Film Review – SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939)

SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939, USA) ****
Sci-Fi, Horror, Drama
dist. Universal Pictures (USA), General Film Distributors (GFD) (UK); pr co. Universal Pictures; d. Rowland V. Lee; w. Wyllis Cooper (suggested by the novel “Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus” by Mary Shelley); pr. Rowland V. Lee; ph. George Robinson (B&W. 35mm. Spherical. 1.37:1); m. Frank Skinner; ed. Ted J. Kent; ad. Jack Otterson; rel. 13 January 1939 (USA), January 1939 (UK); BBFC cert: PG; r/t. 99m.
cast: Basil Rathbone (Baron Wolf von Frankenstein), Boris Karloff (The Monster), Bela Lugosi (Ygor), Lionel Atwill (Inspector Krogh), Josephine Hutchinson (Elsa von Frankenstein), Donnie Dunagan (Peter von Frankenstein), Emma Dunn (Amelia), Edgar Norton (Thomas Benson), Perry Ivins (Fritz), Lawrence Grant (Burgomaster), Lionel Belmore (Emil Lang), Michael Mark (Ewald Neumüller), Caroline Frances Cooke (Frau Neumüller), Gustav von Seyffertitz (Burgher), Lorimer Johnston (Burgher), Tom Ricketts (Burgher).
Rathbone is the son of original Frankenstein who returns to the ancestral castle long after the death of the monster (Karloff). There he meets the mad shepherd Ygor (Lugosi) who is hiding the comatose creature. To clear the family name, he revives the creature and tries to rehabilitate him. The third in the series was successful enough to re-ignite Universal’s interest in the genre. Whilst the plot may be familiar, there are still many iconic moments here that make this another high quality addition to the series. Lugosi is superb as the bitter and twisted (both mentally and physically) Ygor and Atwill enjoys himself as the police inspector with an artificial arm (lampooned hilariously in Mel Brooks’ YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (1974)). Rathbone too rises to the occasion with an energetic performance. Karloff continues to add pathos and a physical presence to the role of the creature, but here he is given less to do. The expressionistic set design and shadowy photography are first class and Lee directs the material with a sure hand. The series would descend into routine hokum starting with THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN (1942).

Film Review – FRANKENSTEIN (1931)

FRANKENSTEIN (1931, USA) *****
Horror, Sci-Fi

dist. Universal Pictures (USA), General Film Distributors (GFD) (UK); pr co. Universal Pictures ; d. James Whale; w. Garrett Fort, Francis Edward Faragoh (Based on the novel “Frankenstein or, the Modern Prometheus” by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and the composition of John L. Balderston from the play “Frankenstein” by Peggy Webling); exec pr. Carl Laemmle; pr. Carl Laemmle Jr.; assoc pr. E. M. Asher; ph. Arthur Edeson (B&W. 35mm. Spherical. 1.20:1); m. Bernhard Kaun (uncredited); md. David Broekman (uncredited); m sup. Gilbert Kurland (uncredited); ed. Maurice Pivar, Clarence Kolster; ad. Charles D. Hall; set d. Herman Rosse (uncredited); cos. Mae Bruce (uncredited); m/up. Jack P. Pierce; sd. C. Roy Hunter (Mono (Western Electric Sound System)); sfx. John P. Fulton (uncredited); vfx. Raymond Lindsay (uncredited); rel. 21 November 1931 (USA), 25 January 1932 (UK); cert: PG; r/t. 70m.

cast: Colin Clive (Henry Frankenstein), Mae Clarke (Elizabeth), John Boles (Victor Moritz), Boris Karloff (The Monster), Edward Van Sloan (Doctor Waldman), Frederick Kerr (Baron Frankenstein), Dwight Frye (Fritz), Lionel Belmore (The Burgomaster), Marilyn Harris (Little Maria). Uncredited: Ted Billings (Villager), Mae Bruce (Screaming Maid), Jack Curtis (Villager), Arletta Duncan (Bridesmaid), William Dyer (Gravedigger), Francis Ford (Hans), Mary Gordon (Mourner), Soledad Jiménez (Mourner), Carmencita Johnson (Little Girl), Seessel Anne Johnson (Little Girl), Margaret Mann (Mourner), Michael Mark (Ludwig), Robert Milasch (Villager), Pauline Moore (Bridesmaid), Inez Palange (Villager), Paul Panzer (Mourner at Gravesite), Cecilia Parker (Maid), Rose Plumer (Villager), Cecil Reynolds (Waldman’s Secretary), Ellinor Vanderveer (Medical Student).

This classic horror film follows the obsessed scientist Dr. Henry Frankenstein (Clive) as he attempts to create life by assembling a creature from body parts of the deceased. Aided by his loyal misshapen assistant, Fritz (Frye), Frankenstein succeeds in animating his monster (Karloff), but, confused and traumatized, it escapes into the countryside and begins to wreak havoc. Frankenstein searches for the elusive being, and eventually must confront his tormented creation. Following hot on the heels of the release of the phenomenally successful DRACULA six months earlier, Whale produced a masterpiece of image and atmosphere. From the opening graveyard scenes to the climax in a burning windmill, the film grips tight and refuses to let go. Edeson’s use of light and shadow is wonderfully creative and Whale uses the camera frame to get maximum effect from Hall’s gothic set designs. The iconic moment where Clive’s monster shows signs of life leading to his creator’s exultant cries of “It’s alive!” are chilling. Karloff conjures both menace and pathos as the monster and Pierce’s ground-breaking make-up has entered cinema folklore. The supporting cast is led by Van Sloan as Clive’s mentor, whilst Frye is memorable as his hunchbacked assistant. Clarke plays Clive’s fiancé, bemused by his obsessive behaviour. Boles is a little too wooden as a friend of the family, but Kerr as Clive’s father is wonderfully dotty. Watch out for the memorable restored scene with Karloff and a young girl by the lake, which leads to the torch-bearing mob climax. Van Sloan (Dr Waldman) also makes an uncredited appearance as himself in the film’s prologue, to warn audiences of what follows. In 1991, the Library of Congress selected Frankenstein for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” Followed by BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935).

 

Film Review – THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935)

BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935, USA) *****
Horror, Sci-Fi

dist. Universal Pictures; pr co. Universal Pictures; d. James Whale; w. William Hurlbut (adapted by William Hurlbut and John L. Balderston and suggested by the original story written in 1816 by Mary Shelley); pr. Carl Laemmle Jr.; ph. John J. Mescall (B&W. 35mm. Spherical. 1.37:1); m. Franz Waxman; ed. Ted J. Kent; ad. Charles D. Hall; cos. Vera West (uncredited); m/up. Jack P. Pierce, Irma Kusely (both uncredited); sd. Gilbert Kurland (Mono (Noiseless Western Electric Recording)); sfx. Ken Strickfaden; vfx. John P. Fulton; rel. 19 April 1935 (USA), 27 June 1935 (UK); cert: PG; r/t. 75m.

cast: Boris Karloff (The Monster), Colin Clive (Henry Frankenstein), Valerie Hobson (Elizabeth), Ernest Thesiger (Doctor Pretorius), Elsa Lanchester (Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley / The Monster’s Mate), Gavin Gordon (Lord Byron), Douglas Walton (Percy Bysshe Shelley), Una O’Connor (Minnie), E.E. Clive (Burgomaster), Lucien Prival (Butler), O.P. Heggie (Hermit), Dwight Frye (Karl), Reginald Barlow (Hans), Mary Gordon (Hans’ Wife), Anne Darling (Shepherdess), Ted Billings (Ludwig).

In this sequel to Universal’s classic 1931 FRANKENSTEIN, Mary Shelley reveals the main characters of her novel survived. After recovering from injuries sustained in the mob attack upon himself and his creation, Dr. Frankenstein (Clive) falls under the control of his former mentor, Dr. Pretorius (Thesiger), who insists the now-chastened doctor resume his experiments in creating new life. Meanwhile, the Monster (Karloff) remains on the run from those who wish to destroy him without understanding that his intentions are generally good despite his lack of socialization and self-control. Whale brings in elements of wit and the macabre thereby opening out the story. Notable amongst these new elements is the addition of Thesiger’s Dr. Pretorius. Bizarre, sinsiter and camp in equal measures Thesiger is unforgettable and provides a much needed offset to Clive’s more melodramatic turn as Frankenstein. Karloff returns as the monster and is given the added power of speech following his meeting with a blind hermit (Heggie) in a scene that adds both pathos and humour. The film comes into its own in the climax laboratory scene with Thesiger and Clive bringing Lanchester’s “bride” for the monster to life. The sequence is technically superb with its use of light and shadow, obtuse camera angles and rapid editing. The sequence shows what a true artist Whale was. The gothic set design, innovative creature make-up and dynamic photography are all top draw. Whilst some of the performances may come across as hammy, you must remember this is the early days of the talkies and a certain staginess is inevitable. The look and atmosphere are unforgettable and the film has come to be rightly regarded as a classic of the genre. Clive broke a leg in a horse riding accident. Consequently, many of his scenes were shot with him sitting. John Carradine is one of the two hunters that appear at the hermit’s cabin proclaiming the hermit’s guest is in fact the monster. Followed by SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939) and remade as THE BRIDE (1985).

AAN: Best Sound, Recording (Gilbert Kurland)

Film Review – THE MASK OF FU MANCHU (1932)

Pre Code Confidential #4: Boris Karloff in THE MASK OF FU MANCHU ...THE MASK OF FU MANCHU (USA, 1932) ***½
      Distributor: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM); Production Company: Cosmopolitan Productions / Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) ; Release Date: 5 November 1932 (USA), 24 November 1932 (UK); Filming Dates: 6 August 1932 – 21 October 1932; Running Time: 68m; Colour: B&W; Sound Mix: Mono (Western Electric Sound System); Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Spherical; Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1; BBFC Cert: PG.
      Director: Charles Brabin; Writer: Irene Kuhn, Edgar Allan Woolf, John Willard (based on the novel by Sax Rohmer); Director of Photography: Tony Gaudio; Music Composer: William Axt (uncredited); Film Editor: Ben Lewis; Art Director: Cedric Gibbons; Costumes: Adrian; Make-up: Cecil Holland (uncredited); Sound: Douglas Shearer; Special Effects: Warren Newcombe (uncredited).
      Cast: Boris Karloff (Dr. Fu Manchu), Lewis Stone (Nayland Smith), Karen Morley (Sheila Barton), Charles Starrett (Terrence Granville), Myrna Loy (Fah Lo See), Jean Hersholt (Von Berg), Lawrence Grant (Sir Lionel Barton), David Torrence (McLeod), Everett Brown (Slave (uncredited)), Steve Clemente (Knife Thrower (uncredited)), Willie Fung (Ship’s Steward (uncredited)), Ferdinand Gottschalk (British Museum Official (uncredited)), Allen Jung (Coolie (uncredited)), Tetsu Komai (Swordsman (uncredited)), James B. Leong (Guest (uncredited)), Oswald Marshall (Undetermined Role (uncredited)), Chris-Pin Martin (Potentate (uncredited)), Lal Chand Mehra (Indian Prince (uncredited)), Edward Peil Sr. (Coolie Spy (uncredited)), Clinton Rosemond (Slave (uncredited)), C. Montague Shaw (Curator Dr. Fairgyle – British Museum Official (uncredited)), E. Alyn Warren (Goy Lo Sung – Fu Manchu Messenger (uncredited)), Olive Young (Cantina singer (uncredited)).
      Synopsis: Englishmen race to find the tomb of Ghengis Khan. They have to get there fast, as the evil genius Dr. Fu Manchu is also searching, and if he gets the mysteriously powerful relics, he and his diabolical daughter will enslave the world!
      Comment: Karloff is excellent as Sax Rohmer’s evil Dr Fu Manchu in this pre-Hays code adventure controversial for its racial overtones. Stone leads an expedition to Africa in search of the tomb of Genghis Khan to claim the sword and mask from within. Karloff seeks the treasures for his own benefit. Sumptuously designed and with torture scenes that would have pushed the censors a couple of years later, it is a fascinating adaptation of Rohmer’s simplistic story if rather leaden due to the static camerawork. Loy is deliciously treacherous as Karloff’s daughter who seduces Starrett – the pair being an obvious influence on FLASH GORDON’s Emperor Ming and Princess Aura. Charles Vidor was fired after a few days of shooting and replaced as director by Brabin. Rohmer’s original novel was serialized in Colliers between 7 May and 23 July 1932.

Film Review – THE MUMMY (1932)

Image result for the mummy 1932THE MUMMY (USA, 1932) ****
     Distributor: Universal Pictures; Production Company: Universal Pictures; Release Date: 22 December 1932 (USA); Filming Dates: mid September – mid October 1932; Running Time: 73m; Colour: B&W; Sound Mix: Mono (Western Electric Noiseless Recording Sound System); Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Spherical; Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1; BBFC Cert: PG – mild horror and violence.
     Director: Karl Freund; Writer: John L. Balderston (from a story by Nina Wilcox Putnam & Richard Schayer); Executive Producer: Carl Laemmle; Producer: Carl Laemmle Jr.; Associate Producer: Stanley Bergerman (uncredited); Director of Photography: Charles J. Stumar; Music Composer: James Dietrich (uncredited); Film Editor: Milton Carruth; Art Director: Willy Pogany (uncredited); Costumes: Vera West (uncredited); Make-up: Jack P. Pierce (uncredited); Sound: Joe Lapis (uncredited); Special Effects: John P. Fulton.
     Cast: Boris Karloff (Imhotep), Zita Johann (Helen Grosvenor), David Manners (Frank Whemple), Arthur Byron (Sir Joseph Whemple), Edward Van Sloan (Doctor Muller), Bramwell Fletcher (Ralph Norton), Noble Johnson (The Nubian), Kathryn Byron (Frau Muller), Leonard Mudie (Professor Pearson), James Crane (The Pharaoh), Henry Victor (The Saxon Warrior (scenes Deleted)), Arnold Gray (Knight (scenes deleted)). Uncredited: Florence Britton (Nurse), Jacob Dance (Party Guest), Jack Deery (Party Guest), Bill Elliott (Party Guest), Leyland Hodgson (Gentleman #2 at Cairo Party), Eddie Kane (Inspector’s Assistant), Tony Marlow (Police Inspector), C. Montague Shaw (Gentleman #1 at Cairo Party), Pat Somerset (Helen’s Dancing Partner), Arthur Tovey (Nubian).
      Synopsis: A resurrected Egyptian mummy stalks a beautiful woman he believes to be the reincarnation of his lover and bride.
     Comment: Another of Universal’s horror classics. This one relies on atmosphere and mood rather than thrills and shocks. Karloff gives a mesmerising performance as the re-incarnated Imhotep. Jack Pierce’s make-up is first-class and is well lit by cameraman  Stumar – notably in scenes were Karloff takes over the minds of those who would get in his way. Johann makes for an effective descendant who comes under Karloff’s spell, using her eyes and body to alluring effect. Van Sloan follows up his appearances in DRACULA (1931) and FRANKENSTEIN (1931) by again playing the expert doctor, here figuring out the mystery behind Karloff’s plans. There is only a limited musical score resulting in lapses in tension and the story feels a little one-paced as a result. A host of sequels, remakes and copies followed, but at the time this was a unique and unsettling experience that sat just behind its illustrious predecessors.
Notes: The main theme music to the opening credits is the exact same movement from “Swan Lake” used to open DRACULA one year earlier. Unlike other Universal Monsters films, THE MUMMY had no official sequels, but rather was reimagined in THE MUMMY’S HAND (1940) and its sequels, THE MUMMY’S TOMB (1942), THE MUMMY’S GHOST (1944), THE MUMMY’S CURSE (1944), and the studios’ comedy-horror crossover movie ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET THE MUMMY (1955). These films focus on the titular character named Kharis (Klaris in the Abbott and Costello film). Remade in 1959 and 1999.

Film Review – FRANKENSTEIN (1931)

Image result for FRANKENSTEIN 1931FRANKENSTEIN (USA, 1931) ****½
Distributor: Universal Pictures (USA), General Film Distributors (GFD) (UK); Production Company: Universal Pictures ; Release Date: 21 November 1931 (USA), 25 January 1932 (UK); Filming Dates: 24 August 1931 – 3 October 1931; Running Time: 70m; Colour: B&W; Sound Mix: Mono (Western Electric Sound System); Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Spherical; Aspect Ratio: 1.20:1; BBFC Cert: PG – mild horror and violence.
Director: James Whale; Writer: Garrett Fort, Francis Edward Faragoh (Based on the novel “Frankenstein or, the Modern Prometheus” by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and the composition of John L. Balderston from the play “Frankenstein” by Peggy Webling); Executive Producer: Carl Laemmle; Producer: Carl Laemmle Jr.; Associate Producer: E. M. Asher; Director of Photography: Arthur Edeson; Music Composer: Bernhard Kaun (uncredited); Film Editor: Maurice Pivar, Clarence Kolster; Art Director: Charles D. Hall; Costumes: ; Make-up: Jack P. Pierce; Sound: C. Roy Hunter; Special Effects: John P. Fulton (uncredited).
Cast: Colin Clive (Henry Frankenstein), Mae Clarke (Elizabeth), John Boles (Victor Moritz), Boris Karloff (The Monster), Edward Van Sloan (Doctor Waldman), Frederick Kerr (Baron Frankenstein), Dwight Frye (Fritz), Lionel Belmore (The Burgomaster), Marilyn Harris (Little Maria). Uncredited: Ted Billings (Villager), Mae Bruce (Screaming Maid), Jack Curtis (Villager), Arletta Duncan (Bridesmaid), William Dyer (Gravedigger), Francis Ford (Hans), Mary Gordon (Mourner), Soledad Jiménez (Mourner), Carmencita Johnson (Little Girl), Seessel Anne Johnson (Little Girl), Margaret Mann (Mourner), Michael Mark (Ludwig), Robert Milasch (Villager), Pauline Moore (Bridesmaid), Inez Palange (Villager), Paul Panzer (Mourner at Gravesite), Cecilia Parker (Maid), Rose Plumer (Villager), Cecil Reynolds (Waldman’s Secretary), Ellinor Vanderveer (Medical Student).
Synopsis: Horror classic in which an obsessed scientist assembles a living being from parts of exhumed corpses.
Comment: Following the success of Dracula, released in February 1931, Universal quickly put this adaptation of Mary Shelley’s literary horror classic into production. The result was an even stronger film that brought a greater cinematic presence to the stage play adaptation. This is notable in the production design, with its angular sets echoing those seen in the silent expressionist films from Germany. The set design and atmosphere are heightened by Edeson’s use of contrast in his cinematography. Like Dracula, this production did not feature a musical score and potentially loses some tension as a result. This is more than made up for by Karloff’s performance as the Monster, in which he manages to which evoke sympathy from the audience despite his horrific appearance. Frye, who produced the best performance in Dracula, returns here as the hunchback assistant to Colin Clive’s Frankenstein. Clive’s own performance may be melodramatic but convincingly conveys the character’s descent into madness. Van Sloan (another carry-over from Dracula) is effective as Clive’s mentor. Mae Clarke plays the love interest and provides the screams. The result is a monster classic that set the bar for all Universal horror productions, including a host of sequels commencing with BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935), to follow.
Notes: Van Sloan (Dr Waldman) also makes an uncredited appearance as himself in the film’s prologue, in order to warn audiences of what follows. In 1991, the Library of Congress selected Frankenstein for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

Film Review – HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944)

Related imageHouse of Frankenstein (1944; USA; B&W; 71m) **½  d. Erle C. Kenton; w. Edward T. Lowe Jr.; ph. George Robinson; m. Hans J. Salter.  Cast: Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney Jr., J. Carrol Naish, John Carradine, Anne Gwynne, Peter Coe, Lionel Atwill, George Zucco, Elena Verdugo, Sig Ruman. An evil scientist and a hunchback escape from prison and encounter Dracula, the Wolf Man and Frankenstein’s Monster. Suffers from having to cater for too many monsters and therefore each story feels rushed and is ultimately disappointing. Karloff and Naish, as the mad scientist and his hunchback assistant, do their best with the material, but this is only mediocre entertainment. Based on a story by Curt Siodmak. Followed by HOUSE OF DRACULA (1945). [PG]