Tag Archives: Lon Chaney Jr

LON CHANEY, JR.

Why no one has ever produced a cinematic biopic treatment of the Chaney boys ( Lon Sr. and Lon Jr.) is baffling. Bela Lugosi was given quite a spotlight in Ed Wood (1994), and Boris Karloff was a supporting character in Gods and Monsters (1998). Off-screen, Karloff might have made for a nice neighbor, but being the workaholic he was, his biography is dull going. Of course, Lugosi had elements of drug addiction, pathos, and parody late in life working for him. While the Chaneys lacked the European mystery of Karloff and Lugosi, there’s an aptness in these American-bred father and son icons because, as the past year has revealed, Europe has doodly-squat on ‘Murica when it comes to the banality of authentic horror.

From the slivers of information that we have received over the years through peer recollections and various articles, the Chaneys would make for one helluva psycho drama, preferably directed by someone with the sensibilities of a David Cronenberg. No definitive biography has been written about either, and cinematically there’s only a ludicrously whitewashed biopic Man of a Thousand Faces (1957) starring James Cagney as daddy Chaney. Part of the reason for lack of a substantial biography could be the almost obsessive protectiveness of the Chaney estate, who seem to have made things consistently difficult for potential biographers. However, it is also telling that the estate has, as far I know, never disputed the more colorful biographical tidbits that have been given about their silver screen patriarchs.

There must have been something of the masochist in the elder Chaney, who went though much self-inflicted suffering for his art, including looping wires around his eye sockets and wearing false teeth so tight that shots had to be completed quickly before he started bleeding. For Quasimodo, he wore a back prosthetic so heavy that (coupled with instructions to an extra to not spare the whip in the famous beating scene) it sent Lon Sr. to the hospital for an extended stay. Apparently, he was also quite a sadist, and would lock Creighton (Lon Jr.’s birth name) in a closet after razor strap beatings for punishment. (Senior was also psychologically abusive, as when he told Junior that mommy was dead, when in fact she was quite alive).

Such heredity and abuse certainly was instrumental in composing Lon Chaney Jr. as something of a real life lycanthrope with horrific daddy issues. In assessing Jr. as a pale copy of his father, the popular and critical consensus is spot on (for once). In addition to obsessively (and vainly) trying to outdo daddy, Jr. was also a raging alcoholic, had drug problems, and was prone to a violent temper; which, according to some (including writer Curt Siodmak) sprang from guilt over latent homosexuality. However, when actually being directed, instead of just being told to do Lennie from Of Mice and Men again, Chaney, Jr., if not a great actor per se, was memorable in numerous character parts (few of which are in the horror genre).

Continue reading LON CHANEY, JR.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY MR. KARLOFF

Boris Karloff (Nov 23rd, 1887-Feb 2, 1969)

BORIS KARLOFF HAPPY BIRTHDAY (LIFE)

Life Magazine cover

Boris Karloff birthday cake on set of Son Of Frankenstein

Celebrating Boris Karloff’s Birthday on set of “Son Of Frankenstein” with Basil Rathbone and Bela Lugosi

Boris Karloff birthday with Basil Rathbone and Bela Lugosi

Celebrating Boris Karloff’s Birthday on set of “Son Of Frankenstein” with Basil Rathbone and Bela Lugosi

BORIS KARLOFF BIRTHDAY SON OF FRANKENSTEIN

Celebrating Boris Karloff’s Birthday on set of “Son Of Frankenstein” with Basil Rathbone and Bela Lugosi

Continue reading HAPPY BIRTHDAY MR. KARLOFF

AL ADAMSON’S DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN (1971)

DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN (1971 AL ADAMSON) Zandor VorkovDRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN (1971 Al Adamson) Lon Chaney, JR.

The son of “Z” grade western director Victor Adamson, exploitation horror director Al Adamson came by his credentials honestly. Tragically, Adamson also unintentionally secured his own cult status, in a lurid example of life imitating art, when he was brutally murdered by a contractor. Several weeks later, the director’s body was discovered buried under freshly laid cement and bathroom tile. It could have been a scene culled from one of Adamson’s movies, and has the makings of a cult film in itself.

DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN (1971 Al Adamson) Regina Carrol

Like his father, Al Adamson was a hack, and never put on the pretense of being anything more than that. His formula for low-grade trash was female udders and genre actors well past their tether. Adamson’s wife Regina Carrol, his version of Chesty Morgan, usually supplied the udders. Similar to the partnerships between Ed Wood and Bela Lugosi or Jack Hill and Boris Karloff, Adamson had aged horror icon Lon Chaney Jr. for two films: The Female Bunch (1971, part of which was shot on Charles Manson’s Spahn Ranch) and Dracula vs. Frankenstein (1971). Both films were actually a smorgasbord of faded “B” celebrities.

FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN

Continue reading AL ADAMSON’S DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN (1971)

THE WOLF MAN (1941) & THE WOLFMAN (2010)

THE WOLFMAN 1941 lobby card. Lon Chaney, Jr. Evelyn Ankers

“Even a Man who is pure of heart and says his prayers by night may become a wolf when the wolf-bane blooms and the autumn moon is bright”.

Even A Man Who Is Pure Of Heart

The best thing about the 1941 film is the tone-setting poem above, which was repeated at least one too many times in the original, yet it is absent from the 2010 remake except in the title. The Wolf Man seemed ripe for a remake since, of the original “horror classics,” it really wasn’t very good to begin with (the same goes for Creature from the Black Lagoon).

THE WOLFMAN 1941 lobby card.

The 1941 film has several strikes against it, the first and foremost of which is writer Curt Siodmak, who was a hack. The second is director George Waggner, who wasn’t really a hack but merely a competent, unimaginative commission director with no personal vision. Finally, there is “star” Lon  Chaney, Jr. The younger Chaney gets picked on a lot these days and always has. He deserves it. He was an idiotic, drunken bully who had an obsessive hang-up about outdoing his father. Since Lon Sr. probably ranks with Chaplin in the silent acting department, Lon Jr., the pale, watered-down copy, did not have a chance. It’s amazing that Jr. even thought he would be able to compete. That said, Lon Jr. did have a few good character roles in his career (damn few out of literally hundreds of films). He was quite good as the arthritic sheriff in Fred Zinnemann’s High Noon, as Big Sam in Stanley Kramer’s The Defiant Ones, as Spurge in Raoul Walsh’s Lion is in the Streets and Bruno in Jack Hill’s cult classic Spider Baby. Like Bela Lugosi, he was best when he was actually being “directed.” Unlike Lugosi, however, Jr.’s signature horror role is not one of his best. That honor goes to his immortal Lenny in Lewis Milestone’s Of Mice and Men.  Continue reading THE WOLF MAN (1941) & THE WOLFMAN (2010)

A BELA LUGOSI RETROSPECTIVE

13TH CHAIR (Tod Browning 1930) lobby card. Bela Lugosi

According to Bela Lugosi‘s official bio, before coming to America he had been a star on the Hungarian stage, appearing in major Shakespeare productions.  However, several biographers  have disputed Lugosi’s “star” ranking during that period.  It seems most of his roles had actually been small ones.  Regardless, Lugosi enlisted in the Hungarian army during the First World War, was wounded several times, and later had to flee Hungary during a tumultuous political climate which was unfriendly to his leftist leanings.  After a stay in Germany, Lugosi arrived penniless in the States.  Eventually, he made his way to the New York stage and began appearing in plays and silent films.  In 1927, Lugosi was cast in the role of Dracula in Hamilton Dean’s famous stage play. With that, Lugosi became a major star of the stage, and stardom brought him numerous female fans, including Clara Bow, with whom he had a brief affair.

13TH CHAIR (Tod Browning 1930) lobby card. Bela Lugosi
In 1929, director Tod Browning, shopping around for the lead of the film version of Dracula, cast Lugosi as a vampire-like inspector in The Thirteenth Chair (1929).  Although Lugosi was not a great actor in the conventional sense, he did have an undeniably magnetic screen presence and brought an air of European mystery to the most rudimentary melodramas. Browning capitalized on this as few directors could and it worked, leading to Lugosi landing the career-making role of Bram Stoker’s Count in Browning’s 1931 film, Dracula.  The 49 year old Lugosi was perfect for the part.  His idiosyncratic mannerisms, unique mangling of the English language (which, despite rumor, he did not deliver phonetically), and otherworldly persona made for a compelling figure, a point made all the more obvious when compared to Carlos Villarias’ laughable performance in the Spanish language version of Dracula (shot at the same time on the same sets as Browning’s classic). Years later, Lugosi bitterly complained about the typecasting which resulted from the film, but realistically, Dracula was the best thing that happened to the actor. With his limited acting skills and heavy accent, Lugosi never could have been successful  in the romantic matinee roles he desired.

Continue reading A BELA LUGOSI RETROSPECTIVE

LA CASA DEL TERROR (1960) AND FACE OF THE SCREAMING WEREWOLF (1964)

Face of the Screaming Werewolf LA CASA DEL TERROR poster

The posthumous classification of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello erroneously places them on a level with Laurel & Hardy or The Marx Brothers. However, few, if any, of the Abbott and Costello films withstand the test of time. Their initial rendezvous with a trio of Universal monsters retains some dated charm, but little of it comes from the comedy team. Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) is essentially a vehicle for Bela Lugosi`s Dracula parody and Lenore Aubert’s vamp. The Monster (Glenn Strange) has little to do, and Lon Chaney Jr. seems mightily uncomfortable with the surrounding juvenile antics. Even worse is Bud Westmore’s unimaginative assembly line makeup, which reduces Lugosi’s Count to baby powder and black lipstick and Lon Chaney Jr’s Larry Talbot to a rubbery lycanthrope.

FACE OF THE SCREAMING WEREWOLF poster

La casa del terror (1960) is a south of the border imitation of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, along with about a half dozen other films, including King Kong (1933). German Valdes (aka Tin Tan) is Casimiro and, just like in A & C Meet Frankie, he is doing some work in a house of wax horrors, which currently has a real mummy display. Below the exhibit, the Professor (Yerye Beirut) is deep in mad scientist experiments (just like Boris Karloff in his Columbia movies or Lugosi at Monogram). None too surprising, the Professor has an assistant who helps his boss steal bodies and blood. When bodies are not to be found, the two extract fluids from Casimiro, which renders our hero lethargic (at least Lou Costello kept his energy level up). Narratively, having your protagonist sleep through half of the film does not seem like a sound idea. Casimiro’s gal Paquita (Yolanda Varela) doesn’t think so either. After all, she is working a full time job and beau here is one lazy sot! Perhaps the all too repeated shots of Casimiro counting sheep are not necessarily a bad device after all because when he does wake up, he breaks into comedic patter which actually makes Lou Costello look funny again. Valdes elicits more groans than laughs and he even engages in a song and dance number with Valera. YES, IT’S A MUSICAL TOO! Valera does not have to work hard at making Valdes’ musical talents look pedestrian. Continue reading LA CASA DEL TERROR (1960) AND FACE OF THE SCREAMING WEREWOLF (1964)