Tuesday, November 24, 2015

A veritable scrapbook of all things Ed Wood and 'Bride of the Monster'

Review by Doug Gibson

I thought I knew all there was to know of “Bride of the Monster,” Ed Wood’s deliriously entertaining thriller that places Bela Lugosi in his last starring role, the last time he carried a film, that the plot and film’s success relied on his performance. I’d read several books with information on “Bride of the Monster” and perhaps three times as many articles. 

I was wrong, though. “Ed Wood’s Bride of the Monster,” part of the Scripts From the Crypt collections edited by Tom Weaver, published by BearManor Media this year, is a literal — in fact intentional — scrapbook devoted to all things related to the iconic “Bride of the Monster,” which is generally the third-most popular Ed Wood film, after “Plan 9 From Outer Space” and “Glen Or Glenda.”

The film’s synopsis, as well as the script (an actual copy) is included in the book. The film involves an exiled mad scientist, Dr. Eric Vornoff, trying to make atomic supermen in his home, by a swamp and a lake, near a city in Florida. A woman reporter, (Loretta King) her boyfriend detective (Tony McCoy), and other police try to put a stop to it. There’s also a government agent, Professor Strowski, (George Becwar) presumably from a communist country, trying to kidnap Vornoff. The mad scientist is helped by a very large mute, Lobo, whom he found wandering in Tibet's wilderness. Lugosi plays Vornoff and Tor Johnson plays Lobo.

Film scholar Gary D. Rhodes presents a very interesting essay on the film’s history. Here are some things that I learned. “Bride of the Monster” was once a part of a package of films that Wood and film producer Richard Gordon hoped to sell to Allied Artists. Besides Lugosi, another star of a film was to be Boris Karloff. Eventually, these hopes were reduced to one film, “Bride of the Atom,” that would have starred Karloff, Lugosi and Lon Chaney Jr. That would have been an excellent teaming of three legends, but in the early 1950s, not many were impressed with the idea.

In the Allied Artists scenario, Karloff would have played Vornoff, Lugosi Strowski, and Chaney Jr. Lobo. Eventually, Allied Artists nixed the whole idea and left Wood scrambling to seek funding as well as he could, eventually getting the lion’s share of the funds from star McCoy’s father. 

Another tidbit of information I learned is that “Bride of the Monster” appears to have been ... drum roll ... a box office success. Of course, Ed Wood never saw a cent of the profits, having signed it away. But the film, with capable distribution and successful people in the industry behind it, including Samuel Arkoff, was handled effectively. It was in distribution for years, and about a year as a first-run feature. In one article, Bride’s share of receipts for a week in Los Angeles are tagged at $8,000-plus. The history of the film’s distribution is covered in detail, and it shows a film that was always in theaters in the mid 1950s, in double features, triple features and as part of live spook shows. The film was even paired with the Raymond Burr version of “Godzilla.” This information, a treat for fans, was gathered by Dr. Robert J. Kiss.

I recall reading, probably in “Nightmare of Ecstasy,” Rudolph Grey’s oral history of Wood, someone mentioning that if any Wood film made money, it was “Bride.” The information in this scrapbook provides strong evidence that is accurate.

The scrapbook also includes dozens of pages with small, paragraph-packaged facts on the film, compiled by Weaver, who, along with Rhodes, has a long list of previous literary accomplishments covering genre films. Weaver does offer an interesting take on who might have written most of “Bride of the Monster.” Some say Wood; others say Alex Gordon. Weaver favors Gordon, arguing that Bride’s “companion films,” “Plan 9 From Outer Space” and “Night of the Ghouls,” have certain Wood trademarks (lectures about violent youth, overwrought narration) that are absent from the tighter, more disciplined “Bride” script. Weaver also reminds that if you pay attention, you can see an unbilled Conrad Brooks behind a window early in the film.

It’s fun to read the script, because frankly, it presents a more exciting film that ended up on the screen. Obviously, budget limitations and a very limp octopus prop hampered what’s on the screen. But it is sad that the film does not have the promised battle royal between a atomic giant Vornoff and the monster octopus as depicted in the script. In the film, Lugosi’s double submits weakly to the octopus. Again, it's likely due to costs and a poor monster prop.

Besides what I have mentioned, this scrapbook contains many photos, an excellent essay on the career of character actor Ben Frommer (the drunk in “Bride of the Monster) , an essay on the music score (Bride had an original score!), as well as very interesting interviews with ”Bride“ star Loretta King, Wood’s last wife, Hope Lininger Lugosi, and a 1970s interview of Wood by Fred Olen Ray. I have seen all of these before in the now-defunct Cult Movies magazine, but it’s fun to have them in the scrapbook.

Also gathered are the script from Lugosi’s Las Vegas act in the 1950s and his testimony before Congress, shortly before his death, on his long struggle with drug abuse. (A page of that testimony is missing from the book, though). Also, ”Bride’s“ very small press booklet is included. There are copied recollections of Wood and Lugosi from the Gordon brothers and an interview with Richard Sheffield (also missing a page), the last person to see Lugosi alive. There's even a playbill from an "Arsenic and Old Lace" touring company with Lugosi as Jonathan Brewster. And even more ... but get the book!

We who love the minutiae of our cult films obsessions salute this book. Like ”Nightmare of Ecstasy,“ it’s a collection we will pore over hundreds of times over the years, reading a little, or most of the volume if we have a long weekend. Re-read, re-read, re-read, we do what we can to feed our love of Ed Wood, Bela Lugosi, ”Bride of the Monster,“ and more. How fortunate we are to have books like this, that respond to our needs.

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