From this house have come the most horrible monsters that ever roamed the earth!
Södersjukhusets kulvertar, inspelningsplats för Evil Ed.
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“Ghosts!” Constable Jack Belden snorted, disgusted. “Haunted houses! Baloney! You remind me of a country kid at a spook movie.”
Dr. Howard turned from studying the contorted body on the floor And you, Constable, re-mind me of a stubborn mule. Five times in thelast four years some poor vagrant or tramp has crawled into this old deserted house for shelter0n a stormy night. And five times we’ve found them the next morning in this condition with their severed heads hanging from that hook on the wall. What’s your theory-that they triedto shave in the dark and aceidentally lopped offtieir own heads?
“My theory”, Jack said flatly, “is that we’ve got a homicidal maniac in town. Somebody watches the house, sees a hobo sneak in and does the killing. I’ll nail them someday, too.”
The two men watched gloomily as the body of some unknown tramp was loaded into the undertaker s basket, the severed head placed in positionand the whole lugged out. Dr. Howard, who wasloeal coroner, turnecl for a last look at the gloomyold house with its air of sinister decay. Evem now,nder the morning sunlight, it breathed an auraof evil. of decay ånd death and perhaps worse.”For thirty years people have called it a haunted house. I’m no superstitious fool, but I agree with gossip. No human hand cut off those heads.”
“Bah”, Coustable Belden smppecl.TonightI’ll slip into the house just before midnight andcateh me a ghost. Keep this under your hat, Doc. I want to grab somebody red-handed.”
Despite Dr. Howard’s objections, Jack wentthrough wth his plan. A few minutes before midnight, dressed in old rags like a tramp, he prowled around the haunted house long enough to let a watcher see him, then crawled througlia broken window. As he settled himself against a wall of the death room, the town clock boomed midnight. He touched the button of his flashlight lightly.
Jack eased his pistol from its holster and laid it, cocked and ready, in his lap. Llis handeuffslay on the floor beside him, Every sense was tuned to the first sounds of an intuder. In the thick, dusty darkness, only a gray sqare showed the window across the room. A night wind, blowing through the broken panes, stirred strips of ancient wallpaper into rustling motion. That was the only sound in the night, Not even a mouse scurried overhead, nor a ericket chirped. The stilness was the silence of a tomb. Something like a chill breeze stirred the hairs on Jack’s neck. Despite himself, a shiver touched his nerves. There was no sight, no sound, but suddenly he felt the presence of some immense inhuman evil. It was in the room with him. Thecertainty of that #illed his mind. Something was creeping near.
Swiftly he clicked on the light and swept the beam around. There was nothing in the room. The dust lay umstired. He shut off the flash and the darkness closed in, and with it the siekening sese of an evil presence. Something touched his throat like a breath. A sharp, searing pain caught his neck so hard he gasped. The the pain was gone and with it the ominous feeling of being wateched.
Constable Belden sprang to his feet. Oddly his hands were empty, although he was sure that a moment before he had grasped both flashlight and pistol. He whiled sharply as a shaft of moonlight, released from the dark prison of the clouds, shot into the room.
There, against the wall where he had been sitting, was the slumped body of a man in ragged clothes. A pistol and flashlight lay in the dead lap. Where the figures head should be there was only a horrifying nothingness above the dull sheen of blood.
He looked up. A head hung from the crusted hook on the wall. The moonlight touched thestaring eyes, the teeth bared by twisted lips. He stared at it and then the full, deep measure ofknowledge swept over him.
The head on the hook was his own! The body on the floor was him! At midnight a presence had come and done its bloody deed and gone. Coustable Jack Belden was the sixth vitim. Knowing that, he turned and floated effortlessly, invisibly, on through the solid wall into the mystery of the night.
With Macbeth, Welle’s desire to subordinate the performances to the production’s overall concept was actually helpful, since his cast contained only four professional actors. The Federal Theater Project, it should be remembered, was a relief organization whose primary mission was to put people to work; Hallie Flanagan’s stated goal was to spend 90 percent of the FTP budget on salaries. Although she also decreed that only those who had previously made their living in the theater could be hired, in practice this conflicted with the bureaucratic requirement that 90 percent of the employees be taken from the relief rolls. Of the 750 people in the Black Unit, most had done only occasional work as extras or chorus dancers; barely 150 were real professionals, and they included elocutionists and African drummers as well as experienced actors.
At least the African drummers – a Sierra Leonean group headed by a genuine witch doctor – could be put to good use in Macbeth. For his murderous thane, Welles chose Jack Carter, who had made a sensation as Crown in Porgy but was also known as difficult and dangerous drunk. Balancing him as Lady Macbeth was Edna Thomas, a seasoned pro from the Lafayette Players who had also worked on Broadway. She had performed only one minor Shakespearean role, Carter none, but the actor cast as Hecate – Eric Burroughs, a graduate of London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art – presumably had some background in speaking verse. Canada Lee as a cigarette – smoking Banquo completed the production’s professional acting roster.
Rehearsals began with a good deal of tension in the air. The Harlem community was not at all sure what it thought of “Shakespeare in blackface” directed by a white man. Some African-Americans feared the production would make their race look ridiculous. One local zealot, convinced that Macbeth’s director was deliberately creating a travesty to humiliate blacks, attacked Welles with a razor in the Lafayette Theater lobby, apparently without hurting him. Within the FTP, a memo complained that Macbeth was consuming a disproportionate percentage of the Black Unit’s budget and staff time – a comment that seemed borne out by the elaborate costumes and vivid sets taking shape in Nat Karson’s designs. (In fact the scenic budget was a mere $2,000, low even in the ’30s, though generous by the standards of the FTP.)
The director responded to these pressures by creating a sense of community among his actors. He brought food and drink to rehearsals, paid for out of his earnings from radio work. That work kept him busy in the evenings, so the company assembled after midnight and rehearsed in nocturnal isolation, which also helped draw them together. Welles knew he had to establish his authority with a cast that quite possibly harbored doubts about his ability and intentions. He quickly won over Edna Thomas, respected by the others for her professionalism and dignity, by treating her with delicate consideration and respect. With the turbulent Jack Carter, he created a camaraderie of hell-raising, joining the actor after rehearsals ended at dawn to prowl through Harlem’s nightspots.
Rehearsals were often chaotic; a friend of Nat Karson’s attended one and found “absolute pandemonium, with Welles barking orders over the amplification system.” The director was volatile and caustic: “Jesus Christ, Jack – learn your lines!” and “What the hell happened to the Virgil Thomson sound effects between acts?” were among the exasperated comments found in his notes. Hallie Flanagan recalled later that “our Black company … were always … threatening to murder Orson in spite of their admiration for him.” But they were confident that the director’s outbursts weren’t racially motivated; he reserved his most venomous criticisms for the white lighting designer, Abe Feder. Welles knew how to get results from people, Houseman observed: “He had a shrewd instinctive sense of when to bully or charm, when to be kind or savage – and he was seldom mistaken.”
As the production took shape during technical run-throughs, it became clear that Welles had fashioned a dynamic, dazzlingly theatrical version of Macbeth that both compensated for his performers’ weaknesses and took advantage of their strengths. The actors spoke Shakespeare’s verse in a simple, unstudied manner perfectly suited to the production’s ferociously direct style. Their untrained voices were supported and given added impressiveness during the most important speeches by Welles’s use of drums, percussion and sound effects as underscoring.
The witches’ scenes were truly menacing, with the costumes, jungle backdrops and authentic voodoo drumming and chants creating a convincingly supernatural atmosphere. Garry Wills argues in Witches and Jesuits, his provocative book on Macbeth, that most psychologically oriented modern productions have failed to provide the coherent spiritual framework essential to making Macbeth’s downfall understandable; Welles seemed instinctively to grasp that voodoo would substitute nicely for the Elizabethans’ belief in witches as servants of the devil. The total effect was of a violent universe ruled by evil. Rewritten by Welles, the ending no longer suggested reconciliation and rebirth; instead, Malcolm seemed likely to be the witches’ next victim. Though Welle’s interpretation was not overtly political, this nightmare vision had obvious resonance in a world menaced by fascism and the threat of world war.