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ENIGMATIC MAX

Apparantly Max Schreck is this actor’s real name. The surname meaning “terror” in German would suggest itself to be an appropriate pseudonym for someone portraying horrific characters. His film output actually crosses several different genres, but without sufficient information about his work in the theatre where he seems to have spent most of his career, it is difficult to dispute the point. Some sources suggest that Max was really actor Alfred Abel, but this is certainly untrue. Abel, a distinguished performer who appeared in Fritz Lang’s Doctor Mabuse (1922) and Metropolis (1926) amongst others, is chronicled in some detail and when both actors are viewed together it becomes obvious that their physiques fail to match.

Max Schreck was born 1879 in Berlin and died during 1936 in Munich. Although he began his working life in an apprenticeship, his attentions were soon drawn to the theatre and he embarked on stage training at the Staatstheater in Berlin. He made his stage debut in Messeritz and Speyer before touring the country for two years appearing at theatres in Zittau, Erfurt, Bremen, Lucerne, Gera, Frankfurt and finally joining Max Reinhart’s celebrated troupe of performers back in Berlin. Many of Reinhart’s members were to cut their acting teeth in his company before making a huge contribution to the cinema.

From 1919 to 1922, Max Schreck divided his time between working at the Kammerspiele in Munich and making his film debut in DER RICHTER VON ZALAMEAadapted from a six act play by Calderon and directed by Ludwig Berger for Decla Bioscop. In 1922 he was employed by Prana Film for their first and only production Nosferatu, Eine Symphonie des Grauens. The company declared themselves bankrupt after the film’s release to avoid paying copyright infringement costs to an irate Florence Stoker, the widow of “Dracula” author Bram Stoker. Despite numerous portrayals of Dracula-like vampires including Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee, the image of Schreck as Count Graf Orlock remains the most haunting. The character’s bald, rat shaped head and long spidery fingers has never been equalled, not even in Werner Herzog’s remake of 1979 starring Klaus Kinski. So much has already been written about Nosferatu, that very little needs to be added, but for the curious sound remake Die Zwolfte Stunde that appeared in 1930. No credit for director is claimed, but a reference to “artistic adaptation” is given to Dr. Waldemar Roger who apparantly re-edited the original film with some of Murnau’s discarded footage and then added a dance scene and a death mass. The censors later cut the death mass due to religious objections, but unlike the original, the film ended on a happy note. Mysteriously the actors were given different names. Max Schreck became Furst Wollkoff and a new cast member named Hans Behal is added who appears as a young priest.
It is highly probable that Murnau learned of the film’s existence through his contacts in Germany while he was in Hollywood, but it is unlikely that he ever saw this unauthorised adaptation.

In 1923, Max Schreck appeared as a blind man in the acclaimed film DIE STRASSE directed by Karl Grune for Stern Film. A young man, (Eugene Klopfer), yearns to enter into the world of the dark streets where possibilities seem endless, but finds them full of shady characters, gambling, prostitution and murder. He returns from his nightime ordeal back to the safety and security of his wife and home. Max appears in a significant role as a bewhiskered blind man who uses the eyes of a child to navigate the area. In one scene the child runs from his grasp to find herself stranded on a traffic island while a policeman halts the flow of vehicles to rescue her. Meanwhile the blind man is left to wander the streets where he discovers a dead body. A charitable man then takes him home.
DIE STRASSE is sadly one of the few Max Schreck appearances available to us today, but one production that was recently screened at an annual film festival in Northern Italy is DIE FINANZEN DES GROSSHERZOGS (The Finances of the Grand Duke), a poorly made comedy filmed in the former Yugoslavia to which even the director, Murnau expressed his repugnance. Max appears as an evil conspirator in a story concerning a disreputable financier who wants to transform an idyllic paradise into a profitable sulpher mine.

Unfortunately this seems to be all the information available on the career of this ambiguous personality, although it is certain that in 1926 Max returned to the Kammerspiele in Munich and continued to act in films right through the advent of sound until his death in 1936. He was married to an actress named Fanny Normann of whom there seems to be no material available.
One source that might be able to shed more light on Max’s career is the Film and Theatre Archives, Frankenthaller Str.23, 8000, Munich, but for now I have to be content with what little remains of his film output, in particular his exceptional casting by Murnau as the pestilent vampire Graf Orlock. Most of the information unearthed does seem to suggest that Max Schreck only made a brief foray into the horror genre, but it is this one role that makes him stand out in film history.

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Denis Gifford

It is with a profound sadness that I read of Denis Gifford’s passing, for it was Denis who changed my life and began me on a quest to learn more about the elusive qualities of the horror film. For my tenth Christmas my parents treated me to a copy of Denis’ “A Pictorial History of Horror Movies”, mostly because I had asked for it, but more probably they had discovered that I was creeping about in the early hours, (although at that time the BBC used to sign off no later than 1am.), with my face pressed close to the black and white tv. and the volume turned as low as possible watching The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Frankenstein or some of the “forbidden” Hammer films. Despite only having three channels, there seemed to be a better selection from our favourite genre on television then, than there is now!

Denis’ publication brought the whole fascinating subject into focus, but it didn’t end there, the book is written in such a way that my hungry young mind had to find out more. It wasn’t long before I could name the stars of the films and comment fairly intelligently on the movies I was yet to see.
I collected the magazines that would appear regularly at the corner newsagent including “Monster Mag”, “The World of Horror”, and “Hammer House of Horror”. Again at that time horror was prevelant and there was actually a choice of periodicals available. Personally I believe that THE EXORCIST’s success actually spelt the end of the horror genre as we knew it. Filmakers clambered over themselves to create a commercially viable horror film. Unfortunately, instead of coming up with unique and ingenious scripts, producers followed a formula and just threw money at it. This limited the distribution possibilities of smaller, low budget films and therefore noone wanted to make them unless they fell into strict marketing protocol. There have been the occasional exceptions such as HALLOWEEN (1978), but by and large the stories have been the same, only the budgets have changed.

Throughout all this Denis Gifford’s book was becoming dog-eared from overuse and my dreams of owning a Super-8 projector and a few 8mm films of my heros increased, but alas the £4.95 I needed would forever elude me. However, in the late Eighties, after college where, not surprisingly, I studied Film and Television, I purchased a video recorder and have never looked back, my collection continues to grow, but it is becoming more and more difficult to obtain the films that used to grace the small monochrome television. Above all the tapes still stands “A Pictorial History of Horror Movies” and although I have found secondhand copies to limit the wear and tear on my original, the book still commands pride of place.
I only regret that I never met Denis Gifford to tell him the influence his book had on a generation. In all probability he would have thought I was rather obssessed as his talents ranged through many different subjects, publishing more than 50 reference and biographical works, most of them on topics other than horror movies.

Denis will be missed by many, but he will continue as my mentor while I strive to list, analyse and make complete a thorough history of the horror film that began in a small notebook, grew to a photocopied fanzine published by my brother and now has embraced the latest technology to hopefully be seen across the world. The Missing Link aims to educate and bring awareness to the genre, but also to put pressure on the television companies, theatre owners and DVD/video distributors to provide for people who don’t necessarily rely on a body-count or loud explosions to enjoy the cinema.
Behind all this lies Denis Gifford’s book, and while many of my family and friends may question the time I spend on my obssession, I would like to thank Mr. Gifford for inspiring me and the subsequent enjoyment I have had in studying this particular genre.

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Chaney Speaks!!

Clarence A. “Tod” Robbins’ novel “The Unholy Three” was first published in the “New Yorker Magazine” in 1917, the story concerned a schizophrenic ventriloquist, a malevolent midget and a brutish strongman who form a crime syndicate from a bird store used as a front to relieve the rich of their valuable possessions.
Tod Browning had expressed an interest in developing the story for the screen.Following his problems combating alcoholism, Browning found that noone else was convinced of the story’s cinematic potential.
Lon Chaney was hired in the role of criminal mastermind Professor Echo, a ventriloquist. Chaney had previously starred in MGM’s first film He Who Gets Slapped (1924).
The Unholy Three became the perfect collaboration for Browning and the star, an association that continued for eight more films.

The Unholy Three (1925) gave Lon Chaney the opportunity to again portray more than one principal character, a feat that very few actors could achieve. His characterisation of the ventriloquist disguised as the sweet and innocent Mrs. O’Grady who sells “talking” parrots to rich patrons was a tour-de-force performance from an actor who had already established his reputation as Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923).
The Unholy Three premiered in San Francisco in May 1925 to great public acclaim and went on to become one of MGM’s highest grossing films of the year.

In the role of Hercules, described by the film’s carnival barker as “The mighty … marvellous … mastodonic model of masculinity!” is Victor McLaglen (1883-1959), who provides the necessary muscle for the trio, but is easily manipulated by his colleagues.
Tweedledee is played by Harry Earles, announced by the film’s barker as “Twenty inches!, Twenty years! Twenty Pounds! The 20th Century Curiosity!” , is the most ruthless of them all, alternating between his disguise as a charming infant and a cigar chomping gangster.

Tod and Lon’s profitable association continued with a steady stream of starring vehicles that included THE BLACKBIRD; THE ROAD TO MANDALAY; The Unknown; London After Midnight; THE BIG CITY; West of Zanzibar and their final collaboration Where East is East. During the release of Lon’s last film of 1929, THUNDER, a railroad melodrama that was filmed in below zero temperatures, Lon caught a cold that progressively led to pneumonia. He convalesced at his mountain cabin in Boulder Creek, Northern California and any further film projects were shelved pending his return to work. In October, 1929, Lon was diagnosed with lung cancer.

Most of Hollywood’s brightest stars had conceded to the new sound medium, all with varying degrees of success. Charlie Chaplin, the master of pantomime, was the last silent screen star to conform to the new standard. It wasn’t until 1936 with MODERN TIMES that Chaplin succumbed and even then it was a sequence that was no more than a garbled musical number for the film’s climax.
Lon Chaney’s aversion to talkies was obvious, he lamented the loss of film as a universal language.

THE UNHOLY THREE (1930) provided Chaney with not one, but five different character voices that included Professor Echo, Mrs. O’Grady, the ventriloquist dummy, a girl in the side-show audience and finally as the parrot. Chaney’s performance proves that he was not only a master of body and facial expression, but he also possessed a wide range of vocal talent.

As Tod Browning was unavailable to direct the film while he was at Universal busy working on preparations for Dracula, Lon Chaney and Irving Thalberg decided to utilise the talents of Jack Conway to direct the remake.
Conway, and the Nugent writing team carefully studied the original release of 1925 and decided not to make many changes, almost creating a scene for scene remake. The only major differences occur during the courtroom scene when Mrs. O’Grady takes the witness stand and her voice accidentally breaks.  The attorney removes her wig to reveal Professor Echo who makes a full confession that causes the accused Hector to be released. The new ending shows Hector (Elliott Nugent), and Rosie, (Lila Lee), meeting Echo at the train station before he boards the train to prison. Rosie declares that she will wait for Echo’s release because of an arrangement made previously, but the ventriloquist rejects her proposal and calls out to Hector “You better come over here and take care of this girl of yours!” With the couple happily re-united, Echo’s train pulls out of the station and Chaney recites his last line, “I’ll send you a postal card!” 

Harry Earles reprises his role of Tweedledee, but his thick German accent is often very difficult to understand.  This was also the case in his other celebrated appearance as Hans in Freaks (1932).
Victor McLagen’s role as the strongman is here played by Ivan Linow who provides little more than what was required of the role.  Apparently the only other screen credit for Linow is for a lower rung serial at Mascot Pictures titled SHADOW OF THE EAGLE in 1932. Directed by Ford Beebe, this 12 Chapter actioner starred John Wayne as Craig McCoy, a plucky individual who takes on a villainous saboteur of a small carnival. Again Linow appears as a strongman billed in-between “The Midget” an actor simply known as Little Billy, and James Bradbury Jnr. who portrays a ventriloquist.
In the original The Unholy Three (1925), the giant ape is quite cleverly a chimpanzee performing against scaled down sets. For the sound remake a conventional actor in an ape suit is used, but why Echo as Mrs. O’Grady is not questioned by the police about the sizeable simian as a candidate for the recent murders remains a mystery. The man-in-the-ape-suit is none other than Charles Gemora(1903-1961) who used the same moth eaten costume in a variety of Thirties pictures, the most notable being with Bela Lugosi in Universal’s Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932) as Dr. Mirakle’s obedient servant Erik.

“That’s all there is to life. A little laughter…a little tear”

Lon Chaney seemed assured of a continuing career in the talkies and MGM planned several other projects with Chaney, the next being CHERI-BIBI based on the novel by Gaston Leroux. The film was eventually made in 1931 as The Phantom of Paris starring the rapidly fading light of John Gilbert.
However, Lon Chaney was never to make another film.
At the couple’s mountain cabin in the High Sierras, Lon’s bronchial cancer worsened.
Lon was admitted to St. Vincent’s Hospital on August 20th. 1930 where he died six days later when he suffered another haemorrhage in his throat.

All the studios in Hollywood held a two minute silence on the day Lon Chaney was buried alongside his father in Forest Lawn Cemetery at Glendale, California.
Unlike many screen performers whose final pictures are usually below par in comparison with their watershed years, Lon Chaney ended his career on a vocal triumph, proving that the Man of a Thousand Faces could also just as easily become known as the Man of a Thousand Voices.


THE UNHOLY THREE (1925/MGM) 76mins. 7 reels. BW. with tinted sequences. US.
Credits: Dir: Tod Browning; Prod: Irving J. Thalberg; Ex.Prod: Louis B. Mayer; Sc: Waldemar Young; Ph: David Kesson; Ed: Daniel J. Gray; Sets: Cedric Gibbons & Joseph Wright.
From a story by Clarence Aaron “Tod” Robbins.
Cast: Lon Chaney (Prof. Echo/Mrs. O’Grady), Mae Busch (Rosie), Matt Moore (Hector McDonald), Victor McLaglen (Hercules), Harry Earles (Tweedledee), Matthew Betz (Regan), Edward Connelly (Judge), William Humphreys (Defence Attorney), E. Alyn Warren (Prosecuting Attorney), John Merkyl (Jeweler), Charles Wellesley (John Arlington), Marjorie Morton (Mrs. Arlington), Violet Kane (their daughter), Lou Morrison (Police Commissioner), Walter Perry (Carnival Barker), Alice Julian (Fat Lady), Walter P. Cole (Human Skeleton), Peter Kortos (Sword Swallower), Vera Vance (Dancer), John Millerta (Wild Borneo Man), Percy Williams (Butler), Mickey McBan (Boy watching Hercules’ act), Louis Shank (Newsboy), Carrie Daumery (Customer..uncredited), Delmo Fritz (Sword Swallower).

THE UNHOLY THREE (1930/MGM) 74mins. BW. US.
Credits: Dir: Jack Conway; Prod: Irving J. Thalberg; Ex.Prod: Louis B. Mayer; Sc: J.C. Nugent & Elliott Nugent; Ph: Percy Hilburn; Ed: Frank Sullivan; Art: Cedric Gibbons; Recording engineer: Anstruther MacDonald & Douglas Shearer. From a story by Clarence Aaron “Tod” Robbins.
Cast: Lon Chaney (Prof. Echo/Mrs. O’Grady), Lila Lee (Rosie), Harry Earles (Tweedledee), Elliott Nugent (Hector McDonald), Ivan Linow (Hercules), John Miljan (Prosecuting Attorney), Clarence Burton (Regan), Crawford Kent (Defence Attorney), Richard Carle (Carnival Barker), Fred Kelsey (Cop), Ray Cooke (Sailor), Joseph W. Girard (Judge), Charles Gemora (Gorilla), Trixie Friganza (Lady Customer), Sylvester (Sword Swallower), Birdie Thompson (Fat Lady), De Garo (Fire Eater).

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And the Dead Shall Rise…

The early cinematic zombies were a lot different than the gut-wrenching, brain-sucking creatures found on recent screens. Instead of an inherent need to kill as soon as they left their graves, the early walking dead were usually woken for a specific purpose under the wilful gaze of a madman who seeks cheap labour, or a scientist wanting to help the war effort with invincible armies. Although the word “zombie” was introduced to American audiences with the book about Haitian voodoo, Magic Island by William B. Seabrook in 1929, cinema’s zombies had begun their evolution as far back as 1919.

Although not strictly a zombie film, the producers of Das Kabinet des Doktor Caligari (1919) use the word “somnambulist” to describe the sleepwalking state of Cesare, (Conrad Veidt), an emaciated, white faced creature under the control of the insane hypnotist Dr. Caligari, (Werner Krauss). Yet Cesare shows all the characteristics of a living corpse while going about his hideous deeds at the whim of Caligari who furthers his side-show career by making predictions and then having Cesare ensure that they come true.
When students Francis, (Fredrich Feher), and Alan, (Hans Heinz von Twardowski), visit the Holstenwall fairground with their friend Jane, (Lil Dagover), Caligari predicts that Alan will not live till morning. Sure enough during the night Alan mysteriously dies. Convinced that Caligari is behind the recent spate of deaths in the area, Francis discovers that Caligari is substituting Cesare with a dummy while the somnambulist carries out his bidding. When Jane is threatened by Cesare, Francis intervenes and Cesare dies from exhaustion. The police give chase to Caligari who flees to an asylumwhere he takes his place as governor, but confronted with Cesare’s corpse, the doctor becomes deeply disturbed and is led away in a strait-jacket. The final scene shows Francis in an asylum relating his story to an eighteenth century hypnotist named Caligari.
The film is best remembered as a classic of the German Expressionist period with its stark, twisted sets and inventive use of light and shadow, however, CALIGARI also boasts the first shuffling steps of the walking corpses that were to grace the big screen later on.

“She was not dead…not alive…just a WHITE ZOMBIE”

The first time “zombie” was used on film, it came from the often forgotten White Zombie starring non other than Bela Lugosi.  As Murder Legendre, an evil Haitian hypnotist, Lugosi gives one of the best portrayals of his career, a role that allowed the actor’s dark wit to show through. Unfortunately, as Bela Lugosi often found much of the growing amount of dialogue in his other roles extremely difficult, few of his skills as an artist were rarely evident.
Despite the furore created by the advent of sound, The Halperin brothers believed that they should keep the dialogue to a minimum and recapture some of the visual flair of the great silent films. In addition, the low budget, (reportedly at $50,000) and the rushed two week shooting schedule on the Universal backlot, inadvertently created the right atmosphere and creepiness needed for the story. This made it seem a lot older than some of the other, more famous, horror films made around the same time.

Madelaine Short, (Madge Bellamy), and her fiancée Neil Parker, (John Harron), are invited to a Haitian manor by the wealthy Charles Beaumont, (Robert Frazer), to be married after offering Neil a position as an agent for his company. The couple oblige, but after witnessing a funeral taking place in the middle of the road,   and a brief encounter with sinister sugar mill owner Murder Legendre, (Lugosi), Madelaine and Neil begin to have doubts. Secretly Charles Beaumont desires to have Madelaine for his very own and arranges with Legendre to put Madelaine under a spell.  Legendre, a hypnotist who populates his mill with the walking corpses of his enemies as slave labour,  creates a wax effigy of Madelaine and plunges it into a candle flame. At the same moment, the newly married Madelaine collapses and dies in her distraught husband’s arms. Dr. Bruner, (Joseph Cawthorn), the clergyman who had recently married the couple, now performs Madelaine’s burial service, not knowing that the evil Legendre will soon steal her corpse and turn her into a zombie for Charles Beaumont. Not unfamiliar with local voodoo lore, Bruner convinces Neil that his wife may be one of the living dead under Legendre’s control. Meanwhile Beaumont is disappointed at Madelaine’s emotionless state and regrets his actions,  but when he confronts Legendre, the hypnotist reveals his own desires for Madelaine and his plan to turn Beaumont into a zombie with the drug that he has just drunk from his glass. Neil and Bruner arrive at Legendre’s clifftop castle, however, Neil collapses in a weary heap and Legendre wills Madalaine to kill him. Bruner prevents her from doing so and manages to knock Legendre unconcious for a time during which the army of zombies walk off the high castle wall to the sea below. Legendre revives and is about to drug the two interlopers when Beaumont in his semi-zombified state knocks Legendre off the castle wall and perishes in the attempt. Madelaine is restored to normal in Neil’s arms.
Not without its flaws, this is still a worthy addition to the classic horror movie stable. In some places the story is slowed to a crawl and a lot of the plot elements now seem dated, but all the while the technical prowess of cinematographer Arthur Martinelli shines through, while the interesting use of wipes, shadows and an atmosphere not unlike that of Carl Dreyer’s Vampyr, maintain attention. Also refreshing is the absence of a comic relief character which allows the dreamy, fairytale style to continue uninterrupted throughout.
Although Kenneth Webb, creator of the play Zombie that had a short run in New York in 1932, sued the Halperin’s, they successfully countered that the word itself is in the public domain and can be used by anyone.
The Halperin brothers were promptly sued by the financiers of White Zombie, Amusement Securities, when they embarked work on a follow up film titled Revolt of the Zombies in 1936. Amusement Securities, claimed that to have another zombie film on the market at the same time constituted unfair competition. The claim was not upheld and Victor and Edward Halperin were able to release their film, but it did not find the same success as its predecessor.

To demonstrate their invulnerability to bullets, a Cambodian high priest brings a company of zombies to the Franco-Austrian front during the First World War.
Armond Loque, (Dean Jagger), a student of dead languages and part of an allied post-war team travelling to Anger in Cambodia to destroy the zombie formula, resolves to claim the document that tells of the hiding place of the formula. He finds the document in a temple near the statue of a multi-limbed idol, but not only does he transform a native tribe and his servant Buna, (Teru Shimada), into zombies, he uses his new found power to force pretty Claire Duval, (Dorothy Stone), to marry him. When he realises that Claire will never love him, he frees his zombie slaves by leaping to his death.
Unfortunately, Jagger was no replacement for Lugosi and despite the use of Lugosi’s close up “eye” shots from the previous film, the whole is a dreary clone that has none of the fairytale atmosphere and generates little interest.

1940 saw PRC’s release of the little known Condemned Men, a low budget zombie romp directed by William “one shot” Beaudine with an all black cast including character actor Mantan Moreland. Appearing in numerous low budget films of the 40’s as a comic relief character, Moreland also repeats this role in King of the Zombies and Revenge of the Zombies.

Paramount, eager to follow up the success of The Cat and the Canary (1939) cast the film’s star Bob Hope in another comedy vehicle titled The Ghost Breakers (1940). Although filled with the similar trappings of his previous excursion, including an heiress, a gloomy castle and a hidden fortune, Hope as radio personality Larry Lawrence, his servant, (Willie Best), and heiress Mary Carter, (Paulette Goddard), encounter ghosts and a zombie played by Noble Johnson.
Although much darker than CAT… with some genuinely creepy scenes, Hope is the one that shines in what many consider to be his best performance. Willie Best matches the star’s cowardice line for line, but again it is Hope’s one-liners that are most memorable. In one example, a thunderstorm over New York City prompts Larry to comment “Basil Rathbone must be throwing a party.”

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