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01 June, 2014

The Price of Fear (or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Man) by S. J. Martiene



Once upon a time, when I was but a little ghoul, I watched The Last Man on Earth on FRIGHT NIGHT with The Fearmonger.  Tweener that I was (and having two tormenting younger brothers), I was irrationally frightened of all those zombies and bothered that there was only ONE guy left on earth to fight them.  My brothers further exacerbated that fear by banging on our (the room I shared with my sister) bedroom door shouting, “MORGAN!!  MORGAN!!!  Come out, MORGAN!!!”  As they would return to their room, giggling, the eventual result of their teasing started a great fascination v. fear complex with Vincent Price.  The movie, The Tingler, did nothing to abate my fears.  Those William Castle touches of turning the “blood” in the film red made me want to turn away; or at least cover my eyes so I could peek between my fingers at the rest of the story.  It wasn’t until I was much older and wiser that I learned to love Vincent Price movies, TV Shows, and Radio Programs seeking out as many as I could view.  I have become a full-blown fangirl.

Vincent Price was born on May 27th, 1911 (a birthday he shares with Christopher Lee).  This month marks the end of the “Vincentennial” (as it has been pegged), a year-long celebration of the actor’s life with special events schedule in St. Louis around the time of his birthday.  This festival included movies, forums, and a display of memorabilia from his fans. 

The lucky people who were fortunate enough to meet or exchange correspondence with Mr. Price said he was a kind man and always had time for his fans.  I think hearing that was one of the main reasons I became so interested in seeing as much of his body of work as possible.  Perhaps through that, I COULD get to know him better.  When he passed in 1993, I (along with many others), were deeply saddened.  The solace we took in it was the knowledge he had over 50 years of work etched into film, TV, and radio.  We could ALWAYS see and hear him.  For that, I will always be grateful.
One of the nice things about being a fan of Vincent Price is that he was able to handle many genres effectively.  His range included being a comedic actor in SERVICE DE LUXE, HIS KIND OF WOMAN and COMEDY OF TERRORS, to dramatic performances in DRAGONWYCK, ELIZABETH AND ESSEX, and WHALES OF AUGUST, to ANY and ALL of his sinister performances throughout the decades.  He never became too much of a “just for adults” type actor.  Price did many animated feature voiceover performances as well:  The Great Mouse Detective, The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo, Tiny Toon Adventures, and Tim Burton’s Vincent, are just a few of the shows that endeared him to younger audiences too.  On TV, he could be the villainous Egghead (of the Batman TV series) or guest star on Columbo, The Bionic Woman, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents.  Whether villain, comedy relief, or dramatic presence, having Vincent Price in the cast made THAT show better.  Finally, on radio, he was the long-time voice of The Saint, a frequent guest on Suspense, and later in his career he had his own show called The Price of Fear.  He could be murderer or hero.  It never mattered.  He was excellent.
Now, I’m not going to get through highlights of his entire repertoire.  You, gentle reader, would be here for DAYS.  I will highlight some of my favorites.

MOVIES:
In His Kind of Woman, a film noir/comedy, Vincent plays (to the hilt) a ham actor named Mark Cardigan.  Nasty, noir-ish things are happening all around him with Robert Mitchum, Jane Russell, and Raymond Burr, but he doesn’t have a clue.  He tries to be a hero ... BUT does he succeed?  TCM runs this movie fairly often, so check it out!  Here is an example of the great lines:

Dan Milner: I'm too young to die. How about you?
Mark Cardigan: Too well-known.
Dan Milner: Well, if you do get killed, I'll make sure you get a first-rate funeral in Hollywood, at Grauman's Chinese Theatre.
Mark Cardigan: I've already had it. My last picture died there.

In Comedy of Terrors he is teamed up with fellow horror-genre actors Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre, and Basil Rathbone.  Price plays Waldo Trumbull, an undertaker, who has a scheme to drum up business:  killing his own customers!  The interplay between all these actors (Basil Rathbone is Shakespearean-quoting ham in this flick) PLUS the added talent of Joyce Jameson as the long-suffering Mrs. Trumbull, makes this movie a standout.  I could not pick just one line to quote on this one.  The entire film shoots arrows from beginning to end.
Vincent Price co-starred with Gene Tierney in films three times:  Laura, Leave Her to Heaven and Dragonwyck.  ALL of these films are among my favorites.  The only change I would like to have seen is Price in the lead male role in Leave Her to Heaven.  I never could understand why Ellen (Tierney) would choose Cornel Wilde over Vincent Price … maybe that’s just me.

RADIO
Over the last decade, I have become a HUGE fan of Old Time Radio shows.  The site, www.archive.org is a great place to retrieve these shows.  I like them because I load them up on my mp3 player and listen daily.  The Saint series, though not well-liked by some because of its writing, featured Price as private eye Simon Templar.  This character was portrayed in the movies by George Sanders, Roger Moore, and Val Kilmer.  He fit this role well as it had both comedy and action elements.  Price also had some very good stories on radio’s Suspense, Escape, and his own show, Price of Fear.  The story, Three Skeleton Key (series, Escape) is considered the best of all the renditions.  You can listen to it here:  http://www.archive.org/details/ThreeSkeletonKeyIt is the story of three men trapped in a lighthouse after it is run over with rats.  I don’t know that there was ever a movie made from this story, but it would be a good one.  In The Hunting Trip (with character actor Lloyd Nolan), Fugue in C Minor (with the WONDERFUL Ida Lupino), and Rave Notice, he is either murderer or … accidental victim.  I’ll let you listen to those and find out for yourself.
 
Television
I’ve had the most fun trying to find as many of Vincent Price’s TV work as I can.  He did quite a bit of guest roles in many shows I watched growing up:  Batman, The Red Skelton show, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Columbo, The Brady Bunch, The Bionic Woman, and Night Gallery.  He also had the job as a narrator of A Christmas Carol, a 1949 TV short.
In addition to all of this he

was an author, art collector, a gourmet cook, and he recorded many gothic horror stories to LP.  A Coven of Witches Tales is probably my favorite.  Someone kindly added them to their website which you can find here:  http://www.thesoundofvincentprice.com/coven1.html.

If I am in the mood for comedy, drama, or film noir or horror, I can ALWAYS find something starring Vincent Price.  I’m never disappointed except in the cases where I wished he had more of a presence.  The above scribblings have been only a few of the reasons I am such a fangirl.  I know I left out many movies worth mentioning but you see, I’ve only scratched the surface. 
A quote attributed to Price is as follows:   
“I've come to believe remembering someone is not the highest compliment - it is missing them.”

And yes, in Vincent Price’s case….I miss him very much.


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