Book Review: Bela Lugosi & Boris Karloff

Lugosi Karloff

Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff: The Expanded Story of a Haunting Collaboration By Gregory William Mank Published by McFarland, 2009. 701 pages

If you don’t want to read our whole review, then to put it as simply as we can get: Buy this book.

Originally published in 1990, under the title Karloff and Lugosi: The Story of a Haunting Collaboration, it was almost ten years later when Mank released a massively updated and revised version in 2009. So much time had passed since its first publication, where he had interviewed so many more people, giving him even more information and stories about Lugosi and Karloff, that he felt the need to update this book. And I’m so glad he did, since it was one of the most enjoyable, enlightening, and entertaining books that I’ve read in a long time. Really an essential volume for any monster kid.

I have to give Mank credit for not just updating this book because of new interviews and information, but to correct a few things, namely stories about Hope Lugosi, the last true “Bride of Dracula”, who in the past was not treated well by the media and journalists, including himself. But after interviewing her and getting to know her, he wanted to make sure that her side of the story was out there. So for that, I give him a lot of credit for wanting to make sure it was heard.

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This massive tome covers the history of Lugosi and Karloff, the two reigning Kings of Horror for monster kids everywhere, from their humble beginnings to their rise to stardom and afterwards. Some of the stories within will put a smile on your face, while others will make you sad, especially when they are about those who we idolize. But no matter what, these stories, many told by the people that worked with them, are ones to be remembered, as well as helping shed a little more light on these two wonderful actors. Mank sets the record straight on many different subjects, rumors, and Hollywood gossip, about the relationship between Lugosi and Karloff. You can see where some of these stories might have started, or at least blown a little bit out of proportion.

Mank has obviously done decades of research on subjects for this book, interviewing  quite a few actors, directors, relatives, and so many more, getting their firsthand account on different stories, as well as their feelings towards these actors. I also love the way that he also gives us information about the other people involved here, like Edgar G. Ulmer, giving us a little background about them, and how it ties into our main subjects. It really does help fill out the picture of what was going on at the time.

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When discussing the end results of Black Friday and the speculation on what the film could have been, Mank writes “Or film scholarship – for rattling bones in the Universal closet, wondering what might have been, instead of simply being satisfied with what was fated to exist as Black Friday.” That point really stuck with me, that maybe as fans, we should be happy with the end product, rather than dwell upon anything else, such as a different casting, direction, or what simply could have been. But then again, as movie fans, it is really hard to do just that since it is a fun thought and discussion process of pondering what “could have been”. But maybe we should spend a little more thought into appreciating what we do have. A lesson for life in general, don’t you think?

Because of the never-ending feud between fans of Lugosi and Karloff, on who’s the “greatest of them all”, Mank does an admirable job of defending both actors, but also not pulling punches when it comes to the darker or sadder sides of “dear Boris” and “poor Bela”.

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The hardcover edition goes for $49.95, though you can save a couple of dollars from Amazon. But for that price, it is more than worth it. Hitting 700 pages, in a beautiful edition, there are plenty of photos, and so much information about these two great actors and the films they worked on, that it really is an essential volume for anyone that is a fan of classic horror films. No matter how much you might know about them, I think you will learn even more. You can order this directly from McFarland by visiting their website at http://www.mcfarlandpub.com or calling their order line at 800-253-2187.

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