The Lady and The Monster Turns Up
It just occurs to me that there are probably no executives left at Paramount who saw B westerns or serials in a theatre, which means none of them are likely to know or care less about Republic Pictures, whose library Paramount owns and, but for recent dealing with Epix/Netflix, steadfastly ignores. Now by dent of having made inventory available for online streaming, home viewers are in happy receipt of seemingly everything Republic did over its twenty plus years life (excepting serials ... are these an awkward format for Netflix?). I used to catch Rocky Lane and Sunset Carson on Encore westerns back when that feed hosted B's --- now I've got whole oeuvres at a remote's command, along with Republic exploration into genres we hadn't associated them with, today's The Lady and The Monster being odd example. This one came smack in middle of world warring, boom years for horror as for every other moving image. Based on quality Republic managed with LATM, I'd have picked them Most Likely Monster-Makers To Succeed had the company plunged deeper into fanta-subjects instead of comparative one-offing of this and a handful of chillers licking gravy off wartime plates.
There were reasons Republic spent lavish (for them) on The Lady and The Monster. First was having passed that corner into prosperity enabled by theatres on 24-hour schedule and a public using movies as sedative to grim headlines and loved ones gone from home. Second was the up-from-Poverty Row's attempt to reboot as a major concern among dream merchants, Republic asserting itself now as a player worthy of entrance to better houses and in company of a star aborning, one Vera Hruba Ralston, late of ice skating fame and apple of studio chief Herbert Yates' gimlet eye (that's her with Von below). The Lady and The Monster was tabbed primarily to introduce Vera and incidentally as sop for shock fans. Would Yates otherwise pour such resource into what normally amounted to a throwaway B? The property was better than what horrors generally got --- a novel by Curt Siodmak anyone could see as basis for thinking suspense, and if that isn't quite what Republic achieved with The Lady and The Monster, well, at least it was a game try and still improvement on workaday goose-bumping from concerns like Universal and Columbia.
By far a best reason for watching today (or then) is down-on-luck Erich von Stroheim, slumming nobly (and he knew it) in service of cockeyed experimentation with a rifled brain. Stroheim in a mad lab is heaven itself for we who love him. That he's photographed here by masterful John Alton of later noir fame is just more icing. I'd like knowing why EvS didn't become one of the great horror stars after his directorial career went belly-up. Was ink of studio blacklisting too fresh? There had been a Crime Of Dr. Crespi in 1935 to point ways, but latter was risibly cheap and not enough by itself to put Stroheim in a Karloff/Lugosi race. Would EvS have shunned horror placement? Not for enough cash he wouldn't, anymore than other thesps who liked eating. If dignity were at issue, could Stroheim bear touring in Karloff's Arsenic and Old Lace part? Arthur Lenig's definitive bio points out that he did and gruelingly so ... that gig amounted to survival money for not only EvS, but also-traveling Bela Lugosi in the same role. Stroheim is so good in The Lady and The Monster as to make us regret he didn't go whole hog on chilla-menacing. Posterity would sure have been richer for it.
And now for selling concerns: The Lady and The Monster got better bookings than customary for Republic thanks to extra effort and good will accruing for bottom-half hours efficiently filled. Chicago's Woods Theatre hosted its "World Premiere" in March 1944 (ad here), not with searchlights perhaps, but to a sparkling (said Variety) $15,000 for a first week, followed by a smooth $12K in the second. The Woods was the Windy City's 1,200 seat host to most first-run horrors and barometer as to how they'd gross nationwide. This venue and New York's Rialto served as bellwethers for The Lady and The Monster, the Rialto being the Woods' Broadway equivalent for measuring a monster's appeal. A $13,000 first (April) week at the Rialto was declared immense for this little seater (594), to which was added $16,200 over remaining two weeks of the engagement. All this seems chump change in modern parlance of multi-million $ opening weekends, but for 1944, such was meaningful return on modest outlay and reason why so many chillers came off assemblies. Worth mentioning is competitor Weird Woman from Universal, it having played the Rialto earlier in April, but staying just a week ... Not doing well at $8,000 and won't hold being Variety's verdict. Maybe The Lady and The Monster had juice Weird Woman lacked. Comparison today might tally about the same, at least in entertainment terms, difference being Weird Woman's around and accessible, while The Lady and The Monster, at least till Netflix's retrieval, was a tough nut to locate outside of grey-market DVD. It's well worth going in search for.