Long before the release of the cult film Dracula vs. Frankenstein (Rotten Tomatoes calls the 1971 movie “a slapdash epic of bad filmmaking”), the original stars of Dracula and Frankenstein met face to face–for a game of chess.
The scene is from an early 1934 episode of Columbia Pictures’ Screen Snapshots, a series of short films featuring the off-screen lives of Hollywood stars. Carl Laemmle at Universal Pictures had recently come up with the idea of casting Boris Karloff, who played the monster in the 1931 film Frankenstein, and Bela Lugosi, star of the same year’s Dracula, together in one movie. The Black Cat, based very loosely on the short story by Edgar Allan Poe, premiered in May of 1934 with Karloff and Lugosi at the top of the bill.
The appearance by Karloff and Lugosi on Screen Snapshots #11 was essentially a covert promotion for The Black Cat, but because Columbia and Universal were rivals the film isn’t mentioned. Instead, the two horror stars talk about the “Film Stars Frolic,” a fundraising event for the Screen Actors Guild that coincided with the opening of Gilmore Stadium in Los Angeles–and, as it happened, with the premiere of The Black Cat. The Screen Snapshots vignette begins with an atmosphere of menace as the two men frown at one another.
“Are you ready for the test, Dracula?” says Karloff.
“I’m ready, Frankenstein,” says Lugosi.
“Then–let us begin.”
At which point the two men break out laughing as the camera pulls back to reveal a chess board. For some reason Dracula has the white pieces.