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Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Original Frankenstein Trilogy

1931 Directed by James Whale
Stars Boris Karloff, Colin Clive

1935 Directed by James Whale
Stars Boris Karloff, Colin Clive, Ernest Thesiger

1939 Directed by Rowland V Lee
Stars Boris Karloff, Basil Rathbone, Bela Lugosi

The original trilogy featuring Boris Karloff as the monster is a powerful, moving and outstanding entry in the classic horror genre.  These were the JAWS of their day-- mega blockbusters that cemented these characters into popular culture.

The original feels nightmarish in its lack of a soundtrack, in these early days of sound film background music had yet to be thought of as an integral part of the movie.  Karloff gives a moving performance as the man brought back from the dead and Colin Clive is outstanding as the frantic Henry (called Victor in the novel) Frankenstein who realizes pretty quickly he has created a murderous creature.
The weak points in this one are the father, played as a blustering windbag for "comedy relief"-- and there's nothing worse than comedy that isn't funny, and Mae Clarke as Elizabeth who is just lost in the whole film.  Still a **** star film.

BRIDE is more a dark comedy than it is a horror film, and James Whale (who was the Tim Burton of his day) pulls out all the stops.  This time Henry is aided by his old college professor Dr. Pretorious, played with delightful evil by Ernest Thesiger, and Elizabeth is now played by 18 year old Valerie Hobson who brings passion to the role.
The musical score is outstanding and later became a staple of Universal films, especially the Flash Gordon Series from the mid to late thirties.
A perfect example of a Universal Horror Classic firing on all cylinders.  ***** stars.

SON could have been a contender.  Had James Whale returned to the director's chair this might have been something.  Initially announced as a color film we could have had Universal's answer to the WIZARD OF OZ.  This time around Basil Rathbone is the Dr Frankenstein, playing Clive's son-- Clive died tragically a few years earlier and Rathbone is certainly a suitable replacement.  The sets this time around are decorated in sparse German expressionistic style and Bela Lugosi is brought in as Ygor, who was supposed to have been Colin Clive's assistant in the earlier films.  He delivers a bizarre and sometimes hilarious performance that counters the horrible acting of the kid playing the baby son of Frankenstein and helps to balance the sub par and very wooden performance of Karloff as the Monster.

This film marked the transformation of the Monster from sympathetic and misunderstood to lumbering brutish monster, which is the direction the series continued on for the duration of the 1940s.

**1/2 stars but worth watching.