A happy 112th birthday to Elsa Sullivan Lanchester, born on this date, October 28th, way back on 1902 (she passed away 12.26.86). Elsa grew up in a colorful family, studied ballet as a young girl, and found her way into cabaret and live theatre following WWI. She ended up in Hollywood, and though With many a fine character role to her credit on both stage and screen, for our purposes here, she’ll always be revered for her portrayal of both author Mary Shelley and the Bride Of Frankenstein in Universal’s classic film from 1935. (Just ain’t no one who could hiss and shriek like Elsa could.) All that said, do make a point of noticing her singing and frolicking in Disney’s Mary Poppins along with her fellow housekeepers!
Actress Lenore Aubert (1918 – 1993) born Eleanore Maria Leisner in Slovenia, known for her exotic beauty, but usually relegated to playing Nazi spies, European femmes fatales and WWII refugees due to her heavy accent, played ‘Dr. Sandra Mornay’ in Universal’s 1948 Abbott And Costello Meet Frankenstein. One of her final film roles was the following year in, of all things, yet another Abbott & Costello film – Abbott And Costello Meet The Killer, Boris Karloff (now there’s a title).
Jane Randolph (1915 – 2009) who played insurance investigator ‘Joan Raymond’ in Universal’s 1948 Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein, seen here in shots from Val Lewton’s classic dark fantasy, Cat People (1942). Randolph also played in the sequel, The Curse Of The Cat People (1944). Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein was the last of the Universal monster films, providing an unexpected comedic epilogue to the 1931 – 1945 series of horror classics. And it was one of the very last projects for Ms. Randolph, who left Hollywood the following year and retired In Europe.
Like a replay of last weekend, I had to be out of town at the end of the week, and thought I wouldn’t be home in time for Saturday evening’s showing of 1948’s Abbott And Costello Meet Frankenstein on Svengoolie (9:00 PM CST on Me-TV). Up at 4:30 AM yesterday, and up at 6:00 AM today, and with over 750 miles of driving in there. But I’m home now, comfortably ensconced in the dungeon already, with an hour and half to go before Sven’s fun opening credits will start.
Sure, some purists will decry the film’s very existence. It’s not really a part of the Universal horror canon, they’ll say. Studio management had changed once again, and Hell — it’s not even Jack Pierce handling the monsters’ makeup, but Bud Westmore work (and using partial masks…sacrilege!). And it’s a comedy, not a horror film at all.
The classic Universal monsters hadn’t appeared in a film since 1945’s House Of Dracula, in which Count Dracula and the Frankenstein monster were destroyed (yet again) and Larry Talbot/The Wolfman was supposedly cured once and for all. And I agree, that House Of Dracula technically is the true ‘end’ of 14 years of classic Universal horrors. But Abbott And Costello Meet Frankenstein may be as good a coda to that memorable group of classic (and not-so-classic) films as any could be. Really now…where would the studio have gone with these characters’ stories after the ‘monster rally’ films that wound down the series? How could they possibly have been revived yet again in anything other than some silly B-picture with a laughably implausible plot? No, I say this delightful romp – absolutely perfect Halloween season viewing, and great to watch with kids, if you got ‘em – makes perfect sense.
The comedy duo weren’t really interested in the project at first (though a $50K advance on their six figure salary and a promise to hire their frequent collaborator Charles Barton as director got them on board), though reportedly they got into the spirit of things once production was underway. Studio execs once again balked at hiring Bela Lugosi to play Count Dracula, though they did try to get Boris Karloff to play the Frankenstein monster. All in all, our beloved monsters were treated respectfully, albeit, in context of a slapstick comedy.
Horror fans know the story line well: Bud & Lou play railway baggage agents who intercept mysterious crates headed to a house of horrors exhibit, which actually contain the real Count Dracula and the Frankenstein monster. Meanwhile, Lon Chaney Jr.’s Larry Talbot (who’s back to getting hairy when the moon’s full, Onslow Steven’s mad scientist treatments from House Of Dracula proving less efficacious than we thought) has been trailing them from Europe. As is a lovely insurance investigator played by Jane Randolph. And lets toss in another mad scientist, Lenore Aubert, who’s in cahoots with the vampire Count in a scheme to revive the undying monster (using Lou Costello’s brain) and has set up a laboratory in a castle situated nearby on a remote island. Oh yeah – and this is all happening in Southern Florida, where many an island castle can be found. Silly stuff? You bet. But lets be honest now…is it any sillier than the plots of Frankenstein Meets The Wolfman, The House Of Frankenstein or House Of Dracula, which were all pretty far-fetched? (Not that Ghost Of Frankenstein deserves any praise for plausibility either).
Hard to believe that this film is only the second time that Bela Lugosi played Dracula, the first being in…well – Dracula. He was Count Mora in MGM’s Mark Of The Vampire in 1935. Armand Tesla in Columbia’s Return of The Vampire in 1943 (a fun fave of mine, BTW). He cashed a check for the use of his barely-seen likeness in Universal’s Dracula’s Daughter. But that’s it. That’s how iconic his performance in the 1931 original was – for so many, Bela Lugosi simply is Count Dracula, no matter how different his look and portrayal may be from the titular character in Stoker’s novel. Even so, Universal once again considered actor Ian Keith for the part, and only gave in when Lugosi’s agent more or less barged in to the producer’s office and basically shamed the studio into giving Lugosi the role.
Not being sure I’d be home to see it tonight, I packed my DVD of Abbott And Costello Meet Frankenstein with me, just in case. No way I was gonna bypass what’s practically a Halloween season tradition with me. But I’ll enjoy it all the more on Svengoolie. A silly horror romp like this film is doubly fun on a horror hosted TV show.
And a very Happy Halloween to you all too. I’ll be savoring mine tonight, six days ahead of schedule.
A lot of vintage paperbacks can be knocked off in an evening – or actually, just a part of an evening – and I suppose that was pretty much the intent back when they were published and bought off revolving racks in downtown office building lobbies en route to the bus, taxi stand or train station. Lillian Dowling’s Sexy Psycho surely had some other title when the manuscript was turned in. I’m certain that the author had something less salacious in mind when writing this novel, which tells the tale of troubled Gloria, who finds herself in a sanitarium and relating the tale of her sordid past that includes discovering orgasms on a playground pole, wondering about her possible bisexuality after a naked-in-the-shower frolic with her best teenage pal, and a three-way with the man who’s in-and-out of her life and her bedroom, and her old school gal-pal. But all of it’s related in incredibly un-sexy and tepid prose that seems to be probing the possible sexual roots of a young woman’s 50’s-60’s era’s mixed-up misunderstanding of mental health…and what it meant then and now when a lady says “no”. That the publisher decided straight sleaze was the way to go instead can be guessed at with the choice of good ol’ Robert Bonfils for the cover art.