Monsters We've Known and Loved (1964)

Monsters We've Known and Loved (1964)
Dir.: Jack Haley, Jr.
Episode 15 of Hollywood and the Stars (1963-1964)
TC4P Rating: 7/9

There is nothing that I enjoy more than finding a piece of the past that I never realized existed, except perhaps when I happen upon such an item quite by accident. The thrill that a find like this sends through my system is nothing short of truly exhilarating. Possibly even orgasmic, if I may be so open about it.

Such thrills often come to me in the form of books and comic magazines, where perhaps I run into an obscure writer or character which had evaded up until this point. Sometimes they are odd toys that I find on shelves of an antique store, sometimes things that other people might look over but that I find delightful. Most often, they arrive as feature films and cartoons, and due to my connection to those individual areas, you can imagine the impact that finding such films does to me.

As a couple of examples, a few years ago, I ran into Sh! The Octopus for the first time, a B-grade comedy from 1937 starring Hugh Herbert and Allen Jenkins that left me completely delighted, and just last year, the sudden re-appearance of a truly strange and slightly out of character Cecil B. DeMille film from 1930 called Madam Satan still has me struggling to pick my jaw up from the floor. 

Last week, I ran into a rather crazed 1993 Walter Lantz cartoon called King Klunk that was one of Hollywood's first responses to the King Kong craze then taking the film world by storm. While I had read about the cartoon before, which is surprisingly long for a cartoon short (over nine minutes) and follows much of the real film's plotline, I had quite forgotten about King Klunk for eons. believing that it was simply something that I would never have a chance to see. Why worry unnecessarily about such a thing? Well, I didn't worry about it at all for years, until I flipped a tab on YouTube and ran [smack!] face-first into the film.

And so it goes with a television documentary from 1964 titled Monsters We've Known and Loved. Part of a series produced by David L. Wolper about the filmmaking machine, Hollywood and the Stars, Monsters We've Known and Loved was the fifteenth episode of the short-lived series, which last one year on NBC in the 1963-1964 season. Now, it is entirely possible that I have encountered mentions of this show multiple times over the years. I have read a lot of film books, and a great many of them are horror and science-fiction film-related. So far, in backtracking through my library, it is not mentioned in David J. Skal's The Monster Show nor in Stephen King's Danse Macabre, two places where I felt that I may find reference to the show, owing to the relatively similar ages of the two authors who seem to have been influenced around that period of pop culture.

The description of the documentary on one YouTube channel that features the video, The Monsterverse Channel, gives us this information: "Classic episode of the TV documentary series "Hollywood and the Stars", from 1963 that helped to hook a generation of kids on monster movies. A brief but excellent overview of the horror film from silent classics like Nosferatu to the atomic age and beyond."

I did not find the documentary originally on YouTube. I happened upon it blindly while searching listings for "monster" on Archive.org, a regular haunt of mine for finding obscure items. I saw the title, Monsters We've Known and Loved, and my first thought was, "What a wonderful title for a kids book." Then I started to wonder if it really was a kids book that had slipped my notice, or an adaptation of said book. Nope, it was the very special described above, and within seconds I set myself to watching it, and less than 25 minutes later, I knew that I had found a new keeper for my regular rotation of Halloween (and otherwise) delights.

The documentary is directed by Jack Haley, Jr, who yes, is the son of the man who played the Tin Man in 1939's The Wizard of Oz. (Haley, Jr. was also once married to Liza Minnelli.) The episode is hosted by noted actor Joseph Cotten, who leads us into the darkness of the night (and all in glorious, haunting black and white) with what he describes as "an old Scottish prayer"...

"From ghoulies and ghosties
And long-leggedy beasties
And things that go bump in the night,
May the Good Lord deliver us!"

With this slightly altered text, Cotten introduces us to werewolves, vampires, and other monsters. Within the first minute, we shift from film to film swiftly, starting with the werewolf from Return of the Vampire (1943), Peter Lorre being tormented by the disembodied hand in The Beast with Five Fingers (1946), the mutated title monster from Bert I. Gordon's The Cyclops (1957), a woman screaming in full closeup at the alien creatures from Invasion of the Saucer Men (also 1957), and Ray Harryhausen's six-tentacled octopus from It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955). Then Cotten begs us, "Now, don't send the children to bed. We want all of you to meet Monsters We've Known and Loved, on Hollywood and the Stars!" Cue the theme music, title sequence, and opening credits, while a hand slowly claws its way from out of a grave.

When the show returns from what would have then been a commercial break, there is a flash of lightning and the house from Psycho is revealed on the screen. Cotten says, "Vampires, werewolves, and ghouls. These nightmare creatures embody the universal dread of the grave; the shadows, the unknown. They strike some deep chord within us. Through them, and with no risk to ourselves, we dabble in forbidden worlds of mystery, madness, and malevolence. And we have the dubious pleasure of being frightened out of our wits!" While all of this is said, we see a coffin open as a vampire prepares to rise, we see a werewolf transform, and a man is attacked within a tomb by a random ghoul.

With a flourish of the cape of Dr. Caligari and a closeup of Cesare's sleeping face, Cotten then announces that Germany in the 1920s is the birthplace of the horror film. OK, you can make that argument, but it's not totally accurate. Regardless, the shift is towards historical perspective instead of random scenes, which is a welcome one. Other German productions such as Nosferatu and The Golem are granted scenes before the shift jumps over to Hollywood with the original version of The Cat and the Canary (1927). Willis O'Brien's still wonderful effects in 1925's The Lost World are displayed next, but then the timeline reverts quite a bit back to 1920, giving the lie to Cotten's earlier statement, by showing a scene from John Barrymore's still remarkable dual turn as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, including the transformation done without in-camera effects.

Cotten introduces the viewer to Universal Studios, which will become the acknowledged House of Horror for decades, starting with the ascendancy of Lon Chaney, Jr. We see clips of Chaney behind the scenes preparing for his role as Quasimodo, and then a rogues gallery of his other roles, finishing his stellar performance as Erik in The Phantom of the Opera (1925). The silent screen turns to sound, and Cotten gives a full introduction to Bela Lugosi as the "King of the Vampires" but the clips we see are from Return of the Vampire, not from any of his Universal or even MGM work.

Cotten says "The sound era also makes a big to-do about mad doctors and their infernal machines" and we see the numerous actors such as Preston Foster, Lionel Atwill, George Zucco, and Lon Chaney, Jr. Cotten then gives us introduction to "the maddest doctor of them all" (and Lugosi's "rival"), Boris Karloff. At this point in the show, it is clear we are not going to be shown any clips from the classic Universal films, though with Karloff's section we do get stills from some of his famous roles, including those for Universal. (Val Lewton's productions are only name-checked by The Body Snatcher (1945) amongst these roles.) We also get a fun clip from a publicity film of the two "rivals" preparing to play chess for charity.

The documentary was also apparently unable to get (or pay for) the rights to show scenes from King Kong, so when it comes back from the midway break, we only get to see an animatronic lobby version of the creature from newsreel footage while Cotten talks about "the phenomenal success of King Kong that started a trend from which we've never recovered." Clips are then shown from Mighty Joe Young (1949), but while Cotten talks about "a primitive beast on a rampage against civilization," I had to remind myself that the rampage in the clips is Joe defending himself in the nightclub, and that he is the hero of the film, which has a happy ending with Joe saving an entire orphanage from fire and being returned to his job. Joe is not actually a monster (just an ordinary gorilla with a big heart), and Mighty Joe Young is nowhere close to being a monster movie.

"Today, the anxieties of the atomic age and the challenge of the space era open even wider vistas for the monster movie." And so begins the science fiction section of the show, with scenes from Earth vs. Flying Saucers (1956), It Came from Beneath the Sea (again), The Amazing Colossal Man (1957), and Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958). Roger Corman gets into the show with Attack of the Crab Monsters, and even the Three Stooges sneak in (though they are never seen) with the giant fire-breathing tarantula scene from Have Rocket, Will Travel (1959) (the individual shots in the scene, by the way, are shown completely out of sequence). There is the surprising addition of the big blob from Hammer's Enemy from Space (aka Quatermass 2, 1957).

The Thing from Another World is met in battle by the men at the arctic post, and then Harryhausen is given a little more love in this episode by the inclusion of one of my favorite of his films, 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957), featuring the Ymir. Cotten, or rather the writers of the script, misidentify the Ymir as "a Martian lizard," when in fact, the creature comes directly from Venus. But no matter... [Pushes glasses back off of nose and snorts...]

Surprisingly, The Beast of Hollow Mountain's climactic scene is included, with a cowboy tricking the title dinosaur into quicksand to perish (which he probably wouldn't), and then astronauts are attacked by It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958). Another personal favorite sneaks in with The Monster That Challenged the World (another 1957 flick), though once more there is an identification problem when Cotten calls the creature a giant caterpillar. The creature in this film is meant to be a form of prehistoric mollusk, though were it made today, it would probably be identified as an isopod. (To be fair, the monster does look like a giant caterpillar.) Truly awful special effects are represented by the inclusion of The Giant Claw (man, 1957 was a grand year, wasn't it?), a bird flick that really is for the birds (but I still rather love it).

The show moves to its final brief section, shifting the focus to the 1960s and a type of horror film "which is meant to be funny". We see Peter Lorre and Vincent Price as they film their latest feature, Jacques Tourneur's The Comedy of Terrors, and scenes from their previous film together, Roger Corman's The Raven (both 1963). Finally, we get a clip from Ray Dennis Steckler's execrable The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies!!?, which makes Cotten cry, "Oh, where have they gone, the werewolves and the mummies, the Draculas and the Frankensteins. Perhaps if we had shown them a little more love, they would still be with us." THE END

Perhaps if you had paid Universal a little more scratch, David L. Wolper, those werewolves, mummies, Draculas, and Frankensteins would actually be in this documentary. It's hard enough to tell the history of horror films in two hours, let alone a mere 25 minutes, but even without the Universal bunch, this is a pretty fun short doc. Really, it just comes down to loving to watch scene after scene from your favorite monster movies, which is pretty much all that I like to do. To fault Joseph Cotten for a couple of errors in his narration is useless because, well, he's dead, and he didn't write the copy in the first place.

In the end, I am jealous that I didn't grow up watching this collection over and over because it would have influenced me even earlier than I already was. You don't get the basics of a horror film education from watching it (key elements are left out entirely), but really just the "basic basics," like a preschool reader. A preschool reader titled Monsters We've Known and Loved.

See, I just knew it had to be a book after all...

RTJ


*****

And in case you haven't seen it...



You can also find it here on Archive.org:




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