Frau Muller), Leonard Mudie (Professor Pearson), James Crane (The Pharaoh), Henry Victor (The Saxon Warrior (scenes Deleted)), Arnold Gray (Knight (scenes deleted)). Uncredited: Florence Britton (Nurse), Jacob Dance (Party Guest), Jack Deery (Party Guest), Bill Elliott (Party Guest), Leyland Hodgson (Gentleman #2 at Cairo Party), Eddie Kane (Inspector’s Assistant), Tony Marlow (Police Inspector), C. Montague Shaw (Gentleman #1 at Cairo Party), Pat Somerset (Helen’s Dancing Partner), Arthur Tovey (Nubian).
      Synopsis: A resurrected Egyptian mummy stalks a beautiful woman he believes to be the reincarnation of his lover and bride.
     Comment: Another of Universal’s horror classics. This one relies on atmosphere and mood rather than thrills and shocks. Karloff gives a mesmerising performance as the re-incarnated Imhotep. Jack Pierce’s make-up is first-class and is well lit by cameraman  Stumar – notably in scenes were Karloff takes over the minds of those who would get in his way. Johann makes for an effective descendant who comes under Karloff’s spell, using her eyes and body to alluring effect. Van Sloan follows up his appearances in DRACULA (1931) and FRANKENSTEIN (1931) by again playing the expert doctor, here figuring out the mystery behind Karloff’s plans. There is only a limited musical score resulting in lapses in tension and the story feels a little one-paced as a result. A host of sequels, remakes and copies followed, but at the time this was a unique and unsettling experience that sat just behind its illustrious predecessors.
Notes: The main theme music to the opening credits is the exact same movement from “Swan Lake” used to open DRACULA one year earlier. Unlike other Universal Monsters films, THE MUMMY had no official sequels, but rather was reimagined in THE MUMMY’S HAND (1940) and its sequels, THE MUMMY’S TOMB (1942), THE MUMMY’S GHOST (1944), THE MUMMY’S CURSE (1944), and the studios’ comedy-horror crossover movie ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET THE MUMMY (1955). These films focus on the titular character named Kharis (Klaris in the Abbott and Costello film). Remade in 1959 and 1999.

Film Review – FRANKENSTEIN (1931)

Image result for FRANKENSTEIN 1931FRANKENSTEIN (USA, 1931) ****½
Distributor: Universal Pictures (USA), General Film Distributors (GFD) (UK); Production Company: Universal Pictures ; Release Date: 21 November 1931 (USA), 25 January 1932 (UK); Filming Dates: 24 August 1931 – 3 October 1931; Running Time: 70m; Colour: B&W; Sound Mix: Mono (Western Electric Sound System); Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Spherical; Aspect Ratio: 1.20:1; BBFC Cert: PG – mild horror and violence.
Director: James Whale; Writer: Garrett Fort, Francis Edward Faragoh (Based on the novel “Frankenstein or, the Modern Prometheus” by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and the composition of John L. Balderston from the play “Frankenstein” by Peggy Webling); Executive Producer: Carl Laemmle; Producer: Carl Laemmle Jr.; Associate Producer: E. M. Asher; Director of Photography: Arthur Edeson; Music Composer: Bernhard Kaun (uncredited); Film Editor: Maurice Pivar, Clarence Kolster; Art Director: Charles D. Hall; Costumes: ; Make-up: Jack P. Pierce; Sound: C. Roy Hunter; Special Effects: John P. Fulton (uncredited).
Cast: Colin Clive (Henry Frankenstein), Mae Clarke (Elizabeth), John Boles (Victor Moritz), Boris Karloff (The Monster), Edward Van Sloan (Doctor Waldman), Frederick Kerr (Baron Frankenstein), Dwight Frye (Fritz), Lionel Belmore (The Burgomaster), Marilyn Harris (Little Maria). Uncredited: Ted Billings (Villager), Mae Bruce (Screaming Maid), Jack Curtis (Villager), Arletta Duncan (Bridesmaid), William Dyer (Gravedigger), Francis Ford (Hans), Mary Gordon (Mourner), Soledad Jiménez (Mourner), Carmencita Johnson (Little Girl), Seessel Anne Johnson (Little Girl), Margaret Mann (Mourner), Michael Mark (Ludwig), Robert Milasch (Villager), Pauline Moore (Bridesmaid), Inez Palange (Villager), Paul Panzer (Mourner at Gravesite), Cecilia Parker (Maid), Rose Plumer (Villager), Cecil Reynolds (Waldman’s Secretary), Ellinor Vanderveer (Medical Student).
Synopsis: Horror classic in which an obsessed scientist assembles a living being from parts of exhumed corpses.
Comment: Following the success of Dracula, released in February 1931, Universal quickly put this adaptation of Mary Shelley’s literary horror classic into production. The result was an even stronger film that brought a greater cinematic presence to the stage play adaptation. This is notable in the production design, with its angular sets echoing those seen in the silent expressionist films from Germany. The set design and atmosphere are heightened by Edeson’s use of contrast in his cinematography. Like Dracula, this production did not feature a musical score and potentially loses some tension as a result. This is more than made up for by Karloff’s performance as the Monster, in which he manages to which evoke sympathy from the audience despite his horrific appearance. Frye, who produced the best performance in Dracula, returns here as the hunchback assistant to Colin Clive’s Frankenstein. Clive’s own performance may be melodramatic but convincingly conveys the character’s descent into madness. Van Sloan (another carry-over from Dracula) is effective as Clive’s mentor. Mae Clarke plays the love interest and provides the screams. The result is a monster classic that set the bar for all Universal horror productions, including a host of sequels commencing with BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935), to follow.
Notes: Van Sloan (Dr Waldman) also makes an uncredited appearance as himself in the film’s prologue, in order to warn audiences of what follows. In 1991, the Library of Congress selected Frankenstein for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

Film Review – HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944)

Related imageHouse of Frankenstein (1944; USA; B&W; 71m) **½  d. Erle C. Kenton; w. Edward T. Lowe Jr.; ph. George Robinson; m. Hans J. Salter.  Cast: Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney Jr., J. Carrol Naish, John Carradine, Anne Gwynne, Peter Coe, Lionel Atwill, George Zucco, Elena Verdugo, Sig Ruman. An evil scientist and a hunchback escape from prison and encounter Dracula, the Wolf Man and Frankenstein’s Monster. Suffers from having to cater for too many monsters and therefore each story feels rushed and is ultimately disappointing. Karloff and Naish, as the mad scientist and his hunchback assistant, do their best with the material, but this is only mediocre entertainment. Based on a story by Curt Siodmak. Followed by HOUSE OF DRACULA (1945). [PG]