Also known as: Two Fabulous Characters (working title) Release Date: October 5th, 1949 (Washington DC premiere) Directed by: Jack Kinney, Clyde Geronimi, James Algar Written by: Erdman Penner, Winston Hibler, Joe Rinaldi, Ted Sears, Homer Brightman, Harry Reeves Based on:The Wind In the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving Music by: Oliver Wallace Cast: Basil Rathbone (narrator), Bing Crosby (narrator), Eric Blore, Pat O’Malley, Colin Campbell, John McLeish, Campbell Grant, Claude Allister, Leslie Denison, Edmond Stevens, The Rhythmaires
Walt Disney Animation Studios, RKO Radio Pictures, 68 Minutes
“Come along! Hop up here! We’ll go for a jolly ride! The open road! The dusty highway! Come! I’ll show you the world! Travel! Scene! Excitement! Ha ha ha!” – Mr. Toad
This is the sixth and final movie in Disney’s string of anthology/package films, ending their strange and very different approach to feature length animated productions in the 1940s.
Overall, this is my favorite film in this strange stretch of pictures, as it feels more like traditional Disney storytelling, as it only features two stories and both are done quite well and exhibit that Disney storytelling magic better than anything else out of the package film releases.
I really like both of these stories and both were favorites of mine, as a kid. However, I’ve never seen them presented in this full film version and usually just saw them used separately as filler to take up time between movies on the classic ’80s version of The Disney Channel, back when it was a premium cable channel that had to be subscribed to similar to HBO and Showtime.
This movie actually feels like the people at Disney were already planning on returning to feature length storytelling but they had to do this to get their mojo back and to learn how to tell a longer story, once again.
This film is made by two different teams, each focusing on their half of the film.
The two stories here are adaptations of two different books: The Wind In the Willows by Kenneth Grahame and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving. The former makes up the Mr. Toad portion of the film, the latter makes up the Ichabod story.
I think what I liked about these stories was that they were just amusing and fun. I loved the spirit and tone of the Mr. Toad segment but then I really fell in love with the Ichabod half because of its finale with The Headless Horseman, which is still, in my opinion, one of the greatest finale sequences that Disney has ever done.
Seeing this now, the animation really stands out and it’s clear that over the course of these six experimental anthology pictures, that the Disney company really honed their skills in a variety of ways. In this film, applying these more refined skills, we’re treated to a picture that looks better than most of the work that Disney has done previously in regards to their standard animation style.
This is more fluid, the action and motion is just more dynamic and the two sequences just blend together nicely, even in spite of their very stark narrative and style differences.
Rating: 7.75/10 Pairs well with: Disney’s other 1940s package/anthology films.
Also known as: The Graveside Story (re-issue title, Germany) Release Date: December 25th, 1963 (Detroit premiere) Directed by: Jacques Tourneur Written by: Richard Matheson Music by: Les Baxter Cast: Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff, Basil Rathbone, Joyce Jameson, Joe E. Brown
Alta Vista Productions, American International Pictures, 84 Minutes
“To… uh… paraphrase the venerable adage: we shall kill two birds, with one… pillow.” – Waldo Trumball
When I was a kid, I thought that the plot to The Comedy of Terrors was genius. In fact, it inspired a script outline that I wrote in high school for a movie I wanted to eventually make called Cremation.
The plot is about a funeral parlor owner who is about to lose his home/parlor due to not having any business. So he sets out to create business by killing some of the richer people in the community. Eventually, he sets his sights on his rich landlord because that would solve his biggest problem.
While the plot may sound dark and twisted, this is also a comedy and not standard 1960s horror fare.
The film also stars four great horror legends and it is directed by Jacques Tourneur, who helmed some solid horror and classic film-noir pictures in his day.
The humor is great and the tone of the film is superb. Vincent Price and Peter Lorre always had incredible chemistry and this might be the best they’ve ever been together, even though I consider The Raven to be a better film.
I also like the recurring gags in the film with Boris Karloff and Basil Rathbone, who don’t have as much screentime as Price and Lorre but they still add extra layers of awesomeness to the proceedings. Joyce Jameson is also entertaining and perfect in her role, as the object of Lorre’s affection while being married to the cantankerous and murderous Price.
This is a goofy but solid horror comedy in a time where films like that were rare. In the end, this really just showcases how great these actors were, all around, despite being mostly typecast as “horror actors”.
Rating: 7.25/10 Pairs well with: other pictures Vincent Price did for American International. Especially those co-starring Peter Lorre and/or Boris Karloff and Basil Rathbone.
Also known as: The Seven Curses of Lodac, St. George and the Dragon, St. George and the Seven Curses (alternative titles) Release Date: January 25th, 1962 (Mexico) Directed by: Bert I. Gordon Written by: Bernard Schoenfeld Music by: Richard Markowitz Cast: Basil Rathbone, Estelle Winwood, Anne Helm, Gary Lockwood, Liam Sullivan, Maila Nurmi
Bert I. Gordon Productions, 80 Minutes
“[chuckling] You don’t like Sir Branton? Oh, come now. A damsel in distress can’t afford to pick and choose.” – Lodac
Bert I. Gordon may have been one of the few true kings of schlock but he was also one of the best. While his films are all pretty terrible from an academic standpoint, they all exude a special sort of charm and are very watchable if you are a fan of pure hammy schlock.
This movie is no different and like many of his other films, this one found itself reaching a sort of immortality by being riffed on Mystery Science Theater 3000.
The Magic Sword is a pretty neat early ’60s sword and sorcery flick. It also stars Basil Rathbone, a fantastic actor but one who also found himself in a lot of schlock-y pictures later in his career.
But that doesn’t mean that Rathbone gave up and didn’t put his best foot forward. He is the best thing about this movie and he’s committed to his role of evil sorcerer quite well.
I loved Rathbone in this and even if the film is kind of shit, he elevates it when he is present onscreen.
Now this film did have a scant budget but it made the most of it and gave the audience some pretty decent sets and a cool battle with a giant dragon at the end of the film. I really dug the finale and the dragon model’s giant head looked pretty impressive for an early ’60s low budget adventure film.
Bert I. Gordon isn’t quite Roger Corman but this is one of those pictures where he does give him a run for his money.
Rating: 4.5/10 Pairs well with: other sword and sorcery or sword and sandal pictures of the era.
Release Date: July 4th, 1962 Directed by: Roger Corman Written by: Richard Matheson Based on: Morella, The Black Cat, The Facts In the Case of M. Valdemar by Edgar Allan Poe Music by: Les Baxter Cast: Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Basil Rathbone, Debra Paget, Joyce Jameson
American International Pictures, 89 Minutes
“Haven’t I convinced you of my sincerity yet? I’m genuinely dedicated to your destruction.” – Montresor Herringbone
Director Roger Corman and actor Vincent Price collaborated on several motion pictures for American International in the 1960s. Most of their movies were adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe’s literary work. They also dabbled in the works of H.P. Lovecraft and Nathaniel Hawthorne but it was the poems and stories of Poe that drove most of their collaborations.
This film, is a rare one, as it is an anthology piece that covers three Poe inspired tales. Traditionally, Corman picked a Poe title and turned it into one solid feature. Tales of Terror was a bit more experimental and was able to showcase famous Poe stories that wouldn’t have worked as a 90 minute feature, The Cask of Amontillado for instance, which was mixed into this film’s second story, The Black Cat.
Vincent Price is the only actor to star in all three stories. However, Peter Lorre really steals the show as Montresor Herringbone. He is only in The Black Cat, the middle and longest of the three stories, but it is one of the greatest comedic performances in Lorre’s career. Then again, every time Lorre played the comic relief opposite of Price, the results were always fantastic.
Price also works with Basil Rathbone, another horror legend. We also get to see Debra Paget and Joyce Jameson, two women who would work with Price and Corman again.
Tales of Terror is a solid outing by Corman and Price and it has the same tone and vibe as their other Poe adaptations. The anthology format makes it the most unique and different of these pictures. Plus, it has two really good stories, out of the three. The first one, my least favorite, is still entertaining though, and it is also the shortest.
This is definitely a picture worth checking out if you like Price, Corman or Poe. It is one of the best in their series of these pictures.
I have done a list like this for Vincent Price, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. I am working my way through all of the legends of classic horror.
However, Basil Rathbone isn’t just a legend of classic horror, he is an icon of swashbuckling movies – another one of my favorite film genres.
Rathbone could be heroic but he was mostly the foil to the hero whether it was in a horror picture or playing an equally sinister character while holding a cutlass on a pirate ship.
He has always been one of my favorite actors. It probably has to do with the fact that my mum always thought that he was an evil jerk while we watched these old movies together. And, I always pulled for the villain, even as a kid. Although, my mum thought he was the best Sherlock Holmes, so she did like him in that role.
But anyway, these are his twenty-five best roles.
1. Captain Blood
2. The Adventures of Robin Hood
3. The Mark of Zorro
4. Tales of Terror
5. The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939)
6. The Dawn Patrol
7. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
8. The Comedy of Terrors
9. Son of Frankenstein
10. The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (as narrator)
11. Terror by Night
12. The Adventures of Marco Polo
13. A Night of Terror
14. Dressed to Kill
15. The Woman In Green
16. Tower of London (1939)
17. The Scarlet Claw
18. The Mad Doctor
19. The Black Cat (1941)
20. The Spider Woman
21. The Black Sleep
22. Pursuit to Algiers
23. The Court Jester
24. Sherlock Holmes Faces Death
25. Queen of Blood
I decided to rewatch all of the old Universal Monsters films. I wanted to rank them all for a list (which I already posted) but while I was watching them, I figured that I’d review them too.
The Frankenstein series is the first one I have watched this go around and it starts with two films that are arguably the best out of all the Universal Monsters films.
Well, let me just get into the reviews.
Release Date: November 21st, 1931 Directed by: James Whale Written by: Francis Edward Faragoh, Garrett Fort, Peggy Webling, John L. Balderston, Robert Florey, John Russell Based on:Frankenstein by Mary Shelley Music by: Bernard Kaun Cast: Colin Clive, Mae Clarke, John Boles, Boris Karloff, Dwight Frye
Universal Pictures, 71 Minutes
Frankenstein is pretty damned close to a masterpiece. It was directed by James Whale, who was a legend most known for this film and its first sequel but had a catalog that reached outside of horror and encompassed many styles and genres. Unfortunately, most of his work is unknown today and has fallen into obscurity, but I was lucky enough to have a friend that showed me some of his other work.
This film also introduced us to Boris Karloff and his interpretation of the monster, which has gone on to become the definitive version of the character, as people today are still most familiar with Karloff’s makeup and overall visual style and behavior.
The film sets the tone that would be well represented and maintained throughout the other Frankenstein films. It borrows heavily in style from the silent German Expressionist films of the early 1920s – most notably F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922) as well as Robert Wiene’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920). Granted, this was a bit of a modernization and a more realistic interpretation of that style, but it does carry that same sort of German Expressionist vibe into a new decade and presents it to a new audience on another continent.
The acting by Boris Karloff as the monster is spectacular. The real gems of this film however are Colin Clive as Dr. Henry Frankenstein and his sidekick Fritz played by horror icon Dwight Frye (who also played Renfield in Universal’s 1931 Dracula film).
This film is perfection for its time but it was eclipsed by its first sequel, which I will review now.
Bride of Frankenstein (1935):
Release Date: April 22nd, 1935 (Los Angeles Premiere) Directed by: James Whale Written by: William Hurlbut, John L. Balderston Based on:Frankenstein by Mary Shelley Music by: Franz Waxman Cast: Boris Karloff, Elsa Lanchester, Colin Clive, Dwight Frye, Ernest Thesiger
Universal Pictures, 75 Minutes
How do you take a legendary film, which was already legendary just four years after its release, and attempt to top it? Well, you stick to the formula and style that made the original successful and you up the ante without compromising the original vision. Bride of Frankenstein is a great answer to the popular question, “Name one sequel better than the original.”
First of all, Boris Karloff and Colin Clive are back. The film is missing Dwight Frye as Fritz (he plays a less dynamic character in this one) but it gains much more with the additions of Ernest Thesiger as the villainous Dr. Pretorious and Elsa Lanchester as the title character of the film. Lanchester does double duty however, as she also portrays original Frankenstein author Mary Shelley in the opening scene of the film.
This movie takes the tone and style of the original and magnifies it. James Whale created a beautiful world in his original film and expands on its magnificence in this chapter. Bride of Frankenstein should be required viewing for any film studies class, as well as any real art class (in addition to some of the German Expressionist films it is certainly an homage to).
This film is unique, especially for its time, in that it is a true sequel that goes beyond just the material it is based on. It revisits Shelley’s concept in a new way and expands on it. While purists may not consider it true to the nature, tone and overall point of Shelley’s original Frankenstein novel, it explores uncharted territory nonetheless and does so with gusto and style and although being limited in scope and the production value of the era it was created in, it is a near flawless companion piece to the ideas of the original tale – one of the greatest novels ever written.
Son of Frankenstein (1939):
Release Date: January 13th, 1939 Directed by: Rowland V. Lee Written by: Wyllis Cooper Based on:Frankenstein by Mary Shelley Music by: Frank Skinner Cast: Boris Karloff, Basil Rathbone, Bela Lugosi
Universal Pictures, 99 Minutes
So what do you do when you lose Colin Clive, Dwight Frye and the awesome additions of Ernest Thesiger and Elsa Lanchester? Well, you bring back Boris Karloff as the monster and you bring in horror legends Bela Lugosi and Basil Rathbone. And being frank, this is one of my favorite Basil Rathbone performances of all-time.
Now this film is the start of the decline in the series but it doesn’t mean that this film and the ones after it were crap. Quite the contrary, these films are still great and play well today as classic horror masterpieces. The problem is that after the James Whale films, it was hard for Universal to replicate his quality and ability to weave a timeless tale visually – conveying emotion through the sets, the lighting, the make-up and the subtle nuances he brought forth in directing such an elite group of talent in those first two films.
Basil Rathbone owns the screen in this film as the very likable son of Henry Frankenstein named Baron Wolf von Frankenstein. Bela Lugosi is beyond fantastic as the now iconic Ygor, who wants nothing more than to control the monster in an effort to exact revenge on the townsfolk who wronged him.
I really loved the set design in this film. The use of lights and shadow brought me back to the old German Expressionist vibe even more so than James Whale’s application of the style. The style was done in a more primal and straightforward way here, which lost the lushness and complexity of Whale’s films but gained in the more obscure and supernatural atmosphere that they created. The Frankenstein house, through lighting techniques on the set was able to be inviting and haunting all at the same time. The strange non-symmetrical architecture inside, especially the staircase and its ominous shadows, were a sight to behold. You never feel quite safe or comfortable with these sets. While I prefer Whale’s refined style, this film is visually more unsettling.
Ultimately, this film is also another gem in Universal’s Monster catalog. Then again, this is from an era where they had to try really hard to produce a bad film.
The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942):
Release Date: March 13th, 1942 Directed by: Erle C. Kenton Written by: Scott Darling, Eric Taylor Based on:Frankenstein by Mary Shelley Music by: Hans J. Salter Cast: Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney Jr., Cedric Hardwicke, Ralph Bellamy, Lionel Atwill, Bela Lugosi, Evelyn Ankers
Universal Pictures, 67 Minutes
Boris Karloff sat this one out. So who did Universal get to play the monster? Well, they went to Lon Chaney Jr., son of Lon Chaney – the man who starred in several classic Universal horror films of the 1920s. Chaney Jr. had also already played the title character in Universal’s The Wolf Man, which was released just before this film. This movie also reunited Chaney Jr. with Bela Lugosi, who also had a part in The Wolf Man. Lugosi again played Ygor, whose streak of sinister villainy was not yet over.
This film introduces us to another Frankenstein son, this time Ludwig Frankenstein – played by Cedric Hardwicke. This film also gives us the uber-talented Ralph Bellamy.
I find this film to be the weakest of the series. I still love it but it seems to be more of a rehash of the previous film with a few minor changes. The most interesting thing really is that Ygor controls the monster with a special horn he plays.
The style is still consistent but at this point it is also becoming a bit of a caricature to itself and maybe a detriment. Either that or the formula and this franchise has ran its course regardless of this still being an enjoyable piece of film history. You definitely get the vibe that this is where the franchise was just being used to milk money from pockets instead of being more concentrated on making great films like the ones that preceded it.
House of Frankenstein (1944):
Release Date: December 15th, 1944 (New York City Premiere) Directed by: Erle C. Kenton Written by: Edward T. Lowe Jr., Curt Siodmak Based on:Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, Dracula by Bram Stoker Music by: Hans J. Salter, Paul Dessau Cast: Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney Jr., John Carradine, J. Carrol Naish, Glenn Strange
Universal Pictures, 71 Minutes
How does one jump the shark before that was even a term Hollywood knew anything about? Well, you jam pack as many monsters and stars into one film as you possibly can because if you own the rights to a bunch of monsters, why not have them duke it out in a free-for-all? And honestly, at this point in the Universal Monsters timeline, across all their multiple horror franchises, this pretty much had to happen in order to keep things fresh and interesting.
Boris Karloff returns but this time he is a mad scientist with a hunchback assistant played by J. Carrol Naish, who is brilliant in this film, as you really pull for him and then find yourself somewhat distraught after he goes over the edge in the end.
Lon Chaney Jr. shows up as the Wolf Man, John Carradine shows up as Count Dracula (a role he would also play in House of Dracula a year later).
This film plays like an anthology piece, where the first half of the film follows the Dracula story and the second half follows the Wolf Man story while Frankenstein is mostly on a table the whole film and doesn’t do much. It isn’t as epic as the Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man confrontation between the two characters, which was released the year prior to this (and will be reviewed when I cover The Wolf Man series of films in an upcoming post).
I like this film, even though this is where things just got silly.
More Universal Monsters reviews are coming. Next up will be the Dracula series.
Release Date: December 28th, 1935 (USA) Directed by: Michael Curtiz Written by: Casey Robinson Based on:Captain Blood by Rafael Sabatini Music by: Erich Wolfgang Korngold Cast: Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Basil Rathbone, Ross Alexander
Cosmopolitan Productions, Warner Bros. Pictures, 119 Minutes
Captain Blood is quite possibly the most important swashbuckling film in history. It is what really ignited the genre and turned it into a guaranteed money maker for years to come. It also launched the career of the great Errol Flynn, as it was his first, of many, leading roles. The film opened the door for his co-stars Basil Rathbone, who would have a legendary career, and Olivia de Havilland, who would win an Oscar for To Each His Own.
Directed by the quite accomplished Michael Curtiz, who also directed Casablanca, The Adventures of Robin Hood, Mildred Pierce and a ton of other great films, Captain Blood might be the ultimate epic of his voluminous and impressive catalog.
The movie follows Dr. Peter Blood. It starts as he is arrested unjustly for treason while tending to an injured soldier of a rebellion. The story then follows his trial, his being sold into slavery in Jamaica, his escape and ultimately his metamorphosis into Captain Blood, leader of a band of pirates. A lot happens in the picture and thus, it moves along at a quick pace and fills its two hours nicely.
Flynn does a superb job as the uber cool and incredibly smooth Peter Blood. Basil Rathbone is tremendous as his ally then bitter rival, in what is one of my all-time favorite Rathbone roles. I honestly wish he had more screen time or even a spin-off film. However, spin-offs weren’t too common in 1935. Olivia de Havilland is alluring as the leading lady and even though her motivations aren’t the clearest, you feel as if she is a kind and genuine person despite being involved with slave owners and a corrupt government.
The cinematography, for its time, is beautiful. Often times, lesser-made swashbuckling films come off as too dark and grainy. Captain Blood was well lit and visually, came off as crisp and clean.
If you are into swashbuckling movies but haven’t given this a watch, you really need to. I’d rather be absorbed in this than another Disney Pirates of the Caribbean movie.