Boris Karloff: The man behind the monster – Film news | Film-News.co.uk

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Thomas Hamilton (director)

(studio)

99 (length)

January 27, 2022 (published)

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During a very long career that took him from the silent era to the 1970s, Boris Karloff never stopped working. He may have had a few hiccups, like many, but his work ethic allowed him to find a way out of every problem. This is one of the key facts that viewers will take away from this excellent documentary.

Thomas Hamilton’s film doesn’t follow a traditional documentary route beginning with his early work and how he landed his most famous role as Frankenstein’s Monster. This story is as interesting as Karloff’s in regards to makeup testing and how they deliberately used the contours of Karloff’s face so that he was always identifiable.

A dialogue-free portion of his entry into the 1931 film still carries a lot of weight even at this distance. Other revelations are his annoyance with Maria’s scene which is brilliantly dissected and notated which children could see as seen on an excerpt from Victor Erice’s Spirit of the Beehive. This is an example of the top-notch research and contributions the creators have drawn from academics, archival footage and filmmakers and his family through his daughter Sara.

Frankenstein’s monster is well covered but not allowed to dominate. His troubled early childhood was born in India to Anglo-Indian parents, he faced unhelped racism from a bullying father and eventual divorce. From there, the film is more or less chronological through the silent era where he had plenty of work but no starring roles. The era of walkie-talkies and the depression that led to the formation of the Screen Actors Guild in which he played a major role, when studios sought to cut salaries and rights.

As horror began to fall out of favor, he branched out into acting and had success in Arsenic and Old Lace on Broadway, although he was written out of the film version. Nevertheless, the film offers continued with his very mixed career at Columbia. Which preceded his films with producer Val Lewton. These are granted for a certain time but the documentary does not neglect the rest. It was mainly the growth in television that Karloff took from the start outside of 1957’s This is Your Life that he hated.

What the documentary examines here is that television was something of a lifeline for some actors, providing them with new opportunities away from cinema, which seemed more trend-conscious. It was around this time that Karloff, now with health problems, decided to return to the UK. And he continued to work on this Thriller TV series. Working for Roger Corman whose contribution says as much about Corman as about Karloff.

His surprise hit being the voice of the Grinch in the 1966 animated adaptation of the Dr. Seuss character. This is used as an opportunity to consider Karloff’s unique voice; a very English soft accent with a lisp; his mastery means he is soothing and menacing in his own way.

The later years are well documented, but there is a poignant contribution from the late Peter Bogdanovich that provides some insight into Karloff’s character. During the filming of Targets, he insisted on doing a long on-camera dialogue scene rather than the circular idea the director had in mind. He did it in one take, but as Bogdanovich notes, he didn’t want to be off camera.

It’s one of the golden nuggets that dot this documentary and while it may look a bit like a hagiography, it’s a great introduction to the work as well as a celebration.

Boris Karloff: The Man Behind the Monster is available on Shudder.

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