He was tall, lean and aristocratic-looking. He had piercing eyes, a mellifluous & powerful baritone voice, and a commanding stage presence. You could hand him a script in the morning, and by early afternoon he knew not only his own part, but everybody else’s as well. He was a supremely accomplished actor on stage and screen, who established himself as a member of John Ford’s regular troupe, and worked with other fine directors including Douglas Sirk and Rouben Mamoulian.
But we’re prepared to forgive him for all that.
For unlike other talented actors — who find themselves forced to take on ever-more embarrassing roles as age and changing fashions catch up with them — John Carradine actually liked making terrible movies. He made ’em even when he didn’t have to. He had a tremendous sense of humor about himself and his career, and found that doing low-low-low-budget schlock gave him the chance to cut loose and really enjoy himself. Thus he also found himself listed in the stock company of directors like Al Adamson and Jerry Warren, making some of the most ridiculous movies ever made.
So join us through the month of May, as we look at the (often simultaneous) highs and lows in the career of a man who rarely turned down a role:
|1000 Misspent Hours and Counting||The House of Seven Corpses||The trouble with John Carradine is that for most of his astonishing six-decade career in motion pictures, he was the guy people hired for a single day’s shooting, so that they’d have an excuse to put a recognizable name on the movie posters. For that matter, he played an awful lot of glorified bit parts even during his 40’s and 50’s heyday. And the inconvenient fact is that I’ve already reviewed virtually all the films I know of that give Carradine the kind of exposure he deserves. So instead, I’m going to take this in the opposite direction. Let my colleagues tell you all about Carradine as dark horse Dracula, mad scientist par excellence, or whatever; I’ll direct my attention toward a less attractive but no less important part of the picture: John Carradine, King of Slumming!|
|Voodoo Man||For our present purposes, Voodoo Man is most remarkable for the atypical use to which it puts John Carradine. Moron henchman is not a role in which I’m accustomed to seeing him, nor is it one to which he seems conspicuously well suited. He plays dumb and horny serviceably enough, however, burying his usual lanky dignity beneath a stooped posture, a shuffling walk, and a childish fidget, while also erasing all trace of courage or authority from his famous, resonant baritone. After all, this is supposed to be Bela Lugosi’s show. A movie like Voodoo Man isn’t big enough for two Count Draculas.|
|Braineater||Las Vampiras||For here’s an interesting thing about Carradine: though he had a colossal ego even by actors’ standards, it wasn’t the kind of ego that arises as a defense against self-doubt. Carradine’s ego was based on a supreme confidence in his own abilities. And because he was so firmly convinced of his own greatness, he was able to maintain a fine sense of humor about himself. This was the same attitude that allowed him to weather even the most blistering of John Ford’s temper tantrums with a smile and a condescending pat on the back. This was the same inner certainty that allowed him to deliver page after page of utterly meaningless drivel for a Jerry Warren or a Ted Mikels without the slightest hint of self-consciousness or embarrassment.|
|And You Call Yourself A Scientist!||Captive Wild Woman (1943)||Carradine’s performance here gives the viewer an immediate insight into the subsequent direction of his career: such is the manic glee with which he throws himself into the role of “Dr Sigmund Walters” that we can readily believe the rumours that he never afterwards refused any role. This is a man who thoroughly enjoyed his work. Meanwhile, the script of Captive Wild Woman, by Griffin Jay and Henry Sucher, is in every way worthy of Carradine’s performance, offering up science that is not merely mad but bat-shit insane.|
|Revenge Of The Zombies (1943)||Von Altermann approves the coffin, then turns to a covered figure on a surgical table nearby. He lifts back the sheet, and gazes down thoughtfully at his late wife…whose eyes are open, though apparently unseeing. Von Altermann proceeds to do a little SCIENCE!!—delicious shorthand visual gobbledygook involving electrical coils, wrist and ankle electrodes, syringes, and conical flasks (containing, yes, Mysterious Coloured Fluids); which together somehow induce zombieism…|
|The Unknown Movies||The Mouse And His Child (1977)||The Mouse And His Child manages to have a cynical tone for almost all of its running time. The list of grim attributes is endless. We have characters that are killed on and off screen, characters are beaten unconscious (or worse), there’s slavery, and the rat villain of the movie pretty much gets away scot free without any real punishment at the end of the movie. Younger kids may be seriously freaked out by some of the going-ons in the movie. At the very least, they’ll find it tough going and come to the conclusion that the world is a cold and cruel place at the end of the movie.|
|Jabootu’s Bad Movie Dimension||Billy The Kid Vs Dracula (1966)||Seconds after the bat disappears from sight a rather aged looking John Carradine—he was 60 at the time he made this—steps into sight. Movie magic, folks. How do they do it?
Mr. Carradine has chosen to adorn his trademark Dracula tux, tails and top hat with a rather dandified ruffled shirt and a ludicrously huge red loop tie. Meanwhile, his hair, eyebrows and pointy Satan beard are died an alarming shade of black. In close-up he pops his eyes for a hypnotic Dracula stare, his face lit up with a bright red gel for….I don’t know. Generally eeriness, I guess.