Part two of my "Classic Horror Essentials" focuses on the films produced by MGM. All of these selections are based on a previous literary source and none of them have a traditional "monster", such as a vampire or werewolf, as their villain. MGM's foray into horror created a number of memorable and unique horror films, the best of which are listed below. Part one of my "Essentials" can be found here.
1932 Directed by Tod Browning
Perhaps one of the most notorious films ever made, Freaks was an extremely daring film for the early 1930's. Based on a short story called Spurs by Tod Robbins, Tod Browning used a great deal of his personal experience in the circus in the shaping of this film. One of the biggest controversies for audiences of the time was the use of real circus "freaks", which seemed to be more horrific to them than the fact that the two "normal" characters were the villains plotting murder. Originally 90 min. long, it was eventually cut down to 64 min., but even with the cuts it was banned for decades until it resurfaced in the 60's to become a cult classic.
1935 Directed by Karl Freund
A remake of the Austrian film The Hands of Orlac, Mad Love became Peter Lorre's American film debut. Lorre does an astounding job at playing Doctor Gogol as more than just a creepy, two dimensional character, but rather plays the role with a great range of emotion and pathos. Creepy as he is, there are moments where you actually empathize with his character and his desire for love, however this doesn't last long and you soon feel the same repulsion and unease that the object of his desire feels. Lorre was highly praised by critics and fellow actors for his portrayal and is certainly the highlight of the film. Other than Lorre's performance, the film wasn't a success upon release, but like many other films, has grown to have a greater appreciation over time.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
1941 Directed by Victor Fleming
One of the most intriguing things to me about this version is the fact that MGM based it very closely on the 1931 version released by Paramount just ten years before. With the amazing cast and director MGM had, it's something that could have easily stood on it's own without worrying about being in the other film's shadow, but truthfully, it could have been bigger than what it was. Although it wasn't a hit when first released it's another film that has gained more appreciation over time, mainly because of the caliber of acting by the stars who have now become legends.
The Picture of Dorian Gray
1945 Directed by Robert Lewin
There are several versions out there, but this is the one worth watching. Hurd Hatfield is perfect in his role as Dorian, going from innocent to debauched after listening to the suggestions on how to live by his friend Lord Henry, played impeccably by George Sanders. Although the film is black and white, there are scenes where the painting is shown in color. The more corrupt Dorian becomes, the more grotesque the colors become. This would not have had the same effect if it were in black and white, and it makes for a startling contrast.
The Mask of Fu Manchu
1932 Directed by Charles Brabin
A great mix of horror, adventure, sci-fi, and is also a fabulous example of what got by in pre-code era films. The amount of overt racism, sexuality, and misogyny displayed throughout the film is something that never would have been accepted once films were white washed by the code just a few years later. Myrna Loy, better known as the good girl, shows she can also easily pull off evil, and Karloff is at his villainous best as the evil doctor creating another frightening "monster" different from the ones he created with Universal.
1936 Directed by Tod Browning
The film is based on a 1932 novel by Abraham Merritt, Burn, Witch Burn! , but a number of elements are reminiscent of The Unholy Three, also directed by Tod Browning. The scene where jewels are hidden in a child's toy that normally holds candy, and Lionel Barrymore playing a character masquerading as a kind old lady, just as Lon Chaney did in The Unholy Three, mirror it exactly. The special effects of the shrunken people are well executed for the most part, and although the story may be familiar it's definitely worth a look.
Photos from Dr. Macro