Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Review: 'Boris Karloff: More Than a Monster'

Boris Karloff would have hated Boris Karloff: More Than a Monster. The man who became a legend by portraying the Frankenstein Monster and the Mummy beneath pounds of movie makeup loathed nothing more than having his private life revealed. The two instances in Stephen Jacobs’s 500-page-plus biography in which Karloff allows his politesse to drop is when being ambushed on TV’s “This Is Your Life” and prodded by a tactless interviewer. Karloff’s intense privacy is all the more interesting and endearing considering the lack of skeletons in his closet. Nearly everyone of the countless colleagues and friends Jacobs quotes have nothing but effusive praise for the screen’s greatest villain. “A true gentleman” and “sweet” are repeated with such regularity that readers of the more common muck-raking biography might wonder why Jacobs even bothered chronicling Karloff’s life. His legions of fans will recognize that life was so rich and fascinating because it was so far removed from the creatures he played. Tremendously generous with his time, loyal, caring, and dignified, Karloff lived up to all the wonderful things people said about him. That innate kindness really shone through creeps like the Frankenstein Monster and the Mummy, making them deeply sympathetic and infinitely more complex than their heroic human costars.

Jacobs sets out to make More Than a Monster the definitive Karloff biography by including absolutely every scrap of information on the actor he could locate. Fans will be amazed by what he has uncovered, particularly the numerous correspondences with his brothers reproduced throughout the book. Sometimes the writer doesn’t know when to curtail himself. Pages and pages of reviews of plays and minor films in which Karloff appeared may cause some readers to start skimming. However, they will likely find the detailed chapters on the makings of his Frankenstein movies and Targets riveting. Such exhaustiveness— the riveting and the not-quite-as riveting—makes More Than a Monster an invaluable resource for all Karloff completists and future biographers. Too bad for them that this may be definitive enough to serve as the final word on this subject.

Get Boris Karloff: More Than a Monster at Amazon.com here.
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