Archive for the ‘Filmmaking’ Category

An Extra’s Story…

Saturday, June 10th, 2017

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One day as a screen star

An extra tells of rise to fame in twenty-four hours for $5 on lot with Doug in “Thief of Bagdad”

By G. A. E. Panter, 1923

We are all potential screen stars! At 9 a.m.  we saw the following “ad” in the morning paper: “For Douglas Fairbanks company, 2,500 men, 25-50.” Let’s go! We Went! At 10 a.m. we lined up with some 500 other aspirants for screen fame, in the rear of an old building. An hour later we emerged, the proud possessor of a ticket entitling us to a day’s work — salary $5, less 35 cents commission and 10 cents car fare. Also informing us that we had to be at the depot at 4 a.m. the following day.

We work nights. So, after two hours’ sleep and a good breakfast at 3 a.m., we hiked into town and found the crowd already assembling. A small cafe adjoining was literally swamped, but an enterprising, if unduly optimistic, newsboy did not meet with such success.

ON OUR WAY

Finally, after much jostling, accompanied by such remarks as: “Let me get my own hands in my pockets!” we achieved standing room in one of the cars provided. After a ride of twenty minutes we arrived at the studios, outside which, on a vacant lot, the earlier arrivals had kindled fires.

About 6 a.m. we commenced to file into the sacred inclosure, where we were allotted to Co. Z and filed past a window labeled “White Soldiers,” where we each drew a black and white striped helmet surmounted by a crescent and spike, a webbing collarette and belt covered with tin disks the size of a dollar, a pair of very baggy trousers and moccasins.

With these we repaired to a tent where we dressed, rather undressed, and emerged shivering into the raw morning air. We were then formed up in file behind a leader who carried a board bearing our company letter and marshaled by a guide wearing a black gown similar to those worn by university graduates. We proceeded to draw our weapons, consisting of a long bow and wooden quiver of arrows, then on to the set.

 

Aerial view of The Thief of Bagdad set

ON THE SET

A truly magnificent representation of old Bagdad with gateways, turrets, domes and minarets, quaint balconies and embrasures hung with rugs and bannerets. Company after company was marched up, dismissed and told to mingle with the crowd, forming a glittering, kaleidoscopic mass.

In front was a contrivance which aroused much curious comment. It resembled a long, slender girder of steel lattice work, one end being pivoted to a platform and at the other end were attached two small wodden structures. The girder was soon raised like the arm of a crane. The small wooden structures held the director and cameramen and slung from the top was the magic carpet, which appeared to be floating in the air over our heads. It was supported by a number of practically invisible steel wires.

Doug and his leading lady took their places on the the carpet and were hoisted into the air on a level with the cameras. The beam then swung out over our heads and the crowd “went mad” in the most approved style, incited thereto by numerous assistant directors armed with megaphones.

The idea of movement was greatly enhanced by a draught from two wind machines which fluttered the pennons and bannerets attached to the pikes.

 

Fairbanks on the set

 

MUCH BADINAGE

In the intervals of waiting between shots, Doug and his assistants were subjected to a crossfire of badinage by the crowd, all of which was taken in good part, although the directors had difficulty in making themselves heard. Every vantage point on the buildings forming the background was filled with men and women wearing gorgeous eastern robes.

The sun was now well up, despite the season hot enough to scorch the skin. How comic the other fellow looked. Fortunately no mirrors were provided, so we all kept the illusion that we were sheiks and the ladies on the balconies our dark-eyed fatima’s.

That the crowd was getting hungry was evinced by shouts of “When do we eat?” About 12:30 p.m. we were given a box lunch consisting of sandwiches, cake, chip potatoes, pie, fruit and bottle of milk. If the crowd was a trifle lethargic afterward — well the lunch was fine.

 

Our extra, Mr. Panter, is one of the soldiers at the top of this photo

 

After lunch, the white soldiers, after being painted terra cotta, were marched and countermarched through cheering throngs that, perhaps, had a trifle the best of the bargain! Finally, Doug, on a gaily caparisoned charger, headed the troops in a final triumphant march through cheering throngs right up to the cameramen, who, after showing the NG sign a few times, finally gave the O.K. and the day’s work was finished.

At 4 p.m., having handed in our costumes and accouterments, and obtained the final signature on our checks, we found ourselves once more outside the magic circle and free to return to our homes and  a much-needed bath.

I once played opposite Douglas Fairbanks in The Thief of Bagdad. Yes, we earned that five.

— Source: Los Angeles Times, November 25, 1923

 

The Thief of Bagdad premiere at the Egyptian theater

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Early filming in Hollywood

Friday, October 14th, 2011

FILMING LOCATIONS

 

One-hundred years ago this month, the first motion picture studio was opened in Hollywood by David Horsley in the old Blondeau Tavern on the northwest corner of Sunset and Gower. However, it wasn’t the first time that filming took place in the environs of the future film capitol. In those days, movie companies would show up unexpected and unannounced and begin filming a scene, then just as quickly leave. One such event occurred just six months before Horsley’s arrival at the famed Hotel Hollywood, now the site of the Kodak Theatre. The following is the account as it was reported in the Los Angeles Times the following day.

 

Turn guns on bellboys

 

  

Los Angeles Times
April 14, 1911

 

Two stage miners cause panic at hotel while making of motion-picture film progresses

 

While the guests at the Hotel Hollywood were enjoying a quiet siesta on the wide verandas yesterday they were thrown into an incipient panic by the appearance of two very stagey-looking mining men riding typical desert broncos.

 

The men were looking about furtively as they drew rein before the hotel. The guests’ watched them curiously as they laboriously dismounted.

 

Just then the doors of the hotel opened and two youths, dressed elaborately as bellboys, rushed out to meet the newcomers. The bellboys grabbed at a heavy leather bag which the mining men were placing on the ground.

 

Suddenly each of the mining men gave a shout, drew a large revolver and began firing indiscriminately at the bellboys. The hotel guests arose as one person and made a center rush for the doors leading into the lobby. They wedged themselves in the doorways and yelled for help. Children playing on the lawn yelled and fled for the crowded doorway.

 

Meanwhile the mining men were pumping away blithely with their revolvers. A third man appeared and the bombardment ceased. There was a moment’s conversation with a great deal of gesticulation and the mining characters, carrying their heavy leather pouch between them, marched up to the door of the hotel. The trembling bellboys were holding the miners’ horses. As soon as the mining men reached the shadow of the veranda they dropped their bag with a sigh and turned around genially to the peering and frightened faces of the guests.

 

“Gee,” said one, “these stunts are hard on we guys.”

 

The scene was staged for the benefit of the American Biography Company and was part of a long film now being made, which depicts the experience of two miners who strike it fabulously rich and have a strenuous experience at hotels owing to their suspicion of everyone who tries to carry their precious gold-laden leather pouch.

 

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If anyone recognizes the plot and knows the title of this film, please post it here. Thank you.

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The Green Hornet – Take 2

Saturday, October 10th, 2009

FILMMAKING

Green Hornet – the sequel?

 

Green Hornet statue

 The headless statue of James W. Reid awaits his close-up

 

By Allan R. Ellenberger
October 10, 2009

 

They’re back! No they haven’t begun working on the sequel for The Green Hornet yet, but they have returned to Hollywood Forever Cemetery for more filming. Today they were reassembling the statue of James Reid, obviously played by Tom Wilkinson in the film. The imdb does not list Wilkinson’s role but here is a close-up of the statue’s face. You decide.

 

Tom Wilkinson as James Reid

 

Tom Wilkinson

The real Tom Wilkinson

 

Green Hornet statue

A spare statue (seriously) waits in the wings for its big break.

 

 

Green Hornet-statue

Mr. Reid is reunited with his head.

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‘The Green Hornet’ Filming Site

Sunday, September 20th, 2009

FILMMAKING

‘The Green Hornet’ begins filming in Los Angeles

 

The Green Hornet

 

By Allan R. Ellenberger
September 20, 2009

 

The Green Hornet, scheduled for release on December 17, 2010, stars Seth Rogen as Britt Reid, the newspaper publisher turned vigilante crime fighter, Jay Chou as Kato, his martial arts sidekick, and Cameron Diaz as Lenore Case. Michel Gondry is the director.

 

Filming began two weeks ago at Sony Pictures Studios (old MGM Studios) in Culver City and in Chinatown where Kato’s apartment is located. Other Los Angeles locations will include Sun Valley, Holmby Hills, Bel-Air, Hawthorne and various downtown locations including City Hall and the Los Angeles Times building, which will stand-in for the fictional newspaper where Reid works.

 

A key scene  for The Green Hornet was filmed at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, a popular location for filmmakers. I am not familiar with the back-story of the Green Hornet, however the scene in question is for the funeral of James W. Reid. Would that be the father of Britt Reid, otherwise known as the Green Hornet? Albeit, here are some photos for fans to look for in the film when it premieres in December 2010.

 

Green Hornet funeral set

 The funeral of James W. Reid.

 

 

Green Hornet funeral set

 The tomb in the foreground is also fake — movie magic

 

 Green Hornet funeral set

The face on the statue resembles actor Tom Wilkinson who was recently named as joining the cast.

 

 

Green Hornet funeral set

All surrounding tombstones have false name plates covering their true name.

 

 

GH-FuneralE

Another fake tombstone for the Green Hornet family

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Spencer Tracy in ‘Up’

Monday, June 8th, 2009

FILMMAKING

Spencer Tracy in Up?

 

up_pixar-poster

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Is it me or is the old man character from the lastest Disney-Pixar film, Up, a clone of Spencer Tracy from the film, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967)?

I’m just saying…

 

Spencer Tracey

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Grey Gardens…

Tuesday, April 14th, 2009

FILMMAKING

The long move into ‘Grey Gardens’

 

Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore

 Jessica Lange, left, and Drew Barrymore star in “Grey Gardens.”
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

 

 By Choire Sicha
Los Angeles Times
April 15, 2009

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Reporting from New York — Drew Barrymore, facing a window onto Central Park, held up a mirror. She took a long time reapplying her lipstick.

 

“Most of my best friends are gay and they all act like her, talk like her, dress like her at certain moments — they all quote her all the time,” she said, in her somewhat spooky way.

 

Gay men — well, not all of them, but many — do revere and constantly talk about Edith “Little Edie” Bouvier Beale, the crazy-fabulous younger half of the East Hampton mother and daughter recluse-team made famous by the 1975 Maysles brothers (and company) documentary “Grey Gardens.” The family had been flush in the Depression — but, as revealed in the documentary, once left to their own devices, Jacqueline Kennedy’s aunt and cousin rapidly became crazy cat ladies and a town scandal. The last signs of their class were the house itself and their starchy, grating half-mid-Atlantic, half- Long Island accents.    (Click on ‘Continue Reading’ for more)

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(more…)

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Trouble in Oz…

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2008

Trouble in ‘Oz’: the Munchkins’ dirty secret

 

 

Betty Ann Bruno, 77, left, Priscilla Clark, 79, and Ardith Todd, 78 were Munchkins in The Wizard of Oz.

 

Snubbed at a Hollywood event, women hold own reunion to share memories of film shoot.

 

By Stephen Cox
Los Angeles Times
December 2, 2008

 

If you thought you knew everything there was to know about the iconic film classic The Wizard of Oz, then here’s a twister for you.

 

Everyone knows about the Munchkins, portrayed by 124 pituitary midgets in the 1939 motion picture starring Judy Garland. These days, the word “Munchkin” — now included in some dictionaries — is synonymous with small. Credited in the film as the Singer Midgets, the diminutive cast was comprised of little people from all over the United States, with the core group being part of the famous troupe of performing midgets managed by Leo Singer.   (Click on ‘Continue Reading’ for more)

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(more…)

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Remakes of Sci-Fi Classics…

Tuesday, November 25th, 2008

 12 upcoming remakes of Hollywood Sci-fi classics

  

Hollywood, Back to the Future: Top filmmakers have already dipped into the sci-fi vault for 21st century remakes of “The War of the Worlds, “The Planet of the Apes” and the upcoming “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” so what’s next on the revival list? Plenty. Here’s a list of a dozen remakes and revival projects now at various stages in the studio pipeline.

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When_worlds_collide_2 “When Worlds Collide” Steven Spielberg is one of the producers and Stephen Sommers (“The Mummy,” “Van Helsing”), infamous for his “give me more” attitude toward CGI effects, is directing. Like the original 1951 film produced by George Pal, this “Worlds,” due in theaters next year, is about the mad scramble to build a spaceship to save humanity before Earth is destroyed by a rogue planet entering its orbit. The problem comes when there aren’t enough seats for everybody on Earth.

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Theterminatorposter_5“The Terminator” It’s not a remake, but filmmaker McG’s plan to revive the killer robot franchise with a new sequel next summer starring Christian Bale as John Connor has been circled by fans after a strong showing this past summer at Comic-Con International. “Terminator Salvation” is set in the future and shows the grim war between humans and Skynet with its murderous metallic armies. The plan is for a full trilogy — which means a certain California politician may well live up to that long-ago promise: “I’ll be back.”

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Robocop_poster“Robocop” If the Terminator can get tuned up for a revival, why not that other 1980s mechanical hero? After several fits and starts, MGM announced in March that a reboot of “Robocop” would be in theaters in 2010. Darren Aronofsky (“The Wrestler,” “Requiem for a Dream”) is directing the remake of Paul Verhoeven’s bloody movie about a Detroit cop who is gunned down but then put back on patrol as a cyborg with troubled soul.

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Ghostbusters_poster_2“GhostbustersThere’s talk of making a third installment in the hugely successful sci-fi comedy franchise and bringing back the original crew — Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis and Ernie Hudson — as well as some new-blood, second-generation busters. Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky, writers for “The Office,” are at work on the script for Columbia Pictures and Murray, in the past the most reluctant to return to the franchise, has said publicly that he’s open to the idea. There was talk of Seth Rogen being a likely cast addition but don’t bother calling him: “It sounds,” he said in October, “like the worst idea ever.”

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Creature_from_the_black_lagoon_post“The Creature from the Black Lagoon” Breck Eisner, the director of “Sahara” and son of former Disney chief Michael Eisner, is directing while screenwriter Gary Ross is on board to retell the story of an Amazon River expedition that crosses paths with a prehistoric amphibian humanoid. The presence of Ross gives the 2009 release a link to the original 1954 film — that Universal classic was written by his father, Arthur A. Ross. Bill Paxton’s name has come up as one of the rumored cast members.

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Flash_gordon_poster_3“Flash Gordon” After the “Black Lagoon” remake, director Eisner is planning to revive Flash Gordon for Columbia, bringing back the brand that hit the silver screen in 1980 with the campy Dino DeLaurentiis production that so memorably featured the music of Queen, not to mention Topol with wings and Timothy Dalton in tights. Alex Raymond’s classic space hero, originally created as a comic strip rival to Buck Rogers, celebrates his 75th anniversary in pop culture next month but it’s not clear that his retro appeal still holds. Earlier this year, Sci Fi canceled its “Flash Gordon” series, which had ratings that proved that Ming isn’t the one who is merciless.    

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Westworldposter_2“Westworld” The late Michael Crichton wrote and directed the 1973 sci-fi thriller about a theme park where rich visitors can live out fantasies like engaging in Old West gunfights, thanks to the park’s androids, such as the menacing robot cowboy memorably portrayed by Yul Brynner. Just like in his “Jurassic Park,” though, you know things are going to go badly for the smug and boozy tourists. Crichton had worked recently on a script for a remake (and, at one point, Quentin Tarantino was approached to direct) but the author’s death in November may mark the end of the reboot effort.

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Logans_run_poster“Logan’s Run” This is a remake that can’t seem to find  sanctuary even after a decade of attempts. A few years ago, Bryan Singer (“The X-Men,” “The Usual Suspects”) was all set to re-imagine the 1976 movie about a society where everyone submits to state-ordered execution parlors on their 21st birthday or gets hunted down by agents called Sandmen. Singer dropped out to make “Superman Returns,” though, and now producer Joel Silver (“The Matrix” films) appears intent to regenerate with a newcomer as director, namely Joseph Kosinski, who has made his name in television commercials.

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Forbidden_planet_poster“Forbidden Planet” Producer Silver is also behind a planned revival of this 1956 classic that gave a sci-fi twist to Shakespeare’sThe Tempest” and starred Walter Pidgeon, Anne Francis and Leslie Nielsen long before his career tilted toward comedy. It also introduced the world to Robbie the Robot, a machine man who would show in film and television shows for decades. At one point James Cameron (“Titanic,” “Aliens”) had flirted with a “Forbidden” remake but right now it’s not clear who will be directing. In October, it was announced that screenwriter J. Michael Straczynski (“The Changeling”) is on board.

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Frankenstein_poster“Frankenstein” Mary Shelley’s classic horror tale of science gone awry has given Hollywood shambling visions of cemetery horror for decades, among them Boris Karloff’s iconic 1930s performances and Robert DeNiro’s very different take in the 1994 Kenneth Branagh remake. Next up? Guillermo Del Toro says that after he finishes the two-film version of “The Hobbit” he will turn his attention to the gothic morality tale and that actor Doug Jones (Abe Sapien in “Hellboy”) might play the patchwork man. This one is still a long way off; “The Hobbit” films are due in theaters in 2010 and 2011. Del Toro has also talked about making a “Slaughterhouse Five” remake.

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Fahrenheit451filmposter_2 “Fahrenheit 451” It’s been 55 years since the publication of Ray Bradbury’s dystopian novel about Guy Montag, a “fireman,” a term for state-employed book burners of the future. Francois Truffaut brought the story to the silver screen in 1966 and there have been numerous efforts over the past decade to cook up a remake, with Mel Gibson, Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt among the stars who have flirted with the Montag role at different points. Writer-director Frank Darabont (“The Green Mile,” “The Shawshank Redemption”) is on the job now with a planned 2010 release even though his announced star, Tom Hanks, dropped out of the project in March.

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Illsutrated_man_film_poster“The Illustrated Man” Another Bradbury work that is planned for a 2010 release (the year the author will celebrate his 90th birthday) is this project from the “Watchmen” duo of director Zack Snyder (who also directed “300”) and screenwriter Alex Tse. “The Illustrated Man” was a 1951 book of 18 short stories (including one, “Rocket Man,” that inspired the Elton John hit) that were linked by a bizarre framing device — a bum who is covered into tattoos from the future that move and represent the characters in the tales. It was made into a 1969 film starring Rod Steiger but it’s not clear what direction Snyder is taking the property.

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— Geoff Boucher
Los Angeles Times

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Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde…

Sunday, October 26th, 2008

 

 

 

AN INTERVIEW WITH DIRECTOR

ROUBEN MAMOULIAN

by David Del Valle

 

This edited interview was conducted in 1983, when Rouben Mamoulian and writer David Del Valle met as a result of their appearance on the PBS special The Horror of it All.

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DDV: Mr. Mamoulian, could you tell us how your version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde came together back in 1931?

 

RM: Part of the question you ask is relevant to the year you just mentioned, 1931. Universal had galvanized show business with their adaptations of Dracula and Frankenstein. Mr. Adolph Zukor, being a very astute businessman, decided to make his own horror thriller for Paramount. Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde had not been filmed since the John Barrymore version, and there was much about the Stevenson novel that could really be enhanced by talking pictures. You have to realize Frankenstein changed forever the notion that no matter how unfilmable a novel may be, if the subject matter is profound or powerful enough, it’s going to get to the screen.

 

Fredric March, Miriam Hopkins and Rouben Mamoulian (Allan R. Ellenberger Collection)

 

DDV: Why was this your only horror film?

 

RM: You may consider this a horror film, and perhaps Stevenson’s novel was a horror story. I don’t know if you’ve read the novel, but Dr. Jekyll was a rather fat fellow of 55 who was trying to see how far he could go within the restrictions of morality. He would like to indulge in every kind of debauchery, but he could not do this as Dr. Jekyll. And for Mr. Hyde, I did not want to make him a monster or a caricature of the John Barrymore performance. Referring to the performance which won Fredric March an Academy Award, the studio originally wanted a character named Irving Pichel. I’m sure this actor is unknown to a young man like you…

 

DDV: On the contrary, I’m quite aware that Mr. Pichel played a leading role in Dracula’s Daughter (1936) and directed Destination Moon (1950).

 

RM: Well, you are a film buff, so I suppose these facts are important to you. In any case, Irving Pichel might have been suited to the doctor as he was written in the novel, but I knew he was completely inappropriate for the film. The studio definitely wanted him to play the part; they kept telling me what a wonderful Mr. Hyde he would make. But my concept all along for the character of Hyde was that of a Neanderthal man, not a monster, because it is the animal side of human nature that attracted me to the piece. At the time I was offered Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, I had seen Freddie March in some comedy, and I knew he would be perfect. Now I had never met this actor before in my life, but I took a risk and told Paramount that I would not make the film without Fredric March. And he gave an inspired and dazzling performance!

 

Fredric March as Dr. Jekyll (Allan R. Ellenberger Collection)

 

DDV: Let’s discuss the sound techniques you used in both the transformation sequences. The two instances I remember best are the heartbeat used during the first transformation scene, and another sequence in which Jekyll listens to a nightingale in a park, and turns into Hyde when a cat pounces on the bird.

 

RM: It’s no longer the mystery it was a few years ago. Regarding the nightingale sequence, it was impossible to find a real nightingale, so I thought we might have to import one from England or something. As the search continued, this enormous Englishwoman came into my office and explained to me that she could imitate the sound of any bird. So I asked her to do a nightingale for me, to which she asked, “Do you want a Welsh nightingale or a Northern nightingale?” I said, “Whichever one you wish.” And she was perfect; it was her voice that you hear in the film.

 

The heartbeat used in the transformation sequence was my own heartbeat. I ran up and down a flight of stairs and had a sound man record my own heartbeat. We had tried drums of all kind and nothing worked. The playwright Edward Albee wrote me a fan letter informing me that the heartbeat sequence in my film stayed in his imagination as a kid and he used the same effect in his play, Tiny Alice.

 

Miriam Hopkins as Ivy (Allan R. Ellenberger Collection)

 

DDV: Fredric March notwithstanding, Miriam Hopkins is the scene-stealer of the film. Was there any truth to her notoriety?

 

RM: All of the stories I hear about Miriam Hopkins, her temper tantrums, and her demonic ego were not in play at the time we were filming Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. For me, as a director, Miriam was a very gifted and talented actress who could play comedy (as she did for Lubitsch) or a tragic figure such as Ivy. Originally, Miriam wanted to play Muriel, the Rose Hobart role, and I told her that it would be very dull for her, and that I knew she could play this Ivy character like no one else. Her scenes were considered very erotic for 1931. In fact, we filmed her bed sequence when she first encounters Dr. Jekyll with her removing her clothes under the sheets. Not much of this remained, I am told. Miriam wanted to work with me and I think she sensed how disappointed I would have been, had she played the other role. Directing her performance is one of my fondest memories of the picture. And if anything, she was Bette Davis’ equal!

 

DDV: Considering that you don’t see yourself as a specialist in the horror genre, do you feel out of place in this documentary?

 

RM: I am very proud of my work on Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and I agreed to appear in the documentary because it was being addressed in a respectful way. Even though I never mad another picture in that genre, I certainly do not mind being spoken of in such glowing terms! Who wouldn’t? My opinion of the finished product is quite enthusiastic.

 

Watch a clip from Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1932)

 

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Tod Browning’s FREAKS!

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2008

TOD BROWNING

ON THE MAKING OF 

Freaks!

 

 

 

By Allan R. Ellenberger

 

Freaks – the story of living torsos, pinheads, human skeletons, bearded ladies and little people was directed by Tod Browning, who made the successful horror film, Dracula (1931). The tale combines the strange reactions and code of loyalty of a troupe of so-called carnival “freaks” with a weird romance between the trapeze queen and the strong man, and a plot on the part of these to secure the fortune of one of the little people.

 

The films sideshow cast includes Johnny Eck, the half-man; the Hilton Sisters, Siamese Twins; Randian, the living torso; Harry Earles, little person previously seen in The Unholy Three and his sister Daisy, Pete Robinson, living skeleton; Josephine-Joseph, half man-half woman; Olga Roderick, the bearded lady; Elizabeth Green and Koo Koo, the bird girls and others.

 

 

Also in the cast are Olga Baclanova, the Russian actress who appeared in Grand Hotel; Leila Hyams, Wallace Ford, Roscoe Ates, Henry Victor and Edward Brophy.

 

When the film was first previewed in Los Angeles, some horrified spectators got up from their seats and ran – did not walk – to the nearest exit. When it was taken to San Diego for a week’s trial run, the film smashed all house records. But it aroused the indignation of some San Diegans to the extent that letters – not “fan” letters – poured in to Browning’s office at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios, the film’s producer.

 

“You must have the mental equipment of a freak yourself to devise such a picture,” wrote one irate woman. “Horrible,” said another. “To put such creatures in a picture and before the public is unthinkable,” wrote others.

  

From all of which, you may gather that Freaks is either a horror of horror pictures, or at least vastly different from the usual film. It made some people ill, fascinated others.

 

 

Why was Freaks made?

 

“First,” according to Browning, “because millions of people have seen these people in side shows and museums for years, and evidently like to see them. Now for the time, they have an opportunity to view the top-notchers all together.

 

“Second, because we have a human, inside story of their world. Something that could very possibly happen in life. Does happen in life. A normal woman marries a sideshow oddity because he has money. When she treats him cruelly they all get together and make her one of them.

 

“Impossible? Why? Randian, the human torso who has neither arms nor legs, is married, has two children and eight grandchildren. The bearded lady has been married twice, the bird girl once, the half man-half woman is married, and also the human skeleton. Do you think these people were married for love or for money? Well —

 

It was a great day in the sideshow world when the human curiosities were collected at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios, according to Browning.

 

“Most of them had never met one another before and were tickled to death at the opportunity. Temperamental? Oh, sure, and jealous. We had a few battles. The bearded woman couldn’t get along with the bird woman. The human skeleton preferred to take his meals alone instead of going on a club agreement with three others. By the way, he gained three pounds on the free noontime meals at the studio while here. He left town weighing forty-three pounds to his 5’ 8” of height.”

 

 

The cast lived at an apartment house across from the studio. Most of them had nurses or managers to care for them. Were they difficult to direct? Definitely, according to Browning.

 

“You never could tell what they were going to do. They had to be humored like children. Once in a while they became upset, angry, and would try to vent their rage in biting the person nearest to them. I was bitten once. But considering everything, we had little trouble.

 

Browning found no reason why people would object to the film.

 

“Those who don’t want to see it don’t have to and those that do can. We are being perfectly clear in our advertising as to what it’s all about.”

 

 

The New York Times called Freaks a film not “easily forgotten” because of the “underlying sense of horror, [and] the love of the macabre that fills the circus sideshows in the first place. Tod Browning, the director, has brought all of it out as fully as possible, trying to prove that the ‘strange people’ are children, that they do not like to be set apart. But they know they are, and in the sideshow is a spirit of mutual protection that holds if you injure one of them you injure all.”

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