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Monday, December 07, 2015

More Scripts From The Crypt

Weaver/Rhodes Celebrate Lugosi and Bride Of The Monster (1955)

Another wow from Tom Weaver's Scripts From The Crypt series, this one written/compiled by him and Lugosi historian Gary Don Rhodes. Not only is there exhaustive coverage for Bride Of The Monster, but countdown through Bela's final couple of years as Bride was made, released, and run over period up to the horror legend's 8/56 death. I see Bride Of The Monster not at all in "bad movie" terms, and would tip readers to ideal format for next time watching: Crop your image to 1.85, Bride better in that intended ratio (Image's DVD is full-frame, otherwise excellent from Wade Williams source). Also recommended is fast-forward through dreary talk among those other than Lugosi, save bits like Loretta King exchange with Dolores Fuller, which back story should be read prior to pic view. Great thing about Weaver-Crypts (more are forthcoming) is easy access to subject films, disc and/or streaming, and chance to watch, read, watch again. Never has Bride Of The Monster been so rewarding than in company of this just-out book.

Bride Lands in Cleveland with Big G
I've known guys who lived for Lugosi. Not a few have plied trade as writers. So why?, you ask. Answers vary from aesthetic to personal. Many including myself admire Bela for not giving up, never lying down. He'd bear decline and insult with nobility. Where life dealt adverse dose, BL soldiered on. I go on record as follows: The man is great in Bride Of The Monster --- no, let's cap the G --- Great. He's not camp or decrepit or pathetic. Never was, to my thinking. Lugosi takes full command of a mad lab not dissimilar to ones he'd known at Monogram, but what false walls really evoke are stages trod over hundreds of tank-town spook shows BL did through the 40's and into the 50's. Bride Of The Monster is, in fact, as accurate a record as we could want of Lugosi's shock act to live rows of sugar-high youth. His man-to-atomic superman device may not have worked in Bride, but experiments like it fired up many a crowded house where Bela bedeviled bound-up women (part of his troupe?, local volunteers?, Lillian?), sidekick ape or hunchback, maybe a Frankenstein's monster (Glenn Strange himself on occasion). Lugosi would have had that act down to (mad) science by late 1954 when Bride Of The Monster went before cameras.

I'd submit that Bride Of The Monster was the only Lugosi film written by fans who grew up watching him, Ed Wood and Alex Gordon being young men in 1954 (Gordon thirty-two, Wood lately turned thirty as Bride rolled). They were children when Lugosi made his Dracula splash. Such circumstance would not be unlike me growing up to pen a chiller for Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee. Shot-full-of-holes as Lugosi's career was, it had to be all-time high doing dialogue spoke ultimately by an actor you'd spent all of life idolizing. Can we blame Alex or Ed for latter-day wrangling over credit? (each said he was primary author) Whoever led gave Bela terrific stuff --- better than that, it was respectful of him, keyed to the actor's strength. This is the late-term Lugosi we want to see, in control and not having to cope with Berle/Skelton silliness by writers stuck deep in bowels of formula gagging (honed for most part since vaudeville). TV comics wouldn't go gentle with Lugosi, humor smacking more of disparagement than parody, but then Milton Berle was born 1908, Red Skelton 1913 (though he'd admit privately it was 1906). What did they know, or care, of Bela's art?

Scenes Like Are Cue to Fast-Forward
I don't buy notion that Lugosi never caught on properly to the English language. No one said that about Paul Lukas, a BL countryman whose accent seems to me more pronounced. Lugosi was a master at emphasis on precisely the right words, at all times through Bride Of The Monster. I think he understood English, at least dramatic use of it, better than lots who'd been born to the language. And I don't sense a learning curve either, for he's as practiced with our words in 1929's The Thirteenth Chair as he would be in Bride Of The Monster. All of Dracula lines are immortal because of force Lugosi lends them. He'll pick a word or two from a sentence to emphasize, and make a blockbuster of every speech. No actor was better at showmanlike recital of dialogue. I'd love to have been present for one of Bela's spook shows or doing Dracula, or maybe Arsenic and Old Lace, on stage. Lugosi was larger than life right to the finish. Consider this: he was past seventy for Bride Of The Monster, and still the scare element in a lead part. Bride was for Lugosi what those 60's AIP's would be for Karloff, old men who'd lost none of menace they had sold from beginnings. If only Bela could have hung on for the horror boom that was coming with sale of Universal oldies to TV and gothic revival in theatres.

But hold on --- Lugosi was already all over television. Most of his chillers had been for independents or poverty row, and so were sold early to tube-cast. BL and his fans had ready access to oldies on L.A. stations (recall the scene where he watches White Zombie with Johnny Depp's Ed Wood). Vintage Universals were still playing theatres too, under Realart auspice, all over town ... throughout the country ... right up to TV release after Lugosi died. Bride Of The Monster meanwhile came and went, hobbled thanks to small-change distribution. What if a major had handled it, say United Artists as with The Black Sleep of the following year? If Bride had done half of Sleep's eventual business, it would have been a major hit in terms of low-budget horror. But that wasn't to be. Lugosi's last starring part, final speaking role, ran second billed behind mainstream Hollywood stuff, or other cheapies. By 1958, Bride joined what was by now virtually all of Lugosi backlog being televised. But it wasn't altogether done in theatres. I would have startling rendezvous with Bride Of The Monster at our Liberty Theatre in 1972, as late show bonus after a reissued 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. And the 35mm Bride print was brand new. Our newspaper ad read "Bela Lagosi in Bride Of The Monster." I thought about sending correction to the editor, but who'd care?

There's another Tom Weaver "Script From The Crypt" I want to mention. This one is for The Indestructible Man, a 1956 nerve-jangler with Lon Chaney as a heist thug raised from death thanks to ill-advised science practiced by Robert Shayne and later McHale's Navier Joe Flynn. I liked The Indestructible Man from seeing it as charm on Channel 8 bracelet that was weekly Sat morning play of Allied Artists sci-fi. They'd pad the movies with a "teaser" scene before credits and s-l-o-w crawls explaining action (or lack) we're about to see. Unlike too much of his 50's work, Lon is Main Man in addition to being Indestructible, this among precious few star parts I recall from him post-war. Weaver tells the whole background, his patented "Fun Facts" a delight carried forward from previous Script/Crypts and ones to come. There is so much humor to Weaver's work, but never at the expense of our horror heroes. He's respectful, but never stuffy, nor smug like too much of spoofing crowd that paint the genre with camp because they understand too little about it. I only wish Chaney had post-resurrection dialogue, but he does have a lulu of a swear-revenge speech from behind bars that gets The Indestructible Man off to compelling start. There's also virtual tour of L.A.'s Bunker Hill of later deconstruction, plus Lon on the loose in noir cradle that was/still is The Bradbury Building. The Indestructible Man and Bride Of The Monster are available on DVD and streaming. Get both, and the books, for sure-thing watch, and read, parlay. Like previous Bride Of The Gorilla from Weaver, they sure gave me hours of fun.


Blogger Barry Rivadue said...

Yeah, I'm being picky but the photo of "Lugosi" attacking Tor is Lugosi's double. Eons ago I read an article about who it was, but can't remember the name.

Agree that Lugosi was a class act no matter what he had to deal with!

8:02 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Weaver and Rhodes refer to that double as "The Vornoff Monster" in their book. Vornoff was Lugosi's "Bride Of The Monster" character name.

8:12 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

I bought a deluxe Ed Wood box set years ago but have looked at none of the films. Now you have persuaded me to take a look at BRIDE OF THE MONSTER. You've also sold me on Tom Weaver's books. Glad to see someone besides myself state that Bela Lugosi did not have a problem with his English. His producers, yes, but who has not had trouble with those?

*His English, no. Nor did his problems with the drugs he became addicted to (like so very many others) after having been treated with them during World War One for wounds affect his portrayals. Those producers who cast Lugosi last in star billing would be surprised to find that many who got top billing then are forgotten now while, as 4E Ackerman said, "Lugosi lives eternal." Even his "bad" (only bad because they are poverty row) films are great to watch mainly because he is not bad in them.

There is a Native American saying, "Ride proud on a poor horse." Many is the poor horse on which Lugosi rode proud.

Now to watch this one.

As a side note, years ago I woke up with a desire to look at my 16mm print of a film I have seen hundreds of times through screening it publicly. I thought it weird but dug out the projector, set it up and then watched in awe as I saw for the first time how beautifully photographed that film is. It demands to be seen, as do all these pictures, sitting down looking up at a BIG screen not looking down at a small screen. Three cheers for video projection.

The cleaned up soundtrack on the new DRACULA Blu-ray does not hurt either. Now for BRIDE OF THE MONSTER.

8:51 AM  
Blogger phil smoot said...

Let me add that I agree with all of your comments about Bela Lugosi — All those "never learned the language" stories annoy me as most of us longed to sit and listen to Lugosi speak. Thanks for a great article on Bela and the Scripts from the Crypt book.

12:02 PM  
Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

I always enjoy BRIDE OF THE MONSTER and it plays like one of the better Monograms (even Monogram stalwart Billy Benedict is in the cast). Lugosi is terrific, playing his scenes with panache. One scene has Lugosi angrily reading the riot act to someone, then suddenly and strangely offering a warm, avuncular chuckle. I can imagine director Wood watching the action and signaling to Lugosi that he wants a triumphant, diabolical laugh after the speech. Lugosi, instructed to laugh, chuckles gently.

You're right about seeing it in widescreen, John -- it plays very well that way.

12:27 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

A wonderful performance by any standard --- Bela's spook show persona forever preserved on film.

12:46 PM  
Blogger Dave K said...

Great comments. There are many films far better than either BRIDE OF THE MONSTER or THE INDESTRUCTIBLE MAN (now that's a pretty big category!) and many, if not most, of those I feel no need to revisit. Yet I've come back to BRIDE and INDESTRUCTIBLE over and over through the years. Could watch either again right now! Sad confession of a Social Security age monster kid!

Think an offhand comment by Karloff in a 1960's interview gave much mileage to the Bela-just-never-mastered-the-language theory. Interesting to see Lugosi in something early like THE BLACK CAMEL. Keye Luke famously defended Warner Oland's halting Charlie Chan accent as an actor's astute interpretation of a smart man who understands and speaks English but still thinks in his native tongue, which sounds like how some latter-day writers would describe Bela. Yet in CAMEL we have Oland chugging away oh so deliberately in his faux accent while Lugosi rattles off his lines confidently in a thick but completely understandable real accent! Sounds pretty fluent to me!

3:20 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

The audience as such does not give a hoot. Bela was and remains one of the biggest stars the movies have produced. Long after today's luminaries are dust Lugosi's star will still be shining.

I am grateful to this post for an awful lot but for nothing so much as taking a long last title I have had gathering dust on my shelf.

And was I glad I did.

Forget completely about the things Bela had no control over. We can talk about the fake octopus (the less seen of the better) etc., but the only reason anyone is giving this picture a look is Lugosi.

Frankly, I was taken back by how great he was. Having seen WHITE ZOMBIE more time than anyone but people on this site I recognized his hypnotic hand gestures at once as they echo that film. They do so resoundingly and with power.

The cameraman knew what he was doing. Throughout the picture the camera clearly is in love with Bela as it should have been. He was, after all, the star.

As for who wrote it, my money is on Alex Gordon but, frankly, as the man said, "I don't give a damn."

I wish they had had a couple of follow up films in the pipe as that could easily have re-launched Bela's career.

Again, thank you turning me on to both this film and all the others this site has turned me on to.

Re: Warner Oland. There's nothing halting about his Fu Manchu films and nothing halting about his Oriental villain in THE SHANGHAI EXPRESS. Perhaps he used the halting English as a subterfuge to lull his opponents into not taking him seriously. I do wish Universal or TCM or someone would release his Fu Manchu films in good copies.

1:51 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I designed the this book cover to cover. Its my third time working with Gary Rhodes. Thanks for the great review!

-Michael Kronenberg

4:56 PM  

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