November 8, 2007

Silent Frankensteins


Here’s a trivia question I’ve stumped film buff friends with: Who was the fourth actor to play the Frankenstein Monster in the movies?

The answer is: Boris Karloff. The most famous of all Frankenstein Monsters was preceded by 3 silent era actors.

The first was Charles Ogle, the scarecrow-like Monster in the so-called “Edison” Frankenstein of 1910. The film was lost and forgotten for over 50 years, only to miraculously surface in a private collection. Today, you can watch or download the sixteen-minute silent on Archive.org.

The second Frankenstein Monster of the movies was played by English-born Percy Darrell Standing in the 1915 feature-length Life Without Soul. The film is lost but a publicity sheet clearly shows the Monster as a dimwitted brute in a torn shirt, without disfiguring makeup. The whole drama, as it often turned out in films of the era, is revealed in the end to have been a dream.

The third interpretation is infinitely more mysterious. Its existence was largely unknown through most of the 20th century and, still today, very little is known about it.

The 1920 Il Mostro di Frankenstein was produced in Italy, with German investment, by Luciano Albertini, who also portrayed Dr. Frankenstein. It co-stars his frequent film collaborators: Wife Linda Albertini and the imposing Umberto Guarracino as The Monster. Of the plot, all we know is that the Doctor confronts his creation in a dark cave. The whole thing clocked in at some 39 minutes of screen time. The film was reputedly censored by Italian authorities, compelling Albertini and company to pursue their film careers in Germany.

The following year, 1921, Guarracino played “the product of the secret workshop” in Die Insel der Verschollenen (Island of the Lost), an unauthorized adaptation of H.G.Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau. Trivia question #2: Can you name the only other actor to ever play both the Frankenstein Monster and a creation of Dr. Moreau?

Guarracino is perhaps best remembered as Pluto, the fuzzy-bearded King of Hell to “strong man” genre superstar Bartolomeo Pagano’s Maciste in the classic Maciste all'inferno of 1926, the film that is said to have inspired a young Federico Fellini to become a filmmaker. By the way, Maciste in Hell is a special effect knockout with very elaborate sets and all manner of beast men, alluring she-devils, and a giant fire-breathing dragon identified as “Hell’s Aeroplane”!

Of Frankenstein’s Mostro, nothing survives save an illustration on a Belgian promotion flyer. It shows the monster surrounded by smoke or flames, menacingly brandishing a stick. In the background, an urgent figure appears on a staircase. A “mysterious vision”, the caption reads, “from the novel by Mrs. Shelley”.

I found the small picture on the net years ago, but the source seems to have disappeared. If anyone has access to a better, larger copy, please share!

Out of curiosity, I scanned the image at high resolution, enlarged and photoshopped it a bit to see if any detail could be brought out. I humbly submit the result of this experiment. The Monster appears as a bald-headed, muscular man. The face remains a cipher. A tantalizing image that’ll have to do, at least until a better one is found.


24 comments:

Max the drunken severed head said...

"Bela Lugosi" is the answer to your question, having been both a Manimal and The Monster in the movies.

Anonymous said...

I think the source of the Italian image is Don Glut's FRANKENSTEIN CATALOG.

rob! said...

wow, its like that Frankenstein test footage Bela shot--lost to the ages!

Anonymous said...

At www.imdb.com/title/tt0005615/ someone has written a 'review' of LIFE WITHOUT SOUL. I suspect a hoax.

Pierre Fournier said...

Give Max a Lugosi cigar!

Anonymous #1: I don’t have Glut’s book, but I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if he was the one who found that Le Monstre image, Frankenstein expert that he is.

Anonymous #2: Good call. “F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre” is, apparently, the only man on the planet with miraculous access to just about every famous lost film. Calling it a hoax is too kind. Hoaxing suggests humor, practical jokes, friendly pranks. In this case, the joke has worn very thin and these pompous, bogus “reviews” poison the information on the IMDB.

Anonymous said...

FRANKENSTEIN CATALOG is a great, though expensive resource for pre-1983 works. I wish Glut would compile volume two for the past 25 years.

Wich2 said...

Guys-

Don't hsve the CATALOG...

But Don's THE FRANKENSTEIN LEGEND is a classic! (Just wish I could snag a copy of his DRACULA companion book!)

And Max beat me to the punch! Of course, the former "Bela Blasco" was also one of the few actors to play BOTH "titans of terror," essaying The Thirsty Count as well.

Name two others!

Best,
-Craig W.

Thom said...

Good detective work, P. Let's hope Life Without Soul and Il Mostro di Frankenstein turn up in someone's private collection too.

Wich2 said...

No takers?

Again:

What actors other than Lugosi played both Shelley's AND Stoker's
hideous progeny?

Max the drunken severed head said...

Christopher Lee and Lon Chaney have played both Monster and Count.

Pierre Fournier said...

Right you are, Max. Now can you guys name actors who have played both DOCTOR Frankenstein and Dracula?

Thom: Thanks for the comment on my amateur archeology. There’s little hope, of course, that the lost silent Frankensteins will ever turn up, but if I could see one, I’d pick Mostro based on its terrific cast and the quality of Italian films of the era.

wich2 said...

S'truth, Max.

Pierre, the only one I can think of is John Carradine.

-Craig W.

Pierre Fournier said...

That's one, Craig. Who else? Max?

Max the drunken severed head said...

"That's one, Craig. Who else? Max?"

No, not me! I never played the Count and the Dr.!

Okay, seriously. BTW, Hamilton Deane was a stage actor who played both the Monster and the Count.

I'm stumped at the moment for this new question. I'm thinking it has to be an actor in a European or a TV production. Or maybe Canadian.

I'm gonna keep wrackin' my brain. I can easily think of a dozen or more actors for each role, but only Carradine for both roles. Hmmmmm.

Pierre Fournier said...

Close but no cigar on Hamilton Deane. He played The Monster, but he was Van Helsing to Raymond Huntley’s Count Dracula.

Don't wrack too hard, Severed Head. Your brains'll fall out of your neck.

I’ll give you another 24 hours on this one.

Max the drunken severed head said...

I thought you might say that. Many people are unaware that Deane played the Count. He usually played Van Helsing. But he did play Stoker's undying vampire, in a 1939 West End revival of DRACULA. It was his last role.

I cite Frank Dello Stritto's and Andi Brooks' heavily researched and thoroughly excellent book "Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi in Britain" as my source.

I recommend you buy a copy. Not only is it a fun and fascinating read, but if you ever become a drunken severed head, it can be propped against you to keep you from rolling off of a table!

Pierre Fournier said...

Doh! Got me on that one, Max. I hope to get you right back when I post the answer…

Stage-wise, there are lots of theatrical companies that have both Drac and Frank in their repertoire. As an example of an actor playing both Van Helsing and The Monster, one case is Irakli Kavsadze of the Synetic Theater of Chicago. I can’t help thinking there might be several instances where stage actors have essayed the 2 major roles.

Max the drunken severed head said...

Yes, I imagine several, even numerous, stage actors have assayed both roles. Deane is likely the most famous, however.

Oh, and Udo Keir played both Dr. Frankenstein and Dracula. (No, I didn't remember on my own. Sigh.) I do have both movies, so I went digging and came up with the answer. I'm not nuts about either film, however-- so on some level, I probably don't want to remember them!

I did remember the actor (besides Peter Cushing) who has played both Dr. Frankenstein and Van Helsing. Can you name him, Mr. Brain?

Wich2 said...

DAMN!

I was gonna list Deane, Max; but I wasn't QUITE sure enough to stick my un-severed head out - it's less of a risk for you!

(Someday, maybe your obedient servant will join these ranks; Quicksilver HAS considered Stoker's book.)

As far as a Van Helsing/Frankenstein (everyone here knows Victor/"Henry" was never REALLY a Doctor) double-hitter, I'm striking out.

Now, if we want to go O.T., into actors who have played both Holmes and Watson...

Best,
-Craig W.

Pierre Fournier said...

Hey, when did this turn into Stump The Monster?

Udo Keir it is. I would also submit… Peter Cushing! Think of “Tendre Dracula”.

Craig: Victor F was a chemist. Look at his work, he obviously wasn’t a plastic surgeon!

Rather than go OT and discuss Sherlock, how about this one: Name actor(s?) who have played both Dr. F AND The Monster!

wich2 said...

Well...

Karloff?

He does fill in The Mad Doctor part in "HOUSE OF..." And, he's A "Dr. Frankenstein," though not Victor, in "...1970"

Stretching it a bit?

-Craig W.

Danél Griffin said...

I'm hopelessly late to this conversation, but on the topic of which actors have played both Dr. Frankenstein and Dracula, I don't think anyone has mentioned Patrick Bergin.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, but I'm new to this site. I was looking for information on the film IL Mostro di Franckenstein. By the thread of the article it seems everything on this film was lost. However, a small poster that was printed in 1926 remains. You might want to check out this link.
http://cgi.ebay.co.uk/FRANKENSTEIN-1926-FIRST-POSTER-EVER-HAROLD-LLOYD-DBL-FT_W0QQitemZ110312511604QQcmdZViewItemQQptZLH_DefaultDomain_0?hash=item19af235874&_trksid=p3911.c0.m14

Anonymous said...

the monster looks great in that last image, though it reminds me of a berni wrightson or mike ploog drawing!