Heroines & Scream Queens of Classic Horror: the 1940s! A Halloween treat!

Evelyn Ankers
promo shot for The Wolf Man- Evelyn Ankers

THE WOMEN OF CLASSIC HORROR: THE 1940S!

You could say that Evelyn Ankers is still the reigning queen of classical 1940s horror fare turned out by studios like RKO, Universal and Monogram. But there were a host of femme screamtales that populated the silver screen with their unique beauty, quirky style and/or set of lungs ready to wail, faint or generally add some great tone and tinge to the eerie atmosphere when ever the mad scientist or monster was afoot. Some were even monstrous themselves…

For this upcoming Halloween I thought I’d show just a little love to those fabulous ladies who forged a little niche for themselves as the earliest scream queens & screen icons.

ELSA LANCHESTER 1902-1986

I’m including Elsa Lanchester because any time I can talk about this deliriously delightful actress I’m gonna do it. Now I know she was the screaming hissing undead bride in the 30s but consider this… in the 40s she co-starred in two seminal thrillers that bordered on shear horror as Mrs Oates in The Spiral Staircase 1945 and a favorite of mine as one of Ida Lupino’s batty sisters Emily Creed in Ladies in Retirement 1941

I plan on venturing back to the pre-code thirties soon, so I’ll talk about The Bride of Frankenstein, as well as Gloria Holden (Dracula’s Daughter, Frances Dade (Dracula) and Kathleen Burke (Island of Lost Souls) Gloria Stuart and Fay Wray and so many more wonderful actresses of that golden era…

Elsa Lanchester in The Spiral Staircase
Elsa Lanchester as Mrs.Oates in director Robert Siodmak’s The Spiral Staircase 1945
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The Sisters Creed in Ladies in Retirement 1941 starring Elsa Lanchester, Ida Lupino and the wonderful Edith Barrett (right)

ANNE NAGEL  1915-1956

Anne Nagel
the playfully pretty Anne Nagel
Anne Nagel & Lon Chaney Man Made Monster Promo photo
Anne Nagel & Lon Chaney Jr in a promo shot for Man Made Monster
Anne Nagel, Lon Chaney & Lionel Atwill Man Made Monster
Anne Nagel strapped to the slab and at the mercy of the ever mad Lionel Atwill. Here comes the glowing Lon Chaney Jr! in his electric rubber suit in Man Made Monster!

The depraved mad scientist Lionel Atwill working with electro biology pins gorgeous red headed Anne Nagel playing June Lawrence, to his operating slab in Man Made Monster 1941. Lon Chaney Jr. comes hulking in all aglow as the ‘Electrical Man’ which was his debut for Universal. He carries Anne Nagel through the countryside all lit up like a lightning bug in rubber armor. Man Made Monster isn’t the only horror shocker that she displayed her tresses & distresses. She also played a night club singer named Sunny Rogers also co-starring our other 40’s horror heroine icon Anne Gwynne in the Karloff/Lugosi pairing Black Friday in 1940.

She played the weeping Mrs.William Saunders, the wife of Lionel Atwill’s first victim in Mad Doctor of Market Street 1942. And then of course she played mad scientist Dr Lorenzo Cameron (George Zucco’s) daughter Lenora in The Mad Monster 1942. Dr Cameron has succeeded with his serum in turning men into hairy wolf like neanderthal monsters whom he unleashes on the men who ruined his career.

Anne Nagel and Lionel Atwill Mad Doctor of Market Street
Anne Nagel and Lionel Atwill Mad Doctor of Market Street

Poor Anne had a very tragic life… Considered that sad girl who was always hysterical. Once Universal dropped her she fell into the Poverty Row limbo of bit parts. Her brief marriage to Ross Alexander ended when he shot himself in the barn in 1937, and Anne became a quiet alcoholic until her death from cancer in 1966

Anne Nagel Lon Chaney Lobby Card

Lon Chaney Jr and Anne Nagel Man Made Monster

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Dr Cameron’s daughter Lenora (Anne Nagel) discovers the wolf-like man in his laboratory in The Mad Monster
Hairy beast The Mad Monster
Glenn Strange as Petro the Hairy man in The Mad Monster 1942

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the sultry Anne Nagel and Bela Lugosi in Black Friday 1940 photo courtesy Dr Macro

MARTHA VICKERS- 1925-1971

Martha Vickers
the beauty of Martha Vickers

Martha was in noir favorites The Big Sleep 1946 & Alimony 1949. This beauty played an uncredited Margareta ‘Vazec’s Daughter’along side Ilona Massey as Baroness Elsa Frankenstein and the marvelous older beauty Maria Ouspenskaya as Maleva the gypsy! in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man 1943. Then she played heroine Dorothy Coleman in Captive Wild Woman 1943 and Miss McLean in The Mummy’s Ghost 1944.

Originally Martha MacVickar she started modeling for photographer William Mortenson.David O Selznick contracted the starlet but Universal took over and put in her bit parts as the victim in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man and in other ‘B’ guilty pleasures like Captive Wild Woman & The Mummy’s Ghost. She was also the pin-up girl for WWII magazines.

Martha also starred in other noir features such as Ruthless 1948 and The Big Bluff 1955. She was Mickey Rooney’s third wife.

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Martha Vickers and Humphrey Bogart in The Big Sleep photo courtesy of Dr Macro
Martha Vickers and Lon Chaney in Frankenstein Meets the wolf man
Martha Vickers and Lon Chaney in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man
Martha Vickers and John Carradine in Captive Wild Woman
Martha Vickers and John Carradine in Captive Wild Woman
Martha VIckers
I just can’t resist Vicker’s sex appeal here she is again… Wow!

FAY HELM  1909-2003

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Fay Helm as Nurse Strand with John Carradine in Captive Wild Woman

Fay Helm played Ann Terry in one of my favorite unsung noir/thriller gems Phantom Lady 1944 where it was all about the ‘hat’ and she co-starred as Nurse Strand along side John Carradine in Captive Wild Woman. Fay played Mrs. Duval in the Inner Sanctum mystery Calling Dr. Death with Lon Chaney Jr. 1943

Ella Raines and Fay Helm in Phantom Lady
Ella Raines and Fay Helm in Phantom Lady

Fay Helm plays Jenny Williams in Curt Siodmak’s timeless story directed by George Waggner for Universal and starring son of a thousand faces Lon Chaney Jr in his most iconic role Larry Talbot as The Wolf Man 1941

Fay as Jenny Williams: “Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright.”

Fay was in Night Monster 1942. Directed by Ford Beebe the film starred Bela Lugosi as a butler to Lionel Atwill a pompous doctor who falls prey to frighting nocturnal visitations. I particularly love the atmosphere of this little chiller with it’s swampy surroundings and it’s metaphysical storyline.

Dr. Lynn Harper (Irene Hervey) a psychologist is called to the mysterious Ingston Mansion, to evaluate the sanity of Margaret Ingston, played by our horror heroine Fay Helm daughter of Kurt Ingston (Ralph Morgan) a recluse who invites the doctors to his eerie mansion who left him in a wheelchair.

Fay gives a terrific performance surrounded by all the ghoulish goings on! She went on to co-star with Bela Lugosi and Jack Haley in the screwball scary comedy One Body Too Many (1944)

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Night Monster
Fay Helm in Night Monster
Fay Helm with Bela the gypsy in The Wolf Man
Fay Helm with Bela the gypsy in The Wolf Man

LOUISE CURRIE 1913-2013

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Louise Currie and Bela Lugosi in The Ape Man

Ape Man Bela and Louise Currie

Ape Man and Louise stairs

Bela Lugosi as half ape half man, really needed a shave badly in The Ape Man 1943, and Louise Currie and her wonder whip might have been the gorgeous blonde dish to make him go for the Barbasol. One of the most delicious parts of the film was it’s racy climax as Emil Van Horn in a spectacle of a gorilla suit rankles the cage bars longing for Currie’s character, Billie Mason the tall blonde beauty. As Bela skulks around the laboratory and Currie snaps her whip in those high heels. The film’s heroine was a classy dame referred to as Monogram’s own Katharine Hepburn! She had a great affection for fellow actor Bela Lugosi and said that she enjoyed making Poverty Row films more than her bit part in Citizen Kane! And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that she appeared in several serials, from both Universal & Republic like The Green Hornet and Captain Marvel.

Tom Weaver in his book Poverty Row HORRORS! described The Ape Man as “a Golden Turkey of the most beloved kind.”

Louise Currie followed up with another sensational title for Monogram as Stella Saunders in Voodoo Man 1944 which again features Lugosi as Dr. Richard Marlowe who blends voodoo with hypnosis in an attempt to bring back his dead wife. The film also co-stars George Zucco as a voodoo high priest and the ubiquitous John Carradine as Toby a bongo playing half-wit “Don’t hurt her Grego, she’s a pretty one!”

Voodoo Man
Pat McKee as Grego, Louise Currie, John Carradine and Bela Lugosi in Monogram’s Voodoo Man 1944
Voodoo Man
the outrageous Voodoo Man 1944

Continue reading “Heroines & Scream Queens of Classic Horror: the 1940s! A Halloween treat!”

Twelve Neglected Characters from Classic Film.

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1) The tragically poetic Pete Krumbein in Edmund Goulding’s Nightmare Alley 1947 played by Ian Keith
Franzi Kartos Caught 1949
2) The flamboyant Franzi Kartos in Caught 1949 portrayed by Curt Bois ‘darling’
Fred Foss- The Dark Corner 949
3) Stauffer, alias Fred Foss in The Dark Corner 1946-played by the wonderful William Bendix in the white linen suit…
Jan Sterling in Women's Prison -Brenda
4) Good hearted kite hanger, Brenda Martin in Women’s Prison 1955 – the eternal pixie Jan Sterling
Brute Force Jeff Corey Freshman Stack
5) Jeff Corey, as the cringing,cowardly informer ‘Freshman’ Stack in Brute Force 1947
Granny Tucker
6) Beulah Bondi as spiittin’ Granny Tucker in Jean Renoir’s The Southerner 1945 ‘Ah shuckity’
Ma Stone- Jane Darwell, The Devil & Daniel Webster
7) Ma Stone in William Dieterle The Devil and Daniel Webster 1941– the grand Jane Darwell
Wills and Jewel talk at tea-Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte
8) Cecil Kellaway as Harry Wills and Mary Astor as Jewel Mayhew in Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte 1964
Elisha Cook Jr. Jazz wild drummer Cliff-phantom ladyjpg
9) Cliff the jazz sexed drummer in Phantom Lady 1944– the ubiquitous Elisha Cook Jr.
(Ladies in Retirement)
10) Quirky sisters Louisa and Emily Creed in Ladies in Retirement 1941Edith Barrett & Elsa Lanchester

From The Vault: Ladies in Retirement (1941)

LADIES IN RETIREMENT (1941)

Directed by Charles Vidor  the man responsible for the eminent noir classic, Gilda 1946 and no relation to the more well know King Vidor. With a screenplay by Reginald Denham (The Mad Room 1969 a modern reworking of the same play, Suspense, Kraft Theater and Alfred Hitchock Presents)

The Mad Room 1969 a modern reworking of Denham’s Ladies in Retirement starring Shelley Winters and Stella Stevens.

Based on his play, and given a cast of intelligent performers like Ida Lupino, Elsa Lanchester, Isobel Elsom, Edith Barrett, Evelyn Keyes and Louis Hayward. 

The film is a suspenseful story with tremors of ethical dilemma, evocative of pity and encompassed by the moor like fog of madness and desperation.

Ida Lupino plays the reticent Ellen Creed, housekeeper to the colorful Leonora Fiske (Isobel Elsom) who has retired from the music hall stage. Ellen is the obsessive guardian of her two loosely screwed sisters Emily and Louisa portrayed deliciously vague sort of loony by Elsa Lanchester (Emily) and Edith Barrett (Louisa).

Ellen manipulates Leonora to allow her quirky siblings to come and visit, well aware that she has no intention of making it a temporary stay. Once Leonora realizes that the two are batty, she demands that they leave forcing Ellen to do the unthinkable, to not only murder her employer, but create a deceptive strategy that will allow the sisters to dwell in sanctuary at the cozy manor house by the moors.

Unfortunately, Ellen not only has the full time job of wrangling her nutty sisters, she becomes the target of her blackmailing nephew Albert Feather, played with a dash of charming malevolence by Louis Hayward. ( And Then There Were None 1945, Ruthless 1958, House By The River, Night Gallery: Certain Shadows on The Wall.)

The film is moody, macabre, theatrical, with a musty air of Gothic as Leonora’s remains lay hidden in the coal bin behind the bricks, near the grand piano where she once boisterously sang Tit -Willow from The Mikado

The atmosphere stays closed in, as all three sisters flit about exposing their disconnection to reality. Evelyn Keyes is Lucy the house maid who brings a bit of naivete to the atmosphere as she too falls prey to Albert the ‘charming rogue” who gets her to participate unwittingly in his ruthless scheme of blackmail.

A quiet and delicately creepy hybrid of the old dark house sub genre of horror, mixed with suspenseful psychological thriller as it whimsically touches on the subject of mental illness and the darker sides of human nature.
The brooding Lanchester and the chattering, guileless Barrett (I Walked With A Zombie, The Ghost Ship, Jane Eyre all 1943) are wonderful as the one who is intense and a compulsive collector, to the one who is as fay as an aged wood sprite, wide eyed and childlike.
In contrast to the flightiness of her two sisters, the tightly coiled Lupino is beautiful and menacing as she anguishes over the fate of the peculiar pair who act more like undisciplined children, and less the blatant lunatics.
It’s the subtle intrusions of reality that impinge on the character’s terminal state of fantasy,which brings out the self-centered, insulated psyches of the two sisters. This creates the environment of insanity, and while they cause the situation to ignite a criminal conspiracy because of their unchallenged instability they are essentially harmless ultimately exposing Ellen as the most dangerous and cunning in the family.

Albert charms his way into Leonora’s home and heart!

Louisa Creed: I hate the dark. It frightens me.
Sister Theresa: It shouldn’t, my dear. Don’t you believe we’re watched over?
Louisa Creed: Oh yes. But I’m never quite sure who’s watching us.

Ida Lupino on the set of Ladies in Retirement 1941

There are thousands of films as fabulous as this in my collection, this is just one of them!-MonsterGIrl