Saturday, October 21, 2017

My 10 best Frankenstein movies

Mary Shelley's classic Gothic science-fiction FRANKENSTEIN; or, The Modern Prometheus was conceived during a fervent gathering of artistic free-thinkers on the lake at Geneva in 1816, and published a few years later. It was soon adapted to various stage versions (which is where the confusion over naming the creation Frankenstein began), proving popular for decades.

And now the 10 best theatrical feature films, based on or inspired by the classic:

FRANKENSTEIN (1931) After Universal's success with DRACULA, they looked around for other projects for their new horror star, Bela Lugosi, one of which was Shelley's classic, via a stage version by Peggy Webling for Hamilton Deane (to play in repertory with his stage DRACULA), adapted for the U.S. (but as yet unproduced) by John L. Balderston (again). Universal acquired the rights, and set about having it adapted; as is the norm, it went through a number of hands; and after a poorly received screen test, Lugosi and director Robert Florey moved on to another production, FRANKENSTEIN then being shelved.
Enter James Whale, hot new director for the studio, who gets his pick of the litter, and so a classic was born. Whale replaced intended co-star Leslie Howard with his friend Colin Clive as the scientist, Henry Frankenstein, and discovered character actor Boris Karloff in the commissary, plucking him from obscurity to play the Monster. And what a find! Karloff brought a pathos to the character never equaled, and, in Jack Pierce's make-up, became the iconic image.
Frankenstein ensconces himself, along with hunchback assistant Fritz (Dwight Frye in another fun performance), in an old tower, outfitted with wild equipment (courtesy of Kenneth Strickfaden), away from prying eyes, to complete his great experiment. But prying eyes come unbidden in the form of Henry's fiancee Elizabeth (Mae Clarke), friend/rival Henry Mortiz (John Boles), old teacher Prof. Waldman (Edward Van Sloan), and later the doddering father (Frederick Kerr).
Many scenes still stand out today: Fritz's failure to steal a good brain, getting an abnormal one instead; bringing the Monster to life, in front of skeptical witnesses, at the culmination of the creature's hand rises, and Frankenstein hysterically yells "It's alive!"; the Monster's first entrance, through a tower door backwards, turns slowly to the camera, then two quick jump cuts in to a close-up - in 1931 this would have been quite jolting to an audience; the Monster, after escaping intended destruction, innocently playing with the little girl Maria (Marilyn Harris), then accidently drowning her; the Monster going after Elizabeth on her wedding day; the search for the Monster in the hills; and the fiery finale in an old windmill.

The first sequel to Universal's took two years from it's first announcement (as THE RETURN OF FRANKENSTEIN) to release, the script passing through numerous hands, but well worth the wait. James Whale returns to the helm, with a bigger budget, a more complex plot, and some gallows humour.
There is a prologue featuring Mary Shelley (Elsa Lanchester) telling her rapt audience - Lord Byron (Gavin Gordon) and Percy Shelley (Douglas Walton) - that the story (per previous film) is not over, then proceeds to the film proper.
Boris Karloff returns to the role that made him a star, as his Monster, having fallen through the burning windmill into a subterranean well rises again. He rushes through the countryside, till he is captured by a pursuing mob, and, christlike, trussed up to take back to the village jail, where he is fully chained up. But after being tormented by a jailer, he violently breaks out.
Meanwhile, Henry (Colin Clive reprising) is the new Baron (his father having quickly died apparently), and his wife Elizabeth (Valerie Hobson) are visited by one of Frankenstein's old teachers, the disgraced Dr. Pretorius (a marvelous Ernest Thesiger, another friend of Whale's, in a part originally intended for Bela Lugosi or Claude Rains), who entices Henry to visit his rooms, where he shows his former pupil the results of his own experiments: 7 small humunculi he grew organically, each with their own personalities (Pretorius is obviously disdainful of the natural way of creating life). Frankenstein rejects working with Pretorius, having given up science.
The Monster, having been wounded, finds his way to the cottage of a blind hermit (O.P. Heggie), following the latter's violin playing. The hermit takes him in, feeds him, teaches him some speech, and they become best buds. Unfortunately, two passing hunters recognize the Monster, cause havoc, and the Monster is on the run again. Passing through a cemetery, he finds his way into the underground vaults, where he meets up with Pretorius who is collecting materials with the help of two grave-robbers (Dwight Frye and Reginald Barlow).
Pretorius visits Frankenstein again, this time bringing along the Monster for leverage, and when Henry still refuses the Monster kidnaps Elizabeth.
Back in the old tower the scientists are hard at work, with the help of the two grave robbers, and the Monster lurking about (and talk about your impatient bridegroom), occupanied by dissolves to show the passage of time. The time comes for the "birth" to take place, the female creature is raised to the heavens, as lightning flashes, and when she's brought back down, the bandages removed from her eyes, and Frankenstein exclaims "She's alive! Alive!" She is given a long flowing gown, and declared by Pretorius to be "The Bride of Frankenstein!" (also played by Elsa Lanchester, in another iconic make-up). When the Monster tries to claim her, she hisses and screams at him, going into Henry's arms. As everybody rushes about the laboratory, the Monster is warned away from a lever, which could destroy the lab. Just then Elizabeth, having escaped, comes to the door, the Monster tells Henry to leave with her, but Pretorius to remain with the Bride, for "We belong dead". Henry escapes with Elizabeth, and the Monster destroys the tower.
(As originally filmed the Monster does not let Frankenstein escape, but includes him in the explosion).

Next in the Universal series, which takes place some 30-40 years later, finds Henry and Elizabeth's son Wolf (Basil Rathbone), his wife (Josephine Hutchinson), and their young son, Peter (Donnie Dunagan), come to claim the the family estate, much to the chagrin of the locals, as expressed by Inspector Krogh (Lionel Atwill), he himself having lost his right arm to the Monster as a child.
The mansion is in good shape (looking nothing like in the previous films, but more Expressionistic), but the old tower - now on the same property - is in ruins. While exploring this latter edifice, Wolf meets Ygor (Bela Lugosi), an old shepherd with a broken neck, having been hanged for body snatching. Ygor takes Wolf, who is also a doctor, to meet his friend who is sick; the friend being none other than the Monster (Karloff), who no longer speaks. After some resistance Ygor convinces Wolf to "fix" the Monster; Frankenstein believing he can control him. Which, of course, proves to be folly. Ygor wants revenge against those who hanged him, the villagers are sure Frankenstein is up to his father's old tricks, the Inspector is suspicious, pressuring Wolf to fess up, but trying to keep order as well, and then little Peter makes friends with the "giant".
Wolf and Ygor get into a confrontation, the former shooting the latter. When the Monster finds the body of his dead friend, he roars with pain, and thrashes the lab, until he finds one of Peter's storybooks. He then kidnaps the boy.
The final battle pits Wolf and Krogh against the Monster, who holds Peter hostage. The Monster pulls off the Inspector's false arm, brandishing it like a club, till Wolf swings in on a chain, knocking the Monster into the sulpher pit below.
The Frankensteins leave, giving the estate to the villagers, and all is right with the world. Till next time.

England's Hammer Films had made a name for itself with economical science-fiction films during that genre's boom in the 1950's, and decided to try their hand at old-school mad science with a Frankenstein, at first with the intention of standard B&W and a pretty basic story. But someone had the great idea of making it in colour instead, and putting more of their production values in (but still keeping it low-budget), and the Hammer Gothic was born.
The film opens with Baron Victor Frankenstein (Peter Cushing in the role that made him a film star) awaiting execution, who has a visit from a priest, to whom he tells his story.
Young Victor (Melvyn Hayes), newly become Baron after the death of his father, hires himself a tutor, Paul Krempe (Robert Urquhart), and they set about studying mostly the science of the day (i.e., 19th Century).
Victor reaches manhood, and he and Paul manage to bring a puppy back to life. Paul wants to publish, but Victor wants to go the next step, to give life to a man-made body that had never lived. Paul is repulsed, but reluctantly help.
Victor's cousin Elizabeth (Hazel Court) comes to live there, as she is to marry the Baron, which rankles Paul's even more, as Victor continues his grand experiment. The last needed ingredient is a brain, and Frankenstein wants the best.
Frankenstein has eminent Professor Bernstein (Paul Hardtmuth) come for a visit, just so he can murder him via an "accidental" fall from the landing. While stealing the professor's brain from the Frankenstein crypt Victor is interrupted by Paul and his moral outrage (well founded at this point). There is a struggle, and the glass container with the brain is broken, which infuriates Frankenstein.
Frankenstein is all set to bring his creature to life, and does his utmost, but he needs a second person, and blackmails Krempe into helping him, threatening to get Elizabeth to do it. Victor returns to the laboratory to await Paul, only to find that his creature (6'5" Christopher Lee) has indeed come to life; the Creature pulls off his face bandage, for a dramatic zoom into his hideous face (courtesy of original make-up by Phil Leakey), and he picks Frankenstein up by the throat to throttle him. Paul arrives just in time, and knocks the Creature out. The various conflicts continue, with another being the maid Justine (Valerie Gaunt), with whom Victor has been dallying, tells him she's pregnant, threatening to expose his experiments if he doesn't marry her; Frankenstein leaves his laboratory door open for her to snoop, then locks her in with the Creature. Exit Justine.
The Creature manages to escape, and Frankenstein and Krempe go in pursuit. The Creature stumbles on a blind man (Fred Johnson) and his grandson (Claude Kingston), whom he murders. Victor and Paul finally track him down, and the latter shoots the Creature in the head, much to Victor's chagrin.
Frankenstein manages to somewhat repair the damage of the shot, and bring the Creature back to life, and things go awry again, as Krempe heads for the authorities, Frankenstein attempting to stop him, leaving Elizabeth to check out the lab. She sees movement on the roof through the skylight, heads up, and finds the Creature, who attacks her; Paul again shoots the Creature, who falls through the skylight into a vat of acid.
The film ends where it began, with the Baron finishing his story. Paul and Elizabeth come to see him, he tries to get them to corroborate his story, but they treat him as mad. Frankenstein is then lead to the guillotine.
With a script by Jimmy Sangster, directed by Terence Fisher, cinematography by Jack Asher, production design by Bernard Robinson, this film was a huge hit, the first Frankenstein in colour (other productions in this period were still B&W), and set Hammer on it's Gothic path for more than a decade.

After the success of both their Frankenstein and Dracula revivals, Hammer immediately set in motion sequels to both. The year after CURSE the first in a series featuring the Baron (Peter Cushing in all but one misfire) in his ongoing obsession with creating life.
This film finds him under the alias Dr. Victor Stein, having escaped the guillotine, in another middle European town, where he has a thriving practice with the gentry, and also works in a hospital for the poor. He runs afoul of the medical board, who are jealous of his success, and irritated by his refusal to join, but one of the younger members, Dr. Hans Kleve (Francis Matthews), recognizes him, and worms his way into assisting the Baron in his ongoing experiments.
This film, again scripted by Jimmy Sangster (with help from 2 others), and directed by Terence Fisher, cinematography by Jack Asher, production design by Bernard Robinson, shows how a sequel should be made. It is as crisp as the first one, this time featuring a sympathetic Creature (Michael Gwynne), who only becomes monstrous after a head injury.
And the Baron lives, in a way, at the end to continue his misadventures.

This musical puppet animation from Rankin-Bass, who made numerous holiday animation (puppet or cell), bring together a whole bevy of famous monsters for a weekend party at a castle on an island ruled over by Baron Frankenstein (voiced by Boris Karloff).
The Baron plans to announce his successor to ruler of the night creatures, which sets the stage for conspiracies to rid the board of competitors, such as Frankenstein's Monster, Fang (grunting voice of Allen Swift, who did most of the others as well), and his Mate (voice of Phyllis Diller), and a later creation, the vivacious Francesca (Gale Garnett); especially when it is overheard that Frankenstein intends to name his "normal" nephew, Felix Flankin (Swift again).
A fun family picture, and perennial favorite at Halloween.

The 5th in Hammer's Frankenstein series finds the Baron (Peter Cushing), even more ruthless the ever, blackmailing a young couple, Karl and Anna (Simon Ward and Veronica Carlson), to help him to kidnap his colleague Dr. Brandt (George Pravda) from an mad house where's he's catatonic, and transplant his brain into the body of murdered Prof. Richter (Freddie Jones).
There are plenty of tense scenes, such as when a water pipe bursts in the garden where Brandt's body has been buried, and Anna is alone to deal with it. Later, Brandt/Richter has a poignant scene when he goes to see Frau Brandt (Maxine Audley), hiding behind a screen in order to talk to her.
Cushing again conveys Frankenstein's single-mindedness, and arrogant belief in his superior intellect, seeing other humans as mere pawns in grand schemes. The acting is all top notch, and Terence Fisher returns to the directors chair after a hiatus, making this an excellent sequel.

This spoof of the Universal Frankenstein series, especially the first three, is also a loving homage. Directed by Mel Brooks, master of the sub-genre, and scripted by he and Gene Wilder, who plays Dr. Frederick Frankenstein ("That's Fronkensteen!"), who heads to Transylvania to collect his inheritance, which includes an old castle, complete with his grandfather's laboratory, hunchbacked assistant (Marty Feldman as Igor, "That's Eye-gore"), sexy young nurse (Teri Garr as Inga), and shady housekeeper (Cloris Leachman as Frau Blucher - whose name causes horses to whinny).
Soon Frederick is lead to find the lab, and his grandfather's hidden library, and the old family hobby is reborn, in the shape of a Monster (Peter Boyle, in make-up created by William Tuttle).
Add to the mix Frederick's neurotic fiancee Elizabeth (Madeline Kahn), one-armed Insp. Kemp (Kenneth Mars), a little girl (Anne Beesley as Helga) to play with, and a blind hermit (Gene Hackman), all in glorious B&W, and this is the best of all spoofs.

This Swedish-Irish co-production is often overlooked, for though being the most faithful to the novel, it lacks the horror element of it's predecessors.
As in the novel the story begins at the end, as Victor Frankenstein (Leon Vitali) is rescued from freezing in the Artic by Captain Walton (Mathias Henriksson), who is leading a ship on an expedition, which has become stuck in the ice. Off in the distance is seen a giant of a man (Per Oscarsson) sledding off. As Victor recovers, and begins to tell his story, and that of the other man.
As directed by Calvin Floyd, and co-scripted with his wife Yvonne, the story is pared down to essentials, excising some side characters, as it follows Victor, his fascination with science, and studies at Ingolstadt, his love for his cousin Elizabeth (Stacy Dorning), his family life (Olof Bergstrom as his father, Jan Ohlsson as his little brother William), and his mountaineer best friend Henry Clerval (Nicholas Clay).
There is also the slow, methodical creation of Frankenstein's great experiment, the success of which frightens him, and he abandons it.
After the Monster stumbles across little William out playing, and accidently kills him, he meets up with Victor, and tells his story, of his wanderings through the countryside, unfortunate interactions with violent villagers, and learning to read and speak while spying on a family (Harry Brogan as the blind grandfather, Jacinta Martin as Agatha, and David Byrne as Felix).
Finishing his story Victor dies. The Monster comes aboard, and weeps over his "father", then goes off to die in the wasteland.

This is a charming family entertainment, and paean to the monster movies of the '30's and '40's.
A band of juvenile monster fans (Andre Gower, Robby Kiger, Brent Chalem, Michael Faustino, and Ryan Lambert) discover that Count Dracula (Duncan Regehr), with his own band of Frankenstein's Monster (Tom Noonan), a Wolfman (Jonathan Gries in human form, Carl Thibault in werewolf form), a Gillman (Tom Woodruff Jr.), and a Mummy (Michael MacKay), has come to town to find an amulet that can open a dimensional portal of darkness, having been foiled in his previous attempt by Van Helsing (Jack Gwillim).
The gang enlist the aid of a scary German guy (Leonardo Cimino), a couple of the boys' sisters, Phoebe (Ashley Bank) and Emily (Mary Ellen Trainor), as well as bringing the Monster over to their side, while the father of another of the boys (Stephen Macht), who is sheriff, and his deputy (Stan Shaw) try to figure out what is going on.
It is all in great fun.

and an honorable mention for:
Technically not a Frankenstein film, but a fairy tale about a 7 year old girl (Ana Torrent) in a small Spanish village c. 1940, who after seeing Whale's FRANKENSTEIN, drifts into a fantasy world where she encounters the Monster (Jose Villasante); it is also a subtle political allegory (Franco was still alive when this was made).

This was also written for "Taste of Cinema", and likewise not used.

My list of 12 best Dracula movies

Bram Stoker's novel DRACULA was published in 1897. Although it was adapted to stage, it's real potential was better realized in cinema, tho' it would take a couple of decades for the then new art form to be ready for dramatization. It tells the story, in epistolary style, of the vampire Count Dracula's move to England for fresh blood.

1. NOSFERATU, eine Symphonie des Grauens (1922)
The second film version (the first being a long lost Hungarian film of 1921, which was never seen outside it's country of origin) was an unauthorized production adapted by Henrik Galeen, and directed by the great F.W. Murnau. It changes character names and settings, paring down the story to the most visual parts. Young solicitor Wilhelm Hutter (standing in for Jonathan Harker) is sent to the "Land Beyond the Forest" by his employer, Knock, who is later put in an asylum (a la Renfield). When Hutter enters the domain of Count Orlock (Dracula's stand-in - an iconic performance by Max Schreck, in his own makeup), it is as tho' we have entered a nightmare world.
When Orlock attempts to but the bite on Hutter a second time, Hutter's wife Ellen, back at home in Bremen, awakes to call out Wilhem's name, psychically thwarting the vampire. Orlock leaves his castle, travelling by water to the city where he has "new" property, along with a horde of plague-ridden rats; and Hutter, after escaping, in hot pursuit by horse. In the city the plague covers up the vampire's tracks (there were a lot of superstitions that surrounded outbreaks of plagues). The only citizen to realize the true danger is Ellen, after Wilhelm returns in terrible shape, with a book on vampires in his possession. The Van Helsing character, Prof. Bulwer, does not believe Ellen's assertions, so she must face the vampire alone. As per some of her reading, she entices Orlock to come to her, then keeps him at her throat till cock crow, at which he is dissolved in the sunlight (this film introduced destruction by the Sun).
Prana Films had not gotten the rights to the novel, and so were sued by the widow Stoker, and went bankrupt. All copies of the film were ordered destroyed. Fortunately, a number of copies were squirreled away for future generations.

2. DRACULA (1931)
After much negotiation with Mrs. Stoker Universal beat out other production companies for the rights to the novel, and set about adapting the story to a sound film. It was first announced a "super production" to be helmed by their horror maestro Paul Leni, with the great Conrad Veidt in the title role; but Leni died suddenly, and Veidt returned to Europe. As the script went through multiple re-writes, passing through various hands, Universal brought on Tod Browning to direct, hoping to draw mega-star Lon Chaney away from MGM to play the vampire. Then Chaney died. A final script from Garret Fort, who incorporated much of the play, as Universal felt compelled to buy the rights to that from producer Horace Liveright as well, the company searched about for their Count, finally settling on the stage Dracula Bela Lugosi (who got paid less than the bland hero David Manners). By this time there was also a major budget cut (not having a name star).
The film is rather dated at this point, nice and creepy in the beginning at Castle Dracula, but very stagy once the action moves to London. What it does still have going for it is Lugosi's ethereal, otherworldly performance, along with Edward Van Sloan stolid as Van Helsing, and Dwight Frye as the maniacal Renfield (the one who went to Castle Dracula, rather than Harker). The film made Lugosi a star, but also pigeon-holed him. And his image has become the iconic version of the undead Count, the one that usually gets parodied (as in LOVE AT FIRST BITE in 1979).
There was also a Spanish language version shot at the same time (a common practice during the early talkies for important films, as dubbing was technically difficult), and while it has a number of scenes with better atmosphere (and a better heroine), it lacks Lugosi.

Universal's 1st sequel to their first supernatural horror hit had an equally rocky road to production, actually starting it's life at MGM, who had bought the rights to Stoker's excized chapter turned short story, "DRACULA'S GUEST", published posthumously in 1914, even having John L. Balderston (who had Americanized the DRACULA play), write a scenario (which would never have passed the censors). MGM sold the property (at a profit, of course) to Universal, who pressured James Whale to direct, but he was not interested, and he got R.C. Sheriff to write a script he knew would be rejected (also too extreme). Good old Garret Fort came back, turning in a pretty good piece, to be directed by A. Edward Sutherland (who helmed comedies). Under the direction of third choice Lambert Hillyer, whose career consisted mostly of B westerns, this is a well done film, starting at the end, sort of, of the previous film, with Van Helsing (Edward Van Sloan again) being arrested for murder, and calling up one of his old students, Dr. Jeffrey Garth (Otto Kruger), to help him out (why not Seward is not explained), as Scotland Yard, in the form of Sir Basil (Gilbert Emery) considers his story mad. Dracula's corpse (a dummy - Lugosi was originally to reprise his role, was even paid, but did not appear) is stolen from the morgue by his "daughter", Countess Marya Zaleska (Gloria Holden) and her servant Sandor (Irving Pichel in a role originally intended for Boris Karloff), after which she burns it on a pyre in the hopes of exorcising his curse on her. It doesn't work, and she still needs to feed; including an intended suicide, Lily (Nan Grey), whom Sandor entices back to the Countess's studio to supposedly pose for a painting.
Zaleska meets Garth at a party, and wants to seek his help, as he, being a determined rationalist, believes it's all in the mind. When he refuses to go back to Europe with her, she kidnaps his secretary/bantering love interest (Marguerite Churchill), and there's a chase back to the old castle. Though it is not iconic like it's predecessor, it actually holds up better; Holden conveys a dark, tortured existence, desirous of a normal life; the bantering between Kruger and Churchill have a certain charm (following a popular formula for couples at the time), Van Sloan is not given much to do but is still solid, Emery is humourously befuddled, but Pichel is rather bland.

After Hammer's great success with their first colour Frankenstein in 1957 they immediately went into production with reviving the undead Count, using much of the same crew - adapter Jimmy Sangster, who returned to the source and the 19th Century, paring it down a different way, directed by Terence Fisher, starring Peter Cushing, who had been Baron Frankenstein, and 6'5" Christopher Lee, who had played the Creature, in the title role. This time Jonathan Harker (John Van Eyssen) goes to Castle Dracula under false pretenses, to be followed by Van Helsing, but once ensconced, having met the urbane Count, he meets a young woman (Valerie Gaunt, also from the Frankenstein) who claims to be a prisoner. As Harker comforts her, she bares her fangs for a bite, but is interrupted by Dracula, who bursts in the room with bloody fangs bared. There is a fight between the bloodsuckers over the "food", who gets knocked aside, until Dracula subdues her, and carries her out. One can only imagine how this dynamic scene played to audiences used to the suave stalker in B&W of old. Harker comes to, manages to stake the "lady", but not his main quarry; when Van Helsing finds him, he in turn stakes his colleague.
The action stays in Middle Europe, tho' the rest of the characters are English, that is Jonathan's fiancee Lucy (Carol Marsh), who has become "ill", her brother Arthur (Michael Gough), and his wife Mina (Melissa Stribling). Dracula makes his visit, Lucy dies, but rises again for another dramatic confrontation. The film is well paced, with outbursts of action, the final battle between Van Helsing and Dracula full on swashbuckling excitement.

After the huge success of the above film Hammer immediately announced a sequel (as they were also making a second Frankenstein), but unable to get Christopher Lee to revise his role it took 2-3 years to come to fruition. What ended up on screen, scripted by Sangster and others, and again directed by Fisher, was Dr. Van Helsing (Peter Cushing reprising) continuing his crusade against the Cult of the Undead, this time pitted against handsome, suave Baron Meinster (David Peel); there is the suggestion that he is one of Dracula's "offspring" (an early title was DISCIPLE OF DRACULA), who had been chained up in his castle by his mother (a wonderful performance by Martita Hunt), and crazy old nurse maid (Freda Jackson), the former procurring victims for him. One such intended, Marianne (Yvonne Monlaur), feels sorry for him, steals the keys to release him, and he's off into the night. She meets up with Van Helsing, who takes her into his protection. He goes to the castle, and in a wonderfully handled scene of him finding the now vampirised Baroness, who shyly reveals her fangs, and gladly accepts her fate at his hands. He then accompanies Marianne to the girls school where she is to teach; the Baron follows, turning one of the other teachers. The final battle takes place in a windmill: one excellent scene has Van Helsing, having been bitten, using a hot poker to cauterize/purify the wound, with Cushing conveying the painful agony. One complaint I have about this film is the re-introduction of the ability of vampires to turn into bats, which had been excised in the previous film; the vampire's death is also a bit far-fetched. Otherwise, this is another enjoyable Gothic horror from Hammer.

6. DRACULA, Prince of Darkness (1965)
Hammer finally managed to convince Christopher Lee to don the Count's cape again. Having been turned to dust in his previous outing it is up to his faithful servant Klove (Philip Latham) to bring him back after managing to waylay two English couples, the Kents (Francis Matthews & Suzan Farmer, and Barbara Shelley & Charles Tingwell), and feign hospitality. The scenes in which crafty Klove covertly leads Alan (Tingwell) down to Dracula's sarcophagus, where he knocks him out, hangs him upside down over the coffin in which he's placed the vampire's ashes, then slits the gentleman's throat is a very dramatic revival. Dracula now arisen, he vampirizes the wife Helen (Shelley), whose transformation from prim & proper Victorian to feral predator is well played, then goes after Charles & Diana (Matthews & Farmer), who manage to escape using the cross. They get help from robust monk Father Sandor (Andrew Keir), who takes them back to his monastery for safety. But Dracula gains entry (he has to be invited in) from a lunatic inmate Ludwig (Thorley Walters) for a dramatic entrance crashing through French doors to kidnap Diana. The final confrontation on the frozen moat back at the castle brings another unique end to the vampire. Terence Fisher again directs, an original story by Jimmy Sangster and producer Anthony Hinds (both using aliases), and a good cast make this a good sequel.

7. JONATHAN, Vampire Sterbin Nicht (1969)
Hans W. Geissendorfer only the bare-bones of Stoker's novel to create a political allegory, in which the aristocracy, headed by the Count (Paul Albert Krumm looking a bit like Hitler), is literally draining the life of the peasants. A secret band of revolutionaries, headed by the Professor (Oskar von Schab), send young Jonathan (Jurgen Jung), whose love Elisabeth (Christine Ratej) has been taken by the Count, to the castle to find a way for them to attack during a grand gathering of the vampires (shades of Polanski's DANCE OF THE VAMPIRES). Dispensing with much of the established movie lore (as the best vampire films of the coming decade did) this film manages some very striking scenes, such as the cripple who lives in a small hut, and his collection of crosses given him by the Count's henchmen after they attack anyone as foolhardy as Jonathan to come on the vampire aristocrats' lands. Shot in muted colours by Robert Muller, with evocative music by Roland Kovac, it is set in a gritty 19th Century Europe.

On the heels of his French/Italian co-production FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN American director Paul Morrissey (of Andy Warhol's Factory) tackles Stoker's infamous creation, this time as a sickly rural aristocrat (played by Udo Kier, who played the Baron in the previous film, replacing Srdjan Zelenovic, who had played the male creature) who is taken to Italy by his servant Anton (Arno Juering, also from the previous film) in search of virgin blood he needs to revive his race (having left his even sicklier sister behind). They shack up with a broke aristocratic family, headed by Vittoria de Sica and Maxime McKendry, who have four virgin daughters (Milena Vukotic, Dominique Darel, Stefania Casini, Silvia Dionisio), and the Count can't wait to get his fangs into one of them; only to find out with the first two that their professed virginity had already been taken by their communist-spouting hunky handyman (Joe Dallesandro and his Brooklyn accent). The latter figures out Dracula's plan, deflowers the youngest, but the unattractive eldest has willingly given herself, giving the Count much needed energy for the final confrontation with the wax wielding handyman, for a bloody ending.

9. NOSFERATU, Phantom der Nacht (1978)
Werner Herzog's remake of Murnau's classic version is more of an homage, or love poem, than just a standard remake. Giving back the characters proper names, with an outstanding cast in Klaus Kinski as Count Dracula, Isabelle Adjani as Lucy Harker, Bruno Ganz as Jonathan Harker, with quirky support by novelist Roland Topor as Renfield, and Walter Ladengast as Van Helsing, it follows the same story, but in Herzog's distinctive style. An evocative, mesmerizing score from avant-garde band Popol Vuh.

10. NADJA (1994)
Michael Almereyda's B&W avant-garde take on the story, a sort of remake of DRACULA'S DAUGHTER, including a scene of Elina Lowensohn (who is Rumanian), in the title role, and her servant Renfield (Karl Geary) stealing her father's body, recently staked by Van Helsing (Peter Fonda), from the morgue (attended by executive producer David Lynch in a cameo); with no body the police release Van Helsing to his nephew Jim (Martin Donovan), which does not please the latter's wife, Lucy (Galaxy Craze - who looks a tad like Marguerite Churchill). Lucy goes to a bar where she meets Nadja, and they go back to the former's apt., where they play with Lucy's pet tarantula (MGM's code name for their DRACULA'S DAUGHTER was TARANTULA) before making love, which involves a little blood. The film is slow and poetic, understated and dreamy; the vampire's vision is shown via a PXL-2000 toy camcorder, which was first sold to children, later becoming popular among underground filmmakers; a close-up of Bela Lugosi from WHITE ZOMBIE, and PXL long shots of Fonda in cape & wig are used for rememberances of Dracula. As in the earlier film the vampire hunters, with help from Nadja's twin brother (i.e., son of Dracula) Edgar (Jared Harris) give chase back to Transylvania, Nadja having kidnapped Edgar's nurse and paramour Cassandra (Suzy Amis), who is also Van Helsing's estranged daughter.

Surrealist filmmaker of the fantastique Jean Rollin has a go at a tale of the infamous vampire (Thomas Desfosse), who is kept just off shore (at the beach location Rollin used numerous times) by a convent of nuns, his influence driving them crazy, and guarding Dracula's intended bride (Cyrille Gaudin). Things get shaken up when a Van Helsing wannabe (Jacques Orth) and his assistant (Thomas Smith) come a-huntin', and chase the bride on her trek to her intended, meeting up with various monsters along the way.

12. DRACULA Pages from a Virgin's Diary (2003)
Canadian filmmaker Guy Maddin, an admitted fan of silent films from Germany and Russia took a ballet version of Stoker's novel by Mark Godden (music from Gustav Mahler), and shot it silent movie style, in black & white, complete with intertitles, on stylised sets, and cast from the Royal Winnepeg Ballet, for a very original take on an oft-told tale.

This is from my 10 best Dracula films, written for "Taste of Cinema", who were happy with it, but then did not use it.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

THE PRIVATE LIVES OF ELIZABETH AND ESSEX is a lavish costume epic put out by Warner Brothers in the banner year of 1939. Based on Maxwell Anderson's 1930 Broadway play (which starred Lynn Fontaine and Alfred Lunt), ELIZABETH THE QUEEN, it focuses on the tragic love affair between the aging Queen Elizabeth I (wonderfully played by Bette Davis - she would play the same part again 16 years later in THE VIRGIN QUEEN), and the younger, dashing Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex (Errol Flynn in one of his best roles - though Davis wanted Laurence Olivier, and did not think much of Flynn), and all the court intrigues surrounding this doomed love. The title was originally to be the play’s, but Flynn demanded acknowledgement of his character, so it was changed to THE KNIGHT AND THE LADY, but that title upset Davis (the play had been specifically bought for her to star in), so it was changed again to it’s current one (there was already a book entitled ELIZABETH AND ESSEX, hence the longer one, which also referred back to other films, such as THE PRIVATE LIFE OF HENRY VIII, about Elizabeth’s father, wonderfully played by Charles Laughton – who visited the set, and had private conversation with Davis).
The history is only marginally adhered to (as was common in Hollywood), such as no mention of Essex's wife, mistress, or children (4 with the former, 1 with the latter), romanticizing their relationship (he was a favourite, but not uncommonly so), which could also be seen as incestuous (her mother and his maternal great-grandmother were sisters Anne and Mary Boleyn); also posing both Sir Robert Cecil (a marvelously slimy Henry Daniell), and Sir Walter Raleigh (Vincent Price in one of his earliest movie roles) as conniving rivals of Essex, though both did more for England, and rivalry was quite normal.
Directed by Michael Curtiz at the top of his game (a Hollywood director par excellence), this is a rousing, beautiful, full-blooded spectacle, where all the best in cinematography (Sol Polito), art direction (Anton Grot), costumes (Orry-Kelly), music (Erich Wolfgang Korngold), and cast (a lot of the best character actors in the biz).
The story picks up as Essex is returning from defeating the Spanish Armada at Cadiz. Elizabeth, who had commanded Essex's return, is furious with him, as his pursuit of glory, which has found favor with the people, but has strained the royal coffers, causing high taxation (which the people are not happy about, but blame the ministers, such as Cecil – sounds familiar, no?); also, though Essex was victorious, he failed to capture the treasure fleet, as he had promised.
When Essex enters the court holding himself up as the returning conqueror, the Queen quickly castigates him for his vainglory. He defends his actions; they go back and forth, till Elizabeth clears the court for a private audience. We now see the stormy love these two share, both proud, stubborn, and passionate. She is concerned over her being older (she was 30 years his senior in real life, though the amount is not mentioned in the film), but he assures her he doesn’t care. Their banter fluctuates between declarations of love, and fighting over money (that age old subject of arguments between lovers). They end in a row, she banishes him from London, and he returns to his ancestral home.
Davis and Flynn have a great on-screen chemistry, and we never see the off-screen dislike they held for each other (in later years, while watching the film again with de Havilland, she admitted she was wrong about his casting).
The Queen’s secretary, Cecil (Daniell), tries to drive a further wedge by reading her an inflammatory letter from Essex to Francis Bacon, his only friend at court, which he has intercepted.
We then are taken to Hadham Hall, where Bacon (Donald Crisp) is visiting Essex, and trying to advise him against his headstrong ways. Though Bacon seems doubtful of the truth of Essex’s love for Elizabeth, the latter assures him that it is genuine.
Back in the Queen’s chamber Lady Penelope (Olivia de Havilland), who is in love with Essex, and therefore jealous of the Queen, causes the latter’s anger through conniving jibes. After Elizabeth orders the ladies out, one Mistress Margaret (Nanette Fabray in her film debut) remains behind, crying, and there is a touching conversation between the two women, as the younger, innocent child expresses her sympathy for the Queen, as her own love is far off in the Irish campaign.
While discussing Essex with Bacon, trying to figure out how to bring him back to court, Elizabeth receives news of the Irish rebels’ defeat of English forces, Bacon points out the now legitimate need for Essex to return.
Though Essex at first refuses to return, when Bacon explains the situation with Ireland, he quickly changes his mind, saying that of course the Queen needs him, being surrounded by nincompoops.
Upon his return Essex runs into Raleigh (Price), who wears his new silver armour, which Essex feigns admiration for, though Raleigh is not fooled, and Essex brings in the Queen’s guard, whom he has had outfitted with the same designed silver armour. Bacon again tries to caution Essex about pushing his enemies, but the latter’s arrogance dismisses the threat. As Essex comes to the Queen’s chamber Penelope tries to warn him to be careful, showing her love for him, but he plays off both.
Elizabeth and Essex’s meeting is, as usual, stormy, as they want to just love each other, but pride and ambition rear their ugly heads. Essex admits he believes he would be a better ruler because he is a man. The Queen gives him a ring, which her father had given her, and for the same purpose: should he need her forgiveness in a dire moment, to send the ring to her.
At a Privy Council meeting despite warnings from Elizabeth before and during Essex allows himself to be riled up into taking over the Irish campaign (historically known as the Nine Years War, 1595-1603 – and Devereux, in reality, talked himself into the situation), which his predecessors had failed at. For all his arrogance, Robert does prove himself kind of dim at times.
And he fails miserably in Ireland, being routed by Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone (Alan Hale – who had played Little John to Flynn’s Robin Hood the year before, and to Douglas Fairbanks’ Robin 17 years earlier), and seemingly abandoned by the Queen (there letters were intercepted by Cecil et al by conning the jealous Penelope). But he ignores the order to disband his army, and return in shame to London, instead stopping off in Wales to re-arm, and march into the city at the head of his army.
The conspirators are a panic, Penelope in regret threatens to tell all, Bacon overhears, but diplomatically says he will not divulge. The Queen calls for court to meet. Essex marches in and takes control of the palace, entering the throne room, to meet Elizabeth.
Alone again these two passionate, prideful egos clash and jockey for dominance. They also discover that each had written extensively to the other, though neither received the others letters. Elizabeth falsely lies that she will share her kingdom equally (part of her feels that’s all he really wanted), as he will not accept a supporting role, in order to get him to send off his troops, and allow her guards the ground again; then has him arrested.
We skip over the trial (which can really slow a film down), and come to the Queen moving into the Tower, where Devereux is imprisoned. She has not slept in days, and is hoping he will send the ring for forgiveness. Penelope confesses all, hoping to save him. Cecil comes to ask permission for the guards to use force against the rowdy crowds, but Elizabeth denies him, and instead sends him to bring Essex to her.
Their final meeting is far more somber than previously. They both declare their love, and Elizabeth asks him why he did not send the ring. He explains because she would pardon him, and he would take her thrown, but she will not relinquish her crown; she explains that despite how much she loves him she has a greater love, that of England, and that his rule would be disastrous for the country. He finally understands, but also knows he must go to his death, for her sake, admitting he cannot let go of his ambition. And proudly he goes, in the tradition of the tragic hero.
The film was released in November of 1939, and was a huge hit. It was nominated for 5 Academy Awards: Best (color) Cinematography, Best Art Direction, Best Music (scoring), Best Sound Recording, Best Special Effects, but did not win any (the first 2 were taken by GONE WITH THE WIND).
As suggested, if you’re a history buff, you may be disappointed in the fictions offered; Davis did her homework, but she was still cast in a romantic tragedy with historical trappings. And it is a rousing, deeply romantic, lushly produced spectacle that is fully entertaining.

Research material:
“ELIZABETH AND ESSEX: BATTLE ROYALE” – a short documentary from 2005, with information provided by Lincoln Hurst (Professor of Film at UC Davis), Rudy Behlmer (author/film historian), Bob Thomas (author), and Nanette Fabray (actress). – articles on the film, and on the historical Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex.

Was to be published in "Multitude of Movies" #4 (Winter 2016), but a natural catastrophe caused the closure of the digest.

“The Mediator Between the Head and Hands Must Be the Heart”

METROPOLIS is one of the most iconic films of the 20th Century, even if you have never seen it, nor heard of it, it has influenced films and other mediums right down to the present. It is a cinematic masterpiece from a film director who had several. Fritz Lang is not the household name that Hitchcock is, but that is the fickleness of fame.
In 1925 Fritz Lang was at the top of his game. The year before had seen his 2 part epic version of DIE NIBELUNGEN. Working at UFA, the most prestigious German film studio, afforded him the best production values cinema had to offer. His wife of 3 years, Thea von Harbou, had been a successful novelist, before turning her attentions to writing for film - she had written the screenplay for the 2 part mythic epic.
This silent film power couple set to work on what was to become the prototype for many science fiction films to come. There had been sci-fi films since early on in the pioneering of cinema (Georges Melies' 1902 film LE VOYAGE DANS LA LUNE is considered the first), but METROPOLIS upped the ante, setting into motion the images of a dystopian society, with it's disparity between the powerful and powerless; the city of the future, reportedly inspired by Lang's visit to New York City, including the engines that run it; the mad scientist - especially the wild hair, and obsessed eyes; his laboratory, which is filled with visually stunning, but meaningless gadgetry; his creation, the first movie robot; the bland uniforms of the workers.
Filming began on 22 May 1925, and finished on 30 October '26. von Harbou published a serialised form (somewhat different from the screenplay) in “Illustriertes Blatt”, in 1925, then as a novel the following year; and translated into English the year after that (which I read years ago).
It tells the story of a machine run city of 2026, with much religious and socialist iconography, in which there is a huge divide between the wealthy, whose children play unburdened in sports fields, pleasure gardens, night clubs, and such, and the workers, who work grueling 10 hour shifts in the underground machinery, and live below that, never seeing the Sun. When one pleasure garden is entered by Maria (Brigitte Helm, in her film debut), of the workers' city, with a crowd of the workers' children, introducing each to the other as "your brothers", her saintly demeanor catches the eye of Freder (Gustav Frohlich), son of the Master of Metropolis, Joh Fredersen (Alfred Abel).
Freder tries to follow Maria, ending up in the Machine Halls, where he is horrified by a massive explosion, causing a vision of the gigantic central machine as Moloch (an ancient Ammonite god, to whom children were reportedly sacrificed), where slaves are thrown into it's maw. His father takes this news with bland aplomb. Freder wonders where the hands that built the city, his brothers and sisters, fit in, and his father tells him where they belong; and what if they rebel? Fredersen is then brought more mysterious maps by Grot (Heinrich George), the head foreman of the Heart Machine, found on workers after the explosion; Frederson fires his secretary, Josephat (Theodor Loos), for not bringing all this news; but Freder enlists Josephat's aid. Fredersen calls upon the Thin Man (Fritz Rasp), to have his son followed.
Freder returns to the Machine, takes over the duties of an over-exhausted worker, but finding the work tortuous.
In an ancient house Fredersen discovers Rotwang (Klein-Rogge) the inventor's monument to Hel, whom they'd been rivals for, she having died giving birth to Freder. Rotwang informs Fredersen he has recreated Hel, losing a hand in the process; then takes him to his "Machine-Human" (Helm in a fabulous suit by Walter Schulze-Mittendorff), proclaiming the worker of the future ("robot" had been coined in Karel Capek’s 1920 play R.U.R., but not yet universal).
All the characters now in place, each follows their drive, for good or ill. Maria preaches patience to the workers, promising that the Mediator will come; Freder pursues his belief his destiny is that Mediator, and the love he shares with her; Fredersen has Rotwang make the Machine-Human look like Maria (rather than Hel) to sow rebellion, so he can use force against the workers; Rotwang plans to use Maria to destroy Fredersen's son and city, as revenge for Hel; the false Maria drives the "upper 1000" (men) to madness, and the workers to rebellion; Josephat remains loyal to Freder; the Thin Man skulks and menaces; and Grot tries to protect the Heart Machine.
The rebellion causes the machinery to malfunction, throwing the upper city into darkness and chaos, and the lower city becomes flooded. Maria, Freder, and Josephat save the children who were left there as their parents stormed the machines. Meanwhile, Grot finally gets through to the workers that their city is flooded, their children (assumed) drowned, then leads them against the "witch", i.e., the false Maria, whom they chase, capture, and put to the stake.
Terrified by the mob the real Maria runs and hides among the statues of the church. Rotwang comes along, sees her, and chases her up inside. Freder shows up to the auto-de-fe, thinks his beloved Maria is being fried, tries to stop it, but the mob recognizes him, and assaults him. More mayhem ensues as Fredersen and the Thin Man show up; Freder sees Rotwang carrying Maria up to the roofs of the church, and goes in hot pursuit. There is a final, desperate fight between hero and villain, till the latter falls from the parapet.
On the steps of the church, everyone now relieved (the mob informed their children were saved), Fredersen (the Head) and Grot (the Hands) hesitantly look at each other, not sure what to do, so Maria encourages Freder to Mediate, and he takes his father's hand, leads him to Grot, takes his hand, and brings them together for a happy, socialist ending.
The film premiered in Berlin on 10 January 1927; it was then cut shorter for all markets including Germany; U.S. distributor Paramount even altered the story. It was the most expensive German film to date, having gone way over budget and over schedule. UFA never made their money back on it.
But it was also immediately iconic. In Fox’s 1930 production JUST IMAGINE, the first talkie sci-fi, also a musical, the futuristic design of the city of 1980 is obviously influenced by METROPOLIS; that design continues to influence “future cities” – a shot of one building is copied in BLADE RUNNER; “Superman” creators named their fictional city Metropolis. The robot has influenced descendents, such as C3PO from the STAR WARS films; and in her human form numerous androids to come, right up to EX MACHINA (’15) (actress Brigitte Helm played another science project, twice, in the 1928 silent and 1930 sound versions of ALRAUNE – she was Whale’s first choice for the BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN). Rotwang can be seen in such divergent characters as Dr. Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger) in BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (’35), DR. STRANGELOVE (Peter Sellers ‘64), ‘80’s icon Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) in the BACK TO THE FUTURE films, among others. Osamu Tezuka was inspired by just the poster for his manga METOROPORISU (’49), which was animated in 2001.
Attempts had been made to reconstruct the original film starting in the 1970’s. In 1984 composer Giorgio Moroder put together a version using stills from missing scenes, some added effects, subtitles instead of intertitles, and a pop soundtrack with a variety of well-known singers (personally dislike). Film historian Enno Patalas made an exhaustive attempt at restoration in 1986. Over the next decade & a half other segments were discovered in various museums and archives, leading to an authorized restoration in 2002 by Kino International, in conjunction with the F.W. Murnau Foundation, which used title cards to describe missing scenes.
Then in 2008 news of an amazing find in The Museo del Cine in Buenos Aires, Argentina. New curator Paula Felix-Didier invited her ex-husband, Fernando Martin Pena, director of the film department of the MALBA, to come look at some film canisters in her archive, as he suspected they might contain a 16mm version of METROPOLIS, which had been passed through several hands before ending up in the museum in 1992, the value unrealised. They discovered that this was the complete film, brought to Argentina in 1928 by Terra film distribution head Adolfo Z. Wilson; and later reduced to 16mm for easier storage. Felix-Didier headed to Germany, where she first talked with Karen Naundorf of “Die Zeit” magazine, who in turn called in three experts to examine the find. It was determined that this was indeed the full film, and restoration began. Earlier, in 2005, historian and politician Michael Organ had discovered a full print in the National Film Archive of New Zealand, and when he heard of the restoration going on, notified the restorers of his find. Another was found in Australia, and these three prints were brought together to make THE COMPLETE METROPOLIS, released in 2010 by Kino. Though there are still several minutes missing, due to print degradation, and some shots could only be restored so much, it is probably as complete as it ever will be.
And what a masterpiece it is.
Have been reading about this film since the ‘70’s, so can’t remember all the sources, but here are some:


Published in "Multitude of Movies" #3 (Fall 2015)



THE MALTESE FALCON was Dashiell Hammett's third novel, having written short stories for some years for the pulp detective magazine "BLACK MASK", then 2 novels (both published in 1929), in 1930. It was an immediate success. Hammett had, as he had told his publisher he would, raised the American hardboiled detective story to the level of true literature.
In the novel, Sam Spade and Miles Archer, who are partners in a private detective agency in San Francisco, are hired by Brigid O'Shaughnessy, using the alias Miss Wonderly, to trail her partner Floyd Thursby, but using a false story involving a younger sister having run away with Thursby, and needing to get her back to New York before their parents returned from Europe. That night Archer is murdered on the job; later the same night Thursby is also murdered. The police, in the form of detectives Tom Polhaus and Lt. Dundy, who breathe down Spade's neck, and Archer's widow - with whom Spade was having an affair - add to his difficulties.
O'Shaughnessy proves to be a chronic liar (she uses another alias, Leblanc, for one of her disappearing acts), and manipulative, which frustrates Spade no end, despite his intense attraction to her (or is that unpredictability part of that attraction?). Other players enter the scene, first Joel Cairo, from whom we first learn of the black bird of the title; another, Caspar Gutman, explains what it is during a second meeting (having refused to divulge his information the first time round): a jewel encrusted statuette of a falcon, made by the Knights of St. John, later of Malta, for the King of Spain, which was lost to pirates (Spade later double-checks this info); and elaborates on it's checkered history, including centuries of murder and theft, until it ended up in the hands of a Russian general in Constantinople, from whom he tried unsuccessfully to buy it, then had O'Shaugnessy and Cairo steal it from. Spade's drink turns out to have been drugged, and when he awakens, he finds a bump on his head, and the fat man and his boy-toy gunsel, Wilmer Cook, gone.
After more detective work, Spade searches Cairo's room, with the help of the hotel dick, Luke, finds a newspaper with part of the ship arrivals cut out. Spade buys a copy of the same paper, and finds six ships listed in the missing section, including La Paloma from Hong Kong. Back at the office, Effie tells him there was a ship on fire at the docks, which she saw was La Paloma, which cinches Spade's suspicion it is the ship in question.
Spade meets with Polhaus for info, before an official visit with the D.A., accompanied by his lawyer. More detective work leads Spade to find out the motley band of conspirators had met with the Captain of La Paloma, Jacobi, for several hours, before leaving all together. (Later we learn the bird had been given by O'Shaughnessy to, Jacobi, another confederate of hers, to bring along on a slower boat).
Though mortally wounded by Cook, Jacobi manages to get to Spade's office with the bird before dying; Brigid calls just then, from Gutman's hotel, but is cut off; Spade heads out, stashing the falcon at a bus terminal station, then off to the hotel, where he finds a drugged Rhea Gutman, daughter of Caspar (who never makes it to the film versions), who manages to send him on a wild goose chase.
After a confab with his smart secretary, Effie Perine, who had taken the call, he heads back to his place, finding Brigid out front; and the "boy trio" inside his apartment. Heated negotiations ensue; Gutman gives Spade $10,000, who balks at so lowly an amount, but the latter then turns to the need for a fall guy to hand to the police for the 3 murders, though it is supposed that Thursby killed Archer. Gutman is reticent; Spade suggests Wilmer, but Gutman feels as if the boy "were (his) own son." (There has been a subtle undertone of homosexuality, though primarily regarding Cairo). There is a lot of back and forth, till Wilmer gets up on his heels, wanting to shoot if out with Spade; Gutman and Cairo wrestle with him, till Spade steps in and knocks the kid out; Cairo attacks Spade, who easily repels the smaller, weaker man; this all results in the agreement of Cook being the fall guy. Spade then has Gutman fill in all the blanks (i.e., actions that happened out of his sight), so as to cover any loose ends. Gutman tries one last trick, palming one of the thousand dollar bills, and suggesting O'Shaughnessy took it, to cause conflict between she and Spade; Sam goes for it, but when it's not found on her, he confronts Casper, who fesses up. Gutman, out of earshot of Brigid, warns Spade that she is bad. Meanwhile, Cairo has been trying to soothe Cook, but finally riles the boy, who socks Joel in the mouth, and telling him to get away. Then, the waiting game.
At 7am Sam calls Effie, tells her to get the envelope with the check in ticket for the bundle at the station, then get the bundle, and bring it to him at his apartment, which she does. The falcon turns out to be a fake, recriminations fly about, though it is realized the Russian they'd stolen it from, had had the duplicate made once he had an idea of its value. Gutman declares his intent on returning to Constantinople, inviting Cairo along; he also takes his $10,000 back by gunpoint, but let's Spade keep $1,000; then the duo leave, after which Spade calls Polhaus and alerts him about them, and the kid.
Then it's time for the big showdown between Sam and Brigid, as he knows she is the one who killed Archer, but being a detective, he wants all the facts intact. It all gets very intense, as Sam tells her he's turning her over to the cops, because he won't play the sap for her, as others before him have. She tries to use emotional blackmail, but fails. When detectives Polhaus and Dundy show up at this door, Spade turns over her, the falcon, and even the $1000 bill he took from Gutman for payment.
It was not long before a studio, in this case Warner Brothers, bought the screen rights. After all, the novel easily lent itself to the medium of motion pictures (even though it needed some taming down for censorship reasons).
In 1931 WB released THE MALTESE FALCON, with a screenplay by Maude Fulton & Brown Holmes, under the direction of Roy Del Ruth, starring Ricardo Cortez as private detective Sam Spade, with Walter Long as his partner Miles Archer, who are hired by Ruth Wonderly (Bebe Daniels), who does not use any aliases in this version, but does give them the false runaway younger sister bit. Archer does his duties tailing Thursby, and getting shot dead; an added scene has Spade leaving the police scene, coming across a Chinese man (uncredited actor) standing nearby, talking with him in Chinese for a moment, before continuing on; turns out the Chinese witnessed Wonderly kill Archer, so Spade knew the whole time (which, in my opinion, diminishes the interplay between Sam and Ruth).
This version suffers some of the ills of many an early talkie. Cameras were loud, so had to be contained within a windowed box, so as not to be picked up by the microphone; there was yet no post-dubbing, or even separate sound tracks, so scenes of dialogue - and this is a dialogue heavy film - tend to be stagy; no incidental music, which would later help cover-up the stage bound echoey-ness, as well as up the pacing.
Of the cast: Cortez does look a bit like Hammett's description, especially the satanic smile, but he lacks range, and is too smooth; Daniels as Wonderly is a good bad girl, but not convincing in her lies; Dudley Digges' Gutman is fine, but lacks any subtly; Una Merkel's Perine is a bit too comic (Merkel's best success was in comedy); Otto Matieson is suitably oily as Cairo; Robert Elliott and J. Farrell MacDonald are stock-in-trade detectives; Thelma Todd is good as the adulterous and jealous Mrs. Archer, but Walter Long is clunky as the Mr.; and Dwight Frye is not given much to do as Cook.
If one was unfamiliar with the novel (and, especially the later classic film version) this would be an enjoyable, if not a particularly memorable movie.
Then there was the next version...
The only reason I can think for the existence of this complete misfire, is the success of rival studio MGM's THE THIN MAN, which had taken another hardboiled detective novel by Hammett, added some winning humour (I love both the novel and the film), and launched a series - SATAN MET A LADY, as the film was re-titled, came out in 1936, the same year as the second THIN MAN movie.
The script, by Brown Holmes, who had co-written the first one, is downright awful. Director William Dieterle, who helmed several classics, fails miserably here. One-on-one scenes range from bland to dreadful. Warren William as the renamed p.i. Ted Shayne is a buffoonish cad, Bette Davis is lost in her badly written turn as femme-fatale Valerie Purvis; character actors Arthur Treacher, Marie Wilson, Porter Hall, Olin Howland, and Charles C. Wilson are wasted in their renamed parts (for Cairo, Perine, Archer, Dundy, and Polhaus respectively), Wilson being the only one with some funny moments (she later gained fame as Irma in the radio series "MY FRIEND IRMA", then the film and television versions). Wini Shaw as the partner's amorous widow seems dropped in from another movie; uncredited Maynard Holmes as the gunsel, Kenneth, is just ridiculous. The one bright spot in the cast is Alison Skipworth as the gender-swapped stand-in for Gutman, Madame Barabbas. She is marvelous, and makes William look good in the far too few worthwhile scenes.
The falcon is changed to a jewel-filled (animal) horn, becoming the butt of too many lame jokes about saxophones or trumpets.
Oh, and did I mention the overt sexism? Not that Hammett's novels didn't include a lot of male fantasy femme-fatales, but whereas Spade's attitude was standard sexism, Shayne's is skirt chasing sleazy. This movie is a real stinker. It's neither funny nor thrilling. Just a lame duck.
And then there is the 1941 version. First, the novel was suggested to writer John Huston, who was eager to direct, by producer Howard Hawks, for his debut, as the rights were still owned by WB *. Huston had his secretary put the novel into script form, which was accidently sent to studio head Jack L. Warner, i.e., before Huston had worked on it, but Warner loved it and gave it the green light. Tho' it was pared down some (mostly bits that weren't completely necessary, such as Spade's visits to his lawyer, which were changed to a phone conversation, and telling Effie to call, or streamlining Spade's finding information about La Paloma).
Then there was the casting. The part of Spade was first offered to George Raft, who turned it down, as he saw it as an unimportant picture (being a remake - and possibly also because of directorial debut*); it then went to Humphrey Bogart, a contract player, who had just scored in WB's HIGH SIERRA, which had been co-scripted by Huston. Bogart looked nothing like Spade, but, then, neither did Raft. Though several actresses were considered for Brigid, WB especially wanting Geraldine Fitzgerald, but Huston was interested in Mary Astor, who had gained a sordid reputation with various scandalous affairs (a servant sold her diary, containing her sexual exploits, to newspapers during a bitter custody battle), and alcoholism*, which gave her the right amount of wild behaviour for a femme-fatale; shown the script by Huston and Bogart, she was in. Theatre actor Sydney Greenstreet made his film debut as Gutman, at age 61; and, with help from cameraman Arthur Edeson, and Huston, he embodies the role superbly, adding a subtle humour. Character actor par excellence Peter Lorre plays Cairo with wit and wile, a crafty, temperamental, effeminate little man not to be trusted. Lee Patrick is marvelous, and supportive, in her role as Effie. Ward Bond and Barton MacLane fill the police shoes admirably well. Elisha Cook Jr. is marvelous as Wilmer, and looks like such a tough kid, even though he was almost 40. Jerome Cowan and Gladys George round out the cast as the Archers. When I read the novel it was hard not to think of this cast. Under Huston's assured hand, the actors bring a very dramatic range and depth to their characters; they truly bring them to life. And Huston's actor father, Walter, makes an uncredited cameo as Captain Jacoby.
WB wanted to release this version as THE GENT FROM FRISCO*, as the original title had already been used, but Huston prevailed upon them to use the better title.
After the major success of this film WB announced a sequel, THREE STRANGERS, headed by Sam Spade, but Hammett reminded them that the characters were copyrighted, and so it was changed to be its own story with different characters, and released in 1946, starring Geraldine Fitzgerald, Sydney Greenstreet, and Peter Lorre.
The ‘41 film was also one of the prototypes for what the French would come to christen Film Noir.
In 1975 a comic sequel, THE BLACK BIRD, starring George Segal as Sam Spade Jr. was released. Lee Patrick and Elisha Cook Jr. reprise their roles from the classic version.

*1 Though that quote is from the 1941 film, it is not from the novel, but paraphrased from Shakespeare's THE TEMPEST, the actual quote being "We are such stuff as dreams are made on..."

*2 As stated in the excellent documentary "THE MALTESE FALCON: ONE MAGNIFICENT BIRD" by Gary Leva.

*3 Have read for decades how Raft turned down the role, so not sure of the initial source. According to it was in his contract that he did not have to do remakes. The latter reason was posited by John McCarty, author of THE FILMS OF JOHN HUSTON, in a radio interview.

*4 Astor was quite candid on her lifestyle in her book MY STORY: AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY ('59)

*5 From trivia - original source unknown

Published in "Multitude of Movies" #2 (Summer 2015)