Horror has been one of the most durable film genres since the days of silent films. However the first generation of film-makers were actually slow to latch on horror as a subject matter. The first decade of film, from 1895 to about 1904 focused on simple documentaries (or "actualities"), slapstick comedies, dancers and prize fighters, historical recreations and tableaus taken from classic literature, such as Shakepeare, Dickens and the Bible. Early film techniques were however too limited to effectively convey horror.
"LE MONSTRE" ~ "DIRECTED BY GEORGE MELIES;
That changed when French film-maker George Melies began his revolutionary developments. Melies had been experimenting as early as 1896 and by 1903 he had developed a whole arsenal of film tricks which could be used to suggest the supernatural including stop-action photography and double exposures. He had also built a studio with elaborate sets which could portray a world of myth and magic. However Melies, while imaginative and experimental in many ways, was oddly conservative in his staging methods, preferring to simply set a stationary camera in front of his actors and sets and leave it there as if films were just another form of theatre. More importantly Melies was primarily interested in a whimsical world of child-like wonder and fantasy, not horror. The gentle Melies, who made mechanical toys as a sideline, would have been shocked at the idea of scaring an audience.
"THE HAUNTED CASTLE" ~ DIRECTED BY GEORGE MELIES;
"LE DIABLE AU CONVENT" ~ DIRECTED BY GEORGE MELIES;
His Spanish contemporary Chomon De Segundo (1871 - 1929) made use of all of Melies' bag of tricks but he had a somewhat different thematic sense. While the Frenchmen Melies was influenced by the works of Jules Verne and Hans Christian Anderson and fantasy paintings of Gustave Moreau, the Spaniard Segundo, was more influenced by the darker sense of Edgar Allan Poe and Francisco Goya. Some of his films have a more Gothic feel.
"RED SPECTRE" ~ DIRECTED BY SEGUNDO CHOMON;
While Melies had been a performer (as a magician) and set decorator, Segundo had actually little theatrical experience but had instead been a publicist and agent married to an actress when he decided to move into films in 1901. He started out with simple "actualities" but learning fast he soon picked up on the camera tricks of Melies and set out to top them by adding in some early animation tricks and a slightly more flexible camera. As Melies' career declined Chomon's career picked up and he continued to work into the 1920's albeit mostly as a photographer and set designer on other people's films including the Italian epic "Cabiria" (1914) and Abel Gance's classic "Napoleon" (1927). He was working to develop colour film when he died suddenly aged only 57.
"THE HAUNTED HOUSE" ~ DIRECTED BY CHOMON DE SEGUNDO;
CHOMON DE SEGUNDO;
In spite of his talents as a filmmaker Chomon was however not a play-write and his films have little in the way of plotline, even less than Melies famous fantasy films, for that early film-makers would have to turn to to a rich tradition of Victorian Gothic literature which they now had the techniques to portray. A 1901 British version of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol", while obviously not a horror story, did feature a ghost (using double exposures and a white sheet typical of stage ghosts of the time) that probably impressed audiences of the day. With a running time, usual of it's day, of only five minutes of which three and half minutes remain, it's not much of a film but it does have a proper story and characters. The film saves time by having only one ghost rather than four. For decades it was assumed to have been lost until an incomplete version was found. It also features early use of some crude special effects including a double exposures to create the ghostly image of Marley's face on Scrooge's door and using a black drape to show images of the past. The film was obviously shot indoors and the sets are clearly painted backdrops of the sort used on stage. The actors are similarly stagebound, sometimes openly gesturing, and even speaking to an audience that obviously can not hear them. This looks odd and even campy to modern eyes but was common in films of that era. The film was directed by Robert Paul, a former stage magician who directed other films using photographic tricks. He may have also appeared in the film as well but the cast is unknown.
In 1910 Edison studios did their own version with a by then standard ten minute running time and correspondingly somewhat more more detailed story directed by Edison contract regular J Searle Dawley. He had already been directing films for Edison from the earliest days of proper narrative films including "Rescued From An Eagle's Nest" (starring DW Griffith) in 1908. His films were only one reel (ten minutes) in length but they did tell a proper story and sometimes used more than one set although his camera was still stationary.
"A CHRISTMAS CAROL" (1910)
Directed by J Searle Dawley
Marc McDermott ~ Ebenezer Scrooge
Charles Ogle ~ Bob Crachit
William Bechtel ~ Unknown (The Ghost?)
Carey Lee ~ Unknown (Mrs Cratchit?)
Viola Dana ~ 13 yr Old Child
Shirley Mason ~ 10 yr Old Child
The same year Edison studios also made what is generally considered to be the first proper horror film with a version of Mary Shelly's "Frankenstein". Although often credited to Edison himself by that date Edison had long since handed the actual film-making to directors like Edwin S Porter and J Searle Dawley having moved on to his myriad other business dealings. Edison had never taken film seriously as a narrative form or shown any artistic leanings anyway.
This film was directed again by J Searle Dawley and starred Augustus Phillips (as Dr Frankenstein), Charles Ogle (who had previously appeared Bob Crachit) as The Monster and Mary Fuller as the Dr's girl, the rest of the cast are unknown although since the film was shot in the same year as "A Christmas Carol" using the same director at the same studios it is quite possible that the two films shared the rest of their cast as well which would have common at the time. The story keeps as true to the spirit of the original Shelly novel as could be expected considering the short length and lack of dialogue. The actual scientific process involved is kept extremely vague and seems more akin to a witch's cauldron than the elaborate laboratory of the later James Whale/Boris Karloff film. The ending is even more mystical with the monster simply disappearing when the Doctor's personality reasserts itself after his having being earlier weakened and distraught rather than having the monster being killed. The film seems to imply then that the monster is connected to Dr Frankenstein in a way that is more similar to "Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde" than the actual Shelly novel or any later film version. As is common to Edison Studio films the film is shot entirely indoors.
FRANKENSTEIN ~ (1910);
Directed by J Searle Dawley
AUGUSTUS PHILLIPS ~ DR VICTOR FRANKENSTIEN
CHARLES OGLE ~ THE MONSTER
MARY FULLER ~ ELIZABETH
"Frankenstein" gained a mythical status party because it was considered a lost film for decades with no known copies and the only surviving evidence being a still photo of Ogle in his monster costume and makeup used in the promotional posters. That iconic shot of the hulking monster became an enigmatic image of film history but there was only guesswork about the actual film. In 1963 a full plot description and further stills were found in an old Edison Studios catalog. That filled in some holes but still no actual film. As it happened there had been a copy of the film sitting in the library of a private collector who had bought it in the 1950's but did not realize what he had since his copy was in poor shape and not easily screened. That actually happens more often than you would think. It wasn't until the late seventies that the film was cleaned up and released to the public. Fortunately by then it was in public domain.
Director J Searle Dawley (1877 - 1949) would make around one hundred and fifty films, all silents, between 1907 and 1924 including the original versions of "Snow White", "Uncle Tom's Cabin", "The Charge Of The Light Brigade" and "The Four Feathers". Unfortunately most of his films have been lost.
Mary Fuller (1888 - 1973) was a well known leading lady who had worked both on stage and in film from it's earliest days who made a number of successful films (most since lost) and she also branched out into screen writing and marrying an opera singer. However by the end of World War One facing middle age and changing public tastes, her career and marriage were essentially over and she retired after suffering a series of nervous breakdowns. By the time she died at age 85 in a nursing home she was a forgotten figure. Although she lived long enough to have seen the re-release of the original "Frankenstein" it's unlikely she was made aware of it.
As for Charles Ogle (1865 - 1940), the first horror film star, he made at least three hundred films (most long lost of course) as well as appearing on Broadway. His broad features, untamed hair and bulging eyes made him an ideal villain and he would appear as Long John Silver in the 1920 version of "Treasure Island" (with Lon Chaney in a supporting role) as well as a version of "The Ten Commandments". He retired in 1926 just before the end of the silent era and died remembered by a few horror film buffs but having no idea that any of his films would ever be seen again.
DR JEKYLL AND MR HYDE;
Robert Louis Stevenson's classic novel had already been adapted as a successful play in London in 1889 during the year of Jack The Ripper's rampage by writer Thomas Russell Sullivan and German/American actor Richard Mansfield. Mansfield was so realistically terrifying that some people actually thought he might be Jack and he was even questioned by the police. His transformation into Mr Hyde was accomplished without excessive makeup using body language, facial expressions and lighting. Mansfield would have been the obvious choice to play the film role however he had died in 1907 aged only 50. The first film version was made in 1908 only months after Mansfield's death by William Selig starring one Hobart Bosworth in the title role, but has not survived, this version was reportedly quite stage-bound and filmed entirely on a stage set. Another version was made in Denmark in 1910 which has also been lost. Two surviving film versions were made in 1912 and 1913.
The 1912 version was directed by Lucius Henderson and starred James Cruze, who had previously appeared in "Last Of The Mohicans" in 1911, and Florence LaBadie, one of the leading actresses of the era.
DR JEKYLL AND MR HYDE (1912);
Directed by Lucius Henderson;
JAMES CRUZE ~ DR JEKYLL
FLORENCE LA BADIE ~ ALICE (JEKYLL'S GIRL)
HARRY BENHAM ~ MR HYDE
MARIE ELINE ~ LITTLE GIRL
The story follows the original story and play reasonably closely albeit simplified to allow for the one reel twelve minute time-length which forces the exclusion of several characters. Unlike films of the 1900's there is use of multiple realistic sets including outdoors although the camera angles used are all essentially the same. The transformation scenes are simple dissolves from the Jekyll to Hyde characters with no in-between scenes. Typical of most one reel films of the day this was probably shot quickly and has a small cast. Even including extras the entire cast only numbers about a half dozen. The film's running time seems to be missing several seconds at the beginning and end including the credits, however it's doubtful this would change much from the story.
James Cruze (1884 - 1942) was not an especially charismatic figure and it was long rumoured that the Mr Hyde character was actually played by another actor not listed. In 1963 Harry Benham revealed (or claimed) to be that actor. At this point this is impossible to verify (Cruze had died in 1942) but it is generally considered to be true. The actor playing Mr Hyde does indeed appear to be a completely different person from Cruze with dramatically different facial features even taking into account the obvious stage make-up. Hyde is also notably shorter than Cruze although some of this is due to his hunched posture. Cruz was a contract player for Tanhauser Studios and is typical of leading men of the age; tall, distinguished and blandly handsome. Although he would make around a hundred silent films Cruze would become more successful as a director of westerns well into the sound era.
Harry Benham (1884 - 1964) had already had a stage and film career including a lost film called "The Mummy" (a lost film about which little is known) and "Cinderella" (as Prince Charming) along with various Dickens adaptations. He would make films into the 1920's before retiring.
Florence LaBadie (1888 - 1917) was actually the bigger star and considered something of a sex symbol of the age. Her origins were a mystery even then although it is known that she was raised in Montreal. As a New York based model LaBadie had moved on to a stage career when she was befriended by fellow Canadian Mary Pickford who encouraged her to move into film where she worked with Biograph Studios DW Griffith on a half dozen films including 1911's Victorian romance "Enoch Arden". That same year she was offered a contract with Tanhauser Studios where she would become a rival to Mary Pickford making an astonishing 185 films in six years, few of which survive. LaBadie was a classic romantic leading woman of the day; beautiful, statuesque and proper and dignified. LaBadie was sexier than the virginal Mary Pickford as well as being athletic, she would do her own stunts in a later action serial. She is not really given much to do in this film and and a better example of her acting ability can be seen in "Enoch Arden" and especially "The Woman In White" a Gothic mystery (also starring Cruze) filmed in 1917 both of which still survive. LaBadie was an intelligent woman who, unusual for actors of the day, involved herself in politics as a pacifist during World War I. Less plausible were vague rumours of an affair with Woodrow Wilson. She was also an inventor having patented an automobile turning signal which was later superseded by the modern turning light. Ironically she was killed in a traffic accident in 1917 aged only 29. She was the first major Hollywood figure to die, indeed she had been largely responsible for keeping Tanhauser Studios in the black, although her contract had recently expired, and her future seemed secure. Although she has largely been forgotten with few of her movies surviving, LaBadie was the first real film sex symbol although how she would have competed with the next era of Vamps and Flappers is an open question, she was a strong and smart enough actress to have moved to character roles given the chance.
FLORENCE LA BADIE:
The following year saw a longer version produced by Carl Leamle at IMP studios. At 26 minutes this version was more than twice the length of the previous version and boasted a bigger star than Cruze in King Baggot, a major leading man of the day. In fact it is entirely possible that Tanhauser Studios fired off their quicky version to pre-emept the bigger budget IMP version.
DR JEKYLL & MR HYDE (1913);
Directed by Herbert Brenon
KING BAGGOT ~ DR JEKYLL/MR HYDE
JANE GAIL ~ ALICE
MATT SNYDER ~ ALICE'S FATHER
HOWARD CRAMPTON ~ DR LANYON
WLLIAM SORELLE ~ UTTERSON
Since this version is more than twice the length of the Tanhauser version they have more time to develop the story and characters although it's actually not substantially different from the earlier version. King Baggot has a more commanding presence than Cruze and is more dramatic especially in the transformation scenes. For these scenes Baggot seems to have based his performance on Mansfield's stage role albeit with the luxury of being able to stop the camera and change makeup. Baggot was no Lon Chaney and other than some relatively minor facial and hand make-up he relies mostly on messing up his hair and changes in posture to become Hyde. It would be fair to say that as Mr Hyde, Baggot could be accused of over-doing it, especially in his painfully hunched over scuttling crap-like gait which looks distinctly uncomfortable, if not painful.
Jane Gail as Alice entirely lacks the beauty and grace of Florence LaBadie and is quite plain by comparison, although to be fair neither actress is given much to do with such a passive role. Oddly Gail had actually appeared in the previous IMP film version the year before as an extra.
The Tanhauser film has somewhat better sets notably in the dingy pub Hyde frequents and the use of some lattice-work windows as framing devices in a few shots. These shots, which symbolically portray Hyde as if in a cage, would almost belong in the German Expressionist films of a decade later although there's nothing else here to suggest such cutting-edge thinking.
King Baggot (1879 - 1948) was already a well known leading actor having appeared in films since 1909. Previously he had been a semi-pro soccer player in St Louis before becoming a successful stage actor in a variety of roles including Shakespere and had even appeared on Broadway before being lured to the easy money of film by IMP studios. With his stage experience and athletic skill Baggot became one of the bigger male stars of the day working many times with Mary Pickford and Margueritte Snow and director Thomas Ince in movies such as "Ivanhoe" and "The Scarlet Letter". Later as he became too old to continue as a leading man he, like Cruze, moved into directing including working with William S Hart on the classic western "Tumbleweeds" in 1925. Unfortunately he took to drink and his career went into decline in the sound era and he was reduced to playing bit parts. He died of a stroke in a sanitarium aged 68. By then he was largely forgotten although he would later be given a star on Hollywood Boulevard.
Jane Gail (1890 - 1963) had appeared both in films and on Broadway but abruptly retired in 1920 when she reached age 30 and did not act again. Matt Snyder (1835 - 1917), who appeared as Gail's father actually had the most interesting life and longest career of all. He had served in the Civil War in the Union Navy before going on to a long career on stage before moving into films albeit in supporting roles due to his age. He was generally considered to be the oldest actor in the early film era although few of his films survive. He died, still working, at age 81. The rest of the cast were not particularly notable even at the time and they stayed that way.
Besides the novels of Mary Shelley and Robert Lewis Stevenson the works of Edgar Allan Poe would be used in early film including a few attempts by DW Griffith, although most of these films would have to wait a few more years. I've already written about these films here.
The film system in America in the 1910's was dominated by studios like Edison and Biograph who actively discouraged either a star system for actors or auteur directors since they would inevitably demand more money. Instead they promoted their corporate brand and churned out movies quickly and cheaply like any other product of the industrial era. It wasn't until Carl Leamle and his IMP Studios (IMP stood for "Independent Movie Productions") wooed away Canadian film star Florence Lawrence (known as the Biograph Girl) from Biograph studios by offering her not only more money but also star billing, that the other studios had no choice but to offer the same. However while actors became household names the directors, except for DW Griffith and Mack Sennett, remained largely unknown. France was different. While in 1910's America the industrialist was a heroic figure, in France the artist was still the romantic hero and the idea of the auteur director who treated film as an art form was accepted while Americans still saw film as little better than vaudeville. Thus Europe quickly produced "artistic" film-makers like the Frenchmen Abel Gance and Maurice Tourneur, the latter of whom would make an early horror film, as well as Italian epics and and the later Italian Futurists and German Expressionists.
Turneur's 1914 film "Figures De Cire" ("The Wax Figures") was the first in a genre of Wax Museum films that would include Paul Leni's legendary 1924 German Expressionist film "Waxworks", 1932's "Mystery Of The Wax Museum" (directed by Michael Curtiz and starring Lionel Atwill and Fay Wray), 1953's "House Of Wax" (in 3D with Vincent Price) and the 200? "Wax Museum" with Paris Hilton, not to mention any number of "Twilight Zone" episodes.
"FIGURES DE CIRE" (THE WAX FIGURES);
Directed by Maurice Tourneur
Henry Roussel ~ Pierre de Lionne
Emile Tramont ~ Jacques
Henri Gouget ~ Caretaker
PLOT SUMMARY (spoiler alert);
A group of wealthy and frivolous dandies including Pierre de Lionne and Jacques and their wives are at a fancy dress dinner and drinking heavily. One of the Jacques challenges Pierre to stay the night in a wax museum's Chamber of Horrors.The challenge accepted they head off and Pierre is locked in. At first he is bored and dozes off but later decides to tour the exhibits which consists of displays of various murderers as well as a guillotine and severed heads. Pierre begins to feel uneasy and claustrophobic and finally believes the figures have come to life, especially when his jacket becomes snagged on a knife brandished by one of the wax killers. He begins to panic and thrash about wildly, seizing the knife from the wax statue. Meanwhile his former diner companions have become bored and the Jacques goes to the museum to check on his Pierre. Finding him a nervous wreck Jacques, while unseen by Pierre, decides to throw a bigger scare into him by hiding behind a screen and making noises of some sort. The now terrified Pierre slashes at the screen with the knife and kills Jacques. The final scene shows the police and museum authorities surrounding the body of Jacques and Pierre, now a raving maniac, as he lashes out in every direction. Fade out.
There is no supernatural in the film, the wax figures do not actually come to life, yet there is definite horror in Pierre's complete mental melt-down and murder of Jacques. This sequence, shot with Jacques completely in silhouette, is very well done. The wax figures are suitably creepy, especially a row of severed heads, as is the museum's shifty looking handyman. Henry Roussel as Pierre is very good as he moves from casual arrogance, note the cockiness of his slumped posture and bored puffing on a cigarette early on, to paranoid fear and mental collapse. He is able to suggest in the earlier scenes that his arrogant swagger covers for a basic unease even before his meltdown.
The film shows a far more advanced filming technique with a greater variety of shots, shorter edits and better use of lighting, although there are still no proper close-ups. The wax museum sets are spartan but creepy, especially a collection of decapitated heads starring at Pierre or another scene of Pierre cringing before robed figures (shown only from behind) who seem to be judging him. Unlike the Jekyll & Hyde films this film belongs more to the director than the actor. Henry Roussel (1875-1946) would have a long career as an actor, director and writer in France into the sound era retiring just before the Second World War.
Maurice Tourneur would go on to a long career both in France, and after 1914, in Hollywood. Among his films was a 1915 version of "Trilby" with it's character of Svengali, an evil hypnotist who manipulates the title character, a beautiful singer. The film was based on a 1895 novel and play which had already been made into a 1914 British movie starring the famous English stage actor Sir Herbert Beerbohm-Tree who had originated the role on stage in a version which appears to be lost. The storytelling on this film is so rushed and perfunctory that it's probably not even possible to follow the story unless you already know it, which to be fair, many no doubt did at the time.
Directed by Maurice Tourneur
Adapted from the novel by George Du Maurier
CLARA KIMBALL YOUNG ~ TRILBY
WILTON LACKAYE ~ SVENGALI
Plot Summary (spoiler alert);
Trilby is a beautiful artist's model who is having fainting spells. Svengali is a hypnotist who claims he can cure her through hypnosis. He puts her in a trance which does stop her fainting spells but her father is suspicious of Svengali and orders him to stay away from his daughter. Svengali returns when she is alone an puts her in a trance again. He states he can train her to be a great opera singer even though she has no talent. He induces her to write and sign a letter (unfortunately the film is too degraded to read it) and gets her a show headlining in a large opera house. On the night of the concert she sings perfectly gets a standing ovation. While she is waiting to give an encore Svengali is confronted backstage during which he dies suddenly. With Svengali dead his hypnotic spell is broken but Trilby is unaware. She insists on singing an encore but since she knows nothing about music and has no talent the best she can do is an off-key version of a vaudeville song. She is booed off the stage.
The story had obvious horror potential, and in fact was an inspiration for the title characters in the classic "Phantom Of The Opera" (written in 1910) and in the later uber-classic German Expressionist horror film "Cabinet Of Dr Caligari" in 1919. However Tourneur decided in his short fourteen minute version to race through the story in a rote manner and concentrate more on the Trilby character who was played by Clara Kimball Young, a popular starlet of the day, for a vague and unsatisfying film. He doesn't even bother to play up the equally obvious comedy aspects of the final scene. The film shows none of the fluid (for the era) camera-work and editing Tourneur had shown in "Wax Figures" and it appears that he may have been working on the short assembly-line time-tables of American studios and he may have regarded this film as a quick job to establish himself in America. There is one shot of an apparently nude Clara Kimball Young bathing behind a screen which is risque by American standards but little else that shows a European touch. Tourneur would say that he preferred the more naturalistic acting style used by American actors to the often hammy acting common in many French films of the time, in which actors would openly mug for the camera and even gesture towards an audience who can not respond. American films had long since grown out of this sort of thing. Although oddly that had not been a problem in "Wax Figures".
Clara Kimball Young (1890 - 1960) was a popular leading lady of the day known for her rather scandalous love life and the scene of her bathing was no doubt intended to cash in on her image. Her actual performance is poised enough but she lacks the natural grace and beauty of Florance LaBadie. Kimball Young had been acting on stage since her childhood and in films since 1907 so she was a veteran by 1915 and the film was meant to show case her rather than Svengali as would be the case in other versions. This is a problem since her character is completely passive and not interesting. In a sound film, or a play, there would be obvious comedy situations to be found in her lack of singing ability but a silent film can not take advantage of these either. The Svangali character is played by Wilton Lackaye who is a large, imposing man who bears a strong, and possibly not accidental, resemblance to Rasputin. He easily dominates the screen but his character is under-developed (what are his motives?), he is given too little screen time and he dies too easily to make for a good villain. This film needed to given more time to develop it's story and characters as well as to allow Tourneur to spend more time and effort in using his skills to make a more atmospheric story. Better use of the visual tricks that French directors (like Abel Gance) had already made use of to show Trilby's disoriented state while hypnotized would have been a good touch here.
"Trilby" would have to wait for a 1923 version starring Arthur Edmond Carewe, an Armenian born screen heavy who gave a much praised menacing performance as Svengali so that he was later considered for the role of "Dracula" which later went to Bela Lugosi. The role would be also be played in a German film in 1927 by noted expressionist horror actor Paul Wegener, best known for the classics "Der Golem" and "The Student Of Prague". Unfortunately neither of these versions of "Trilby" survive. A better known sound version from 1931 would star John Barrymore which is outside our survey.
These first films were all short films done quickly on a low budget, even the IMP version of "Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde" could hardly be called a major production. The first attempt at a major big-budget epic horror film would come from Italy.
Although it's often forgotten about by Americans the first epic films, with large casts, big-budgets and long running times came not from American filmmakers, who preferred to churn out crowd-pleasing quickies but from the Italians who were the first to see film as a medium for serious art. To Italian filmmakers their idea of a serious "Art Film" would be ponderous full-length versions of classic literature with Roman motifs such as "Quo Vadis", "Cabiria", "Dante's Inferno" and "The Last Days Of Pompei" done with large casts, and big elaborate sets. These films, largely forgotten today by American critics, were a sensation in their day and are the obvious inspiration for the later epics of DW Griffiths and Cecil B DeMille.
"L'Inferno" (or "Dante's Inferno") was the first of these classical epics. Taking an unheard of three years to film with an even more eye-popping cast and crew of 150 people and a massive budget to match, "L'Inferno" was a major international hit even though it played mostly at large legitimate theatres in major cities with expensive ticket prices. Audiences were spellbound by the film's air of Gothic fantasy, classical allusions and it's astounding special effects. Even the film's length of 71 minutes, more than twice the length of any previous film, contributed to the film's epic feel.
None of which makes it a great film by today's standards. In fact all these Italian films, while sharing similarly epic lengths, casts, budgets and classical motifs also share a similar ponderous pacing, unimaginative static camera work and bland acting that amounts to little more than striking heroic poses and pulling elaborate facial expressions. While the Italian filmmakers put much work into their elaborate sets they gave little thought to actual film-making and were essentially still approaching film as if it were no different than a play or opera. Woodrow Wilson was reportedly a big fan of these Italian epics and arranged screenings at the White House. These films, while obviously influencing those later films of Griffiths, lack entirely his flair however.
That said; "L'Inferno" is easily the best of the lot largely due to it's spectacular special effects which truly horrified audiences of it's day. The film has demons, headless ghosts, giants and monsters that far surpassed the playful stage tricks of Melies and were meant to terrify.
Directed by Giuseppe De Liguoro
SALVADORE PAPA ~ DANTE ALIGHIERI
ARTURO PIROVANO ~ VIRGIL
AUGUSTO MILLA ~ LUCIFER
The plot, to the extent there is one, is beyond simple. The poet Dante (wearing a notably fake nose and chin) is escorted on a tour of the various circles of Hell by the poet Virgil wherein he meets various historical figures (many so obscure that only an obsessive classical scholar could know who they were) some of whom tell the stories of how they got there. Then he gets back to the surface world. And that's literally it. But the film doesn't owe it's success to it's story, such as it is, but to it's Gothic atmosphere, sets and special effects, which are still pretty creepy.
Melies and to a lesser extent Chomon had used some quite elaborate sets for their fantasy films, but their artfully elaborate designs resembled illustrations from some Art Nouveau children's book, perhaps by Arthur Rackham, beautiful and dream-like. By contrast for his film Giuseppe De Liguoro took the illustrations from Gustave Dore's 1860's edition of "Dante's Inferno" as a template and set out to copy them with notable success. Dore showed Hell as a grim, grey, barren wasteland of jagged rocks, steaming fissures, dark clouds and gritty rain, gaping caverns and lakes of solid ice. The film captures this perfectly, even obsessively. It is impressive but far too stark and grimy to be have any beauty. Instead of using obvious stage sets Liguoro shot in what appears to be a desolate quarry. The opening shot shows obviously real mountain peaks while the closing shot has Dante exiting through an equally real craggy cavern. None of this appears to be made of the the sort of paper mache and plywood of normal stage sets. Note how the various barefoot extras hobble around painfully as if on jagged rocks. For comparison check out the Dore illustration of the Lake of Ice with trapped souls with the film's recreation. (Note; this also explains Dante's fake pointed nose and chin. He has them here because Dore drew him that way).
While the sets are authentic enough it was the special effects that really caught people's attention. Dore's Hell is populated by a collection of demons, ghosts, giants and various monsters which the film faithfully recreates. The horned devils aren't quite as creepy as those who would later show up in "Haxan" (1922) but they aren't the playful imps of Melies either. Either scrawny and leering or fat and grotesque they are ugly and hateful brutes.
A brief scene with a cursed soul waving his wailing severed head uses double exposures effects similar to those already used by Melies. But while Melies played for laughs "L'Inferno" goes for the macabre quite effectively in one of the film's great stills.
Not all the special effects work so effectively however. The double exposures used to create the giants are a little wobbly and the one attempt to have Dante and Virgil interact with the giants clearly involves two fake looking dolls. There is a scene with a flock of flying ghosts swirling overhead done with double exposures which is rather clumsy (if albeit attractive). Other flying ghosts are awkwardly on cables. The monsters Cerebus and Geryon are look like the clumsy stuffed animals on strings they obviously are. The Hounds of Hell are just normal dogs who aren't all that big and don't even look particularly fierce.
These faults are forgotten with the big reveal monster who of course is Lucifer himself which is still plenty eye-catching. Satan is shown here as a giant winged sphinx gnawing on a squirming male body in a still iconic image that Griffith himself would borrow for his one attempt at a full-length horror film "The Avenging Conscience".
One imagines rural, religious audiences of 1910 would have been properly horrified by the whole spectacle of a nightmarish Hell both Catholics and Protestants could identify with. However it's unlikely any such audiences ever saw the film and that was not it's intended audience. By 1910 movie theatres had moved beyond the big cities somewhat but were still largely an urban entertainment and a big budget films like this and other Italian (non-horror) epics would not have played in any small town theatres. Instead for it's run the film played in large theatres with ticket prices that were several times the usual fare. The targeted audience was not the working classes or even the vaudeville going middle class but instead the kind of wealthy and cultured urban elites and Bohemians who could be expected to catch the literary and artistic allusions and classical themes. They would also be impressed by the epic scale, opera-like settings and pacing and excessive running time which would signal that these films were "High Art" and not the slapstick and melodrama of the mass cinema. While the later epics of Griffith and DeMille as well as some of the bigger German films owe much to these Italian epics, they are essentially very conservative in their actual film-making approach. While the Italians put much work into their sets and costumes and made decent use of their army of extras the camera-work is static (there are still no close ups) and flat, the pacing slow, the editing pedestrian (every scene must start with inter-titles) and the acting wooden posturing taken from the opera stage. They are also utterly humourles and stuffy. "L'Inferno" largely gets away with this because of it's simplicity. Since there is no real plot and only two simple characters (who don't actually do anything but observe) the film doesn't have to spend time on developing it's story or characters, it simply sends them to Hell and watches passively as it unfolds. In spite of it's pretensions the film is little more than an excuse to string together some cool and creepy sets and special effects which it does very well.
This would set the pattern for the later string of Italian epics into the early 1920's. These films were hugely successful throughout Europe, North America, Australia and parts of Latin America until the end of World War One. After the war the conservatism of the Italian film-makers (aside from a few Futurist film-makers) became dangerously out-of-step with the bold new innovations coming from America, France, Scandinavia and Germany and the once powerful Italian film industry fell into a decline they never recovered from. Economic recession and political chaos ending in Mussolini coming to power in 1922 further isolated Italy, although as it turned out that Il Duce was a huge film buff and happy to encourage the making of, and export of epic films that promoted the glory of ancient Rome. Accordingly in 1926 Italian studios, with the enthusiastic boosting of Mussolini, tried to blast their way into the world market by staging remakes of two of their hits from the previous decade; "Quo Vadis" and "The Last Days Of Pompeii". These were epics done in the usual lavish style with the biggest budgets yet however American and European audiences of the mid-twenties were already used to the big budget epics of DW Griffith, Cecil B DeMile, Carl Laemmle ("Phantom Of The Opera" and "The Hunchback Of Notre Dame", both with Lon Chaney sr) and the German Expressionists and these films were massive failures that bankrupted major studios. In 1937 one final bigger budget classical epic, the infamous flop "Scipio Africanus" financed by Il Duce's government, was the coup de grace. The next time anyone paid any attention to Italian films would be after World War two with "The Bicycle Thief" and the films of Felini.
Taken as a whole of the the films shown here "L'Inferno" has the best atmosphere and effects and has the most truly horrifying scenes although "Wax Figures" is a better as a film and has the best acting from Rousel. However the best pre-World War One horror films came from Germany starring actor Paul Wegener in 1913 with the first versions of "Der Golem" in (of which only a few minutes survive) and "The Student Of Prague" which I've already written about here. For another article about a more obscure silent film can be found here. Here's another article about the first all-black horror film. While we're on the subject here's another about "Dracula".
Thursday, 14 July 2016
Tuesday, 8 September 2015
THE STUDENT OF PRAGUE;
Today German cinema of the silent era is known for it's iconic works of Expressionist Horror such as "Nosferatu", "The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari", "Metropolis" and "Der Golem". In fact the Germans were rather late in producing film works of any note. The early decades of film from the 1890's to just before World War One belonged to the Americans, French, Italians, Danes, Swedes and to lesser extent the Russians while German films were mostly non-nondescript comedies, ribald burlesques and crime stories including several adaptations of Sherlock Holmes. German audiences were also quite happy to devour foreign films like the westerns of Bronco Billy, William S Hart and Tom Mix and the French comedies of Max Linder rather than demand any particularly distinctive homegrown product unlike the Italians and Russians who produced "Art Films" based on historical epics or the Danes and Swedes who produced films based on Nordic folklore and literary themes. These last films came to fascinate many German writers, stage directors and actors who felt a common Nordic kinship known as Expressionism.
Expressionism was a post-impressionist art movement influenced by the Dutch artist Van Gogh and more especially the Norwegian painter Edvard Munch and the play-write Ibsen which would inspire Germans who strongly identified with their themes of deep emotional turmoil constrained by bourgeois convention, a strong connection with nature and a shared Nordic heritage. They would make these themes their own with a passionate intensity and thoroughness adding to them philosophical strains from Goethe, Schiller, Nietzche and Freud and a willingness to experiment quite lacking in previous German film-makers. This ambitious vision came from stage directors and play-writes like Max Reinhardt and Frank Wedekind who produced ground-breaking plays which attacked bourgeois values as well as challenging conventional stage designs with minimalist sets influenced by constructionist and cubist art, impressionist lighting and dramatic and physical acting styles influenced by modern dance. Previously the Expressionist theatre world had not taken film very seriously as a medium thinking it fit only for low-brow entertainment but the Scandinavian films (which were quite popular in Germany, especially those of actress Asta Nielsen) convinced them of the artistic possibilities.
Max Reinhardt's theatre troupe contained many figures who would become crucial figures in Expressionist films including actors Conrad Veidt, Werner Krause, Emil Jannings, Paul Wegener, Max Shreck, John Gottowt, Lil Dagover ("Caligari"), Greta Schroder ("Nosferatu") and Lyda Salmonova ("Der Golem") along with directors Ernest Lubitsch and Paul Leni and set designer Ernest Stern. Reinhardt's own attempts at film direction starting with "Sumuran" in 1910 were failures. Reinhardt simply did not understand the new medium and merely shot his films with static cameras as if they were simply plays. This sort of approach had already gone out of style in America and France by this time and audiences in Germany, who were by then used to foreign films were bored by such a dull, out-of-touch approach. However some of his younger actors and directors learned these lessons and soldiered on.
The first to successfully make his mark was Paul Wegener with his 1913 film "The Student Of Prague". Wegener was one of Reinhardt's stage actors who had been considering the possibilities of film as dramatic medium capable of portrayal of fantasy after seeing an exhibition of trick photographs featuring a man fencing and playing cards with himself. Clearly the stage would not be up to such effects but film-makers such as George Melies and Segundo De Chomon had already shown how film could be used to create an unreal fantasy world. Melies and other fantasy film-makers were content to engage in childlike magic, however Wegener's aim was to use fantasy to explore expressionist themes of psychological horror. Working with a script written by Hanns Heinz Ewers, a novelist of Gothic horror already known for the novel "Alarune", they came up with a story about a young man selling his soul and revealing his inner demon. The story was based on the iconic (especially in Germany) story of Faust and the Devil along with Robert Louis Stevenson's "Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde", Oscar Wilde's "Dorian Gray", Edgar Allan Poe's "William Wilson", Joseph Conrad's "Secret Sharer" Fyodor Dostoyevsky's "The Double" and a touch of Bram Stoker's "Dracula". Two other novels now forgotten but popular in Victorian times and thus possibly known to the writers might have been the trashy English Gothic potboilers "The Monk" by Mathew Lewis and "Memoth The Wanderer" by the Irish writer Charles Robert Maturin about characters selling their souls.
Wegener brought in director Stellan Rye and one of Germany's best cameramen Guido Seeber along with some other Reinhardt actors including John Gottowt and Lyda Salmonova, who would also be one of Wegener's many wives. The resulting film caused a sensation not only in Germany but also internationally becoming the first German film to do so aside from 1912 "Night And Ice", a well done but conventional docudrama about the Titanic sinking. With it's dark themes of obsession, guilt, greed, lust, betrayal and death the film exposed the hidden tormented soul behind the sober, conformist, respectable German bourgeois in the false dawn before the nightmare of The Great War and became the catalyst for the growth of German Expressionist film after the war.
"THE STUDENT OF PRAGUE" ~ 1913;
Paul Wegener ~ Balduin, The Student
John Gottowt ~ Prof. Scapinelli, The Magician
Grete Berger ~ Countess Margit Von Schwarzenberg
Lyda Salmonova ~ Lyduschka, The Servant Girl
Lothar Korner ~ Count Von Schwarzenberg
Fritz Weidermann ~ Baron Waldis-Schwarzenberg
Directed by Stellan Rye
PLOT SYNOPSIS (SPOILER ALERT!);
In 1821 Prague Balduin is a young university student of limited means. He is socially ambitious but rather decadent, preferring to drink, dance and gamble. He is also a champion fencer. Lyduschka is a pretty and flirtatious servant girl at the pub he frequents. She longs for Balduin but he is hoping to find a rich wife. Scapinelli is a magician who makes a deal to find Balduin a likely target. Countess Margit is a wealthy heiress who is already engaged to her cousin Baron Waldis-Schwarzenberg as per her father's wishes although she does not love him. As the Countess and the Baron go off on fox hunt she rides off on her own and falls into a lake where she is rescued by Balduin who has been walking by with Scapinelli. Balduin returns to his small apartment to change and practice fencing where he is met by Lyduschka who gives him a bunch of flowers and flirts with him only to have him ignore her and take the flowers to give to the Countess whose estate he visits. She is there with her father the Count. She is happy to see Balduin but then Baron Waldis shows up with a much larger bouquet of flowers. The Baron is rude to Balduin and the Count quickly ushers him out. A dejected Balduin sheepishly returns home, still with his pathetic bunch of flowers. Scapinelli visits him and makes a proposal; he will pay Balduin one-hundred thousand pieces of gold in exchange for which Scapinelli may take any one item he wants from the room. As Balduin has nothing of value he readily agrees and signs a contract. Scapinelli gestures to a large full-length mirror Balduin uses for fencing practice and states that he will purchase Balduin's reflection. Balduin is dismissive until much to his shock his reflection does indeed step out of the mirror and walk slowly and silently towards the door before simply vanishing. Scapinelli laughs before exiting as well. Balduin is even more shocked to discover that he no longer has a refection in the mirror, although at the time he is inclined to laugh it off and enjoy his new found wealth.
The newly respectable Balduin is invited to a fancy ball where he pursues Countess Margit. He passes her a note asking her to meet him later even though she is to be married. Baron Waldis shows up and angrily pulls her away. Lyduschka has been spying on Balduin and witnesses this. As Balduin leaves he runs into his Doppelganger who mocks him before once again vanishing. Balduin is frightened at first but assumes he has been having a hallucination and laughs it off. Lyduschka has followed Countess Margit home and found the note Balduin gave Margit, she steals it and runs off. Balduin and Margit are having their tryst in a cemetery when the Doppelganger shows up and scares her away before disappearing. Balduin is now frightened.
Lyduschka goes to Baron Waldris' house and gives him the tryst note from Balduin to Margit. Waldris is outraged. He dismissively offers to pay her for the note but she indignantly refuses any money and gives him the note anyway before marching out. Baron Waldris calls on Balduin and challenges him to a duel which Balduin accepts. Count Von Schwarzenberg begs Waldris to call off the duel since Balduin is the finest fencer in Prague but Waldris arrogantly refuses. The Count then calls on Balduin and begs him to spare Waldris as he is the superior fencer and Waldris is both his proposed son-in-law and heir. Reluctantly Balduin agrees. Passing through a forest on his way to the duel Balduin is met by his Doppelganger who tells him he has already fought the duel and killed Waldris. The horrified Balduin runs to the spot of the duel where a crowd is gathering around the body of Waldris. He then rides to speak to the Count who refuses to see him. Balduin tries to forget his troubles by going to a fancy party and drinking alone. Lyduschka is at the party and flirts with him but he rejects her and leaves. Balduin attends a high-stakes card game where he wins until the other players quit and he is left alone. The Doppelganger then enters and sits down and invites Balduin to play him. The terrified Balduin runs away and tries to visit Margit, climbing over the fence of her estate. He climbs a latter into her room where he begs her forgiveness, crying in her lap. She is at first resistant but then relents. They kiss but when they parade together in front of a full length mirror and she discovers he has no reflection she is frightened. Before the distraught Balduin can explain the Doppelganger appears and Margit faints. The terrified Balduin flees out the window.
Balduin attempts to run away but at every turn he finds the Doppelganger impassively waiting for him. Eventually he flags down a coach and flees the city. When he exits the coach he discovers the coachman is in fact the Doppelganger. Balduin runs home, bars the door and arms himself with a dueling pistol. In his room Balduin sits at his desk to write a note (or confession?) when the Doppelganger appears. Balduin shoots him only to have the Doppelganger vanish. Balduin searches the room and finding no sign of his tormentor decides he is dead, especially when he grabs a mirror and discovers his reflection has returned to where it belongs. Balduin is overjoyed until he feels a pain in his chest. Checking it he discovers a bullet hole and crumples to the floor dead. Scapinelli enters the room and seeing Balduin's body takes the contract he had signed from his pocket and laughingly tears it up. Then he gives an elaborate bow before vanishing. The End.
The Gothic literary references in this clever story are obvious but ingenious. The "Faust" influence is overt, especially to a German audience, as when Balduin sold his reflection he was actually selling his soul and Scapinelli is obviously the Devil or at least one of his minions. The "Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde" influence is shown as the Doppelganger also reflects (so to speak) Balduin's dark side. The issue of a doppelganger had also been raised in Poes' "William Wilson" Dostoyevsky's "The Double" and Conrad's "Secret Sharer". As the reflection is destroyed Balduin also dies as had Dorian Gray with his portrait. That the soulless Balduin has no reflection is a convention taken from "Dracula". There is a notable difference though in that when Balduin makes his deal with the Devil he does not know who he is dealing with nor does he know he is selling his soul. By comparison Faust, Dr Jekyll, Dorian Gray and even Dracula knew exactly what deals they were making and made them anyway thinking they could handle the consequences. Balduin does not understand what he has sold until it is far too late. This changes the moral dynamic of the fable. Those characters had free-will and chose unwisely because of pride and ambition (Faust), intellectual arrogance (Jekyll), vanity (Dorian Gray) or the promise of immortality and power (Dracula). Balduin is certainly a selfish social climber but since he did not make even a somewhat informed choice he was in effect denied free will which makes him more of a victim than the others. There is no way of knowing if the film-makers Wegener and Ewers considered the ramifications of this change or not when they wrote the script. Were they dismissing or making a mockery of the very idea of free will as Sophocles had done in "Oedipus Rex"? Or did they not notice this at all?
A common theme that would later run through Expressionist film as identified by such influential critics as Fredrich Krakauer (in his landmark book "From Caligari To Hitler") and Lotte Eisner (the equally important "The Haunted Screen") manipulative figures who lead characters astray or control their minds. Characters such as Scapinelli, Dr Caligari, Dr Mabuse, Nosferatu, Lulu ("Pandora's Box"), Lola Lola ("Blue Angel") the mad scientists and magicians in "Der Golem", "Metropolis", "Aralune", "Homonculus", "Genuine" and "Warning Shadows" not to mention the film versions of "Faust" and "The Pied Piper" all show this was a real trend. Krackuer and Eisner saw this as a reflection of the innate German need to follow a strong leader that would later lead to Hitler. It's worth pointing out here that Hanns Heinz Ewers, who wrote the main script (as well as the novel "Alarune" which was also made into a movie twice), would later become an enthusiastic Nazi including writing scripts for Nazi propaganda films and plays including one glorifying the notorious Storm Trooper Horst Wessel.
In fact the film is notable for it's time in having no really sympathetic characters at all. Let alone a hero. Balduin may be a victim but he is also a decadent wastrel, an utterly shameless social climber who makes it clear that he is after the Countess for her money and social position even though the Countess is not even especially attractive compared to the younger, prettier and more flirtatious Lyduschka. The servant girl actually really does love him although it's hard to see why since he consistently ignores her. She is not even motivated by money since when Waldris offers to pay her she indignantly refuses. That's not to forget that Lyduschka is still sneaky, possessive and vengeful as she spies on him and squeals to Waldris which she had to know would end in a duel. Waldris is an arrogant snob who is also marrying Margit for money and status even though she has openly told him she does not love him and is going through with the arranged marriage due to family loyalty which Waldris obviously has no problems with. Neither does her father who is marrying her off to a cousin she does not love to keep the title in the family. Accordingly Margit is more of a victim but she is still cheating on her fiance and quickly forgives Balduin for killing him, although under the circumstances we can probably give her a pass on some of that. Balduin is not a villain as he is not without conscience since he does agree to call off the duel (or at least not kill Waldris) and feels some guilt over his death. Or is that just fear? We don't really know. And Scapinelli is of course the Devil. So that leaves us with no heroes, a strange position for a film of the time but one German intellectuals at least found revelatory. Or liberating.
BALDUIN CONFRONTED BY HIS DOUBLE;
As for the actual film-making, it is pretty conventional and shows little of the innovative camera work or set design that would become the trademarks of Expressionist film after 1919. The direction is perfectly competent and efficient and moves at a quick pace, however there are even some archaic touches such when characters gesture towards the camera as if on stage, by 1913 directors like DW Griffith were discouraging this sort of thing. The rather clunky need to formally introduce each character was also on it's way out although still common in Italian and Russian films. There are some Expressionist touches in the filming however such as in the gambling scene which is shown surrounded by darkness, and the placing of Balduin in settings were he is dwarfed by architecture as the story progresses in contrast with the beginning where he is shown in sunshine and in settings where he seems more imposing. One later trademark of Expressionist film was it's use of elaborately constructed indoor sets which allowed film-makers to control every aspect of design and lighting as well to the extent of sometimes creating fantasy worlds as in "Caligari" and "Metropolis". Wegener would later pioneer this approach with his second version of "Der Golem" (1920) but in 1913 he was still working with natural settings as the Scandinavians had done. Wegener had in fact chosen Prague as a setting for both films because he felt the city's old quarter would be have suitable atmosphere, especially for a scene in a Jewish graveyard with some large primal looking tombstones. While Wegener was giving some thought to setting a proper atmosphere he was not yet taking control of his environments yet to set the mood. Ironically the Rabbis denied permission to film in the graveyard so he had to build a fake one. By the time he was making the second version of "Der Golem" he was building an entire town as a set. The double exposures where Balduin is confronted by the Doppelganger were not really a new process but they are well done and must have impressed audiences at the time. Such trick shots would also become a standard feature in German films.
Wegener would normally be an odd choice for the role of the student, he is a stocky, even bulky man, with heavy features and although he is actually more physically gracefull than he appears as when he fences, scurries up and down ladders and scampers over a high fence with evident ease, he is still clearly too old to be a student. One suspects that if he had not been in charge of the project he would not have been cast in the lead role. Still he was a thoughtful actor who had given much consideration to the new medium (he would also give lectures on the subject of film acting) and he is a confident presence who can display some subtlety. This is important since he is able to convey the two distinct but identical characters successfully even though he would have actually be acting to a blank wall at the time. His skill compares well to the actress playing the Countess who is still bound by the conventions of the stage. By contrast Lyda Salmonova as Lyduschka, is pretty, lively and flirtatious and comfortable on film. The most impressive performance is John Gottowt as Scapinelli, he gets the best costume; dressed in a frock coat, top hat, drape pants and spats with a bald vulture head. He minces with birdlike movements and perches on Balduin's desk like a vulture. If he were more chubby he could be the model for the Batman villain The Penguin. His appearance and style (although the actor himself was not)would be shown again in the 1919 film "The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari" as both Werner Krause's title character as well as the sneering clerk perched on his impossibly high desk. Gottowt would become an excellent character actor and would play another similar looking devious old man in "Genuine" as well as the Renfield character in "Nosferatu" and another creepy old clerk in "Waxworks".
BALDUIN MEETS SCAPINELLI;
Paul Wegener would become one of the founders of Expressionist Horror following up the next year with the influential "Der Golem" (now unfortunately lost aside from the last few scenes) which he would remake (as both actor and director) in 1920 as one of the most important horror films of all time. He would also fire off a critically acclaimed version of "The Pied Piper Of Hamlin" which has also been lost, and a version of Hanns Ewers mad scientist novel "Alarune" in 1928 among many other film credits. He would cast his then wife Lyda Salmonova as the female lead in both versions of "Der Golem" and "The Pied Piper" although they would later divorce and he would marry six times, once to Greta Schroder from "Nosferatu". He had a short career in Hollywood playing mad scientists before returning home when sound films came in. After that the rather rotund actor's days as a leading man were clearly over but he continued to act as a supporting player into the sound era even after the Nazi's took over. Unlike many other Expressionist artists and film-makers he did not flee Germany and continued to work including in some notorious propaganda films, including "Kolberg", generally seen as one of the most expensive disasters in film history. Unlike Hanns Ewers, Wegener was no Nazi though, (he had of course already used a Jewish story and characters with respect in "Der Golem") he reportedly gave money and some assistance to the underground although how much is impossible to know. He managed to avoid being swept up by the Gestapo purges after 1944 so they obviously did not see him as a real threat although his celebrity may have given him some protection. At any rate the post war West German government had no problems with him and he continued to play an elder statesman role in German film and stage including reviving a Jewish play in Berlin and doing charitable work until his death after having a heart attack on stage while acting in a play. He died two months later in 1948 aged 78.
John Gottowt's fate was considerably darker. He did appear in a few other important films horror including as the Renfield character in the iconic "Nosferatu" along with Robert Weine's "Genuine" and Paul Leni's "Waxworks". However the rise of the Nazi's led to his fleeing Germany as he was Jewish. Fleeing first to Denmark but then to Warsaw (which had a thriving Yiddish theatre and film community) turned out to provide little shelter after the Nazi tanks rolled in. He was murdered in 1942. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
THE 1926 REMAKE;
In the aftermath of World War One German film developed (to coin a phrase) with surprising speed, taking up the themes explored by Wegener's early films. He had followed up "The Student Of Prague" with other supernatural stories "The Pied Piper Of Hamlin", "The Yogi" and "The Golem" (1917). Unfortunately none of these films survive aside from a few stills and the last few minutes of "The Golem" which surfaced a few years ago. These films would inspire even darker films with more imaginative direction, lighting, and set design starting with Robert Wiene's "Cabinet Of Dr Caligari" in 1919 and his followups "Genuine" and "Rashkoliov" (AKA "Crime And Punishment"), FW Murnau's "Nosferatu" (1920) and Wegener's own remake of "The Golem" in 1920. These films would establish the Expressionist template; harsh contrasts in lighting and jagged editing to set a world of dreams and nightmares, elaborate and often fantastic sets, deeply emotional and sometimes stylized acting and story-lines that probed the darkness of the human psyche with themes of alienation, fear and guilt. It was inevitable that the film that effectively started the genre would be remade using proper expressionist techniques although it's a little surprising that Wegener himself didn't do it. Perhaps by 1926 the now 52 year old no longer had the clout to helm his own projects, he was certainly too old to play Balduin.
The film would be directed by Henrik Galeen who had previously worked with Wegener on as writer on "The Golem" and with Murnau on "Nosferatu". In the cast would be two iconic figures of Expressionist Horror, Conrad Veidt as Balduin and Werner Krause as Scapinelli. Veidt had played Cesare the Sleepwalker in "The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari" as well as Orlock in "The Hands Of Orlock", Ivan The Terrible in "Waxworks" and numerous other films. Krause had also been in "Caligari", as the title role and later in "Waxworks" as Jack The Ripper. The film would show that they had fully absorbed the lessons of expressionism in full flower.
"THE STUDENT OF PRAGUE" pt.1 ~ 1926;
Conrad Veidt ~ Balduin
Werner Krause ~ Scapinelli
Elizza La Porta ~ Lyduschka, A Flower Girl
Agnes Esterhazy ~ Countess Margit Von Schwarzenberg
Fritz Alberti ~ Count Von Schwarzenberg
Ferdinand Von Alten ~ Baron Waldis
Directed By Henrik Galeen
PLOT SYNOPSIS (SPOILER ALERT!);
The basic story in the changes little from the first film however the later film is twice as long as the first which gives Galeen more time to flesh out the story and characters. The story opens with foreboding with a shot of a tombstone in a Jewish cemetery with the epitaph "Here lies Balduin; He challenged the devil and lost. Since the German audience was already quite familiar with the story from the first film this would not have seen as a spoiler. There is a longer sequence introducing Balduin as student, drinking and fencing with his happy-go-lucky mates at a pub. Balduin himself is a dour, somber loner worried about his poor prospects. Lyduschka is once again carrying a torch for Balduin. After he rudely snubs her she publicly responds him with a song mocking his lack of money. Scapinelli is at the same pub and witnesses this. He offers Balduin a loan by Balduin brushes him of saying he needs a wealthy heiress to wed. Scapinelli vows to find him one. Balduin fences with a fellow student who had been laughing at him and wins
Meanwhile Countess Margit is shown at a fancy party and heading off with Baron Waldis on a fox hunt. As they ride Scapinelli watches from a hill top. He appears to command the fox to lead the riders through obstacles which cause Margit to fall from her horse in front of Balduin who runs to her rescue. She is smitten by him and gives him her cross pendant which had been knocked off. Baron Waldis rides up and fetches her. Balduin returns home a practices his fencing before storming out just Lyduschka has come to visit giving him a flower. He takes them and walks off. She sneaks into his room and begins cleaning up and polishing his boots. Balduin has gone to visit Countess Margit and her father the count. She is happy to see him and he is about to give her his solitary flower when Waldis shows up with a large bouquet to be welcomed by the Count. Balduin sheepishly shoves his own flower in his pocket and leaves. He arrives home in a bad mood to find Lyduschka still there. She tries to comfort him but he rebuffs her. She leaves dejected after she finds the flower he gave her tossed in the gutter. Scapinelli enters and makes the offer of 600,000 florins in exchange for anything he wishes from the room. Balduin laughingly agrees and signs the contract. When Balduin demands the money Scapinelli produces a small purse from which a seemingly endless rain of coins falls on the table. Balduin is shocked but accepts the money. Scapinelli then gestures to the full length mirror and invites Balduin's reflection to step out of the mirror which it slowly does.
A now wealthy Balduin is hosting a party at his lavish new house. While dressing he discovers he has no reflection in the mirror. He orders a massive bouquet of flowers and sends it to Countess Margit with and invite to his party which she accepts. Balduin enters the party while Margit is playing the piano, he gives her a flower. Baron Waldis is also in attendance, he angrily grabs the flower from Margit and crumples it. She storms off. Standing on a balcony she discovers a note from Balduin asking her to meet him and she agrees. Lyduschka sneaks into the party and witnesses this. Scapinelli also creeps in, in shadow form, and seizes the note without Balduin or Margit noticing and tosses it to Lyduschka who runs off. After Margit returns to the party and Balduin is left alone he is confronted with his Doppelganger who slowly stalks off with out speaking to the horrified Balduin. Margit and Balduin have a clandestine meeting in a cemetery during which he begs her not to marry Waldis and pledges his love. While they are embracing the Doppelganger arrives frightening Balduin but not Margit who does not see him. Lyduschka confronts Waldis and gives him the note from Baldin to Margit. Waldis angrily rides off to find Balduin and strikes him his sword. Balduin challenges him to a duel which Waldis accepts. Count Von Schwarzenberg implores Waldis to cancel the duel as Balduin is the finest fencer in Prague. Waldis refuses but allows Count Von Schwarzenberg to intercede with Balduin who he begs to spare Waldis. Balduin reluctantly agrees. Margit finds out about the deal but is assured Balduin will spare Waldis. At the duel site Balduin is late because his carriage has lost a wheel in a ditch so he sets off on foot. He meets his Doppelganger who informs him that the duel has taken place and Waldis is dead. Balduin is terrified and runs to the scene to find a crowd around Waldis' dead body. A depressed Balduin returns to see the Count and Countess but they refuse to see him. Balduin goes to a pub and drinks heavily while Lyduschka watches. He grabs and kisses her and becomes more rowdy throwing items around the pub and encouraging the other patrons to further debauchery finally trashing the pub. As the revels get out of hand Balduin becomes upset and leaves. The next day he is expelled from university. Balduin is winning money gambling with is friends when the news of his expulsion arrives and they all walk out. A dejected Balduin returns to his home and climbs into bed. Lyduschka enters and climbs into bed with him. At first he allows her to embrace him but when she asks him for Margit's cross pendant which he is still wearing he throws her out. Balduin leaves and wanders out in a stormy night to visit Margit. He tells her about his Doppelganger and shows her his lack of reflection. She is horrified and faints. The Doppelganger appears and confronts Balduin who runs away. The Doppelganger follows as Balduin first attempts to kill him with a club the Doppelganger simply vanishes. Balduin runs home through the storm but at every turn the Doppelganger is waiting for him. When Balduin gets home he locks himself in and arms himself with a dueling pistol. The Doppelganger appears and dares Balduin to shoot him which he does. The Doppelganger disappears while a full length mirror he had been standing in front of shatters. Balduin looks in the remaining shards of the mirror and discovers his reflection has returned. He is overjoyed but then feels a pain in his chest and finds a bullet hole. He collapses and dies. The film cuts to the opening shot of Balduin's tombstone again.
By the time of the remake's filming in 1926 Expressionism was an established style with a visual language of it's own some which is used here to good effect. The entire final section where Balduin staggers and later flees through a raging storm past barren trees is almost perfectly Expressionist. Likewise the scene of Balduin crouching to see and finally caressing the reflection in the broken mirror and the final appearance of the Doppelganger in front of a now broken window pane with billowing curtains. There is also the scene where Scapinelli takes control of the fox hunt. He is shown on a hill-top silhouetted against a stormy sky with a twisted tree stump wearing a frock coat and top hat and umbrella looking distinctly demonic. In fact this version makes Scapinelli's demonic nature more explicit in this scene where he appears to have power over the fox and hounds as well as the elements. In the first film Margit simply falls off her horse into a pond but it is not made clear that any magic was involved. Similarly when Scapinelli dumps his endless shower of coins from his purse it should be obvious that this is magic since no small purse could possibly hold so many coins. Balduin seems to notice this but is overcome by greed as his only comment is; "Is that all for me?". On the other hand Galeen passes up two obvious chances for supernatural horror from the first film. One is when the Doppelganger steps out of the mirror for the first time. In the Wegener film the double strides around the room before the shocked Balduin before disappearing while in the second the scene simply ends as soon as he steps out. A bigger omission is the scene in the first film where the Doppelganger appears at the poker game to challenge Balduin to a game. Since a similar scene had also turned up in Fritz Lang's "Dr Mabuse, The Gambler" Galeen may have decided the audience would see it as derivative but it's still a glaring loss.
SCAPINELLI STALKS THE HUNT;
Notwithstanding any such reservations Galeen does a good job here and there are some good Expressionist effects using a moving camera following Balduin as he flees down the desolate road (that shot should have really gone on longer), a spinning camera during Balduin's drunken revels at the pub to show his disorientation and a later brilliant shot directly after where a shot of wildly sawing blade is superimposed over his head. The film also makes use of another expressionist standard, the symbolism of inanimate objects, Scapinelli's umbrella is a stand-in for a magic wand, the flowers which are given, refused and finally discarded, and of course Balduin's sword which allows for a clearly sensual subtext when Lyduschka caresses it lovingly while cleaning his room.
SCAPINELLI'S SHADOW STALKS BALDUIN;
The biggest change from the first film is really the acting however. Paul Wegener was solid enough but by 1926 Conrad Veidt was one of the finest actors in Germany if not the world. His sensitive portrayals of tortured souls like Cesare (from "Dr Caligari"), Orlock ("Orlack's Hands"), Ivan The Terrible ("Waxworks") and numerous others helped set the standard for the doomed expressionist hero. He wears his emotions on his sleeve; guilt, terror, dejection, frightened relief, desperation all come off him in waves. His face, with his oddly high domed forehead, wild shock of hair, enormous eyes and nervous shark-like grin is the is highly expressive and the opposite of Wegener's impassive glower. He also has great physical grace as he had already displayed in his earlier films. When he is terrified of dejected it seems to rock or drag down his entire body. Such emotional physicality had become a standard motif of Expressionist film as seen in scenes where Balduin kneels in front of Margit begging forgiveness and placing his head in her lap while she caresses his hair, a common image in German film of the era. Veidt's wonderfully expressive face is shown to full effect (as for that matter are Werner Krause, Elizza La Porta and Grete Berger) by the films use of closeups, something lacking in the first film.
Werner Krause as Scapinelli was the other well known star here having appeared as Dr Caligari as well as Jack The Ripper in "Waxworks". He is suitably menacing here but does not have the hunched, crab-like posture of Dr Caligari. He is actually more naturalistic than the lesser known John Gottowt from the earlier film both in his manner and his wardrobe. Elizza La Porta as Lyduschka actually looks like Lyda Salmonova from the first film and behaves in much the same flirtatious way although she is more given more to do here and her obsession with Balduin is made more explicit. Similarly Agnes Esterhazy is given slightly more to do than Grete Berger as Margit. She is also younger and more attractive although I'm not sure that is an improvement since Balduin's attraction to her as opposed to the prettier Lyduschka is clearly due to her having money and social status.
BALDUIN MEETS HIS DOUBLE;
An additional note here is that while both films have clearly Jewish characters they are in no way anti-Semitic. In fact it's worth pointing out that while Balduin, and presumably the other main characters, are not only Jews but respectable members of the lower aristocracy and no different than any proper German junkers. Lest this be seen today as odd coming from a German film of the era it should be noted as well that Wegener also dealt with even more explicitly Jewish characters and settings in "Der Golem" (where the Imperial Austrians are the actually the villains) and Veidt would do the same in the 1936 British version of "Jud Suss" (as opposed to the hateful 1940 Nazi version) and he would also play sympathetic gay characters in a few films. That Weimar culture could allow for such openness while Hollywood was still trading in racist stereotypes of all sorts is worth remembering.
Conrad Veidt would continue to make successful films in Germany until he was lured away by German director Paul Leni when he moved to Hollywood. Leni cast Veidt in the Gothic horror film "The Man Who Laughs" in 1928 and when Leni was given the job of bringing Dracula to the screen he immediately saw Veidt in the title role. Unfortunately Leni died suddenly in 1929 and with his patron and fellow countryman dead, Veidt, speaking little English and worried about typecasting dropped out and returned to Germany. After much searching the role of course went to Bela Lugosi leaving us to wonder what kind of brooding intensity Veidt might have brought to the role. In Germany he continued his career until the Nazis took power in 1933 and Veidt, whose wife was Jewish, fled back to Hollywood. He learned English and returned to the screen in films like "Jud Suss" and "Under The Robe" (as Cardinal Richelieu) before scoring the most famous sound roles as evil Nazis including the major in "Casablanca". His career seemed assured when he suddenly dropped dead of a heart attack while playing golf in 1943. He was only 50 years old.
Director Henrik Galeen would finally work with Paul Wegener in "Aralune" (1928) another horror film about a mad scientist creating artificial life also starring Briget Helm of "Metropolis" fame. However he as also a Jew and like Gottowt had to flee Germany after the Nazi takeover. He fled first to Sweden, then Britain before finally landing in Hollywood but did nothing of note before dying in 1949.
Werner Krauss would have very different career, and one far less honorable. Unlike Veidt and other German film-makers such as Marlene Dietrich, Fritz Lang, Paul Weine, Douglas Sirk and Hans Richter, he stayed in Germany after Hitler came to power. Also unlike some who also stayed, like Paul Wegener, Krauss became an avowed Nazi. Thus he had no problem finding work during the Hitler years. In fact he was named as Reichskulturkammer theatre department and a "Cultural Ambassador" for Nazi Germany. However none of the many movies the Nazis made were of much note and it mostly as the iconic Dr Caligari he is remembered today. After the war he spent some years in disgrace due to his Nazi past but was eventually considered rehabilitated enough to rejoin the German film community, more as a respected figure of the past than as a real creative force. He died in 1959.
BALDUIN TRIES TO FLEE THROUGH A TYPICAL EXPRESSIONIST URBAN SET;
"The Student Of Prague" would get a German sound remake in 1935 directed by Arthur Robison and starring Anton Walbrook.
Saturday, 4 July 2015
"Twilight Zone" (1959 - 1964) is acknowledged as being one of the greatest TV shows of all time. A perfect masterpiece of writing, acting and direction that brought a sophisticated mixture of sci-fi, fantasy, horror, mystery, irony and social commentary to prime-time television that was not only critically acclaimed but successful as well. It actually made a celebrity out of a lowly writer, Rod Serling, who managed to make screenwriters look cool. It also had one of the most iconic theme songs of all time. Even people who have never actually seen the show instantly recognize the song.
1980's "TWILIGHT ZONE" THEME BY THE GRATEFUL DEAD;
One of the strong points of "Twilight Zone" was it's variety. Some episodes were serious sci-fi/fanatsy stories while others might range from somber fables to eerie supernatural mysteries to odd ironic comedies with twist endings. Then there are those impossible to categorize episodes like the one where Ann Francis wanders through a department store trying to recall how she got there only to discover that she is in fact a manikin. Or the one where a group of oddly matched people struggle to escape from a cell only to have it revealed that they are actually a group of dolls locked in a child's toybox.
"Twilight Zone" was the brainchild of Rod Serling, a respected and award winning screen-writer who had worked in several different genres before deciding that Sci-Fi/Fantasy with a twist ending would be an effective way of telling stories that would have a larger social message. There had been such a tradition in Sci-Fi/Fantasy since the days of Jules Verne, HG Wells, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Mary Shelly and in early horror films such as "The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari", "Metropolis", "Der Golem" and "King Kong". However by the 1950's much of this school of serious Sci-Fi had largely gone out of style and been replaced by Gothic horror (numerous Dracula, Wolfman and Mummy remakes by Hammer Films) or more cartoonish Sci-Fi aimed at kids and teens such as "Buck Rogers", "Flash Gordon" and various superheros. There were some notable exceptions like "The Day The Earth Stood Still" and some HG Wells adaptations like "The Time Machine" and "Things To Come" but for a respected writer like Serling to turn to the genre was a bit of a gamble. Serling would originally be the writer for the series but he would soon assemble a stable of talented writers who he would oversee as producer. Originally seen as a serious si-fi/fantasy/supernatural/mystery anthology, Serling would soon add some ironic comedy touches in the vein of O.Henry. The high quality of the scripts would soon attract an impressive collection of excellent actors to the show (some more than once) including the likes of;
William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, James Doohan, George Takei (all in "Star Trek" of course), Burgess Merideth, Robert Duvall, Anne Francis ("Honey West"), Inger Stevens, Marlon Brando, Burt Reynolds, Robert Redford, Mickey Rooney, Claude Akins ("Inherit The Wind", "The Killers"), Charles Bronson, Jack Klugman, Lee Marvin, Mary Badham ("To Kill A Mockingbird"), Ian Wolfe ("Witness For The Prosecution" and "WKRP"), Telly Savalas ("Kojack"), James Coburn, Richard Deacon ("Dick Van Dyke Show"), Buddy Ebsen, Joan Blondell, Martin Landau, Jackie Cooper ("Superman"), Micheal Constantine, Joseph Schildkraut, Mariette Hartley, Elizabeth Montgomery ("Bewitched"), Keenan Wynn, Ed Wynn, Wally Cox("Mr Peepers"), Janice Rule ("Matt Helm; The Ambushers"), Diana Hyland ("Eight Is Enough"), Cedric Hardwicke, Warren Oates, Patrick O'Neal, Dennis Hopper, Rod Taylor ("The Time Machine"), Morgan Britanny ("Dallas"), Nehemiah Persoff, Fritz Weaver, Vera Miles, Martin Milner ("Sunset Strip" & "Adam-12")), Ida Lupino, Martin Balsam, Tim O'Connor ("Buck Rogers"), Jack Warden, David Wayne, Gig Young, James Best, George Grizzard, Howard Duff, Roddy McDowell, Albert Salmi, Russell Johnson ("Gilligan's Island"), Ivan Dixon (Hogan's Heros"), Dana Andrews, Jack Albertson ("Chico & The Man"), Ann Jillian, Pat Hingle, James Whitmore, Jack Weston, Dean Stockwell, Richard Kiel ("Moonraker" and "Eegah"), David McCallum ("Men From Uncle") Billy Mumy and Jonathan Winters. Some of these were well known names even then, including several past and future Oscar winners and nominees. And yet the biggest star of the show would surprisingly turn out to be Serling himself as host who would introduce each episode with a trademark droll half grimmace/half smirk and ever present cloud of cigarette smoke. For the first few shows his intros were actually done off-camera before someone figured out that Serling had the charisma to carry the show.
"Twilight Zone" is not without it's faults. It's twenty-two minute length (half hour minus ads) meant that some scripts feel a little rushed. Rod Serling's desire to use stories to promote his deeply held political beliefs mean that some episodes can be preachy. But with the exceptionally well written and acted stories "Twilight Zone" left some classics still instantly remembered today. Poor, beautiful Inger Stevens meeting death on the highway again and again. Burgess Merideth emerging from his bank vault to discover the world has been destroyed except for his beloved books. Jack Klugman playing a game of pool beyond the grave with Jonathan Winters. William Shatner's well founded fear of flying. A frightened old lady discovering that death looks a lot like Robert Redford. David Wayne becoming immortal then getting sentenced to life in prison. Young Billy Mumy sending annoying adults to the cornfield. Inger Stevens discovering she's a robot. Telly Savalas pissing off the wrong child's doll. And of course; "To serve man; It's a cookbook!".
The iconic "Twilight Zone" theme would be covered in an epic version by the Ventures and later the Grateful Dead and Korn. OK; we can forget about that last one. There's also Golden Earing's 1980's hit "Twilight Zone" which has little to do with the show but is still pretty cool.
THE VENTURES ~ "TWILIGHT ZONE";
"Twilight Zone" ran from 1959 to 1964 on CBS, originally as a half hour show until season four when it was increased to an hour, presumably to compete with the one hour shows of "Outer Limits". The next season the network cut it back to a half hour in a series of network budget cuts and lineup changes that would lead to the show's cancellation the next year, along with "Outer Limits" and "Alfred Hitchcock Presents". Serling would attempt to start again with an abortive show at ABC which didn't make it to air. Then he returned to CBS where he tried a comeback with an abortive western show which only lasted a few episodes. Still later was the fiasco of "Night Gallery" in 1970 for which he gave up creative control only to be forced out by the network who it turned out only wanted television's most honored writer to act as the droll host. That lasted until 1973. After that he gave up television and taught screenwriting at an upstate New York college. He died of heart disease brought on by his trademark chain smoking in 1975. "Twilight Zone" would return in the 1980's and again in the 2000's with episodes which sometimes were almost line-by-line copies of the originals.
But enough about "Twilight Zone", there's really nothing new to be said about the timeless show at this point. Except that while "Twilight Zone" may have been the greatest Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Mystery show it was as not alone in delivering sci-fi/fantasy/mystery anthology to prime-time television. It wasn't even the first of it's kind.
"THE OUTER LIMITS";
One of the most respected anthology shows was "The Outer Limits", a contemporary show which ran from 1961 to 1964 on ABC. Billed as a Science Fiction anthology with shows running a full hour as opposed to the half hour formats of the other anthology shows. The episodes had bigger budgets than the the other shows allowing for better special effects and more mobile film-work rather than some of the more studio bound shows like "Alfred Hitchcock Presents", "Tales From Tomorrow" or "One Step Beyond". Like "Twilight Zone" they were also able to attract a stable of notable actors, many of whom also appeared on "Twilight Zone", including;
William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, James Doohan (all later in "Star Trek"), Robert Culp ("I Spy"), David McCallum ("Man From Uncle"), Eddy Albert ("Green Acres"), Robert Duval, Henry Silva ("Manchurian Candidate"), Patrick O'Neal, Tim O'Rourke ("Buck Rogers"), Micheal Ansara ("Broken Arrow"), Micheal Constantine, Dabney Coleman ("War Games" and "9 to 5"), Russell Johnson ("Gilligan's Island"), Howard DaSilva, Ivan Dixon ("Hogan's Heros"), Robert Webber ("12 Angry Men"), Don Gordon, Peter Duel ("Alias Smith & Jones"), Vera Miles, Gloria Grahame, James Shigata ("Flower Drum Song" and "Die Hard"), George MacReady ("30 Days In May"), Martin Landau, Warren Oates, Sally Kellerman ("MASH"), Sam Wanamaker, Chita Rivera, Ralph Meeker ("St Valentines Day Massacre"), Edward Mulhare ("Knight Rider"), Bruce Dern, Shirley Knight, Jeff Corey, Ed Asner ("Mary Tyler Moore Show"), Cedric Hardwicke, Barbara Rush, Joyce Van Patton and Donald Pleasence (Blofeld in the James Bond movies and also "Halloween").
Naturally when you have an iconic show like "Twilight Zone" there will always be those who will insist that it's "over rated" and offer up some alternative for "best ever". For many "Outer Limits" has filled that role with none other than Stephen King saying that "Outer Limits" is better written, with better character development.
Personally I think this is a meaningless statement. First of all it's not even true. While some characters in "Outer Limits" do indeed evolve and learn from their experiences, others learn nothing, as is equally true of "Twilight Zone". More importantly this neglects the fact that "Outer Limits" was an hour long compared to "Twilight Zone's" half hour (except for season four) so it's not a fair comparison. Sometimes this hour long format can be a drawback as well. Just as some "Twilight Zone" episodes can feel a little rushed some "Outer Limits" episodes can feel a little padded out and draggy. At any rate there are some inherent weaknesses in "Outer Limits". Billed as a sci-fi show means that "Outer Limits" shows tend to be rather similar, virtually every episode is based on the same few themes; either robots, aliens, space travel or the occasional time traveler. There are few if any exceptions, and the theme is set pretty quickly so while the stories have suspense, there is no real mystery involved, and few of the quirky twist endings that are the trademark of "Twilight Zone". This contrasts with the unpredictable nature of "Twilight Zone" where the audience never knows quite what to expect at the start. Some "Twilight Zone" episodes were dark and moody, while others are eerie and strange and others are light comedies. Like much adult sci-fi "Outer Limits" also takes itself very seriously and each episode has a rather cool and somber tone, sometimes even preachy. It's true that some "Twilight Zone" episodes can also be overtly preachy but this is still within the overall much greater variety of the "Zone" as a whole. "Outer Limits" also shows less variety in it's settings with virtually all stories set in contemporary America or a vague future. By contrast "Twilight Zone" stories can range from modern times to the Victorian Era to the old west to World War Two to outer space to an alternate future. Stylistically "Outer Limits" also lacks the film noirish directorial touches that some "Twilight Zone" episodes have preferring brightly lit scenes. The theme song also isn't nearly as cool. Having said all that there is no doubt that "Outer Limits" was an excellent show with consistently high quality literate scripts and solid acting. The special effect aliens may now look a little cheesy but some still have a certain presence.
"Outer Limits" was cancelled in the same year as "Twilight Zone" and "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" as networks decided audience tastes were changing. However the show has kept it's allure occasionally being rerun and with all it's episodes available on DVD. Only the show's one hour length kept it from being rerun as often as "Twilight Zone" or "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" even though most of the episodes now appear to be in public domain. As with "Twilight Zone" there was an "Outer Limits" remake series in the 1990's.
"THE OUTER LIMITS";
"TALES OF TOMORROW";
"Tales Of Tomorrow" (1950 - 1952) was the first explicitly sci-fi anthology series often seen as the precursor to both "Twilight Zone" and "Outer Limits". As was common with most TV shows of the early "Golden Years" it was made quickly and it looks it. Everything was shot on an indoor sound stage which often looks dark and cramped. They use obvious stage sets, some quite flimsy, and in the first year some of the painted backdrops actually have windows and bookcases that are clearly painted on. The reliance on indoor sets means that there is very little actual action seen. Any fights, chases, crashes etc happen off scene to be referred to or heard rather than seen. After season one this deficiency is made up by using stock footage, some quite old. All of this was normal in that era and TV viewers of the time would not have found this strange. The pace was a little slow but directors sometimes adapted to their limitations by using some film noir techniques with shadows and lighting. All this means that episodes can be a little slow and talky by today's standards but they do have a dark mood and atmosphere.
While the sets may have been crude the scripts were quite good. While most are of the sci-fi variety featuring aliens and robots similar to the later "Outer Limits" others had twist endings closer to "Twilight Zone" and there are a few which fall into a more fantasy category including at least one story; "What You Need" which later turned up as a "Twilight Zone" episode a decade later, virtually unchanged. There were also some adaptations of older classics by HG Wells and Mary Shelly's "Frankenstein". The tone of "Tales Of Tomorrow" was often dark and moody with some of the stories ending badly for all involved, unlike the later "Outer Limits" where the good guys usually won or the conflict was resolved. Most, if not all episodes were set in either in contemporary America or in some vague not-too-distant future.
"Tales Of Tomorrow" was one of the first shows to be able to attract some notable actors including;
Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney jr, Lee J. Cobb, Sylvia Sidney, Darren McGavin ("Kolchak, The Night Stalker"), Leslie Neilson, Brian Keith, Sam Jaffe, Eva Gabor, James Doohan, John Newland ("One Step Beyond"), Burgess Merideth, Joan Blondell, Victor Jory, Veronica Lake, Gene Lockhart, Everett Stone, Mercades McCambridge ("All The King's Men"), Jackie Cooper, Jack Warden, Thomas Mitchell ("It's A Wonderful Life"), Rod Steiger and James Dean (both in the same episode no less) and a young Paul Newman.
Due to it's relatively low budgets and comparably crude production standards "Tales Of Tomorrow" hasn't been seen much on TV as reruns even though the episodes have been in the public domain for years. They are available on DVD and this ground breaking show has gotten some of the attention it deserves. Note that the show's credits were designed by Arthur Rankin, an animator who would later become one of the founders of Rankin-Bass Studios, producers of the classic Christmas toons "Frosty The Snowman" and "Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer" although the bare-bones graphics used here give no hint of this.
"TALES OF TOMORROW";
"Lights Out" was the first important mystery/fantasy anthology running from 1949 to 1952. "Lights Out" actually started out as a long running radio show produced and largely written by Arch Oboler, a Rod Serling type figure who set the standard template for later anthologies; bizarre mystery and supernatural short stories that focused on mood and twist endings rather than action. The radio show also became known for having a deep voiced host introducing each show with the catchphrase; "It is later than you think!", slowly said in a loud droning voice accompanied by the sound of a loud bell tolling. The TV show was a success and moved to television after Oboler's death. The opening was changed to an eerie droning organ and stuttering piano keys as the host; the bald, pop-eyed, ghoulish Frank Gallup greeted you with a deep voiced, leering "Helloooo" before introducing tonight's episode. He would also close off the episode with a droll comment.
As with "Tales From Tomorrow", "Lights Out" was a low budget affair done on a sound stage with cheap sets. Some early shows seem to have very little set design at all, instead relying on darkened sets and harsh lighting to set a mood. Again as in "Tales From Tomorrow" there was no actual action on "Lights Out" with any such activity being referred to or heard off-stage. The stories were rather talky betraying their origins in radio drama. The focus in "Lights Out" was on the supernatural with twist endings rather than sci-fi fables. Another holdover from radio was the music, a somewhat cheesy melodramatic organ and cascading harp trills that was also common in soap operas of the era. Like most shows of that era the shows were essentially shot live and the camera work was pretty static although they occasionally experimented with a few expressionistic camera tricks and moody lighting. The tone in "Lights Out" was rather moody and somber, an atmosphere somewhat encouraged by the claustrophobic effect of the darkened, cramped sets. The endings were often downbeat. One episode, "The Angry Birds" may have influenced Hitchcock's later movie "The Birds". Another episode was based on a Sir Walter Scott story and set in Georgian Scotland allowing for the most preposterous Scottish accents this side of Groundskeeper Willie. Most stories were set in contemporary America however.
Early TV shows of the first era often had trouble attracting stars. In an example of myopic fear the Hollywood studios regarded TV as the enemy and banned it's stars from appearing on TV at all for the first few years, not even to promote their movies. With no star system of their own yet TV networks instead had to rely on actors from radio (both NBC and CBS also owned radio networks) and theatre. However a few notables did appear, some not yet famous, including;
EG Marshall, Lee J Cobb, Joseph Sweeney (all later in "12 Angry Men"), John Carradine, Beatrice Straight, Leslie Neilson, John Forsythe ("Dynasty"), John Newland ("One Step Beyond"), Arlene Francis ("Honey West"), J Pat O'Malley, Billie Burke, Eddie Albert, Raymond Massey, Yvonne DeCarlo ("The Munsters"), Jonathan Harris ("Lost In Space"), Robert Stack ("The Untouchables"), Robert Culp ("I Spy") and Henry Hull ("Werewolf Of London").
Producer Herbert B Swope jr was the son of respected writer Herbert Swope, an editor of the XXXXX and member of the Alqonquin Table along with the likes of F Scott Fitzgerald, Dorthy Parker and Robert Benchley.
In spite of it's importance "Lights Out" has been largely overlooked. With it's low budget look, slow pace, cheesy music, often static film work and stage-bound aura the show already looked hopelessly archaic by the late fifties (only a few years later) and it has never been in demand in reruns or on DVD although it's now in public domain and enough episodes are available to fill out a season.
"ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS"
The most successful of all anthologies, at least in terms of longevity, was this show which ran longer than "Twilight Zone" or "Outer Limits" combined. This anthology ran from 1955 to 1964 on CBS and has been available on reruns ever since. This is more due to the marquee value of the Hitchcock name rather than the excellence of the show itself which is often erratic. Alfred Hitchcock himself had little day-to-day involvement with the show, which was instead produced by Joan Harrison, one of his former assistants. He instead acted as a droll host deadpanning his way through dry comedic set-ups and codas which sometimes had little connection to the actual story. The focus of the stories was limited to crime stories with a twist ending. There was rarely, if ever, any supernatural or sci-fi element so the stories lack the unpredictable quality of "Twilight Zone" or the otherworldly quality of "Outer Limits", "Tales Of Tomorrow" or "Lights Out". The tone is rather light compared to the other shows with the focus on clever twist endings, sometimes humorous ones. The quality of the shows is maddeningly inconsistent. Some shows are quite clever and briskly done, but others are sloppy and end abruptly as if they were rushed through to the screen, something the perfectionist Rod Serling would never have allowed. Another occasional annoyance is the habit of having Hichcock close off a story by delivering a closing comment that undercuts the story you just watched by explaining that the killers actually got caught after all, usually without explanation.
The stories value cleverness rather than the mood or depth of other such shows but they are still usually enjoyable and efficiently done. The best episodes faithfully show the Hitchcock influence with sly twist endings and a dry detached wit stripped of any of the morality of "Twilight Zone" or "Outer Limits". In Hitchcock's world the bad guys often get away with murder and nobody ever seems to particularly care about the victim. The direction is competent but rarely showing the moody noir influences sometimes shown in "Twilight Zone" with shows having a ratio of inside to outside sets similar to "Twilight Zone" or "Outer Limits". Like "Twilight Zone" (and unlike "Outer Limits" or "Tales Of Tomorrow") the show showed a willingness to set episodes in other times from the Victorian to contemporary eras. The show shared many of the same actors used by the other shows mentioned here, although they usually did not get the same literate dialogue, including;
Darren McGavin, Diana Dors, Carolyn Jones ("Adams Family"), George MacReady, Brandon DeWilde ("Shane"), John Forsythe ("Dynasty"), Walter Mathau, Robert Vaughan ("Man From Uncle"), Barbara Bel Geddes, Dick York ("Bewitched"), Claude Rains ("The Invisible Man"), Laurence Harvey ("Manchurian Candidate"), Alan Napier ("Batman"), Tom Ewell, Sebastian Cabot, Micheal Ansara, Jo Van Fleet, Everett Sloane, Claire Trevor, Steve McQueen and Peter Lorre (both in the same episode), Werner Kelmperer and John Banner (both later in "Hogan's Heros" and both in the same episode).
"Alfred Hitchcock Presents" was cancelled in the same season as "Twilight Zone" and "Outer Limits" but it has survived in reruns. Like "Twilight Zone" and "Outer Limits" the show was remade in the 1980's with new episodes that managed to reuse the old Hitchcock intros and codas (now colourized) on new stories some of which were rewrites of original stories. Harrison had a try with another mystery anthology called "Journey to The Unknown" in 1968 but it lasted less than a season.
"ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS";
"ONE STEP BEYOND";
This series is not as well remembered but it actually ran from 1959 to 1961 and preceded "Twilight Zone" (by several months) and "Outer Limits". "One Step Beyond" (sometimes also known as "Alcoa Presents") was different from other anthologies in that it claimed to based on fact rather than a format for sci-fi or fantasy. All the stories were reportedly based on actual experiences with the supernatural. This meant that like "Outer Limits" the stories fell into predicable categories; ghosts, past lives, telekinesis, ESP, premonitions and other psychic phenomena. All presented in a sober straight-forward manner with no attempts at humour or moral message. Aside from the occasional UFO there are no robots, aliens, time travelers, toys come to life or crime stories. Because the theme of the series was the claim that all the stories were factual some of the stories were based on previously known tales such as premonitions from Abraham Lincoln and George Washington or the Titanic sinking.
The direction was similarly straight forward, lacking in the Film Noirish or Expressionistic flourishes the other shows often had. They were also lacking in memorably flashy scenes or dialogue. "One Step Beyond" was also shot on a more limited budget than "Twilight Zone", "Outer Limits" or "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" and this shows in the reliance on indoor sets and fairly static camera work and the use of stock outdoor footage. Accordingly "One Step Beyond" did not attract any notable writers or directors although it did attract some some good (albeit some not yet famous) actors including;
Christopher Lee, Warren Beatty, Donald Pleasence, Charles Bronson, William Shatner, Patrick McNee, Joan Fontaine, Cloris Leachman ("Mary Tyler Moore Show"), Robert Blake ("Barretta"), Reginald Owen ("A Christmas Carol"), Yvette Mimieux ("The Time Machine"), Andre Morell ("Hound Of The Baskervilles"), Elizabeth Montgomery ("Bewitched"), Mike Connors ("Mannix"), Suzanne Pleshette ("Bob Newhart Show"), Jack Lord ("Hawaii 5-0"), Robert Loggia ("Scarface" and "Big"), Louise Fletcher ("One Flew Over The Cookoo's Nest"), Whit Bissell ("Time Tunnel"), Werner Klemperer ("Hogan's Heros" and "Judgement In Nuremburg"), Robert Lansing, John Daly, Joe Turkel ("The Shining"), Ed Platt, James Hong, Phillip Ahn, Ronald Howard ("Sherlock Holmes"), Veronica Cartwright ("Daniel Boone", "The Birds"), Pernell Roberts ("Bonanza"), Patrick O'Neal, Norman Lloyd ("St Elsewhere"), Barbara Baxter, Irene Ryan ("Berverly Hillbillies"), Albert Salmi, Robert Webber and Ed Binns (both in "12 Angry Men").
Like "Lights Out" and "Alfred Hichcock Presents", "One Step Beyond" had a host to introduce each episode. In this case it was John Newland, a journeyman television actor who already appeared in "Lights Out" and "Tales Of Tomorrow". Unlike the droll, mocking Gallup or Hitchcock, Newland was a rather bland, wispy actor with a pale, vacantly apprehensive face, a hesitant manner, an unblinking stare and a breathless voice who introduced each story with serious and somber air as befits the show's "exploring the real supernatural" theme. Besides hosting Newland directed many episodes and also acted in a few.
Although "One Step Beyond" lacked the distinctive style of the other series mentioned here it was a solid and consistent show done cheaply and efficiently and since it had a corporate sponsor in Alcoa it was able to stay on the air and built up a large library of episodes which could be rerun. Most of these episodes are easily available on DVD keeping the show alive where other similar shows have been lost even though the show is rarely rerun. In 1978 the show was brought back in colour with Newland again hosting but it would last only a season. In the 1980's the British ska band Madness named a classic song after the show.
"ONE STEP BEYOND";
The failure of "The Veil" did not discourage the idea of having Boris Karloff as host for an anthology show and "Thriller" was the next result. Done by Revue Studios for MCA in 1961 to 1962 this time their would be a sufficient budget to hire writers like Robert Bloch, directors like Arthur Hiller, Paul Henreid, Ida Lupino, Ray Milland and John Newland and composers Jerry Goldsmith and Morton Stevens. Karloff would introduce each episode and act in a few as well. The stories were usually supernatural with a dark ghoulish tone, similar to a Hammer Film done on a lower budget and in black and white. And with less skin, this being television of course. Stephen King has claimed the show as "The best of it's kind up to that point". I disagree. Completely lacking in subtlety, "Thriller" lacks entirely the cleverness, variety and literate dialogue of "Twilight Zone", "Outer Limits" or "Tales Of Tomorrow". It does have suspense but not their sense of wonder either. "Thriller" also does not have the slick and occasional noirish direction of "Twilight Zone" or even "Outer Limits". The Emmy Award nominated scores by Jerry Goldsmith did add a sense of menace to the proceedings and Karloff was a fine host with his usual droll charm. The spider-web opening credits were also a nice touch. The show also scored a Hugo Award nomination in 1962.
Actors who guest starred included;
John Newland (fresh from "One Step Beyond" in a episode he also directed), Leslie Neilson, Constance Ford, George Grizzard, Everett Sloane, Mary Astor, Rip Torn, Cloris Leachman, Robert Lansing, Mary Tyler Moore, Jack Carson, Werner Klemperer, William Shatner, James Gregory, Nehemiah Persoff, Robert Vaughn, Reginald Owen, John Ireland, Edward Platt, Lloyd Bochner, Brandon De Wilde. Virginia Gregg, Jeanette Nolan, Hazel Court, Natalie Schafer ("Gilligan's Island') and comedian Mort Sahl.
In spite of it's award nominations the show only lasted two seasons although it did spawn a comic book spin-off on Gold Key Comics which lasted into the 1980's. The Pretenders incorpoated a title of one epidose in the lyrics of the song "Back On The Chain Gang" in 1984. Unlike most of the other shows listed here "Thriller" is not in public domain (aside from one episode which somehow slipped out), however it is available on DVD.
"The Veil" occupies a strange position amongst mystery/fantasy anthologies. It is one of the better remembered and is readily available on DVD, in spite of the fact that it's original run was aborted and the show never actually made it to air.
"The Veil" was hosted by Boris Karlof who also appeared in each episode in different roles, either as a leading role, villain or supporting player. Like "One Step Beyond" the stories were purportedly based on true cases of paranormal activity, mostly concerning premonitions, esp, ghosts and the like. The stories are presented in a straight-forward way with little real action and occasional touches of light humour, usually caused by Karloff's typically off-hand performances. In various episodes Karloff could have roles ranging from a large or a minor and in a couple episodes his character is incidental and seems tacked on. The supporting actors are mostly obscure but solid enough. Stories are set in various times from contemporary to Victorian times and range in location from America to Europe to India. Using facilities at Hal Roach Studios the show looks quite professional with detailed sets and costumes and unlike many other shows of the era the quality of existing prints is quite good. Many outdoor scenes appear to make good use of stock footage such as speeding police cars, planes in flight or location shots.
The show was done by an independent production company for syndication rather than by a network. Unfortunately after a season's worth of episodes had been filmed the company ran out of money and went out of business and the series was never picked up. Karlof always complained that he had never been paid. Although the show never aired the episodes went into storage somewhere to be resurrected years later in the 1980's (after they had gone into public domain) to be aired on late night cable TV and home video where they've been available ever since. The survival of this otherwise obscure show is itself a twist of fate since many other shows it it's time have been long lost. That the show had Boris Karloff's name attached probably explains why it wasn't simply tossed away decades earlier, and since it had lapsed into public domain made it easy to program for early cable TV which had little programming of it's own as yet.
Given it's short (or non-existent) life "The Veil" did not get to attract many notable guest stars however the show did manage to score a couple of up-and-comers in George Hamilton and the ubiquitous Patrick McNee, along with a few veterans; Eve Brent ("Tarzan"), Ron Hagerthy ("Sky King"), Morris Ankrum ("Perry Mason") and Claudia Bryar, who would later turn up in "Psycho 2".
"13 DEMON STREET";
Like "The Veil" this was another show which has survived in spite of not actually making it to air, at least not in America. Like "The Veil" the series was filmed in 1960 by an independent production company formed by Hollywood veteran Curt Siodmak who had credits ranging from writing "The Wolfman" to directing B-Movies like "Love Slaves Of The Amazon". In a bid to cut costs he made a deal to shoot the series in Sweden using their facilities, crews and some actors. After a series of episodes were made (ironically exactly thirteen of them) Siodmak tried to find an American buyer without success and then gave up filming more. The shows may have aired in Sweden at some point however as existing episodes have Swedish subtitles.
This anthology was hosted by Lon Chaney jr and based around the theme that Chaney was an undead spirit cursed to search for someone who had committed a crime worse than his, which of course were never explained. The episodes are about the crimes Chaney's nameless narrator witnesses. This makes the stories closer to the quirky crime stories of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" than the supernatural oddities of "Twilight Zone", "Lights Out", "One Step Beyond" and "The Veil", or the sci-fi of "Outer Limits" and "Tales Of Tomorrow", in spite of the beyond-the-grave intros. Although one episode; "The Black Hand" is an obvious rip-off of the classic German silent horror classic "The Hands Of Orlock" in which a killer's hands are amputated and grafted on to another man's hand, only to take him over and turn him into a killer. It's probably the best episode done.
Chaney was a rather morose and wooden actor with a heavy face, bleary eyes and raspy voice made worse by his heavy drinking and smoking. He owed his career more to his famous name, after his father the great Lon Chaney sr, silent screen star of horror classics "Phantom Of The Opera" and "Hunchback Of Notre Dame" along with the lucky break of being cast in his own horror classic in "The Wolfman". Like Karlof and Lugosi he was able to parley this into a long career with numerous film and TV credits. However Chaney lacked the presence or talent of Boris Karlof nor did he have the eccentric charisma of Lugosi. As a host he also lacked the droll wit of Hitchcock or the cool, wry charm of Rod Serling. In his intros he looks disheveled, tired and hungover, although he always did by this point in his career. Unlike Karloff in "The Veil" Chaney does not actually act in the episodes however.
Although he had shown himself to be a good writer as a director Siodmack was pedestrian with little of the sense of style of the best "Twilight Zone" or "Outer Limits" episodes. The rather spartan sets also lack the lush sheen of "The Veil". The actors are unknowns, and judging by the names are presumably a mix of Americans, Brits and Swedes and although they are fluent in English some have noticeable accents. The show explains this by setting the stories in Europe so that's not really a problem. However the level of acting is often stiff and awkward giving the whole thing a rather amateurish low-budget look. It does however have an oddly sleazy b-movie feel so it's not hard to see why American TV turned it down. In fact it's hard to see how Siodmak thought he would be able to sell this to TV in the first place.
After failing to find an American buyer for the show Siodmak had some of the episodes edited together as an anthology movie under the title "Satan's Messenger" in 1963 and dumped into the drive-in movie circuit where the names of Lon Chaney and Curt Siodmak still had some pull. Both the TV series and movie versions are in public domain and show up on bargain DVD collections.
"13 DEMON STREET";
"TALES OF FRANKENSTEIN";
"13 Demon Street" was actually Curt Siodmak's second attempt at a TV horror anthology, his first try was this show from 1958 which was done for the legendary Hammer Studios in Britain as a potential TV show in America or Britain. The idea was to do an anthology series based on stories from the traditional monster movies from the 1930's such as "Frankenstein", "Dracula", "The Wolfman", "The Mummy" etc. Thus "Tales Of Frankenstein" may have been a working title. As it happened nobody picked up the show and it never moved beyond the pilot episode. This episode recycles stock footage from Universal Studios films "Bride Of Dracula" (1931) and "The Inner Sanctum" which causes some problems when the sound doesn't synch up. But it's still a decent recreation of the 1930's monster movies from Universal Studios. As you expect from Hammer Studios it's nicely lush and Gothic, in a low budget kind of way. It's a little hard to see how long they could have continued on in this vein by recycling classic monster movies. The cast are mostly unknowns except for Richard Bull, an American TV and film character actor with a long career stretching from the 1950's to the 2000's and included roles in "Little House On The Prairie', "Voyage The Bottom Of The Sea" and "Mannix". This pilot somehow was saved to later be repackaged in DVD collections with "13 Demon Street" and "The Veil", sometimes incorrectly labeled as an episode of one of those shows. Conversely another DVD version is floating which claims to include a second episode about Jack The Ripper, but that story is actually an episode that was taken from "The Veil" after the fact.
"TALES OF FRANKENSTEIN";
There were a number of other anthologies from TV's B&W era with titles like; "Suspense", and "Escape" (both former radio shows), "Hands Of Mystery", "The Clock", "Suspicion", "Target", "Way Out", "Out Of The Fog", "Volume One", "Mystery Theatre", "Science Fiction Theatre" and "Great Ghost Stories". Most of these shows are unavailable and probably long lost.
GOLDEN EARING ~ "TWILIGHT ZONE";