carl laemmle jr

9

Behind The Scenes Photos from Classic Universal Monster Movies

Spearheaded by producer Carl Laemmle, Jr. and visionary makeup artist Jack Pierce, Universal Studios’ series of monster movies were responsible for giving the world of cinema its first true horror icons, laying the groundwork for all other iconic boogeymen to follow. 

Beginning in 1925 with the Lon Cheney fronted silent horror classic The Phantom of the Opera, Universal Studios churned out a series of monster movies that were heavy in tension, suspense and atmosphere, setting the ominous mood and tone for each film by way of thick fog, classical music scores and towering gothic castles. Adapting the works of such prominent literary figures as Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker and H. G. Wells, Universal effectively established itself as Hollywood’s ‘House of Horrors’ and continued its landmark series through the 1960s, the last of its original iconic monsters arriving in 1954 with Creature From the Black Lagoon.

A post wherein film writer Kimberly Luperi spotlights the career of beloved, although often overshadowed, acting great Claude Rains.

In my mind, Claude Rains was sort of an “Invisible Man”: a marvelous performer who I’ve felt was rather underrated and overshadowed by bigger stars, as character actors often are. Rains even likened himself to one during a 1933 New York Times interview discussing THE INVISIBLE MAN (’33): “I daresay it was the best thing they could do with this face,” he quipped. “Now if they could keep it invisible, I might get by in the cinema.”

Tinseltown didn’t keep Rains concealed for long, but I’d say he got by pretty well in the movies nonetheless. See: his string of compelling performances in classics like THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (‘38), CASABLANCA ('42), NOTORIOUS ('46) and LAWRENCE OF ARABIA ('62), to name but a few.

Trained extensively on the stage in England and America, the London-born Rains made the leap to film late in his career. Technology of the time kept his expressive voice hushed in his first screen outing, BUILD THY HOUSE (’20), but Rains’ brogue played a crucial role in landing his next picture 13 years later across the pond, THE INVISIBLE MAN (’33).

James Whale, famous for contributing FRANKENSTEIN ('31) and BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN ('35) to Universal’s classic horror canon, took the reins on THE INVISIBLE MAN (’33). Though one legend has it that Whale overheard Rains’ RKO screen test and exclaimed, “I don’t care who that actor is, but I want that voice!” the fact is that Whale was familiar with Rains’ tenure teaching at London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (where Laurence Olivier and Charles Laughton were among his students) and lobbied for Rains from the beginning. Luckily for the director, Universal’s first choice Boris Karloff dropped out after producer Carl Laemmle Jr. repeatedly pushed Karloff to take a salary cut, and Whale slyly dissuaded second choice Colin Clive so Rains could step in. Though Laemmle objected to the casting of an unknown, Whale prevailed.

THE INVISIBLE MAN (’33) may seem an odd Hollywood debut for a well-known stage star because the lead receives mere seconds of screen time, but the picture made Rains incredibly visible. The New York Times praised Rains and noted that “no actor has ever made his first appearance on the screen under quite as peculiar circumstance,” while other notices hailed the movie as “one of the best yet produced” and a “remarkable achievement.” Indeed, Rains’ menacing performance, Whale’s masterful direction, R.C. Sherriff’s meticulous adaptation of H. G. Wells’ novel and John P. Fulton’s cunning special effects unanimously earned rave reviews and helped the film smash a three-year attendance record at New York City’s Roxy Theatre. Though visual wizardry has progressed leaps and bounds in the 83 years since its original release, THE INVISIBLE MAN (’33) still retains the ability to awe and delight viewers today, in part owing to the scrupulous balance between its visual trickery, drama and a “generous quota” of comedy.

Following THE INVISIBLE MAN (’33) success, Variety reported that Universal "figures the curiosity aroused by the first pic…will act as an effective buildup” for Rains’ next outing for the studio, which would provide audiences their first full view of the actor. But Paramount actually beat them to the punch by releasing Rains’ CRIME WITHOUT PASSION ('34) in between those two Universal pictures. Had Paramount held off, the aforementioned Universal film, THE MAN WHO RECLAIMED HIS HEAD ('34), would have been an ironic, apropos follow-up for the formerly invisible man.

Mary Carlisle reading a book.

She was the standard prototype of the porcelain-pretty collegiate and starry-eyed romantic interest in a host of Depression-era films. She enjoyed a fairly solid decade in the cinematic limelight. The story goes that the attractive 14-year-old and her mother were having lunch at the Universal commissary when she was noticed by producer Carl Laemmle Jr. who immediately gave her a screen test.

A current MoMA Film series celebrates the visionary behind the early years of Universal Pictures. Carl Laemmle, Jr., son of the studio’s founder, was known condescendingly as “Junior” Laemmle and was the butt of endless Hollywood jokes (“the son also rises”). The younger Laemmle was in fact a sophisticated, ambitious, risk-taking producer, who gambled the studio’s finances on a series of challenging projects—and eventually lost. See restorations and rediscoveries from the Laemmle, Jr. era through June 15 at MoMA Film. 

[Carl Laemmle, Jr. Courtesy of The Museum of Modern Art Film Stills Archive]

10

Original Universal Monsters Theatrical Posters (Ten Images)

Spearheaded by producer Carl Laemmle, Jr. and visionary makeup artist Jack Pierce, Universal Studios’ series of monster movies were responsible for giving the world of cinema its first true horror icons, laying the groundwork for all other iconic boogeymen to follow.

Beginning in 1925 with the Lon Cheney fronted silent horror classic The Phantom of the Opera, Universal Studios churned out a series of monster movies that were heavy in tension, suspense and atmosphere, setting the ominous mood and tone for each film by way of thick fog, classical music scores and towering gothic castles. Adapting the works of such prominent literary figures as Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker and H. G. Wells, Universal effectively established itself as Hollywood’s ‘House of Horrors’ and continued its landmark series through the 1960s, the last of its original iconic monsters arriving in 1954 with Creature From the Black Lagoon.

2

Universal horror double bill on the big screen @ The New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles - March 23rd and 24th;

“Creature From The Black Lagoon” (1954)

Sun/Mon: 7:30 pm

  • 1954, USA, 35mm, 79 minutes
  • 60th anniversary! Presented from an anaglyphic 3-D 35mm print! 3-D glasses will be provided. Special guests at the Sunday show.
  • Directed by Jack Arnold; screenplay by Harry Essex and Arthur A. Ross; story by Maurice Zimm; starring Richard Carlson, Julia Adams, Richard Denning, Antonio Moreno

“The Mummy” (1932)

Sun: 5:45 pm; Mon: 9:10 pm

  • 1932, USA, 35mm, 73 minutes
  • Directed by Karl Freund; produced by Carl Laemmle Jr.; written by John L. Balderston; starring Boris Karloff, Zita Johann, David Manners, Edward van Sloan

Admission:  $8.00 - The New Beverly Cinema, 7165 W. Beverly Blvd., one block W. of La Brea - ample free street parking and super reasonably priced yummy concessions