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Wednesday, January 24, 2018

When Karloff Played To Multitudes

Holy Andromeda --- The Invisible Ray (1936) Was Once Brand New!

Some cling to notion that Universal horror during the 30's were B pictures. Here is proof to fallacy of that. B's didn't get Roxy openings. Management there sized up worthiness of product before any booking. Your show had to fill 5,886 seats, continuous through the day. The Invisible Ray was dying gasp of Universal's first chiller cycle. It began a turn, if tentative, toward science-fiction, a genre fresher to films than at newsstands where such pulps and mags proliferated. Trouble was limit of then-fx to show space travel and takeover of Earth by Martians. Lurid print covers were lots better at that. The Invisible Ray would be more a chamber piece, unknown worlds viewed at distance through Boris Karloff's telescope. He develops a death touch through unwise experiments, that the basis for shivers. The Roxy applied science too with ticket policy, admission a quarter until 1:00, then thirty-five cents till six. All of Broadway knew matinees were a toughest sell. A poor daytime could erase gains from the night before. "Roxyettes" and lavish stage performance made ducats seem a bargain, especially for tourists wowed by Roxy-lush as contrast to Bijous back home. New Yorkers who bargain shopped for movies could wait for The Invisible Ray to show up in boroughs or second run a few months later, doubled with another pic, smaller change the top to get in. Advertising worked against that to make first-runs a must, as in I want to see The Invisible Ray now, so I'll pay more. Ads like here are reminder that everything old, eighty plus in this instance, was once new and exciting and welcomed to a biggest temple of dreams.

Many Thanks to Scott MacQueen for steering me to this vintage ad.


Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Years ago I rented a small screening space above a porn theater in Toronto. I rented it because it had a fountain that went on when the house lights went on. I was screening Jacques Tati's MON ONCLE which has a running gag with a fountain. The porn cinema offered 5 movies for $2. I charged $10 for one movie. When people lined up for the porn movies saw people lining up for my program they became curious. "How much?" they asked. "$10," I replied. "How many movies do you get for that?" they asked. I said, "One." They said, "Must be a good movie." They crossed over and came to see MON ONCLE. On the way out they said, "That was really good." No one, however, ever caught the quiet gag with the theater's fountain.

8:07 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

My point is that when the movies were more than just cheap entertainment they caught the attention of the world. When they became cheap entertainment they caught the attention of only those looking for a cheap night out (who are always in the minority). THE INVISIBLE RAY is a pretty good film. The fact that these titles are almost always described as "B" movies shows how little those who describe them that way know their subject. Lazy journalism.

I use price to raise people's expectations. Then I do my best to surpass those expectations.

9:06 AM  
Blogger Dave K said...

INVISIBLE RAY! Always a special favorite of mine, even though I admit objectively it lags behind other Karloff-Lugosi match-ups. Playing off your observation of all movies being new once, a film can be new and exciting to an unfamiliar viewer no matter the vintage. Saw this one on a late show back when I was 12 or 13, and knew nothing of it except it had Boris and Bela. For some reason, it hadn't popped up yet in the monster mags I had seen yet. Specifically I knew nothing about the glow-in-the-dark side effect or Karloff's touch of death, both making a big impression on this monster kid. Still get a kick when I run across it. Oh, and I loved the idea of a brilliant but mad character with a scolding mom. To that I could relate!

12:06 PM  
Blogger kenneth Von Gunden said...

My high school class trip was to NYC and the World's Fair. I believe we stayed in the Edison Hotel. It seems to me that I heard that it had become a little scuzzy by the late '60s/early'70s. Is that true? If so, has it since made a come back?
The Wolf, man.

4:37 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

One of my absolute favourite moments was an afternoon when I decided to watch Bela Lugosi in MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE on the big screen downstairs. Just as the film started two fellows in their teens chanced by. I had never seen them before. They, however, had heard a lot of good things about my place. Neither of them had ever heard of Bela Lugosi (impossible as that may seem to many film buffs).

They asked if they could watch the film. I said, "Sure."

When it was over they left wowed.

That is the type of pure reaction to a work for its own sake that tellingly speaks to the high quality of these timeless gems. It also serves as a neat counter to your concern over the episode of COMIC BOOK MEN that wrote off these films as boring.

They are not.

5:03 PM  
Blogger Donald Benson said...

INVISIBLE RAY is a favorite because (stop me if I've posted this before) because it walks one story through four different genres, always committed to whatever genre it's in at that moment:
-- Dracula-style castle deep in horror country, full of secrets and tensions
-- Super-scientific invention points to Power Beyond Imagining
-- Forbidden romance among very proper gentry on very proper safari (with superstitious natives as nod to earliest Tarzans)
-- Ripper / Rue Morgue flavored killings in elegant Paris
One could produce reasonably honest ads and trailers that positioned the movie in any one of those grooves.

6:58 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

I first saw The Invisible Ray on Seymour Presents, a syndicated horror host show, and as sometimes happens, the second-tier film has something that hits a spot where the first tier one didn't; I found the take of Karloff's experiments turning him dangerous poignant and sad in a way that the exact same thing in The Invisible Man didn't quite achieve.

A million years later I showed it to my kids, about the same age, and they had a similar reaction. Good little movie.

9:05 PM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

Yes to both. I'm pretty sure it was the home of the infamous Plato's Retreat, but is now hip upscale.

1:34 PM  
Blogger phil smoot said...

Bad science aside, The Invisible Ray is extremely fun. I enjoy watching it as much as the other Karloff/Lugosi teamups.

3:01 PM  
Blogger Sean D. said...

KVG - The Edison was renovated a few years back and is back to being an upscale tourist hotel. I wound up on the mailing list for the Edison a while back after my regular NYC convention hotel (The Milford Plaza) was shut down for renovations itself.

10:15 PM  

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