Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Fate of Dwight Frye


In my more arrogant moments, I cling to the notion that, like my childhood attachment to comic books as a secret vice, any focus I might have had as a child on monster movies was a transitory thing. Just as I sometimes wish that I still had that secret stash of those now priceless copies of Spiderman, Supergirl, and Silver Surfer that Mother threw away as soon as they were unearthed, occasionally a reminder of classic monster movies will touch something dormant in me. I had such a moment earlier this month when I unexpectedly came across the following TCM listing on the 13th of October:

The Circus Queen Murder (1933)
Cast: Adolphe Menjou, Greta Nissen, Dwight
Frye. Dir: Roy William Neill. BW-65 mins.

I just knew. This was a movie that called my name, especially after I spotted the name of Dwight Frye in the cast list. Frye's extraordinarily indelible performances, blending the grotesque, the poignant and the funny in his characterizations in classic horror movies of the thirties have always fascinated and repelled me. He was particularly memorable as the benighted "Renfield" in Dracula (1931), and as "Fritz", the pitiable hunchbacked dwarf in Frankenstein (1931) who retrieves a defective brain for the monster, and as "Karl" who assists Colin Clive and Ernest Thesiger in the highly amusing burlesque in Bride of Frankenstein (1935), all of which helped to make these now nearly 80 year old "entertainments" memorable and fresh to this day and each of which confirmed his typecasting. Perhaps Frye played such parts too well, for he never quite escaped them.

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