Decades – The 1940s: the films of Claude Rains

Comic-Watch presents a bold new media theme for 2022: Decades! Throughout 2022, we’ll be looking at the best, worst, most notable, least known, and most distant movie and TV entries in history, decade by decade. Some of these titles will be well known, some will be lost and forgotten over time. Come join us in our Way-Back Machine for a journey into mystery, horror and sci-fi as we travel through the decades!

When you think of the science fiction and horror genre, your brain doesn’t instantly jump to the 1940s, but the decade is full of movies. The genre was hugely popular during this era, building on the success of many classic Universal Movie Monsters that premiered in the 1930s. Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Mummy all came out in the early 1930s, which spawned a plethora of similar movies. In this first article in the series, we’ll take a look at three of the most well-known films of the 1940s. The Wolfman, Phantom of the Opera, and The Invisible Man series. They may not be the best of the decade, but they helped shape a generation of filmmakers to come, and they all have a connection to Claud Rains.

Although the first universal werewolf image was Werewolf of London (1935), the most famous is of course The werewolf, with Lon Chaney Jr. and Claud Rains. This film solidified the legend of the werewolf and became the basis of the modern werewolf mythos. Lon Chaney Jr as Larry Talbot was a sympathetic character, remorseful and wracked with guilt over his lycanthropic murder. Jack Pierce reused his design for Werewolf of London, which was not used in this film due to a plot issue where the actor needed to be more recognizable. Its original design has become the legendary look associated with werewolves. Like the previous Frankenstein and Dracula, the image of “The Wolf Man” has become iconic. Lon Chaney Jr played the character in four more films but unlike his contemporary Universal Monsters, he never got a direct sequel. There’s a 2010 remake starring Benicio del Toro, and a reboot was announced in 2020 with Ryan Gosling as the titular character.

The werewolf is one of my favorite movies of all time. There’s something magical about combining great performances with a fantastic story. It’s one of my earliest horror movie memories and may have been the movie that got me hooked on the genre.

Universal based many of its cinematic monsters on existing literature like that of Mary Shelly Frankenstein and Bram Stoker Dracula. So it’s no shock that they dusted off their copy of Gaston Leroux The Phantom of the Opera, although I don’t think anyone involved with the film has actually read the book as there is no resemblance to the plot of the 1910 novel other than the fact that the Phantom is in love with a rising opera singer named Christine Daae. With Claud Rains as the main character, the production is the only universal horror film to have won an Oscar (art direction and cinematography). The Phantom is again a sympathetic character, a seemingly innocuous musician who is obsessed with a young singer and secretly funds her training. He goes mad when he believes the concerto he composed has been stolen, and in the course of a struggle is burned with acid, disfiguring his face.

The source material is actually based on real events. There was a rumor of the “Opera Ghost” and a fire on the roof of the Paris Opera caused a chandelier to fall on the audience, and the underground lake exists and is still used to train firefighters to swim in the dark. The film was a commercial success but met with mixed reviews. I like the idea of ​​the masked, masked figure lurking in the shadows, but it’s unfortunate they didn’t borrow more from the original book. The film took too long to create the ghost (who in the book has a birth defect) and spent too much time on the opera numbers. Creating a better relationship between the Ghost and Christine could have given the ending a bit more impact.

Although the Invisible Man came out in 1933 staring, you guessed it, Claud Rains, it took them seven years to start making its sequels, putting the majority of the series in the 1940s, which include, The invisible man returns, the invisible woman, and Revenge of the Invisible Man with The invisible man returns as the only one with any real connection to the original film and was nominated for an Oscar for Best Special Effects. All of the films revolve around a scientist who develops a formula that can make a man or woman invisible and the psychological effects and moral constraints of being invisible. The invisible Man was adapted from a novel by HG Wells. It is one of the first sci-fi films, although Universal chose to add it to its horror repertoire. The studio really exploited the theme during the forties with other films of invisibility such as unseen agent, The invisible ray and The Invisible Woman. There were also a few Invisible Man TV series starting in the 1950s.

I am very impressed with what these films have been able to achieve given the available technology. Imagine, no computer animation or even blue/green screen aftereffects. Vincent Price, who directs the first sequel, only appears as himself for one minute in the film and when not covered in bandages he is filmed draped in black cloth filmed against a black backdrop. Vincent Price also made a vocal appearance as the Invisible Man at the end of Abbott And Costello Meet Frankenstein.


Horror and Sci-Fi Media Through the Decades: The 1940s

Daniel K. Denny