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Thursday, July 06, 2006

The Ghost Of Frankenstein

As a monster-besotted boy in the mid-sixties, I was often heard whistling incidental Hans J. Salter themes in school corridors, having seen The Ghost Of Frankenstein on at least five occasions by the summer of 1966. Stirring music accompanying the villager’s assault upon Frankenstein’s castle was way more satisfying to me than the Beatles or Stones could ever hope to be, and there were magazines such as Famous Monsters and Castle Of Frankenstein (presumably written and edited by adults) to provide reassurance of kindred spirits being out there somewhere, even if few of them appeared to be living in my neighborhood. Exploring the web has since revealed to me astounding numbers whose childhood appeared to mirror my own. Seems we were all reading the same magazines, watching the same movies, and collecting the same Aurora models --- like some silent, invincible army unknowingly linked by a network of shared totems around which we all paid homage. What if we’d gotten together then? Imagine the power at our boyish disposal (yes, it was a boy’s world --- girls seldom applied)! Would we have started with a reign of terror, like the Invisible Man? Could we have made the world grovel at our feet? Society may well have been spared a terrible adolescent onslaught. Today, our numbers equal, if not surpass, the previous generation’s own cultural phenomenon --- the "B" western fan. Once they had conventions, published fanzines, wrote books. Now it’s our turn. The monster boomer era may well be at its summit, but it can’t last. What then, will take its place? When will we see the organized uprising of fandom’s next generation and what, or who, will be the object of their veneration?

Things get right down to business in Ghost Of Frankenstein. No sooner does the director’s credit fade out than we’re off to destroy the castle. There’s a get-it-done efficiency about these 40’s Universals I can’t help but admire, even with gothic atmosphere of the originals tossed aside in favor of speed and increased mayhem. Characters often fixate on unexplained disappearances at Universal. In Son Of Frankenstein, it was Benson, the butler. Someone’s always annoying Wolf about his whereabouts. Rathbone would have played a much better game of darts if only Elsa and Inspector Krough hadn’t belabored it so. Ghost Of Frankenstein has everyone dashing around in search of Dr. Kettering. He’s like an unseen Rebecca in the Hitchcock film (although as I recall, he is glimpsed). I have on occasion dreamed of Dr. Kettering --- one of those where they make me get up and go looking for him in my pajamas as though I were Ralph Bellamy. Speaking of Ralph, and other Ghost Of Frankenstein cast members --- has anyone noticed how they always stand with arms limp at their sides? I mean, just hanging there. No crossing, no hands in pockets nor playing with watch fobs or snuffboxes. Just limp and motionless as they stand there and discuss Dr. Kettering. I’ve read that an actor’s greatest problem is what to do with his/her hands, but this doesn’t seem natural to me. I tried it with Ann earlier today and she asked what was wrong with my arms --- but everyone in Ghost Of Frankenstein seems to be grooving with it. Arms hung down all around. Maybe actors are trained that way, or maybe director Erle C. Kenton insisted --- Ralph, you move that damn arm again and I swear I’ll come over there and cut it off!

I think Lionel Atwill is a paragon among actors. That’s why I’ve included a portrait of him here. His is the best performance in Ghost Of Frankenstein, and considering the fact he was personally up against it at the time makes his work all the more impressive. Seems Lionel served as host for some Bacchanalian Hollywood orgies in which aspiring starlets gamboled on tiger rugs before "roaring fires" as home exhibitor Atwill manned the 16mm projector for a series of hard-core stag reels. Blackmailers got him by the throat eventually, and the whole thing wound up in the tabs. Months of public humiliation and one perjury conviction later, Lionel found himself persona-non-grata in polite filmland society. The only lot in town where he could get work was Universal. I’d like to think his low-key (but nevertheless intense) presence in Ghost Of Frankenstein reflects greater turmoil going on outside studio gates, and that Atwill’s playing out bitterness he must surely have felt over raw deals he was getting from the DA’s office. By the way, the little girl on Chaney’s knee is Janet Ann Gallow, as if you didn’t know. Janet was a mystery woman and object of lifelong quests for monster fans for many years, but now she’s back among us. So is Donnie Dunagan, the curly-haired son-of-the Son Of Frankenstein (well, hel-lo!). Donnie’s resurfacing was better than finding Amelia Earhart and Judge Crater eating together at MacDonald’s. He’s become a kind of Holy Man and object of fan pilgrimages ever since. The fact that he’s a charismatic, got-it-together individual with a vivid recollection of his 1939 work in Son is just that much icing on a monster kid’s cake.

Weren’t we talking about Ghost Of Frankenstein? Then what’s this color pin-up of Evelyn Ankers about? Nothing except for the fact I’ve never seen it before, and am hopeful readers haven’t either. Evelyn was a major crush for boys walking around school humming Hans J. Salter themes (I was more a Sidney Fox/Valerie Hobson/Irene Ware man myself, but each to his own taste). This dripping-with-atmosphere black-and-white Universal ad has no doubt set off recognition signals among veteran Castle Of Frankenstein readers, as it appeared on the inside back cover of issue number six. I think it was seeing this image in 1965 that made me truly fall in love with vintage pressbook art --- and Universal’s was always among the best of it. With so many ongoing sequels in those days, they had to keep reassuring patrons that this was a new picture --- notice those three mentions in the Ghost Of Frankenstein ad --- and I’ll bet 1942 kids still asked, Hey Mister Exhibitor, are you sure this is a new picture? As always, I'm awed by marquee displays of the quality shown here. Judging by obvious effort that went into designing them, I would have been content to pay my dime’s (or whatever) admission just for the privilege of looking at this showman’s handiwork.


Blogger Director Robert said...

Yeah, Evelyn Ankers was only moderately dishy--great hair though. Magnificent tresses for the moors. Magnificent tresses DESPITE the moors. And how did they keep those trim waists in the days long before Atkins and Windsor Pilates and treadmills? Have you ever discussed with the starlets their diet and exercise regime? Did they really play ping pong in high heels to stay in shape? I want to believe they did.

10:05 AM  

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