“Shooting the Mafia” – Supplemental

KIM LONGINOTTO – Director

(From press notes provided by Cohen Media Group, the film’s distributor)

Kim Longinotto is a multi-award-winning documentary filmmaker, well known for
making films about female outsiders and rebels. Among her 20 films, she has followed a teenager struggling to become a wrestling star in
Gaea Girls (2000), looked at runaway girls in Iran in Runaway (2001), challenged the tradition of female genital mutilation in Kenya in The Day I Will Never Forget (2002), introduced Cameroon female judges in Sisters in Law (2005) and brave South African child advocates in Rough Aunties (2008), shown women standing up to rapists in India in Pink Saris (2010), and told the story of an Indian Muslim woman who smuggled poetry out to the world while locked up by her family in Salma (2013). Longinotto’s most recent film, Dreamcatcher (2015), looks at the life and work of an ex-prostitute who rescues Chicago girls from the street.

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DIRECTOR’S STATEMENT

(From the press notes)

Letizia Battaglia is a gifted photographer and an irreverent woman. In SHOOTING THE MAFIA, we explore the story of this remarkable Sicilian, who has defied male authority, her society’s culture and the all-pervasive Mafia, her entire life.

Letizia not only challenged and infuriated the Mafia by bravely photographing their crimes, but was also outspoken at a time and in a place where this was unheard of.

We were determined to make a film that could do her justice. Working with our wonderful editor, Ollie Huddleston, we have woven together archive, classic Italian films, Letizia’s home movies, on-the-spot TV news, and our own filmed footage to take the audience on a journey through the life of this passionate woman.

Letizia’s photographs are astonishingly graphic but they also, strangely, have a kind of heart- stopping beauty. You can sense the resolve of the person behind the lens, a kind of clear-eyed reckoning of unpunished crimes. She is standing up to the bullies and showing great courage to reveal their cowardice.

She is my hero for doing that. – Kim Longinotto

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Luciano Liggio was a big shot in the Sicilian Mafia. Guess which one he is in the photo below, taken by Letizia Battaglia (Hint: He’s the guy in a shiny suit and dark glasses, sucking on a cigar. Not too obvious.)

Letizia talks about Liggio in the following clip.

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LETIZIA BATTAGLIA

(From the press notes)

Letizia Battaglia was born in Palermo, Sicily in 1935. Married at 16, she took up journalism after her divorce in 1971, while raising three daughters. She picked up a camera when she found that she could better sell her articles if they were accompanied by images and slowly discovered a passion for photography. In 1974, after a period in Milan during which she met her longtime partner, photojournalist Franco Zecchin, she returned to Palermo to work for the left-wing L’Ora newspaper until it folded in 1990.

Battaglia (the name means “battle” in Italian) took close to 600,000 images as she covered the territory for the paper. Over the years she documented the ferocious internal war of the Mafia, and its assault on civil society. Battaglia sometimes found herself at the scene of four or five different murders in a single day. Battaglia produced many of the iconic images that have come to represent Sicily and the Mafia throughout the world. She photographed the dead so often that she was like a roving morgue. “Suddenly,” she once said, “I had an archive of blood.” Her photographs were described by the New York Times as “by turns gruesome, haunting, tragic and, often, achingly poetic.”

Battaglia also became involved in women’s and environmental issues and the rights of prisoners. For several years she stopped taking pictures and officially entered the world of politics. From 1985 to 1997 she held a seat on the Palermo city council for the Green Party. She was instrumental in saving and reviving the historic center of Palermo. She founded a publishing house, Edizioni della Battaglia, and still publishes a monthly journal for women, Mezzocielo.

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In my previous post on this film, I neglected to mention the excellent music score by Ray Harman, as well as the inspired use of two versions of the classic song, “Volare.”

Also, in addition to opening on Friday, November 22 at the Quad Cinema in New York, Shooting the Mafia is also opening the same day in Santa Monica, CA.

On Friday, November 29 it opens in San Francisco at the Landmark Opera Plaza Cinema; in Washington, DC at the West End Cinema;  and in Phoenix, AZ at the Harkins Shea 14.

Big thanks to Susan Norget at Susan Norget Film Promotions for this updated release information, and especially for the screener link that enabled me to see Shooting the Mafia again, which provided an abundance of detail I would not have otherwise have had, and hopefully made this a better piece.

That’s all for now. See you at the movies. — Ted Hicks

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Posted in Art, Books, Documentaries, Feature films, Film, Film posters, History, Home Video, photography, Streaming, TV & Cable | 1 Comment

“Shooting the Mafia” – An Archive of Blood

“I was saved by photography. I was a young, intelligent, desperate woman. My encounter with photography allowed me to express my thoughts, my rebellion, my social and political commitment.” — Letizia Battaglia

This astonishing documentary, directed by Kim Longinotto, is focused on the remarkable career and life of Letizia Battaglia, an Italian photographer and photojournalist best known for her coverage of the Mafia in her native Palermo, Sicily during the blood-soaked 1970s and 1980s. Letizia narrates the film throughout in voice-over and on-camera interviews, telling her story openly and directly. She doesn’t pull any punches. Archival footage and clips from classic Italian movies are used to support and comment on what she tells us. This film is more of a portrait of Letizia Battaglia than it is about the Sicilian Mafia, though that’s the most sensational aspect of her story.

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes in this piece are hers from the film.

Letizia was born in 1935 in Palermo. She describes a key event from her childhood. As a young girl, when she left the house on her own for the first time, a man exposed himself to her and masturbated. She ran home in shock. She wasn’t allowed out any more. “They stopped me from living, from growing. I was stunted. My father forced me to stay at home. He took away my freedom. All my dreams were shattered like a china cup on the floor. Why do such small things make us suffer all our lives. That awful man in the shadows. To have a father who controlled your whole life. I couldn’t go on the balcony in case a man saw me. All fathers at that time were obsessed. They were scared of other men who’d take their daughter away.”

Ironically enough, she met her future husband on the street. He was rich and eight years older than Letizia, who was sixteen. They married and had three daughters, but she was not happy. Like her father, her husband was controlling. She wanted to go to school, but he wouldn’t let her. She had greater ambitions. “I didn’t want to be just a mother.” They divorced in 1971.

Letizia began taking photographs at age 40. She got a job with L’Ora, a left-wing newspaper in Palermo. She was the first female photographer in Italy to work for a daily paper. “Little by little, I realized I preferred taking photos to writing. I didn’t want to be a journalist. With photography, I could tell my own story. I could feel it rather than understand it… I loved the way I could express myself with a camera rather than writing. I slowly fell in love with it… I loved being a photographer, showing what I’d seen, what I felt inside.”

“At first, I didn’t think about the Mafia. I thought I’d photograph children, women, streets…anything but the Mafia. Three days after I started, I witnessed my first murder. This was a story that lasted 19 years at the newspaper in Palermo.”

“At times, there were 5 murders a day. Once there were 7, all in the same place. We’d never known a slaughter like it. It was civil war in Palermo. In one year, they killed about 1,000 people. Every day I thought they might shoot me. I got used to it, accepted it. They smashed my cameras. I was spat at. I got death threats over the phone. I got anonymous letters. It was good to be a bit crazy. It gave me courage. I am brave, I see that now.”

When Letizia Battaglia says she is brave, this is a statement of fact, rather than ego.

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“There were times when fear took over. I don’t want to think about pain. My photos of the Mafia, of the dead. I wanted to burn them…I dreamed of burning my negatives, but I have no right. I want to take away the beauty that others see in them. I want to destroy them… I look at my photos, it’s just blood, blood, blood.”

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“Kids dream of being important. Perhaps being a killer is a game, but it’s how they hope to be powerful. The killer is a symbol for them.”

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I made a note when I saw it that the film is like a thriller. It becomes most like one when the Mafia starts killing judges. At first, it was Mafia killing Mafia. Later, they killed men from the establishment. “First, they killed Judge Scaglione. Then it was one after another. It was too much.” Another judge was murdered near her newspaper office. We meet Judge Giovanni Falcone, who brought hundreds of Mafia members to court. A huge Mafia trial in Palermo in 1987 had 474 defendants who observed the proceedings from cages in the back and sides of the courtroom. This footage is something to see.

Letizia refers to  Falcone as a modern hero.“We kept telling him, ‘They’ll kill you.’ He’d say, ‘Don’t worry. If I die, others will take my place.’”

Falcone, his wife, and a number of his bodyguards were killed in a highway bombing on May 23, 1992. Two months after Falcone’s death, his close friend and colleague Judge Paolo Borsellino was killed on July 19.

Paolo Borsellino (left) & Giovanni Falcone (right)

Letizia says of Falcone’s death, “I couldn’t take any photographs. I didn’t want to tell any more stories in blood. I loved Falcone so much. He was one of the really good people. I couldn’t photograph him dead. Now I think, ‘Why not?’” And then, to the off-camera film director: “Why are you making me think about this? I don’t want to. I realize now I’ve never been at peace. It’s always been like this. My life has always been a struggle.”

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Letizia Battaglia comes across as a definite piece of work, a truly individual character, a force of nature. She’s pursued her life with passion and enthusiasm, and a strong sense of justice. Someone says in the film, as we see Letizia being warmly greeted by people on the street, “Letizia is a legend. A flash of red hair, bobbing up and own at rallies. She’d always cause a stir.”

“It’s nice when your work is appreciated, but success tires me out. I prefer love. Recently I’ve met someone… I was 38 when he was born.” She’s referring to Roberto Timperi, a photographer. They’re together now. A previous long-term relationship was with another photographer, Franco Zecchini, who was 22 when he met Letizia in 1974 when she was 40.

Letizia with Franco Zecchin

Letizia with Roberto Timperi

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“I don’t feel guilty. I know my behavior hasn’t pleased my children, my lovers, my friends, but I’m not guilty of anything. I was committed to my work. I did my best. People who disapproved can fuck off.” (Like I said, she doesn’t pull any punches.)

“In my mind, I feel more powerful than ever. Stronger and more powerful. I think it’s beautiful being this old. I don’t miss anything. My mind’s sharp. I’m not afraid of the end. I’m so strong. I’m not afraid of the end.” She gives a small laugh and smiles at the camera, chin resting on her folded hands.

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After describing Shooting the Mafia to my wife Nancy, she said it sounded like a film that would only be made by a woman. I hadn’t thought of it like that, but she’s right. I can’t overstate my enthusiasm for this film. I hope that comes through in this piece. — Ted Hicks

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Suddenly, I had an archive of blood.” — Letizia Battaglia

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Shooting the Mafia opens at the Quad Cinema in New York on Friday, November 22.

Posted in Art, Books, Documentaries, Film, Film posters, History, Non-Fiction, photography, TV & Cable | 2 Comments

The Family Frankenstein – Etc.

Here are a few more Frankenstein-related items to close out this series. I couldn’t resist. The first of these is a brief interview with Boris Karloff from 1963 regarding his role as the Monster in the original Frankenstein (1931). I had intended to include this in “The Family Frankenstein — Supplemental,” but didn’t realize I hadn’t until several hours after posting it yesterday. At that time I added it to the post, but am re-posting it here for anyone who hasn’t seen it. It’s only about three and a half minutes long, but very interesting.

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Son of Frankenstein (1939) was originally planned to be filmed in color. Here is a color test that was shot with Karloff to see how it would look. Watch Karloff stick out his tongue  at the camera near the end. They obviously decided to go with black and white. A good choice.

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Christopher Lee speaking about Boris Karloff in 1991.

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Jack Pierce, who did the makeup for many of the classic Universal monsters, designed the Frankenstein Monster with input from director James Whale. The Monster’s face is one of the most recognizable in the world. Here are shots of Pierce and Karloff in the midst of many lengthy makeup sessions. These remind me of a weird barber shop.

 

 

 

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In 1983, Marvel Comics published an edition of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein with 47 full-page illustrations by Bernie Wrightson. A new edition was released by Dark Horse Comics in 2008. Anyone who has seen Wrightson’s work in comics knows how amazing it can be. Here is an example from Frankenstein. Stand back.

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This is an intelligent overview  — with excellent clips — of the entire Universal Frankenstein series.

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I’ll close with this. It’s very nicely done. HAPPY HALLOWEEN! — Ted Hicks

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Posted in Books, Comics, Documentaries, Feature films, Fiction, Film, Film posters, History, Home Video, Streaming, TV & Cable | 1 Comment

The Family Frankenstein – Supplemental

Frankenstein Fake News

It was initially planned by Universal that Bela Lugosi would take the role of the Monster in the original Frankenstein (1931). Due to the heavy makeup required and the fact that the character does not speak, Lugosi reportedly rejected the role. But not before the following advertisement appeared in the trades announcing his participation. It’s interesting that this depicts a Monster the size of King Kong terrorizing a modern metropolitan city.

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Universal was eager to capitalize on the enormous success of Frankenstein with a sequel. Below is an ad for an early idea. This eventually resulted in Bride of Frankenstein (1935).

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Vintage Newspaper Ads

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Universal Studios  Film Posters

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Hammer Film Posters

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Foreign Film Posters

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Film Posters for Frankensteins on the Edge

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Comic Books

I had a copy of this Classics Illustrated comic when I was a kid, and later some of the Monster of Frankenstein comics beautifully drawn by Mike Ploog. I don’t recall encountering any of the others, though The Frankenstein Monster vs. Winter Olympics is intriguing, if indeed it is real.

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Below are two versions of the same cover for Monster of Frankenstein. The one at left is a little more extreme.

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The less said about this, the better.

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Aurora Plastics Corporation sold plastic model kits mainly of aircraft and automobiles. They also had a licensing deal with Universal Studios to market model kits based on the classic Universal monsters. The first of these, in 1961, was the Frankenstein monster. Here are the assembly instructions.

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Basil Gogos drew nearly 50 covers for Famous Monsters of Filmland in the 1960s. These were often beautiful, and had a painterly quality. Here are some examples of his work. His rendering of Elsa Lanchester as the Bride of Frankenstein is incredible.

 

 

 

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One of the most well-known scenes in Bride of Frankenstein is when the Monster, trying to elude an angry mob, encounters a blind hermit in his cabin. It’s the only time in the entire series when he’s treated warmly and with compassion. Below is that scene in two separate videos, followed by Mel Brooks’ version of it in Young Frankenstein (1974).

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Last month I saw Depraved (2019), a modern-day update of the Frankenstein story set in New York. It was directed, written, edited, and produced (!) by Larry Fessenden. It’s quite good, very well made, and resonates with many aspects of Shelley’s novel and the earlier films. It’d no longer in theaters, as far as I know, but is available for streaming via Amazon Prime.

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I also recently read that a film titled Bride of Frankenstein is in the works for release in 2021. Per IMDb, Javier Bardem is slated to play the Monster. Yesterday when I checked, Bill Condon was listed as director, but today he is not. He would be a good choice. He has a connection to the material via a film he directed in 1998, Gods and Monsters. That film dealt with the later years of James Whale and his infatuation with a hunky handyman, played by Brenden Fraser. We’ll just have to wait and see, but this is more evidence that the Frankenstein monster continues to lurk about and haunt our movie screens.

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Here, in a portrait I saw at the Frankenstein exhibit at the Morgan Library, is Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley herself, the mother of all this.

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Below is a 1963 interview with Boris Karloff regarding the Frankenstein films he was in. He comes across as an intelligent, decent man, and quite articulate concerning the Monster.

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I think we’re at the end of this excursion. I want to close with a portrait I really like by Basil Gogos of Karloff as the Frankenstein Monster. And as Dr. Pretorius says to Henry Frankenstein while making a toast in The Bride of Frankenstein, “To a new world of gods and monsters!” — Ted Hicks

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The Family Frankenstein – A Long and Happy Life

Last year the Morgan Library in New York had an exhibit called “It’s Alive! Frankenstein at 200.” Mary Shelley‘s novel was first published in 1818. Her creation has been with us ever since, and shows no signs of going away, no matter how many times angry villagers storm the castle. Frankenstein has had a long life in films, television, radio, stage, novels, music, comics, toys, games, and even breakfast cereal. And it’s far from over. Almost too much information in this regard can be found in Wikipedia articles titled “Frankenstein in Popular Culture” and “Films Featuring Frankenstein’s Monster.”

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I bought this paperback edition in 1957, but despite Boris Karloff as the “monster” on the cover, it was heavy going, too much so for a seventh grader. I still haven’t read Shelley’s novel, but I’ve seen all the movies.

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The first motion picture adaptation of Frankenstein was in 1910, written and directed by J. Searle Dawley for the Edison Studios. The film was restored by the Library of Congress in 2017. The running time is 12 minutes, 45 seconds. Here it is.

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The Universal Studio Films

James Whale

The first three Frankenstein films with Boris Karloff are the ones etched in my memory. They’re simply great, especially the first two directed by James Whale, and eminently repeatable. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen them, but my initial exposure would have been via Shock Theater, a package of 52 pre-1948 horror films from Universal Studios released for TV syndication in 1957. This was followed by 20 additional titles in 1958 with Son of Shock. (I describe the importance of seeing all these classic horror films at that point in my life in a blog post from 2012, “Famous Monsters and Me.”)

Frankenstein (1931).  James Whale was a British-born director who brought a literate, witty, and clever touch to his films. Boris Karloff had also been born in England. He had already appeared in 80 films by the time he was cast in Frankenstein at age 44. Karloff, certainly, will be forever identified with this film and the Monster. Karloff’s Monster was a tragic, lonely figure. His performance embodied that.

Before the main title and credits begin, Edward Van Sloan, who plays Dr. Waldman in Frankenstein and played Dr. Van Helsing in Dracula earlier in the year, steps from behind a curtain to speak directly to the audience, offering a “warning” about what they are about to see. There’s something arch and playful about the way he does it. The title and credits then begin, with an emphatic music theme by Bernhard Kaun. As with Dracula, there’s no music for the rest of the film, except over the cast list at the end. Not having a music score seems almost radical, considering that most films thereafter were usually overloaded with music. Without music to tell us how to feel about what we’re seeing, the images have to stand entirely on their own. It’s interesting to think about. Per the book Universal Horrors: The Studio’s Classic Films, 1931-1939, “Frankenstein, unlike Dracula, is a film that doesn’t need apologies, and rightfully stands as Universal’s first great all-talking horror movie. Countless imitations have taken a bit of the gleam off its reputation and the picture stubbornly stands in the shadow of its first sequel. To be fair, Bride of Frankenstein was a self-conscious attempt to outdo the original and had the advantage of greater resources. While Bride certainly rates as a better movie, there’s a unique appeal in the original’s simplicity and lack of pretense. And understatement. The original is one of the few films without a score that actually doesn’t need one (a credit to Whale’s alert visual style).”

A controversial moment occurs during the “It’s alive!” scene in Henry (Victor in the novel) Frankenstein’s laboratory. Overcome with excitement that he has succeeded, Henry (played by Colin Clive) cries out, “Now I know what it’s like to be God!” This line was too much for religious sensibilities of the time, and was obscured by thunder in subsequent release. It was restored some years ago.

Another censored scene is when the Monster comes upon a little girl, Maria, tossing flower petals into a lake. He happily joins her and they take turns tossing petals. When he runs out, the Monster throws Maria into the lake as well, where she drowns. For years the scene had stopped before he actually did that. As with Henry’s “blasphemous” outburst at his success in bringing a dead body to life, people felt it was too much. This scene, too, has been restored.

Henry’s hunchbacked assistant, Fritz, is played by Dwight Frye. Frye had made a strong impression as the fly-eating Renfield in Dracula. Fritz is dim-witted and short-fused, constantly rushing about, nervously talking to himself. Fritz was the prototype for mad-scientist assistants in many films to come. One of my favorite moments in the entire film is when Fritz, using a short walking stick, pauses partway up the laboratory tower’s steep stone staircase to pull up his sagging socks. It’s off the wall, a totally real moment that hits you before you know it. I’m assuming the socks bit was Whale’s touch, but I’d like to think that Frye came up with it on the spot. It’s one of those privileged moments that sometimes happens in a film. Fritz’s character is a key to the plot, as he fumbles the job of procuring a “good” brain for Henry from the medical college and gets a “criminal” brain instead. Though it’s not like that’s the only thing that goes wrong in the story.

An interesting bit of trivia is that some of the laboratory equipment created by Kenneth Strickfaden for the 1931 Frankenstein was used by Mel Brooks in Young Frankenstein (1974). Per IMDb, as Brooks was preparing for this film, he discovered that Strickfaden was still alive, and living in the Los Angeles area. He visited Strickfaden, and found that he had stored all the equipment in his garage. Brooks made a deal to rent the equipment, and gave Strickfaden the screen credit he hadn’t gotten for the original films.

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The Bride of Frankenstein (1935). This is considered by many to be the finest of the Karloff Frankenstein films, and I’m inclined to agree. Per Universal Horrors: “Bride of Frankenstein is one of the best and least typical of the Universal horror films. In terms of acting, direction, photography, set design, editing and overall presentation, the film is close to flawless.”

James Whale infuses the film with wit and humor. The music score by Franz Waxman is excellent. The cast is also excellent. Colin Clive is his usual neurasthenic self as the tormented Henry Frankenstein; Valerie Hobson replaces Mae Clarke as Henry’s wife Elizabeth; Ernest Thesiger is wonderful as the diabolical Dr. Pretorius (even the name is ominous); and Dwight Frye, whose character Fritz was murdered by the Monster in the first film, is back as yet another lab assistant, Karl (but they’re basically the same guy). And Boris Karloff, here billed in the credits as simply “Karloff,” returns as the Monster. Pretorius teaches him to speak, which Karloff believed was a mistake, but I think it works.

After the main title credits, there’s a prologue with Mary Shelley (Elsa Lanchester), Percy Bysshe Shelley (Douglas Walton), and Lord Byron (Gavin Gordon). They’re gathered in a luxurious setting discussing Mary’s novel Frankenstein. Byron and Shelley think it’s a shame the story (of the first film) ended where it did. Mary says oh no, that wasn’t the end, and begins telling what happened next, leading us into The Bride of Frankenstein. It’s a rather clever intro.

This film’s creation scene takes place near the end rather than the beginning. It’s even more elaborate than in the first film.

Finally, rejected by the Bride (Elsa Lancaster again), the Monster figures the hell with it and decides to blow everything up, but first urges Henry and Elizabeth to leave. Pretorius isn’t given that option, with Karloff delivering a great line, “We belong dead!” The way he says it, you know he means it.

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Son of Frankenstein (1939).  Directed by Rowland V. Lee, Son of Frankenstein is in every way a more elaborate, stylish production than the previous two films. Bride of Frankenstein has the look of a fairy tale, while Son has a harder, expressionistic look, thanks to the sets and lighting. Per Universal Horrors, the film “…picks up the continuing saga of the Frankenstein family years after the deaths of the Monster and his BrideBaron Heinrich (formerly Henry) von Frankenstein has died, leaving behind a legacy of hate in the hearts of his fellow countrymen. His son Wolf (Basil Rathbone), an American college professor, becomes the victim of their contempt when he returns to the village of Frankenstein with his wife Elsa (Josephine Hutchinson) and young son Peter (Donnie Dunagan) to claim his inheritance.”

Karloff, Rathbone, Lugosi

The cast is excellent, especially Basil Rathbone, Bela Lugosi, and Lionel Atwill. Lugosi plays Ygor, a singularly unpleasant character who was hanged for body snatching years before but survived with a twisted neck and protruding bone — as well as a bad attitude about it all. Even better is Atwill as Inspector Krogh, who has bitter memories of his own. When he was a boy, the Monster tore off one of his arms. One of my favorite scenes in the film is the verbal sparring between Wolf and Krogh while they play a game of darts. A nice touch is that Krogh sticks his supply of darts into the wooden forearm of his prosthetic arm, pulling them out one by one to throw. Another nice touch is in a climactic confrontation near the end when the Monster again tears off Krogh’s arm — the prosthetic one.

Rathbone & Atwill

Wolf thought the Monster was dead, but Ygor has been using him to kill off the village burghers who had condemned him to death. The Monster is now in a coma, and Ygor pressures Wolf to make him well again. Of course, Wolf can’t resist the challenge and the chance to clear his father’s name. Oddly enough, the Monster comes off as a secondary character here, through no fault of Karloff’s. He’s just not as interesting as Rathbone, Atwill, and Lugosi. He’s an imposing figure here — he appears to have packed on a few pounds in the intervening years. He’s more of a bulked-up thug than the tragic, lonely creature of the previous films. And he no longer speaks. The script and Lee’s direction have made him less human. Nevertheless, Son of Frankenstein is a terrific film. It has style and wit not found in subsequent Frankenstein films from Universal.

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The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942), attempts to carry on the quality of the first three films, but doesn’t get there. I think there’s a different tone to the Universal films made in the 1940s. Maybe the war years had something to do with that, but I don’t know. Sir Cedric Hardwicke plays Ludwig, yet another son of Henry Frankenstein. Lon Chaney, Jr. is the Monster this time around, a definite comedown after Boris Karloff. Chaney was fresh off the success of The Wolf Man (1941), but I’ve never cared much for him as an actor. Bela Lugosi is back as Ygor, having survived being shot to death by Wolf in the previous film. Evelyn Ankers plays Elsa, Ludwig’s daughter. I find her immensely appealing and always like seeing her in films.

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The next film in the series, Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman (1943), was when they really started to run out of ideas. The first half is basically a sequel to The Wolf Man, with Chaney reprising his role as the doomed lycanthrope Larry Talbot. Bela Lugosi is the Monster, which is ironic considering that he originally turned down the part in the original Frankenstein because of the makeup required and the fact that he couldn’t speak. He had too much ego for that. The opening, in the graveyard where Larry Talbot was laid to rest after being killed by his father (Claude Rains) in The Wolf Man, is quite atmospheric and exciting. Nothing in the rest of the film quite matches that, though the wonderful Maria Ouspenskaya is back as Maleva the gypsy woman. Regardless, it’s a fun film.

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House of Frankenstein (1944) and House of Dracula (1945) are absurd monster mashes, quite ridiculous. The posters tell you all you need to know. The only point of distinction, as I recall, is that Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney) is cured of being a werewolf at the end of House of Dracula. I’m sure all those people he killed over the years as the Wolf Man are happy.

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The final film from the Universal years was a comedy, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1947). It’s actually pretty good, and it treats the various monsters with a certain amount of respect. It has the distinction of being only the second and final time Bela Lugosi would portray his signature role of Dracula. Lon Chaney is back as Larry Talbot, once again a werewolf. There’s a great moment when Chaney says to Lou Costello, “You don’t understand. I turn into a wolf when the moon is full!” To which Costello responds, “Yeah, you and twenty million other guys.” Or words to that effect. This film is a far cry from the classic Frankenstein films, but it’s not bad for what it is.

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Hammer Horror

In 1957, the British studio Hammer Film Productions seriously shook things up with The Curse of Frankenstein, the first Frankenstein film in color. I was tremendously energized when I saw it and Horror of Dracula (1958) for the first time as midnight movies at the Vista Theater in Storm Lake, Iowa. Both films made a very strong impact with their blood and gore and cleavage. Many of the more sensitive cultural commentators were outraged. I, of course, was quite thrilled.

Both films also made stars of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Cushing played Victor Frankenstein and Lee played the Creature (rather than the “Monster” of the Universal films). They went on to appear together in many subsequent Hammer films. Here is a clip of the first meeting of Frankenstein and the new-born Creature.

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Hammer made seven Frankenstein films in all, with varying degrees of success. Frankenstein’s Monster is the main character in the Universal films, whereas with Hammer the continuing character is Frankenstein himself. He goes from film to film assembling a new creation each time. For me, The Revenge of Frankenstein, the second film in the Hammer series, is far and away the best. It took me years to finally see it, but it was worth the wait. At the end of the film (Spoiler Alert!), Frankenstein is killed by angry patients in a charity ward he had mainly for the purpose of harvesting the occasional body part for his extracurricular projects. A young doctor who’d been assisting him with his experiments transplants Frankenstein’s brain into the skull of a body that closely resembles Victor. He’d previously assembled it to have on hand, I suppose, in case something like this happened. Victor was nothing if not methodical. In a coda, we see the reborn Frankenstein and his assistant in their offices in London. This is the only success in the entire Hammer series. Frankenstein has become his own creation! Pretty neat.

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The Hammer Frankenstein Films:

The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) — Excellent

The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958) — The best

The Evil of Frankenstein (1964) — The worst

Frankenstein Created Woman (1967) — Have only seen it once a long time ago. Need to see again,

Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969) — Very good

The Horror of Frankenstein (1970) — A parody of the first film, without Cushing. Have never wanted to see it.

Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1973) — Unpleasant, but worth seeing.

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This is just the tip of the iceberg. Part 2 will include info re new and forthcoming Frankenstein films, film posters, vintage newspaper ads, comic books, a video interview with Boris Karloff, and more. A lot of stuff that wouldn’t reasonably fit into this post. And that still won’t begin to cover the subject. There’s just too much Frankenstein. Look for it in a day or two. — Ted Hicks

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Film Books – The Last Batch

After finishing part 2 of this film books series, I realized I’d somehow left out books on Buster Keaton! I’m not sure how this happened, since Keaton is tremendously important to me. Plus there are other good books that I hadn’t had room for. I want to include those now.

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Buster Keaton

Before moving to New York in 1977, the only Buster Keaton film I’d seen was The General (1927). I experienced a deep dive into his work when Lincoln Plaza Cinema near Lincoln Center presented the Buster Keaton Film Festival, showing 11 features and 23 two-reelers in August and September of 1981. I saw everything. It was a revelation. Keaton is far and away my favorite comic filmmaker of the silent era. I much prefer him to Chaplin, who is too sentimental for my taste. Harold Lloyd is great, but for me Keaton’s body of work is greater.

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Films

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Noir

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Filmmakers

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I’m a big fan of Ed Wood films, which explains the inclusion of this book. I’ve been planning to write at length about him for some time now, and will eventually get do s0. That’s either a promise or a threat, depending on your point of view. I began seeking out his films in the early ’80s. At some point I went to a bar in Chelsea which was showing Jail Bait (1954), written and directed by Wood in his inimitable style. There weren’t many of us there. As I recall, a 16mm projector was positioned on one of the tables to show the film on a portable screen. Low tech, but it got the job done. I sat at a table with someone who identified himself as Rudolph Grey. He mentioned he was writing a book about Wood, which was later published in 1992 as Nightmare of Ecstasy: The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood, Jr. Before the screening, I described my reaction to seeing Wood’s Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) recently at the Thalia. When another person sat down with us, Rudolph introduced me as someone who “picked up on all the right things” about Wood. This might be considered a dubious distinction by some, but I liked it that I’d made a connection with a total stranger about the films of Ed Wood.

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Biographies

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J. Hoberman and David Thomson

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Personal Connections

I’ve known Dudley Andrew since returning to the University of Iowa in 1971 after getting out of the Air Force. He was teaching in the film department. I took several courses from him, including Film Script Analysis and Film Styles and Genres. We became friends and have stayed in touch through the years. After teaching at Iowa for 30 years, he joined the faculty at Yale University in 2000, where he heads the Film and Media Studies Program. I’ve known Ted Perry even longer. He was a TA in the first film production course I took at Iowa in 1964, which was called Cinematography Techniques, or Cine Tech for short. Ted left Iowa to join the Cinema Studies Department at NYU and the Film Department at the Museum of Modern Art, both in New York City. He’s been at Middlebury College since 1978, where he founded the Film and Media Culture Department in 2008. I consider it a gift to be friends with Dudley and Ted. They’re both much smarter than I am, but they make me feel like I sometimes know what I’m talking about.

The Major Film Theories was published in 1976; Concepts in Film Theory in 1984. My Reel Story was published in 2001.

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That about does it. Stay tuned for my next post. In the meantime, here’s a final cover to help you fall asleep at night. — Ted Hicks

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Film Books – Part 2

In response to my previous post on favorite film books, someone emailed me that they thought it was a great list, but noted how few new books there were. I hadn’t thought about that at the time, but that list included books I’d acquired over the years that I continually refer to. That was my criteria. I have many more film books, old and new, and while I may not return to them as frequently, they’ve survived periodic purges to make more shelf space. These are books I obviously feel are important to my collection. They include studies of genres, directors, individual films, and reviews. Here are some of them.

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Film Noir

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Animated Cartoons

I clearly have a preference for Warner Bros. cartoons.

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Science Fiction and Horror

 

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Directors

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Films

 

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Interviews and Reviews

 

 

 

 

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The American Film Director, a collection of photographs by Maureen Lambray, was published in late 1976. I hadn’t taken it off the shelf in a while. When I did so the other day, I saw from a note I’d made in the book that I’d purchased it in January of 1977, a week or so before I moved from Minneapolis to New York. The book is comprised of Lambray’s photographs of 82 feature film directors, all men. In an author’s note she writes: “To my great disappointment no woman feature film director that I could contact would agree to be photographed for this book.” I haven’t been able to find out why that was, but it’s unfortunate. I would like to have seen Ida Lupino, for example, included in this book. Additionally, the back jacket flap has this: “Maureen Lambray, living in New York City, is currently working on Volume II of The American Film Directors and completing the photographs for The European Film Directors.” To my knowledge, neither of these volumes ever appeared. It’s curious. But the book she did finish is an extraordinary series of photographs of directors, some of whom were relatively early in their careers. Here are a few of them:

Robert Altman

Nicholas Ray

Samuel Fuller

Francis Ford Coppola

Sidney Lumet

Martin Scorsese

 

Milos Forman

Mel Brooks

I really love this shot of  Cassavetes. It looks like he might have been in a fight. At least, I’d like to think so.

John Cassavetes

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I think that’s enough for now. See you at the movies. — Ted Hicks

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