Keeping Us In
The Frankenstein family vault.
Baron Victor Frankenstein has just completed the
most ghastly of procedures: he has removed the brain of the recently deceased
Professor Bernstein. He is seconds away from completing this crime, when he is
discovered by his former friend and teacher, Paul Krempe.
“I thought I’d find you here,” Paul
“That was very intelligent of you,” Victor
replies sardonically. “Now that
you’ve found me, what do you want?”
“You killed the old man, didn’t you?
You killed him and now you’re mutilating his body!” Paul
I’ve removed his brain. Mutilating’s
got nothing to do with it.”
“I can’t prove you murdered him.
But I can stop you from using his brain.”
has no further use for it!”
The scene is from The Curse of Frankenstein
(1957). The actors are Robert
Urquhart as Paul and Peter Cushing as Victor Frankenstein, and the audience is chuckling.
Because Peter Cushing in his performance as Baron
Victor Frankenstein has given the character such audacity that we in the
audience cannot help but chuckle.
he have no shame, we ask? We
can’t believe it, he’s so bold. We
like this boldness and react to it by laughing when he basically tells Paul to
“stop being such a ninny!”
Naysayers will claim that Peter Cushing’s Baron
Frankenstein is only as funny as the lines in the script make him, but that’s
not necessarily true. The timing
and delivery of those lines is key, and Peter Cushing is always on target.
And Victor Frankenstein isn’t the only Cushing
character to win us over so thoroughly. Peter
Cushing gave all his screen characters depth, and as a result, humor. Therefore, although he has frightened us with his
performances as the diabolical Baron Frankenstein and other villains, and
although he has made us cheer when he’s defeated evildoers and monsters,
he’s also made us laugh.
Quite often, as a matter of fact.
Do the naysayers still not believe?
Well, even the best of fans may have forgotten how many times Peter
Cushing’s characters have made us chuckle, smile, and flat out guffaw.
Come with me now as we examine some of Peter
Cushing’s funnier moments on screen, all of them, by the way, in horror films.
In Horror of Dracula (1958), as Dr. Van
Helsing, he is dictating into his Dictaphone when the hotel porter (Geoffrey
Bayldon) enters the room. Van
Helsing hands the porter a message, who upon receiving it stands there, staring
at his surroundings, apparently dumbfounded.
“Anything the matter?
What is it?” Van Helsing
“Well, sir, to tell you the truth, when I was
outside, I thought I heard you talking to someone.”
“Of course you did.
I was talking to myself!”
The man cowers and excuses himself, and as he
leaves the room we see an ever so slight smile on Van Helsing’s face,
revealing that he knows full well the implications of what he has just said.
He may be the hero of the movie, but he’s not above having a little fun
at someone else’s expense!
When Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee board the Horror
Express (1972), they discover an alien life form that is preying upon the
passengers. Cushing portrays Dr.
Wells, a scientist, who finds himself having to work with his old colleague and
rival Professor Alexander Saxton (Lee), to battle the alien menace.
At one point, the police request that Wells
examine one of the dead victims. The
doctor excuses himself from his dinner table and seeks out his female assistant
Miss Jones (Alice Reinhart) in the dining car.
“Miss Jones, I shall need your assistance.”
Miss Jones glances at the lovely young woman with
whom Dr. Wells had just been dining.
“At your age, I’m not surprised!”
In Night Creatures (1962), Peter Cushing
plays Dr. Blyss, the seemingly pious vicar of the seemingly peaceful village of
Dymchurch. However, all is not what
it seems. Dr. Blyss is really
Captain Clegg, the notorious pirate, and Dymchurch is seething with smugglers
and pirates, led by none other than Blyss himself.
The smugglers act under the guise of the “Marsh Phantoms,” ghastly
skeletal creatures that frighten away all those who may harbor suspicions.
Captain Collier (Patrick Allen) leads a troop of
soldiers into Dymchurch to search for the elusive smugglers.
After a botched raid attempt, they spy a scarecrow in the distance moving,
and they realize it is a man, the lookout who had warned the smugglers of their
approach. They shoot the
“scarecrow,” hitting him in the wrist, but the man still manages to escape.
Collier latches onto Blyss’s wrist, and the
vicar flinches. Collier smiles,
uncovers the wrist and is both disappointed and shocked not to see a wound.
“Why did you flinch when I touched your arm?” Collier asks angrily.
“It wasn’t my arm, Captain.
You trod on my foot!”
On the Island of Terror (1966), strange
turtle-like creatures with snake-like appendages slither about attacking
innocent victims, devouring their bones! To
the rescue come a bone specialist, Dr. West (Edward Judd), and a pathologist,
Dr. Stanley (Peter Cushing). Together, they discover that the creatures are the
result of cancer research gone awry. Organisms
that were created to devour cancer cells have mutated into aggressive hungry
monsters in search of human bone.
Peter Cushing’s performance as Dr. Stanley is
filled with light moments that make watching him in this movie an absolute
delight. Whereas Victor
Frankenstein and Dr. Van Helsing always seem to have the weight of the world on
their shoulders, Dr. Stanley has no such burden--- at least not until he
encounters the deadly cancer creatures!
In fact, Dr. Stanley is quite the lighthearted
fellow, who’s quick with a quip and a joke.
When one of the murderous creatures just misses him with its appendage,
the doctor remarks, “Nasty little fellows, aren’t they?”
Later, after Dr. West uses an axe to amputate
Stanley’s hand in order to save his life, in a rather gruesome scene even for
today’s standards, Stanley still finds room for humor.
When West jokes for his friend to “shut up,” Stanley replies
good-naturedly, “Watch it boy, or I’ll sue you for malpractice.”
Of course, sometimes Peter Cushing made us laugh
when his character wasn’t even trying. He’d
be at his most ruthless, and he’d deliver a line so effectively cold that we
in the audience could do nothing but laugh.
Take Star Wars (1977) for example. The imprisoned Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) is led by Darth
Vader (David “the body” Prowse and
James “the voice” Earl Jones) to meet his boss, Grand Moff Tarkin (Peter
Upon seeing Tarkin for the first time, the
princess scoffs, “Governor Tarkin, I should have expected to find you holding
Vader’s leash. I recognized your
foul stench when I was brought on board.”
Tarkin half grins, producing that slight look of
contempt which Cushing mastered so well in his portrayals of Baron Frankenstein,
and he replies snidely, “Charming--- to the last.”
Although Peter Cushing was often blessed with some
classic lines of humor in his many fine roles, quite often it was his actions
and expressions which made us chuckle.
In Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972), as the modern
day descendant of Dr. Van Helsing, Cushing’s character encounters more of a
struggle understanding the lifestyle of his
granddaughter (Stephanie Beacham) than he does battling the revived
Dracula (Christopher Lee).
“Grandfather, look, if it makes you feel any
better, I’ll admit something to you. I’ve
never dropped acid, I’m not shooting up, and I’m not sleeping with anybody
just yet. The full extent of my
wild ways stretches to half a pint of lager now and again,” Jessica Van
Helsing confesses to her grandfather, apparently trying to ease his fears
regarding her lifestyle.
Although the concept of a generation gap between
Lorrimer Van Helsing and his granddaughter is sad, the vampire hunter’s
reaction to this brash announcement is not.
His expression is one of
discomfort that his granddaughter is speaking to him so openly of these things.
You can almost hear his thoughts: “Give me a vampire, and I’ll drive
a stake through his heart, but this?--- Heaven help me with this!”
When Peter Cushing’s Sherlock Holmes first
arrives at Baskerville Hall in The Hound of the Baskervilles (1958), he
is led to his room by Dr. Watson (Andre
Morell). It’s nearly a hoot
watching these two characters traverse the hallways of Baskerville Hall, with
the impatient Holmes pointing to wrong bedroom doors, and Watson grunting,
“No, this way,” as he literally must direct his friend towards his room.
Later in the film, Holmes is investigating an
abandoned mine shaft with the unsavory Dr. Mortimer (Francis De Wolff) and the
suspicious Mr. Stapleton (Ewen Solon), when a railroad car smashes into a
support, caving in the roof and trapping Holmes inside the mine.
The rescue efforts seem futile, a situation both
Dr. Mortimer and Mr. Stapleton don’t seem to mind.
Of course, Watson refuses to give up hope and
declares, “There’s still a chance.”
“A very good chance,” calls Holmes’ voice.
The men are shocked to see Holmes sitting inside their horse drawn
carriage. “I’ve been sitting
here for the last ten minutes waiting for you.”
Watson is overjoyed. “Holmes! Thank
heaven your safe!”
Holmes smiles and adds, “Most gratified! Now, when the general applause has died down, I wonder if we
could get back to the hall. I’ve
hurt my leg, I’m cold, and I’m hungry.”
It’s a wonderful moment in the film, one that
has audience members shaking their heads and smiling alongside the jubilant Dr.
On the subject of jubilation, in the first few
moments of the movie She (1965), Peter Cushing’s Major Horace L. Holly
gets to strut his stuff on the dance floor!
Yes, Peter Cushing dances!
Surrounded by beautiful women, Major Holly and his
friend Job (Bernard Cribbins) partake in a belly dance that makes for a
rip-roaring fun scene, one that’s not to be missed by Peter Cushing fans!
Each film in the series contains a handful of
enjoyable scenes in which Peter Cushing somehow manages while portraying this
manipulative unscrupulous egotist to evoke humor.
Even in Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969) where he portrays
the Baron at his absolute most villainous, there are times when he makes us
While the Baron (incognito, of course) is busily
working on some correspondence, he can’t help but overhear his fellow
residents discussing the “evils” of the experimentations of Drs. Brandt and
“The devil’s disciples, the pair of them!” one of the men accuses.
Unable to take anymore, the Baron turns around to
face the four gentlemen.
I didn’t know that you were doctors?”
The second film in the Frankenstein series, The
Revenge of Frankenstein (1958), is chock-full of humor. Making his first appearance after he has escaped from the
guillotine, the Baron emerges from a shadowy corner of the prison graveyard and
declares to grave robber Fritz (Lionel Jeffries), “Good evening!
I am Baron Frankenstein!”
Fritz clutches his heart and collapses, falling
backwards into the newly opened grave. The
Baron leaps in after him, checks his pulse, and upon discovering that the man is
dead, glances up at his new partner, Karl (Oscar Quitak) and shrugs his
shoulders, as if to say, “At least he landed in the right place.”
Using the alias Dr. Stein, Baron Frankenstein sets
up a new practice in the town of Carlsbruck.
It is here that he treats young Vera (Anna Walmsley), under the watchful
eye of her mother, the Countess (Margery Cresley).
Dr. Stein cannot find anything wrong with Vera and
suggests that there’s nothing more he can do for her, but the Countess
disagrees, saying there’s a great deal he can do for her.
He’s a man, and Vera needs a husband. Stein is not impressed but
continues with the examination anyway. As
he prepares to listen to Vera’s heart, he produces a crude version of a
Vera recoils, “You always used your ear
“I still use my ear.
This just magnifies the sound,” Stein replies.
“Oh mama, it’s so cold!”
“I can’t breathe.
That thing’s so cold!” Vera
“Can you hear the palpitations with that? Wouldn’t it be better if you used your ear?”
the Countess asks pompously.
Dr. Stein huffs to himself, puts away the
stethoscope, and rolls his eyes as he places his ear on the smiling young
Vera’s heaving bosom!
When Dr. Stein is visited by three members of the
medical council, Dr. Hans Kleve (Francis Matthews), Dr. Bergman (John Welsh) and
the president of the council (Charles Lloyd Pack), he is as flippant as ever.
can I do for you?” Stein asks
while examining a patient, refusing even to make eye contact with his visitors.
“I am the president of the medical council.”
“At our last meeting it was agreed that you
should become a member.”
am greatly honored, gentlemen.”
“Then you accept?”
Stein is just as brash with his patients at the
poor hospital, whose body parts he uses for his new creation.
“Have what off?” asks the patient, who only
moments before had been telling the old man in the bed next to him that he’d
strangle Stein before he allowed him to cut up his body.
“You’ll have to strangle him with one arm,
Harry!” says the old man in the adjacent bed.
“If you’d rather die, it’s up to you,”
“Let him have it, Harry,” implores the old
“I won’t be able to work no more!”
the patient complains.
Stein turns to his assistant. “What is his
the assistant replies.
“You’ll have to find another trade,” Stein
says, “or use the other hand.”
Later, after Stein and his new assistant, the
young doctor Hans Kleve, have successfully transplanted Karl’s brain from his
old deformed body into a healthy normal body, Hans makes a troublesome
realization. Dr. Stein had
transplanted the brain of an orangutan into Otto, the lab chimpanzee.
Otto is a flesh eater, and Hans realizes that monkeys don’t eat meat.
Something was wrong.
“Did Otto eat flesh before you operated?” Hans inquires.
“No,” Stein replies unphased by Hans’
apprehensions. “I discovered it
soon after the operation. He ate
“Ate another monkey?”
Hans asks in shock.
“What else would he be married to!”
The third film in the series, The Evil of
Frankenstein (1964), is also graced with light touches.
In a scene that is outright funny, an angry Baron
Frankenstein bursts into the room of the burgomaster (David Hutcheson) when he
realizes the official has confiscated many of his personal belongings from his
“I’ve come for my property, burgomaster. My ring, for instance! My
chairs, my desk, my carpet,” the Baron shouts as he pops his head into the
man’s bedroom, spying his buxom wife waiting for him in bed.
“Even my bed!”
As he ruffles through the official’s closet,
“My clothes! Convenient for you
that we’re both the same size!”
“You have no right to be in this town, let alone
in my house! Your property was
confiscated!” the burgomaster
Suddenly, the burgomaster’s wife begins
The Baron promptly turns to her and commands,
“Be quiet woman!” and slams the
door in her face!
He then escapes into the night just as the police
burst through the door!
Later in the film, when the Baron and Hans (Sandor
Eles) revive the Creature (Kiwi Kingston), they are unable to stimulate his
Hans suggests, “Perhaps some sort of physical
The Baron retorts, “I’ve just passed the full
force of a bolt of lightning through his skull, Hans!
Isn’t that shock enough!”
The solution, the Baron decides, is a shock of a
more mental nature, and he seeks out the help of a carnival hypnotist, the great
Zoltan (Peter Woodthorpe).
Zoltan hesitates, concerned that he’ll be
arrested if he lingers around town any longer, since he has been evicted for
performing his act without a license. The
Baron assures him there’ll be plenty of time for him to leave if he fails.
fail? There isn’t a man born of
woman that I can’t put under!” Zoltan
“Then this experiment should prove very
interesting!” the Baron quips.
When the Baron brings Zoltan to his Creature, he
assures the hypnotist, “He has a good brain and excellent eyes.
I won’t tell you where I got them, but I can assure you they’re
In Frankenstein Created Woman (1967), the
Baron is called into court as a witness in a murder trial in which his young
assistant Hans (Robert Morris) has been falsely accused of the crime.
His verbal sparring with the prosecutor is topnotch and extremely
“And what is your occupation?”
“I am a busy man.
Your Honor, is this really necessary?”
“Please answer the question,” the judge
the prosecutor repeats.
“I am a doctor.”
“Of medicine, law, and physics.”
“And of witchcraft!” remarks one of the men in
the audience, in fact one of the three men who actually committed the murder.
“To the best of my knowledge,” the Baron
replies to the man, “doctorates are not awarded for witchcraft, but if ever
they are, no doubt I should qualify.”
“Good evening, gentlemen!
Are you having a party?” the Baron asks the three young men who had
just been bested by Hans in a restaurant brawl, as he and Dr. Hertz enter for
“What have you done here?”
the Baron asks, examining the head wound of one of the injured men.
“You should have that attended to.”
“I’ll be alright.”
“On the contrary, without immediate attention,
it could develop into something quite unpleasant.
What do you think, doctor?” the
Baron inquires, turning to Dr. Hertz.
“Hmm,” the Baron continues, “I’m sure Dr.
Hertz would render first aid--- for a small charge.”
the wounded man inquires.
“His normal fee would be ten crowns, but since
this is an emergency, and he has a charitable disposition, perhaps I can
persuade him to do it, for five?”
“Payable in advance!”
Hertz completes the deal.
In the final film of the series, Frankenstein
and the Monster from Hell (1973), although the Baron is portrayed by Peter
Cushing as being in his waning years, very close to senility, he still has not
lost his verbal edge over those around him.
This time around, the Baron is hiding inside an
asylum under the alias of Dr. Victor, using the hospital’s mental patients for
his experiments. Needing the brain
of a brilliant professor (Charles Lloyd-Pack), Dr. Victor leaves a note for the
professor to find declaring that his condition is incurable.
The professor is devastated and hangs himself, thus allowing Dr. Victor
free access to his brain.
The Baron’s newest young assistant, Dr. Simon
Helder (Shane Briant) is outraged at Dr. Victor’s actions and promptly
reprimands his mentor.
Dr. Victor huffs exasperatedly and replies, “I
was unable to cure him. Could you?
Could you have cured him?”
“Of course I couldn’t.”
“Then he was incurable!”
Dr. Victor justifies himself.
Cold, calculating, perhaps even insane, but
Throughout his many performances over the years,
Peter Cushing has entertained us thoroughly.
He’s best remembered both for frightening us and for making us cheer
when evil monsters have fallen by his hand, but it also should not be forgotten
how often, even in his most villainous roles, he made us laugh and chuckle and
shake our heads in affectionate disbelief.
Which is half the reason why, like revisiting an
old dear relative, we continually watch him on screen over and over again.
COPYRIGHT © 2001 - MICHAEL ARRUDA