For Halloween we continue our look back at some frightful but classic Halloween movies of the past. Yesterday it was Lon Chaney and “Phantom of the Opera”. Today it is another classic: Boris Karloff’ and “Frankenstein”!
In 1931, British stage producer and one-time cartoonist James Whale was engaged by Universal Studios in Hollywood to produce a movie about a monster, loosely based on Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s novel “Frankenstein”. As he ate his lunch in the studio commissary one afternoon, Whale considered the question of whom to cast for the role of the monster. He looked around himself at the crowds of actors eating their lunch. One man’s face stood out to him among all the others, with a lean and hungry look even after he finished his meal – that of a then unknown character actor named Boris Karloff.
“Boris Karloff’s face fascinated me. I made drawings of his head, added sharp bony ridges where I imagined the skull might have joined. His physique was weaker than I could wish, but that queer, penetrating personality of his, I felt, was more important than his shape, which easily could be altered.”
Karloff was brought on board for the project, and for two weeks sat in the make-up chair of Universal’s artist Jack P. Pierce (pictured below, with a friend), who later described how he arrived at the now famous look of the Frankenstein monster:
“I did some research in anatomy, surgery, criminology, ancient and modern burial customs, and electrodynamics. I discovered there are six ways a surgeon can cut the skull, and I figured Dr. Frankenstein, who was not a practicing surgeon would take the easiest. That is, he would cut the top of the skull off, straight across like a pot lid, hinge it, pop the brain in, and clamp it tight. That’s the reason I decided to make the monster’s head square and flat like a box, and dig that big scar across his forehead, and have metal clamps hold it together. The two metal studs that stick out the sides of his neck are inlets for electricity-plugs. The monster is an electrical gadget and lightning is his life force.”
The final version make-up took three-and-a-half hours to put on in the morning, and an hour-and-a-half to remove at night. With a steel spine, and boots designed for use by asphalt spreaders, the total weight was forty-eight pounds Add that the entire movie was shot in an enclosed studio under lights in the heat of the summer, Universal Studio executive Carl Laemmle said “Karloff’s eyes mirrored the suffering we needed.”
It is a remarkable fact of Hollywood history that this essentially sweet, self-effacing man, who started off his career by frightening everyone would in 1966 finish it by warming the hearts of children and grownups everywhere by becoming the voice of “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas”! BUT….. that is a special posting that will come at Christmas Time….
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“A Pictorial Encyclopedia of Horror Movies” by Dennis Gifford, Hamlyn Publ. Group Ltd. London, 1973
“Frankenstein” directed by James Whale, Universal Pictures, 1931.
J.P. Pierce = http://whatculture.com/film/history-of-the-universal-monsters.php