Hazel Court Interview

by Bruce Hallenbeck, Oct. `90

Note: This text is subject to the copyright of Bruce Hallenbeck and must not be re-used in any way without permission.

BH: Horror films were certainly the highlight of your career, but they weren't all you did.  Your first film was in about 1946, is that correct?

HC: That's about right.  I went to London, I remember, to Ealing Studios, when the bombs were still dropping.  My mother took me there.  We were in an air-raid, and I thought, "What are we doing here?" My mother said, "It'll be all right, it'll all be over soon." I remember her kissing me good-bye at the station and I went back to a little hotel in Ealing.  That's where my films all began, at Ealing Studios, where all those wonderful films with Alec Guiness ["The Ladykillers", etc.] came from.

BH: The next film in that Pierre that I have you listed for is the infamous "Devil Girl From Mars".

HC: Oh, my goodness!

BH: And it starred not only you, but Adrienne Corri and quite a few other people.

HC: You know, I'm told that somewhere in the world that film is playing every day!

BH: Are you happy about that or not?

HC: Oh, I think it's wonderful! Even Steven Spielberg looked at it! It was the first, before Spielberg did everything else! It was made for nothing, practically.  It's a piece of film history now.  And I think it's wonderful to be part of' it.

BH: You're very good in it.  You play a model and you do it with great conviction.  You're not camping it up.

HC: That was one of our secrets, I think, that we always played with great conviction.  When we did all these horror films! We did not camp around.

BH: That film was just released on tape by Rhino Video, and I understand it's doing very well.

HC: It's one of the favorites!

BH: These things don't haunt you?

HC: Oh, no, I think it's marvelous!

BH: No snobbery here.

HC: I think we're all so lucky to have done 911 of these things.  I think it's wonderful that I made four classic horror films that are still remembered today.  Here I am in my latter years, and it's exciting to get these marvelous letters from people all over the world.

BH: I don't think you'll find any group of people more loyal.

HC: Oh, they're wonderful.  They're lovely people.  And when I read what they write in their fan letters, sometimes I get a tear in my eye.

BH: "Curse of Frankenstein" really started the whole ball rolling for British horror films.  It was the first Frankenstein movie in color, as you made the first after the war.  And directed by the great Terence Fisher.

HC: Yes, a really lovely man.

BH: I always heard that he was very shy too?

HC: Yes, but he was very methodical about his directing: and very technical.  But he got everything done and it was always a joy.  We all had wonderful fun.

BH: I've also heard that he would pretty much let the actors run with what they wanted to do?

HC: Yes, that's true.  If he saw anything he didn't like, he'd tell you, but he'd let you go with it.

BH: Was that a difficult film to do?

HC: No, it was fun.  We made them very quickly.  They were beautifully mounted, with wonderful sets.  Some of those costumes were real Victorian clothes.

BH: You mentioned, I think it was in a Fangoria interview, that you never had a cheap costume at Hammer.

HC: Never.  They were absolutely beautiful; our daughter was in the film too.  [BH: Right.] Sally? Walsh.  She was just four or five then.

BH: I guess she decided not to pursue acting?

HC: Oh's a well-known artist today, a painter.

BH: Takes after her mother in one respect, then, as you're also an artist.

HC: A sculptress, yes.  Who would have thought that? I just said to someone the other day, if you'd told me when I was a little girl growing up in Birmingham, England that someday I'd be hacking at a five or six hundred pound piece of marble in Italy, I'd never have believed it.

BH: What you were making in "Curse of Frankenstein", did anybody have a clue that it was going to be the huge success that it was?

HC: No, we really didn't.  I followed it with another Hammer film.  [BH: "The Man Who Could Cheat Death".] Yes.

BH: These were the golden days at Hammer, when they were really turning out five or six movies a year, and they were all good!

HC: Yes, they were, I think probably because we worked like a family.

BH: That's what I keep hearing.  Everybody I've spoken to from Hammer says the same thing: that it was a nice atmosphere.

HC: It was.  It was very rare that anyone would be late, but if someone was, nobody screamed or yelled.  If we didn't start until eleven in the morning, somehow we always made it up.

BH: There's a very famous photograph taken, perhaps, in the Bray Studios commissary, in which you're sitting down at one end of the table having lunch, and Christopher Lee is setting at the other end made up as the monster.  It looked as though people tended to avoid Mr.  Lee when he was made up like that.  Is that true?

HC: Oh, that's funny! Yes, I should think that was true.

BH: What did you think of him with that makeup on?

HC: You couldn't talk to him much when he had that makeup on. That accounts for the silence of that table.

BH: What did you think of Lee?

HC: He's a very funny man always telling tales.  He had an enormous amount of stories to tell.  They all did Vincent and Boris and Peter Lorre.  Most of our day was made up of listening to them tell stories.

BH: I've heard Lee referred to as being rather aloof?

HC: I didn't find him to be that way at all.  He was quite charming.

BH: Speaking of aloof, what about Anton Diffring in "The Man Who Could Cheat Death"?

HC: Well, he was from quite a high level of acting.  He was very important in Germany.

BH: He was a master at playing really icy roles.

HC: Yes.  But he wasn't icy.  He was a little aloof.  But he was always charming.

BH: Would you say that most horror actors tend to be the opposite, in real life, of the roles they play?

HC: Yes, particularly Boris Karloff.  He was like a pussycat. He was a gentle, very sweet man.

BH: I've heard nothing but wonderful things about Peter Cashing, though.  Is he as nice as everyone says he is?

HC: Yes.  He's just a charming man.

BH: Even if you try to get him to say something bad about a person, he won't.

HC: Oh, no.  He couldn't.  It's not in him to say anything bad. He, of course, came from the stage.  He was a very serious actor.

BH: He was a thoroughly nasty character in "Curse of Frankenstein."

HC: And in real life he was the exact opposite.  Like Boris Karloff, the exact opposite.

BH: In "The Man Who Could Cheat Death", you actually had a nude scene, I understand?

HC: For the European version.  Just the top part, so that I could be sculpted.

BH: That must have been one of the first scenes of its kind ever shot in England?

HC: Yes, I think it was.

BH: These rumors have been circulating for years about some of the early Hammer Films being "double shot" for foreign markets.  It's interesting to have them confirmed.

HC: Yes, they would clear the set.  They'd have just a skeleton crew.

BH: What was your feeling about that scene?

HC: Well, the movie warranted it.  The character did have to be sculpted, that was part of it.  If it hadn't warranted it, I could have had an objection.

BH: So it doesn't bother you after all these years

HC: No, and it was beautifully done. It was a shot that no one could object to.  There I am, front and back!

BH: That seems like a good note on which to end this interview Thank you very much.

HC: Well, I've enjoyed it.  Thank you very much for asking me.

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