Tag Archives: Evelyn Ankers

Dark Stranger (1955, Arthur Ripley)

Dark Stranger is a high concept story about a writer meeting a character out of his novel. The concept’s ambitious because the script–from Betty Ulius and Joel Murcott–is so thorough. Edmond O’Brien’s writer isn’t a Bohemian who might buy into the idea. He’s calculating and positively bewildered.

The script goes through O’Brien’s investigations, his interrogating, all while the subject of his attention–Joanne Woodward–goes through her own crises.

Ripley is really good with the leads’ scenes together. The composition sometimes hints at where their relationship is going, sometimes offers more sympathy to one character than another. Stranger is a television production, so there isn’t much in the way of grand movements; Ripley just knows how to facilitate his actors.

Woodward excels in the second half, as she starts asking more and more questions. O’Brien’s solid. Good support from Evelyn Ankers.

The ending’s lame, but otherwise, Stranger’s good.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Arthur Ripley; teleplay by Betty Ulius and Joel Murcott, based on a story by Ulius; director of photography, George E. Diskant; edited by Sherman Todd; produced by Warren Lewis.

Starring Edmond O’Brien (Ray Ericson), Joanne Woodward (Jill Andrews), Evelyn Ankers (Ruth McCabe) and Dan Tobin (Don Shaw).


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The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942, Erle C. Kenton)

The Ghost of Frankenstein is pretty bad stuff. Running less than seventy minutes, it’s unbearably boring from the twenty-five minute mark, once the picture focus on Cedric Hardwicke.

Ghost opens with villagers pursuing Bela Lugosi’s evil hunchback. Though awful, Lugosi’s at least an enthusiastically vile character. Hardwicke–playing a neurosurgeon with his own castle (he’s a Frankenstein, after all)–is bad and boring.

Besides the subplot (if one wants to be gracious and call it a subplot) involving the Frankenstein monster (Lon Chaney Jr. here) befriending a child, played by Janet Ann Gallow, the best thing in the main part of the film is the flashback to the original Frankenstein. It’s never clear, but the flashback infers Lugosi was the hunchbacked assistant in that film. Only, he wasn’t… Dwight Frye doesn’t just appear in the flashback, he shows up at the beginning of the film too, along with some other Universal monster movie regulars.

Also lousy is Lionel Atwill. He and Hardwicke have some painful scenes together.

The end’s pretty cool for a few minutes, when Lugosi’s evil brain ends up in the body of the monster. Chaney has a great time mouthing the words and doing a Lugosi impression.

Ralph Bellamy keeps a straight face for his role as town prosecutor (who knew Eastern European villages had legal systems based on the United States) and Evelyn Ankers is okay.

Scott Darling’s script’s disastrous; Kenton has a handful of decent shots. Nice photography of bad sets.

Ghost is ghastly.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Erle C. Kenton; screenplay by Scott Darling, based on a story by Eric Taylor; directors of photography, Elwood Bredell and Milton R. Krasner; edited by Ted J. Kent; music by Hans J. Salter; produced by George Waggner; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Cedric Hardwicke (Ludwig Frankenstein), Ralph Bellamy (Erik), Lionel Atwill (Doctor Bohmer), Bela Lugosi (Ygor), Evelyn Ankers (Elsa Frankenstein), Janet Ann Gallow (Cloestine Hussman), Barton Yarborough (Dr. Kettering), Doris Lloyd (Martha), Leyland Hodgson (Chief Constable), Olaf Hytten (Herr Hussman), Holmes Herbert (Magistrate) and Lon Chaney Jr. (The Monster).


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Son of Dracula (1943, Robert Siodmak)

Son of Dracula doesn’t open well. The first scene’s all right, but once Louise Allbritton shows up–in the second scene–things start to go downhill. Allbritton’s one of the film’s constant problems. She’s a terrible actress and, in a film in desperate need of all the acting help it can get, it’s a significant defect. The second major problem pops up during the third scene (Allbritton’s in it too). It’s the music. Hans J. Salter’s music probably ruins Son of Dracula. The iffy performances hurt it, but the music just trashes the film’s potential. It works in direct opposition to Robert Siodmak’s direction (and one has to assume Siodmak had some say in the kind of score the film would use) and makes what should be sublime scenes loud and obnoxious.

Siodmak is a something of a bad fit for this film. His direction, for the most part, is fantastic. He brings noir composition to a horror film, which should work–in the Gothic sense–but it doesn’t. Some of it has to do with the music (most of it), but there’s also the special effects. With the exception of the vampires turning into vapor, which is awesome, the special effects are bad. I suppose the animated transition from bat to human form is fine, but the constant flying rubber bats is awful. Siodmak might use the bat in a different way, more of an active “character” in the film than most vampire pictures had done to this point, but it looks dreadful… and it looked dreadful back then too. What Siodmak does well is the non-special effects, but camera effects work. He’s got a beautiful scene of Lon Chaney floating across the water. Absolutely fantastic. It shows real innovation. But the film itself bucks such innovation….

The plot, eventually, reveals itself to be interesting. Except not with Chaney’s pseudo-Dracula running around. I say pseudo because a) it’s unclear if the character is Dracula or not and b) because Chaney’s performance is awful. His Dracula appears to be frequently confused and kind of weak. But he’s in it so little–if they used guest-starring credits in the forties, Chaney would have gotten one–it doesn’t really matter.

Most of the film follows Frank Craven on his hunt for the truth. A lot of it is fine, different old horror movie material. Son of Dracula frequently surprises. The story unfolds in interesting directions… except that music constantly brings it down. And the film also plays loose with its characters. Once J. Edward Bromberg arrives, Evelyn Ankers disappears. Bromberg’s performance is mediocre, but Ankers had some good material–and would have had even more had her character stuck around to see how the story unfolded.

Leading man Robert Paige is fine. The end isn’t quite sure how to use him, but Siodmak ends the film on a (somewhat) subtle note. Certainly one raising more questions than it answers and it’s fine; it doesn’t make up for the rest and the rest is a mess. The direction does, however. Siodmak’s approach makes Son of Dracula something to behold.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Siodmak; screenplay by Eric Taylor, based on a story by Curt Siodmak; director of photography, George Robinson; edited by Saul A. Goodkind; music by Hans J. Salter; produced by Ford Beebe; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Robert Paige (Frank Stanley), Louise Allbritton (Katherine Caldwell), Evelyn Ankers (Claire Caldwell), Frank Craven (Doctor Brewster), J. Edward Bromberg (Professor Lazlo), Samuel S. Hinds (Judge Simmons), Adeline De Walt Reynolds (Madame Zimba), Pat Moriarity (Sheriff Dawes), Etta McDaniel (Sarah), George Irving (Colonel Caldwell) and Lon Chaney Jr. (Count Dracula).


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The Wolf Man (1941, George Waggner)

The Wolf Man‘s most lasting influence–beyond the advantages of using Larry Talbot as a synonym (Pynchon did it in Vineland) and the endlessly suffering protagonist–has to be the music. I noticed parts both John Williams (for The Empire Strikes Back) and Danny Elfman (for Batman Returns) lifted. The music is an essential part of the film, as many of Lon Chaney Jr.’s scenes are almost silent film style solo ones, where Chaney visualizes his internal turmoil.

Director Waggner’s style works for the film and against. There’s little attempt to create any sense of the uncanny. Between the booming music and Waggner’s fast-paced chase scenes, the film rushes toward its conclusion. All subtlety is lost in the last act, which is unfortunate, since the film started with so much.

Behind the film’s big story and special effects is the quiet one between Chaney–as returning, long absent son–and Claude Rains–top-billed as the father (and seventeen years older than Chaney). Rains has some lengthy monologues, which he’s good at delivering, and some other scenes involving Chaney, but at the end, when the two of them finally have a talk, The Wolf Man reveals itself. Rains then gets another nice scene on the same subject, only without Chaney. Had the film followed Rains, through his conflict over his son returning to his concern for the son’s sanity, to the fear the son might be right, The Wolf Man would have been high psychological drama.

Similarly, had it followed just Chaney, it would have been a stranger entering stranger and stranger lands.

As a mix of the two, it’s awkward. The big script holes don’t help either. There’s no consistency on how to prevent werewolf transformations or how often they occur. The film’s in a hurry to get done and it plays way too loose with the time it covers.

The other primary aspect of the film–the romance between Chaney and Evelyn Ankers–actually gets enough attention. Though Chaney and Ankers infamously did not get along, they appear to have lots of chemistry in the film, to the point Ankers’s absolute devotion (in the third act, after being off-screen for a while) makes perfect sense. Chaney’s transition through the film from utterly assured to abjectly despondent is one of the more fluid character progressions I can remember. Ankers helps out quite a bit.

Curt Siodmak’s script is best during those scenes with Ankers or Rains. The overuse of the gypsies is questionable as is the wasted supporting cast. The film’s filled with characters–Universal apparently needed roles for Ralph Bellamy, Warren William and Patric Knowles–and it doesn’t have room for them. While Bellamy’s got a great, unintentionally absurd line, the film never–after mentioning it–discusses he and Chaney being childhood friends. William’s a superfluous doctor and Knowles should form a third side in a love triangle (for Ankers’s affection) but strangely does not.

There are a lot of ideas in The Wolf Man, but few of them are explored. Even the ending is strangely undercooked. The film stops rather than ends, but as it’s more in the hands of non-characters Bellamy and William, there’s really nothing else it can do.

Waggner’s got a gimmick he uses–blocking some of the frame with a lamp base or a tree–and, though it gets obvious, he uses it to great effect occasionally. The sight of Rains striking the unknown, even though the music is too bombastic, is haunting.

I was going to end there, but realized I haven’t really lauded Chaney enough. From his first moment on film, there’s nothing he can’t do here–and the script asks for a lot. He’s got to have all that turmoil in the middle and the end, but the beginning requires him to be completely different. Chaney does it all–and those silent-but-for-music scenes, as he discovers his feet getting furry or the wolf tracks in his bedroom, are amazing. He’s under-appreciated.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by George Waggner; written by Curt Siodmak; director of photography, Joseph A. Valentine; edited by Ted J. Kent; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Claude Rains (Sir John Talbot), Warren William (Dr. Lloyd), Ralph Bellamy (Col. Montford), Patric Knowles (Frank Andrews), Bela Lugosi (Bela), Maria Ouspenskaya (Maleva), Evelyn Ankers (Gwen Conliffe), J.M. Kerrigan (Charles Conliffe), Fay Helm (Jenny Williams), Forrester Harvey (Twiddle) and Lon Chaney Jr. (The Wolf Man).


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