erik lundegaard

Wednesday December 23, 2020

The Big 3: Dracula, Frankenstein, the Mummy

From the “Motion Picture Herald,” a trade pub, heralding the release of “Frankenstein.” Great spread. Not sure why they call Dwight Frye's character “the Dwarf,” though. And while Mae Clarke's “the bride of Frankenstein” is technically correct, it will have a whole new meaning in a few years. 

The week before Halloween, trying to distract myself from the potential horror of the upcoming election (which we appear to have escaped in the final reel), I watched that trifecta of great Universal Pictures horror films from the early 1930s: “Dracula,” “The Mummy” and “Frankenstein.”

I'd seen “Dracula” before but not the others—not even “Frankenstein”!—and it's interesting the similarities between them. 

“Dracula” was a hit first (release date: Feb. 1931) and they wanted Bela Legosi for “Frankenstein,” too (release date: Nov. 1931), but apparently he thought himself a romantic figure now and didn't want to play the Monster. So they got Boris Karloff. Lucky for them. At that point in his career, Karloff was relegated to bit parts in gangster films but he's amazing and heart-rending in “Frankensein.” As a result, he became their go-to monster, taking a turn at “The Mummy” (release date: Dec. 1932) and many others. Lesson, kids? Check your ego.

Other similarities/continuities between the films:

  • Edward Van Sloan plays the wise man in each: Van Helsing, Dr. Walding and Dr. Muller. 
  • Dwight Frye is lacky in both “Dracula” and “Frankenstein,” doing the bidding of the Master. In the latter, he's Fritz rather than Igor. In between the two, he played Wilmer in the original “Maltese Falcon.” 
  • David Manners is romantic lead in both “Dracula” and “The Mummy.” The romantic lead in “Frankenstein” is basically Dr. Frankenstein (Colin Clive).

The story structures are similar, too. In the first reel we see the danger, as demonstrated by Frye's Renfield in “Dracula” (who is bitten) or Bramwell Fletcher in “The Mummy” (who goes mad). Second reel the danger moves closer to us, or we to it, and the authority figure (Van Sloan) arrives to help. Third reel, how we overcome it. “The Mummy” is the least interesting of the movies to me. “Frankenstein” is the best, because in “Frankenstein” we're the monster. My wife, who loves horror movies, can't even watch the windmill scene. It's like killing a helpless animal.

Some day it would be cool to check out the subsequent horror films these guys were in (“The Monkey's Paw,” “The Black Cat”), which didn't catch on with the public, and try to figure out why. And why these did.

Posted at 08:50 AM on Wednesday December 23, 2020 in category Movie Reviews - 1930s  
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Twitter: @ErikLundegaard

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