Sunday, 2 August 2015

THAT FEMININE TOUCH : WOMEN IN GOTHIC : HAZEL COURT AND VALERIE GAUNT BY BRUCE G HALLENBECK


Make no mistake: Peter Cushing's Baron Frankenstein was one of the world's worst misogynists. He had his Creature murder his maid, whom he, the Baron, had impregnated; he had little time for his fiancee, Elizabeth; he railed against 'interfering women;' he 'created' a woman with the soul of a man, with no thought for the consequences; he raped his assistant Anna, whom he later said he wanted to keep around so she could 'make coffee;' and he had a mad plan to mate the beautiful asylum inmate Angel with his latest monstrous creation.


Baron Frankenstein was, in short, the kind of man who would make feminists' blood boil. Yet, during the making of The Evil of Frankenstein - surely a misnomer, for the Baron was in a very mellow mood in that episode - Cushing noted, 'I don't think Frankie's a villain, really.' Perhaps he was merely misunderstood? His long-suffering 'mistresses' may have disagreed. Unlike the Universal series, Frankenstein himself is the Monster in Hammer's world and it is he who returns in every film, not his creation, the first one played, of course, by Christopher Lee in a star-making performance.


Interestingly enough, Frankenstein's first onscreen 'mistress' was played by the same actress who later portrayed Christopher Lee's first vampire bride: Twenty-three-year old Valerie Gaunt was cast in The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) as Justine, the maid with whom Frankenstein has his amorous fling. Born in Birmingham, Gaunt had appeared in several British television episodes in 1956, including an episode of Dixon of Dock Green and Television Playhouse.


As the ill-fated Justine, Valerie Gaunt became the first of Hammer's sacrificial lambs. Justine was a voluptuous, dark-haired, dark-eyed and inquisitive woman who made the mistake of seducing the Baron (or did he seduce her?) and then attempted to blackmail him. Their sexual relationship is implicit in the film, but it was still rather daring for that time, as the cinema in the late fifties was just beginning to explore more frankness in depicting sex on the screen.

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Justine Blackmails The Baron


'Why choose me as the father?' Frankenstein taunts Justin when she tells him she is pregnant. 'Why not choose any man from the village? The chances are, it'd be the right one.' This scene was a shocking - for the time - example of the sexual undercurrents of  Gothic horror that Hammer would bring more and more to the forefront as screen censorship became more liberal.


Gaunt's death scene, in which Frankenstein locks her into his laboratory and lets his Creature have his way with her, highlights the Baron's sociopathic personality. If anyone wants to find out more about his experiments, they end up getting closer to them than they ever intended. Poor Justine; we never know exactly what the Christopher Lee's Creature does to her, but our imaginations fill in the blanks.

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Justine Goes Snooping!



Red-haired Hazel Court was cast as Elizabeth, Frankenstein's fiancee. Thirty years old at the time, Court had made her screen debut at the age of eighteen in the 1944 film Champagne Charlie, directed by Alberto Cavalcanti. Court's lookalike daughter Sally also appears in Curse as Elizabeth's younger self, in an early scene that features Melvyn Hayes as the young Frankenstein.


As Elizabeth, Court is radiant in a role that began her long association with Gothic horror. Stunningly beautiful, she also possesses a kind of regal bearing which is entirely appropriate for the part of a well-bred Victorian lady. She does not have a great deal to do in the film besides look lovely - which she accomplishes without even trying - but she leaves the audience with an impression of a somewhat repressed and genteel woman of leisure who seems to have inner passions that simmer just beneath the surface, something along the lines of Alfred Hitchock's 'cool blondes.'



Court was no blonde, though; she was a fiery redhead whose hair was made for Technicolor - or Eastman Colour - with all the eroticism which that - and her copious cleavage - conveyed. At the film's climax, when Frankenstein attempts to shoot the Creature but hits Elizabeth instead, it comes as a shock because it's completely unexpected. Audiences expecting the old Universal Frankenstein movie cliches were in for a surprise with many of the elements, both sexual and violent, in The Curse of Frankenstein.

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The Climax Of The Curse of Frankenstein


Composer James Bernard's life partner, critic Paul Dehn, was one of the few in the British press to give Curse a favourable review. In a piece entitled 'I Like it Grisly!,' Dehn noted the presence of what would later be called 'Hammer Glamour' in the film. He wrote: 'Hazel Court as the Baron's wife and Valerie Gaunt as his servant pant their way prettily through a series of nasty fixes.'


Many years later, Court recalled the film's Leicester Square premiere: 'We never believed The Curse of Frankenstein would be what it is. Peter Cushing, Robert Urquhart and I went to the premiere in Leicester Square. We had our dark glasses on and coat collars sticking up and we all sat in the back row. Then we suddenly realised something was happening - that maybe we had a success - so the glasses came off and the collars came down.'




JOIN US SOON FOR THE FEMININE TOUCH: WOMEN IN GOTHIC : PART TWO : THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN BY BRUCE G HALLENBECK

IMAGES AND ARTWORK: JAMIE SUMERVILLE AND MARCUS BROOKS



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