Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Girls of PRC: Devil Bat edition

It's an enlightening experience looking at that gadget at the bottom of the sidebar that ranks the ten most read posts each week.
What will they be, I wondered naively, the first time I added the facility.
Surely my piece on the influence of postmodernism on the modern American horror film would come out top. Closely followed no doubt by my 25th birthday salute to Kenny Everett's Bloodbath at the House of Death.
Imagine my surprise on discovering that the things that seem to bring folks here with far greater frequency and fervour are the posts with pictures of Hazel Court and Julie Ege, or the phrases 'Hammer Glamour' and 'Universal Girls' in their titles.
I can take a hint.
So each of the film analyses that form the backbone of my PRC Month posts will be accompanied by a subsidiary post, of which this is the first, celebrating the leading ladies of the films in question, illustrated wherever possible with that most important aspect of American cinematic culture and practice: the swimsuit cheesecake picture.
In so doing I hope to both illuminate a vital and important chapter of American film history, and to get that little page-view counter gadget ticking over like there's no tomorrow.
We start with the girls of The Devil Bat and Devil Bat's Daughter, and with the heroine of that original Lugosi classic, Suzanne Kaaren.
Any Stooges fans in tonight? If so, you may be interested to know that she appeared in a few of their shorts, usually unbilled, including What's the Matador? and Yes, We Have No Bonanza. But most important of all, she's none other than dancing Gail Tempest in Disorder in the Court!
. I appreciate this may not mean much to the rest of you, but to Stooge fans Gail Tempest is probably the most beloved female presence in the entire Howard-Fine-Howard oeuvre, the name instantly recalling that oddly mournful vaudeville number the brothers perform on spoons, double bass and harmonica, prompting Miss Tempest, on trial for murder, to kick off her city suit and delight the court with inappropriate but well-received hoofing.
Judge from the still above whether the old publicity line about a starlet having her legs insured for a million dollars really was true in Suzanne's case, as even contemporary sources continue to insist. I vote yes.
But million dollar pins or no million dollar pins, Kaaren was another of those leading ladies of whom big things were confidently predicted but who was almost instantly relegated to the bush leagues, before she'd even had a chance to fail. Contracted to MGM and Fox, she tends to be unbilled even in prestigious films where she has a named character: The Great Ziegfeld, The Women, Idiot's Delight.
So when PRC offered her the female lead in The Devil Bat she unsurprisingly jumped at it, even though most of Hollywood would undoubtedly have considered an unbilled bit at MGM more classy than a PRC lead. Needless to say, it's for The Devil Bat that she's now remembered.
She retired in 1944, after marrying actor Sidney Blackmer (a Ray Millandish drawing room type, today remembered chiefly for playing the next door satanist in Rosemary's Baby). She came out of retirement once, to play the Duchess of Park Avenue in The Cotton Club (1984). She was, of course, unbilled.
She died in 2004.

Who would have guessed that Bela Lugosi's daughter would come out looking like Rosemary LaPlanche?
Rosemary is probably the best candidate for the female face of PRC horror, in that she's one of only two actresses to have taken the lead in two of their major horror films, and unlike Wanda McKay, she did not perform similar duties for Monogram. Wanda is a Monogal,just moonlighting at Producers Releasing, but Rosemary is the real deal: the Queen of the PRC screamers.
The former Miss America of 1941 (and sister of Louise La Planche: former Sennett child star, the young Esmerelda in the Chaney Hunchback, thirties and forties bit part player, Miss North America of 1940 - the first year that Rosemary won Miss California - and still with us, turning ninety next month), Rosemary appeared in scores of unbilled bits in the early forties, mainly for RKO, among them three titles in the Falcon series, Mademoiselle Fifi for the Lewton unit, and Zombies on Broadway in a sarong with Lugosi.
As with Suzanne, it took a move to PRC to get billing. In Strangler of the Swamp (1945), a moody little ghost story that aspires to a Lewtonesque ambiance and half gets there, she gives the best of her two performances, but for iconic status there's no rivalling Devil Bat's Daughter, her modest but undeniable entree to the pantheon of great horror relations, alongside Dracula's Daughter, Bride of Frankenstein and, of course, Daughter of Dr Jekyll.
Rosemary gave up on movies in 1949 (as who wouldn't after taking a thankless role in a Republic serial called Federal Agents vs. Underworld, Inc?) and switched to tv; she died in 1979.


Jinx said...

Yeah, the pretty ladies are a draw. While I'm hanging out, I just wanted to thank you you my fantastic Christmas surprise. I love it!! Only just got it last week because the Royal bloody Mail are apparently incapable of negotiating a little bit snow. (So are bin men it also turned out). You're the greatest though. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!

George White said...

JUst found this again.
Blackmer was "Millandish" enough that when they did the TV movie sequel "LOok What's Happened to Rosemary's Baby", Sid was conveniently dead enough for old Reg to take his place - so Roman Castevet had became so Ray Millandish that he had become Ray Milland.