Movie Review: Frankenstein

Posted: January 26, 2010 in Movie Review, Reviews
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Frankenstein (1931 Universal Dir. James Whale)

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And they looked up just in time to see the LAPD Helicopter flying over head.

Time to switch gears for a bit. We’ll get back to vampires in a bit, but I want to do Frankenstein right now. Let’s begin with a story about Bela Lugosi. Lots of people sort of know the story of Bela and Frankenstein. It’s said he was offered the role of the monster and turned it down, and thus began his spiral towards Ed Wood. Not quite. The story I heard was at first they wanted him to play Victor, which isn’t really a dumb idea. Robert Florey was over ruled by Carl Laemmle, who wanted Bela to play the monster. Bela made a test real, with dramatically different make-up, but something happened and Florey was moved to a different project. When James Whale came on board, so did Karloff and movie history was made. I don’t know what happened between Karloff and Bela, but I assume changes in the make-up and script got to be where Lugosi wasn’t interested anymore. While many point at his loss of the Frankenstein roll as the beginning of Lugosi’s decent, it would have happened anyway. Type casting was going to eat him alive weather he had played Frankenstein or not. He did well for a few years but there was nothing to match up to the success he had as Dracula.

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Wha-why would you even put that there?.

Now this movie opens with a bit of strangeness. The guy who played Van Helsing in Dracula comes out and tells the audience that the movie is very scary and if they want to leave now is the time. It was meant doubly as an “Ooooh this is going to be really scary” tactic while also mentioning that that Dr. Frankenstein was very naughty for trying to play God and all that. Religious groups have never liked the story of Frankenstein, something about objecting to hunchbacks I suppose. They’re very down on the Hunchback from Notre Dame too, have you ever noticed? I guess they’ve just got something against hunchbacks. Yeah, you could argue they disagree with the whole bringing back the dead thing, but then they go and worship Jesus who also brought people back to life and even did it himself so I think that argument is full of holes and it’s all about their hatred of hunchbacks.

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I have to talk to the boss about an intercom system.

As the film opens we find… Renfield? No, of course not. It is Dwight Frye again, but this time playing a character called Fritz. He’s not in the book, and in fact not is probably a good time to bring this up. The movie that if Sir Clement Freud still alive I would expect him to buzz the movie for deviation. However, since he isn’t, I don’t. I suggest this is the highest mark of charity on my part, not asking a dead man to get back to work after he has gone on to his final rest. Anyway, Fritz and his boss Henry Frankenstein (not Victor as in most versions… I await a buzz Freud) steal the body of a recently killed buried man. They also stop on the way home to pick up a bottle of milk cut down a recently hanged man. One assumes they look for only the freshest ingredients when committing blasphemy. Sadly, Henry announces that the neck is broken and thus the man’s brain is useless. He looks right into the camera as he says “We must find another brain!” which surprisingly isn’t followed by a sting of trumpet music. Actually, it isn’t because there wasn’t a lot of music in movies during the early thirties. Music didn’t really become an integral part of movie making until the late thirties and early forties. There are many movies, and this is one of them, where there is no music besides the opening and closing credits.

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This is CLEARLY the face of sanity. Hell, I’d trust him to sell me a used car.

Those of you who have seen Young Frankenstein will know what’s going to happen next. Fritz breaks into a school, a modern one as there are girls in the current fashions in the class, and in trying to get the normal brain drops it in a very obvious attempt to drop a brain. There’s a bong off screen, but it was really just him trying to drop one brain and replace it with another. Then the boring bit ensues, and it is REALLY boring. You see, Henry’s girlfriend and his BFF get together and discuss how strange he’s been acting with his former teacher, doctor… um… ah… Van Helsing? Why not? It’s the same actor as we had in the Universal Dracula. I’m going with it! So Dr. VH explains to the GF & BFF that Henry has been trying to make life with electricity. This leads to them all agreeing to go se Victor and it takes them 2 hours to get there. The movie just stops dead when Henry, Fritz or the monster aren’t on screen.

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You can just tell it’s normal! All normal brains have “Normal Brain” written in crayon on their labels.

Fortunately, after the seven-hour epic of the GF, the BFF and Dr VHF we get right back to Henry and Fritz working on the monster. They’re interrupted by the trio of dead air, but Fritz tells them to piss off and to take their copies of Watchtower with them. They keep shouting that they should be allowed to be in the movie no matter how much of a waste of time the represent and just to make them go away he gives them a couple of seconds. This of course leads to them sucking the life out of the movie as they demand to let them stay and watch him make the monster. The GF offers to bring some potato salad if he’s making Monster tonight. Typical of people, you get everything ready to go and people suck the life out of the room and your monster. What bugs me is that Henry mentions that he’s found the great ray that brings life into the world and the first thing that Dr VHF says is “Oh, and your proof?” and I’m thinking that if Henry didn’t have to entertain you jackasses who came to his lab in the middle of the night in a howling thunderstorm, maybe he could get some proof! Dumb ass! What kind of scientists are these? Why won’t they let the nice man get back to work?

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Now bend and one and reach and one! Now jumping jacks!

After that of course, it’s just pure coolness. Victor brings his creation to life, which is always awesome. Then the movie becomes boring for seven or eight more weeks. None of the subplots or side characters are even remotely worth talking about, so I won’t. The last few reviews have been way too long anyway. Suffice to say, no one believes in Henry’s work, they all think he’s crazy or up to something or that no good will come from any of this or blah, blah, blah. Karloff is interesting to watch as is Colin Clive as Henry, but they’re not really interesting to write about because mostly it’s philosophy or pantomime. The philosophy is interesting enough, but in this day and age it’s extremely cliché. The pantomime is equally interesting, but the performance has been repeated and parodied so many times it’s a little hard to discuss without having you here to view it. It only becomes really interesting to discuss when Fritz starts teasing the monster with the torch and causes him to flip out. It’s because of the constant torment with a torch and a whip that causes the monster to kill Fritz.

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You’re standing on my train.

I hate to be so critical, but the movie just plain dies every time Clive or Karloff are off screen. Any time they aren’t around the movie grinds to a halt, and while Clive can help sustain your interest, the movie doesn’t come back to life until Karloff returns and does something spooky. To that extent, the boys bugger up and attempt to kill the monster and he escapes from them. The movie then flat lines while some wedding subplot so dull I usually turn on the Rudy Behlmer commentary to relieve the boredom. Rudy at least, is always interesting. Sudden side bar about Rudy. He’s authored several books and his commentaries on classic movies should be held up and studied as a benchmark for others. He does a lot of research, clearly writes these audio essays out a head of time to avoid even a hint of dead air, and always quotes directly from letters and memos that show how the movie making process was performed back in the day. He does an excellent job on this, Casablanca, The Adventures of Robin Hood and many others. Here’s a list that imdb has. That was a diversion from the movie, I’ll admit, but the movie is REALLY boring in this part and it’s not like I have standards to let slip.

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Shown: Actual shot from the movie. Not Shown: Anything of any interest.

The Monster finds a little girl, who is kind to him. They throw flowers into the lake which float, he then throws the girl into the lake to see her float among them. She doesn’t though, she sinks like a stone. It’s very sad, but it has to be done or the little girl would live through the movie and we certainly don’t want that do we? Little girls have to be killed, just a fact of life really. One might ask why she can’t swim if she lives near a lake, but that’s just crazy talk really. After accidentally whacking the little girl, The Monster comes back for Henry’s bride. He doesn’t kill her, but he does attack her a bit and starts a kafuffle which continues upon the finding of the little girl. At this point, everyone is out to get the monster and it’s time for the torches to come out.

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You didn’t think I was joking did you? This is where the whole torches thing gets started.

Henry finds the monster, and the monster knocks out Henry. The monster takes Henry up with him to the old windmill, which of course the people attack as usual. The whole windmill would turn up again, and again in later films. Those of you who are big fans of Tim Burton, will no doubt see his version of Alice in Wonderland when it comes out. You may also recognize the whole windmill bit from Sleepy Hollow that this movie mercilessly rips off. The monster throws Henry down from the top of the mill and people set fire to it. This is supposed to be the death of the monster, but of course, it won’t be since there will be four more Frankenstein movies and I believe it’s supposed to be the same monster in each one. I have to be honest, I haven’t watched any of them in so long that I don’t remember anymore. Yes, I have the DVDs, but… well… um… yeah, I’ve been busy.

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I’m sorry! I can’t hear you over the sound of how awesome I look!

Frankenstein suffered the same “Noun of Proper Noun” syndrome that Dracula faced. The Bride of Frankenstein is regarded as the best of the group, with Son, Ghost and House following. The monster would grow progressively less intelligent, less sympathetic and in the end was little more than a thug do get tricked into doing mean acts for whoever was in control that day. We might cover Bride before this month is through, but right now I think we’ll leave the others for another day if you don’t mind. I’ve got them all, I bought the Legacy collection for Frank as well as Drac. I could get Wolfman, Mummy and The Invisible Man as well if I felt like hunting them all down, but I don’t. Besides, if I start buying movies to review I’ll quickly spiral out of control.

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Pimpin’: Some days are easier than others.

Official Score:
5 Degrees on the Graffiti Bridge Scale.

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