“The language of judicial decision is mainly the language of logic, and the logical form flatters that longing for certainty and for repose, which is in every human mind. But certainty is illusion and repose is not the destiny of man.”
— Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.
So I finally watched “The Wolf Man” (1941) for the first time a few nights ago, and I indeed had a lot of fun with it. Sure, it’s tame by today’s standards, and bit corny too, but it was interesting watching Lon Chaney, Jr. for the first time and seeing the granddaddy of all werewolf films.
Here are a few things that jumped out at me while watching the film and reading a bit about it afterward (and, yes, I do realize that most people already knew these things):
- I knew I recognized the senior Talbot — it’s actor Claude Rains, who was none other than Louis in the following year’s “Casablanca.”
- Chaney was a big man. He is almost always both the tallest and broadest character on screen, and for some reason that surprised me. Maybe it’s because that in the posters and other media I’ve seen, the Wolf Man always seems smaller in comparison to Dracula, Frankenstein or the Phantom of the Opera. I half expected the diminutive Rains to become the Wolf Man, while Chaney’s character would become the hero who has to protect the girl, etc.
- This is weird … but Chaney bears has a strong resemblance to my best friend from early childhood, Shawn — who also grew up to be a big guy like the actor. It’s uncanny. It’d be nuts if Shawn were his great grandson, and we just never knew it.
- It was a little odd seeing Rains cast as Chaney’s character’s father, as he didn’t seem much older. Rains was only 17 years older than Chaney.
- The old gypsy man is played by Bela Lugosi.
- Rains is easily the best actor here, followed by Maria Ouspenskaya as the old gypsy woman.
- This seminal film was not the first Universal Pictures werewolf movie. That would be “Werewolf of London,” which preceded it by six years. That movie is the one that inspired the 1978 “Werewolves of London” song by Warren Zevon, as well as John Landis’ 1981 masterpiece, “An American Werewolf in London.”
- The Wolf Man monster was made famous for a certain onscreen transformation that represented groundbreaking special effects for its time — the gradual transformation of the monster’s face on camera. But that key effects sequence didn’t appear here in the 1941 original — only in its several sequels.
- The movie was released on December 9, 1941, just two days after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
The weed of crime bears bitter fruit. Crime does not pay.
Dabbling in old time radio inevitably brought me to “The Shadow” — a character I’d heard about periodically when I was growing up. My Dad had been a fan of the radio program and film serials when he was a kid, and he was fond of rattling off that tagline you see in this blog post’s headline. (The radio shows were broadcast in to the mid-1950’s, long after they started in 1937.) I also remember the character from the truly unfortunate 1994 feature film with Alec Baldwin, which I actually saw in the theater with my college girlfriend. (The less said, the better. About the movie, I mean.) The Shadow is also cited periodically as an influence in the creation of my own favorite iconic dark detective, Batman.
The Shadow has a loooooooong, varied and occasionally confusing history – spanning radio, pulp magazines, comic books, television and film. He’s still being portrayed in comics. DC Comics released a crossover with Batman last year that looks interesting, and the incomparable Matt Wagner produced a couple of books in 2015 and 2016 that I’d love to get my hands on. (He fights Grendel!!!)
The radio shows are a lot if fun, just like the antique horror and mystery programs that I’ve linked to here at the blog. And, just like those, they’re easily found on Internet. (How my Dad might have marveled at that!) They’re definitely more campy. And I suppose that makes sense, as they seem aimed at children, whereas the horror shows seem intended for general audiences or just adults. The period commercials for Blue Coal are a weird glimpse into the past, too. If I had to name one thing that I found annoying about all of the old time radio shows I’ve found, it’s the omnipresence of that damned organ music. (Was it just a cultural staple of the time?)
If “The Shadow’s” stories are a bit hokey, the show’s voice acting and production are just terrific. I particularly like the actor performing The Shadow for the episode in the first link below — “Death is a Colored Dream” (1948). I believe it is Bret Morrison. (And I was surprised to learn that the famous Orson Welles only voiced the character for a year or so a decade earlier.)
But what’s most interesting is the character’s inception. He didn’t start out as a character in a story at all … “The Shadow” was simply the name of the generic host for a series of unrelated mystery stories comprising “The Detective Story Hour” in 1930. After a surprising fanbase developed around the creepy-sounding host (voiced at the time by Frank Readick, Jr.), people started asking for stories featuring “The Shadow” at the news stand. Street & Smith commissioned writer Walter B. Gibson to write up some tales featuring a supernatural detective; the first came out in 1931. The iconic character was just sort of made-to-order for confused customers who might have thought he already existed. That “Shadow” later arrived at the airwaves in 1937, with Welles voicing him.
Seriously, though, I totally need to get my hands on “Grendel vs. The Shadow.”
Pictured are Monroe Hall, Virginia Hall, Campus Walk, Lee Hall, and Trinkle Hall.
The Mary Washington College Campus looked as beautiful as ever last week — it was only marred by the occasional sign bearing an embarrassing misprint. (They perplexingly refer to the misnomer “University of Mary Washington.”)
At first I hesitated to visit the campus during my stop in Fredericksburg, Virginia on my way to Washington, D.C. I asked my Alumbud if two men in their 40’s would look suspicious there, given the increased security on today’s college campuses. He told me to relax — people would assume we were two fathers scouting the school for their respective offspring. That made me feel really, really old.
Monroe Hall and The Fountain. When I went to school at MWC, that fountain was occasionally doused with either detergent or dye as a prank.
Virginia Hall. In the early 1990’s, this was a dorm exclusively for freshmen girls; I don’t know if that’s still the case today.
You can’t see it here, but beyond that hedge and beside Monroe is Campus Drive, curving down past the amphitheater to Sunken Road. The long hill is still entirely wooded, and is still arguably the prettiest part of campus.
Campus Walk and Lee Hall.
This is cute. I’m guessing it was a product of the recent remodeling? But which way to Winterfell? Metropolis? Which way is Caprica City? I have tickets for a Buccaneers game next week.
Here is where the College Bookstore used to be (beside the Campus Police Station in the lower part of Lee); I’m told now that it’s in a vastly larger space upstairs.
And The Underground has returned! It closed after my freshman year in 1990-91. I met a lot of good friends there, and I heard my first live blues at The Underground, too, performed by Saffire, The Uppity Blues Women. (I only just now learned that Saffire’s Ann Rabson sadly passed away in 2013.)
[Update: an alumna just told me that she can remember when The Underground was called “The Pub.”]
Campus Walk and Trinkle Hall. My Alumbud reminded of what seemed like a big issue back in the day — the students’ desire to have a 24-hour study hall. They successfully petitioned the college administration for it, and at some point toward the end of my college career, Trinkle began staying open all night. If that sounds incredibly nerdy, it was. But it was also a pretty big quality-of-life issue for the dorms. A lot of people needed a place to go to cram before finals, in order to keep the peace with a sleeping roommate.
The “computer pods” were also located here, downstairs, in a basementish-type space that was air-conditioned to the point where it felt freezing. You always had to bring a jacket or sweater to do your work there.
Looking south on Campus Walk, you can just barely make out the Bell Tower, a product of the campus remodeling. You used to be able to see Bushnell Hall, my freshman-year dormitory.
The bust of Dr. James L. Farmer, Jr. that the school erected opposite Trinkle Hall in 2001. He was one of the nation’s foremost leaders in the Civil Rights movement, founding the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) and organizing the “Freedom Rides” to desegregate interstate bus travel. Dr. Farmer was my Civil Rights professor in 1992, and he was universally admired by his students.
Some weird old guy wandered into the photo here — sorry about that.
“10 Cloverfield Lane” (2016) is a capably written and well performed thriller; it might not be quite worth the high praise it seems to be receiving elsewhere, but I’d still give it an 8 out of 10.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead actually is terrific actress. She has far more to do here than her one-note heroine in 2011’s underrated “The Thing” prequel, and she performs beautifully. John Goodman is perfect as a mentally ill, dubious savior. John Gallagher, Jr. does just fine as a good-natured everyman in over his head.
I did think that “10 Cloverfield Lane” ran a little long for its content. This could have easily been an especially well executed episode of a one-hour show like “The Outer Limits” or “The Twilight Zone.” It’s feature-length format felt a little padded. We don’t need the prologue explaining why Winstead’s character is traveling. Nor do we need the movie’s slowly building character arc for Goodman’s “Howard.” (We know to suspect his stability from the trailer.)
This appears to have very little to do with “Cloverfield” (2008).
Here’s what looks like a publicity still for “The Wolf Man” (1941); this is part of my efforts to monster up the blogosphere a bit this Halloween.
For some reason, it seems weird to me that the classic Universal monster movies came out before America entered World War II. They really ARE old movies.
I had a children’s book about the making of the Universal classics when I was a kid. I remember reading how Lon Chaney, Jr.’s makeup had to be applied — each hair was apparently placed there strand by strand. And audiences back then were quite thrilled with the result.
John Carpenter’s 1982 tour-de-force, “The Thing,” is arguably the best horror movie of the decade. It paid little attention to the movie it ostensibly remakes, the standard, boilerplate, flying-saucer Saturday-matinee of “The Thing From Another World” (1951). It presumably paid greater attention to its real and far darker source material, “Who Goes There?,” John W. Campbell Jr.’s 1938 horror-sci-fi novella.
One of the things the movie’s fans still debate heatedly is its bleak ending — I think it goes beyond ambiguous to downright mysterious. Viewers actually are given no certainty whatsoever about who or what are actually pictured onscreen in the film’s Antarctic setting, after a fiery climax for this gory, special-effects-heavy actioner. (Only people who have seen the film know what I am talking about.)
My own interpretation is a little less popular than the others you hear about. To conceal spoilers, I’m sharing it after the poster image below. [IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN THE MOVIE, STOP READING NOW!]
You’re glad I reminded you, aren’t you?
I told Pete Harrison the other night that I watched the 2011 prequel to John Carpenter’s 1982 masterpiece, “The Thing.”
He simply responded, “Why?”
To me and undoubtedly many others, the 80’s classic will always be the paradigmatic horror – science fiction movie. Because I admire a well made house as much as anyone, but AIN’T NO CARPENTER LIKE JOHN CARPENTER. (Nobody repeat that, I want to copyright it and sell bumper stickers at horror conventions.)
Yes, the recent prequel inexplicably has the exact same title as the 1982 movie, and I have no frikkin’ idea why. That just seems … deliberately stupid. Nor is that the 2011 film’s only flaw … it’s universally maligned.
Does the 2011 outing really deserve all its bad press? I say no. Among other things, it delivered some fine goopity-gloppity monster goodness, delivered by an archetypal flying saucer, no less. That’s something that I find refreshing in a horror movie marketplace that just seems inundated with demons and ghosts. (I loved “Insidious,” but enough already.)
C’mon, Hollywood. There are plenty of horror fans out there who grew up loving giant ants, Marine-baiting “Aliens,” werewolves, swarms of spiders troubling William Shatner, and the adversaries of Godzilla. It’s why I gave a positive review to this year’s “Jurassic World,” despite a script of the same quality as that of “Gilligan’s Island.” I want to see velociraptors chase a speeding truck. I will ALWAYS want to see velociraptors chase a speeding truck.
And … I liked the 2011 movie’s protagonist! Trying to mimic MacReady’s cunning anti-hero would have redundant! This story featured a smart, young lady scientist who turned out to be tough under pressure. That kinda worked for me.
I actually have seen 1951’s “The Thing From Another World,” but that was 30 years ago on VHS, with my “Movie Uncle,” John Muth. I have NOT read “Who Goes There?,” John W. Campbell, Jr.’s 1938 novella upon which all of these films were based. But I’m planning to. (Last time I checked, it was floating around online somewhere.)
I’m just waiting for the first big blizzard to hit next winter. Because ATMOSPHERE.