Thursday 31 October 2013

Hallowe'en blog - on Dr Pretorius

To mark Hallowe'en here's the wonderfully strange actor Ernest Thesiger (1879-1961) as Dr Septimus Pretorius in The Bride of Frankenstein, directed by James Whale in 1935. In this short scene he presents the unsettling results of his quest to create human life "using my own seed". However that got past the censors I can't imagine.

The Bride of Frankenstein is a great film, and a rare example of a sequel bettering a fine original. The camera effects in this sequence are still, eighty years later, utterly astonishing. 

Thesiger, brother of the renowned explorer Wilfred, was the most marvellously exotic eccentric who enlisted in the army at the outbreak of the World War 1 hoping to be assigned to a Scottish regiment because he wanted to wear a kilt. Wounded in action he returned to England and when asked at a dinner party what it had been like in France famously replied "Oh, my dear, the noise! and the people!" He was an expert in needlework and in 1941 published a book on the subject, Adventures in Embroidery. I have a tatty copy, stamped "For use of H. M. Forces, not for resale". There's a lost world in that.

I cherish Thesiger's elaborately camp and querulous performance as Horace Femm in The Old Dark House (also directed by James Whale and based on the novel Benighted by J. B. Priestley), in which he repeatedly says "Have a potato", somehow making the word 'potato' seem utterly depraved. At one point he says, with sepulchral relish: "Gin. I like gin". Wonderful.

A memoir written near the end of his life is housed in the Ernest Thesiger Collection at the University of Bristol. Why on earth is it unpublished?

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