"DARK CARNIVAL: The Secret World of Tod Browning, Hollywood's Master of the Macabre" by David J. & Elias Savada Skal

"DARK CARNIVAL: The Secret World of Tod Browning, Hollywood's Master of the Macabre"

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Knowledgeable and meticulous, this is the first full-scale biography of America's first horror-film auteur. The strange genius of Tod Browning is perhaps best summed up in a single shot from his Dracula: Amidst the cobwebs of Dracula's Transylvania castle, a family of armadillos scurries across the floor. Browning made dozens of acclaimed box-office-busting silent films. But along with Dracula, he is best remembered for one of his few talkies, Freaks, a horrific yet strangely touching melodrama set in a circus freak show. While now regarded as a classic, it effectively ended Browning's career. For years he had used Hollywood's lavish machinery to illuminate his private obsessions--the occult, violence, mystery, deformity--and so long as these obsessions made money, the studios indulged him. Freaks bombed (it was also banned in several countries), and soon one of America's most successful directors was forced into retirement. What followed was a long, sad decline into alcoholic obscurity. By temperament, Browning was a very private man, destroying papers, refusing interviews, and much of his biography is simply speculation: Did his dark vision, for example, spring from some searing childhood trauma? Skal (The Monster Show, 1993, etc.) and film historian Savada have done an admirable job with what is available, teasing out meaning from the slenderest of sources and filling in the gaps with plausible hypotheses. They have also produced a first-rate filmography, chronicling all of Browning's films, a remarkable achievement considering that some simply no longer exist. However, Skal and Savada are less adept in their analysis of Browning's directorial style. His work with actors, shot design, and editing are mentioned only in passing--a shame considering that Browning's films are his best biography. Still, this is as thorough a recounting as we can probably hope for of this extraordinary but neglected talent.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1995
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Anchor/Doubleday