John Carradine In the Movies : From A to Z
Selecting John Carradine for this month’s A to Z feature should pose plenty of problems narrowing each letter of the alphabet to just one topic. According to the IMDB this hard working actor born in New York City in 1906 had a total of 352 acting credits to his name. Making a selection for the letters D, K and R should be all too obvious. But then that would be too easy. Excuse me? You’re not catching my drift? Well then you’re just the type of reader I do these A to Z features for.
Carradine made his film debut in 1930 and kept busy in front of the camera till his passing away in Milan, 1988. For me it always seemed as if he was reciting Shakespeare no matter what the dialogue was or whatever genre he was appearing in. Big budget film or one of the many he made with a bankroll of about $1.98. Even nearing death he went out theatrically with his dying words, “Milan, what a beautiful place to die” according to son David.
A is for …. Al Adamson.
Director Adamson remains a cult figure in the world of schlocky filmmaking. Therefore it was inevitable that John would become part of Adamson’s stock company of aging stars relegated to the drive-in circuit. I believe I’ve got the complete list of titles they worked on together though it should be pointed out that many of these features were released under different titles. Blood of Dracula’s Castle (1969), Five Bloody Graves (1969), Fiend With the Electronic Brain (1969) aka Blood of Ghastly Horror, Horror of the Blood Monsters (1970), Hell’s Bloody Devils (1970), Doctor Dracula (1977) and Sunset Cove (1978).
B is for …. Billy the Kid vs. Dracula. With all due respect to John Carradine it’s hard not to shine the light on his many low budget affairs. This 1966 feature may be the best known of his more embarrassing reasons for collecting a paycheck. For those who may be unaware, this film really does exist and sees John playing the vampire Count in the old west where he tangles with the famed gunman played by Chuck Courtney. The film was directed by the notorious William “One Shot” Beaudine and I guess it shows. But don’t let that stop you from seeing this film that’s so bad it’s …. it’s …. it’s …. enjoyably bad?
C is for …. Captive Wild Woman.
Not all of John’s film’s for Universal during the studio’s glory years of making monster movies are as fondly recalled as others. At least not for the right reasons if one looks to his two memorable performances as Dracula in House of Frankenstein and Dracula. No this time out he’s …. insane, what did you expect as a madman looking to turn a Gorilla into the shapely form of Acquanetta. A poor man’s Dr. Moreau. All under the direction of Edward Dmytryk who had bigger films in his future.
D is for …. Dracula.
While most if not all movie historians point to Bela Lugosi or Christopher Lee when it comes to Count Dracula, it shouldn’t be overlooked that John played the vampire King on a number of occasions beginning with House of Frankenstein (1944) followed by House of Dracula (1945) for Universal during the studios run of classic monsters. Jump ahead to the schlocky drive-in era and he appeared as the Count in a Mexican horror title, Las Vampiras (1968), before appearing in The Blood of Dracula’s Castle (1969) though not as the Count. Same goes with 1977’s Doctor Dracula. He was back under the Cape for 1978’s Nocturna, Daughter of Dracula and in Vampire Hookers (1979) he looks as if he’s the Count but goes by the name Richmond Reed. For the record, that’s his real life name before adopting his stage name. He also played the Count in a 1956 television performance for Matinee Theater. Then there was the McCloud Meets Dracula episode from 1977 where he turned up as an old actor who had played the vampire King. Sounds like he was playing himself though I’ve yet to see the episode.
E is for …. Evil. Nearing the end of his career and appearing in one schlocky flick after another, John appeared in 1984’s Evils of the Night which truly needs to be seen to appreciate just how bad a film can be even with a half dozen recognizable faces followed by Evil Spawn in 1987. I haven’t seen the latter film but understand his appearance was culled from generic footage put together by Fred Olen Ray. Kind of like when Corman shot a bunch of footage of Boris Karloff over two days resulting in 1963’s The Terror.
F is for …. Ford.
Let’s not overlook the fact that John Carradine was a member of the famed John Ford stock company. Beginning with a vicious role in 1936’s The Prisoner of Shark Island, John, appeared in a number of Ford productions prior to WW2 and then came back into Ford’s universe as the Oscar winning director’s career wound down. After Shark Island, Carradine, appeared in the following Ford films, Mary of Scotland (1936), The Hurricane (1937), Four Men and a Prayer (1938), Submarine Patrol (1938), Stagecoach (1939), Drums Along the Mohawk (1939), The Grapes of Wrath (1940), The Last Hurrah (1958), The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) and finally Cheyenne Autumn (1964).
G is for …. Grapes of Wrath.
John scored some, if not his best notices for his performance in this John Ford classic. Opposite Henry Fonda, John, plays failed preacher Jim Casy in this Oscar winning adaptation of the John Steinbeck novel. According to an interview John gave to Danny Peary, he was up against Walter Huston for the role but both actors had the same agent and he pushed Fox to give the role to John and won out. easily one of John’s finest characterizations and a classic film thanks to the actors and of course, John Ford. The Oscars went to Ford for directing and Jane Darwell for Supporting Actress.
H is for …. Hitler’s Madman.
In 1943 as the war raged around the globe, John, starred in this Douglas Sirk directed film as the vile Reinhardt Heydrich. The man that history points to for directing Hitler’s “final solution.” I haven’t seen this in many years but recall John made for a chilling Heydrich. Film buffs take note that a young Ava Gardner appears unbilled as well.
I is for …. Invisible Invaders. This low budget sci-fi affair released in 1959 is an enjoyable effort that always has me scratching my head and wondering if it played an inspirational part on George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. Yes the dead are rising from the grave and John is an alien being directing the proceedings in black and white from director Edward L. Cahn, himself a specialist in this ghoulish affairs. Among his other “horrors” you’ll find The She Creature, Invasion of the Saucer Men and the “B” classic, It! The Terror From Beyond Space which almost certainly inspired Alien.
J is for …. Jesse James. In 1939’s big budget color extravaganza for Fox, John, played Bob Ford. History buffs will know that it’s Ford who shot and killed Jesse James. Shooting him in the back no less according to legend. He’d play the role a second time in 1940’s follow-up the Return of Frank James and then turn up in a lesser role in the 1957 telling of the story under the title, The True Story of Jesse James, again for Fox.
K is for …. Kenton.
Erle C. Kenton directed both of the Universal Monster rally’s from the 1940’s, House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula, that featured John as the Transylvanian Count. The best piece of trivia I can offer up is that when John appeared in Joe Dante’s 1980 cult favorite, The Howling, he was assigned to the role of Erle Kenton, an old timer at the retreat where Dee Wallace goes for some rest and relaxation. I highly recommend both the old Universal classics and Dante’s werewolf treat.
L is for …. The Last Tycoon. “I’ve been here since the silent days. I knew them all.” Not far from the truth as John plays a tour guide at the movie studio overseen by Robert De Niro in Elia Kazan’s final film that is more or less based on the life of 1930’s MGM producer, Irving Thalberg, taken from an unfinished F. Scott Fitzgerald project.
M is for …. Mitchum. I’m referring to Robert, John, Jim and Christopher. The Mitchum clan and the Carradine clan did indeed cross paths during John’s lifetime. He appeared with the legendary Robert in The Good Guys and the Bad Guys (1969), with Robert’s brother John in the less than stellar Bigfoot (1970) that also starred Robert’s son Christopher who did double duty as actor and assistant director. Finally, John, appeared opposite Robert’s look-a-like son Jim Mitchum in the 1978 thriller Monstroid.
N is for …. The Night Strangler.
It seems fitting that John appeared in the second TV Movie that starred Darren McGavin in what is probably his most beloved role, Carl Kolchak. John plays the newspaper owner that reporter McGavin works for while hunting down a killer who it would appear has been murdering women for decades. John found steady work on television in the 1970’s during the height of the TV Movie era in many spooky thrillers. Titles like The Cat Creature and Crowhaven Farm are mixed in with numerous series he guested on from the 1950’s onward.
O is for …. One Million A.D. Not likely a movie one is ever to see, this may be listed in John’s screen credits but it’s supposedly a trailer that was shot to entice backers to flesh the project out into a full length film. One that was never meant to be. I checked youtube for a peak but couldn’t find anything. Please share if you locate it as I’d love to have a look if it still exists at all.
P is for …. Power.
Before WW2 interrupted the trajectory of Tyrone Power’s career, he appeared in a succession of movies with John at his home studio of 20th Century Fox for producer Darryl F. Zanuck. Between 1938 and ’42 the pair shared the screen in Alexander’s Ragtime Band and Jesse James, both directed by Henry King. Henry Hathaway directed them in Brigham Young, Rouben Mamoulian gave us Blood and Sand and their last pairing was in John Cromwell’s Son of Fury. Alas they never shared the screen after the war came to an end.
Q is for …. Qualen. This pint sized actor with the needy look was also a member of the John Ford stock company and can be seen alongside John and Henry Fonda in The Grapes of Wrath. Born in Canada, Qualen also appeared with John in Cheyenne Autumn and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance which is considered to be one of John Ford’s finest films.
R is for …. Rathbone.
Both Basil Rathbone and John Carradine came into films around the same time. John in 1930, Basil in the 20’s. Their paths would cross a number of times in the ensuing years. In 1936 they’d both appear opposite Marlene Dietrich in The Garden of Allah and then in Rathbone’s introduction to his signature role of Sherlock Holmes in 1939’s The Hound of the Baskervilles. John played Barryman, Sir Henry’s butler at the Baskerville estate. Both would turn up for Bob Hope’s comical turn in Casanova’s Big Night (1954) as would fellow horror stars, Lon Chaney Jr. and Vincent Price. Another comedy followed, Danny Kaye’s triumphant The Court Jester (1956). In the same year they returned to the horror genre with Chaney, Tor Johnson and Bela Lugosi for The Black Sleep. Coming a decade too late it’s an enjoyable romp with Basil in the lead role of Dr. Cadman and John one of his misfortune victims left mindless who loves to holler “Kill! Kill! Kill!” at opportune times. Both also turned up in Ford’s The Last Hurrah (1958). In 1967 they starred as the villains in the lowbrow Hillbilly’s in a Haunted House again with Lon Chaney Jr. and yes this is one of those “needs to be seen” projects and then in 1968 they appeared in what would sadly be Rathbone’s final film, Autopsy of a Ghost. Unbelievably there is no existing English track for this made in Mexico film robbing us of the pair’s glorious voices.
S is for …. Sons.
If you know anything of film history from the 1930’s through to the world of Quentin Tarantino then surely you know that John fathered three sons who would go on to make a mark of their own in the world of movie making. Most famously I should think is David Carradine. Like his father he’d appear in films of varying quality and for modern audiences may be best remembered as Bill. For older viewers there was Kung Fu on TV. David appeared with Dad John in The Good Guys and the Bad Guys (1969), The McMasters (1970 and Boxcar Bertha (1972). John in turn appeared on the Kung Fu series that David headlined. Then we have Keith Carradine who came on strong in the 1970’s and is still active today. John apparently made an appearance that was cut from a 1973 flick Keith headlined, Hex. Then along came Robert. I remember him best as Louis in the Nerds movies. John made a guest appearance with Robert on an episode of The Cowboys in 1974 that was a spinoff from the John Wayne classic that Robert starred in as one of Duke’s young protégés. Apparently all three sons made appearances as extras in an episode of The Fall Guy that John was guesting on. Supposedly there is also an unreleased documentary on the clan called Carradines in Concert aka The Carradines Together made in 1979. Too bad John never appeared in the Walter Hill western classic The Long Riders with all three sons starring as The Younger Brothers. Might I go out on a limb and suggest he could have played their father?
T is for …. The Ten Commandments. For those who may have forget, John, appeared amongst the stars and spectacle of Cecil B. DeMille’s final film. And no he wasn’t a villain who had slaves in his employ and lovely maidens for his amusement. That was left for Vincent Price to wallow in. No this time out he’s the gentle Aaron, a member of Moses’ inner circle. This was somewhat of a reunion for John. Back in the early thirties when he was appearing in bits and minor roles he’s somewhere in the backdrop of DeMille’s 1932 effort, The Sign of the Cross and 1934’s Cleopatra. Both films had Claudette Colbert in the starring role.
U is for …. Undertaker.
In both 1976 and 1977 John turned up in a pair of star studded westerns as the town undertaker. First it was opposite John Wayne in The Shootist. Duke comes to see him about his own impending funeral and wants to ensure that Carradine buries him with dignity. A nice touch having these two appear together in Duke’s legendary send off having also rode together on that Stagecoach way back in 1939. The following year John made an appearance as the undertaker in a snow bound frontier town in The White Buffalo. When a Stagecoach driven by Slim Pickens and Charles Bronson arrives carrying a couple of “stiffs” John suggests “That’s right kindly of you, Abel. You better lay them out in the snow until I get back. That will keep them fresh.”
V is for …. Voodoo Man.
So which “so bad it’s fun” movie should I recommend among the three or four dozen that John appeared in? Hard to resist this one if narrowing the field. John walks around this Monogram feature with nary a thought in his head as he snatches good looking girls for Bela Lugosi who along with George Zucco is conducting some sort of out of body experiments with the victims and Lugosi’s late wife if memory serves. This one scores the trifecta of Bela, George and John which puts it near the top of the list for grabbing the popcorn and sitting back for a good chuckle.
W is for …. The Wizard of Mars. Another of John’s “has to be seen to be believed” low budget efforts. Made in 1964 I did see it years ago on a late night airing and recall a group of space travellers on Mars encountering John’s ghost like floating head warning them or reciting Shakespeare or something like that anyway. Let’s say I’m long overdue for a visit to once again see John and the red planet. This “classic” was produced, written and directed by David L. Hewitt. The same Hewitt who would reteam with John and bring along Lon Chaney Jr. for Dr. Terror’s Gallery of Horrors released in 1967.
X is for …. X Rating for The McMasters. This violent 1970 western with a star studded cast led by Jack Palance seemed to be cashing in on the bloodshed put forth by Peckinpah’s Wild Bunch released one year earlier. Upon the film’s release in the UK it was saddled with an X rating. For his part John has a minor role as a preacher in a scene with Brock Peters.
Y is for …. Yousef Bey.
I’ve always enjoyed this hammy performance that John gives as the character Yousef Bey in 1944’s The Mummy’s Ghost opposite Lon Chaney Jr. as Kharis the Mummy. Taking his orders from the High Priest, George Zucco, John is to rid the world of those who would desecrate the tomb of Anunka and rejoin her with Kharis but she’s just so damned cute that maybe he could keep her for himself. Chaney doesn’t agree. I for one love the Kharis series that consisted of 4 films in the first half of the 1940’s.
Z is for …. Ziby Fletcher. Thankfully John played a character named Ziby allowing me to fill the Z slot without some sort of tomfoolery. In 1955 he appeared in The Kentuckian opposite Burt Lancaster. One of only two films the legendary star directed. For more on the film, just click here to see a spotlight I did on it a few years ago.
Do you have a favorite Carradine movie or story to share? Please do. Perhaps you would have went with a different topic for a specific letter. Astro Zombies for the letter A? I did toy with the idea of House of the Long Shadows for the letter H that saw him join Vincent Price, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing for one last fling at the horror genre as a unit. Watching as many movies as I did growing up it was practically impossible not to notice this gaunt looking actor in everything from Stagecoach to The House of Seven Corpses. I’ve been a fan ever since.