Hollywood’s Pre-Code Horrors 1931-1934

by Raymond Valinoti, Jr.

Published by Bearmanor Media, 2016. 175 pages.

Review © 2017, revised 2020 by Matthew E Banks

Hollywood pre Cert Horror BookI’m going to start by saying that I really wanted to praise this book to the stars and back. It covers the era that I constantly research and write about. The author, Raymond Valinoti, Jr. has a Masters in Library Science and is (according to the blurb on the back) a freelance researcher, but I have been left cold and unimpressed. Firstly, where new, published evidence that contradicts previously held beliefs (myths) on films, has simply been ignored, swept under the carpet and the myth given new life despite this. For example, the myth that Lon Chaney was in the running to play Dracula has been proven to be false and yet it is reiterated here: “Tod Browning was hired as director. Chaney, having starred in the studio’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Phantom of the Opera, was expected to play the title role.” (pg.3) So who expected Chaney to star? Where is the evidence that he was expected to undertake this role? Valinoti, Jr. fails to answer these questions – which are left hanging in the air. Gary D. Rhodes in his excellent book Tod Browning’s Dracula (Tomahawk Press, 2014) completely dispels this myth, showing that Chaney and Universal were in dispute at the time of the actor’s death. The chapter on Frankenstein misses an opportunity to look at the various statements given as to how Karloff got the role; and out of the nineteen films under review, seven are Universal films that have had much written about them and offers nothing new. In fact, two of the films under review have had whole books dedicated to them. Both by Rhodes, we have the one mentioned above and one on White Zombie.

The book is set out like a McFarland publication giving cast and production details and a synopsis of each film before going into detail. Unfortunately it offers nothing new, the view point is bland and unimaginative, the sources are not referenced – for example: “The New York Times reported a similar reaction at the Mayfair …” (Pg.38) If it was not for the year the film came out, where would you look? What date? What page number? As a researcher myself, this information is essential.

The book does come with a bibliography and index and is written in a readable style. I’m sure for the everyday reader this book would be ideal despite its obvious flaws, but for film connoisseurs such as myself (and readers of We Belong Dead, I would suggest), the book falls flat. It is a book full of potential – (the research is out there!), but sadly this is a missed opportunity. 4/10