March 10, 2014

Boris Karloff in Aunt of Frankenstein

Here’s an overlooked curio: Boris Karloff and Frankenstein are name-checked and cartooned in a British wartime short from 1943.

Running a brisk one and a half minutes, THE SKELETON IN THE CUPBOARD SAVE combines simple animation and live action footage. The story has a lonesome ghost — a caped skeleton — called George who, the narrator tells us, has “no one around to frighten”. He’d like to “do his bit” for the war effort but, with no demand for his services, George goes to the movies “to cheer himself up”.

At the show, George sees a Government film about saving bones to be used, we learn, to make explosives, glue and fertilizer. Our patriotic skeleton donates himself to the war effort and is transformed into a shell that chases Hitler himself back to Berlin.

The Karloff/Frankenstein reference comes roughly halfway through the proceedings, and again at the end, outside the theater, where posters advertise “Boris Karloff in Aunt of Frankenstein”. Illustrations depict a lugubrious character in drag. Karloff as Frankenstein, of course, was often depicted in cartoons as a menace. Here’s it’s just a fun, throwaway gag. Frankenstein family jokes were not uncommon, given the titles of the early Universal Frankensteins: Bride of, and Son of. In 1935, a reviewer of BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN suggested that the next film be called “Frankenstein’s Baby”.

For the record, Karloff did play a little old lady in full little old lady getup as the nefarious Mother Muffin in TV’s THE GIRL FROM U.N.C.L.E. in 1966, and there really was a FRANKENSTEIN’S AUNT movie in 1987, compiled from a multi-national, European TV series, itself based on two books by Allan Rune Pettersson.

There are no credits for THE SKELETON IN THE CUPBOARD SAVE, its artisans anonymously devoted to the British war effort. The short can be viewed online on the British Pathé archives website.


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