Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Man with the Thousand Watt Stare: Dwight Frye

It is now 59 days to Halloween and keeping with that tradition this is another continuation of Supernatural Horror and the contributions of earlier films and actors to the genre.

In 1931 when Tod Browning filmed the stage adaptation for Dracula the part of Renfield went to a relatively unknown stage and film actor Dwight Frye. Frye's portrayal of conscience conflicted servant of Dracula was at the time so mesmerizing that he became dubbed the Man with the Thousand Watt Stare. Frye portrayed Renfield as a multifaceted individual that it later became the groundwork for other actors in later film adaptations of the Lord of the Undead. At times Frye's Renfield was a sympathetic, broken man tormented by his own dementia and desire to become one of Dracula's legions by a promise by the Count that he would make him immortal but the consequences seem to cost him his very soul. But at the drop of a hat he would succumb to the lure of power and his craving for blood, whether it was insects, small animals or even human, for to him it was the gateway to immortality for as his Master claimed, "for the blood is the life." It was in these instances that Renfield's nature would turn dark and sinister, Frye's performance stealing each scene he was in and literally chewing up the scenery like a madman.

Since he gave such an intense performance as Renfield, Universal would of course capitalize upon it and Frye would be later cast in James Whale's Frankenstein as the sadistic hunchback lab assistant Fritz and again in the sequel as the lab assistant Karl in The Bride of Frankenstein. It is interesting to note that it wasn't until Son of Frankenstein that Bela Lugosi himself played the hunchback with the iconic name Ygor. Though Lugosi's performance as the embittered hunchback with the broken neck is one of his finest, it is Frye who comes to mind at the mention of Ygor. Perhaps in a small ironic way, the servant surpassed the Master.

In each role Frye delivered characterizations of either tormented souls or characters that danced on the lunatic fringe. As a results of his performances being so convincing he was typecast in Hollywood but on Broadway he starred in what he really wanted Hollywood to notice, comedies. Sadly though he did not live long enough for Hollywood to take notice for him to make that transition, he died of a heart attack at the age of 44.

Through the years though Frye status has been somewhat elevated by Alice Cooper's song "The Ballad of Dwight Fry" (without the final e).

Here is a very nice video created by "The Smiling Shadow" on youtube. A montage of clips from Dracula set to Mad World.

1 comment:

  1. never actually clicked re Alice Cooper and "the ballad of Dwight Fry". thanks