Skip to main content

Create a race. A man-made race upon the face of the Earth. Why not?

Bride of Frankenstein
(1935)

(SPOILERS) It’s quite appropriate that Joe Dante should have introduced the documentary on the disc release of Bride of Frankenstein, since the film represents the original free-for-all sequel, one where the director gets away with perhaps not doing anything he wants, but far more than one would have expected within a studio structure. Dante would later achieve the same thing with Gremlins 2: The New Batch, of course. Bride of Frankenstein is held up as a horror classic, and understandably so; it’s a far superior picture to its predecessor. But it’s also a picture, consequently, that is far more memorable for its idiosyncrasies and foibles than for succeeding as lucidly considered narrative.

Which fully ties in with James Whale’s designs for the picture, that it should be a “hoot”. The concept duly went through a series of screenwriters before arriving at the final prospect of a mate for the monster, although it’s one of the picture’s peccadilloes that Else Lanchester only has about five minutes of screen time as the Bride; indeed, but for her iconic design, her dual role as Mary Shelley in the entertainingly affected opening sequence would surely be regarded as the more notable one.

There’s not that much of Colin Clive’s Henry Frankenstein either, at least not that much that’s engaging, aside from the obvious and oft-used visual quote “She’s alive! Alive!” Mostly, he frets over what he has done while Elizabeth (Valerie Hobson replacing Mae Clarke) tenderly rebukes his “insane desire to create living men from the dust of the dead”. Instead, we focus on by far the film’s best character – Karloff’s monster has nothing on him – in the form of Ernest Thesiger’s magnificently camp Doctor Pretorius, intent on dragging Frankenstein back into the creation business. Thesiger had appeared in Whale’s The Old Dark House three years earlier, and Universal apparently wanted Claude Rains (who is just as fantastic, in his own way, in The Invisible Man), so we have Whale to thank for persevering and securing this miracle of hilarity.

Pretorius, a professor of philosophy, was booted out of his university position “for knowing too much”, and in the most bizarre sequence in the film, we’re privy to the evidence of this. He too has created life, in the form of miniature “people” in glass jars (“I grew my creatures, like cuttings”), suggesting Frankenstein “leave the charnel house, and follow the lead of nature”. For his part, Frankenstein protests “This isn’t science. It’s more like black magic”. And something we’d be more likely to find in a Ray Harryhausen film.

Elsewhere, Pretorius is simply flamboyantly overripe (one could quite imagine a better version of Carry On Screaming with Kenneth Williams as a Pretorius type). At various points, he asks “Do you like gin? It’s my only weakness” and then “Have a cigar. They’re my only weakness”. When the Monster comes across him, having set up an impromptu picnic in a crypt (“I rather like this place”) with a skull as the centrepiece, he is quite unflustered (“Oh, I thought I was alone. Good evening”). The only disappointment is that the Monster singles him out for a fiery end while letting Frankenstein go free.

As for the Monster, the script is, shall we say, opportunistic about his presence, spending much of its time granting him a showcase travelogue as he happens across various types – kind, indignant or otherwise distressed – during which there’s precious little plot to be tracked. Most famous is OP Heggie’s blind hermit, memorably spoofed by Gene Hackman in Young Frankenstein, but really, there’s more than enough amusement here anyway to render Mel Brooks’ sendup slightly redundant. He’s definitely vastly over-starved of company (“I have prayed many times for God to send me a friend”).

The sequence also leads to the Monster speaking, something Karloff wasn’t keen on. Certainly, the talking version is much more Herman Munster than the original’s impassive creation, and with comedy hijinks of him eating, drinking and – very amusingly – smoking a cigar or two, Whale has to continually throw in moments where he menaces children, gypsies and shepherdesses to maintain any sense that he is a threat. But there’s already a sense of sendup here, with only his second appearance, an attitude that wouldn’t be uncommon in sequels of many and varied properties going forward, where filmmakers struggled to find anything to really interest them in going back to the well, so understandably opted for levity as a balm.

A dozy man-child the Monster may be, but it’s impossible not to feel sympathy for the big lug when his carefully-coiffured intended point blank spurns him. You can’t get much more emphatic than screaming at the sight of a suitor. Still, it feels to me that a chance was missed for more humorous unfolding at this point, rather than instantly moving on to blowing everything up.

Notable too is Una O’Connor, essentially playing the hysterical landlady part she did so memorably in The Invisible Man again. You can see where the late great Terry Jones got his eccentric lady act from. I suspect most would proclaim Bride of Frankenstein as the peak of the Universal horror cycle, and Thesiger certainly does a huge amount to credit that position, but I have to admit I find The Invisible Man the more satisfying picture overall. 



Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

I just hope my death makes more cents than my life.

Joker (2019)
(SPOILERS) So the murder sprees didn’t happen, and a thousand puff pieces desperate to fan the flames of such events and then told-ya-so have fallen flat on their faces. The biggest takeaway from Joker is not that the movie is an event, when once that seemed plausible but not a given, but that any mainstream press perspective on the picture appears unable to divorce its quality from its alleged or actual politics. Joker may be zeitgeisty, but isn’t another Taxi Driver in terms of cultural import, in the sense that Taxi Driver didn’t have a Taxi Driver in mind when Paul Schrader wrote it. It is, if you like, faux-incendiary, and can only ever play out on that level. It might be more accurately described as a grubbier, grimier (but still polished and glossy) The Talented Ripley, the tale of developing psychopathy, only tailored for a cinemagoing audience with few options left outside of comic book fare.

So you want me to be half-monk, half-hitman.

Casino Royale (2006)
(SPOILERS) Despite the doubts and trepidation from devotees (too blonde, uncouth etc.) that greeted Daniel Craig’s casting as Bond, and the highly cynical and low-inspiration route taken by Eon in looking to Jason Bourne's example to reboot a series that had reached a nadir with Die Another Day, Casino Royale ends up getting an enormous amount right. If anything, its failure is that it doesn’t push far enough, so successful is it in disarming itself of the overblown set pieces and perfunctory plotting that characterise the series (even at its best), elements that would resurge with unabated gusto in subsequent Craig excursions.

For the majority of its first two hours, Casino Royale is top-flight entertainment, with returning director Martin Campbell managing to exceed his excellent work reformatting Bond for the ‘90s. That the weakest sequence (still good, mind) prior to the finale is a traditional “big” (but not too big) action set piece involving an attempt to…

You killed my sandwich!

Birds of Prey (and the Fanatabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (2020)
(SPOILERS) One has to wonder at Bird of Prey’s 79% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. I mean, such things are to be taken with a pinch of salt at the best of times, but it would be easy, given the disparity between such evident approval and the actually quality of the movie, to suspect insincere motives on the part of critics, that they’re actually responding to its nominally progressive credentials – female protagonists in a superhero flick! – rather than its content. Which I’m quite sure couldn’t possibly be the case. Birds of Prey (and the Fanatabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) isn’t very good. The trailers did not lie, even if the positive reviews might have misled you into thinking they were misleading.

Afraid, me? A man who’s licked his weight in wild caterpillars? You bet I’m afraid.

Monkey Business (1931)
(SPOILERS) The Marx Brothers’ first feature possessed of a wholly original screenplay, Monkey Business is almost brazenly dismissive towards notions of coherence, just as long as it loosely supports their trademark antics. And it does so in spades, depositing them as stowaways bound for America who fall in with a couple of mutually antagonistic racketeers/ gangsters while attempting to avoid being cast in irons. There’s no Margaret Dumont this time out, but Groucho is more than matched by flirtation-interest Thelma Todd.

Remember, you're fighting for this woman's honour – which is probably more than she ever did.

Duck Soup (1933)
(SPOILERS) Not for nothing is Duck Soup acclaimed as one of the greatest comedies ever, and while you’d never hold it against Marx Brothers movies for having little in the way of coherent plotting in – indeed, it’s pretty much essential to their approach – the presence of actual thematic content this time helps sharpen the edges of both their slapstick and their satire.

You’re a disgrace to the family name of Wagstaff, if such a thing is possible.

Horse Feathers (1932)
(SPOILERS) After a scenario that seemed feasible in Monkey Business – the brothers as stowaways – Horse Feathers opts for a massive stretch. Somehow, Groucho (Professor Quincy Adams Wagstaff) has been appointed as the president of Huxley University, proceeding to offer the trustees and assembled throng a few suggestions on how he’ll run things (by way of anarchistic creed “Whatever it is, I’m against it”). There’s a reasonably coherent mission statement in this one, however, at least until inevitably it devolves into gleeful incoherence.

To defeat the darkness out there, you must defeat the darkness inside yourself.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010)
Easily the best of the Narnia films, which is maybe damning it with faint praise. 

Michael Apted does a competent job directing (certainly compared to his Bond film - maybe he talked to his second unit this time), Dante Spinotti's cinematography is stunning and the CGI mostly well-integrated with the action. 

Performance-wise, Will Poulter is a stand-out as a tremendously obnoxious little toff, so charismatic you're almost rooting for him. Simon Pegg replaces Eddie Izzard as the voice of Reepicheep and delivers a touching performance.
***

Bad luck to kill a seabird.

The Lighthouse (2019)
(SPOILERS) Robert Eggers’ acclaimed – and Oscar-nominated – second feature is, in some respects, a similar beast to his previous The Witch, whereby isolated individuals of bygone eras are subjected to the unsparing attentions of nature. In his scheme of things, nature becomes an active, embodied force, one that has no respect for the line between imaginings and reality and which proceeds to test its targets’ sanity by means of both elements and elementals. All helped along by unhealthy doses of superstition. But where The Witch sustained itself, and the gradual unravelling of the family unit led to a germane climax, The Lighthouse becomes, well, rather silly.

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…