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Thursday, October 27, 2016

Racine's 1938 Battle For Halloween Receipts

Halloween Harvest 2016: Frankenstein/Dracula vs. The Lone Ranger

I admit fixation on the Frankenstein/Dracula reissue of 1938. It's a long chapter in Showmen, Sell It Hot!, as search goes on for ads touting these oldies but forevermore goodies, a happy revival instance where timing was right and the combination ideal. As said before, Frankenstein without Dracula was nothing special, just as Dracula minus Frankenstein rang few bells, but team them, and crash went doors (literally in one case, where onrush took an entrance off hinges). This was success that spawned a Frankenstein sequel (Son Of ...) and set off 2nd cycling of monsters at Universal. Racine, Wisconsin got play-off of the pair for Halloween 1938, and clearly from these ads, made a most of it. The Rialto (1,258 seats) led the chiller field that holiday, but rivals wouldn't lie down. The Uptown (1,292 seats) fought back with its own twin terrors, while the Mainstreet (1,170) had ammunition in form of a hottest new serial since Flash Gordon brandished a ray-gun. Who'd fly the winner flag at week's end?

There had been a draught for horror films from 1936 and Universal give-up after Dracula's Daughter and hostility toward the genre expressed by Brits and not a few US sectors. Vigorous-enforced censorship made them hardly worth effort to do. Like any cycle, novelty had to maintain, horror's being spent, or seemed so. Still, there was memory of how Dracula, then Frankenstein, had chilled. These two stood for scariest of the lot, everything else distant toward shade, except for King Kong, of course, which thrilled, but not in gothic sense. Kong got an encore in 1938 and smacked balls from profit plate; surely some figured Dracula and Frankenstein for same potential before a legendary L.A. booking that spun the duo into B.O. orbit. By October and Racine/Rialto date, there was national coverage of phenom that was these two. Seven years past initial release brought a new crop of kids to Drac and Frank embrace, strong message of "Do You Dare?" enlisting one/all to do what parents and older friends had not: endure the two in a single sit and find out what you were made of.

You could excuse others standing down for All Hallow week that seemed the Rialto's alone, but silver at the door was fought over fiercely, and there was still choice of where to spend leisure, even if Frankenstein and Dracula were the loudest noises in town. Wicket battles in those day were often won or lost with serials, and here was where the Mainstreet stood its ground. They'd open Republic's The Lone Ranger, a long Chapter One good as a feature so far as advertising saw it. "Heigh-Yo Kiddies" invited same to look at what they'd been hearing on radio, the masked hero not stuff of comparative antiquity like fiends at the Rialto. Being first and crucial chapter of twelve lent urgency to being there, for what boy didn't seek morphine drip of weekly cliffhang? We've forgotten ritual that was serials for at least a first half of that century, each bled into a next and never a weekend observance missed. A theatre with the best serial became a season's clubhouse, youth from all over come to see each other as much as what played onscreen.

A "Wild Bill Hickock Serial" was the Rialto's entrant to Saturday contest, no match for The Lone Ranger, and well in progress besides, but youngsters got six cartoons, a nickel bag of Cracker Jacks for free, with Frankenstein/Dracula to wash them down, so how to beat that? Hope Rialto and Mainstreet management were pals outside struggle for tickets sold, as this could have got ugly otherwise. Not to be forgot, though they probably were, was the Uptown, which went head-to-head against Rialto with "Original Monster" Boris Karloff as The Man Who Lived Twice and Bela Lugosi in The Death Kiss, two to inevitably disappoint beside brand names that were Frankenstein and Dracula. Nothing wrong with the Karloff, among his 30's best outside of Universal, but the Lugosi was mere mystery w/ nothing other than his name to suggest horror. It was easy for Frankenstein and Dracula to rise above fray of these and go on defining screen chills, which they did for cumulative twenty-five years before Hammer seized advantage of color and greater gore to finally ease the senior class out of theatres. Dominance on television, however, would give the originals another two (at least) decades to define movie horror in purest terms.


Blogger Dave K said...

Oh, I love this stuff! Will have to dig in to the library microfiche and see if this show made it to the local movie houses (something I meant to do when I read your book!) Also enjoy all the material on cliffhanger promotion. Pretty aggressive push on these... did this kind of advertising attention to serials wither in the forties? I recently ran across an exhibitor comment in a 1943 trade journal kvetching BATMAN was the only chapter play he had booked in five years with any actual drawing power.

Buried in your your clips is the mention of PENROD'S DOUBLE TROUBLE. My dad hung around with the Mauch Twins as tots growing up in Peoria, Illinois. Pop, who was two or three years older, had sort of kept up with their movie career once they moved west (they had been radio performers back in the hometown.) I believe he ran into one of them (don't know which) years later, in the service. Whenever one of their movies popped up on TV in the sixties, Pop would pause and watch a few minutes, then move on. Never watched the whole thing.

10:06 AM  
Blogger Tbone Mankini said...

So the timeline is double up re-issue,sequels galore,Abbot and Costello, Realart re-issues,Shock Theatre package, late night hosts, Uncle Forry and FAMOUS MONSTERS, love to daytime slots like Horror Week on the 4.30 Movie (a couple of times a year in Detroit)...then us Monsterkids forever more....

12:12 PM  
Blogger radiotelefonia said...

Still, you have never found something like these examples in English.

Not even this...

2:42 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Craig Reardon pays eloquent tribute to the ongoing appeal of "Frankenstein" and "Dracula":

Hi John,

Loved your Halloween-themed posting about Frank and Drac. Even RAY BRADBURY once remarked about this pairing, as he was by that time an adopted L.A. resident. He confirmed the sensation it caused. As the old saying goes, "You had to be there." Reissuing like-themed movies became a kind of syndrome or staple, and I don't know if this one independent exhibitor's impulse, pairing the first two Universal 'soundies' was the 'ur' version of you happen to know? By the '60s, it happened again, in essence, when WB (I believe it was, by that time---and I'm confused, because both were originally released by Universal-International in the U.S., or so I thought...?) reissued "Horror of Dracula" and "Curse of Frankenstein" in a double-feature.

The best part of your article, for me? The reproduction of the letter sent by a female patron in Racine, WI. How I love her polite and more importantly sincere manner of speech. How touching this is to me. It reminds me so much of how my own mother was. Both these ladies, if you will, came from a time when it was quite common to speak straight from the heart. We came up during a time when sarcasm and a certain veil of reserve were becoming more and more necessary in public discourse, so as to defend yourself from being called out...almost literally called into account for your opinions and your feelings. A dodge against being challenged, a foxhole to protect one from ridicule. And, I think giving up a piece of one's soul, in the process. These unfortunate diversions precipitated to some extent the death of earnest and frank admission of what we believe in, and a death of innocence. I love this young lady's letter and her forthright description of what she experienced. It's lovely. Not to mention the fact that it reveals how these movies, which are today lacking in some of the dread and real fear they once were able to engender, all in good fun of course--how they struck movie patrons in the decade of their first issuance. Wonderful stuff, and a great time machine experience for an aging movie fan in 2016. Of course, "Dracula", with its wonderful atmosphere due to the art direction and the presence of the one and only Bela Lugosi, and "Frankenstein", with the equally magnetic Karloff and the likewise stunning art direction and effects, continue to hold us aging fans in thrall and can still enlist the respect and attention of younger viewers. We infer rather than experience directly the sense of fear and delicious dread these movies instilled for first generation patrons, and it's part of their overall allure and magic.


7:27 PM  
Blogger Barry Rivadue said...

Bravo, Craig. I'm grateful I experienced, when but five years old in 1961, FRANKENSTEIN on TV. And along with DRACULA, also THE WOLF MAN around the same time. The "sense of fear and delicious dread" of the original generation I'm sure I somewhat felt in a way that can't be recaptured, even by myself, in 2016. And it was an indescribably effective way these moody, atmospheric movies did their job. I can only try and imagine how it affected an audience way back when in the dark. And at age five, I was still at a stage when what I saw could very well have been "real life" to me and not make believe. I was just glad all this horror stuff was not happening on my block! Only within the safety of the glowing TV set. :)

4:23 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Like most of my generation I first saw DRACULA, FRANKENSTEIN and the rest on late night television broken up by commercials. Sometimes my parents would turn off the TV set so they could sleep (how little I understood that then. I much I understand it now).

When I began programming 16mm films I finally saw these pictures on a large screen and without commercials but it was not until a few years back when I woke up with a desire to see DRACULA which I thought strange as I had seen it a "million times" that I finally saw how beautifully filmed that picture is.

These films were designed to be seen sitting down looking up. I put my 16mm copy on, ran it and my jaw dropped.

Showmanship seems to be a nearly lost art. Part of it (a big part) is creating ad campaigns that generate an excitement. The bigger part is making sure that when those folks who plopped down their cash take their seats their expectations are surpassed. The genre we call "Horror" did not exist when DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN were filmed. It is a mistake to sell them as horror films. They were made as "A" films meant to stand alone by themselves. A "B" was the bottom half of a double bill.

In my campaigns I always sell these films as great films. Yes, neither DRACULA nor FRANKENSTEIN delivers in the terms today's Horror films deliver. It is a mistake to present them as such as that audience will always find them missing the mark.

Those films do deliver however and that in a big way when they are offered as what they are which is legitimate motion pictures designed for an adult audience in the best sense of the word "adult" ("adult" pictures generally being films no adult wants to see).

Showmanship, real showmanship, demands imagination. Right now we are living in a poverty of imagination. That is one of the reason people are not going to the movies.

4:19 AM  
Blogger rnigma said...

Regarding the "Lone Ranger" serial, why is it that the only surviving prints seem to be Spanish-subtitled?

4:13 AM  

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