Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Once Again For The First Time

My oddly worded header refers to that fact that I’m not 100% sure that I’ve ever really seen them before. I *think* that I watched 2 of them as a child. However my memory of them is not entirely clear. I may be recalling only clips and/or the many stills I was exposed to via Famous Monsters and various film books. Further, if I did see them, I would have caught them on commercial television and the movies I saw would have been edited. But most importantly my recent viewings are as an adult, with a wider understanding of things and more sophisticated in my analysis of the material.

When I recently commenting on Island Of Lost Souls , I remarked of how movies from the early 30’s were still evolving with regards to acting style. Frankenstein is certainly of this transitional period. Collin Clive came from a theatre background and gauging it by contemporary standards, his performance is often over the top. This is not really a criticism as it is in keeping with many good actors working in that period. In comparison though, it was Karloff’s performance that astonished me. His character is mute and he’s working under tons of make up, yet his performance is divinely subtle,
sensitive and moving.

The film surprised to me in several ways. Going in I expected to hate the “mad doctor” character of Henry Frankenstein. I may have been basing this on the crazy creation sequence with it’s insane “It’s’s alive!” rant. Nevertheless by the last third of the movie, he seems genuinely contrite and regretful about creating the creature. Conversely, I fully expected to have more sympathy towards the monster. But he appeared more dangerous and wild than I expected and felt that he really should be put down.

The movie was far more brutal and violent than I anticipated. I refer specifically to the murder of the professor, the dumping of Henry onto the windmill blade and with Dwight Frye’s sadistic tormenting of the creature. Maybe it’s just me, but did anyone else here believe that the creature actually raped the bride to be? The famous drowning scene appeared less insidious because I didn’t believe that the monster could understand the consequences of his actions.

As I watched the laboratory set it reminded me an awful lot of the one in the silent, Paul Wegener feature “The Magician“. I re-watched Frankenstein with the commentary track on and was tickled to hear this similarity noted there as well. I am fairly certain that I never previously saw The Bride of Frankenstein. For sure the imagery was very familiar and I’ve seen the bride’s introduction scene many times, but had never had to opportunity watch the dern thing. My pal, Mr. X cites this entry as his favorite in the series and I can sure see why.

The production values and sets are far superior to the originals. The comedic elements added a great deal to my enjoyment too (although I found the character of Minnie quite annoying.). I adored the performance of Ernest Thesiger as Dr. Pretorius . Karloff’s portrayal in this one definitely trumps the original. It’s in Bride that I found myself really empathizing with the beast. Granted he is still dangerous and violent but it’s in this film that you see
that he is mostly misunderstood. His self sacrifice at the climax aids in cultivating pity for him.

I also liked how the writers wrote themselves out of a corner in presenting how he survived the mill’s destruction. It reminded me how Stan & Jack used to explain how Dr. Doom escaped annihilation from one appearance to the next. I can well imagine that this detail in the Frankenstein films my have been a springboard for them. One thing I did not like was the recasting of Maria’s father. The image of the distraught father carrying his lifeless little girl in the original was heart wrenching. The actor chosen to reprise the role had no where near the charisma as the former player. I also didn’t like Mae Clarke’s replacement as Mrs. Frankenstein near as well.

 This brings us to the Son of Frankenstein. I’m sure that some folks may quibble over how some of the details from the first two films were changed in Son, but I felt that they served the new story very well. I really admired the more expressionistic sets too. But mostly I found that the casting was just brilliant, showing off four actors at the top of their game. Karloff’s monster may not have equaled his portrayal in Bride but it’s quite the equal to the first one. I’m not a huge Rathbone fan but he plays Wolf superbly. Lugosi’s Ygor , in my opinion, is his greatest role since Dracula. Finally, I found Lionel Atwill’s depiction of Krogh to be just amazing, perhaps the best acting in the movie.

The only real problem I had with Son was the swashbuckler like finale. But overall I found it solidly in the company of the other two entries.


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