The Monsters Of Classic Hollywood

The Monsters Of Classic Hollywood

by Anne Helen Petersen

Part of a series about monsters and other scary things happening here through Halloween.

An incomplete survey of actual and arguable monsters, broadly defined, from Classic Hollywood. Here are a dozen that haunt my dreams — feel free to add your own.


Film: Rebecca (1940)
Monstrous Deed(s): Obsessed with Maxim’s (Laurence Olivier’s) now-deceased first wife, refuses to allow second wife (vulnerable, doe-eyed Joan Fontaine) to be happy/have peace/realize that Maxim loves her. Ever. Encourages suicide; tricks Joan Fontaine into making a fool of herself; lots of piercing, vacant stares.
Monstrous Quote: “I watched you go down just as I watched her a year ago. Even in the same dress you couldn’t compare” in stiff competition with “Oh, you’ve moved her brush, haven’t you?”


Film(s): A billion, most notably The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) and The Phantom of the Opera (1925)
Monstrous Deed(s): Dooming his characters to lives of isolation and despair despite their kind, charitable souls.
Tragi-Monstrous Quote: “Feast your eyes! Glut your soul on my accursed ugliness!”


Film: Vertigo (1958)
Monstrous Deed(s): Distracts from Scottie (Jimmy Stewart)’s generalized creeper behavior; makes you forget you should dislike him much more than a set of eyebrows.
Monstrous Quote: “There’s no such thing as too much eyebrow pencil.”


Film: The Little Foxes (1941)
Monstrous Deed(s): Old-school vigilante feminism: when asshole husband suffers a heart attack and needs medicine on the second floor, stands by and watches him fail to claw his way up the stairs; blackmails manipulative brothers; implicitly encourages daughter who threatens to reveal her actions to flee the family home.
Monstrous Quote: “I’ll do things in my own way, Ben. I know what I’m doing.”


Film: A Bucket of Blood (1959)
Monstrous Deed(s): Always on the outside of the beatnik culture that surrounds him; decides to take the cat that he’s accidentally knifed, cover it in plaster (knife intact), and present it to the arbiters of beatnik culture that run the cafe where he works. They love it, prompting Walter to keep killing bigger and better things and covering them in plaster. Events proceed exactly as one would expect.
Monstrous Quote:
Woman Doomed to Become Walter’s Next Art Project: “Nobody asked your opinion, Walter! You’re just a simple farm boy, and the rest of us are sophisticated beatniks.”
Walter: “I don’t like you…”


Film: The Women (1939)
Monstrous Deed(s): Existing; pitting Norma Shearer against Joan Crawford; distracting from 12-minute Technicolor fashion show; siring the character of “Little May.”
(Inspires the) Monstrous Quote: “When anything I wear doesn’t please Stephen, I take it off.”


Film: Shane (1953)
Monstrous Characteristic: God-given ability to yell.
Monstrous Quote: “Shannnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnne!”


Film: Mildred Pierce (1945)
Monstrous Deed(s): Obsessed with class status and appearances; super pissed when she finds out her mom (Joan Crawford) is working as a waitress in order to supply her with all the clothes she wants. Mom marries wealthy tool to please Veda; Veda takes up with tool; together, they swindle Mom. Just desserts ensue.
Monstrous Quote: Can’t decide between “With this money I can get away from you. From you and your chickens and your pies and your kitchens and everything that smells of grease. I can get away from this shack with its cheap furniture. And this town and its dollar days, and its women that wear uniforms and its men that wear overalls” and “You think just because you made a little money you can get a new hairdo and some expensive clothes and turn yourself into a lady. But you can’t, because you’ll never be anything but a common frump whose father lived over a grocery store and whose mother took in washing.”


Film: Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)
Monstrous Deed(s): Returns home to estranged brother (Cary Grant) with the body of his latest victim; terrorizes estranged brother and their two old biddy aunts (who also have been hiding bodies in the the basement [long story]); forces his accomplice, Dr. Einstein, to repeatedly perform plastic surgery on his face in order to avoid capture; gets really mad whenever anyone tells him he looks like Frankenstein.
Monstrous Quote: “Dr. Einstein and I need a place to sleep. You remember that, as a boy, I could be disagreeable. It would not be pleasant for any of us if… I don’t have to go into details, do I?”


Film: The Night of the Hunter (1955)
Monstrous Deed(s): Generalized terror and terrorizing wordsmithery; scaring young children; deceiving Shelley Winters; making whistling creepy.
Monstrous Quote: “Ah, little lad, you’re staring at my fingers. Would you like me to tell you the little story of right-hand/left-hand? The story of good and evil? H-A-T-E! It was with this left hand that old brother Cain struck the blow that laid his brother low. L-O-V-E! You see these fingers, dear hearts? These fingers has veins that run straight to the soul of man. The right hand, friends, the hand of love. Now watch, and I’ll show you the story of life. Those fingers, dear hearts, is always a-warring and a-tugging, one agin t’other. Now watch ‘em! Old brother left hand, left hand he’s a fighting, and it looks like love’s a goner. But wait a minute! Hot dog, love’s a winning! Yessirree! It’s love that’s won, and old left hand hate is down for the count!” Close second: “There are things you do hate, Lord. Perfume-smellin’ things, lacy things, things with curly hair.”


Film: Double Indemnity (1944)
Monstrous Deed(s): Playing the system; playing husband; playing Fred McMurray; rocking the sausage-roll uni-bang; dominating the “femme fatale” category for the last 68 years.
Monstrous Quote: “We’re both rotten.”


Film: Citizen Kane (1940)
Monstrous Deed(s): Allows itself to become overdetermined symbol of innocence past; tortures hubristic owner the entirety of his life; very name functions as irritant to all forced to watch film during sophomore year of college.
Monstrous Quote: “I’m just a fucking sled.”

Previously in series: A Photo Journey Through Roswell And Area 51

Anne Helen Petersen writes Scandals of Classic Hollywood.