One of the many major highlights of last weekend's Monster Bash Conference was meeting up again with Derek Koch, the man behind the famed Monster Kid Radio podcast (www.monsterkidradio.net). Derek was awarded a much deserved Monster Bash Lifetime Achievement Award, and I for one know how much personal and professional sacrifice he has made to make the lives of classic horror/science fiction film fans brighter.
One of the traditions of each Monster Kid Radio podcast is the "Classic Five"--a series of five questions about classic genre film topics that Derek asks the main guest of each episode. The questions are drawn from the Classic Five Core Deck--a pack of specially prepared cards that each has a different query. There are no "right" or "wrong" answers to this--the idea is to create fun and entertaining discussions among monster movie fans, and also to shed a little light on the personality and attitudes of the main guest. I took part in the session during my appearance on Monster Kid Radio episode #345, and I quite enjoyed it.
At his table at this year's Monster Bash, Derek was selling replicas of the Classic Five Core Deck, and I just had to purchase one. While glancing through the cards, I mentioned to Derek that choosing one at random, and then writing a blog post on my personal answer, might make a good series for The Hitless Wonder Movie Blog. Derek was enthusiastic about it, so.....I pulled a card from the pack, and came up with this.
Now this one is a bit complicated. John Carradine was one of the most legendary character actors in the history of American movies and TV. Due to his unofficial off-and-on membership in director John Ford's preferred stock company, Carradine appeared in some of the greatest movies ever made during the Golden Age of Hollywood.
John Carradine is also legendary for appearing in some of the worst horror and science fiction movies ever made. Carradine had a monumental acting style, and his personal life was monumental as well--which meant that the man needed to make some quick cash several times during his career. The result is that Carradine showed up in just about anything, including all-time groaners such as THE INCREDIBLE PETRIFIED WORLD and BILLY THE KID VS. DRACULA. I believe that it can safely be said that no other actor of Carradine's stature appeared in as many lousy films.
Having said that, it must be pointed out that Carradine did have roles in many of the classic Universal horror films. He also had major roles in a number of Poverty Row Horrors for such companies as PRC and Monogram. There are many film buffs who would not even classify Carradine as a bona fide horror film star. I certainly would, just on quantity of movies alone...but I would rank him below Lionel Atwill and George Zucco.
Now that we've established John Carradine's genre credentials--just what is the definition of a "John Carradine monster movie"? In my opinion, just because a movie is considered a horror or science fiction film doesn't necessarily mean that it is a "monster movie". One of John Carradine's most famous leading roles was in the 1944 Edgar Ulmer cult entry BLUEBEARD, in which he plays a forlorn artist who has a habit of strangling women. I certainly wouldn't call that one a monster movie--some people wouldn't even classify it as a proper horror film. In THE UNEARTHLY, a delirious potboiler from 1957, Carradine plays a kooky scientist who carries out gland experiments on unwitting patients. Many of his subjects wind up deformed and are kept in Carradine's basement--if I remember correctly, they are only shown at the very end of the film--so does that qualify it as a true monster movie?
Something else that I have to point out. In my mind, a "John Carradine monster movie" means that Carradine was the main star, or at least had a major or important role. In many of Carradine's more famous genre efforts, such as THE HOWLING and HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS, the actor has barely more than a cameo. At the beginning of his film acting career, Carradine had non-credited roles in three of Universal's most renowned classic horror films: THE INVISIBLE MAN, THE BLACK CAT, and THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN. THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN is one of my top ten favorite movies of all time, but it doesn't fit my definition of a John Carradine monster movie.
My answer has to come down to a film that John Carradine had a major role in, and included at least one actual monster--some sort of supernatural being, or threatening alien presence, or over-sized beast, etc. I also must choose a film that has some merit to it.
In the end, my pick has to be between HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944) and HOUSE OF DRACULA (1945). Both are major monster rallies from Universal Studios, and both feature Carradine as Count Dracula.
John Carradine as Count Dracula
Carradine's Dracula doesn't get a lot of love from most monster movie fans, simply because he's not Bela Lugosi. Instead of the endless debates on why Universal didn't cast Lugosi as Dracula in the early 1940s, let's focus on Carradine in the role. He doesn't have Lugosi's creepy old world decadence....Carradine's Count is more vibrant, more to the point. He's a fine Dracula for the Silver Age of Universal monster movies, an era which favored thrills and adventure over atmosphere. I wouldn't say Carradine was an outstanding Dracula, but I thought he did rather well. (It must also be said that in his two turns as Dracula for Universal, Carradine didn't get very much screen time to develop the character.)
When it comes between HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN and HOUSE OF DRACULA, I have to pick the former. HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN also stars Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney Jr., Lionel Atwill, and George Zucco--you could make a case it's the greatest monster rally of them all.
So my favorite John Carradine monster movie is HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN. What is yours? If you don't feel like going through hoops to be able to comment on this blog page, you can always go to the Hitless Wonder Movie Page on Facebook to respond.
Isn't this a fun card game to play? One thing's for sure, you can't lose any money on this deck. I intend to do one of these posts a month.