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Wednesday, February 4, 2015

YOU SHOULD SEE: Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein



The gang gets spooky. Sort of...

Granted, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) is not categorically a horror film. However, it is a comic horror spoof of fantastically entertaining proportions. The A&C style of WWII spawned humor is the same as in all of their other films (Hold That Ghost, Buck Privates), with Bud Abbott playing the irritable straight man who is somehow always duped by the adorably idiotic Lou Costello. This time, the wrench in their plans for holiday romance-- with two beautiful women who are, of course, both in love with Lou's character-- is perfectly monstrous. Banking on the continuing success of Universal's monster pictures, the boys find themselves stuck in a diabolical plot involving The Wolf Man, Frankenstein's Monster, and Dracula. This, my friends, is the good stuff.

The cast is what makes the film so exquisite-- a truly iconic moment in history. Bela Lugosi gamely put on his Dracula cape for the fist time since his appearance the groundbreaking 1931 classic to play this caper's mastermind, and he performed with the same sinister charm this time while cleverly adding a humorous wink. Lon Chaney, Jr. is back as the Wolf Man, who with his usual overwhelming depression tries to help the good guys out, but is reluctantly mutated every full moon into one of their worst enemies. Sadly, Boris Karloff didn't sign on to play the Monster, whose overly large shoes were instead filled by Glenn Strange. (Boris would regret his not so tactical business decision when it didn't pay off and would go on to join Bud and Lou in both The Killer and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde). Even Vincent Price made a cameo of sorts, tough purely vocal, as the Invisible Man. Of course, holding it all together is the ridiculous chemistry of the two leads, whose series of bumbling mistakes somehow foil a plot contrived by the greatest villains in the history of the world. I Heart This.

THE REEL REALS: Gail Patrick


Gail Patrick

Gail Patrick is known for her performances as the snide, straight gal in classic films like My Favorite Wife. As a result, her roles throughout the Golden Studio Era pretty much label her as 'My Favorite Bitch.' Gail was kind of fantastic. She was the catty female on the outside that all girl secretly were on the inside-- the villainous Yang to the Yin of the more sterling leading ladies of the time, like Carole Lombard, Ginger Rogers, and Irene Dunne. While Gail did play the good girl sometimes, in films like the cult classic Murders at the Zoo for example, she hit her stride by playing the dame who's trying to elbow her way to the prize-- generally the man. Gail was an atypical star. Not just because her height, intelligence, and countenance communicated an intimidating inner strength, but because she, as a general rule, wasn't an overly emotive actress. Much more cerebral and business savvy than many of her contemporaries, acting for Gail seemed more like a calculated investment that paid off. She was serious about it, but didn't take it seriously. The glamour was nothing, the fame was nothing, and her integrity and character reacted to these things irreverently. She considered them mere tools of the business and not the self-obsessive realities that too many celebrities get caught up in.

Gail lived a fascinating and multi-faceted life, one in which she attacked her many ambitions-- studying law, starting a children's clothing line, becoming an executive producer for "Perry Mason," (WHAT?!)-- and refused to settle for anything less than everything of which she was capable. Ambitious, beautiful, and well-educated, Gail was a force to be reckoned with, a feminist before her time, and her independent nature is probably partially responsible for her multiple marriages and divorces. I mean, who was really man enough to go toe-to-toe with this diva? While in cinema she remains the girl you hate, in reality she is the girl you love to hate. In the end, at least her characters were honest. They weren't sugar-coated goody-two-shoes with saccharine personalities and fairy tale endings. Gail was the real thing-- a tough broad holding it together and determined to survive this maelstrom of life no matter what it took. What would My Man Godfrey or Stage Door have been without her? Every good story needs a good, bad girl.

THE REEL REALS: Faye Wray



Faye Wray

Faye Wray will forever be known as "The Queen of Screams." Before Jamie Lee Curtis became "the Scream Queen" of slasher movies, Faye was wailing hysterically against the most grandiose of monsters-- though Kong was really just an oversized ape. Some classify King Kong as a horror film; others place it in the action/adventure category. In truth it is a blending of both. It is One Million B.C. meets The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Faye, in her role as the down on her luck beauty whose sacred femininity is stalked by the dark, beastly harbinger of man's lust, gave the most important performance in the classic film. This is not just because her main co-star was actually an innovative creation of puppetry, but because the audience's response to the anti-hero depended solely upon her own reaction. When you break it all down, Kong wasn't really that scary, was he? He was just a lonely, juiced up primate with primal needs. Faye was quite safe, from bestial penetration at least (which appeared to be physically impossible), yet the sexual tension was still there. Kong wanted a girlfriend, and with Faye's scant clothing a gorgeous physique, I mean... Well, at the end of the day, we're all part of the same family, aren't we? In any case, were it not for the sheer panic in her eyes, the audience may not have had any aversion to Kong at all. The guy was adorable. Under Faye's gaze, however, he was the unholiest and most fearful creature in Jesus's jungle.

While Faye in irrevocably and eternally tied to Kong, she performed in over a hundred projects over her career, a great many of which were B-pictures with a suspenseful edge. While she got her start in Westerns and performed in her share of dramas, it was films like Doctor X, The Most Dangerous Game, The Vampire Bat, and Mystery of the Wax Museum that were to be her most memorable. With a name like 'Faye Wray,' which was NOT an invented stage moniker, this chronic damsel in distress seemed destined for exactly the life she fell into. With a name that sounded like the hot howl of a hell bent banshee, Ms. Wray obtained glory simply by giving herself a sore throat. Yet, because of the vulnerability, emotional abandon, and maturity with which she approached her very unusual roles, she too has been able to maintain her very unusual and notorious place in the Hollywood lexicon of stars. Her performance as Ann Darrow- the Helen in the contemporary, Sci-fi Troy story- continues to reiterate the ever relatable saga of mankind's perpetual defeat by the most dangerous monster of all-- his heart. Whether fighting with guns, swords, wooden horses, or giant Gorillas, in this particular story-- and in most others--
"It
was beauty killed the beast."