Dr. Bob's minions tire away endlessly to help the good Doctor in the name of science,
but with what little downtime they get they would like to share with you fine people!
Edward Van Sloan
This month, I would like to talk about an actor with a short but memorable foray into the horror genre: Edward Van Sloan. This name is synonymous with two films for me, Dracula and Frankenstein, where he played Professor Van Helsing and Doctor Waldman, respectively. I saw both of these films when I was 4 or 5 and loved them; they create my lifelong love of classic horror movies.
In Dracula (where he appeared with my earlier entry, Dwight Frye) and Dracula’s Daughter, Van Sloan played Professor Van Helsing. He also played Professor Van Helsing on Broadway in 1927 opposite Bela Lugosi and was brought in to the Universal film as a result of this. His portrayal of Van Helsing may not be as iconic as Bela Lugosi’s Dracula, or even Dwight Frye’s Renfield, but Van Sloan holds his own against these icons of darkness. His wise Van Helsing is strong enough of spirit to resist Dracula’s commands and destroy the vampire in the end. Though not as energetic as Peter Cushing’s portrayal of Van Helsing in the later Hammer Horror series, his performance is very good. This is a wonderful movie and still one of my all-time favorites.
A few years later, we see Van Helsing again being tried for the murder of Dracula and Renfield (which destroyed my wonderful delusion that he had somehow survived the fall down the stairs) in Dracula’s Daughter. Van Helsing is a very minor role; he's basically used to remind us of the ending of the original movie and set up a few new characters. Van Sloan is very under-used in this film and, though an interesting take on the vampire story, it is not one of the strongest.
In 1931, Van Sloan also appeared in another huge success: Frankenstein. In Frankenstein, he played Doctor Waldman and introduces the film as well. For both Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein, they made the odd decision to have the films are introduced by an outside character. I have never found out why they did this, though it was well done in Bride of Frankenstein. Waldman was the mentor of Henry Frankenstein. Waldman is another genius character but his morals aren’t as strong. He ends up helping Henry with the monster's creation. After the monster killed Fritz and attempted to attack Henry, they decide it is too dangerous and attempt to destroy it. Waldman is eventually killed by the creature before he could destroy it. Again, Van Sloan gives a really good performance that is overshadowed by Boris Karloff's creature and Colin Clive (who played Dr. Frankenstein extremely over the top).
The next year, Van Sloan would again play a doctor: Doctor Muller in The Mummy. This time, he doesn't get overshadowed as much. As with Dracula, he plays a genius in his field with high morals (Doctor Muller refuses to help Sir Joseph Whemple’s (Arthur Byron) work because he believes it to be sacrilegious. Through his expertise, they are once again able to stop Boris Karloff (as Imhotep) and help save Helen Grosvenor (Zita Johann) with his expertise.
The last of Van Sloan's roles I would like to discuss is Before I Hang. Once again, he appears with Boris Karloff! He played Dr. Ralph Howard while Karloff played Dr. John Garth. Garth and Howard are continuing Garth’s anti-aging treatments while he is awaiting is execution. I saw this movie when I was young. I enjoyed it but it's an odd movie and it was never one of my 'go-to' movies. Van Sloan delivers a performance similar to what I was used to seeing but it's not one of films I would recommended. That’s not to say it isn’t worth a watch if you happen to see it on TV.
As I wrote this, I realized I didn’t see much variation in his roles. His IMDB page is filled with different roles though there are a lot of 'doctors,' 'judges,' and other good authoritative roles. One day, I will have to look into his drama roles to see another side Mr. Van Sloan.
Previously on Minion Musings...