It Takes Two – Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man (1943)

298px-Frankenstein_Meets_the_Wolf_Man_movie_posterOkay, let’s go ahead and get a couple of things straight right off the bat. First of all, despite the fact that Frankie gets top billing, this is much more a Wolf Man movie than one revolving around the pieced together icon. Secondly, yes, I know that technically the titular star should be referred to as Frankenstein‘s monster, not simply by his creator’s name, but that’s what Universal decided to go with, so..

Picking up pretty directly from both of its predecessors – The Ghost of Frankenstein in Frankie’s case, and the original The Wolf Man in Larry Talbot’s, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man therefore holds a notable place in the Universal monster canon, as it at once becomes the fifth Frankenstein movie, the second Wolf Man movie, and the first of the monster mash-ups to come.

So having said that, where do we find our titular antagonists? Well, since the movie begins (in what may be one of the most atmospheric openings of any of monster film, and certainly any of the Universals) with Talbot’s story, we’ll pick up there first. Having seemingly finally found eternal peace at the hands of his cane-wielding father at the end of The Wolf Man, Larry Talbot’s body lies in repose in the family crypt, his body surrounded by wolfbane. Two graverobbers, in search of any  valuables that might have been buried with him, break into the tomb, remove the  wolfsbane, and his body is then suffused with the light of the full moon entering the crypt. Talbot, revived and at the same time transformed into his hairy alter ego attacks and kills the duo, then escapes the tomb to prowl the land again.

fmwmIt’s funny: In a lot of ways, Lon Chaney Jr.‘s interpretation off the Wolf Man is certainly the whiniest of the classic monsters, but perhaps this is also what makes him the most human. Or at least the most tragic. Of all of the so-called “monsters”, it is Larry Talbot who must live not only with the realization that he is both a monster and a killer, but the only one to, presumably, have found a sense of peace and relief in his “death” only to have had that ripped away from him. It seems then perhaps no wonder that in this film and in all of Chaney’s subsequent portrayals of the character, he is constantly seeking a way to finally achieve a more permanent return to that peace.

Annex - Chaney Jr., Lon (Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man)_03Meanwhile, what of Frankenstein’s monster? Well, it appears that rather than diyng in the fire that encompassed the Frankenstein chateau at the end of Ghost, he fell through a hole into the frozen catacombs below and became encased and preserved in ice. Found by the werewolf while he is on one of his rampages, (Talbot having come to seek out Frankenstein’s descendents to see if the late doctor’s notebooks, which hold the secrets of life might also give him a clue how to permanently end his own) the weakened monster is eventually brought back to the surface, and is not only revived, but strengthened.

Of course, this happens to occur just on the night of a full moon, leading to the confrontation we have all been waiting for. The Wolf Man versus Frankenstein. The savage fury of the beast versus the unstoppable, undying giant. Who will come out on top? And what will happen afterwards? Will the inhabitants of the countryside still have to fear the night as the survivor rampages on?

Hey, you don’t really think I’m gonna give you the answers, do you?

fmwmart1So, how does this movie stack up in the overall Universal monster canon? In my own opinion I suppose I’d have to peg it as my third favorite, just behind Bride of Frankenstein and the original Wolf Man, and just ahead of either The Mummy or The Invisible Man. Yeah, I know, I may sound  bit heretical when it comes to ranking them like that, since there are obviously the notable absences of the original Frankenstein and Dracula, and obviously those are the films that started the entire cycle and without which the later ones wouldn’t exist, but I’m talking favorites, not importance, and lets be honest, both of those are much more flawed movies than the ones that followed.

And honestly, I’m leaving Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein off this particular list, because honestly, it’s inclusion just skews the whole shebang all to hell.

Unfortunately, this was also really the movie that also can be blamed for the downfall in quality for the rest of the classic monster cycle, because from this point on, the obvious feeling at Universal became one of quantity instead of quality. You can just see someone sitting behind a desk and saying “Hey, if the kids loved two monsters, next time let’s just throw more of them into the mix”, and pretty soon we were getting the “monster rally” films like House of Frankenstein which, while fun, really don’t live up to their predecessors.

Still, despite what was to come, at least we do still have the classics, such as this one, and that’s something that all Universal monster fans can be grateful for.

This post is my’ entry in the Chaney Blogathon hosted by Movies Silently and The Last Drive In. Be sure to check out all the great posts on the work of Lon Chaney and Lon Chaney Jr.

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Saturday Double Feature: Blue Is The Warmest Color (2013) and…

Saturday on the blog means Saturday Double Feature, right? Remember, the basic idea here is to take a movie that is out in theaters now, and pair it up with another movie from the 1980s or before. Sometimes the connection will be obvious, and sometimes it’ll be a little less so, but that’s part of the fun.

I’m going perhaps slightly off the radar this week, sincce there are no big movies opening, and looking at one of the smaller films that, unless you happen to live relatively close to an arthouse-type theater you may not get to see, since most major multiplexes won’t carry movies rated NC-17. Blue Is the Warmest Color has had a lot of controversy surrounding its release, most of it because it deals with the sexual awakening of its main character, and the fact that it supposedly contains some fairly extensive and explicit young lesbian love scenes. Unfortunately I’m not going to get to see the film until tonight, so I can’t really comment on how well these scenes are integrated into the film or how they work within the context of its plot, but that doesn’t mean we can’t go ahead and program am interesting double feature, does it? Here’s the trailer:

So, given all of that, what are we going to pair it up with? Well, how about another movie with “blue” in the title that also dealt largely with the sexual awakening of its protagonists and was also considered rather controversial upon its release? That’s right, I’m talking about The Blue Lagoon, which came out in 1980 and stars Brooke Shields and Christopher Atkins

In the case of this movie, a large part of the controversy swirled around the nudity of the then-14-year-old Shields, although most of that was done via body double, and during the parts that weren’t, her long hair was reportedly actually taped to her breasts so that nothing really explicit was shown. Nonetheless, there was enough implied that it certainly raised many hackles at the time.

So, do you have any other ideas for pairing films with Blue Is the Warmest Color? if so, let me know below. And also let me know of any other upcoming movies you’d like to see “double featured”. Consider it, if you will, your chance to challenge me to come up with an interesting pair.

Until next time, Happy Viewing!

Hamlet Isn’t Dead: The Taming Of The Shrew – A Personal Kickstarter Appeal

396104_118740124967462_1551535702_nOk, you guys know that I usually try to keep the personal side of my life out of the blogging side, except for where it relates to movies and TV shows, but I hope you’ll forgive me taking just a moment here to promote something near and dear to my heart. Earlier this year, my son David and some of his friends who are actors in New York teamed up to create a new theater company called Hamlet Isn’t Dead.Their goal is not only to present the complete works of Shakespeare in chronological (as written) order, but also to provide educational resources, etc. on the playwright’s works. They also will be doing other shows along the way to help support their main goal. Along with being one of the co-founders of the company, David is also the Artistic and Educational Director of the troupe.

They’ve already staged their first show, Two Gentlemen of Verona, but it was unfortunately under less than optimal circumstances, and now they are hard at work on preparing their second, The Taming of the Shrew. And this is where you come in. In order to make this project come off, they’ve begun a Kickstarter campaign to raise the necessary funds. As I write this, they so far have raised $3,842 towards their $6,000 goal and have 40 backers. They’re on their way. But at the same time, I know that there are those of you out there in the New York area who understand just what taking on a project like this in The City can be like, and even if you’re not in the area, if you’re a theatre lover, a Shakespeare fan, or just someone who wants to help some deserving guys reach their dreams and goals, well, here’s your chance.

Plus, if I’ve entertained or informed you with some of my posts, or if you just want to support me by helping out my son, well, that would be appreciated, too.

Anyway, all I’m really asking you to do is to go, check out their Kickstarter page which can be found here, watch the video, and contribute if you can – even if it’s only a few dollars, every little bit helps. And even if you can’t (and hey, I understand, times are tight and all of that) then if you can just help by spreading the word -. on Facebook, by tweeting, however you can – then please do that, too. Because the more the word gets around, the more likely it is that the guys will be able to hit their goal.

Oh, and just to give you a taste of what the guys are like, here’s a promotional video that they put together for Two Gents:

Again, please excuse the personal/promotional nature of this post, but if you’d do what you can, I’d really appreciate it.

Old Time Radio Thursdays – #019: A Thanksgiving Sampler (Part One)

The short intro: For those who are unfamiliar with the concept, Old Time Radio is the phrase generally used to refer to the time when radio was (mostly) live, and was full of a variety of different shows, as opposed to simply being a means for record labels to use robots to promote the top records of the day. Old Time Radio Thursdays is my chance to explore some of those old radio shows, their connections (both old and new) to movies, and hopefully to encourage some of the rest of you to take a look at a probably unfamiliar source of entertainment that I truly love. If you want more info on OTR, and some examples of the variety of shows that were made, be sure to check out this introductory post.

Just as we did with Halloween during October, I thought we’d take a look at some Old Time Radio shows that revolve around a Thanksgiving theme for at least part of this month. So here you go folks, a roundup of shows that hopefully you won’t think are turkeys:

Next week? Even more Old Time Radio shows to be thankful for.

Until next time, Happy Listening!

Top 250 Tuesday: #053 – Rear Window (1954)

Continuing to wend my way through the Sight and Sound Top 250 Greatest Movies of All Time. This week, it’s #054 on the list, Alfred Hitchcocks Rear Window. For a longer introduction to this series and a look at the full list, just click here. And if you want a heads-up on what I’ll be watching for next week in case you want to watch along, just head on over to the Facebook page or follow me on Twitter (both of those links are in the sidebar) where I’ll generally be posting that info later in the day.

alfred_hitchcock_rear_window_movie_poster_2aIt’s a question anybody who writes or talks about movies a lot eventually has to face: What’s your favorite movie of all time? Of course, a lot of times, this question is followed by a lot of hemming and hawing and discussion about whether you’re talking about favorite movies or movies that we consider to be “the best”, discussion about mainstream films versus arthouse versus genre, talk about how one’s perspective of movies and favorites can change over time, discussion of “guilty pleasures”, etc. But really, all of those discussions are designed to do simply one thing: to avoid really giving a quick, definitive answer.

Lately, however, I’ve decided to forego all the delay, and simply throw out the answer “Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window.”

Yeah, I’ll be the first to admit that there are certainly “better” movies. If you pushed me, I might even admit that there are better Hitchcock movies. But when it comes down to those intangibles that make a movie one’s “favorite” – things like rewatchability, enjoyability, all those factors that simply make you smile whenever you think about watching an old favorite and anticipate having an excuse to watch it again, well, for me, it all comes down to this film.

title_rear_window_blu-ray_First of all, there’s the setting, where Hitch manages to give us an entire world in one simple set-up. In a simple bit of economic storytelling, rather than giving us the kind of ’round the world chase that we see in, say North By Northwest, by confining the entirety of the film to what James Stewart‘s Jeff Jeffries can see from the window of his apartment, the master manages to give the film a sense of confinement, of near claustrophobia, while at the same time allowing for a variety of characters that keeps that single-set feeling from becoming overwhelming, as it does in something like Rope.

This also leads to the second point, which in a way echoes the first. By confining Jeffries to a wheelchair while he recovers from injuries he received prior to the film’s start, Hitchcock subverts the usual, expected role of Jeffries as the “hero” who is going to swoop in and save the day, or at least is going to be the one to do most of the “legwork” and eventually save Grace Kelly‘s damsel in distress, and turns those tropes on their ears. Instead it is Kelly and the largely under-praised Thelma Ritter who must assay those roles and go beyond the expected stereotypes.

rear_windowThis, of course, brings us to Kelly herself, who in my mind has never looked better on screen than she does here. Not only is she both strong and gorgeous, but then we get to that kiss and… well, let’s just say it never fails to make me a jealous man.

Then there is the central mystery of the film. Actually, as is often the case with Hitchcok’s movies, there are two mysteries, and the first is whether there even is a mystery to start with. This is an idea that Hitchcock plays with many times in his career, going back at least as far as 1938’s The Lady Vanishes. Because we as the audience almost always see the goings-on totally from Jeffries’ perspective, and he never actually witnesses the supposed crime, we are left, until the climax, to wonder just exactly what has happened, and whether the photographer’s obviously active imagination and bent for story telling has simply gotten the best of him and are leading both him, and the audience, on a wild goose chase.

Of course, I could bang on and on about all of the things that make this such a great film, I could talk about the voyeurism of the movie, the use of mostly diegetic sound rather than a full on score, I could pick apart the various aspects of Hitchcock’s camera work that show that at this point in his career he is a true master who has complete control over every aspect of the film and is totally at the top of his game here.

Sure, I could do all of that, but when it comes down to it, all that I really need to tell you about how I feel about this move is what I said at the top. Nowadays, whenever anybody asks me for my favorite film, the one that rally encapsulates the movie-going experience for me, I simply say “Rear Window”. And that’s all that I need to say.

So what are your thoughts on Rear Window? Is it a movie that you’ve seen or would like to? If you have seen it, is it one that would make your own Top 10 list? Or would it not even crack your Top 250? Let me know below.

Saturday Double Feature: About Time (2013) and…

Saturday on the blog means Saturday Double Feature, right? Remember, the basic idea here is to take a movie that is out in theaters now, and pair it up with another movie from the 1980s or before. Sometimes the connection will be obvious, and sometimes it’ll be a little less so, but that’s part of the fun.

So I hear there’s some sort of superhero movie that’s getting a lot of buzz this week, but instead of that one (which I’m sure we’ll get to eventually) I thought I’d instead see about pairing something up with the other big Hollywood film opening this week, the time-travel rom-com About Time:

Again, this is one of those movies that provides for a fairly obvious pairing, but Groundhog Day actually didn’t come out until 1993 so it falls outside of our 1980’s or before parameters. So instead, let’s go all the way back to 1980, which saw Christopher Reeve portray a very different time traveler in the justifiably classic Somewhere in Time

Hey, guys, let’s be honest – which of us wouldn’t find a way to go back in time if we knew Jane Seymour was waiting there for us?

Any other ideas for pairing films with About Time? if so, let me know below. And also let me know of any other upcoming movies you’d like to see “double featured”. Consider it, if you will, your chance to challenge me to come up with an interesting pair.

Until next time, Happy Viewing!

Old Time Radio Thursdays – #018: My Favorite Husband (1948-1951)

The short intro: For those who are unfamiliar with the concept, Old Time Radio is the phrase generally used to refer to the time when radio was (mostly) live, and was full of a variety of different shows, as opposed to simply being a means for record labels to use robots to promote the top records of the day. Old Time Radio Thursdays is my chance to explore some of those old radio shows, their connections (both old and new) to movies, and hopefully to encourage some of the rest of you to take a look at a probably unfamiliar source of entertainment that I truly love. If you want more info on OTR, and some examples of the variety of shows that were made, be sure to check out this introductory post.

DenninglucycolorSo today we come to the question “Who loves Lucy?” Of course, we all know the answer is “I Love Lucy“, but just who is that titular “I”? Well, for an answer to that, we actually have to travel back to the show’s origins, which, perhaps surprisingly to most (though obviously, considering that this post comes under the heading of “OTR Thursday”, not to you, faithful and insightful reader), can be found in the Golden Age of Radio.

In 1948, CBS radio decided they wanted to start a comedy radio show based on the Isabel Scott Rorick novels Mr. and Mrs. Cugat, the Record of a Happy Marriage and Outside Eden. The show, titled My Favorite Husband, initially featured Richard Denning as upper-class banker George Cugat and Lucille Ball as his wife Liz and dealt with their life in high society. After twenty or so episodes of this, however, it was decided that some changes needed to be made.

First of all, the name of the couple was changed from Cougat to Cooper. The reason for this was very simple: it was felt that the name Cougat conjured up too many images of then-popular bandleader Xavier Cougat. However, along with the name change came a change in the couple’s situation, as the couple were from that point on portrayed as more middle-class, rather than the upper-crust family they had been.

myfavhusbandInterestingly, the couple’s best friends were George’s boss, Mr. Rudolph Atterbury, and his wife Iris. Rudolph was portrayed by Gale Gordon, who would eventually go on to play Lucy’s boss on television, and Iris was played by Bea Benaderet, who would eventually give voice to another wife’s best friend, Wilma Flintstone’s neighbor Betty Rubble.

Anyway, CBS eventually decided they wanted to do a television version of the show, with Lucy in the lead. She, however, reportedly refused to do it unless her real-life husband Dezi Arnaz was also allowed to play her fictional husband. Thus, the show was reworked into what finally became I Love Lucy. And thus was television history made.

Oh, and as for that television version of My Favorite Husband? Well, it did hit the airwaves in 1953, and starred Joan Caulfield and Barry Nelson as Liz and George Cooper. This show, however, went back to the radio shows earlier days. with the Coopers returning to their upper-class status. It lasted for around two and a half seasons.

So there you go. The somewhat odd and circuitous roots of another all-time favorite television show with its beginnings in radio. Now let’s listen to some episodes, shall we?

Until next time, Happy Listening!