May 10, 2012
Prolific Hollywood director William Beaudine is known mostly for his work on family-oriented television shows like “Lassie,” “The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin” and “The Mickey Mouse Club.” However, he made scores of films, many of them crazy mash-ups of characters, such as Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla, Billy the Kid vs. Dracula and Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter. In 1946 he made another mix-up film, combining mad scientists, ghosts and voodoo witchcraft in a creepy ode to Frankenstein called The Face of Marble.
The Face of Marble is the story of Dr. Charles Randolph (legendary character actor John Carradine) who, along with his assistant David (Robert Shayne from “Adventures of Superman”), is experimenting with the reanimation of dead bodies through the use of a combination of electric shock and an intravenous solution. The beginning of the film finds Randolph and David conducting their experiments on a dead fisherman who has washed ashore. Their procedure works, momentarily, but the revived sailor is not human, instead being quite insane and murderous. After re-killing him and dumping the body, the scientists retire to the house to attempt to figure out what went wrong, where they are joined by Randolph’s wife, Elaine (Detour’s Claudia Drake). When the scientists need another subject, Randolph kills Elaine’s dog, Brutus, and the pair try their experiments on him. However, before the procedure, Elaine’s loyal maid Maria (Rosa Rey from Secret Beyond the Door...) performs a voodoo ritual and, when the dog comes back to life, no one is sure whether it was the science or the voodoo that caused it. One thing is certain; Brutus is not the same, as he can now walk through walls and disappear at will like a ghost. Anxious to keep trying their methods, the scientists need to find fresh bodies, and when one suddenly presents itself, the pair seems to be in business. However, not only is Maria protective of Elaine, who she feels may be threatened, but the local policeman, Inspector Norton (career detective-portrayer Thomas E. Jackson), is suspicious about the dead fisherman whose body was found on the beach. The scientists try to perfect their theory while dodging both Maria’s witchcraft and Norton’s inquiries.
William Beaudine is a Hollywood legend. Between movies, shorts and television episodes, his directorial output numbers in the several hundreds, if not thousands. Cutting his teeth as a crew member for the film pioneer D.W. Griffith, Beaudine’s career stretched from 1911 to 1979, nine years after his death in 1970 (he was given a posthumous director’s credit when several of his episodes of “The Green Hornet” were edited into a feature film). Ever the consummate professional, he was so efficient and economical that he earned the nickname “One-Shot” Beaudine. However effective it was, his quick-draw style of shooting may be one of the chief faults in The Face of Marble, as the film seems a bit rushed.
The Face of Marble suffers from a bit of an identity crisis. While it is a clever mash-up of different horror elements, the scientist-voodoo-ghost ingredients don’t mesh as well as they should, so it seems to shift between genres instead of successfully merging them. That’s not to say that it’s a bad film; on the contrary, it is extremely entertaining and, in the right environment, pretty scary. But, at a paltry 72 minutes in length, the science vs. superstition aspect should have been investigated a bit more, and those revelations could have transformed the film from entertaining fodder to classic horror film. The screenplay, written by Michel Jacoby (The Charge of the Light Brigade) from a story by Edmund Hartmann (creator of “Family Affair” and “My Three Sons”) and Wilhelm Thiele (director of “The Lone Ranger”), feels a little unfinished and, therefore, Beaudine’s shoot–and-print style of direction leaves a handful of gaps in the plotline.
Unlike other crazy experiment movies, Dr. Randolph and David are hardly madmen. Randolph is not a megalomaniacal genius who believes that the world is against him, and David is not his indentured servant who is forced into assisting him. Both men are rational and reasonable, and they honestly do what they do for the good of mankind. Randolph is a true humanitarian, even going so far as to summon and bring David’s girlfriend, Linda (Maris Wrixon from The Ape), to the house when he thinks David is lonely. At one point in the film, David tells Dr. Randolph that he wants to leave, and Randolph not only doesn’t force him to stay, but wishes him well on his journey. The scientists are not the villains in The Face of Marble. The real antagonist of the film is Maria, the voodoo priestess. She works her black magic behind closed doors to harm everyone except Elaine with no regard for the consequences. Her witchcraft not only curses the reanimated corpses, but it makes them psychotic and homicidal.
Shot by experienced cinematographer Harry Neumann (The Wasp Woman, The Maze), The Face of Marble has the look of a classic Universal or Hammer horror film. It’s dark, gritty and very spooky. The locations are perfect for a film of its type, from the sprawling gothic beach home where most of the action takes place to the Frankenstein-esque laboratory where the scientists do their thing. The special effects are simple in-camera double exposures, but they work well in the context of the film, and Brutus, the ghost dog, is one of the coolest “characters” in the movies. All of the visual aspects of the film come together to give it an unforgettable mood that, with the lights turned off, could raise a few goose-bumps in even the most desensitized horror fan.
William Beaudrine’s work runs the gamut from utterly ridiculous crossover films to family-oriented television, but The Face of Marble is probably his most genuinely scary film. Plot holes and unanswered questions aside, the tight little film about science and superstition will not disappoint anyone who invests a little over an hour into watching.
**A trailer is unavailable for The Face of Marble but you can watch the entire film now via Netflix Instant Streaming.**