Boo Jr #1939The MiracleYear

1939 The Miracle Year Boo Jr

You got to hand it to Variety for their eye-catching and funny headlines, titles, and phrasing. They christened ‘The Son of Frankenstein” with the moniker – BOO, JR which at once encapsulated and entertained.

In its January 4 edition, it announced:

“Boo, Jr.
Hollywood Jan 1 [1939]

‘Son of Frankenstein’ completed Saturday (31) at Universal, goes into national release Jan
13 with heavier advance bookings than any other U feature.
Cutters kept pace with the shooting schedule to speed up the distribution.”

There is an excellent reason that Universal garnered “heavier advance bookings” than usual. Back in the spring and summer of 1938, when a dearth of product hit the theaters, an enterprising theater manager (Emil Uman at the Regina Theater in Beverly Hills) put together a triple bill of older films for his venue.

The unspooling of “Dracula,” “Frankenstein,” and “Son of Kong” caused the cops to be called out to control the crowds. Word spread and soon other theaters were looking to book the reissues. Universal gladly offered their titles “Dracula” and “Frankenstein,” as a stand alone double bill (Kong, both original and Son were RKO properties – I’m sure Universal did not want to share the film rentals). And the crowds – and the cops – were repeated – from San Francisco to Boston. Initial short bookings were held over, in some instances, multiple weeks (Philadelphia ran seven).  St Louis packed in over 34,000 people in the first three days.

Such business was a bellwether indication that the horror genre was ready for a new installment. Thus, Universal decided to take the money coming in from the revivals and make a sequel. By October 1938 they were negotiating for talent. Boris Karloff took another turn in the monster role; and Bela Lugosi lurked menacingly as the murderous deranged cripple. Willis Cooper, a writer for radio horror programs and three Mr Moto films at Fox, was tapped for the scripting chores. By the 18th the cameras were turning, but not without a few hiccups. No director was listed for the first day of shooting (a role filled soon after by Rowland V Lee), and a principal actor (Peter Lorre) announced for the title roll dropped out. He was replaced on the 24th by Basil Rathbone.

It was given an ‘A’ picture status – better production values, sets, costumes etc., and shoehorned into the few available soundstages at Universal. (Their ‘B’ lineup, judged to be ahead of schedule for upcoming release, caused others of the same designation to be put on hold, freeing up stage space for the ‘A’s). Another ‘A’ production at Universal at the same time was the W. C. Fields vehicle, “You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man.”

I recently watched the film online and enjoyed it despite its predictability and formulaic writing. The atmosphere was fittingly dark and foreboding. And it wasn’t too far along when I realized that Mel Brooks must have used the plot as a template for his “Young Frankenstein.” Here too the son of the monster creator was returning to the scene of his father’s ‘crime.’ The clincher was the local police inspector, played by Lionel Atwill. The character sports an artificial arm, which Kenneth Mars spoofs in Brooks’ version.  The only thing is, Mars wasn’t all that far off of what Atwill had done in his characterization, even down to using the wooden arm when striking a light and while using darts.

A viewing is worthwhile just for the comparison.

The Night of the Shrinking Man and the Fifty Foot Woman

The Night of the Shrinking Man and the Fifty Foot Woman

My girl friend and I usually had a weekly date to meet after work on Friday nights over at her family’s house. We sat on their couch and tuned in the Creature Feature – the late night scary movie. In between the ads for a local car dealer we got to see the likes of:

The Creature from the Black Lagoon

Them (them as opposed to us humans – the them being giant ants)

The Blob (inside of which was rumored to be Steve McQueen)

The Attack of the Crab Monsters (by the Sultan of Schlock – Roger Corman).

And many, many more…

For some reason (possibly due to their availability) none of the classic monster movies were broadcast. No Dracula, no Frankenstein, no Werewolf movies. On second thought perhaps it was because they were so much older than these titles – the 1930s versus the 1950s – the concern on the programmer’s part possibly being for more contemporary fare.

Sometimes long nights ensued as the fare put us both to sleep. Cue the Everly Brothers – Wake Up Little Susie, Wake Up.

We were excited to learn that one of our upcoming Friday nights could be spent at one of our favorite places. The Harvard Exit had a calendar program that they printed and made available in their lobby. And scheduled for a midnight show on Halloween was the double bill – The Incredible Shrinking Man and The Attack of the Fifty Foot Woman.

We bought our tickets and joined the midnight throng filling the seats for the sci-fi/horror fest. My friend from college Dave went with us. Dave with his scientific bent could be a bit of a Debbie Downer. He would speak right up when something occurred that was impossible – like explosions in outer space for instance, (that epic rant came out of a viewing of Silent Running). I don’t remember any gaffs pointed out by him in these two pictures. Trust me, had there been, he would have been all over them gleefully. But then again these flicks were more in the fantasy line and were not tied down to any hard science.

I wonder now if there was not a tongue in cheek ideology behind the pairing. This time was the era of the rise of feminism. If I was into conspiracy theory, I could posit that it was a manifesto of sorts, signifying the diminution of men and the elevation of women over them.

A Shadow over Forest River Park

Phantom

One shadow lingers over my memories of Forest River Park.  A dark shadow.
His name was Albert. He was in the same grade at Saltonstall as me.  Where I was thin, he was skinnier still. A faint breeze could blow him away.
I don’t remember any occasions when he was up in our apartment, but believe he must have been.  I had added to my collection of models by this time. The Hunchback of Notre Dame and the Phantom of the Opera now shared room on my desk with Dracula.  And Albert had an obsessive fascination with movie monsters, in fact he would always talk about his favorite magazine, Famous Monsters of Filmland. I felt that he probably slept with a copy under his pillow at night.
Usually he seemed easy going, even if slightly sinister. More along the lines of an Igor, the limping assistant of the Big Monster. (I wouldn’t have been surprised if he ate spiders in secret).
But that perception shifted one day.
He tagged along with us to play “army” in the park. We would have eventually worked our way along the ridge to the rock face, but not this time.
Albert was acting more odd than usual. One foot dragged and his speech took on an Igor like cadence.  I turned my back to him. Without warning he hit me with clenched fists. I turned and pushed him away, saying something like, “Cut it out, Albert!”
He wouldn’t. He kept at me with something of a growl. I hauled back and punched him. The blow spun his frail frame and my second jab landed square on his back. His body arched as if an electric shock were pulsing through it, his mouth drawn in a grimace, snarling and drooling, not unlike Lon Chaney’s unmasked Phantom. Then he fell to the ground and it was as though he were enacting some death scene from a horror movie.
Of a sudden, I had a revelation, he had wanted me to inflict pain on him.  In some sado-masochistic sense he wanted me to continue to beat him.
I backed away. We all backed away and left.
I have no memory of involvement with Albert after that. He stands in the back row of our Eighth grade graduation picture, a frown on his face.