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The Cinematheque celebrates famed move villain Lionel Atwill

July 05, 2013|By Susan King
  • The melodrama "The Devil Is a Woman," starring Lionel Atwill and Marlene Dietrich, will screen at the American Cinematheque's tribute to Atwill.
The melodrama "The Devil Is a Woman," starring Lionel Atwill… (American Cinematheque )

Though British actor Lionel Atwill had a long career in theater and in silent movies, it wasn't until the talkies that he came into his own as one of cinema's most menacing villains.

Beginning Thursday and continuing through July 25, the American Cinematheque is celebrating the career of the actor with its "Lionel Atwill Lurks Here" series.

The malevolent fun begins Thursday at the Egyptian with a triple bill of Atwill delights -- 1939's "Son of Frankenstein," the third film in the "Frankenstein" franchise which inspired Mel Brooks' "Young Frankenstein." Boris Karloff, Basil Rathbone and Bela Lugosi star, but it's Atwill's one-armed police chief -- he had lost his limb sadly after a close encounter with the monster -- who steals the movie. 

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That's followed by 1943's "Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man" and 1941's "Man Made Monster."

The series moves to the Aero on July 14 for two Marlene Dietrich melodramas, 1935's "The Devil Is a Woman," in which he plays a rare sympathetic role, and 1933's "The Song of Songs," which casts Atwill as a lecherous baron obsessed with Dietrich.

The July 18 double bill at the Egyptian features two delicious Warner Bros. horror films directed by Michael Curtiz starring Atwill in all of his evil glory -- 1933's "Mystery of the Wax Museum" and 1932's "Dr. X."

In the 1935 Errol Flynn classic swashbuckler "Captain Blood," screening July 25 at the Egyptian, Atwill moves out of the horror genre to play the odious military commander of a British colony. Rounding out the evening is 1933's mystery thriller "Secret of the Blue Room," which stars Gloria Stuart.

Though he still occasionally made an appearance in a Universal horror film, Atwill was relegated to making low-budget B movies after he was sentenced in 1942 to five years probation on a perjury conviction. He admitted lying to a grand jury during an investigation of a decadent Christmas party at his house (the press described it as an "orgy").

Atwill, who later said he "lied like a gentleman" to protect the identity of his guests, was granted termination of his sentence seven months later and his record was expunged. But his career never recovered from the sex scandal.

Atwill died in 1946 of lung cancer and pneumonia at the age of 61.

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