Today is the birthday of the great classic horror and mystery actor George Zucco (1886-1960). Zucco is definitely one of the great unsung players in the field, on account of being sort of a second stringer, but he’s definitely one of my favorites. No one can beat those intense, piercing, and insane eyes. I surely wouldn’t want those headlights beaming their malevolence down on me!
Born in Manchester, England, Zucco began performing in Canada in 1908, his travels taking him into American vaudeville over the next several years in a sketch he performed with his wife Frances. Then came service in World War One, fame on the British stage, then work in the British film industry(starting 1931), leading to the move to Hollywood (1935). He had some smaller roles in prominent productions like After the Thin Man (1936) and Parnell (1937) and occasional big ones like Professor Moriarty in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1939). Mysteries and horror (of both the A and B variety) were to be his bread and butter. He appeared in scores and scores of such films, including some in Universal’s “Mummy” series, House of Frankenstein (1944), Fog Island (1945), on and on and on. There are so many of them seems silly for me to list; get the whole list here at IMDB.
In The Mad Monster (1942) he created one of my favorite screen villains of all time: an unhinged mad scientist who injects a local half-wit with a serum that turns him into a werewolf, which he then enlists to murder the former colleagues who ridiculed his ideas. Sounds conventional enough; it’s Zucco’s performance that chills the blood. He could be a scary dude when the script called for it.
His last film roles were in 1951. Nine years later, he did this.
Zucco is one of my favorites; not only enjoy him in the perfectly nutty The Mad Monster but also in Dr. Renault’s Secret, in which, in a bit of reverse engineering, he turns an ape into J. Carroll Naish. Personally I think he is the BEST Moriarty on film. He also gives a lovely performance as a (sane) doctor in the noirish children’s film The Secret Garden. Definitely underrated.