The Very Witching Time Of Night by Gregory William Mank (book review).

June 19, 2015 | By | Reply More

To tell the truth, I wasn’t really sure what Gregory William Mank’s book, ‘The Very Witching Time Of Night’ was about, especially as the sub-title ‘Dark Alleys Of Classic Horror Cinema’ wasn’t very helpful neither. The introduction lays out the topics of specific people from early last century’s American horror industry but not the usual suspects. After all, for instance, would you have picked Helen Chandler, the lady who played Mina Harker in ‘Dracula’ (1930)? Although she became an alcoholic, one of her claims to fame once was being married to writer Cyril Hume, who later wrote the 1956 film ‘Forbidden Planet’. There, thought that would get your attention. There are a lot of surprises in this book.


That didn’t set the pattern of the book because with the second chapter, the focus was on John Barrymore and the 1931 film ‘Svengali’ that might have fared better in people’s memories except for a certain ‘Frankenstein’ film released the same year. With succeeding chapters focused on ‘Murders In The Zoo’ (1933) directed by A. Edward Sutherland and starring Lionel Atwill and the James Whale directed ‘One More River’ (1934), it became obvious two other themes were being used. A level of controversy, with animal violence with the first and sexual taboo with the second which instigated strong censorship stateside even to adults. I’ve occasionally got into arguments with the odd American about how British censorship differs from the USA and although Mank doesn’t do the comparison, I suspect this will make many of you think that the freedom of speech isn’t as free as you might think. Reading here will show where American censorship really set in. We had ours nearly two decades later but it also eased off in half the time. James Whale might have wanted to be honest with the depiction of his ‘One More River’, based on the novel by John Galsworthy, but so much of it had to be off-camera and implied but it got a lot of criticism and various censorships across the world. Whereas ‘Murders In The Zoo’ is concerned it is justifiable because there was a serious mistake of releasing a variety of animals together resulting in a real blood bath.

Don’t think Mank’s book just focuses on obscure material. His examination of Boris Karloff’s five films at Warner Bros and the problems of what to do with the horror star when horror was out of fashion for a few years. This is followed by an examination of ‘Arsenic And Old Lace’ from play to film with a lot of insights. I never realised that it wasn’t even close to being one of Cary Grant’s favourite films. The explanations of why Raymond Massey was used instead of Boris Karloff, who was amongst the original stage cast, is insightful, mostly because he was committed to the stage at this point and Warner Bros didn’t actually ask him. Mind you, he had an investment in the stage play so still made money.

The depth of information about the two Cat People (1943 and 1944) films and, indeed, ‘Frankenstein Meets The Wolf-Man (1943) brings a lot of various sourced material together to give a complete picture of what was going on in Hollywood, including the scandals, as well as behind and in front of the camera from conception to premiere.

The examination of actor John Carradine’s life from his stage performances than his film career is rather enlightening when combined with his marriages, although little is given on the grounds for his divorces. I would suspect being away from home a lot contributed to this, especially with his attachment to his second wife.

At the end of most chapters, there is a time-line of events and film credits if you want a quick resume. Throughout the book, I was noting films that I wondered if they were available or not which is always a good sign because it shows how much Mank made me interested in them. There is also an examination of how much the lead cast were paid and, yes, actresses got a third of that of actors. On top of that, the cost of the film against how much it made compared to other films that were released at the time, putting everything into perspective.

There’s a lot of material that I’ve read but barely touched on here but the length of this review shows there’s a lot to digest if you’re a fan of early horror films, you’re going to love this book.

Don’t treat this book as an easy read. It’s densely packed with information that has to be absorbed. I found it very enlightening, especially as various people’s fortunes were rarely happy at the ends of their lives. That might well be show business, but just as horrific as some of the films here.

GF Willmetts

June 2015

(pub: McFarland. 436 page illustrated indexed enlarged paperback. Price: £36.95 (UK), $45.00 (US). ISBN: 978-0-7864-4955-2)

check out websites: www.mcfarlandpub.com and www.eurospanbookstore.com

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Category: Books, Horror, MEDIA

About the Author ()

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 15 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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