Another book on Boris Karloff? Yes, and a worthy one it is, with an original angle to offer. Karloff and the East: Asian, Indian, Middle Eastern and Oceanian Characters and Subjects in His Screen Career (McFarland), by Scott Allen Nollen with Yuyun Yuningsih Nollen, covers in depth more than forty films in which Karloff or supporting actors play characters of the ethnicities specified, or the story pertains to non-Western culture.
The films discussed bridge the gap between silent and sound cinema, and include several that the star's most devoted fans have likely not seen. The book's original research allows for a full-blooded discussion even of those that are presently believed to be lost. Alongside classics like The Mummy (1932), you'll find little-known early efforts like The Infidel (1922). They represent Karloff's work ranging from the 1910s to the early 1970s. To the authors' credit, the book doesn't move jerkily from one "Eastern" film to the next, omitting the connecting threads; it can also be profitably read as an overview of Karloff's entire career, which Scott Allen Nollen knows probably as well as anyone can.
For each film, the Nollens outline its story, and an account of its production, but supplement that with an assessment of how elements of Eastern culture are depicted. This is particularly interesting when reading about films like Voodoo Island (1957), which has been covered by several good writers, but never with the added context of how it presents religious and spiritual beliefs in the Hawaiian islands (clue: not well!). The result may even damn it to more critical brickbats than it customarily receives. As a B-movie (and Poverty Row) buff, I enjoyed the discussion of Monogram's Mr. Wong series, a welcome gig for Karloff during the turn away from horror films in the mid- to late 1930s. These are often dismissed as cheap potboilers, with little more than Karloff's paycheck and presence to justify them. But the authors approach these films as they do all covered in this volume, with minds open, not parroting earlier appraisals but making a fair assessment of what they have to offer.
The book's illustrations are stunning: vintage lobby cards, film stills, one-of-a-kind photos from Karloff's personal collection, and correspondence received from the likes of Vincent Price during Nollen's decades-long research into the star.
The brand of in-depth scholarship on display in this massive volume is becoming a bit of an endangered species, and the Nollens are to be congratulated for a strong contribution to film studies in general, and specifically the career of one of Hollywood's most enduring stars.
NOTE: I was furnished an e-copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.