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! 

Lon Chaney Jr.

By Melanie


This week is the 43rd anniversary of the death of horror icon Lon Chaney Jr. Lon was born Creighton Chaney to famed silent screen star Lon Chaney. I couldn’t even begin to write about every movie and TV show I saw Chaney Jr. in. I started to compile a list and, after not being close to done after a page, I realized no one would want to read a 6 page document from me, so I decided to only talk about my favorites or his most memorable performances.

I am sure the first film I saw of Lon Chaney Jr. was The Wolf Man and his performance as Lawrence Talbot. The Wolf Man was one of the great Universal Monsters and my father’s favorite monster. Unlike the other Universal Monster roles, Lon Chaney Jr. is the only person to play the Wolf Man in the Universal series (there were other werewolves but they did not go by the Wolf Man), playing the role a total of 5 times. Talbot is a good man who becomes a tormented soul due to the werewolf’s bite. Chaney Jr. gave a superb performance in this character (not just in the original movie but in each one that followed) and the make-up, in the first movie especially, is amazing. Unlike the other monsters in the Universal line, most of the time Talbot is a good man and trying to protect people from what he will turn into; he even receives the bite while trying to save a young woman’s life. At the end of every movie, he is either killed or cured, only for the curse to bring him back just in time for the next film. So Talbot is always stuck in the struggle for life and the search for a release from his curse: a cure or death.

Lon Chaney Jr. played a version of most of the Universal Monsters. He played Count Alucard, who turns out to be Dracula, in Son of Dracula. Though not the best Universal horror movie, Chaney gave a good performance. He also played Frankenstein's Monster in The Ghost of Frankenstein. Unfortunately, by this point, the Monster was reduced to a mute and blind monster. There is no way he could have competed with Boris Karloff in this role as the monster just wasn’t as good. He also did 2 TV shows as the Monster in The Colgate Comedy Hour and, infamously, on Tales of Tomorrow. In the episode of Tales of Tomorrow, he did not realize that this was the actual recording and would place the chairs and other items down carefully instead of smashing them as was supposed to do. Besides these rather odd mistakes, his performance isn’t bad. By this point in his career he played a lot of brutes. Gone were the days of The Wolf Man and Of Mice and Men. I have heard he was excellent in the latter film but have not had the chance to see that movie, unfortunately. He also played Kharis, the Mummy, three times in the films The Mummy's Tomb, The Mummy's Ghost and The Mummy's Curse. This a very different mummy than the one done in the earlier Universal movie The Mummy, played by Boris Karloff. Kharis was commanded by a high priest who was supposed to protect the princess’s tomb. Kharis was slow, lumbering and deadly. I would be unsurprised to find Chaney Jr. killed more people as Kharis than he did in any other role. This Mummy series has a wonderfully creepy vibe. You spend the film knowing the next scare is close.

Lon Chaney Jr. did a lot of western films but, not being a big western fan, I have not seen many of those. He did many TV episodes for westerns and comedy shows. One of the funniest I have seen in recent years is one of three episodes he did of Route 66, “Lizard's Leg and Owlet's Wing.” In this episode, he played himself as did Peter Lorre and Boris Karloff. The basic idea of this episode is that these three horror icons are trying to determine if the classic monsters are still scary and relevant in the current (1960s) society. Tod, played by Martin Milner, has the great idea of helping these men test the monsters on unsuspecting hotel guests. What does this get you? A great comedy, woman screaming in terror, cool monsters and even a love story. If you have an hour, I think you should go watch this one on YouTube.

As a preteen, my grandma had gotten VHS copies of the Inner Sanctum movies that Universal made in mid-1940s. I had listened to the Inner Sanctum Mystery radio drama with my parents but I didn't know there had been movies! I quickly became obsessed with this series. It contained 6 films: Calling Dr. Death, Weird Woman, Dead Man's Eyes, The Frozen Ghost, Strange Confession and Pillow of Death. All of them were odd, macabre, often creepy, low-budget movies. I loved these movies. Lon played the lead in each of these films and, for once, was not the villain. Mostly, he was the poor person all of the horrible things happened to. Of all these, I think Dead Man's Eyes would have to be my favorite. I remember watching that one on the edge of my seat, figuratively speaking as I always sat on the floor, and would move closer to the TV as the movie progressed. In this one, Lon Chaney Jr. is an artist who is accidentally blinded and, when a man is killed so he can get new eyes, he is the prime suspect. This is a wonderful crime drama; watching him trying to figure out who actually killed the man and why was a joy to watch over and over again.

Though Lon Chaney Jr. was not the make-up master that his father was (more on him at a later day, I assure you), he was still a good actor and should be remembered as such.


Previously on Minion Musings...