Tag Archives: George Robinson

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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House of Dracula (1945, Erle C. Kenton)

House of Dracula is immediately disappointing. The film opens on man of science Onslow Stevens as Dracula (played by a boring John Carradine) comes visiting, hoping for some cure to vampirism. Will Carradine try to seduce Martha O’Driscoll’s fetching nurse? Will something go wrong with Stevens’s cure for Carradine? Unfortunately, yes to both. Director Kenton and screenwriter Edmund T. Lowe Jr. don’t so much have foreshadowing in Dracula as much as they immediately follow tangents.

The film feels relatively tame; I wonder if it was meant for a more child-aged audience than usual. George Robinson’s photography is boring, though somewhat competent–the shadows don’t tell stories or hide monsters, they’re just contrasted well against the lights. There’s no nuance to Dracula. Kenton’s particularly disappointing.

Lon Chaney Jr. escapes mostly unscathed. He has a lousy part but he does try. Same goes for the rest of the cast, with the exception of Carradine. Once Stevens starts to feel the effects of the vampirism, he plays an excellent Mr. Hyde. But Lowe’s script is still lame. Kenton’s direction is still disinterested.

Some of the problem is how uncomfortable the film gets with Jane Adams’s nurse. She’s the hunchbacked assistant this picture, only Lowe doesn’t give her anything to do. Kenton gives her a little more–mostly because O’Driscoll’s just around for the nurse’s outfit’s skirts–but not enough. The film’s in desperate need of a protagonist. It’s not Stevens, it’s not Chaney, it’s not Adams.

In Dracula’s smallest significant role–inciting, wrong villager–Skelton Knaggs does some good work. It’s a shame there’s not a good film here for him to be doing that work in.

House of Dracula barely runs sixty-five minutes. It’s boring from the first three minutes. Nothing so short, so full of monsters and effects and Universal contract players should ever be boring.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Erle C. Kenton; written by Edmund T. Lowe Jr.; director of photography, George Robinson; edited by Russell F. Schoengarth; produced by Paul Malvern; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Onslow Stevens (Dr. Franz Edlemann), John Carradine (Count Dracula), Lon Chaney Jr. (Lawrence Talbot), Martha O’Driscoll (Miliza Morelle), Jane Adams (Nina), Lionel Atwill (Police Inspector Holtz), Ludwig Stössel (Siegfried), Skelton Knaggs (Steinmuhl) and Glenn Strange (The Frankenstein Monster).


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House of Frankenstein (1944, Erle C. Kenton)

Just over half of House of Frankenstein is glorious. Kenton’s direction is outstanding, the sets are imaginative, the actors are doing great. Beautiful photography from George Robinson. House is a scary movie, what with physically but downright evil Boris Karloff running the proceedings. What doesn’t work–like John Carradine’s “just okay” Dracula–gets smoothed out by unexpected gems, like Anne Gwynne and Sig Ruman. It all starts to fall apart when second-billed Lon Chaney Jr. shows up. It’s not Chaney’s fault, it’s just when exhaustion is setting in.

Well, except the general exhaustion accompanies some script problems. Edmund T. Lowe Jr.’s third act for House of Frankenstein is unmitigated disaster. If Kenton had embraced the chaos, maybe the film would’ve kept its momentum, but he tries to rein it in and fails. All of the subplots come up–with the exception of Carradine, who basically gets his own episode. That episode, costarring Gwynne, Ruman, Peter Coe and Lionel Atwill, is probably House’s best section. The sets aren’t the best, but it’s a creepy little story. And Gwynne, Ruman, Coe and Atwill are all pretty dang good, Ruman and Gwynne more so. But the other little stories, which Lowe and Kenton do succeed in establishing and encouraging throughout the busy picture… they don’t end well.

Karloff and Chaney suffer the worst. Karloff had almost half the picture to be amazing and then the second half reduces him to a bit part of a lame mad scientist. It goes from being a physical role to a sedentary one. Karloff is spellbinding in the physical parts. Standing around in a lab coat, he seems like he’s just cameoing. As for Chaney, he never gets a good part. He’s got good chemistry with Elena Verdugo, but she gets all the material. She’s quite good, but the film does just have Chaney standing around.

Verdugo’s part of both Chaney’s subplot and J. Carrol Naish’s subplot. Naish is Karloff’s assistant. Naish is pretty darn good in the film, because you want to like him, you want to be sympathetic. He’s kind of a creep though, so maybe it was a mistake to feel sorry for him. But then what does that rejection of sympathy say about you? Kenton and Naish have a great time with the character throughout the film and it even seems like he might get something to do, but no. The third act fail takes Naish down with it.

By the time Glenn Strange starts moving about as the Frankenstein Monster, the film’s completely derailed. Howe’s script can’t bring all the elements together right. The measurements are off. Simultaneously disappointing, the acting is nowhere near as good in the last fourth or so. The angry, thinly written (and acted) villagers in the second village can’t compare to Gwynne, Ruman and Verdugo examples of villagers. The frustrating thing about House is it seems to realize its collapsing. There’s a resigned air to the third act, which should help with certain storylines, like Chaney, Verdugo and Naish’s, but it doesn’t.

So it’s a disappointment. A glorious disappointment, with mostly great direction from Kenton, some excellent acting from Karloff, Gwynne and Verdugo, some decent acting from Naish and Chaney, wonderful production values (until the final act), and an occasionally ingenious script from Lowe. It’s a shame all the dim moments came together at the end.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Erle C. Kenton; screenplay by Edmund T. Lowe Jr., based on a story by Curt Siodmak; director of photography, George Robinson; edited by Philip Cahn; music by Hans J. Salter; produced by Paul Malvern; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Boris Karloff (Doctor Gustav Niemann), Lon Chaney Jr. (Larry Talbot), Elena Verdugo (Ilonka), J. Carrol Naish (Daniel), John Carradine (Baron Latos), Anne Gwynne (Rita Hussman), Peter Coe (Carl Hussman), Lionel Atwill (Inspector Arnz), Sig Ruman (Burgomaster Hussman) and George Zucco (Professor Bruno Lampini).


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Son of Frankenstein (1939, Rowland V. Lee)

Son of Frankenstein is a mostly wasted opportunity. For everything good, there’s something significantly wrong with it. The script is good, director Lee doesn’t direct actors well. The German Expressionist-influenced sets are great, Lee shoots it so stagy, the sets go to waste. Lee likes his long shots. He and editor Ted J. Kent do nothing to make the cuts interesting. Though, really, Kent doesn’t have any material to work with. Lee has about six different shots and he just goes through them in a cycle. It’d be annoying on its own, but with everything else, it gives Son of Frankenstein way too much narrative distance. If the sets had been worse, if the actors had been better, who knows….

The Son in the title is Basil Rathbone. He is returning to Castle Frankenstein. Oh, right–it’s basically a lot like Young Frankenstein. Rathbone discovers the monster, brings it back to life, chaos ensues. He’s got a wife (Josephine Hutchinson in an admirable performance given all the constraints on her–Lee’s lack of direction, Rathbone’s inability to share scenes) and son (Donnie Dunagan, who’s supposed to be adorable). Right off, Rathbone’s a mad scientist. Most of the film has him hanging out with Bela Lugosi (who understands how to upstage a screen hog and delivers a fairly solid performance). Lionel Atwill’s around as a police inspector with only one arm. Yes, there’s a dart scene in Son too.

Oh, right. The Monster. Boris Karloff. You’d think he’d be important but he’s not. There’s no room for Karloff or the Monster in Son, not with Rathbone, Lugosi and Atwill. Atwill’s got more chemistry with Hutchinson than Rathbone and Atwill’s not even good. Lee doesn’t direct him and sort of lets him dangle in the film’s most thankless, but most important role.

Karloff is great. He has almost nothing to do, but watching him examine himself in the mirror, one can just imagine how good it would be with better direction. Cooper’s script is full of little moments Lee just can’t convey. The script’s far from perfect–anyone but Rathbone needed to be the lead the story, the part itself is inherently unlikable and Cooper doesn’t go anywhere interesting with it.

Really lame music from Frank Skinner doesn’t help things.

Even when Son of Frankenstein feints to impress, it manages to disappoint. And most of it is Lee’s fault.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Rowland V. Lee; written by Wyllis Cooper; director of photography, George Robinson; edited by Ted J. Kent; music by Frank Skinner; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Basil Rathbone (Baron Wolf von Frankenstein), Boris Karloff (The Monster), Bela Lugosi (Ygor), Lionel Atwill (Krogh), Josephine Hutchinson (Elsa von Frankenstein), Donnie Dunagan (Peter von Frankenstein), Emma Dunn (Amelia) and Edgar Norton (Benson).


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