Friday, September 28, 2012

FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND NO. 263


This year marks the 100th Anniversary of Universal Pictures. Thus far, there has been little hoopla in the monster movie industry. I'm not saying that celebrations have been totally absent, but there seems to be a lack of enthusiasm for what I believe to be the most important milestone that monster fans could experience this year.

After all, where would monster movies and their bretheren, monster magazines, be today without Universal horror films? In his editorial, Executive Editor Ed Blair poses this very question in FAMOUS MONTERS OF FILMLAND #263. For instance, would AIP ever have produced the cycle of horror movies that they did without the previous success of Universal? Not likely, and not likely any other other film company would have taken the chance, given their relegation to B-status even in the best of times. Indeed, what would the Carpathian landscape or the Lanwelley moors look like had not Carl Laemmle, Jr., at the dawn of the decade in the 1930, insist on bringing back the success of the silent horror films made famous by the great Lon Chaney, Sr. into the new movie world of the talkies?

FM has not forgotton the legacy that Universal has bestowed upon us monster fans, and to prove it, issue #263 is cover-to-cover Universal monters! We are treated to page upon page illustrating the chronology of the Universal monster movie cycle from 1923 to the present using photo montages. Interspersed are numerous articles that discuss seminal films and figures that have contributed to making Universal the success story that it was, and, despite a couple of underwhelming recent attempts, still is.

My two favorite articles are from the golden years. In "The Ballad of Dwight Frye", David Elijah-Nahmod offers a sentimental look at the tragic film career of one of monsterdom's most iconic "sidemen". After a successful run on Broadway, he moved to California to be in pictures. The man who played Renfield in the original DRACULA and Fritz in the original FRANKENSTEIN saw his roles dwindle to nothing more than bit parts after the two blockbusters. Finally, he had a chance for his comeback in a major role, a biopic about President Woodrow Wilson. In bitter irony, while boarding a bus after taking his family to Pantages to watch a movie, he suffered a fatal heart attack at the age of 44.

Scott Essman has written extensively about the career of maestro monster maker Jack Pierce. In "Jack Pierce; The Man of 1000 Monsters", he distills all this knowledge into an article that covers the career of the one person who provided the definitive look of Universal's most enduring monsters. From his humble beginnings as a Greek immigrant to his pitiful death in nearly total obscurity, Essman raises Pierce's accomplishments to rightful idol status. Once again, one has to ask, where would monster movies be today without Universal . . . and without Jack Pierce?

There is much to like about this issue of FAMOUS MONSTERS. Even lovers of later day monsters have something to chew on here with features on John Carpenter's THE THING remake and the story of Jim Henson's animated wonder, THE DARK CRYSTAL.

But, perhaps the most interesting piece in the entire issue is a one-page story by Rafael Medoff and J. David Spurlock entitled: "A Movie Monster Who Spoke Out Against the Nazi Monster." Original DRACULA star, Bela Lugosi was well-known in Hollywood for carrying the torch for labor organizations of the time. In an obscure and little-known event, the authors describe his keynote address at a labor rally in Los Angeles on August 28, 1944, in which he decries the Nazis' invasion of his native Hungary and the atrocities against its citizenry, including hundreds of thousands of Jews who were shipped out from their homeland to concentration camps to be exterminated.

FAMOUS MONSTERS has come up with a winner this time around. While I can't say this is the definitive Universal retrospective, it certainly does a great job in presenting an overview and timeline of the most important movie studio in existence when it comes to our favorite subject, movie monsters.

In closing, just announced yesterday was the release of FAMOUS MONSTERS #264. For details, click on the FM cover image on the sidebar to the right of this blogroll.

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