Saturday, October 29, 2022

DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (1931) On Blu-ray From Warner Archive


This is another magnificent restoration from Warner Archive. Paramount's 1931 version of Robert Louis Stevenson's famous tale looks (and sounds) as if it was made last month instead of 90 years ago. 

The sharpness and clarity of this disc brings out all sorts of detail, and makes one realize this film was a high-class production all the way--the budget was much higher than Universal's DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN. The makeup and camera effects used to transform Fredric March's polished Jekyll to an apish Hyde are still stunning. 

Director Rouben Mamoulian and cinematographer Karl Struss provide all sorts of other visual tricks to the tale as well. Some of them may be considered self-indulgent, but they do give the story a kinetic energy that other classic horror movies made during the same period lack. 

Of all the versions made of Jekyll & Hyde, this one is by far my favorite. MGM's 1941 adaptation starred two actors I highly admire (Spencer Tracy & Ingrid Bergman), but it has a stately, refined manner. The '31 version has a raw Pre-Code edginess to it, especially in the performance of Miriam Hopkins as the tragic Ivy, who attracts the attentions of both Jekyll and Hyde. Hopkins' Ivy goes from flirty vixen to fragile victim. The scene where Ivy seduces Jekyll during their first meeting is one of the sexiest in movie history, while her palpable fear and hysteria in her dealings with Hyde are genuinely haunting. Fredric March won a Best Actor Academy Award for his fine work, but unfortunately there wasn't a Best Supporting Actress category at the time to reward Hopkins--I believe her Ivy is one of the most memorable characters in classic horror film history. 

Also deserving mention for being in this film are legendary supporting actors Holmes Herbert and Halliwell Hobbes--seemingly every other movie made in the 1930s featured at least one of these two men. And don't forget Edgar Norton as Jekyll's loyal butler. 

This Warner Archives Blu-ray of the 1931 DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE presents the film in its original 1.19:1 aspect ratio, and it is the unedited 96 minute original cut. A brand new audio commentary is included, with Steve Haberman and Constantine Nasr, which I haven't had a chance to listen to yet. The esteemed Greg Mank's commentary, which was prepared for the earlier DVD release of the film, is also here, along with the Bugs Bunny cartoon HYDE AND HARE and a 1950 radio adaptation of Jekyll & Hyde also starring Fredric March. 

It would have been nice to have more new extras on this disc, but the major thing here is how fantastic the movie looks and sounds. The 1931 DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE has long been admired, but it doesn't seem to be placed on the same level as the 1931 DRACULA & FRANKENSTEIN. I think a main reason for that is for years it had been kept in the closet, so to speak, by MGM, who had bought the rights to it when they made their 1941 version. The '31 JEKYLL AND HYDE has also never been commercialized in the way that Universal has done with their classic horror catalog. This Blu-ray gives the movie the premier showcase it deserves. 

Saturday, October 22, 2022

ACE HIGH On Blu-ray From Kino


ACE HIGH (1968) is the middle film in a trilogy of Euro Westerns directed by Giuseppe Colizzi and starring Terence Hill and Bud Spencer. Kino has given it a fine presentation on Blu-ray. 

Bounty hunters Cat (Terence Hill) and Hutch (Bud Spencer) are led on a rambling chase by bandit Cacopoulos (Eli Wallach), who has stolen a large amount of money from the pair. The three men eventually form a tenuous alliance to scam a casino owner (Kevin McCarthy) who betrayed Cacopoulos. 

Most spaghetti westerns are either action-filled violent affairs, or quirky stories with bizarre elements & characters. ACE HIGH falls in between. It's not ridiculous enough to be put in the same category as the Trinity films, and there isn't all that much gun-play. The movie has a tendency to shamble along, without any sense of urgency (despite the large amount of money that is at stake). Every sequence goes on just a bit too long, and most of them seem to exist just to pad out the running time (which is two hours). 

This was only the second film to team up Terence Hill and Bud Spencer, but their main characterizations are already set, even though they're not as silly in ACE HIGH as they would be for most of their big-screen couplings. Hill is laid-back and laconic, while the big, burly Spencer is a grouchy fellow who would rather bop guys on the head than engage in shootouts. 

Eli Wallach gets to make the biggest impression, mainly due to the fact that he gets a number of dialogue-filled scenes that allow him to show off his distinctive acting style. Wallach's Cacopoulos comes off as a close relative of the actor's famous role of Tuco in THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY. Wallach at least gives the story some much needed spirit. 

The other major character role in the film is played by Brock Peters--he's a wire-walker who joins forces with Cat, Hutch, and Cacopoulos. In all honesty Peters' role could have been written out of the story without all that much effect on it. As for Kevin McCarthy, he doesn't even show up until there's about 15 minutes left in the movie. 

I do have to say that the final gun duel (involving a roulette wheel and a waltz!) is very inventive. It's too bad the rest of the film didn't have that creativity. 

ACE HIGH shows up on a number of retro-movie cable channels from time to time--but it's always presented in a terrible-looking pan and scan version (which stopped me from ever viewing it in its entirety on TV). Kino presents on this Region A Blu-ray an excellent-looking 2.35:1 widescreen print, which the company says is from a 4K scan of the original 35mm negative. There are a couple scenes that are a bit ragged, but I assume that is due to the original elements. The only voice track is the English dub, and it is thin at times. 

The only extra (other than an original trailer) is a brand new audio commentary by writer/director (and Euro Western expert) Alex Cox. He deserves some credit for being honest--Cox spends a lot of time discussing the problems with ACE HIGH's plot, and his frustrations at the slow pace of the film are rather humorous. 

Kino has given a number of Euro Westerns fine presentations on Blu-ray in the last decade, and ACE HIGH is one of the best-looking of them. When it comes to story quality and excitement however, ACE HIGH is mediocre. One wonders if the other two films connected to ACE HIGH--GOD FORGIVES...I DON"T, and BOOT HILL--will get the Kino treatment in the future as well. 

Friday, October 21, 2022



The Sprocket Vault & Kit Parker Films return to the world of Hal Roach Studios with this region-free DVD release of the very first sound comedy short subjects starring Charley Chase. CHARLEY CHASE AT HAL ROACH: THE TALKIES VOLUME FOUR 1929 includes six shorts from the very beginning of the sound era. Two of the shorts are ironically without sound--but I'll get more into that later. 

I'm sure some will wonder why the very first Charley Chase sound shorts produced by Hal Roach are in volume four, but Richard M. Roberts explains why in his audio commentaries on this set. These shorts are welcome no matter what volume they appear in. 

When one watches these shorts, one must take into account the fact that the Hal Roach organization was still finding its way when it came to talkies. The six shorts here feel somewhat disjointed at times--eventually all of Roach's comic stars would hit their sound stride. Charley Chase was perfect for the medium--he's using sound gags in his first talkie short, THE BIG SQUAWK. In his second, LEAPING LOVE, he's already showing off his fine singing voice. 

The third short in this set (and the best), SNAPPY SNEEZER, is the very first time Charley is paired with Thelma Todd. Charley and Thelma's on-screen chemistry is immediately evident, and in this story the two wind up on in a wild chase on an "auto coaster". (This was a fairground-like facility that actually existed and was open to the public.) Charley and Thelma are paired again in the fourth short, CRAZY FEET. This one is notable for Thelma wearing a couple of skimpy dancing costumes. 

The fifth short, STEPPING OUT, also has Todd, but unfortunately she doesn't have all that much to do. Charley has been married to Thelma for five years, yet he's bored, and he wants to go out on the town by himself. (If I had been married to Thelma for five years.....never mind.) Thelma lets him, and of course trouble ensues, as Charley encounters a wacky woman played by none other than Anita Garvin. 

The soundtracks for STEPPING OUT and the sixth short on this disc, GREAT GOBS, no longer exist (or at least they haven't been found yet). What the Sprocket Vault has done is provide subtitles for these two shorts, and new music scores by Andrew Earle Simpson. The lack of sound is felt most strongly in STEPPING OUT, due to the fact that Charley drunkenly sings "My Wild Irish Rose" during the climax. The decision to provide these shorts on home video without their soundtracks is, I believe, the right one--the public might never be able to see them otherwise. GREAT GOBS, by the way, is a "sailors on leave" comedy that features Edgar Kennedy as much as Charley. 

As is now expected from the Hal Roach shorts released on DVD by the Sprocket Vault, all six films on this disc have audio commentaries by Richard M. Roberts. His knowledge of early Hollywood comedy is exhaustive, and during these films he also discusses how Charley Chase, Hal Roach, and other notable screen comedians dealt with the transition from silents to sound. One can learn all sorts of things from listening to Roberts' talks. A photo gallery is also included. 

The picture and sound quality on these shorts is good, but the main thing is that they are now available on home video. 

With this DVD, all of the talkie shorts starring Charley Chase that were made at Hal Roach Studios are now on official home video courtesy of the Sprocket Vault and Kit Parker Films. I have all these sets, and they're a must for classic comedy fans. The Sprocket Vault and Kit Parker have also been releasing DVDs of the early Our Gang talkie shorts. As for their plans for any future Hal Roach rarities, my advice is....release anything not currently available that features Thelma Todd. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

BY CANDLELIGHT On Blu-ray From Kino


Kino has released on Blu-ray one of director James Whale's rarest titles: the 1933 Universal light romantic comedy BY CANDLELIGHT. 

Josef (Paul Lukas) is the butler to a playboy European prince (Nils Asther). Josef tries to emulate his master's ladykiller ways by wooing a beautiful woman named Marie (Elissa Landi) that he meets on a train. Josef poses as the prince while with Marie, because he thinks she's a countess--but she's actually a maid. Various complications and misunderstandings ensue until the couple finally learns and accepts the truth about one another. 

BY CANDLELIGHT feels more like a Ernst Lubitsch film made at Paramount than a James Whale film made at Universal. It has a very European atmosphere to it (the three main stars were born on that continent), and the movie is filled with elegant drawing rooms, tuxedo-wearing gentlemen, and evening-gowned ladies. Needless to say, there's no ordinary working-class folk to be found in this tale....but the quirky English eccentrics one usually finds in a film directed by James Whale are missing as well. 

There's not much of a story here--Paul Lukas and Elissa Landi dominate the film--but thankfully they are both appealing enough to pull it off. (I do have to say that from my perspective Landi seemed more comfortable with this material than Lukas did.) The movie only runs 72 minutes, which is good, since the slight plot would have worn out its welcome if it had gone on longer. It helps that Whale keeps the pace up, and from time to time the director and cinematographer John Mescall spice things up with a few notable shot compositions. 

According to James Curtis' excellent biography of Whale, this production was actually begun with Robert Wyler (brother of William) as director. Universal induced Whale to take over the project. Whale started from scratch, deciding not to use any footage already shot. BY CANDLELIGHT may not have been initiated by Whale, but he truly made it "his" film, stamping it with his distinctive sensibility. 

According to Kino, for this Region A Blu-ray release Universal Pictures restored BY CANDLELIGHT in 4K from 35mm original film elements. I have to say that the picture quality is stunning--this is one of the best looking (and sounding) films from this period that I have seen presented on Blu-ray. It makes me wonder what other unearthed treasures Kino and Universal might have for us in the future. 

The main extra on this disc is a brand new commentary by Troy Howarth. Troy's talks are always well-paced and informative, but here he provides much welcome analysis on James Whale's directorial style and overall career. A few trailers for other films from the 1930s released by Kino are also included. 

I wouldn't rate BY CANDLELIGHT as one of James Whale's best films, but it is a diverting light comedy that will best be appreciated by lovers of 1930s Hollywood. (I must say to those who are expecting this film to have all sorts of ties to Whale's famous horror films...there really isn't any.) James Whale's non-horror films have been sorely under-represented on home video, and here's hoping that Kino and Universal have more of them on the way. What really sets this disc apart is the magnificent restoration of the film and the audio commentary. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

MARK OF THE VAMPIRE On Blu-ray From Warner Archive


During the last few years the Warner Archive Collection has been releasing a number of fantastic restorations of classic Hollywood horror films. Now they've brought out on Blu-ray Tod Browning's somewhat controversial MARK OF THE VAMPIRE, made by MGM and released in 1935. 

MARK OF THE VAMPIRE is a sound remake of the legendary now-lost silent LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT, also directed by Tod Browning. But it's also something of a semi-remake of Browning's 1931 DRACULA. In fact there are times where Bela Lugosi (as the notorious "Count Mora") appears even more impressive than he did as Bram Stoker's famed creation in the earlier Universal production. For M ARK OF THE VAMPIRE, the MGM production design department gave Universal a run for their money when it came to cobwebs, fog, and other on-set creepy accouterments. The atmosphere that MGM, Browning, and cinematographer James Wong Howe conjured up for this film is quite impressive. 

The overall cast is impressive as well, with Lionel Barrymore hamming it up mercilessly as the Van Helsing-like Professor Zelen. (It has to be said, though, that Barrymore's approach is very entertaining.) There's also Lionel Atwill, Holmes Herbert, Donald Meek, and Leila Bennett once again doing her scared maid routine. 

Joining Bela as a presumed creature of the night is Carroll Borland as the spooky Luna. This was Borland's only major film role, but her presentation here still has an effect on pop culture nearly 90 years later. (When I wrote a blog post a few years ago listing my favorite all-time movie vampires, Borland's portrayal as Luna made the cut.) 

MARK OF THE VAMPIRE only runs a tight 60 minutes--MGM made some major edits to it before its general release. As Greg Mank points out in his wonderful book HOLLYWOOD CAULDRON, these cuts were for the better--the movie doesn't have the snail-like pacing that Browning's 1931 DRACULA has. 

Mank has also pointed out that MARK OF THE VAMPIRE might have gone down in classic horror film history as one of the greatest examples of that genre--except for the ending. This climax negates almost everything that the viewer has already seen, and it raises more questions than answers. The back of this Blu-ray's disc cover calls the ending "a startling twist"--there's plenty of monster movie fans who would call it something else. 

MARK OF THE VAMPIRE had first been released on DVD earlier this century as part of a box set called the HOLLYWOOD LEGENDS OF HORROR COLLECTION. On this new Blu-ray, MARK OF THE VAMPIRE looks magnificent, with increased sharpness and detail. The sound is much more bolder and distinct as well. 

Other than a few MGM short subjects (which have nothing in common with the film), the only major extras have been carried over from the DVD release: an audio commentary with Stephen Jones and Kim Newman, and the original trailer. The trailer is beloved by film geeks, since it features Lugosi, in full costume & makeup as Count Mora, giving his all in promoting the film. One could even say that this trailer gave Bela more of a showcase than most of the full-length films he starred in. 

I'm happy that Warner Archive decided to present MARK OF THE VAMPIRE on Blu-ray with all the visual splendor that it deserves. I did, however, hope that a 60 minute black & white movie might have gotten some new extras to go along with it, such as a newer commentary, or at least a still gallery (some of the greatest images of Bela ever were taken during the making of this film). In the end, we all must be judges of this eerie conspiracy. 

Thursday, October 13, 2022



THE POOR RICH is a 1934 comedy, produced by Universal, and directed by Edward Sedgwick, a man best known for his work with Buster Keaton. The movie doesn't have all that many laughs, despite the characters acting as silly as possible. It does have quite a notable cast. 

Harriet (Edna May Oliver) and Albert (Edward Everett Horton) are cousins belonging to the once upper-class Spottiswood family. The duo have returned to their family's dilapidated mansion because they are both broke. Harriet comes up with a scheme to revive the family fortune--she goads Albert into marrying the daughter (Thelma Todd) of English aristocrats Lord and Lady Fetherstone (E.E. Clive and Una O'Connor). Before the Fetherstones arrive, Harriet and Albert must quickly restore the family manor. They hire a local bumpkin (Andy Devine) to be the cook, and a mysterious pretty young woman (Leila Hyams) to be the maid. Various complications ensue, with the cousins getting more than they bargained for. 

THE POOR RICH feels like a Hal Roach/Columbia comedy short subject stretched out to feature length. The plot is very familiar--dopey characters trying not to make fools of themselves in front of people they are trying to impress, while failing miserably at the effort. The Three Stooges did things like this all the time, except they accomplished it in a quicker and more enjoyable manner. Edna May Oliver and Edward Everett Horton were legendary in supporting comedy roles, but as leading players having to shoulder a lot of slapstick they appear uncomfortable. 

The story goes off on a wild tangent near the end when it looks as if a murder has been committed, and a loud, pushy detective shows up, played by Edward Brophy. He injects some spirit into the tale, but it's not enough to make the film a laugh-out-loud riot. 

James Whale fans will find it ironic that E.E. Clive and Una O'Connor play a upper-class English couple--did Whale stop by the set during shooting to pay a visit to the duo? What is even more ironic is that a coupling involving Clive and O'Connor supposedly produced Thelma Todd as a daughter. And even more ironic--or head-scratching--is that both Leila Hyams and Thelma in this movie are attracted to Edward Everett Horton. At one point Horton (whose character prefers Leila) turns down Thelma's offer of a massage. (Really, Ed???) 

Leila Hyams actually has much more to do than Thelma does (Hot Toddie doesn't show up until past the halfway point). Hyams does show off some comic chops here, but one gets the feeling that Hyams should have played the aristocratic daughter and Thelma should have been the hired maid....or at least she should have been given more attention. 

Edward Everett Horton and Thelma Todd

Ward Bond and Walter Brennan also have very small roles in THE POOR RICH. Unfortunately the cast is the main reason to watch this film. If it had been edited down to a short subject it would have been much funnier. 

Sunday, October 9, 2022

Rating The Universal Dracula Films


Now it's time for my personal rankings of the Universal Dracula films made during the studio's classic monster era from 1931 to 1948. 

This will be the same setup as my Universal Frankenstein rankings from yesterday. There's going to be some overlap from that list, as HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, HOUSE OF DRACULA, and ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN both feature the monster and Dracula. For the purposes of this post I'll be looking at those movies by how they feature the Count. 

I also need to point out that, in my opinion, none of the Universal Dracula films significantly stand out from the others. None of them are truly bad....but I wouldn't say any of them are outstanding. I'm ranking them in order of preference, but honestly there's a dozen ways I could have written this list. 

1. SON OF DRACULA (1943) 

I'm sure this choice will get some attention. Robert Siodmak's fine tale of small-town American supernatural noir is one of Universal's most unique monster movies (and thankfully it has no comic relief whatsoever). As for the debate on whether Lon Chaney Jr. actually is playing Dracula here....he's billed in the title credits as "Count Dracula", so that's good enough for me. And as for the debate on Lon Jr.'s performance....I think he's quite good as a vampire (I actually prefer him as Dracula rather than the Frankenstein monster). Lon's portrayal here anticipates Christopher Lee's Dracula in a number of ways--Chaney's scenes are brief, strong, and to the point. The real star of this film, however, is Louise Allbritton, who is fantastic as a death-obsessed dark-haired vixen who chooses to becomes a member of the undead in order to further her own wild schemes. 


It took a long time, a lot of scripts, and many changes in cast & crew before Universal finally brought out a follow-up to their legendary original DRACULA, but all things considered, it came out very well. Gloria Holden brings plenty of moody screen presence in the title role, and she's also decades ahead of her time in portraying a sympathetic vampire who is searching for a release from her gruesome existence. Director Lambert Hillyer gets almost no attention from old monster movie fans, but he did an excellent job here. What prevents this film from being one of the all-time Universal classics is the far too frequent attempts at humor. 

3. DRACULA (1931)

I must admit that the major reason I have this rated at #3 is due to its overall importance to the entire horror film genre. It's Universal's first true sound horror film....but it's also very slow, and for whatever reason director Tod Browning lets a lot of enticing opportunities slip by. Bela is absolutely iconic, and he always will be, as will Edward Van Sloan as Van Helsing and Dwight Frye as Renfield. In the end this is a film that will be remembered for what it could have been instead of what it is. 


In the monster rallies HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN and HOUSE OF DRACULA, the Count never got to fully interact with the other creatures. Here he does--and he's played again by Bela Lugosi, in only his second official time playing Dracula in a full-length theatrical film. (You can win a lot of bar bets with that info.) Bela's Count isn't as alien or as creepy here as he was in 1931--but it's great to see him in the cape. Unfortunately this would be the very last time Bela had a decent role in a movie produced by a major American studio. 


John Carradine takes over the role of Dracula for this entry, and his take on the Count is more subtle and restrained than one would expect from an actor of his reputation (some fans would say he's too restrained in the role). The Count is only in the first part of the story, trying to vamp the lovely Anne Gwynne. 


Most of what I said above for HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN can also go here as well. Carradine is once again a low-key Dracula; he's only in the first part of the film; and he sets his sights on a pretty Universal starlet, this time Martha O'Driscoll. One wonders what Carradine could have done if he had been able to play the Count in a 1940s Universal film dedicated solely to the character. 

* I decided not to include Universal's 1931 Spanish version of DRACULA in these rankings--but if I did, it would rank near the bottom. If you think the Lugosi DRACULA is slow--and it is--consider that the Spanish DRACULA is about a half-hour longer, and it's no improvement. It has some notable camera setups, but that's about it. 

Saturday, October 8, 2022

Rating The Universal Frankenstein Films


In May of this year I wrote a couple blog posts ranking the Frankenstein & Dracula films produced by Hammer Films. Now I'm going to rank the Frankenstein & Dracula films produced by Universal, specifically the ones made during the studio's classic monster period (1931-1948). 

Looking back on the history of my blog, I've come to the realization that I haven't done all that much writing about the classic Universal monster movies. I think the main reason for that is those films has been such a presence in my life, I kind of take them for granted. The Universal monster classics are very easy to access--they've been released and re-released on home video in various formats innumerable times, and they're available on all sorts of streaming platforms. Svengoolie also shows at least one of the Universal monster classics every month. I've seen each one of them dozens and dozens of times--I know just about every camera angle and every line of dialogue. It's hard to come up with a fresh new perspective on the Universal monster series (although that doesn't stop excellent writers such as Greg Mank and Frank Dello Stritto from doing so). What more can you say about BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN? 

This list will deal with the Universal Frankenstein films, ranked in order of preference. I have to point out that none of these films are terrible--we're not dealing with any "Paula the Ape Woman" entries here. The first three films in the Universal Frankenstein series are much better that the movies made in the 1940s--but overall the entire set is still very entertaining and watchable, and they still also have great influence on pop culture today. 


This is one of my top ten favorite movies of all time, so of course it's going to be on top of this list. 


Boris Karloff's monster doesn't have much to do here, but the film itself is filled with great flourishes, and a standout cast, with jittery Basil Rathbone, one-armed inspector Lionel Atwill, and best of all, Bela Lugosi giving one of his best screen performances as Ygor. 


The original 1931 film has some early sound era creakiness, but I believe this actually contributes to its eerie atmosphere. What director James Whale did here continues to have a lasting impact on genre cinema, as does Boris Karloff's astounding performance....probably the greatest by any actor in horror film history. 


Ironically this has now become the most beloved film of the entire Universal classic monster series. When I was a young teenager starting to get into classic horror cinema, there were still plenty of writers who felt that this movie was insulting to the legendary monsters. As the Frankenstein monster, Glenn Strange gets more to do here than he did in HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN and HOUSE OF DRACULA combined. Just a fun time all the way around. 


A major event in horror film history, as this was the first monster vs. monster team-up. It's really more of a Wolf Man story than a Frankenstein one, but director Roy William Neill pulls off all the disparate elements quite well, considering how much behind-the-scenes drama was going on. Part of that drama was what happened to Bela Lugosi's performance as the monster--it was changed greatly in the editing room (and not to the actor's benefit). I have to wonder, would a blinded, talkative monster, with Lugosi's distinctive voice, gone over with the general public??


With this film, the Frankenstein series started to become more streamlined in every department--story, direction, and acting. Lon Chaney Jr. takes over from Karloff as the monster, and he performs the character as a generic, hulking brute. Bela Lugosi returns as a cleaned-up Ygor, and we also get Lionel Atwill as a treacherous scientist and Universal's #1 scream queen Evelyn Ankers. 


Boris Karloff returns to the series, this time as a mad doctor who gets involved with most of the Universal terrors and unleashes a true monster rally. Glenn Strange takes over as the monster, but he has almost nothing to do until the very end, and he gets no chance to compete with Lon Chaney Jr., J. Carrol Naish, and John Carradine. 


Another multi-monster mash, basically a remake of HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN. The goofy plot attempts to find a scientific "cure" for all the creatures. Once again Glenn Strange as the monster is lost in the shuffle, as Onslow Stevens takes center stage as a well-meaning doctor who becomes infected with Dracula's blood. It's telling that in the 1940s, Universal saw the monster as a physically infirm brute who can do little but cause havoc. 

Monday, October 3, 2022



Legendary film composer Max Steiner (1888-1971) wrote the music scores for four of the greatest films ever made: KING KONG, GONE WITH THE WIND, CASABLANCA, and THE SEARCHERS. If these were the only movie soundtracks he created, he would still have a place in Hollywood history--but he did far much more than that. Steiner's life and career are the subject of a 2021 documentary, MAX STEINER: MAESTRO OF MOVIE MUSIC, which I viewed on HBO Max. The documentary was produced, directed, and edited by Diana Friedberg. 

The film charts Steiner's life from his birth in Vienna, to his becoming a young musical prodigy, and then his success with musical theater in England and Europe. When World War One broke out Steiner managed to travel to the United States, where he found work in the silent film industry, and then acclaim in the world of Broadway productions in the 1920s. 

Steiner was brought out to Hollywood, and in the early 1930s, as sound on film was being perfected, his innovations on the use of music to enhance what was on the screen would have far reaching effect. Steiner's belief in the power of a properly scored film story enabled him to take part in several outstanding productions, and to gain work and respect from such Hollywood big-wigs as David O. Selznick, Bette Davis, and Jack Warner. 

The documentary presents Steiner as a man devoted to his music and his work--in 1939 he wrote an astounding eleven film scores. Even in late middle age Steiner kept up a punishing schedule. The film suggests that Steiner's unrelenting work ethic might have affected his personal life--he was married four times, and his only son committed suicide at a young age. Despite this the film details that Steiner was well-liked among those he worked alongside with. 

MAX STEINER: MAESTRO OF MOVIE MUSIC is two hours long, which gives it plenty of time to delve into the subject's extensive career, while also giving background and detail on the history and importance of movie musical scores overall. The documentary for the most part has a traditional tone to it, avoiding flashy camera or editing techniques. 

Among the mementos from Steiner's career which are shown are the actual music cues he wrote for some of his most famous film scores. (Many of these include brief notes written by Steiner that display his quirky humor.) 

Fans of the Golden Age of Hollywood will certainly enjoy this documentary--it's a thorough examination of a man who made a major and lasting contribution to the era.