Wednesday, July 26, 2017

An interview with Christopher R. Gauthier, who keeps Bela Lugosi with us

Christopher R. Gauthier, seen above in an artistic license photo with his favorite actor, Bela Lugosi. Christopher runs the A Celebration of the Art and Life of Bela Lugosi Facebook page (here). It's a growing group that consistently provides interesting graphics, observations and information on Lugosi. 

Besides his interest in and contributions on Lugosi's life and career, Christopher also writes poetry on Bela Lugosi. We'll share some on this post but he recently read some poetry on a radio broadcast. (Here at about the 53.44 mark). He is also working on a novel about Lugosi. Christopher was also acknowledged for assistance with research and images in the new BearManor Media Scripts From the Crypt book "Dracula's Daughter."

I enjoyed this interview with Christopher, who has a real passion for the actor so many of us love on the blog.

-- Doug Gibson


1) When was the first time you saw Bela in a film? Was that when you determined he was a great influence in your life or did it take a while?

GAUTHIERIt is very difficult to say what Lugosi movie I first stumbled upon, I as far back as  I can recollect have been drawn to the mystique of the man. One very vivid memory that I do have, is when I first watched The Body Snatcher and found his role of Joseph to be the most interesting character in the film. To me there had to be something so much more to this actor, I thought to myself, as I watched the film. I was never the same after that. I guess, I was born a Lugosi fan. I read everything I could possibly get my hands on regarding his career and life -- he inspired me to try and pursue a career in acting, and he was my teacher who I learned more from than anyone else in my life then, now and throughout the time I was growing up. He was A major influence on me in every aspect, as well as creatively speaking, I wanted to be just like him. Whenever something terrible goes bad in my life I watch one of his films, and life doesn't seem so bad because he provides me with solace that few others do.

2) What are your favorite Bela films and why?

GAUTHIER I adore everything Bela ever was in. It is almost impossible to select which films are my all time favorites because I deeply love them all. The Raven, The Black Cat, White Zombie, Dracula, The Return of The Vampire, Chandu The Magician, Son Of Frankenstein, Broadminded along with Spooks Run Wild, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein and Bride Of The Monster stand out as some of my favorites, but as I have said every production he was in is worthwhile and something close (and) deep in my heart.

3) You have a successful Facebook Lugosi page. How does that assist in your study and appreciation of Lugosi and what it is like to interact with Bela fans across the world?

GAUTHIERMy page "A Celebration of The Life and Art of Bela Lugosi" has brought together all loyal Lugosi aficionados from all corners of the globe. We are very different from other groups, we emphasize on the great things he did, as an artist and as a man. We are sophisticated and the page is held very sacred to me, a safe haven for serious Lugosi fans. We also encourage other artists to share their art, whether it be performance, literature or material arts, it is welcomed and valued and always appreciated and respected. It has brought me to encounter and become acquainted with like hearted people who revel in celebration of the great man's life and work.

4) Can you tell us about your novel in progress about Bela?

GAUTHIERMy novel being written to honor Lugosi is a labor of love I have been meticulously crafting with unwavering devotion for a number of years. I believe that at the end of his life he would have really appreciated this type of material I am writing to honor my hero. I am not going to say too much on the subject because it is a work fathomed deep in progress. But it is for Mr. Lugosi and I have the inclination he would be very pleased with it, and even moved. I have been advised to write a screenplay -- but I much prefer to honor him in a novel, as I do not think that there are any such actors that can bring proper justice to emulating the masterful Bela Lugosi.

5) You've had poetry about Bela published. Can you share a little bit with the blog? 

GAUTHIERI have written several poems for Lugosi, you may read some below. I have had a few Lugosi poems published when I was an adolescent but they are nothing in contrast to what I have written as of these passed few years in accordance to the novel and certain pieces of poetry dedicated to my Hero.

6) What's' it like motivating yourself to write about Bela? AND 7) You have an impressive amount of graphics and other art relating to Bela and his career. You were acknowledge in the recent book on Dracula's Daughter. What are some memories of Bela that you wish were available? I can think of finding a video of a Dracula play.

GAUTHIER I am motivated to write  my novel and pay homage to my Patron Saint who has above anyone else, in any force, shape or form, been there for me. He has touched my life beyond what words will ever be properly able to convey. The man has saved my life. I owe whatever success I have now and if any awaits me in the future entirely to him. He is my artistic savior, my creative muse, the source of what dreams are made of, my ultimate Hero, my greatest friend and my surrogate father and the father to all the lost children of the night- He is and always has been my greatest friend. I write because I must, inside the crux of my heart he guides me, and I am just offering my contribution to the world that honors The Great Bela Lugosi. 

8) Do you have a bucket list of Lugosi related goals, travel, conversations with scholars?

GAUTHIERImagine what it would have been like to see him on  the stage or to have known him as a friend in person. I wish I could have seen him on stage and that I were alive to help him when the tragic circumstances took the betterment of his life towards the final years. I wish I was alive, affluent and be able to finance any production of his choice. I would have done anything for him. He deserved so much more than what hand of cards he had been dealt by lady fate.

9) Finally, let a novice Lugosi fan know of four essential films and three essential books.

GAUTHIERFor a novice Lugosi fan  I would encourage them to watch The Black Cat, Broadminded, The Raven, Dracula and The Return of The Vampire. As far as books go, I have found that each biographer offers something unique in all books related to Lugosi. But I would recommend Arthur Lennig's The Immortal Count, Robert Cremer's The Man Behind The Cape, The Films Of Bela Lugosi by Richard Bojarski,  Leo Wiltshire's Reign Of The Vampire- A Tribute To The Perseverance of Bela Lugosi and of course, first and foremost anything written by Gary Don Rhodes and Bill Kaffenberger  

Thanks so much, Christopher. We appreciate you sharing your observations with us. Below are a couple of Christopher's poems:

Thank you Bela Lugosi 
Father To All Lost Children Of The Night

The lunar jewel drinks in the turmoil 
Nightmares evolve into mollifying dreamscapes surrealistic beyond rational belief
The old creaky baronial movie house breathes in the crux of its heart a docile sigh of relief 
Your motion pictures of sparkling black and white gold immerse the great looming movie screen, You are my indisputable Hero and friend who sometimes visits my dreams
When such reverential occasion transpires 
To feed the creative fires 
Beneath the moon beams 
Neither foe, nor victim nor vampiric concubines are able to bellow a scream 
The nightmare is no longer a nightmare, but a beautiful dream.
You should have been given so much more 
Than just the Horror genre you bestowed upon the entertainment industry, But yet you have left us with your undying legacy and have achieved perpetual immortality 
And have long become a phantasmagorical Hollywood Legend and forceful source of so much folklore,
Bela you have everlasting legions of fans who truly adore 
Every contribution an artistic actor and humanitarian man you are loved forevermore 
You shield me behind the sanctuary of your sheltering protective vampire cape and offer me solace from the hateful world abroad 
And when you end each performance, I humbly applaud
For there is no greater Actor 
At least that is my opinion and the law within my domain 
If I had not discovered you my life would have never been the same.
The world praises and thanks you for all you have given and done
In the end you have defeated the exploitive traitors and have everlastingly won
A place in the elysian Hollywood constellation of riveting and celebrated luminaries and Stars 
Your pathos is not forgotten but healed have the scars 
You are my deepest friend and ultimate Hero above all
May you continue to live on as your dynasty shall forever enthrall 
Thank you Bela, my Hero and friend for all you have done
Let us watch the lunar jewel vanish and bask in the morning warmth and rise of the sun

---- Christopher R. Gauthier


Bela, you changed the face of the golden age silver screen
Your memory comes to mind in the cast of the full moon and its radiant beam
Beyond all compare you have captured the heart and imbued us all with mystical intrigue, you are in a class lone to itself in your very own artistic league--
You have helped so many by the brave examples you've set
In another life I feel in my heart we must've met
And knew each other as very close friends
from then to eternity my awe and adulation knows no end.
I wish I could have given you so very much more than what hand of cards you were dealt, you persevered against in the face of adversity and were always humbled without the shadow of a doubt,
For the love your fans expressed to you over the years,
and to all your lost children of the night you wipe away the tears.
What a symbol of hope you are to us all
You lift up the crestfallen when they stumble and fall.
I have known no greater friend throughout the entirety of my life
and on behalf of us all We thank you for all you have done in the howl of the night
Our Hero, Our Friend and Eradicator of woeful doom
You reveal the comfort that is immersed in the gloom-
of things that are macabre and beyond the realms furthermore
You conjure the indisputable magic and open the mystical door
leaving us all wanting your Genius forevermore.
My friend you are with me in these darkened times I am going thru
I know that I can always depend on the nobility that is you.
You will never fully know how much you have touched my life and the cores of my soul, in both your life and in every celluloid role,
May peace forever be present in your family and in the crux of your golden heart
My great friend your legacy will never depart
like The Immortal Count Dracula, you will live forever in the annals of time
And you shall also be remembered for being ever so kind
To all the lonesome lives you have brought solace and touched
You, who have given everything of yourself, so very much
In you I know I have a friend, as in my heart you do in mine.
Take care Bela, my greatest friend
My love for you always is boundless without end.

-- Christopher R. Gauthier

Saturday, July 22, 2017

A Werewolf Remembers -- The Talbot saga

Review by Doug Gibson

To get an even better overview of genre scholar Frank Dello Stritto's new book, "A Werewolf Remembers: The Testament of Lawrence Stewart Talbot," I urge readers to go to our Plan9Crunch interview with Frank about six weeks ago. Then read this review.

The book, as well as others by Dello Stritto, is published at Cult Movies Press. You can also buy it at Amazon.

Readers, particularly genre fans, will be awed by the knowledge the author possesses of both the Universal horror films of the 1930s and 40s as well as the other studios' -- small and large -- offerings during that golden period. There are dozens of films that have reference in this mock testament of cursed Wolfman Larry Talbot, as well as a observational chapters from his biographer researcher narrator.

"Condemned to Live," the Frankenstein films, the Dracula films, "Return of the Vampire," any film with Lawrence Talbot, of course, "Werewolf of London," films from PRC and Monogram, "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein," even characters from "Bride of the Monster," "The Alligator People" and "Thriller" TV series flit through this unique book.

What Dello Stritto has managed to do is provide a continuity to the films that involve Dracula, the Wolfman and the Frankenstein monster. This is not an easy task as these monsters continually die and are continually (inexplicably) resurrected. In Talbot's testament, he describes a deep non-living stage, a stagnant location on the path the deceased take to eternal life. There, unable to move on, exist Talbot, the Frankenstein monster and Dracula. Talbot and Frankenstein's monster are victims. Dracula represents evil. Periodically the trio are returned to an earthly existence.

Genre fans, and hard-core enthusiasts will enjoy this book the most, but even the casual viewer of several Universal horrors would enjoy "A Werewolf Remembers." Lon Chaney's Talbot eventually became the central character of the Universal horror films and in his final appearance, "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein," he goes after his major nemesis, Count Dracula. This film serves as the climax of "A Werewolf Remembers." What drives Talbot on his pursuit to destroy Dracula I'll leave for readers to discover.

Some characters are explored in more detail than others. Dr. Yogami, who Warner Oland played in "Werewolf of London," is an altruistic man trying hard to cure Talbot with the tmariphasa plant. That fails and Talbot infects Yogami. Another hero of Talbot's testament is Dr. Edelmann of "House of Dracula," who sacrifices his sanity and life to provide relief, albeit temporary, to Talbot. It's nice to see Talbot's gypsy protector, Maleva, have a dignified end to her life in the book.

But the book goes beyond the horror genre. Dello Stritto has created a family line of the Talbots and familial customs. In order to make good use of the many, many photo stills that serve as historical records, he has created news services, city and town archives, police photos, entertainment photos and an even a Talbot historical society that remains in the family home. In the book, Lawrence, not a first-born son, is exiled, per tradition, to America in the late 19th century, where he spends time in the Alaska gold fields and eventually California. He rubs shoulders with, among others, Jack London and the characters from several films, including "King Kong," Murders In the Zoo," The Most Dangerous Game," "Mad Monster," "Jungle Woman" and "Return of the Ape Man."

(The time frame is necessary to fit Talbot's presence in the many different films and time periods. As he explains in his testament, he ages very slowly.)

I need to mention that Lawrence Talbot is considered a "Red Talbot," more nomadic and wild. There are "White Talbots," who stay home and are more studious. Dello Stritto's conception of Lawrence Talbot is faithful to his movie portrayals as a man who seeks death and deeply suffers over his affliction, which makes him eagerly attack, kill and eat human prey. If he fails to do that when the moon is full, he suffers. He is tortured with regret.

The final chapters, where Talbot, in pursuit of "Dracula," interviews his past victims, including characters played by Helen Chandler and Nina Foch, are fascinating reading. The ending is appropriately open. But there is unspoken hope, as its apparent that no sightings of Talbot or the other monsters have appeared since the late 1940s. Maybe he gained peace after grabbing "Dracula" at the end of "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein."

The book is structured well. It is told in fast-paced sections within larger chapters, some lasting only a few to several paragraphs. Also, the testament, followed by the narrator's observations provide agreeable change of pace.

As mentioned, the author's knowledge of nearly a half century of research, dozens of essays and several published books provide the continuity and knowledge necessary to create a mock documentary that sticks to the genre facts and makes it a real treasure for readers. Trust me, you'll be amazed by the tale(s) the author has weaved throughout this book. Only reading the book can do it justice.

At Plan9Crunch, we have articles on Dello Stritto's writing and observations here, here, here, including a review of the remarkable, well-researched book, co-authored with Andi Brooks, Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi in Britain.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Gun Crazy is on Turner Classic movies

On Sunday, July 16, 2017, Turner Classic Movies will air the B-movie classic "Gun Crazy." It starts at 8 a.m. MST. We urge film buffs to watch this low-budget film that packs a powerful impact. It's mentioned in Danny Peary's book Cult Films. Director Joseph H. Lewis was an A director in low-budget films. For example, he was easily Bela Lugosi's best Monogram director, helming "The Invisible Ghost." Here's a short review below.

Gun Crazy: 1950, King Brothers Productions, Peggy Cummins and John Nall. 4 stars - This low-budget gem is a film noir classic of the lovesick male with a reform school past who falls for the bad girl and follows her to both of their dooms. Cummins and Nall, little-known actors, generate real sparks as greedy sharp shooters who don't have the patience to live a normal life. When she kills in a robbery and the law closes in on them, the claustrophobic atmosphere director Joseph H. Lewis creates is outstanding and final love to the death moments between these two losers is moving. There's a reason Gun Crazy is taught in many film schools. Don't miss it. It's easy to buy and pops up on TV often.

-- Doug Gibson

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Voodoo Man; one of Bela Lugosi's better Monogram films

Review by Doug Gibson

I really like 1944's Monogram film, "Voodoo Man," the last film Bela Lugosi starred in for Sam Katzman's Monogram/Banner film company. It was released, however, prior to the earlier Lugosi film, The Return of the Ape Man. I love all of the Monogram Lugosi films, the wild plots, the very low budgets, the dank lighting, the dreary non-horror leads, the typed-last-night dialogue. "Voodoo Man" for a long time was not seen as much as other Lugosi Monograms, and it took a while years ago to find and buy. However, with the Net generation, you can watch it courtesy of Internet Archive. Still, I never see it on Turner Classic Movies or other television, even today.

That's too bad, because it may be the best-paced, least convoluted Monogram film Lugosi made. It's ably directed by William Beaudine and looks like a lean, mean film-in-a-week film. (It was helmed in October of 1943). The plot involves Dr. Richard Marlowe, who kidnaps young lovelies in an attempt to transform their conscious life into his "dead" comatose wife, Evelyn (Ellen Hall). In typical Monogram nonsensical fashion, he lures his prey (and he has a home full of zombie-like beautiful women) with the help of a service station owner, George Zucco, who sends the girls to Lugosi via a roadblock. Lugosi, watching them on that newfangled thing called a television transmitter, sends an electrical ray that stops their cars. At that point, two moronic but relatively gentle henchmen, played by John Carradine and Frank Moran, kidnap the lovelies and take them to Dr. Marlowe's lair, where Zucco, a high priest to the God, Ramboona, attempts to transfer their lives to Marlowe's "dead" wife.

OK, you're wondering why I call this non-convoluted. My only defense is to recount the other Lugosi Monogram plots but I don't have 100 pages to do so. ... Back to the film, a Hollywood screenwriter, Ralph Dawson, off to marry his sweetheart, is sent by his studio boss (named SK, an inside Sam Katzman joke) to write a screenplay about the missing girls, which has, not surprisingly generated a lot of news.

The film, 62 minutes long, moves swiftly and carries the viewer's interest. It may be outlandish, but it's never dull. Lugosi is, actually, a his biographer Arthur Lennig notes, a sympathetic character, despite his kidnappings. He's endured 22 years of his wife's zombie-like state, and conveys his despair well. "Voodoo Man" has a dream cast, with Lugosi and Zucco together. It's a lot better than their other pairing, "Scared to Death." Carradine is cast out of type as one of the henchmen and has been criticized but I like his work in the film.He seems to be having fun and even manages to look creepy when he bangs the drums during the Ramboona God ceremonies. Moran, a former prizefighter, is good as his partner.

Monogram starlets Louise Currie and Wanda McKay are two of my favorites. Both are gorgeous and capable actresses who worked with Lugosi more than once. In fact, Katzman called Currie the low-budget Katharine Hepburn because of her striking beauty. Unlike most Monogram. Banner romantic male leads, who tend to be stiffs, Michael Ames' Ralph Dawson has energy and personality on the screen. He later changed his screen name to Tod Andrews and guest starred on both and early late Andy Griffith Show episodes, Veteran actor Henry Hall is well cast as the amusing sheriff and has a fun time saying "Gosh All Fishhooks!" when the script calls for it.

But the best, and perhaps most famous line, is delivered by Ames' Dawson in the film's epilogue. Handing the script to the producer, he turns to movie company's president and suggests a casting choice: "Why don't you get Bela Lugosi. It's right up his alley!"

It certainly was, but it was Lugosi's last Monogram film role. Initially, things looked better for Bela in 1944. He was in a higher-budget horror spoof, "One Body Too Many," for Fine Arts Productions and then signed a three-picture deal with RKO that included "The Body Snatcher." But his film career would dry up in the latter 1940s, and he only made two films in that decade after the RKO deal. One, fortunately, was "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein." As the decade progressed, most of his earnings would come barnstorming the country, on the stage in summer stock and other venues, usually performing as "Dracula" or as "Jonathan Brewster" in "Arsenic and Old Lace."

Saturday, July 1, 2017

It's A Gift (1934) – One of W.C. Fields' Best

Review by Steve D. Stones

It's A Gift, from Paramount, is one of comedian W.C. Fields' best films. The funny gags in this film will have you rolling in the aisles. Watch for a hilarious shaving scene by Fields early in the film.

Fields plays a humble middle class New Jersey grocery store owner named Harold Bissonette who is constantly hounded by his overbearing wife Amelia, played by Kathleen Howard. After a blind man accidentally breaks his store front windows and a display of light bulbs, and a child spills a barrel of molasses on the floor, Bissonette decides he has had enough of the grocery business and sells the store. He has dreams of moving to California to start an orange grove business.

Bissonette's uncle Bean is ill and eventually dies from choking on an orange, which is ironic – since Bissonette dreams of running an orange grove one day. Bissonette receives some inheritance from Bean. Bissonette purchases a ranch in California where the orange grove business is prosperous.

To get some sleep from his constantly nagging wife, Bissonette goes outside on the second floor deck to sleep. Here he is tortured by an infant, played by Baby LeRoy, who pours grapes down a hole in the floor to hit Bissonette in the face as he tries to sleep. Bissonette is also pestered by an insurance salesman on the bottom floor. A milkman also arrives while loudly banging milk bottles. Will Bissonette ever get any sleep? The viewer really sympathizes with Bissonette's challenge to try to get some sleep during this long scene.

After informing his wife that he no longer owns the street corner grocery store, he makes plans to head out to west with his family to California to start his orange grove business. When the family arrives in California, they find a run down land with an old shack that is not in livable condition. This of course angers Amelia. Luckily, a race track owner arrives to offer to buy the property for $44,000 so he can build a race track on the land.

What I find particularly funny in this film is when Bissonette continually walks out on his wife in every scene when she nags at him. Instead of disagreeing with her and arguing, he simply agrees with her, but then walks out of the room when her back is turned on him. She continues to nag and nag, even long after Bissonette leaves the room. Bissonette seems to keep his cool with all the women in his life, even in the opening shaving scene with his daughter Mildred, who pushes him away from the bathroom mirror as he shaves.

For further information about the career and films of W.C. Fields, see author James L. Neibaur's book – The W.C. Fields Films, published by McFarland in March 2017. Happy viewing.

Art by Steve D. Stones