Monday, August 16, 2010

Beware Take Care Bela Beware

JA from MNPP here with this week's Monday Monologue.

The original Hungarian fang-banger Bela Lugosi died 54 years ago today. His entire career was haunted, one might say, by his role as Dracula in Tod Browning's 1931 film. He played the role on the stage in 1927 and he would be buried just twenty-nine years later in one of his costumes from that same stage production.

But as with the famed Count himself, one life wasn't enough for Bela - he'd reappear posthumously three years later in Ed Wood's crap-classic Plan 9 From Outer Space donning a familiar cape in footage shot for another project that Wood edited into the film as a nonsensical, though loving, tribute to his friend.

Or at least that's the way Tim Burton's 1994 masterpiece Ed Wood romanticizes the story. Resurrecting Bela anew, Martin Landau turned in a brilliant performance therein that finally brought Landau a much-deserved Oscar after earlier nominations for Tucker and Crimes and Misdemeanors and served as a reminder of the sad final few years of Bela's life.

CONRAD: (Brent Hinkley): Mr. Lugosi, I know you're very busy, but could I have your autograph?

BELA: Of course.

CONRAD: You know which movie of yours I love, Mr. Lugosi? "The Invisible Ray." You were great as Karloff's sidekick.

The Invisible Ray came out in 1936 and was the third of five films the two horror icons would make together (not counting 1934's Gift of Gab, which was just an excuse for the studio to keep a slew of their stars working between pictures and is kind of like a Golden Age episode of The Love Boat). By all accounts their roles in The Invisible Ray - wherein they play scientists who've discovered a toxic meteorite in Africa - are of equal standing and they received equal billing for it. The only time Lugosi got second-billing to Karloff in all the times they acted together was in 1935's The Raven, and it doesn't make much sense there - Lugosi actually has the much bigger part! (It's also one of his finest performances, you should check it out.)

BELA: "Sidekick"??? "KARLOFF"??? Fuck you!! Karloff doesn't deserve to smell my shit! That limey cocksucker can rot in hell, for all I care!

ED: What happened?! Jesus, Connie, what did you do?

CONRAD: Nothing! I told him he was great.

BELA: How dare that asshole bring up Karloff?!! You think it takes talent to play Frankenstein?! NO! It's just make-up and grunting! GRRR! GRRR! GRRR!

Lugosi always claimed that he turned down the part of Frankenstein because it was a non-speaking part and then he himself recommended Karloff for the role. Others claim that Frankenstein director James Whale spotted Karloff in the studio commissary and asked him to test for the part and liked what he saw. Knowing the way Bela was prone to let's say amplify his accomplishments, I don't think we'd be straying in the wrong direction if we leaned towards the latter explanation, but time's erased the facts and replaced it with a much more entertaining miasma of bickering and speculation. As time and fictionalizations are wont to do. By all accounts Bela never cursed either, but where would this performances be without all the colorful expletives?

ED: You're right, Bela. Now Dracula, that's a part that takes acting.

BELA: Of course! Dracula requires presence. It's all in the voice, and the eyes, and the hand…

ED: Look, you seem a little agitated. Do you maybe wanna take a little break, go for a nice walk... and then we'll come back and shoot the scene?

BELA: BULLSHIT! I am ready now! Roll the camera!!

ED: Um, okay... roll camera… And... action?

BELA: "Beware. Beware! Beware, of the big green dragon that sits on your doorstep. He eats little boys! Puppy dog tails! Big fat snails! Beware. Take care. Beware!"

Wait! Pull the string! Pull the string!



gah. this performance is so good. I remember Martin Landau and Dianne Wiest both sweeping the supporting prizes that year and like Mo'Nique and Waltz last year, they were so deserving.

MRRIPLEY said...

Yet every1 and their mother says jackson was robbed and i for one never beleived that.

Caroline said...

It's one of the few occasions when I sincerely believe that there should have been a tie.

I'm a little disappointed that you didn't include the octopus scene, though. "Fuck you! You come in here!" and then the agonized wrestling with the stationary octopus. Brilliant.

Volvagia said...

Well, 1. He was mis-nominated (really the lead) and 2. Pulp Fiction is really just a bunch of people all on the top of their game. (Like The Thin Red Line, it wouldn't be inconceivable to have most of a Supporting Actor list made up of it. Rhames, Travolta, Walken, Roth and Landau could be conceivable. Not my list, but conceivable (in my opinion, Walken is actually below supporting (I call that level tertiary, because sometimes you can appear in less than 5% of the movie and be a crucial part of the fabric, like Matt McConaughey's 4.5 minute performance in the 130 minute Lone Star.)

Andreas said...

It's especially impressive for Landau to have given such an unforgettable, Oscar-winning performance as such an iconic actor.

And especially so playing him in a role like the "Scientist" in Glen or Glenda, which is among his most enigmatic and incomprehensible. So many layers of interesting performances!

Andrew R. said...

Nate-I KNOW. I actually compared Landau/Wiest to Waltz/Mo'nique!

1. They all swept Supporting.
2. They all deserved it.
3. They all played someone a little bit cuckoo.
4. The performances by the Supporting Actresses were the best of their respective decade IMHO (in that category).
5. Those same performances were given a run for their money for Best of Decade by two others. One of those two was portraying someone with the initals K.H...

(Lorraine Bracco as Karen Hill in Goodfellas, and Cate Blanchett as Katherine Hepburn in The Aviator.)

6. And the other contender is one of the greats in one of her best performances (Moore in Boogie Nights, Streep in Adaptation).

7. For the Supporting Actors, Landau/Waltz were #2 of their decade IMHO.
8. They each lost out to someone playing a nutjob (Fiennes in Schindler's List and Ledger in Dark Knight).

Granted, this (overly) extensive analysis loses serious impact when you consider that this is based solely on my opinion. Still.

dbm said...

I think Ed Wood is Burton's best film of his career. I never get tired of watching and the " pull the string " dialogue is hilarious. I remember when it first came out on VHS and rewinding that scene over and over and literally tearing up from laughing so hard. It' a brilliant performance. And I too agree with the person who said L. Jackson was nominated in the wrong category. That's a whole topic unto itself. Category fraud.

cal roth said...

I don't think Jackson as supporting is category fraud. Gray area, here. And everytime we see Jackson, we also see Travolta. But Travolta has a lot of scenes without Jackson. It's not a Tony Curtis - Jack Lemmon situation.

I could see a lead nomination? Yes, but supporting is fine, too.

cal roth said...

My ballot?

Best Actor: John Travolta (yes)
Best Supporting Actor: Landau

Brian Z said...

God I love this scene!

Volvagia said...

I'm placing Travolta as a support because of line count and story importance. Any case is arguable in Pulp Fiction, because it is an ensemble, but of the three debatable leads (Willis, Travolta, Jackson), Samuel L. Jackson has the highest line count and is the emotional and plot anchor of the movie. So I count the other two as support, along with Rhames, Roth and Thurman. Walken is below that category.

Alison Flynn said...

Martin Landau was SO deserving of the award for this role and to this day Ed Wood in my opinion remains Tim Burton's best movie.

And Depp's performance in it was SO underrated at the time.