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 – 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 – 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]

Film Review – THE QUATERMASS XPERIMENT (1955)

THE QUATERMASS XPERIMENT (1955, Exclusive/Hammer Film Productions, UK, 82 mins, B&W, 1.66:1, Mono, Cert: PG, Sci-Fi Horror Thriller) ∗∗∗∗∗
      Starring: Brian Donlevy (Prof. Bernard Quatermass), Jack Warner (Insp. Lomax), Margia Dean (Mrs. Judith Carroon), Thora Hird (Rosemary ‘Rosie’ Elizabeth Wrigley), Gordon Jackson (BBC TV producer), David King-Wood (Dr. Gordon Briscoe), Harold Lang (Christie), Lionel Jeffries (Blake), Sam Kydd (Police Sergeant), Richard Wordsworth (Victor Carroon).
      Producer: Anthony Hinds; Director: Val Guest; Writer: Richard H. Landau, Val Guest (Based on the television play by Nigel Kneale); Director of Photography: Walter J. Harvey; Music: James Bernard; Film Editor: James Needs; Art Director: J. Elder Wills; Special Effects: Les Bowie.

The Quatermass Xperiment (1955)_0The film that launched Hammer Films’ foray into the horror genre. At the dawn of the space age the British Rocket Group launches three astronauts on an experimental mission. Their ship loses contact with Earth and subsequently crash-lands in the English countryside. Professor Bernard Quatermass (Donlevy) is intrigued to discover that two of the crew are no longer aboard. It soon becomes clear that the mission’s sole survivor, Victor Carroon (Wordsworth), is desperately ill and is rapidly being consumed by the alien organism that killed his fellow astronauts.

The body horror theme of a parasite infecting humans was to become a staple device in much of the later sci-fi genre surfacing with films such as ALIEN, THE THING and numerous stories from TV’s Doctor Who utilising the theme very effectively. Here it is realised through a brilliant portrayal of a man possessed by Richard Wordsworth. His internal turmoil is effectively conveyed by the actor in a manner that recalls Karloff’s monster in FRANKENSTEIN. Val Guest keeps the tension high and the story lean, whilst James Bernard delivers a haunting score.

There has been much written about Brian Donlevy’s suitability for the role of Quatermass and there are times when his histrionics are a little over-bearing as he attempts to capture the professor’s driven personality. Margia Dean is equally unconvincing as Wordsworth’s wife. But Warner adds some fun to his portrayal of the everyman detective inspector, which brings a welcome lighter element to the story. There are also small roles for such favourites as Thora Hird, in a memorable cameo as a homeless lady who encounters the creature, and Gordon Jackson as a BBC producer keen to ensure the show goes on in the Westminster Abbey conclusion.

Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass stories would prove very popular on both small and big screen and a sequel, QUATERMASS 2 (again with Donlevy), followed in 1957. However, it was 1967’s QUATERMASS AND THE PIT (this time with Andrew Keir as Quatermass) that would become the most successful adaptation and impressive production.