ROBERT FLOREY'S FRANKENSTEIN STARRING BELA LUGOSI by Philip J. Riley

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With the success of Dracula, starring Bela Lugosi, Universal Pictures was quick to capitalize on creating a new Lon Chaney in Bela Lugosi. Chaney had been the original choice to portray a duel role as both Dracula and Professor van Helsing, Dracula's adversary. Before production could begin, Chaney died, suddenly leaving Carl Laemmle Jr. without a star.

 

Laemmle Jr. had seen Dracula on the stage in New York City, although he could not recall if he had seen Lugosi or Raymond Huntley in the role of Count Dracula. However, Lugosi was performing in the touring company that happened to be in Los Angeles at that time. Was he the new Lon Chaney?

 

Lugosi was not Carl Jr.'s first choice for the role. However, he eventually won the part, and now they needed more ideas for him. Murders in the Rue Morgue, Cagliostro, The Invisible Man, and Frankenstein were top on the list.

 

One day in March 1931, Robert Florey, recently returned to Hollywood from Europe, was having lunch at the Musso and Frank Restaurant on Hollywood Boulevard. He was approached by an old acquaintance, Richard Schayer, head of Universal's story department. Schayer told him that his studio was looking for ideas for a new horror film to star Bela Lugosi and he knew Florey was involved with The Théâtre du Grand-Guignol de Paris, (a small theater, in an obscure alley in Paris that specialized in sadistic, shocking, explicit, violent melodramas and became known as the "Theater of Horrors." It opened in 1897 and closed in 1962.)

 

They both agreed on Frankenstein as the best choice. Schayer suggested that Florey would stand a better chance at being assigned the writer and director if he was to present the idea to Carl Laemmle Jr.We present now the script for Frankenstein as it would have been had Bela Lugosi starred and Robert Florey directed.

 

Anyone who cares about classic monster movies will find a treasure trove of information, rare photos, and meticulous detail in these books. They are obviously a labor of love.— Leonard Maltin

 

"Each page is filled with documented information that will change a few history books. The student of writing for the screen has an opportunity to see the development of screenplays under every possible condition."— Ray Bradbury, Author


            “The centerpiece of this pleasing script book (part of a series by historian Philip J. Riley) is the May 1931 Frankenstein screenplay by Robert Florey and Garrett Fort. Although commissioned by Universal, the script was never produced—reason enough for fans of golden age Hollywood be excited—and there’s more, too, for the screenplay provides context for a legendary piece of apparently lost film footage: the test reel of Bela Lugosi as Frankenstein’s Monster, shot on re-dressed Dracula sets by director Florey and cinematographer Paul Ivano.

                  “As recounted by Riley, Florey and Fort wrote the script assuming that Lugosi would play Henry Frankenstein. Later, Universal production chief Carl Laemmle Jr. tapped Bela for the Monster role. Hence, the test reel, with Lugosi in a role the public would not see him perform for another 12 years, in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man.

                  “The book assembles April-June 1931 clipping from The Hollywood Reporter, The Los Angeles Record, and other trade and consumer papers; these blurbs reveal the public course of the studio’s immediate post-Dracula plans for Lugosi, from Lugosi’s commitment to both Frankenstein and Murders in the Rue Morgue, to a brief account of the Monster makeup and the Florey test—and, finally, a snipped about Bela’s worry that he lacked the strength to perform the physically demanding Monster role.

                  “Florey shot the Lugosi test on June 16-17, 1931. Edward Van Sloan appeared as Dr. Waldman and Dwight Frye as Fritz (both men subsequently took those roles for director James Whale). Two Universal contract players whose names have been lost played Henry Frankenstein and Henry’s friend, Victor Moritz.

                  “Bela, in makeup designed by Jack Pierce, appears in just one portion of the test, and was given little to do: merely raise his arm and pull away a sheet to reveal his head and shoulders.

                  “Junior Laemmle loved the Expressionistic atmosphere created by Florey and Ivano but did not like the Pierce Monster design. That was a minor issue, and a fixable one. Why then was Bela not cast in Frankenstein? Historical accounts are all over the map: Lugosi disliked the Monster’s inarticulate nature, and didn’t care to be hidden beneath heavy makeup. Or, when Whale was handed Frankenstein and expressed his preference for Boris Karloff, Florey departed (for Rue Morgue) and Lugosi—though still attached to Frankenstein—simply went with him. Or, Bela was unable to see how he might turn the brute Monster of the script into something significant.

            “Business considerations also figure in all this. Film historian Gary Don Rhodes has noted that Lugosi was just one player in the running to succeed the late Lon Chaney as Hollywood’s preeminent horror man. (Rhodes’s research uncovered trade mentions of Wallace Beery and Edward G. Robinson as other candidates.) The important thing was that the horror cycle keep rolling, and with an exploitable actor. At least until Karloff became available, Universal may not have cared who played the Monster.

                  “Then there is the issue of the studio’s seeming inability to decide whether Frankenstein or Rue Morgue needed to be in theaters first. But however that worked out (in the end, Frankenstein saw release first), no single actor could topline both. That, plus Lugosi’s apparent preference for Rue Morgue, plausibly explains why he wasn’t cast in Frankenstein. Even without a Lugosi Frankenstein Universal could still capitalize on Lugosi’s Dracula notoriety because alternate work for Bela was available almost simultaneously.

            “As for the Florey-Fort ‘Lugosi’ script, it establishes the structure and many specific sequences of the later scenario (credited to Fort, Francis Edward Faragoh, and others—but not Florey!), with some vital differences. In the Lugosi screenplay, the ‘reveal’ of the Monster’s face is a dramatically inert throwaway, coming when the smug Frankenstein invites Waldman to peek beneath a sheet at the still-lifeless Monster. The ‘chalky white and expressionless’ (as described in stage directions) face is revealed in a quick-cut close-up.

                  “As envisioned in Florey-Fort, Elizabeth (eventually played by Mae Clarke) is clearly not in love with Henry, which naturally limits her concern for him when things go bad with the Monster. Further, the Monster never physically intrudes upon Elizabeth. She’s never in danger in Florey-Fort, a situation that denies the creature an opportunity to display its essential threat in any meaningful way.

                  “The hunchback Fritz (described in Florey-Fort as a misshapen dwarf) is a mute—something that Whale probably insisted be rectified because Dwight Frye (like Whale, a veteran of Broadway) was a splendid actor who keyed in well on dialog. Lacking speech, the Florey-Fort Fritz exists merely to help Henry ‘attach the electrodes!’ and later torment the Monster with fire. (In an inexplicable turn, Henry, too, bullies his creation with fire!)

                  “Fritz’s famed bollix of the good brain, which forces him to steal a bad brain, is not part of Florey-Fort. Instead, Fritz knows that only one brain, a bad one, is available to him.

                  “The Monster engenders almost no sympathy in the script. Two moments, the creature’s killing of Fritz and, later, of Waldman, proceed pretty much as they do in the finished film. But where Whale shaped the later lakeside sequence with little Maria into a moment of horror leavened with our pity for the pathetically ignorant Monster, Florey-Fort uses it only to establish the creature’s brutality: the sequence fades out as the Monster reaches for the child after she has shown him a flower. There are no happy tosses of petals, and no on-screen business at all with the water. The fade suggests, in fact, that the child will be raped. We surmise this because of an earlier sequence—absent altogether from Whale—in which the Monster intrudes on a young peasant couple surprised in the middle of lovemaking. Because stage directions take great care to establish squeaking bed springs and that the beautiful young wife is nude (the beauty’s ‘chemise is flung into camera, draping itself rakishly over foot of bed’), rape is strongly suggested.

            “The burning windmill of the Florey-Fort climax is familiar to us, but Henry Frankenstein dies there-and not at the hands of the Monster.

            “Appendices to the book include a June 1931 studio memo with proposed script changes (studio manager Henry Henigson asked for ‘comedy relief’), and Garrett Fort’s well-resonsed , point by point response. Fort’s original one-page synopsis is also included.

                  “In another bonus, a chatty 1975 letter from Robert Florey to Philip Riley, the director recalls that the Jack Pierce makeup worn in the test by Lugosi was ‘identical’ to the makeup worn later by Karloff. This is at odds with some other accounts that describe the Lugosi Monster as ‘hairy.’

                  “The truth is in that lost test. If you believe in miracles, the footage will turn up one day. In the meantime, we can read Florey and Fort and imagine for ourselves.”

 

—Filmfax

 

 

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