Saturday, April 25, 2015

Boris Karloff Lon Chaney Humanizing Characters

Humanizing villainous characters

"'Men don't go about being bad just for the sake of being bad. Unless they are
Lon Chaney, Priscilla Dean
The Wicked Darling
mentally deranged. There must be a reason for their badness, some human failing. Otherwise they merely are fictional characters having neither father and mother in life - neither cause nor effect.'"


William Powell's "prime grievance against motion pictures is the use of false characters. 'No amount of study will help a part if it is in the film merely because a menace is needed. No attempt at reality will succeed with the usual silly villain, like those in so many cheap stories.'"
-- Talking Screen 1930
William Powell
Actor William Powell was often cast initially as the villain in silent films. He may have been the dapper villain, but a bad guy nonetheless. His voice was understandably just right for the talking pictures and he also made a fine candidate for the playing characters other than the villain, a detective, a leading man. Very early screen villains had little motivation, little back-story.

Lon Chaney Sr. "is showing us people who are in the muck of life. Their habitations, their habiliments, their associates, their philosophies. ... How they induce an inverted regard for life and its manifold beauties. His ideal is to demonstrate that all people no matter how far they may have sunk in the mire have great and ennobling qualities and are reaching for the light. Sacrifice has been the moving spirit of his recent pictures. ... 


Lon Chaney Jr. talks about his father, Lon Chaney Sr., born to deaf parents


"Chaney's characters have never been built on bizarre make-ups alone. He has prompted them from within. he has tried to picture their mental struggles rather than their outward hideousness. He has endeavored to show us that the basest of humans has a soul and great qualities that are aroused in exigencies. His message has been that love is all-potent; conquering all man-made limitations." 
-- Hollywood Vagabond 1927

The Performance and Audience Reaction

Boris Karloff, more than monsters


Boris Karloff "is amazed to discover from his fan mail that many of his admirers especially the very young are consumed with pity for the grisly characters he portrays. In The Old Dark House, for instance he relates --

Boris Karloff and Colin Clive
Karloff Images
"'I played a most unwholesome creature who pursued the lovely lady hither and thither with the most sinister intentions. I was finally dispatched by an exceedingly upright young man who was made to appear much smaller than my awful self. 

"'A twelve-year-old correspondent commenting upon this episode expressed great pity for the poor monster and deep indignation over his untimely death. The big bully! he said referring to the virtuous and physically slight gentleman who had slain me.'

"This feeling among Karloff's public may arise from the fact that Boris actually feels pity for these poor monsters. He is convinced that the most fiendish of the really criminally insane folk have moments when they are bewildered and terrified at the deeds which they are uncontrollably impelled to commit. 

"They do not want to perpetrate these crimes, he believes, and he is sure that the very worst of them have moments when they say, 'Can this be I?" Therefore Karloff's monsters have a quality of helplessness and puzzlement over their own astonishing tendencies which lends them a certain pathos."

In the Mind of the Actor

Sometimes the performers themselves may be affected by the roles they play. Each actor is different as is his or her method. 

Being horrible is a business, a matter of mechanics, Boris Karloff had said. He didn't even enjoy reading horror stories except as potential screen material.



Because of Dracula I make a living... 1951 interview


On the other hand, when asked about playing a character who is horrible, Bela Lugosi had this to say: 

"'Your nerves are bound to be affected by any role which you play constantly over a period of years. If it were only the repetition it would do something to you. 

"But when you are playing with all the earnestness and sincerity you can muster a horrendous monster when that portrayal is constantly on your mind it must eventually have some effect upon your nerves and your mentality. It never becomes quite mechanical. Toward the end of my session of portraying Dracula I became downright neurotic about the character."
-- Picture Play magazine 1935



Related Pages of Interest:

Lon Chaney Johnny Depp Knives Hands and Love: Knives, Hands and Unrequited Love, Alonzo and Nanon, Edward and Kim

Happy Thanksgiving from Boris Karloff Some of his memories and favorite folk songs and sea shanties, This Is Your Life

50 Greatest Screen Villains of All Time: includes Lugosi's Dracula

William Powell and Carole Lombard 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Fans frightened meeting Character Actors in Person

Fans React to Meeting Actors who play Frightening Characters on Screen
Q: Who are these 1920s-30s baddies?

"If for instance you play a bad woman on the screen most of your public take
Boxer/Actor Jack Dempsey
married to actress
Estelle Taylor
it for granted that you're a worse woman off of it. ... 'Vampires, they are terrible,' wailed their portrayer. 

"Terrible on the screen and terrible in real life and if you play them on the screen people think you are one of them.

"No one stops to realize that theatrical life and real life are two opposite poles." Who is the Actress who made this statement in 1923?

In 1938, Edward G. Robinson said, "I'm getting tired of having little children faint when they see my face."

Errol Flynn, Basil Rathbone
Robin Hood Original Photo
Actor A "went on to explain the social
repercussion of screen villainies. If he steps onto a department store elevator women cower against the rear wall of what he calls the lift and hide their affrighted children under their skirts. 

"He believes firmly that the only reason women are wearing longer skirts is because the abbreviated skirts did not permit them to hide their affrighted progeny. When he walks along the boulevards policemen trail him in radio cars. 

"Old men turn pale and cover their beards when they see him fearful that he will tweak their lush growths and perhaps sink a knife between their aged shoulder-blades." 1938

Would you like to meet a monster? Greet a gangster,
say Hi to a henchman?
Captain America serial 1940s
Dick Purcell, Lionel Atwill

Atwill played villainous
Dr Maldor / The Scarab
DVDs, posters

"'I have learned certain tricks of being dreadful. I have found them very useful in my private life." Actor B became before my eyes a frightful creature and just as I was preparing to leap through the French window he laughed I gasped and relaxed. 

"'It is a useful face to make at people who want me to buy expensive and useless advertising space in small periodicals,' he observed. 

"I thought that it might well be! ...  A banker friend brought his eleven-year-old son to call recently. He tried to engage the boy in conversation without success. The lad merely peered at him from a corner. Actor B, knowing that the youngster had a passion for tennis finally asked him to come and inspect his excellent courts.'

"The boy declined politely but with an emphatic firmness. At last the truth came out. The kid was not sure that Actor B would not turn into something vicious before his eyes. After the actor had gained the lad's trust and friendship, he opined that the boy was really disappointed to find him just a regular human being." 1935



William Castle introduces The Tingler

Actor C:
"Mothers have been known to hide children at his approach; young husbands to look belligerent when his blue eyes rest upon their blushing brides." 1930

William Powell scares
Thelma Todd in Nevada 1927
"Recently when he was making a personal appearance at a theater an urchin recognized Actor D as he entered the stage door one afternoon and when he emerged there were swarms of youngsters waiting for him. 


Bela Lugosi Dracula
"'Make bogyman faces for us!' they begged. Actor D explained to them that the management of the theater did not allow him to go about frightening people on the streets for nothing. 

"But since the enthusiasts obviously could not pay to see him in costume and make-up, he donated a few dreadful grimaces to their intense delight." 1935


Actor E is a little different and may be easier to guess for those who know actors of the era.

"'I never make personal appearances. I am never more uncomfortable than on the rare occasions when I am in public and someone pokes someone else and says, audibly, There goes Actor E! 

"'It is not policy - but my inclination is to shout back, 'Yes, and none of your
Lon Chaney in makeup 1917
***** business!' 


"'I am very much afraid of my own vanity. We all have some of it. We have to have. It is necessary. It is not necessary to have that vanity catered to and enlarged. It isn't success that kills us that spoils us. It isn't the having of a great deal of money. It is the parasitism that goes with success and money. 

"'It is the effect upon us of the yes-men and women. The effect of the men and women who fawn upon us and tell us we are greater than we really are or ever could be. I have seen more than one screen celebrity tumble from real ability to a sickening complacency and from there to failure and oblivion for no other reason but an inflated ego.'" 1930

Which actors do you think may have made these statements? Some actors wore such elaborate make-up and costumes they could walk down the street unnoticed. The years they were said follow each quote. 

** Who are the speakers above: the Actress and Actors A-E?

 
Doreen Lang as
'Mother who is
hysterical with fear'
The Birds
Related Pages of Interest:

1930s Fan Girls chase Clark Gable

Vamps Vampires Villains and Flappers

The William Castle Story - Scream for Relief

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Best Movie Villains Top 50 All Time

AFI 50 Greatest Film Villains
How would your list compare?

Characteristics of a Villain:
Al Pacino Signed Godfather
w/ Marlon Brando

Do you think of Michael Corleone
#11 as a villain?
  • Wickedness of mind
  • Selfishness of character
  • Will to power sometimes masked by beauty and nobility
  • May rage unmasked
  • Can be horribly evil
  • May be grandiosely funny
  • Most are ultimately tragic
The American Film Institute's 100 Greatest Heroes and Villains List, their top 50 movie heroes and 50 top movie villains movie list. Above is the definition of a villain used in creating their list. 

The list, as all of their lists is "meant to spark a national discussion of America's film history among movie lovers across the nation." Here I'll talk a little about the list of Villains and villains in general.

Anthony Hopkins as Dr. Hannibal Lecter, Silence of the Lambs #1
Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates, Psycho #2
Other Criteria considered by jurors while making their selections:

Feature-Length Fiction Film
narrative format, typically more than 60 minutes in length 

American Film:
English language with significant creative and/or financial production elements from the United States

Cultural Impact:
Characters who have a made a mark on American society in
matters of style and substance.

Legacy:
Characters who elicit strong reactions across time, enriching America's film heritage while continuing to inspire contemporary artists and audiences.
 



In The Godfather, Vito Corleone,
played by both Robert De Niro and Marlon Brando, sported a black fedora hat. The young Vito Corleone 'graduated' from a cloth cap to the fedora once he gained money and power.

Men's Wool Felt Snap Brim Fedora (left)
This same company offers a grey Homburg hat
similar to the one worn by Michael Corleone.

Edward G. Robinson wore a Homburg in Little Caesar back in 1933.


The Corleone style, that of Bonnie and Clyde and others made an impact on society.

The voting jury is described on other famous AFI lists as "Leaders from the creative community, including film artists, critics and historians." 

There were 400 nominated screen characters, 200 villains and 200 heroes from which the 50 of each on the final lists were chosen. 

Vague Spoiler, What happens in the end:
At least 20 or 25 of the villains on this list are dead or otherwise destroyed by the end of their respective movies. They may be shot, crushed, burned, stabbed, dismantled or fall apart. They may freeze to death, be blown up or melt when a bucket of water is thrown upon them. Maybe they fall into a vat of molasses. The audience wants to see villains get what's coming to them.

Add to that an assortment who are arrested or jailed, replaced or left all alone. Some of the villains get sequels. Some, such as Darth Vader and Michael Corleone are on the list specifically noted in sequels.

1 Dr. Hannibal Lecter, The Silence of the Lambs 1991 Anthony Hopkins
2 Norman Bates, Psycho 1960 Anthony Perkins
3 Darth Vader, The Empire Strikes Back 1980 David Prowse/James Earl Jones
4 The Wicked Witch of the West, The Wizard of Oz 1939 Margaret Hamilton
5 Nurse Ratched, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest 1975 Louise Fletcher
6 Mr. Potter, It's a Wonderful Life 1947 Lionel Barrymore
7 Alexandra Alex Forrest, Fatal Attraction 1987 Glenn Close
8 Phyllis Dietrichson, Double Indemnity 1944 Barbara Stanwyck
9 Regan MacNeil, The Exorcist 1973 Linda Blair
10 The Queen, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs 1937/38 Lucille La Verne (voice)


Who are the Villains:
Parents, children, preachers, doctors and nurses
An actual animal and a Vampire who turns into a bat
An alien, martians
Machines, etc programmed, created by humans
Megalomaniacs, psychopaths, sociopaths

Those who went after power, love, money and fame
One possessed by the devil

At least one villain who is never shown on screen
Those who would claim to be just following orders
Those who are just plain evil

Finally, the list includes all of us. The #20 villain is Man from the 1949 animated film Bambi.


More for discussion
The Shark from Jaws #18; Nature v. Intent
HAL 9000 from 2000: A Space Odyssey #13; programmed by humans originally

Numbers 11-20 have some of what I've found to be the most controversial or conversational villains on the list. Michael Corleone, 2001: A Space Odyssey computer character HAL 9000, The Shark from Jaws and Man from Bambi.

11 Michael Corleone, The Godfather Part II 1974 Al Pacino
12 Alex De Large, A Clockwork Orange 1971 Malcolm McDowell
13 HAL 9000, 2001: A Space Odyssey 1968 Douglas Rain (voice)
14 The Alien, Alien 1979 Bolaji Badejo
15 Amon Goeth, Schindler's List 1993 Ralph Fiennes
16 Noah Cross, Chinatown 1974 John Huston
17 Annie Wilkes, Misery 1990 Kathy Bates
18 The Shark, Jaws 1975   
19 Captain Bligh, Mutiny On The Bounty 1935/1962
Charles Laughton/Trevor Howard
20 Man Bambi 1942    


When Bambi came out in 1942, the film was praised for its content and its look. Here's how one review mentioned its villain.

"More, there's a full-dyed villain: Man. Strictly speaking, man doesn't appear on screen. He's characterized by a short, ugly, realistic device; the sound of his guns."
-- Modern Screen Magazine October 1942


The list was published in 2003. That year a three-hour TV special AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains was hosted by Arnold Schwarzenegger, who earned both a hero and villain honor for his portrayal of the same character, The Terminator.

* 14 of the 50 are female/villainesses. One more is the female half of a villainous team. Of the Top Ten Villains on the list, six of them are female villainesses.


Faye Dunaway as Bonnie Parker of Bonnie and Clyde #32
and Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest #41
* Biographical Characters:
Four, five if you count them individually

Amon Goeth  1993 Schindler's List #15
Captain Bligh 1935/1962 Mutiny on the Bounty  #19
Clyde Barrow & Bonnie Parker 1967  Bonnie and Clyde  #32
Joan Crawford 1981 Mommie Dearest #41

All are fictionalized to some extent. This doesn't count others based on real people, real stories. 

Leonard Maltin On Edward G. Robinson In Little Caesar #38, American Film Institute


* Actors appearing on the list more than once:
Actress Faye Dunaway plays both Bonnie Parker and Joan Crawford. She is one of the handful of actors who appears on villain list twice. Others are Robert De Niro, James Cagney, Bette Davis, Glenn Close and Robert Mitchum.

While Lansbury's character in The Manchurian Candidate is often referred to as Mrs. Iselin, her first name is Eleanor. The first name of one villainess, Mrs. Danvers from the film Rebecca, is never divulged.

Only two characters from Alfred Hitchcock films appear, Norman Bates (Psycho) and Mrs. Danvers (Rebecca).

21 Mrs. John Iselin, The Manchurian Candidate 1962 Angela Lansbury
22 Terminator, The Terminator 1984 Arnold Schwarzenegger
23 Eve Harrington, All About Eve 1950 Anne Baxter
24 Gordon Gekko, Wall Street 1987 Michael Douglas
25 Jack Torrance, The Shining 1980 Jack Nicholson
26 Cody Jarrett, White Heat 1949 James Cagney
27 Martians, The War of the Worlds 1953   
28 Max Cady, Cape Fear 1962/1991 Robert Mitchum / Robert De Niro
29 Reverend Harry Powell, The Night of the Hunter 1955 Robert Mitchum
30 Travis Bickle, Taxi Driver 1976 Robert De Niro



Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver #30 and Cape Fear #28
* Roles played by more than one actor:
Some villains were portrayed by more than one actor in films of different years. The list is unclear about which, if either, they mean. Other times, they're specific. So #19 Captain Bligh in Mutiny on the Bounty, may be the 1935 film with Charles Laughton in the role or the 1962 version with Trevor Howard. There are differences apparently in which film is more true to the reality of the character his story.

101 Dalmatians, Cruella De Ville #39. There is a 1996 live action film with Glenn Close in the role, but also a 1961 animated version with Betty Lou Gerson voicing the character. With Cape Fear #28, it may be Robert De Niro's role or Max Cady in the 1991 film or Robert Mitchum in the 1962 movie. In the case of The Joker #45 Batman the first actor to be in the first film is Cesar Romero in the 1966 Batman movie.

Anne Baxter talks about the character of Eve Harrington #23 in All About Eve.
Reportedly producer Darryl Zanuck wanted to hire Jeanne Crain for the role of Eve Harrington, but director and screenwriter Joseph L. Mankiewicz said that Anne Baxter possessed the 'bitch virtuosity' required for the part. 



Along these same lines, Villain #3 is Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back. James Earl Jones provides the voice and David Prowse is the physical incarnation of the character we see on screen. 

However, with movies such as Dracula, Scarface and Bonnie and Clyde, it's clear which actors, which films they had in mind. 

For Michael Corleone #11, The Godfather Part 2 is specified in The Godfather Trilogy. This is the film where we see the his rise to power but also we see the character as a baby and a young boy. 

31 Mrs. Danvers, Rebecca 1940 Judith Anderson
32 Clyde Barrow & Bonnie Parker, Bonnie and Clyde 1967 Warren Beatty/Faye Dunaway
33 Count Dracula, Dracula 1931 Bela Lugosi
34 Dr. Szell, Marathon Man 1976 Laurence Olivier
35 J.J. Hunsecker, Sweet Smell of Success 1957 Burt Lancaster
36 Frank Booth, Blue Velvet 1986 Dennis Hopper
37 Harry Lime, The Third Man 1949 Orson Welles
38 Caesar Enrico Bandello, Little Caesar 1931 Edward G. Robinson
39 Cruella De Vil, One Hundred and One Dalmatians 1961/1996 Betty Lou Gerson/Glenn Close
40 Freddy Krueger, A Nightmare on Elm Street 1984 Robert Englund 


* Won Academy Awards for their portrayals of the characters:
Kathy Bates as Annie Wilkes 1990 Misery #17
Louise Fletcher as Nurse Ratched 1975 One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest #5 

Others were nominated. 

Louise Fletcher and Kathy Bates won Academy Awards for Best Actress
each playing villainous nurses

The Godfather, Marlon Brando, talks to his son Michael Corleone, Al Pacino #11. "I never wanted this for you."


* Most common ideology represented is Nazism
Amon Goeth 1993 Schindler's List #15 Ralph Fiennes
Dr. Szell  1976 Marathon Man
#34 Laurence Olivier
Hans Gruber 1988 1976 Die Hard #46 Alan Rickman
Auric Goldfinger 1964 Goldfinger #49 Gert Fröbe

This can be carried further in discussion. While I've not seen any direct connection in the name, Freddy Kreuger in A Nightmare on Elm Street has a name similar to WWII Nazi official Friedrich-Wilhelm Krüger. 

There are three specifically Italian characters and Lugosi set a standard for a vampire's speech pattern (his Hungarian accent) that we'd hear again. Lugosi wasn't comfortable with the English language at the time and was said to have been reading his lines phonetically.

Glenn Close talks about her character in Fatal Attraction #7, AFI video



* Which type of villain is more frightening? 
101 Dalmatians Cruella Shirt


One immediately physically identifiable as a villain, one you recognize from a film you probably saw in your childhood?

Or a villain who's not only attractive but looks like someone we could meet today? A person and a situation that we could encounter in our own lives?
 

As a matter of fact, Margaret Hamilton plays two roles in The Wizard of Oz, a character who frightens Dorothy in real life and then the Wicked Witch in the Land of Oz.


The Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz
Alex Forrest in Fatal Attraction
.
A one-night stand turned into
a very big mistake for Michael Douglas' character.
Earliest films chosen were from 1931. Little Caesar, Edward G. Robinson as gangster Caesar Enrico Bandello and The Public Enemy, James Cagney's performance as bootlegger Tom Powers and Bela Lugosi as Dracula. The most recent film included is from 2001. Training Day, featuring Denzel Washington's corrupt cop, Alonzo Harris. 

* Genres of films
There doesn't seem to be an overriding number of any one genre of films represented. No larger number of horror, science fiction, thriller, animated, gangster, etc. movies on the list. This may be because of the way movies are being more narrowly defined these days.

41 Joan Crawford, Mommie Dearest 1981 Faye Dunaway
42 Tom Powers, The Public Enemy 1931 James Cagney
43 Regina Giddens, The Little Foxes 1941 Bette Davis
44 Baby Jane Hudson, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? 1962 Bette Davis
45 The Joker, Batman 1966 Cesar Romero
46 Hans Gruber, Die Hard 1988 Alan Rickman
47 Tony Camonte, Scarface 1932 Paul Muni
48 Roger Verbal Kint, The Usual Suspects 1995 Kevin Spacey
49 Auric Goldfinger, Goldfinger 1964 Gert Fröbe
50 Alonzo Harris, Training Day 2001 Denzel Washington


* Their Dirty Deeds and Physical Appearance
While greed and power are may be what drives many of these villains, some manage to get through a movie without blood on their hands. How are people changed by the introduction of things like money, passion, fame, drugs, childhood and psychological issues? 

Villains may be charming and attractive or they may be hideous. They could be given a feature innocuous as eyeglasses or for some reason a prosthetic hand. They may have a scar meant to be frightening or a malady meant to be somehow comical. Further example of their being 'foreign.' Freddy Kreuger #40 and The Joker #45 share the comic book trope of being disfigured from accidents and moving on to evil deeds. 

Lionel Barrymore, the actor was actually in a wheelchair at the time he played Mr. Potter. The chair was not a trait created for the character. 

Along with his psychological issues, Cagney's character Cody Jarrett in White Heat #26 suffers from debilitating headaches.  

Are people rewarded for bad behavior, glamorized? How many costumes are there devoted to exciting bad guys and gals vs the good guys?


Gordon Gekko-Michael Douglas images
AFI's 100 Greatest Movie Quotes of All Time list includes quotes from some of the villains on the list. The quote by #24, Gordon Gekko seems especially appropriate. 
If you're interested, the movie quotes list only includes talking/sound films and it does not include song lyrics. It begins with films of 1929.
Other quotes chosen:
1 "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn." Rhett Butler (not on villains list :) )
2 "I'm gonna make him an offer he can't refuse." The Godfather
10 "You talking to me?" Travis Bickle
37 "I'll be back." The Terminator
56 "A boy's best friend is his mother." Norman Bates
58 "Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer." Michael Corleone
73 "Mother of mercy is this the end of Rico?" Little Caesar
99 "I'll get you, my pretty, and your little dog, too!" The Wicked Witch of the West

This article is part of The Great Villain Blogathon of 2015
Your hosts are Ruth of Silver Screenings, Karen of Shadows & Satin and Kristina of Speakeasy, and The Great Villain Blogathon happens APRIL 13 – 17, 2015.



Related Pages of Interest:

Real vs Make-Believe: Margaret Hamilton meets Mr. Rogers; Wicked Witch in The Wizard of Oz; Margaret Hamilton vs The Wicked Witch of the West 

Mrs. Danvers interview Rebecca novel Hitchcock film: Her side of the story
A man's diabolical housekeeper accused of trying to kill his new wife!
Mrs. Danvers gives her side of the story: An Exclusive Interview

From The Great Villain Blogathon of 2014

Find out more about The American Film Institute, AFI

Vamps Vampires Villains and Flappers Female Vampires 1910s-1920s, Villains?  



Join Amazon Prime (Free Month; One Year Membership) Streaming Movies & TV Shipping Discounts and more - Watch Over 40,000 Movies, HBO shows & specials, Wide selection of new/old movies, foreign films and documentaries compared to other streaming video sites and the yearly price is about the same.

Many of the films can be streamed over Amazon Prime and most of the films are  in DVD sets.  

Character/Actor Images:

The Silence Of The Lambs Anthony Hopkins Poster
Anthony Perkins in Psycho II 24x36 Poster
Louise Fletcher One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest Photo
Glenn Close Photos She was in Fatal Attraction and the live action version of 101 Dalmatians

Robert De Niro Photos and Posters De Niro was in Cape Fear and Taxi Driver. He was also in The Godfather, Part 2 for which Al Pacino made the list in his portrayal of Michael Corleone.

Annie Wilkes - Misery - Kathy Bates

Faye Dunaway Autographed Bonnie & Clyde 8x10 Photo
Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest Original Vintage Postcard

Wicked Witch of the West



Please note: Some images may not be of actors' as characters on list and may not be from films discussed.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Vamps Vampires Villains and Flappers

Vampires 1910s-1920s
She-Villains on the prowl
I glory in being heartless and wicked. I want people to whisper when they see me, 'The worst woman of all.'

I want to steal husbands and see the deserted wives weep and clutch their children to their breaking hearts.

I want to lure millionaires and drag them down until the soul within them dies. (You can sing that one.)

I want the lured millionaires to lose home, fortune, position and friends.

I want their wives to be obliged to take in sewing and washing. I want their children to cry for food and be cold.

I want to see these millionaires be reduced to the bread lines through my doings and mine alone.

I want to see people shudder when they they look at me.

Because if I can do all these things successfully, I shall usually be sure of a job in some picture as The screen's greatest vampire. -- Dagmar Godowsky, 1924

Dagmar Godowsky
When you think of female screen villains, you might first think of the witch, the old crone (who is often the wicked witch in disguise). I've seen female movie villains to have the power of magic. 

The motives for their dastardly deeds may be different from their male counterparts. Sometimes gender doesn't seem to make that much difference when you look at the villain's motivation and actions. These days when a woman reaches a certain age, she might have a Croning Ceremony, taking back negative connotations of the term, and looking forward to the years ahead.

There's one type of character that I hadn't thought of as a villain but my research identified her as such: The Vampire or Vamp of the 1910s and 1920s. This character was played in different incarnations and in so many films. She wasn't always identified in reviews/articles as the villain. It comes back to how you define a villain. "The girl can't help it," or "She's just drawn that way," can only get you so far. 


Bela Lugosi and his vampire character, Dracula are on the AFI, American Film Institute list of the 50 Best Movie Villains of all time. That film came out in 1931. A vampire is said to drain the life force out of his or her victim.

Here are some quotes and interview excerpts from the 1920s both talking about vamps and flappers and by the actresses who played the characters, themselves.

Miss Godowsky expands on earlier quote.....
"Normally and personally I am a kind-hearted average woman who with other average women would squirm at the things that I professionally desire to do. But if Nature made me the vampire type and I want to do in pictures that for which I am best fitted by Nature why shouldn't I want to be the best of the type?....

"Many actresses think it good publicity to decry the type of role they play best to demand that they be given 'wider opportunities for the display of their versatility.'.... Honestly if I met a woman half as wicked as some I have portrayed well, I wouldn't even invite her to tea."
-- Dagmar Godowsky, 1924

Theda Bara as Cleopatra and Fritz Leiber as Caesar
Cleopatra 1917
 The Vamping Style of Four Film Sirens
"Quietly and secretly they have gone on their way, luring the hearts of men from the paths of righteousness and duty leaving destruction in their wake, sowing the seeds of discord and distension wherever their shadows have been cast." 

"My methods are very quick. I never waste time. When I see what I want I go after it and usually I get it." Virginia Pearson

"I rely on my personality and dress. Take your time is my motto. I practice no tricks." Mme Olga Petrova

"'Theda Bara the greatest of vampires: 'I cannot tell you anything,' she breathed. 'For I am a mystery even to myself. Never understand yourself for if you do not no one else will be able to understand you either and there is nothing in this world that attracts as a mystery does. .. To prevent the contingency of my ever understanding myself I have hired an excellent corps of publicity writers. They turn out new stories about me every day.'"

"Final visit to pretty Charlotte Burton. 'I am the sulky type of vampire. Men say there is murder in my eye. ... I am the thunder and lightning, the brooding clouds of summer. I am harsh and violent. If I don't get what I want I yell. There's nothing like a good yell to bring them around.'
"You see there is no formula. Either you are born a vampire or you are not, that's all."
Theda Bara began making films in 1914. By the early-mid 1920s women were already starting to bob their hair distinction between the vampire and the flapper was being discussed.  Were vamps on their way out? Or were they just morphing into something new?

Pola Negri 1923
Mad Love aka Sappho
Nita Naldi talks about the screen vampire....
"Consider what goes to make a screen vamp. You never heard of a blonde vamp, did you? No the screen vamp is a brunette, preferably with Latin blood flowing in her veins. The Latin type is a flaming contrast to any other. It is her inheritance the warm-eyed woman with her passionate response to moods, her sophistication, her sparkling yet subtle appeal to the opposite sex. That is her inheritance from the climate in which she and her ancestors were reared."

Rudolph Valentino and Nita Naldi Blood and Sand
"The woman I portrayed in A Sainted Devil is as devoid of scruples as a fence is of speech. She deliberately sets out to win the man to whom she has taken a fancy regardless of the fact that the may ruin his life. ... 

"Now if there isn't a lesson to this I don't know where there could be a lesson especially as I suffer the consequences of my love-lawless deeds. The law of compensation plods to the certain ruin of the vamp provided she doesn't reform which in a picture she most assuredly cannot do. So again I say a vampire is an asset and not a liability to society."

In Blood and Sand Naldi, as Doña Sol bites Juan Gallardo's (Valentino) hand. He calls her a snake, a serpent from hell. "One moment I love you, the other I hate you!"




Is the devil a woman? 
"Yes and a thoroughly good one thinks Kay Johnson, the Madame in Madame Satan (1930)

"Of this I am convinced, that if the devil is a woman she is not wicked and bad but a good woman who is thoroughly idle, mischievous rather than malicious, more blundering than wicked and more stupid than evil. For from such women all the troubles of the world are spread. 

"A bad woman would be too obvious a mask for the Devil, who is insidious.... If such there be mark my words she is wearing apron strings with the happiness of some struggling, nagged male dangling from the ends. For the Devil is not a lady of free love. She is not that generous. 

"The Woman-Devil is an immaculate housekeeper. Not because of the joy of neatness but because she may make her home a private hell for her husband. In her hands the dust-cloth is far more treacherous a weapon than the pitchfork as she wipes away the casual cigarette ash and 'tidies' after the comfort-seeker. 

"Though she smiles often there is no real humor in her soul. She does not go to see risque shows or read improper books but she is fast to concoct fiction that will blast a reputation over her afternoon bridge table."

The Vampire is being replaced by the Flapper
A 1923 article says it's the women movie-goers who are making this happen.
"At first women were captivated by the vamp because they thought she could teach them how to wield new power over men. But then women discovered how dangerous it was for the men themselves to see this power operating in such a highly talented non-union manner and they immediately turned against the vamp and boycotted all pictures in which she did business. ... 

"No man really desires protection from feminine machinations. Just what will be the fate of the flapper, now that she has supplanted the old-time vampire, no one can tell. It is all in the hands of the gods and the women fans. 

"Perhaps she will be tolerated because is without the exotic mystery and the cryptic wizardries of her older duskier sister. Time alone will bring the answer. Personally I think she is more dangerous than the goggle-eyed, punk-burning, chaise-lounging vamp of yore." 

Perhaps one reason the vamp is seen as a villain is a spoken or sometimes unspoken suggestion that the male of our species is powerless against her predatory ways. This makes her the 'bad guy.' If he couldn't resist, it could set up an exciting cat fight between the wife and the interloper, but that's leaving out the free will of a mature grown man.




"Isn't there some way of finding out what a man is in his everyday life before giving him all of yours?" Wine of Youth clip, 1924 Pauline Garon likes them both


Interview with Perfect Flapper Pauline Garon

"What, I ventured is the essential difference between the flapper and the young
Pauline Garon
lady?"


"'Let me see....' Pauline continued eagerly, 'The young lady is to the flapper what marriage is to an engagement. You know an engagement full of love and excitement and expectancy and marriage is just marriage - and the end of everything!'" 


"Is it true, I ventured that flappers have gone out of style?"
 

"'Flappers,' announced Miss Garon, 'will never go out of style. The fact is they were never in style. They've always been and always will be - like love and bills and eternity - you know. Of course they may not continue to wear the outward signs of the flapper fraternity - galoshes, giddy ties and grey hats; but the flapper heart will beat as steadfastly - I think I coined that one myself - as steadfastly under rags or royal raiment as it does under the baggy sports blouse. Bless them! I'm talking too much, aren't I - am I not? How about a demi-tasse?'" ...

"So the idea of being a perfect lady does not hand you a thrill?"
 

"Again the cute shrug of the shoulders as she said, 'It's disgusting. I do not want to become a lady until I've passed my sixtieth birthday and even then I hope I'll have left to register a kick. My goodness look at the time. Did I talk so long?'" 

"As I rose to go Pauline whispered, 'Let's have tea next Tuesday. I really haven't had a chance to say anything to you.'"

"And then off flapped filmdom's flappiest flapper."
-- Pauline Garon The Perfect Flapper 1924







AFI's 50 Greatest Film Villains of All Time

Where movie villains come from:Villain Nationalities in Early American Films; How did some of the movie stereotypes start?

Croning Ceremonies for Women 50-60 aging with pride 

Sources not listed above....
Film Fun 1917
Motion Picture 1923 and 1925 
Motion Picture Classic 1930 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Where movie villains come from

Villain Nationalities in Early American Films
How did some of the movie stereotypes start?

Will H. Hays became President of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors
Foolish Wives 1922 ad
Erich Von Stroheim
of America (MPPDA) in 1922. "If here and there a nation found a detail in a film offensive to its ideas - what matter? Ours were the only goods on the market." 


"'What the motion picture business needs,' remarked one of Will Hays' assistants as he attacked his daily correspondence, 'is an island of its own. A child-size island will do so long as we have our own national government and a good, peppy name that people will always remember.' 

"'What for?' asked his visitor obligingly.

"'For all the villains to come from,' replied the Hays man.


"The foreign work of the Hays organization began with that trouble - the nationality of villains. And in spots and spurts, it remains trouble even to this day." 

Villains who rocked the world. "One of the first tasks of Filmland's adviser was to soothe the injured feelings of half the nations of the globe." Here are excerpts from an a 1933 article that discusses some of the common villain nationalities we see in old movies. Cliches and prejudices. It made audiences more comfortable if the villains had no back-story and if the villains were nothing like them.

The article doesn't address other marginalized segments of society, then or now, who may be seen as easy targets, stereotyped and placed a negative light. Characters of certain ethnicities and types were seen more rarely. When seen, they were too often represented only in certain ways. The article doesn't address the different female villains, African Americans, Native Americans or the number of villains with physical disabilities.

Change after World War One  
When Hays took over, "the producers paid little attention to foreign tastes and preferences. It was not necessary or at least so they felt. Just at the moment when the American film was finding itself the World War had disrupted all the European studios. Foreign audiences had to take American pictures of go without. Decidedly they preferred not to go without. 

"By train, by airplane, by muleback, camelback, llamaback, the American motion picture penetrated every corner of the world.  If here and there a nation found a detail in a film offensive to its ideas - what matter? Ours were the only goods on the market. The producers simply translated the titles into sixteen or seventeen languages and let it go at that. Into this scene of honest industry and peaceful prosperity, enter the villain."

The Woman in Grey, Arline Pretty; Just one of the many early film serials. Where the term cliffhanger was born. What nasty villains!


Roots in Theater 
"A superb showman named William Shakespeare had perceived long ago that it is always safest to make your heavy villain a foreigner. His Iago was Italian, his Shylock a Jew his king in Hamlet a Dane his Lady Macbeth a Scot. 

"He couldn't do anything about Richard III without faking history but everyone knew already that Richard was a bad one. Popular drama, taking a cue from him, hardened this custom into a tradition." 

"The Bad Man finds a worse man"
1927 Original Print Film Scene Bad Man
Western Holbrook Blinn
Westerns and Mexico
"Even to monotony the character who stampeded the herd, sniped at the foreman, kidnapped the ranch man's beautiful daughter and took a sock in the jaw from the one-hundred-per-cent-American hero was a Mexican. In spite of which these films were going to Mexico along with the rest. To say that the Mexicans did not like this would be to state the obvious."

American films 'offensive to Mexican patriotism' were prohibited from entering Mexico. Then all US films were prohibited; this included newsreels. Hays sent a representative to Mexico and he was there for five weeks. When he returned he carried treaty drawn in perfect diplomatic form signed and sealed by the high Mexican government officials. Hays was to sign it. 

"It provided that the motion picture business should keep the Mexican villains out of their films, should in all other ways refrain from offending Mexican sensibilities. And on their part the Mexicans agreed to admit American films freely and without prejudice." 


Edward G.Robinson was Caesar Enrico Bandello
Little Caesar 1931

Gangster films, Italy and Greece
"A simple gunman film had a villainous character called Nick - or some other name equally noncommittal. One scene showed, in just a flash, the front of his restaurant bearing the sign, Nick the Greek. A mere bit of background, it had slipped by unnoticed. 

"But all the Greeks here and abroad noticed it and most emphatically. Spartan, Athenian and Corinthian societies protested, the Greek government expressed offense, their minister brought it to the attention of our authorities. 

"A half dozen times during the craze for the underworld film, Italy stood offended at an Italian surname attached to an underworld character or even an Italian baptismal name." ...

Looking at character and cast lists of gangster movies from the 1930s and 1920s I see several that used nicknames instead of names with any nationality at all. Angels with Dirty Faces had Soapy. In 1928, The Racket had Spike and Chick. When used, last names tended to become vague as to nationality.

Little Caesar in 1931, a milestone film for Edward G. Robinson, costarring Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. had characters with Italian names.

D.W. Griffith's short The Musketeers of Pig Alley (1912) said to be one of the first gangster movies, was made in a time when characters often had no specific character name anyway. The Little Lady, The Musician, The Sidekick, The Policeman. More than one character is called 'Rival Gang Member.'

Just like the old movie serial villains, Boris and Natasha on The Rocky & Bullwinkle Show are going to drop the heavy object du jour on our heroes' heads. This dastardly duo is not only foreign, but they are macabre like some of their horrifying villain fore-fathers and mothers of the past.

Dubbing; What did you say? Germany
"Up to last July [article was from mid-1933], American firms did some business in dubbing native films with German speech. Dubbing is the process of cutting out the English speaking sound-strip and supplanting it by voices speaking a foreign language and synchronizing with the lips of the actors. Now all dubbing for German exhibition must be done by German firms."


Related Books and Pages of Interest:

Early movie censorship 1900s-1920s Dirty Business Movie Censorship in Early Hollywood: Coverups, Arrests, Ballots and Scorecards, States and Cities 

Badmen, Bandits, and Folk Heroes: The Ambivalence of Mexican American Identity in Literature and Film

Hollywood Italians: Dagos, Palookas, Romeos, Wise Guys, and Sopranos

Heroes, Lovers, and Others: The Story of Latinos in Hollywood  

Boris and Natasha Vintage Post Card, Toys

Quotes
New Movie Magazine
1933