Thursday, October 23, 2014

Spotlight on Boris Karloff!

1931: A Star is Born. The movie: Frankenstein.

Born William Henry Pratt, the renamed Boris Karloff
had been acting in small parts since the silent era.

Here's Boris taking in the sights in one of his sixteen (!) movies in 1931 alone, Five Star Final.

Boris ran with his Frankenstein stardom. Here he plays Fu Manchu for MGM in 1932.

This picture gives me the chills. Seriously. Boris as Imhotep in The Mummy (1932).

When Universal first paired Boris with Bela Lugosi, in 1934's The Black Cat,
Karloff was the villain and Lugosi the hero. Eventually they worked together
in eight movies! Because I think they're both amazing, here are their other
seven times together on screen:

Universal next put them in one of their rather strange all-star sketch
pictures, The Gift of Gab (1934). I've never seen it, dammit.

Plastic surgeon and all around nutter Bela gives Boris
a face only a mother could love in The Raven (1935).

Bela's back to being the hero and Boris the villain - a
crazed  radioactive killer in The Invisible Ray (1936).

Their next teaming was 1939's Son of Frankenstein.
Karloff is back playing the Monster for the last time
in a feature film,and Bela gets his finest post-Dracula
role as the sly and villainous Ygor.

Their next Universal picture was Black Friday (1940)
but Boris and Bela share no scenes in the picture, so
here's a publicity photo from the film instead.
It was their last Universal movie together.

Over at RKO they were joined by Peter Lorre for the musical comedy thriller
You'll Find Out (1940) with bandleader Kay Kyser and his Kollege of Musical
Knowledge. This is also Boris's only starring role with Ish Kabibble.

Their final teaming was for The Body Snatcher (1945).
Boris starred, Bela 's character was added to get him
into a movie with Karloff one last time.

Since in the 1940's Hollywood still hadn't figured
out that Asians might be best suited to play
Asian detectives, here's Boris as Mr. Wong

After three times in the Monster's boots, Boris returned to the Frankenstein series
for the sixth entry, House of Frankenstein (1944), but this time he took the easier
job - the mad scientist. Glenn Strange takes over as The Big Guy.

Boris got to appear on Broadway too, in Arsenic and Old Lace,
where his character murders everyone who says he looks like
Boris Karloff, and in Peter Pan, as Captain Hook, as seen here.

By the 1950's Boris was still hard at work, and as this shot
shows, more often as dapper villains than monsters.

He wasn't adverse to working on television either, serving as the host
of the great show Thriller (out on DVD), and the little seen series
The Veil, pictured here, (also on DVD, though a little harder to find.)

The Raven (1963) teamed Boris with Vincent Price and Peter Lorre. It also took the novel
approach of being a spoof, showing Poe's renowned humorous side.

Due to Roger Corman's speed as a filmmaker and Boris's professionalism,
they wrapped ahead of schedule on a couple of pictures. With Boris contracted
for another couple of days of work, the amazing Corman got some script pages
thrown together, then commandeered some sets about to be torn down, shot the
two days with Boris, and  months later had others finish shooting the rest of
the movie with the other actors. Surprisingly, it's not bad for being cobbled
together in this fashion. It's The Terror (1963), and here's Boris in it, with
a young Jack Nicholson!

As the 1960's wore on, despite increasingly fragile health, the tireless Karloff became the elder statesman
of horror films, as seen here in a very atmospheric shot from Die Monster Die! (1965)

Boris did more television too, appearing here with Vincent Price on Red Skelton's show.

Boris pops up in a couple of cameos in the American International "Beach" movies.
This one is Ghost in the Invisible Bikini (1966).

In addition Boris won a Grammy award for his narration of the
classic television special How the Grinch Stole Christmas when it
was released as an album in 1966.

Boris made Targets with first time director Peter Bogdanovich in 1968. This was
another movie made because Karloff owed Roger Corman a couple of days'
shooting. Corman told Bogdanovich he could have Boris for two days and
had to use footage from The Terror - and from these edicts Bogdanovich
somehow made a gem of a movie, a thriller that would have been the
perfect valedictory for Boris' long, wonderful career.

However, Boris shot scenes for four Mexican horror movies in
California in 1968, just months before he passed away at the age
of 81. The films (The Fear Chamber, The Sinister Invasion, House
of Terror, and The Snake People) were completed in Mexico and
released posthumously, the last more than two years after his passing
in 1971. No, they're not very good, and they ended up with more
R rated material in them than I think he would have been
comfortable with, but they are Boris Karloff movies and
are worth watching, just to see him.

Dedicated to Boris Karloff.

You should watch some Boris Karloff this Halloween season - he'd be happy to know he gave you some entertainment and scares!

Until next post, you Can Poke Me With A Fork, Cause I Am Outta Here!


  1. Absolutely love this man. What a wonderful tribute to him!

  2. Definitely one of my favourite actors, a brilliant post and amazing tribute.

  3. William Henry Pratt lived a full life and his eyes were my favorite feature.

    1. He did well scaring us over the years. I like his eyes too!

  4. Love this. Excellent selection of shots and commentary.