Category Archives: 1936

Dracula’s Daughter (1936, Lambert Hillyer)

Dracula’s Daughter starts as a comedy. With Billy Bevan’s bumbling police constable, there’s nothing else to call it. Sure, the opening deals with the immediate aftermath of the original Dracula–returning Edward Van Sloan arrested for driving a stake through a man’s heart–but it’s all for smiles, if not laughs. Bevan’s terrified expressions carry the movie until it’s time for Gloria Holden to show up.

Holden plays the title role. She’s in England to dispose of her father’s remains and to paint (and to prey upon the living). She’s not happy about preying upon the living and Garrett Fort’s screenplay implies its all going to be about vampirism as a compulsion. Top-billed Otto Kruger ties everything together; he’s a society psychiatrist, trained by Van Sloan, who ends up defending his old teacher while taking an interest in Holden. She’s in society because her paintings? It’s unclear why anyone would invite her. Fort’s script isn’t good on narrative progression.

Holden thinks Kruger might be able to help her with the vampirism. She assumed her father’s death would help, but her man servant and familiar Irving Pichel convinces her otherwise. Pichel’s just around to encourage Holden’s bad habits. He definitely looks creepy, but he doesn’t treat her with any respect, much less fear. It creates a bit of a tonal imbalance–the vampire isn’t bad, the human encouraging her is bad–until Holden finally takes up the villain reins.

Once Holden and Pichel go after Nan Grey (who’s rather good in her small part), it’s clear the happy London society dalliances are soon to be over. See, Kruger’s her doctor too. And he’s going to get to the bottom of it. Can Holden convince him to join her–possibly replacing Pichel–in Transylvania before Kruger can dehypnotize Grey long enough to find out who attacked her?

It’d be a far more effective twist if Holden’s character were better developed (and established in the first place) and if director Hillyer didn’t direct Kruger like he’s always waiting to react to a punchline. Once the initial comedic stuff is over–though Scotland Yard man Gilbert Emery is mostly for laughs (including the film’s best ones)–Hillyer starts giving Kruger these close-ups where he’s just reacting to something or pensively smoking. I guess he needs to be doing something since he’s not figuring out Van Sloan’s not crazy and Holden’s got something weird going on.

Twenty-something Marguerite Churchill is quinquagenarian Kruger’s assistant. She’s an heiress or something so she gives him a lot of guff. She’s also, of course, enamored with him. Because why wouldn’t she be enamored with her fifty-year old boss. They don’t have any romantic chemistry, though occasionally Kruger does come off paternal. Too occasionally.

Churchill’s unprofessional jealousy of Holden eventually gets her in a lot of trouble, kicking off the final act, where Kruger’s got to fly to Transylvania to try to save the day. He doesn’t, as it turns out, because Fort’s script is goofy. I wonder if it had to contort itself through the Hays Code. Hopefully. At least contorting for the Code would provide an excuse.

The film’s got good sets and fine photography from George Robinson. Hillyer starts with some creepiness, but soon gives it up. Why the film should want to scare Bevan’s bumbling constable but not Churchill or Grey’s damsels is another of its mysteries. There are some excellent foggy London effects and some real mood with Holden, in her black wraps–though Holden’s costuming when she’s not a creature of the night is grey and drab.

Holden’s okay. The film’s failures aren’t her fault. They’re not Kruger’s fault either, but he’s so miscast after a while–and Hillyer’s direction of him is so awry–he gets tiring. Van Sloan’s fun for a while, but he too can’t survive. Churchill’s just annoying. Maybe it’s supposed to be the part.

Dracula’s Daughter is an almost solid production of a troubled script. It’s a bunch of ill-fitting pieces mashed together without success.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Lambert Hillyer; screenplay by Garrett Fort, based on a suggestion by David O. Selznick and a story by Bram Stoker; director of photography, George Robinson; edited by Milton Carruth; produced by E.M. Asher; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Otto Kruger (Jeffrey Garth), Gloria Holden (Countess Marya Zaleska), Irving Pichel (Sandor), Edward Van Sloan (Professor Von Helsing), Marguerite Churchill (Janet), Gilbert Emery (Sir Basil Humphrey), Nan Grey (Lili), and Billy Bevan (Albert).


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Flash Gordon (1936, Frederick Stephani), Chapter 13: Rocketing to Earth

Rocketing to Earth starts out poorly. The cliffhanger resolution is so lazy star Buster Crabbe remarks on it; clearly someone making Flash Gordon knew they’d run out of resolves. Worse, Crabbe and the gang go right back to Charles Middleton’s palace. The past four or five chapters have just been one failed escape or another–and now they go right back.

With Priscilla Lawson now officially one of the good guys, Middleton just seems like an angry dad. It helps his performance (a little). But then just when things seem dire for the heroes, everything turns around–not just for the characters’ struggle against intergalactic tyranny, but the screenwriters. There’s this brisk pace as Rocketing goes from being wrap-up for A plot to epilogue. Except everyone’s savvy enough to know Flash can’t go out with a final thrill.

Enter Theodore Lorch’s stooge. Lorch goes all out and director Stephani lets him. Lorch seems to understand, based on the content, he’s got a lot more leeway with hamming. It’s even more amusing given Lorch’s more restrained appearances in earlier chapters.

As for Stephani, he gets to do some big scale stuff here–Middleton’s fate–and some subjective camerawork with Lorch’s evil glee.

There’s not enough resolution with Middleton, but he and Crabbe didn’t have good nemesis chemistry anyway so it’s not exactly missing… it’s just unfortunate it’s not.

The strangest part is when Frank Shannon, after twelve chapters of just being there to expound, all of a sudden gets cute. He doesn’t succeed as much as affably bewilder.

CREDITS

Directed by Frederick Stephani; screenplay by Ella O’Neill, George H. Plympton, Basil Dickey, and Stephani, based on the comic strip by Alex Raymond; directors of photography, Jerome Ash and Richard Fryer; edited by Saul A. Goodkind, Louis Sackin, Alvin Todd, and Edward Todd; produced by Henry MacRae; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Buster Crabbe (Flash Gordon), Charles Middleton (Ming the Merciless), Jean Rogers (Dale Arden), Priscilla Lawson (Princess Aura), James Pierce (Prince Thun), Richard Alexander (Prince Barin), Jack ‘Tiny’ Lipson (King Vultan), Theodore Lorch (High Priest), and Frank Shannon (Dr. Alexis Zarkov).


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Flash Gordon (1936, Frederick Stephani), Chapter 12: Trapped in the Turret

Trapped in the Turret is the penultimate chapter of Flash Gordon, which might explain some of its inconsistencies. After a stunt person heavy resolution to the previous cliffhanger, Richard Alexander tells scheming Priscilla Lawson she might just try being nice to Buster Crabbe and Jean Rogers.

So she does. And becomes a good guy. Apparently. She then intercedes on Crabbe’s behalf with father Charles Middleton, who too agrees to play nice. It’s an anticlimactic scene, with Alexander getting to have the standoff with Middleton, not Crabbe.

The second half of Turret is just talky logistics planning. The good guys are leaving Middleton’s palace for another one. Will Middleton actually leave them alone or will he plot against them, regardless of daughter Lawson’s wishes (and presence)?

I swear a few chapters ago Crabbe and Middleton came to another armistice, which Middleton broke a scene or two later. The screenwriters are rushing to wrap up the serial, with Crabbe (to some extent) and Rogers being left in the proverbial dust.

The editors are particularly clunky this chapter too.

CREDITS

Directed by Frederick Stephani; screenplay by Ella O’Neill, George H. Plympton, Basil Dickey, and Stephani, based on the comic strip by Alex Raymond; directors of photography, Jerome Ash and Richard Fryer; edited by Saul A. Goodkind, Louis Sackin, Alvin Todd, and Edward Todd; produced by Henry MacRae; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Buster Crabbe (Flash Gordon), Charles Middleton (Ming the Merciless), Jean Rogers (Dale Arden), Priscilla Lawson (Princess Aura), James Pierce (Prince Thun), Richard Alexander (Prince Barin), Jack ‘Tiny’ Lipson (King Vultan), and Frank Shannon (Dr. Alexis Zarkov).


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Flash Gordon (1936, Frederick Stephani), Chapter 11: In the Claws of the Tigron

Once again, the title refers to a finale item. In the Claws of the Tigron doesn’t have much tigron (a Mongonian tiger), but it does have a lot of invisible Buster Crabbe causing mischief around Charles Middleton’s palace.

The chapter’s a tad nonsensical–Crabbe, invisible, terrorizes Middleton’s guards while all his friends hang out in the laboratory. Only Priscilla Lawson comes up with a plan. Without her, Middleton would just be sitting around sputtering (between getting choked out by the invisible Crabbe).

Tigron is a fairly light chapter for the most part. Crabbe’s disembodied voice performance isn’t mixed well with the other actors’ dialogue, but he’s always going for fun with it. Crabbe doesn’t have a worry in the world since he’s invisible. And Jack Lipson is back, guffawing as he body slams guards. Poor Jean Rogers is reduced to worrying nonstop about Crabbe’s invisibility dependence.

Until the end, anyway, when the cliffhanger has her, you know, In the Claws of the Tigron.

It’s a good chapter, even with the logic holes.

CREDITS

Directed by Frederick Stephani; screenplay by Ella O’Neill, George H. Plympton, Basil Dickey, and Stephani, based on the comic strip by Alex Raymond; directors of photography, Jerome Ash and Richard Fryer; edited by Saul A. Goodkind, Louis Sackin, Alvin Todd, and Edward Todd; produced by Henry MacRae; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Buster Crabbe (Flash Gordon), Charles Middleton (Ming the Merciless), Jean Rogers (Dale Arden), Priscilla Lawson (Princess Aura), Richard Alexander (Prince Barin), Jack ‘Tiny’ Lipson (King Vultan), Theodore Lorch (High Priest), and Frank Shannon (Dr. Alexis Zarkov).


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