John Carradine-I am a ham! Part 1

Read Part Two here

Actor John Carradine attends the premiere of Dark Eyes on March 23, 1981, at Warner Beverly Theater in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)

“I am a ham! And the ham in an actor is what makes him interesting. The word is an insult only when it’s used by an outsider – among actors, it’s a very high compliment, indeed.“

In the history of cinema, there are stars that burn white hot. Then there are those who wind up taking a detour – yet they’ve earned the vibrancy and a willingness to explore even the vast floor of the ocean’s bottom – this is emblematic of a beloved cult B actor. Those who tickle us with a zeal for chills and chagrins, guffaws and gadzooks, individualism and inimitability, captivating and crapola!

In his later years, John Carradine would come to be known as one of these… the crime is… he was a damn sensational actor!

“I never made big money in Hollywood. I was paid in hundreds, the stars got thousands. But I worked with some of the greatest directors in films and some of the greatest writers. They gave me the freedom to do what I can do best and that was gratifying.”

In regards to his horror legacy, this is what he had to say in 1983 in an interview for KMOX tv:

“That’s the least of my work. I’ve done almost 400 films and only 25 have been horror.”

When you think of John Carradine you might recall his brilliant performance as Casy in The Grapes of Wrath. Carradine had worked with some of the most notable actors and directors in the history of cinema and by the end of his career, he also managed to plumb the depths with some of the crummiest.

Then again you might be excited by his translation of the Dracula mythos in five films: two from Universal’s finely tuned House of Frankenstein (1944), House of Dracula (1945), and three from the later decade’s trash heap – Billy the Kid Versus Dracula (1966), Vampire Hookers (1978), and Nocturna (1979).

On Bela Lugosi in 1956: “Lugosi was a craftsman. I’ve known him for 25 years. He was a considerate and kind gentleman. As for the parts we both played, he was the better vampire. He had a fine pair of eyes. Nobody will ever be able to fill his shoes. He will be missed by us all.”

Like Whale’s Frankenstein monster, Carradine actually missed out on playing the monster and the lead role in Dracula (1931).

With 354 film and television credits to his iconic career, John Carradine was known for his distinctively deep baritone voice and tall, thin frame, a ‘towering, craggy frame’ which often earned him roles as villains and sinister characters, mad doctors, Draculas, hobos, drunks and a slew of nefarious Nazis devils!

At times he had the charm of a jaunty Grim Reaper. Even those smart pale blue eyes that flicker cannot be obscured by that quizzical squint.

William Beaudine on the set of The Face of Marble 1946.

He often worked with director John Ford but you’ve no doubt seen him playing a mad scientist in Captive Wild Woman 1943, The Face of Marble 1946, and The Unearthly 1957.

But one thing that links all these archetypes together is Carradine’s range of either an austere penetrating reserve or a flamboyant spirit framed by his willowy shape. Carradine can intone with either his whispering rumination from a well-written script or summoning his grandiose voice as he reads aloud the trashiest, tackiest dialogue that only he can make appear as a highfalutin soliloquy.

His nicknames were the Bard of the Boulevard and The Voice.

The Face of Marble (1946) An Odd John Carradine Obscurity with an “Identity Crisis”

Carradine’s career includes significant Academy Award-worthy roles, but in contrast, once he started his descent into the madness of acting obscurity, he embodied figures of grotesques and unsavory types. Eventually, he appeared in films more like a drifter just passing through in overambitious garbage Z movies. And now, he will always be considered one of the big-time heavies of the horror genre.

Still, he has left behind a legacy of striking screen performances: the sinister Sgt. Rankin in The Prisoner of Shark Island, and the somber “Long Jack” of Captains Courageous. He played a melancholy Lincoln in Of Human Hearts, a treacherous Bob Ford in Jesse James, the curious stranger Hatfield of Stagecoach, and one of his greatest contributions to the acting craft, as earnest dispirited preacher Casy in The Grapes of Wrath. All masterful characters in Hollywood’s golden age of filmmaking.

Carradine appeared in eight Oscar Best Picture nominees: Cleopatra (1934), Les Misèrables (1935), Captains Courageous (1937), Alexander’s Ragtime Band (1938), Stagecoach (1939), The Grapes of Wrath (1940), The Ten Commandments (1956), and Around the World in 80 Days (1956). Only the last of these won.

He has appeared in eight films that have been selected for the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically or aesthetically” significant: The Invisible Man (1933), The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), Stagecoach (1939), The Grapes of Wrath (1940), Johnny Guitar (1954), The Court Jester (1955), The Ten Commandments (1956) and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962).

Though he was known for his ability to bring a kiss of intensity and an air of mysteriousness to his characters, often cast in villainous and sinister roles – he was highly regarded for his versatility and range as an actor. Despite his status as a horror icon, Carradine was more than just a genre actor and never wanted to be known for his long involvement with horror pictures, as he called them.

He was transitional in all genres such as historical dramas, war and spy films, film noir, westerns, horror, sci-fi, mystery thrillers, and romantic comedies. His career ran the spectrum of storytelling.

Carradine was capable of serious dramatic reverie, and earnest and sober performances til ultimately – schlocky b movies, ‘The ‘Divine Madness’ of this flamboyant, grand old man of the theater and Hollywood, Carradine’s persona emerged as a confluence between the individualist and distinguished gentleman.’ (John Carradine: The Films edited by Gregory Willam Mank)

But after all this superior work in an industry that chewed up and spits out great actors, even after his contribution to the horror genre that once saw him as one of the ruling class in Universal’s horror films such as House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula. There is a place for him amongst the aristocracy of Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee, and Peter Cushing, though he might be considered the vagabond of the horror pantheon, as he will undoubtedly be remembered for his role in B horror and exploitation films.

“I have shot, strangled, or otherwise disposed of many a victim on the screen in my day. However, more mayhem has been committed on me than I ever committed on anyone else. I have been poisoned, drowned, shot, pushed off cliffs, hanged, strangled, electrocuted, and run over by subway trains.”

05 May 1983, Los Angeles, California, USA — 5/5/1938- Los Angeles, CA: Screen villain sculptor in spare time. John Carradine, who plays the part of a sinister scoundrel in the movies, is quite a sculptor on the side. He is shown here putting the finishing touches to the head of his five-year-old son, Bruce. This work is included in the current art show by non-professional artists in the film industry at the Stanely Rose Gallery here. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

John Carradine is a noble eccentric, a cult icon who enjoyed photography and painting, sang opera, loved sculpting, knew the Bard’s work by heart, and could recite Shakespeare at every opportunity. Interviews and commentary from other people in the industry would relate stories of John Carradine getting potted with a drink in hand and spouting Shakespeare and funny anecdotes. “He had a repertoire of bad jokes and off-color reminiscence of Old Hollywood.” He was famous for that as much as for his acting.

Carradine is known for his theatricalizing, his out-of-control drinking, and his private life which was a circus. A life bombarded with non-conformity, chaotic marital trials and tribulations, arrests for not paying alimony, drunk driving, prostitution scandals, and bankruptcy that left him destitute.

With all the disorder in Carradine’s life, the reputation that the actor built from his earlier career took a ruinous insult over the years.

By the end, the actor didn’t bother to read a script, he learned his part no matter how ridiculous yet he took anything that came his way so he could pay the rent, finance his dream of having his own theater company and support his boys.

“An opera cape, top hat, ebony stick, and glittering diamond studs set John apart in a town where a tuxedo is considered formal dress. At intermissions, he stands gracefully in the lobby, smoking a long Russian cigarette and twirling his cane… It is the kind of exhibitionism that made Hollywood, in its colorful beginnings, the most talked about town on Earth…”

John Carradine with his actor sons, John, Keith, and Robert courtesy Getty Images date unknown.

Fred Olen Ray: “He was both a prince and a rascal” …” He was colorful and dramatic… He had a sweeping, majestic personality and an extraordinary voice that somehow managed to make the worst dialogue sound good.”

Keith Carradine: “Here was this Shakespearean actor who, in the 1950s to feed his children, did a lot of horror movies. That’s mostly what he’s known for. I think it sort of broke his heart.”

We know him for his deep voice, that low-pitched booming voice that sounds like well-worn leather and warm spices-cinnamon, sandalwood, and clove. He delivers his dialogue more like a fustian oratory, a sagacious silver-tongued scholar intoning a sermon instead of reading his lines straight.

From an interview with KMOX tv:

What do you think made you so successful as an image that I think maybe that incredible voice?

“I think the voice helped and another thing that helped I think was the fact that – well my face Darryl Zanuck was once heard saying when he came out of the rushes for something that I was in. He said “that guy Carradine got the god damndest face (He laughs) What he meant by that I don’t know but I think that was part of it. Well I think the voice helped a lot. Cecil DeMille said I had the finest voice in the business and he was right I did have the finest voice in the business. Still have. But it’s because I had been because I spent so much time in the theater and because I did Shakespeare. As I told my boys if you want to. Be an actor play all the Shakespeare you can get your hands on. Cause if you can play Shakespeare you can play anything. And I did a lot of Shakespeare. Cause that’s why I became an actor because I wanted to be a Shakespearean actor.”

John Carradine is an actor that commands a parade of imagery and similes. He’s just that darn interesting. I find him to have an almost regal symmetry that strikes me as handsome.

He is wraithlike and sinewy, withered, worn to a shadow, and as thin as a rake yet his presence is boundless.

A lanky actor wafting around the screen like a willow tree, hollow-cheeked, rawboned, and lantern-jawed, the opposite of Herculean – but make no mistake his presence is immortal.

And in a not-so-flattering light, he’s been referred to as cadaverous.

“I wasn’t eccentric in those days. I was just trying to learn my craft and improve what I had… cadaverous I’m a very thin man Cadaverous means looking like a cadaver and at least I do look alive. I look like I might live another five minutes!”

Perhaps that is why he has an aura around him that lends itself to even the campiest of B horror films. Who else could represent the arcane, the inscrutable, and the horrific than an actor that jumps off the screen with deathlike, eloquent, and effusive charm.

John Carradine was an American actor born on November 5, 1906, in New York City. He was part of a theatrical family and began acting in the 1920s, appearing in numerous stage productions. He officially changed his name from John Peter Richmond to John Carradine in early 1935.

He Grew up in Peekskill and Kingston in New York State and attended several private schools – Christ Church School in Kingston; the famed Episcopal Academy of Philadelphia founded by Benjamin Franklin, and the Graphic Arts School. Another Fox actor Laird Cregar would follow in his footsteps at the Episcopal Academy.

Carradine was highly astute as a young boy with a spirit that looked toward the arts, painting, sculpture, and a love of singing. He memorized Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets which would lead him to aspire to his own theatre company. and so he ran toward a theatrical life on the stage. It was always his dream to be a great Shakespearean actor. And he was… in between juggling films for big Hollywood studios like 20th Century Fox and smaller studios like Monogram Pictures.

While living In the French Quarter in New Orleans he took the name of John Peter Richmond working in stock theater and tent shows for a Shakespearean theater company. He would use his talent as an artist to sketch portraits to pay the rent. There he would deck himself out in Hamburg, evening coat, striped trousers, and spats that evoked a blend of Shakespeare and Edgar Allan Poe. With dreams of Hollywood, he thumbed his way to California.

On the set of House of Dracula, taking some time to catch up on his reading.

He could be seen on Hollywood Boulevard pacing up and down in a Victorian hat and cape, bellowing great soliloquies.  “In Hollywood, in the late’20s I would see a mysterious character, walking the streets, in a cloak like Hamlet and a funny hat, reciting Shakespeare.” ( from an interview with Fritz Feld great character actor – Gregory W. Mank )

He was a founding member of the prestigious Actors Studio in New York City and was highly regarded for his versatility and talent. Throughout his career, Carradine received praise for his performances and was considered one of Hollywood’s most recognizable character actors.

Cecil B DeMille engaged Carradine as a scenic designer. But he was fired after two weeks because he left out too many Roman columns for the set of The Sign of the Cross 1932.

Though he painted portraits to bring in money, most of his income came from stretches as a dishwasher.

Soon he found himself on the stage in Los Angeles at the Vine Theatre known later as the Huntington Hartford with Carradine cast in the comic opera The Geisha in 1929. The actor considered this one of his favorite most challenging roles.

He then won a role at the Egan Theatre in Figueroa California during a ten-week run co-starring as a Russian imbecile in Window Panes, acting alongside an actor who would eventually become the gentleman of horror, Boris Karloff wearing a Grigory Rasputin-like beard.

“ I first played Richard III at USC in ’29. It’s a Mankiller. For two and a half hours you have to carry a 27lb, 5 1/2 foot broadsword – in one hand. Three-fourths of the lines is Richard’s and he’s always in an evil state of mind.”

Perhaps this primed John Carradine for his nefarious roles to come.

The legendary John Barrymore and Carradine became ‘Kindred spirits.’ which influenced him to adopt Barrymore’s flamboyant style of acting, dressing, and unfortunately Barrymore’s love of drinking. John Carradine came to worship the great actor and formed a lasting friendship with him til his last days.

In the 1930s, he transitioned to film and became a prolific character actor, appearing in over 351 films, eventually journeying into television.

John Carradine is well-regarded in the pantheon and brotherhood of horror actors.

With Peter Lorre in Hell Ship Mutiny 1957.

He appeared with Peter Lorre in 7 films: Nancy Steele is Missing 1937, Thank You, Mr. Moto 1937, I’ll Give a Million 1938, Mr. Moto’s Last Warning 1939, Around the World in 80 Days 1956, Hell Ship Mutiny 1957, The Story of Mankind 1957 and The Patsy 1964.

He appeared with Vincent Price in seven films: Brigham Young 1940, Casanova’s Big Night 1954, The Ten Commandments 1956, The Story of Mankind 1957, The Trouble with Girls 1969, The Monster Club 1981, and House of Long Shadows 1983.

Brigham Young 1940: Gaunt American actor John Carradine (1906 – 1988), born Richmond Reed Carradine lying low in the grass in a scene from the film Brigham Young 1940, which follows the early Mormons on their historical trek across America to Utah. The film was directed by Henry Hathaway for 20th Century Fox. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

He appeared with Basil Rathbone in seven films: The Garden of Allah 1936, The House of the Baskervilles 1939, Casanova’s Big Night 1954, The Court Jester 1955, The Black Sleep 1956, The Last Hurrah 1958, The Hillbillys in a Haunted House 1967.

Carradine with Marlene Dietrich and Basil Rathbone in The Garden of Allah.

Carradine with Basil Rathbone in Hound of the Baskervilles.

The Black Sleep with Carradine, Basil Rathbone, Lon Chaney Jr., and Tor Johnson.

He appeared with Lon Chaney Jr. in 11 films: This is My Affair 1937, Jesse James 1939, Frontier Marshal 1949, House of Frankenstein 1944, The Mummy’s Ghost 1944, House of Dracula 1945, Casanova’s Big Night 1954, The Black Sleep 1956, House of the Black Death 1965/1971, Gallery of Horror 1967, andHillbilly’s in a Haunted House 1967.

Above are two images from House of the Black Death.

The 1930s

While washing dishes, avoiding being evicted from his room, his landlady told her son-in-law director John G. Blystone about the actor.

In 1930 Blystone was ready to direct Columbia’s remake of the 1921 silent classic Tol’erable David, a story that takes place in the Virginia mountains and two brothers who clash with fugitives from justice. Carradine earned $100 making his debut as halfwit hillbilly Buzzard Hatburn.

“She told him I was a Shakespearean actor, so naturally they cast me as a ‘hillbilly halfwit.”

In 1931 Universal signed Carradine in Heaven on Earth, an account of white trash on the Mississippi River. He was cast in the small role of shanty boater ‘Chicken Sam’ a low-life creep who reveals that Lew Ayers is actually Harry Beresford’s adopted son. Heaven on Earth starred Lew Ayers whose real father had been murdered by Beresford. Carradine felt that this performance would beat the drums of notability, but at that time he remained in the shadows, though he became friends with Ayers.

According to Carradine, “One of the first sympathetic heavies, the kind of person who winds up being a swell guy in the end.”

This was the start of Carradine’s film career, he could put the dirty dishes behind him.

Carradine had a short minute in the part as a newspaper photographer in Bright Lights 1930 starring Dorothy Mackaill.

Next was Ceil B. DeMille’s epic of Rome under Emperor Nero – The Sign of the Cross with Fredric March and Elissa Landi. Here he lent his small-time appearance as an extra to three different characters, a Christian martyr, a gladiator leader, and a voice in the Coliseum crowd.

At Universal in 1931 Carradine showed up for a screen test with no knowledge of the role he was auditioning for. He was sent to Jack Pierce in the makeup department who created a mask for him.

Carradine: “What is this, who do I play?” Pierce: “You play a monster.” Carradine: “A monster?… Do I have any dialogue?” Pierce: “No, you just grunt.” Carradine: “This is not for me!

He kissed goodbye the role of the Frankenstein monster in James Whale’s classical horror film destined to make history for an actor billed only as “Karloff.” Bela Lugosi would also walk away from the role for the same reason. There was no speaking part.

Carradine’s manager Robert Byron mentioned on the set of Peggy Sue Got Married that Carradine had turned down the Monster role in the 1931 version of Frankenstein because it wasn’t a speaking part, Bennie Lee McGowan remarked “It would’ve been a shame for that wonderful voice to have been wasted.” Carradine squinted one eyebrow as he was apt to do and smiled a broad tired smile, “My dear, he said, “it has been wasted a lot.”

As an ex-set designer to DeMille, he was commissioned to make a bust of the director for Sign of the Cross, but his landlord, a frustrated sculptor smashed the sculpture.

However, Demille decided to cast Carradine in another of his pictures, writing in a small part as a high school principal for This Day and Age, and a Roman in his historical pageant Cleopatra 1934.

in Henry Hathaway’s This Day and Age 1933, he was seen in two or three shots with no dialogue as Pete Garon, cousin of backwoods bad guy Noah Beery.

“Nasty business that!” mutters Carradine with a cockney accent in The Invisible Man.

1933 sparked his foray into classic horror At Universal when he landed a quick bit in two classic horror films James Whale’s The Invisible Man where he plays a Cockney in a bowler hat and a phony-looking mustache featured in two brief scenes. Reading a newspaper with headlines about the Invisible Man and from a phone booth calling in a suggestion to the police – he mutters, “Nasty business, this!” In the next scene, he calls the police he suggests they squirt the criminal with ink.

In 1934 you can barely make him out in Edgar Ulmer’s The Black Cat 1934 one of six films that paired Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi together.


The latter was the first screen collaboration between Karloff and Lugosi. In the fortress-like Hungarian mansion of devil cult leader and war criminal Hjalmar Poelzig (Karloff), doctor Dr. Vitus Werdegast (Lugosi) do psychological battle over the destiny of Poelzig’s bride (Julie Bishop) and the dark secret of Werdegast’s wife’s death. In a long view, Carradine can be glimpsed with his back to the camera playing the organ during a black mass at the film’s profane climax.

During this time he was still painting, sculpting, and involved in theater. In 1933 he played the title role in Shakespeare’s King John at the Pasadena Playhouse. DeWitt Bodeen an alumnus of the Playhouse who became a noted screenwriter (Cat People 1942, The Seventh Victim 1942, Billy Budd 1962) spoke of Carradine in not-so-positive terms. I’ve been a fan of Bodeen’s writing but that was a rotten thing to say.

“I never cared for him as a stage actor; he was so hammy and in those days drunk, my dear, drunk. It’s marvelous the way his sons have turned out, but the old man was truly an old ham from way back. He was always overly polite- and plastered.”

By 1935 he finally adopted the professional name John Carradine and from this point, his movie career began to take off.

In what he considered to be his first big break, Darryl F. Zanuck’s 20th Century Studios cast him in the role of an agitator In Les Miserables starring Fredric March and Charles Laughton, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, and Frances Drake.

Carradine was cast as Enjolras, a student radical in Les Miserables 1935. – “If they’ve got bayonets, we’ve got knives.” 

In 1935 Carradine made it Into James Whale’s Bride of Frankenstein, the sardonic campy sequel to his 1931 classic. He was a hunter who invades the peaceful sojourn for Karloff’s monster and the old hermit (O.P. Heggie) as he arrives at the cottage just as the Monster, cigar in hand is reveling in his new appetite for pleasure and freedom.

In one of the most memorable scenes of the picture or in any classic horror film for that matter, Carradine and Frank Terry stumble onto the cabin where the blind hermit has befriended the Monster. Thanks to Carradine a touching scene is transformed into chaos.

Also in 1935, he had brief spots in She Gets Her Man and Bad Boy.

He worked for DeMille again in The Crusades as a rabble-rouser in Zanuck’s Cardinal Richelieu and appeared in the first full-scale 20th Century production The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo 1935 as a gambler.

Fox chose Carradine to play Beauty Smith in White Fang 1936 in which the bony actor portrayed the wicked Smith who menaces Michael Whalen and Jean Muir.

1936 was a major year for him.

Carradine in Ramona 1936 starring Loretta Young.

The actor also played a despicable character who shoots Don Ameche in the back in the Technicolor  Ramona. After that RKO borrowed Carradine again for Daniel Boone where he was cast as Simon Girty the infamous Tory.

Fox released The Prisoner of Shark Island 1936 a film that covers a dreadful period in American history – the assassination of Lincoln and the ensuing trial, imprisonment, and eventual pardon of Dr. Samuel Mudd who unknowingly sets the broken leg of John Wilkes Booth while he’s on the run. Carradine originally wanted to play the role of Lincoln.

Carradine as Sgt. Rankin in The Prisoner of Shark Island.

Gloria Stuart plays Mudd’s long-suffering wife who must endure her innocent husband’s exile to life imprisonment in the hellish Tortugas. While on the island Mudd encounters Sgt. Rankin played by Carradine with a sadistic zeal bares his teeth…

“So all they gave you was life. (Rankin punches Mudd in the face knocking him down) Couldn’t hang ya, eh? Well, by Judas, you’re gonna wish they had’fore I”m through with ya!”

Carradine and his wife Ardanelle attended the Hollywood release, while the animated audience started booing the actor. Zanuck couldn’t be more pleased. He now had become a member of John Ford’s famous “stock company” but was now a rising top character actor at 20th Century Fox and for all this new recognition Carradine loved his dramatic villainy.

“The leading men are not remembered by the public. It’s the heavies that are remembered. Those are the characters in plays and motion pictures who are the active ones. The Leading men are acted upon, but the heavies, the villains, are the ones who do things. That’s why the great actors… have preferred to play the heavies. Lou Tellegen was a leading man for Sarah Bernhardt for many years. He came to the States, and I got to know him because we were both sculptors He was an extremely handsome man… walked like a panther, and had cold gray eyes you could see a mile away. And he once said to me, “I love my Men of sin” – Carradine

John Carradine appeared in John Ford’s Mary of Scotland as the devoted secretary to Katharine Hepburn. This was a departure from the actor’s performances as villains in other films, like Prisoner of Shark Island, The Hurricane, and Drums Along the Mohawk.

Above: Carradine as Caldwell in director John Ford’s Drums Along the Mohawk 1939 starring Henry Fonda, Claudette Colbert, and Edna May Oliver.

From Mary of Scotland 1936.

For Mary of Scotland in 1936, Carradine elicited much praise, considered one of his finest performances as David Rizzio, opposite Hepburn and Fredrick March.

One of his most poignant scenes of the film after the scheming Scottish lords try to regain power, suggests that Rizzio and Mary are having an affair, while he strums a lute and serenades Mary with a ballad.

In 1936 Carradine continued to wield his villainy as Simon Girty in Daniel Boone. The New York Times wrote, “John Carradine plays Simon Girty with all the malice he can command, and sets a new high in facial contortions.”

Also in 1936, he donned a turban and beard appearing as a sand diver in David O Selznick’s The Garden of Allah. Carradine’s presence forecasts the tragic end for lovers Marlene Dietrich and Charles Boyer.

Carradine as sympathetic doomed radical Romagna with Helen Jerome and Eddy Caldwell in Winterset 1936.

In RKOs Winterset he switched off the menace and portrayed a free-thinking social reformer Bartolomeo Romagna who is framed by gangsters and executed for a murder he did not commit.

Carradine delivers a compelling soft-spoken speech on the floor of the courtroom. “In the dark nights, I will be before you, and you will know you have done wrong. You will be afraid … of me. I am not afraid.”

1936 was certainly a highly regarded year for the actor.

Fox loaned out Carradine to MGM for Captains Courageous in 1937. It became one of his favorite roles playing ‘Long Jack’ which he claimed: “Long Jack started out as a real son of a bitch and slowly became sympathetic as the film wore on!”

In director Victor Fleming’s Captains Courageous, he worked on film for over 26 weeks, becoming one of his greatest roles, after The Prisoner of Shark Island and Mary of Scotland. The film also stars Carradine’s beloved friend Lionel Barrymore as Captain Disko Troop.

Freddie Bartholomew plays a spoiled 12-year-old Harvey, the son of American tycoon Melvyn Douglas. On a foggy night, the little brat falls off the luxury liner unseen and is picked up by Manuel (Spencer Tracy) the captain of a schooner. Soon Harvey falls in love with the sea and Manuel becomes a father figure to the boy.

Carradine considers him to be a ‘Jonah’ the worst kind of bad luck, recounting to Captain Disko Troop (Barrymore) how bringing passengers aboard the fishing boat has brought about disaster.

“Skipper, when we trawled this bank last year, it was nothin’ but dories loaded to the gunnels. This kid comes aboard this morning and look at today’s catch!”

One of the highlights of Captains Courageous for Carradine is an exchange between him and Tracy. The two make a wager about catching the most fish the following day; Tracy bets his beloved straight razor. When Bartholomew wants Tracy to win, he sabotages Carradine’s rowboat and in the darkness tangles up his net. The next day Carradine falls out of the boat and gets entangled in the hook-filled net.

“Either you or that kid done it, it stands to reason.” Later Carradine growls at Tracy while Barrymore cuts the metal hooks out of his arm. “If I found he’d put his Jonah flippers into my trawl, I’ll wind him twice around the capstan and break him off short!”

In the film, Tracy and Carradine who is perfect as a cynical and salty fisherman have a very antagonistic relationship. Tracy would continue his good-natured provocation of Carradine’s character, calling him, “Mr. Happy Face.” Until it becomes a downright confrontation. Their shared scenes are well-matched. Carradine has an evocative transformation from surly to sympathetic by the film’s end.

The character of “Long Jack” was described by Kipling as “a grizzly-chinned, long-lipped Galway man.” who embraces the supernatural and entrances the crew with his ghost stories.

Carradine throughout his career, in serious drama or absurd B movies, is always a mesmerizing figure.

It was 1937 and Carradine went back to Fox and was handed several roles until the studio offered him a chance once again to play heavies in John Ford’s The Hurricane and The Last Gangster starring Edward G. Robinson. What followed was Carradine in the role of Lincoln in MGMs Of Human Hearts based on Honore Morrow’s Benefits Forgot. The film co-starred Jimmy Stewart. Carradine (wearing makeup by Jack Dawn) won praise for his portrayal of Lincoln and his poignant scene where he scolds a Union Army doctor (Stewart) for not writing to his mother Beulah Bondi.

With Edward G. Robinson in The Last Gangster 1937.

Ali Baba Goes to Town 1937 starring Eddie Cantor.

Carradine in Otto Preminger’s Danger- Love at Work 1937 starring Ann Sothern.

Cartoonist Peter Arno created the painting ‘ The Love Life of a Cup and Saucer’ for quirky artist Carradine’s newest work in Danger – Love At Work (Photofest).

That same year working at Fox he appeared in Nancy Steele Is Missing! starring Peter Lorre and Jane Darwell. Carradine plays Harry Wilkins a Cockney behind bars. ‘Leering that depraved Carradine leer’ (Mank) he taunts Victor McLaglen and pelts him with bread, which leads to a mess hall riot. In a positive review of the film, ‘the actor should be even bigger and better roles.’

Getting the hand-buzzer from Victor McLaglen in This is My Affair 1937.

Also in 1937, he had bit parts in This Is My Affair for Fox, starring Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Taylor, and Love Under Fire where he plays the draconian Capt. Delmar who commands his Spanish soldiers. Next came The Hurricane for United Artists cast in the role of the cruel warden who tortures Jon Hall, though it never comes close enough to the brutality of his Sgt. Rankin in Ford’s The Prisoner of Shark Island.

Carradine as the Warden in John Ford’s The Hurricane 1937 starring Dorothy Lamour and John Hall.

Love Under Fire 1937 courtesy 20th Century Film Corp. Carradine as Capt. Delmar.

Carradine as the Warden to Terangi (John Hall) “And if you ever want that iron off your leg, you’re gonna break, see? You’re gonna open that ugly mouth of yours and act like a human being!”

In Danger-Love at Work for Fox, Carradine is one of the screwball Pemberton family. He plays Hubert ‘the artist’ dressed in a smock who paints his masterpiece The Love Life of a Cup and Saucer on the window pane. The film stars Mary Boland, Ann Sothern, and Edward Everett Horton who fill out the escapist antics.

Carradine had been loaned out to MGM in the showy The Adventures of Marco Polo in 1938 playing the villain, but he became ill and the considerable role went to Basil Rathbone. In 1938 he was cast as hillbilly Mountain Man – Reef Hatfield in Kentucky Moonshine, and another John Ford lesser significant film Four Men and a Prayer with yet a role that goes by in a flash, as Gen. Sebastian who cordially orders the execution of Edward Bromberg. Released in 1938, Carradine plays a tramp Kopelpeck posing as a millionaire in I’ll Give a Million.

In 1939

Carradine appeared in Mr. Moto’s Last Warning starring Peter Lorre as the titular detective. The film co-starred Ricardo Cortez and George Sanders. Carradine meets his fate by suffocating inside a diving bell. And once again working with John Ford he was cast in what the director admitted was one of his favorite films, Submarine Patrol.

At that time Ardanelle filed for divorce due to Carradine’s heavy drinking.

Carradine and Ricardo Cortez in Mr. Moto’s Last Warning.

Tyrone Powers as Jesse James must contend with the devious Ford Brothers Carradine and Charles Tannen.

In 1939, Fox released Jesse James with a screenplay by Nunnally Johnson and edited by Barbara McLean.

Nightmare Alley (1949) In the cutting room with editor Barbara McLean. See the descent of man, the human condition up close, and throw in a Geek, please.

Tyrone Power plays the audacious young highwayman in Jesse James, filmed on location in the Ozarks’ Pineville Missouri. Fox had Carradine step into one of his more dastardly roles as Bob Ford, “the dirty little coward” who tips off the railroad police to Jesse’s bank robbery. Later he shoots Powers in the back. Though it is virtually a bit part, it is one of Carradine’s best-remembered roles.

According to the New York Sun, Henry King’s film Jesse James was a… “slick, expertly directed glorification of a gangster… “

Carradine plays yet another coward in Fox’s version of Dumas’ The Three Musketeers.

Cast on the set of Stagecoach 1939 with director John Ford.

Also in 1939, John Ford released what would become a milestone and one of the greatest Westerns in classic film history – Stagecoach. In one of his most memorable roles, Carradine plays the mysterious Southern gentleman and gambler Hatfield who sports a black cloak, a white Stetson, a walking stick, gloves, and a trimmed mustache. His character has a distinguished, and romantic quality as he pours water from a canteen into his silver cup and offers it to Lucy. The crest on the cup might give away his high-born background but he keeps it to himself and states that he won it on a bet.

When Lucy goes into labor, the stewed Doc Josiah Boone (Mitchell) has to have black coffee poured down his throat to sober him up while Carradine goes into a frenzy, “isn’t that drunken swine sober yet?!”

Hatfield is taken by the genteel Lucy Mallory (Louise Platt), the pregnant wife of a cavalry captain. Taking time during a card game to ogle the fine lady through the saloon window, he quietly says to himself, “Like an angel in a jungle, a very wild jungle.” Hearing about the Apache’s imminent attack, he offers his protection to Lucy. “I can shoot fairly straight if there’s need for it.” While one of the passengers, Thomas Mitchell puffs on his cigar, Carradine demands that he put it out, “a gentleman doesn’t smoke in the presence of a lady.” Mitchell hints that Hatfield has a notorious past.

With one bullet left in his pistol, he wishes to spare Lucy from the attack, while she kneels praying, he raises the gun about to shoot her, and he is shot by a rider, fated to die during the cinema’s famous Indian attack. John Wayne declared Carradine’s as “the greatest heavy I ever saw.”

Also in 1939, Carradine was cast as Barryman the butler in Hound of the Baskervilles, with severe hair parted in the middle and a goatee he bared an imposing almost aesthetic melancholia, skulking around the manor house and grounds, throwing off a secret as he broods in all directions.

Then Fox loaned him out again to United Artists for Captain Fury, where he plays a sympathetic convict Coughy who is shot by the villainous George Zucco and thrown into a cell. When he escapes, he catches Zucco trying to get away on a horse, “You won’t need that horse, Trist!” In the film’s climax being a faster draw than Zucco, he shoots him, then dies in the film’s climax.

The next stop was RKO with Five Came Back, a melodrama about a plane crash in the jungle filled with headhunters. Carradine was cast as shady cop Crimp, who is delivering anarchist Joseph Calleia to the authorities.

Again in 1939, Carradine returned to his contract studio Fox to play Ben Carter, lawless King of Tombstone, defeated by Wyatt Earp (Randolph Scott) in Frontier Marshal. John Ford loved to work with Carradine and put him in his first Technicolor epic Drums Along the Mohawk. Carradine personified yet another of his evil characters as Caldwell the one-eyed Tory who leads Indians against the Revolutionary settlers and burns down Claudette Colbert and Henry Fonda’s farm.

After all these prominent roles Carradine started to gain recognition for his first-class work.

The 1940s

At this point in 1940, Carradine inhabited his most beloved and heart-wrenching role as the melancholy and disheveled Casy, an unfrocked preacher in John Ford’s masterpiece The Grapes of Wrath adapted by screenwriter Nunnally Johnson and photographed by innovative cinematographer Gregg Toland who was inspired by photographers, Walker Evans and James Agee. The Grapes of Wrath left us with one of Hollywood’s most lamentable and eloquent refrains.

The story is centered around the tragic exodus of the Okies from the Dust Bowl to California.

It follows the Joad family (Henry Fonda as Tom and Jane Darkwell as Ma) who journey in their dilapidated truck toward the West in search of a better life, work, and just plain survival after haven been dispossessed from their farm.

Carradine brings to life Steinbeck’s Casy which would become one of his most vivifying roles, as a character who managed to still haunt us even after he has left the screen.

“I wouldn’t pray just for an old man that’s dead, ’cause he’s all right. If I was to pray, I’d pray for folks that’s alive and don’t know which way to turn.”

Casy is a former preacher whom we find out at the beginning of the picture had ‘lost the call’ but finds salvation when he becomes a labor organizer.

Casy – “Tom, you gotta learn like I’m learnin’. I don’t know it right yet myself. That’s why I can’t ever be a preacher again. Preachers gotta know. I don’t know. I gotta ask. Maybe there ain’t no sin and there ain’t no virtue, they’s just what people does. Some things folks do is nice and some ain’t so nice, and that’s all any man’s got a right to say.”

When the Joads finally make it to California they are met with despair, harsh surroundings, demoralizing working conditions, and brutal labor leaders who are in bed with the local police. At the Department of Agriculture camp sight desperate for work, farmers rely on scant wages, and anyone who resists being exploited is ruthlessly murdered and labeled ‘agitators.’

Carradine martyrs himself by taking the blame for Henry Fonda after he defends himself against one of the crooked cops. The actor is extraordinary as Casy who revels in being handcuffed as he becomes a hero to the cause against the land crooked deputies, and land owners who cheat and exploit the struggling workers.

When Fonda runs off after beating up the deputy who shoots a woman when he was aiming at a fleeing migrant worker, Carradine sticks around waiting for the other deputies to arrive. He tells them, “Oh, this man of yours He got tough, so I hit him. Then he started shootin’, hit that woman there, so I hit him again.” One deputy asks, “What’d you do in the first place?” In a close-up smiling with pride, he tells them, “I talked back.” He gladly holds out his wrists to be handcuffed. It’s one of Carradine’s best scenes in the film.

The Joads face the same inescapableness, turning out to be ‘strikebreakers.’

Carradine meets a horrible fate when the brutal strikebreakers murder him in a stream under a bridge in the middle of the dark night. This leads to Tom killing a deputy to avenge Casy’s brutal death, then moving on to carry on Casy’s work.

Carradine’s performance as the tragic Casy lingers throughout the remainder of the film, even after his death. The kudos Carradine earned for his performance in The Grapes of Wrath inspired new respect from the front office at Fox and the studio stopped loaning him out.

Brigham Young 1940: Tyrone Power (1913 – 1958, left) and gaunt John Carradine (1906 – 1988, centre), born Richmond Reed  Carradine, star in the western ‘Brigham Young’, which chronicles the journey of the early Mormons across America to Utah. The film was directed by Henry Hathaway for 20th Century Fox. Original Publication: Picture Post – 680 – Linda Darnell – unpub. (Photo by Picture Post/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

In 1940 Brigham Young he was praised for  “playing Porter Rockwell, a fiery bearded pigtailed Mormon who looks like an Old Testament prophet in buckskin and soulful cries Alleluia.” (Mank)

Carradine didn’t work in film for a while after Brigham Young until he was cast in Chad Hannah and Western Union 1941 back to back.

Above two images: Carradine as Doc Murdoch in director Fritz Lang’s Western Union 1941 starring Randolph Scott.

It’s 1941

The Return of Jesse James 1940.

Carradine appeared as Bob Ford once again in Fritz Lang’s sequel The Return of Jesse James. Next Carradine appeared as El Nacional, Tyrone Power’s intellectual childhood friend who becomes part of the matador’s cuadrilla in Rouben Mamoulian’s Blood and Sand starring Tyrone Power, Linda Darnell, and Rita Hayworth.

After these meaningful roles, Carradine began to miss his wicked screen persona. “I made my reputation as an evildoer, and I can’t spoil it by going straight!” And so Fox obliged and cast him as Mr. Jones in Fritz Lang’s anti-Nazi propaganda film Man Hunt 1941, where he slips back into a black cloak, Homburg, and cane daunting big game hunter Walter Pigeon. In this film, he comes to a dramatic end when he is fabulously electrocuted on the London subway tracks.

Carradine in Fritz Lang’s Man Hunt 1941 starring Joan Bennett.

John Carradine and Mary Howard as Hannah in Swamp Water 1941.

Carradine as Jesse Wick in Jean Renoir and Irving Pichel’s mystery Swamp Water 1941 starring Anne Baxter, Dana Andrews, Walter Huston, Virginia Gilmore, Walter Brennan, and Mary Howard as Hannah.

With Tyrone Power in Son of Fury 1942.

Also in 1941 Carradine’s contract with Fox was coming to an end. He appeared as good old boy Jesse Wick in Swamp Water. Next, he was cast in Son of Fury in 1942 once again alongside Tyrone Power both sailors in search of pearls on a tropical island. Then he wound up plunged into a B movie by Fox who slapped him in the face with Whispering Ghosts in a role that portends his identity as an eccentric ham actor. Laird Cregar took over at Fox as their new star heavy.

Fox ended Carradine’s contract by handing him the shameful Whispering Ghosts with Milton Berle and Willie Best.

Whispering Ghosts (1942) was his last film under his long-term Fox contract. He hitchhiked to California, earning his way as a quick-sketch artist. After a family dispute, he left home to become an assistant to renowned Philadelphia sculptor Daniel Chester French. Also in 1942, he appeared in Northwest Rangers as Martin Caswell and as Ulrich Windler in Reunion in France 1942.

When 20th Century Fox let him go in 1943 Carradine embraced his love of theater and got back on stage in The Vagabond King, in the lead as the hunchbacked King Louis the XI.

“To create the role, he naturally sought the advice of his best friend John Barrymore. He spent many evenings with his sadly declining friend and idol. In addition to their risqué adventures, the men often sat in Barrymore’s nearly empty decaying Bella Vista estate under the great chandelier reading Shakespeare aloud to each other.” (Mank)

After being devastated by his dear friend Barrymore’s passing Carradine threw himself into making movies again. MGM bought Hitler’s Hangman from PRC and added extra footage which included Ava Gardner in a brief appearance as Franciska Pritric one of the daughters of Lidice.

He found himself portraying Nazis in several pictures.

Alan Curtis, John Carradine, and Patricia Morison in Douglas Sirk’s Hitler’s Madman 1943.

It was one of the actor’s most demonic roles of his career playing Nazi Reinhardt Heyrich in Douglas Sirk’s Hitler’s Madman 1943, originally titled Hitler’s Hangman. Heyrich was called “the Hangman” a strutting fiend who in one scene torments the village priest Father Cemlanek (Al Shean-one of the Marx Brothers’ uncles).

CARRADINE: So that’s what you do, eh? Turn the other cheek. CELMANEK: So it is written.

When Carradine slaps his face, Celmanek refuses to bend his will to the Nazis and defies them. Carradine grabs a sacred cloth and wipes his boots with it. “How’s this, my holy sufferer!”

In Carradine’s bleak death scene, with blood lust on his lips, he tells Himmler- “I should have done away with them all… all of them…. Shoot them… Shoot them!” It is one of his most evil incarnations on the screen.

Carradine and Aquanetta who is this mad doctor’s Captive Wild Woman.

1943 proved to be a very engrossing year for the actor. Carradine went to Universal and starred as the mad Dr. Sigmund Walters in Captive Wild Woman. In this low-budget horror picture, he plays an evil scientist experimenting with endocrinology. When Fred Mason (Milburn Stone) captures a gorilla from his trip to Africa to use in his circus act, Dr. Walters steals her from Mason so he can transform the ape Cheela into Acquanetta. Captive Wild Woman also features beloved scream queens Evelyn Ankers wearing Vera West and Martha Vickers.

Heroines & Scream Queens of Classic Horror: the 1940s! A very special Drive In Hall🎃ween treat!

Once Cheela’s in his possession, his eyes light up when off-screen Cheela rips apart the handler (Paul Fix) who helped deliver the ape into Dr. Walter’s hands. Later he murders his devoted nurse Fay Helm in order to use her brain in his experiments.

He uses Cheela the ape woman whose alias he concocts is Paula Dupree. Mason uses Paula in his tiger/lion routine. She winds up reverting back into an ape whenever she is either riled or jealous of who stands between her and Mason her mate.

Dr. Walters tries to use Evelyn Anker’s sister Dorothy’s (Vickers) glands. In the end, Carradine tries to experiment on Ankers who ultimately unleashes the killer ape woman on him in the climax of the picture. Like noir, horror has its fatalistic revenge!

Aquanetta spoke of Carradine; “Carradine was great – he was always acting, you know (laughs)! Even when we were off the set, there was John being John! I always think of him as Dracula, always picture him in my mind’s eye wearing that cloak! I wonder what he was in his past life…”

Universal was set to announce their plan to make Carradine the next big horror star, he and Sonia Sorel opened in The Merchant of Venice at the Biltmore Theater.

I Escaped from the Gestapo 1943 – Carradine plays Gestapo Agent Fritz Martin, the film also stars Sidney Blackmer, William Marshall, and Dean Jagger.

In 1943 he appeared in Silver Spurs.

What followed that same year was his role as Mike at PRCs Isle of Forgotten Sins directed by Edgar Ulmer. Carradine plays a deep-sea diver. The actor who had a love for Shakespeare and singing croons a bit of “Whisky Johnny.”

Then he starred as yet another sinister figure Dr. Max von Altermann in Monogram’s dreadful Revenge of the Zombies 1943. Once again he’s chewing up the screen as a mad Nazi who is giving rise to a zombie army in the swamps of Louisiana. Manton Moreland in addition to James Baskett as Lazarus and Madame Sul-Te-Wan as Mammy Beulah are cast once again as a reflection of the stereotyping of black characters in 1940s films.

A quick reprieve from the macabre in 1943, Carradine played Mr. Wellington an erudite vagabond who throws himself into helping out the war effort in Gangway for Tomorrow.

Carradine in Gangway for Tomorrow 1943 riding next to Robert Ryan.

LOS ANGELES – MARCH 1: This Is War In the foreground, Norman Corwin directs actors for the CBS Radio program, This Is War. Image dated March 1, 1942. From left: Norman Corwin, John Garfield, John Carradine, Katherine Locke, Henry Hull. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)

While appearing in movies during 1943 he also worked in radio, in a Reap the Wild Wind production with Paulette Goddard and Ray Milland for DeMille’s Radio Theatre. Carradine was not limited to acting, during WWII he entertained the servicemen.

But he still held onto his dream of owning his own Shakespearean repertory company. He spent every bit of money on this endeavor, even being scenery from Barrymore’s Hamlet, ordered costumes, and mortgaged his house. He swore- “If this goes over, I’m through with Hollywood forever!”

“Why I could go on the stage in any Shakespearean part with only 24 hours’ notice. I have a most retentive memory – I know Shakespeare practically by heart and I’m sure that right now I could direct one of his plays without referring to the text.”

In the fall of 1943, his company rehearsed at the Pasadena Playhouse for Hamlet, and The Merchant of Venice, where he played Chylock, and also Othello. Carradine would alternate as the Moor and Iago.

Carradine and Sonia Sorel in The Merchant of Venice at the Biltmore Theater just as Universal was about to make him their new horror superstar.

Carradine’s theatre company was an all-out ‘rant and rave’ style school of acting and it was a smashing success. 750 potential audience members had to be turned away from the Playhouse, breaking all records for performances of Shakespeare. There was one seat left empty… the one reserved symbolically for his dear friend John Barrymore.

The production of Carradine’s Hamlet played in San Francisco. His own touring productions of “The Merchant of Venice”, “Hamlet” and “Othello” outgrossed Maurice Evans’ celebrated 1940 version of “Hamlet”.

While touring the West Coast, he fell in love with Sonia Sorel who played his Ophelia. Carradine wound up leaving his wife Ardanelle. The couple moved into The Garden of Allah bungalows.

Carradine with Wallace Beery in Roy Del Ruth’s Barbary Coast Gent 1944.

With the war taking its toll on his theatre troupe, the divorce from Ardanelle, supporting his two sons, (which included David who would command his own respect as a future cult actor), and paying the rent at The Garden of Allah, Carradine was going broke. This precipitated Carradine jumping into a slew of ill-famed schlock shows, a total of 11 in 1944 that would irreparably taint his legacy as a serious actor.

Trying to balance theater and film, he’d play Hamlet at night at the same time skulking around on the screen as a perverted imbecile Toby in Voodoo Man 1944.

George Zucco tracks down helpless blondes for Bela Lugosi while they stop for gas at his station. Carradine and Pat McKee as Grego place detour signs on the road while Dr. Marlowe (Lugosi) uses a device that makes their cars stall.

Carradine talks about Lugosi, “Oh, he was a charming man. He always had a bucket of red wine on the set which he pulled out gracefully all day long. He never forgot his lines… he never lost his affability.”

Playing the idiot Toby, with more cringe than menace Carradine strokes each female zombie “she’s the prettiest one!” During the ceremony to transfer the soul of his women victims into his hollow lifeless wife. Carradine plays the bongos while George Zucco wears offensive tribal feathers during a rite to revive Lugosi’s dead wife.

Carradine disliked this Monogram picture intensely as the role was an embarrassment for him, not that later pictures wouldn’t prove to be as bad as Billy the Kid Versus Dracula. Toby is a far cry from Shakespeare or his Bluebeard. This idiot perv does not elicit compassion as let’s say Lennie from Steinbeck’s novel or an infant like Karloff as Frankenstein’s monster. Toby is merely an unsympathetic dimwit who says things to Louise Currie like “Gosh, you’ve got nice pretty hair.”

In 1944, he plays another Nazi in PRCs Waterfront and appears in The Black Parachute. Followed by Monogram’s Return of the Ape Man with Bela Lugosi who transplants Carradine’s brain into a caveman. Carradine also appeared in Universal’s The Invisible Man’s Revenge which has nothing to do with the original masterpiece with Claude Rains. Carradine plays the eccentric Dr. Drury who working in his humble laboratory has successfully made his parrot Methuselah and his dog Brutus invisible. When Jon Hall wanders into Drury’s home he realizes it’s an opportunity to experiment on a human subject. “I don’t entertain often, but the day will come when the greatest scientists of Europe will knock at my door. Then you’ll be proud to say you once had supper with the great Dr. Drury!” Showing Hall his invisible pets, “In this house, you’ve got to believe what you can’t see!”

In 1944 Universal gave Carradine the fantastic opportunity to play Count Dracula in House of Frankenstein which featured the gentleman of terror, Boris Karloff trading in his monster make-up for mad scientist Dr. Niemann, assisted by his lovesick hunchback sidekick Daniel played by J. Carrol Naish. Lon Chaney Jr. returns as the tragic Lawrence Talbot the Wolf Man and Glenn Strange takes over the role of Frankenstein’s monster.

J. Carroll Naish and Boris Karloff in House of Frankenstein.

Glenn Strange, and Lon Chaney join Karloff in House of Frankenstein.

After Karloff pulls the stake out of Dracula’s skeleton displayed in the coffin as part of a traveling sideshow, Carradine as Dracula materializes and agrees to do Karloff’s bidding. As quid pro quo he kills the jolly burgomaster (Sig Ruman) who sent Karloff to prison.

Carradine’s Dracula is a stylish and elegant vision in a top hat and cape. His translation of the immortal vampire for Universal is one of his penetrating anti-heroes in the horror genre.

Ann Gwynne: “I see glimpses of a strange world- a world of people who are dead, and yet alive.”

Carradine: “It is the place from which I’ve just returned.”
Ann Gwynne: “It frightens me.”

Carradine: (giving her the ring)- “Wear it. It will drive away your fears… I will come for you before dawn.”

Carradine kills Ruman in an atmospheric vignette, the garden door ajar frames Ruman’s face as he looks upon Carradine’s wild eyes before the vampire changes into a large bat and attacks his neck- Carradine kidnaps Gwynne and in a frantic chase scene, Lionel Atwill leads a cavalry in pursuit of Carradine’s coach, which crashes leaving him running toward sanctuary. But it is too late, and he is struck down by the rays of the rising dawn. Trying to make it to his coffin, exposed to the sunlight he fades into a skeleton.

Also in 1944, he appeared in Reginald LeBorg’s The Mummy’s Ghost starring Lon Chaney Jr. as the Mummy.

According to the director, asked by Tom Weaver if Carradine hammed it up?:

“Yes, but considering the character he played it wasn’t too much of a fault. There were no heavies in that picture other than him – Chaney was no heavy, playing that poor mummy – so we had to have somebody fill that slot. Carradine’s voice was sonorous and excellent, much better than the average actor’s so I let him go on. In a picture like that, you can be a little hammy – it was usually kids and teenagers that went to see that kind of picture.”

In June 1944 he visited PRC on loan to play the lead in Bluebeard. It was the actor’s greatest leading role in the horror genre. He ranked his performance in Bluebeard (1944) high among his career favorites.

Considering all the B roles of mad doctors and Nazis, Bluebeard lent the actor some gravity to the persona as an artist of horror amidst the alumni of great classic horror icons.

In this moody suspense thriller, he plays serial murderer Gaston Morrell suave, sensitive, and hopelessly insane artist/puppeteer so haunted by the memory of a ‘whore’ he loved, worshipped, and ultimately strangled with his tie that he becomes addicted to slaying other beautiful women. “John Carradine was a person I could hold onto,” said Edgar Ulmer, who professed to have directed Bluebeard in only six days.

The legendary director said of his star, “When directing John, one must be mindful of the fact that one is handling dynamite. John without half-trying can overpower a scene. .. One must remind him to put the brakes on, lest he chews up the sprocket holes on the film. He is a worker, and a professional from the word go… the tenderness is there, the compassion is there… it must be seen.”

The Byronic, dashing Carradine, fully conveyed the tragedy of Bluebeard and is magnificent in a climactic soliloquy as he reveals his lurid past to his new love Jean Parker. He masterfully builds to a crescendo in the picture’s climax as he remembers how he killed the woman he had idealized and painted so beautifully.

Carradine’s Gaston Morrell- “I thought that would stop her defiling the image I created of her, stop her degrading my work, I thought that would be the end of what she could do to me but it wasn’t… Every girl I painted turned out to be Jeanette… and every time I painted her, I had to kill her again.”

Carradine’s keenly refined performance with Ulmer’s unique touch transforms his low-budget melodrama into a moving tragic drama. Carradine suffers elegantly on screen and is immortalized as a sympathetic killer.

In addition to his films, he continued to work on radio including a visit to Mystery House Bela Lugosi’s syndicated series. Guesting on the episode The Thirsty Dead. In 1944 Carradine also appeared in The Adventures of Mark Twain starring Alexis Smith and Fredric March, and in director George Archainbaud’s Alaska.

Carradine as Bret Harte in director Irving Rapper’s The Adventures of Mark Twain 1944.

Carradine in Alaska 1944 with Kent Taylor and Margaret Lindsay.

At that time Carradine couldn’t buy a cup of coffee he said it was “the worst nervous condition of my life.” In 1944 he attempted suicide.

When his Shakespeare Players disbanded, he accepted an offer in the summer of 1945 to star at the Brighton Theatre of Coney Island in the comedy My Dear Children. He hated Hollywood and still wanted his own Theatre Company more than anything.

During this time he continued to have public fights with Ardanelle, facing lawsuits, and jail time.

Carradine returned to Hollywood after this stock engagement to find himself in the midst of legacy battles with his former wife.

In the fall he went back to Universal and starred in House of Dracula featuring the studio’s new Frankenstein’s Monster (Glenn Strange) with Chaney resuscitating his Wolf Man, and even a hunchback nurse Jane Adams gathering at the castle of Dr. Edlemann (Onslow Stevens). Carradine’s Dracula asks Edlemann to cure his parasitic ‘thirst ’ but he betrays the doctor by lusting after blonde nurse Martha O’Driscoll.

After House of Dracula wrapped in 1945, Carradine ventured East to play Matthew in Murder without Crime, which opened in November 1945 in Bridgeport Connecticut. In a New York Herald-Tribune interview, Carradine revealed that “neither horror movies nor horror divorces had dimmed his dramatic madness.”

In 1945 he was cast in Captain Kidd as Orange Povy and in Fallen Angel as Prof. Madley.

Below – the zany comedy starring Jack Benny and Fred Allen – It’s In the Bag.

In Down Missouri Way 1946 Carradine played director Thorndyke Thorny P Dunning shooting his film on a farm, and in 1947 he appeared in The Private Affairs of Bel Ami as the dapper Charles Forestier.

George Sanders and Carradine in The Private Affairs of Bel Ami 1946.

Carradine appeared as Prof. Madley in Otto Preminger’s noir Fallen Angel 1945 starring Dana Andrews Linda Darnell and Alice Faye.

Above two images: Carradine with Charles Laughton in Captain Kidd 1945.

He realized that he had a choice – to either stay in Hollywood and work in predominantly mortifying, dismal films or settle in the East and work in Theater with his new love Sonia.

Carradine in 1946 starred at New York’s Town Hall in a revival of Arsenic and Old Lace as mad Johnathan Brewster. In 1946 at age 40 he made his Broadway debut at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre in The Duchess of Malfi, a Grand Guignol play by John Webster, cast as the wicked Cardinal. He also played Rupert Cadell in Rope. He went on to play the Inquisitor in Galileo, and Voltaire in Ben Jonson’s Valpone at the New York City Center in 1949.

Actor John Carradine Holding Mask (Original Caption) John Carradine (Richmond Reed Carradine), 02/05/1906 – 11/27/1988. Extremely prolific movie character actor, while simultaneously maintaining a stage career in classic leading roles such as Hamlet and Malvolio. Carradine is shown here holding a mask next to his face. Undated photograph.

Throughout his career in film, he worked with the most remarkable actors, and the stage was no exception working alongside extraordinary actresses the likes of Ruth Gordon, Elisabeth Bergner, and Martita Hunt.

He appeared in The Wedding, which starred Elisabeth Bergner, and played Benjy in The Leading Lady with Ruth Gordon. On television, he made his first documented appearance in The Flattering Word episode of NBC’s The Chevrolet Tele-Theatre.

Also in 1948, he appeared as the Ragpicker in The Madwoman of Chaillot at the Belasco Theatre with Martita Hunt. The New York Times said John Carradine – “is excellent – he has the grace to understand the part and the ability to play it lucidly.” In 1949 he played Malvolio in The Philco – Television Playhouse production of Twelfth Night and returned to The Chevrolet Tele-Theatre in 1949 for Long Lost Brother. At that time he also appeared in film noir’s C-Man a pulp thriller shot on location in New York, and a stage production of Richard III in 1949.

Among his television appearances is A Christmas Carol TV movie as Scrooge in 1947, The Ed Sullivan Show, The Philco Television Playhouse as Malvolio in ‘Twelfth Night 1949, Macbeth’ and The Chevrolet Tele-Theatre 1948-49.

He appeared as the perpetually drunken criminal doctor in the very low-budget film noir “C” Man 1949 Dean Jagger plays a Customs Officer on the hunt for a stolen jewel necklace and the crime ring that murdered his friend. Carradine starts out taking a swig from his flask on a plane, injects the patsy with drugs so he can plant the stolen jewels on her, and send her in an ambulance where the gang can lift the goods off of her. Getting progressively more stinking’ drunk Carradine gets clobbered to death by the knob from a bedpost.

The 1950s

It was 1950, and he toured the stock circuit in Julius Caesar as Brutus and played Sir Robert in The Winslow Boy, one of his favorite roles. He also appeared in Shadow and Substance.

Carradine was jailed briefly in 1953 on contempt of court charges for falling behind on his alimony payments.

Various television appearances between 1950-1960

John Carradine and E.G. Marshall in the fantasy anthology television series- Lights Out – “The Meddlers”.

Suspicion ‘A Touch of Evil’ tv episode 1958. Audrey Totter and Harry Guardino plot to kill Guardino’s wife with the help of amateur inventor Carradine.

The Adventures of Ellery Queen 1951, The Web 1950-51, 2 episodes called ‘Stone Cold Dead’, ‘Golden Secret.’ The Adventures of Fu Manchu 1952, He appeared in Gang Busters– as Slim Maw – ‘The Old Trapper’ ‘1952, Lights Out -episodes “The Half-Pint Flask, ‘The Meddlers’ ‘ The Lonely Albatross.’ He played the recurring role of kooky neighbor Mr. Corday on CBSs My Friend Irma 1953. Suspense 1953 episode ‘Come into my Parlor.’ Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok as Sir Rodney Brentwood in the episode ‘The Gorilla of Owl Hoot Mesa’ 1954. Climax! the 1955 anthology series- 3 episodes as Colonel Archer- John Evan and The Duke in ‘The First and the Last’, ‘The Adventures of Huck Finn’, and ‘The Hanging Judge.’ 1955-56. In that same year, he made an appearance on the television western saga Gunsmoke 1955. Front Row Center, My Friend Flicka, and Damon Runyon Theater 1956.

Studio 57 as Uncle John 1956 ‘The Rarest Stamp’ in 1956, starring Angela Landsbury.

Above two images: Television series Climax! LOS ANGELES – APRIL 28: John Carradine as John Evan in the CLIMAX! the episode, “The First and the Last.” Image dated April 28, 1955. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)

Trying to make a reasonable living and support his sons, he guested on ten network TV shows including Studio One’s 1957 episode ‘Please Report Any Odd Characters.’

Love & Carradine On CBS
American theater and film actress Phyllis Love speaks as film actor John Carradine (1906 – 1988) listens and they sit beside a leather suitcase during the episode ‘Please Report Any Odd Characters’ of the CBS anthology series ‘Studio One,’ November 11, 1957. (Photo by CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images)

Television offered a variety of sci-fi/ horror and fantasy series. Carradine did his part to contribute to the genre on the small screen. Not only did he appear on NBCs Lights Out, but he also appeared on CBSs The Web, and an NBC pilot The Adventures of Fu Manchu In 1951. While Sonia was on Broadway in the long-running The Rose Tattoo Carradine, played stock productions cast in Dr. Faustus as Mephistopheles also appearing in Tobacco Road and including Summerstock in The Heiress playing the tyrannical Dr. Sloper. Basil Rathbone won a Tony in 1948 for that same role.

More television for Carradine:

Playhouse 90 – ‘Felix the Great 1957’, ‘Snowshoes: A Comedy of People and Horses.’ Cheyenne as Delos Gerrard ‘Decision at Gunsight 1957, Schlitz Playhouse ‘Switch Station’ 1957. The O. Henry Playhouse – Doc Milliken ‘Two Renegades’ ‘A Madison Square Arabian Night.’ The DuPont Show of the Month 1957 – as John Canty ‘The Prince and The Pauper’, Studio One 1957 Mr. Wadleigh ‘Please Report any Odd Characters’. Matinee Theatre ‘Dracula’- Jaffrey Pyncheon ‘The Baron and the Banshees’, ‘The House of the Seven Gables’ ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’, ‘Dracula’, ‘Daniel Webster and the Sea Serpent.’ Telephone Time -as Charlie Brown, Kurt Wolfgang Muller ’Novel Appeal.’ Suspicion – as Raphael 1958 in ‘A Touch of Evil.’ The Lineup 1958 – as Deacon Whitehall ‘The Deacon Whitehall Case’, Have Gun- Will Travel 1958 – as Father Bartolome in ‘The Statue of San Sebastian.’, 77 Sunset Strip 1958– as Roderick Delaquois in ‘All Our Yesterdays 1958.’ Bat Masterson 1959 – as Sheriff Vince Morgan ‘The Tumbleweed Wagon.’ Wanted: Dead or Alive 1960, Tombstone Territory 1959, Wagon Train 2 episodes, Death Valley Days 1961, Maverick 1961 as Judge Reese ‘Red Dog’, The Legend of Jesse James, Laredo 1966.

The Rifleman ‘The Mind Reader’ 1959 with Chuck Connors.

1957, Carradine attends a Hollywood party in L.A.

On the lighter side of things, Carradine appeared in the Bob Hope romantic comedy Casanova’s Big Night 1953 playing a court dandy. But, his relationship with Sonia Sorel turned tumultuous.

1954 was promising when he played Jeeter Lester in a revival of Tobacco Road which opened at the Civic Playhouse in L.A. directed by Carradine himself.

Joan Crawford as Vienna grasps a dying Carradine as Old Tom in Nicholas Ray’s Johnny Guitar 1954.

Carradine as the Grave Robber in director Michael Curtiz’s The Egyptian 1954 starring Jean Simmons, Gene Tierney, Victor Mature Michael Wilding, and Peter Ustinov.

from The Kentuckian 1955 starring Burt Lancaster.

Carradine and Sonia Sorel at a Hollywood party in 1954.

Also in 1954, he appeared in the films, Johnny Guitar -as Old Tom, Joan Crawford’s loyal hand, and The Egyptian as the Grave Robber. In 1955, he appeared in two more westerns, Stranger on Horseback and The Kentuckian directed by Burt Lancaster where he was cast as Zilby Fletcher. Carradine kept busy in films like United Artists’ Desert Sands in the role of Jala. He also appeared in The Court Jester as Giacomo.

It was the mid-fifties, and in 1955 he returned to Broadway at the New York City Center in 15 performances of Saroyan’s The Time of Your Life. He played Kit Carson, the old eccentric who loves to regale his audience at the tavern with his tales of the old west.

1956 was a busy year for the actor as he donned a full biblical beard appearing as Aaron in DeMille’s The Ten Commandments.

Above two images: from The Ten Commandments.

He was cast as Gideon in Dark Venture in 1956, where he plays a crazy man wearing animal furs as the self-appointed watcher of the Elephant burial grounds. Carradine was also cast in another oater with actor Bruce Bennett who had his run of noir and several horror films (Before I Hang 1940, The Alligator People 1959) – in Hidden Guns 1956.

Carradine was considered for the role of Judge Whiteside in Giant (1956).

He also had a cameo in Michael Todd’s extravaganza Around the World in 80s Days which won the Oscar for Best Picture in 1956.

Carradine in Around the World in 80 Days 1956 with Cantinflas and Buster Keaton.

But it was back to the horrible screen with his horror brethren in The Black Sleep starring Basil Rathbone, Akim Tamiroff, Lon Chaney, Bela Lugosi, and Tor Johnson.

“Fans who think that Carradine lowered himself by appearing as Toby in Voodoo Man or Borg in The Black Sleep will be surprised to find that those mad, tattered characters were models of fashion and decorum compared to Dark Venture’s Gideon.” – Mank

Directed by Reginald LeBorg The Black Sleep was released in 1956. From Kinematograph Weekly – “The cast, which includes many specialists in Grand Guignol, really gets to work on the grisly malarkey and except for an unintentional near slapstick climax, invests it with plausibility… Seldom, if ever, has the X certificate been so richly earned.”

Basil Rathbone is Sir Joel Cadman a nineteenth-century English doctor looking for a cure for his wife who lies comatose, paralyzed by a brain tumor. Cadman performs unspeakable experiments on human guinea pigs. When the surgery leaves the poor subject’s brain damaged he hides them in a subterranean dungeon. Carradine was cast as the crazed crusader with long white hair and a beard in tattered rags named Bohemond. He is one of the failed experiments who dwells in the dark dank prison along with Sally Yarnell with large patches of hair on her body, and Tor Johnson mindless giant with white eyeballs.

Carradine is the poor soul’s self-appointed leader, carrying a primitive staff reciting lines like, “What is the news from the Holy Land? Has Jerusalem fallen to us yet- or doth the ole Saracen still defile her streets with his presence?” And “Kill! Kill! Kill! For the glory of God!; Now is the time! Rise up! Murder our torturers!”

There were many television roles in 1956 including an NBC Matinee Theatre production of Dracula. He also stopped by many times at The Red Skelton Show. The glowing reviews – declared he stole the show from Skelton.

In 1956 AIP would begin spreading their campy exploitation treasures in the movie theaters. One such psycho-sexual thriller was Female Jungle directed by actor Bruno Ve Sota and starred the bad boy of film Lawrence Tierney and blonde bombshell Jayne Mansfield.

Lawrence Tierney interrogates John Carradine in Female Jungle.

Tierney plays Sgt. Stevens who comes out of a drunken binge to find movie star Jean Lewis has been murdered. Stevens isn’t sure whether he killed her and left her dead body in the dark streets of Hollywood, while he was in an alcoholic fog. Carradine plays Hollywood gossip columnist Claude Almstead an urbane gentleman, silver-haired wearing black-framed glasses, a tuxedo, ascot, and gloves who comes under suspicion.

In 1957

The Story of Mankind – Vincent Price as Mr. Scratch / The Devil and Carradine as Pharaoh Khufu 1957.

He appeared in a few supporting roles in films such as Fox’s The True Story of Jesse James forsaking his Bob Ford to play a preacher who baptizes Jesse and Republic’s Hell Ship Mutiny and Irwin Allen’s The Story of Mankind with an all-star cast, Carradine plays Khufu.

Carradine’s, ‘dirty little coward’ Bob Ford in the remake of Jesse James now playing a man of God in the 1957 reboot –  The True Story of Jesse James.

In 1957 he appeared in The True Story of Jesse James directed by Nicholas Ray. The film had a great cast – Robert Wagner as Jesse James, Hope Lange, Agnes Moorehead, and Jeffrey Hunter. Carradine gets to ham it up as Rev. Bailey whom they fetch to pray over the ailing Agnes Moorehead, Frank, and Jesse’s mother.

There was too, low-budget horror fare like The Incredible Petrified World cast as Dr. Millard Wyman, and the US filmed scenes for the analgesic Japanese production directed by Inoshiro Honda – Half Human 1958 playing a scientist devoid of his signature laying it on thick, it lies bland on the palate, it’s the story of a missing link hiding in the snowy mountains of northern Japan.

Republic gave us Carradine as another mad doctor looking for immortality in The Unearthly 1957.

The Unearthly (1957) “Here’s to youth, here’s to eternity” John Carradine the ubiquitous actor

Above – One of the many rejects from Carradine’s experiments that are hidden away, in imitation of Reginald LeBorg’s  The Black Sleep 1956.

A guilty pleasure of 1957’s The Unearthly stars Carradine who gets to play one of his best mad scientists, with tongue-in-cheek, Dr. Charles Conway experiments on his victims in his secluded Georgian mansion. The mansion operates under the cover of a sanitarium for neurotics.

After Carradine was recruited to play the mortifying wild man in the similar The Black Sleep here he merely utters the words, “Kill, Kill!” Dr. Conway was a much more colorful role for the actor.

Conway operates on his unsuspecting victims aided by his loyal researcher Dr. Sharon Gilchrist (Marilyn Buferd). He conducts surgery to implant a seventeenth gland an ‘artificial’ gland that will put an end to the aging process and give rise to eternal life.

Another unethical doctor Loren Wright (Roy Gordon) steers other patients’ Carradine’s way and ultimately brings him Allison Hayes as Grace Thomas who just suffered a nervous breakdown. When Dr. Sharon Gilchrist takes Grace to her room, Wright tells her that he’ll send for her things from her father. Conway becomes furious, their agreement was no patients with families. But Wright assures him that he’ll set it up to look like Grace Thomas committed suicide after he throws her coat and purse into the river.

Queen B’s of 1950s Science Fiction & Horror 🎃

Conway and Wright drink a toast Wright – “To youth.” Conway- “to immortality.”

There is also a patient who sits rigor mortis-like, a stone statue strapped to a chair in the basement, his eyes staring emotionless. Jedrow suffers from Thalamic paralysis, damaged by internal radiation burns from Conway’s experimentation, not to mention all the other of Conway’s worst mistakes who are caged up like hideous monsters created with the help of makeup artist Harry Thomas.

Unwittingly Allison Hayes, Arthur Batanides a volatile drug addict, and Sally Todd as Natalie an archetypal bimbo who reads romance novels and wears low-cut blouses are at the mercy of Dr. Conway’s profane research.

Carradine smitten with Allison Hayes promises to alleviate her fear-based malaise. This would be the only instance Allison Hayes played a more passive horror heroine. It’s not a seamless role seeing her move around on screen languid from depression. It’s a long way from wreaking havoc at 50ft tall.

Martha Vickers plays victim to the mad scientist Carradine in Captive Wild Woman.

Like Martha Vickers and Evelyn Ankers in Captive Wild Woman who is under Carradine’s care, sex symbol Allison Hayes depends on Dr. Conway for help.

The behemoth Lobo overpowers a leather jacket-wearing armed prowler (Myron Healy) and brings him to Dr. Conway. Using the alias Mark Houston he pretends to be a wayward hitchhiker, who bares a star tattoo on his hand. Conway recognizes him as the escaped killer Frank Scott. Conway offers him sanctuary if he helps him with his experiments. Otherwise, he’ll turn him in to the police. In actuality, Mark Houston/Frank Scott is an undercover cop.

He tells him about his immortality gland and promises that he can grant him, a healthier specimen, the same burnt offering of ever-lasting life.

Dr. Conway- “Think of it! to be always exactly as you are now! To see the pages of life go by while you are eternally young and vigorous! Suppose you could wake up every morning and see your face untouched by time!”

“ My servant Lobo came here a puny, broken man. Now he possesses the strength of a Hercules.” Lobo is struck silly with love by Sally Tood as his hulking mass twitters at her, “Pur-ty gi-rl… pur-ty gi-rl…”

In its theatrical release, if you were a kid in the movie theater, you’d not only be thrilled by the finale in the basement – but you would have had the privilege of seeing Tor Johnson in the movie theater as a gimmick, tromping up and down the isles holding a flashlight under his face to illuminate the caricature of his formidable grotesque mug.

Hero Myron – “And the brain of a chicken.” Dr. Conway in Carradine’s signature droll tone – “Unfortunate!”

Marilyn Buferd drugs Sally Todd’s coffee then Conway implants the artificial gland in her neck. Throughout the house, the guests can hear the radiological equipment spark and whir, drawing Myron Healy’s attention who tries to warn Allison Hayes about Conway’s suspicious activities. But she refuses to believe him. Not only that, but Buferd is jealous of Hayes and wants her to be Conway’s next subject.

Eventually, Hayes and Myron Healey discover that Conway has been using his patients as guinea pigs and poor Sally Todd has been transformed into a poor disfigured soul. With the help of Batanides, they thwart Conway’s nefarious scheme, and he is killed by one of his awful experiments with Marilyn Buferd and hauled off to prison.

As a full-blown mad doctor, Carradine is more seasoned with silver temples, and goes off the deep end with megalomaniacal tirades:

In science, there’s always been some necessary sacrifices.”

“They’ve always called the greatest scientist crazy…! played to the hilt with quotable dialogue aimed at titillating the youth audience.

“I am a scientist! Thinking is my business!; I need nothing that I do not wish to need.” “I’m holding a new civilization in my hand!” He calls his patients “rungs in the ladder I have to climb!”

In one campy scene, Carradine plays it for a bit of whimsy when he enters the dining room and tells his patients that “this is one of those rare times when I’m in the mood for music” sitting down at the organ, he begins filling the room with melodious wind – ‘Bach’s Toccata and Fugue.’ He relishes his music with delicious verve.


In the end, he is killed by Jedrow whom he ordered to be buried alive. “No, you’re dead! I know you’re dead. I had you buried!”

Review from The Astounding B Monster 1998- “Damn near everything is wrong with this turkey, but one sympathizes with Carradine’s overtly theatrical attempts to hold the whole raged production together through sheer force of ham.”

“ I did those pictures so I could raise a family… I’ve turned down some of those films, too. In one of them, I was supposed to go to the producer’s office to meet the director and sign the contract. I read the first three pages of the script, which he’d sent me, and it was awful crap. I called the producer up, by virtue of having four Scotches and Mickey Rooney. I said “I’m not going to be in your office at three o’clock I’m not going to meet the director. I’m not going to do the picture,” he said “Good God, why not?” I’ve learned that I cannot read lines and commit at the same time.”

It’s 1958

According to Jim Beaver’s career article on Carradine for the October 1979 issue of “Films in Review”, writer Tennessee Williams wrote the role of Big Daddy in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” with Carradine in mind, although other commitments kept him out of the Broadway production in favor of Burl Ives.

Not just B horror films, you would have noticed by now that Carradine also appeared in a slew of horse operas, cast in director Michael Curtiz’s The Proud Rebel credited as a traveling salesman and playing Doc Weber in Showdown at Boot Hill 1958. In Boot Hill, he delivers a very offbeat dialogue with satirical finesse a style he had perfected. Weber walks with a limp, doing everything from barbering to building coffins.

With Charles Bronson in the low-budget western Showdown at Boot Hill 1958.

Carradine was back working with director John Ford cast in The Last Hurrah working with Spencer Tracy again, he was cast as Amos Force. Tracy plays Frank Skeffington the mayor of a New England city who is now running for the last time. Carradine plays a racist publisher of the Morning News.

Tracy jokes about the nasty old man “I’ve never been certain why he quit the Ku Klux Klan, although I always suspected that it was because he had to buy his own sheets. Little things like that, you know, drive a man to tolerance!”

In John Ford’s The Last Hurrah 1958, Amos Force (Carradine ) walks back and forth in his office like a caged animal working off his fretful determination to denounce Tracy as the candidate for mayor seeking re-election. He tosses out ideas to his editor on ways he can undermine Tracy’s run for office using his newspaper as a weapon.

His grandmother was once a servant of Amos Force’s father, who was humiliated when she tried to take a piece of overripe fruit for her starving family. She died a poor immigrant. This is the stuff Carradine’s character is built on, and this bitter, contemptible man has not forgotten her ‘crime’ or that her son became the city’s mayor. Rubbish Horror film cohort Basil Rathbone another faithful anti-catholic bigot appears in later scenes arguing and conspiring with Carradine because he also despises Tracy and the Irish American community that follows him.

From Tag Gallagher in -John Ford: The Man and His Films –

“One person Ford never could intimidate was John Carradine. The actor was terribly absent-minded and was forever messing things up. Few things made Ford more furious; over and over he would fly into a rage, and go on and on calling Carradine a god-damned stupid s.o.b. and every name he could think of. It did no good. Carradine would watch him with an indulgent smile and when Ford had finished would come over, pat him on the shoulder and say, “You’re okay John.” And walk away. And Ford would be almost, sputtering because there was no way he could get under Carradine’s skin.”

CARRADINE – “Ford is a very peculiar man. He doesn’t like actors- particularly not stage actors. I, of course, was of the latter breed. I was not given to making myself a piece of clay for him to carve as he saw fit. In any characterization, he presumed that the actor could not do it on his own. He told us exactly what to do.

In 1959 and 1960 he played in films ranging from Allied Artists’ The Cosmic Man to MGM’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. And Albert Zugsmith’s Sex Kittens Go to College with ex-stripper Mamie Van Doren. Carradine plays a lecherous professor while dancing with Van Doren he exclaims; “My, what a lovely pair of patellas you have there, my dear!”

He appeared in The Incredible Petrified World in 1959 directed by Jerry Warren- according to co-actor Robert Clarke:

“What I remember best about Carradine is how strong his concentration was. Carradine was in the scenes we shot here in L.A., and I remember one night, in front of a garage, he had to do a long speech, almost a soliloquy explaining some plot point. And he was so into that -right out there, practically in the street, without any setting of any kind or any actor to work with. He was just a marvelous actor.”

Director Jerry Warren told Tom Weaver: “John Carradine is a grand old man. The first picture that I used Carradine in was The Incredible Petrified World. When I found I could get John, I spent the whole night expanding his part, because at that point his role was not a lead, it was just one of the scientists. The possibility of getting Carradine came about very suddenly, so I spent all night building up what I was going to shoot with him in the next few days. I wrote all kinds of crazy jargon to explain why a cable snapped and a diving bell was lost. I concocted dialogue where he explains what happened – it was immensely long and complicated, and made no sense at all – just because I was going to have Carradine!…

The funny thing is, when I was done I said to myself, ‘I hope he can learn this!’ Because the whole thing was full of ridiculous phraseology that made no sense, and it was long and drawn out. I was thinking, ’nobody can remember all this stuff, but I gotta try. “The first take, he does it word for word, absolutely perfect! Then when he gets behind the camera and I get the reverse on the guy that he’s talking to, he does it again, off-camera, and doesn’t even look at the script! The guy has a photographic memory, and he is absolutely amazing. That was my first experience with him; he is such a marvelous actor that you can count on him for anything.”

A glowing sphere carrying the Cosmic Man lands in the desolate Stone Canyon (filmed at Bronson Cavern a familiar location used in other low-budget sci-fi films). Carradine appears in negative and stalks the countryside, eventually making himself appear human and renting a room from Angela Greene and befriending her little boy. The premise is a cheap and dreary version of The Day the Earth Stood Still. The actor’s visage is chalky white and ghostly when he’s not wearing his thick glasses, hat, and overcoat.

In an obscure sci-fi film that is a particular favorite of mine, Carradine appeared in Invisible Invaders 1959 for United Arstis, directed by Edward L. Cahn who really knew how to structure a compelling low-budget horror/sci-fi feature.

Carradine moves along the screen as a dead man, the reanimated scientist Karol Noyman who is inhabited by an invisible alien force that has resurrected him from the grave.

The spiritless Carradine confronts Dr. Penner with the threat of annihilation if the earth doesn’t surrender. When the warnings are ignored, the dead rise up, in a scene that might have inspired Romero’s chalk white-faced zombies in Night of the Living Dead. Jean Byron, Robert Hutton, and John Agar hold up in a bunker hunted by the walking dead. Carradine’s acting panache doesn’t come to the fore merely used as his breathless figure on the screen to deliver the nefarious message. The most time he has in the picture is the more sustained scene where he shows up at Dr. Penner’s (Philip Tonge) house giving him the alien’s demands.

“The gaunt actor is atmospherically lit” Carradine ultimately becomes the disembodied thundering voice of the invader.

Obscure Scream Gem: Invisible Invaders (1959) “The Dead Will Kill The Living…And The People Of Earth Will Cease To Exist”

Also in 1959, he paid another visit to television again along with the sci-fi anthology series Lights Out, Studio 57, and the mystery/crime series Suspicion, he also showed up in western series such as Bat Masterson, Johnny Ringo, and the first episode of The Rebel, an ABC Western series starring Nick Adams.

*The Prisoner of Shark Island -Sgt Rankin 1936

*Winterset- Bartolomio Romagna 1936

*Captains Courageous -Long Jack 1937

Jesse James -Bob Ford 1939

*Mr. Moto’s Last Warning -Danforth 1939

*Stagecoach -Hatfield 1939

*Five Came Back -Crimp 1939

*Swamp Water- Jesse Wick 1941

*Island of Forgotten Sins- Mike 1943

*Waterfront 1944

*Fallen Angel-Prof Madley 1945

*The Private Affairs of Bel Ami – Charles Forestier 1947

*C-Man -Doc Spencer 1949

*Johnny Guitar – Old Tom 1954

*Female Jungle -Claude Almstead 1955

*The Last Hurrah – Amos Force 1958


*The Invisible Man -sightings! 1933

*The Bride of Frankenstein – Lost Hunter at Hermit’s cottage 1935

*The Hound of the Baskervilles – Barryman 1939

*Captive Wild Woman -Dr. Sigmund Walters 1943

Revenge of the Zombies -Dr Max Heinrich Von Altermann 1943

*Voodoo Man – Toby 1944

*The Mummy’s Ghost -Yousef Bey 1944

*Return of the Ape Man -Prof. John Gilmore 1944

*House of Frankenstein -Dracula Baron Latos 1944

*House of Dracula – Dracula Baron Latos 1945

*The Face of Marble – Dr. Charles Randolph 1946

*The Black Sleep -Borg aka Bohemond 1956

*The Unearthly Dr. Charles Conway 1957

*The Cosmic Man -The cosmic man 1959

*Invisible Invaders – Dr. Karol Norman 1959

This is your everlovin’ Joey sayin’ let’s keep giving ol’ blue eyes some love…

The 1960s and beyond… Continued in Part 2!

4 thoughts on “John Carradine-I am a ham! Part 1

  1. It’s hard to think of an actor with more versatility.

    I didn’t realize he had quite the, uh, lively life off screen. It sure didn’t seem to affect his craft.

  2. Thanks so much for this thorough and entertaining examination of a one-of-a-kind actor! In a way it’s heart-breaking that he got into the mode of taking everything in sight to support his family and the elusive dream of his own theater company. Yet along the way he entertained in so many ways, through so many means – plays, movies, TV – building a resume that will never be equaled. I love that bittersweet, yet very funny, very John Carradine quote concerning turning down Frankenstein: “Bennie Lee McGowan remarked ‘It would’ve been a shame for that wonderful voice to have been wasted.’ Carradine squinted one eyebrow as he was apt to do and smiled a broad tired smile, ‘My dear,’ he said, ‘it has been wasted a lot.’ Great stuff!

    1. Brian! Thank you so much for inviting me to participate in this fantastic blogathon. I had a such great time delving into his life on and off screen. He is truly a fascinating character and there’s definitely a reason that so many of us have been drawn to him… Cheers, Joey

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