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 INVISIBLE MAN (1933)

THE INVISIBLE MAN (USA, 1933) ****
      Distributor: Universal Pictures; Production Company: Universal Pictures; Release Date: 3 November 1933 (USA), 30 November 1933 (UK); Filming Dates: August 1933; Running Time: 71m; 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.
      Director: James Whale; Writer: R.C. Sherriff (based on the novel by H.G. Wells); Executive Producer: Carl Laemmle; Producer: Carl Laemmle Jr.; Director of Photography: Arthur Edeson; Music Composer: Heinz Roemheld (uncredited); Music Supervisor: Gilbert Kurland (uncredited); Film Editor: Ted J. Kent;  Art Director: Charles D. Hall; Make-up: Jack P. Pierce; Sound: Gilbert Kurland (uncredited); Visual Effects: John P. Fulton.
      Cast: Claude Rains (Dr. Jack Griffin aka The Invisible Man), Gloria Stuart (Flora Cranley), William Harrigan (Dr. Arthur Kemp), Henry Travers (Dr. Cranley), Una O’Connor (Jenny Hall), Forrester Harvey (Herbert Hall), Holmes Herbert (Chief of Police), E.E. Clive (Constable Jaffers), Dudley Digges (Chief Detective), Harry Stubbs (Inspector Bird), Donald Stuart (Inspector Lane), Merle Tottenham (Millie), Walter Brennan (Bicycle Owner (uncredited)), Robert Brower (Farmer (uncredited)), John Carradine (Informer Suggesting Ink (uncredited)), Dwight Frye (Reporter (uncredited)), Bob Reeves (Detective Hogan (uncredited)).
      Synopsis: A scientist finds a way of becoming invisible, but in doing so, he becomes murderously insane.
      Comment: H.G. Wells’ novel is brought to the screen in the stylish hands of director Whale and nuanced voice performance by Rains, who is only visible in the final shot. Rains has experimented with a serum that has made him invisible. Madness and megalomania increasingly take him over in his fruitless search for a cure. Rains’ vocal inflexions are both haunting and comedic and the material is often played for straight comedy. The character’s psychotic undercurrent becomes apparent as he commits a series of murders – firstly to protect his experiment and increasingly as spite, notably a scene where he derails a passenger train. The shifting tone is skilfully handled by Whale whose visual creativity along with the wonderful invisible effects by Fulton ensure the film remains absorbing throughout. The supporting performances are variable from O’Connor’s screeching innkeeper’s wife to a remarkably mannered Harrigan as Rains’ former assistant who Rains seeks revenge on for his betrayal. The movie was highly influential on the horror and fantasy genres and made a star out of Rains. Followed by THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS (1940) and THE INVISIBLE MAN’S REVENGE (1944).

Film Review – DRACULA (1931)

Dracula (1931; USA; B&W; 75m) ****  d. Tod Browning; w. Louis Bromfield, Tod Browning, Max Cohen, Dudley Murphy, Louis Stevens; ph. Karl Freund; m. Philip Glass (1999 release).  Cast: Bela Lugosi, Helen Chandler, Dwight Frye, Edward Van Sloan, David Manners, Herbert Bunston, Michael Visaroff, Frances Dade, Joan Standing, Charles K. Gerrard, Dorothy Tree, Tod Browning. The ancient vampire Count Dracula arrives in England and begins to prey upon the virtuous young Mina. The original Universal horror shows many signs of its age – from its static stage play background, lack of musical score to build the tension and hammy acting – particularly from Lugosi in the lead. However, these faults have to be taken in the context of the history it helped create. Despite his sometimes overwrought delivery, Lugosi does create a hypnotic spell over his victims and the audience. Frye gives the film’s best performance as Dracula’s fly-eating servant, his descent into which is set up in the opening sequence. The production design is truly gothic and helps create an atmosphere of unease. Much better was to follow, but this is still a historic moment in cinema history. Universal released a newly restored version of the film in 1999 that included a musical score by Glass. The original “Swan Lake” music during the opening credits was removed. Based on the play by Hamilton Deane, John L. Balderston and Garrett Fort adapted from the novel by Bram Stoker. Followed by DRACULA’S DAUGHTER (1936). [PG]