Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Review: 'Character Actors in Horror and Science Fiction Films: 1930 – 1960'

Laurence Raw pays tribute to 96 familiar faces in his new book Character Actors in Horror and Science Fiction Films: 1930 – 1960. These are the twisted assistants and the wizened scientists, the screaming damsels and the officious police detectives who granted essential support to stars Karloff, Lugosi, Chaney, etc. They’re Zucco and Frye and Atwill and Ankers and Naish.

Such a volume is well overdue, but I would have liked Raw to focus more on these actors. The jacket describes Character Actors in Horror and Science Fiction Films as a “biographical dictionary,” but there is very little biography. Rather each entry begins with a line or two about an actor’s background before recapping their characters' roles in various films. While there is some interpretation of how an actor’s looks or mannerisms affected viewer’s understanding of underlying themes, Raw spends too much time analyzing plot and the characters as written on the script’s page. He misses some interesting opportunities, such as a discussion of how Wallace Ford played the same character in two different films (The Mummy’s Hand and The Mummy’s Tomb) with two completely different tones (comedic and tragic). Some major bit players, such as Una O’Connor and Laird Cregar, do not get entries at all. Some of these actor’s major films get slighted too. There’s no mention of Son of Frankenstein in Lionel Atwill’s profile; no mention of The Wolf Man in Claude Rains’s. Raw manages better balanced profiles for actors who allow him to get deeper into politics, particularly African-American players like Mantan Morland, Noble Johnson, and Sir Lancelot. Too often, though, the actors seem like background players in this book. Appropriate, but unfortunate.

Get Character Actors in Horror and Science Fiction Films: 1930 – 1960 at Amazon.com here:

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