Here’s another early milestone from the legendary animator Winsor McCay — 1918’s “The Sinking of the Lusitania.” (I am linking below to the Under the Spreading Oak Tree Youtube channel.) At 12 minutes long, this silent propaganda film was the lengthiest of its time. It chronicled the sinking of the eponymous British civilian ocean liner three years prior that propelled America into World War I. (It is also regarded as the oldest animated film with a serious subject matter.)
McCay himself supported America’s entry in to the war. His employer, William Randolph Hearst, however, did not. So while McCay was required to produce anti-war editorial cartoons on the job, he financed and and worked on “The Sinking of the Lusitania” independently.
It is a striking film. The artistry is absolutely impressive, and you can tell that McCay worked hard to convey the horror of the event. The final image of a woman with a baby sinking below the waves is unsettling indeed.
I watched “Frankenstein” (1931) last night, as it was one of those immeasurably frustrating nights when I couldn’t sleep. No, this movie obviously can’t be considered frightening by modern standards — but I still had fun finally seeing a Universal Pictures monster movie I’ve heard about all my life.
Here are a few fun Frankenfacts, courtesy of Wikipedia:
- If the story here feels static and dialogue heavy, there’s a reason for that. Like “Dracula” (which Universal Pictures released the same year), “Frankenstein” was adapted from a stage play, which itself had been adapted from its classic novel source material.
- The makeup effects for Boris Karloff’s monster might seem simple by today’s standards, but people went nuts for them in 1931. I can’t imagine what a Depression-era filmgoer might think of a modern tv show like “The Walking Dead.”
- If you think Hollywood relies too heavily on cheesy sequels today, take a look at the B-list stuff that followed this classic movie: “Bride of Frankenstein” (1935), “Son of Frankenstein” (1939), “The Ghost of Frankenstein” (1942), “Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man” in 1943 (which was also a sequel to 1941’s “The Wolf Man”), “House of Frankenstein” (1944), and “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein” (1948). Dr. Frankenstein’s monster also showed up in “House of Dracula” (1945).
- “Frankenstein” has something else in common with “Dracula” — the talented, hyperactive character actor, Dwight Frye. Here he is the scene-stealing assistant to the doctor — he is Dracula’s minion, Renfield, in the other film.
- Frye’s character is not named “Igor,” as countless homages and references to this movie might lead you to believe. His name is “Fritz.” There is a deformed, graverobbing henchman named “Ygor” in the later “Son of Frankenstein,” and I am guessing the two movies are just easily conflated in popular memory. Also … the mob of townspeople never storm Frankenstein’s castle with torches and pitchforks. They instead chase the monster to an abandoned windmill at the top of a mountain, and destroy him there. (I am guessing that the denouement I thought I’d see also comes from a sequel.)
- I … might have noticed a major plot hole for the movie. (Yes, I realize that it is almost certainly absent from Mary Shelley’s 1918 novel, which I have not read). The townspeople want to hunt down the monster for his accidental drowning of little girl. But … how did they know the monster was even involved? We are shown nobody witnessing the tragedy. In fact, how do the townspeople even know that the monster exists — and that it was loose from the laboratory if its birth? Granted, I might have missed something — it was a sleepless night for me, after all.
Let me close with two observations:
- The castle housing Frankenstein’s laboratory would be a wicked cool place to live if it were properly renovated. Think about it. You’d need to wire it everywhere with reliable heat and electricity, and then somehow keep it dry — no small feat for an abandoned castle. But could you imagine how amazing it would be to have a home office there? A library? A home theater? A dining room? You could have a whole Victor von Doom thing going on.
- I really want to see “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.” I think that will be next for a sleepless night.
“Coughs and Sneezes Spread Diseases – As Dangerous as Poison Gas Shells.” Origin is possibly U.S. Public Health Service.
“Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the President or any other public official save exactly to the degree in which he himself stands by the country. It is patriotic to support him in so far as he efficiently serves the country. It is unpatriotic not to oppose him to the exact extent that by inefficiency or otherwise he fails in his duty to stand by the country. In either event it is unpatriotic not to tell the truth—whether about the President or about anyone else—save in the rare cases where this would make known to the enemy information of military value which would otherwise be unknown to him.”
— Teddy Roosevelt, in his article “Lincoln and Free Speech” in Metropolitan Magazine, May 1918