REVIEW: AN ALTERNATE HISTORY FOR CLASSIC FILM MONSTERS (MAGICIMAGE SERIES) / AUTHOR: PHILIP J. RILEY / PUBLISHER: BEARMANOR MEDIA / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Very few film scholars have been admitted to the Universal Archive, the studio’s own collection of scripts, production files and marketing materials for their classic films, kept under lock and key on the Universal lot in Burbank, CA. Philip J. Riley has – former Universal boss, Lew Wasserman himself gave Riley the go-ahead, back in the 1970s, to nose through the vaults. And what a treasure trove Riley discovered back then; now rereleased as a complete series by BearManor Media. The MagicImage series presents An Alternate History for Classic Film Monsters: a collection of film scripts and treatments that never quite made it to the screen in their original versions, offering a tantalising glimpse of what might have been if history had happened differently.
James Whale’s Dracula’s Daughter showcases the unproduced sequel to Dracula that Universal wanted James Whale to direct in 1933; Whale didn’t want to do it and the project eventually languished, going through several writers, until Lambert Hillyer was assigned to direct it (in a much tamer version than that which Whale had prepared) in 1936. Riley’s book presents the original too-hot-to-handle treatment to the film written by John L. Balderston in 1933, an eye-opening take on the source material of Stoker’s short story Dracula’s Guest, that plays up the ‘SEX and CRUELTY’ of the story, with Dracula’s Daughter herself enjoying a bit of fladge with the local peasants, treating them to all sorts of whippings and torture. As well as this detailed treatment by Balderston, we also get the discarded first draft script by R.C. Sherriff which Whale deliberately made so outlandish that it had no chance of getting past the censor – no wonder it never got made. An archive interview with Carl Laemmle Jr, the producer of the film, gives some context to the doomed project’s development.
Another Whale project in the series is The Return of Frankenstein, an early version of the sequel to Frankenstein (which Whale made as The Bride of Frankenstein in 1935). Here we get an original story by Philip McDonald which sees Frankenstein tapping into New York City’s main electric power source to generate the power to create the monster’s mate. A second treatment by L.G. Blochman has Frankenstein hiding out in a gypsy caravan to avoid being caught and put on trial for the murders the monster had committed. Whale rejected both these ideas in favour of the script by John L. Balderston (included in the volume), which prefigures Bride very closely. Whale eventually engaged William Hurlbutt to write the final draft of what became Bride but Balderston’s draft shows just how much Balderston contributed (albeit uncredited) to Whale’s 1935 masterpiece.
These are but two of the books in the MagicImage series; others include: Boris Karloff as The Invisible Man; Lon Chaney as The Man Who Laughs; Robert Florey’s Frankenstein Starring Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney talks Dracula. All volumes in the series include unproduced scripts and treatments unearthed from the Universal vaults by Riley as well as fascinating behind the scenes accounts based on interviews that Riley conducted with the producers, directors, stars, cast and crew involved.
For classic horror fans and those curious to discover cinema's hidden history, this series is essential reading.