OCTOBER 1, 2013
Is the 1994 version from Kenneth Branagh the only major adaptation of Frankenstein to include the Captain Walton bookending scenes? I can't recall, but I DO know that I sure miss it in the otherwise terrific 1931 version, as its own bookends stick out like sore thumbs - particularly the goofy happy ending where the Baron Frankenstein enjoys a drink with a bunch of giggly nurses. This scene was (rightfully) ignored for Bride of Frankenstein, where Henry is "dead" for a bit before being revived (here he just survives without question), and it's so clumsily inserted that I wish there was an option to just cut from the fire at the windmill to the credits.
Otherwise, man, what a great film. I actually had a chance to see it on 35mm two years ago at the New Bev, but I dozed off and missed like half of it, so this is actually the first time I've watched it since 2004 when the Legacy Collection set came out on DVD (and remained untouched until I began HMADing my way through it in 2007). It's a mere 70 minutes long, and no time is wasted - there's grave robbing almost right off the bat, and the famous "It's alive!" scene occurs at the 23 minute mark or so - even some of the sequels, where the Monster was already established, didn't hit the ground running like this. Popular opinion is that Bride is even better - I'll watch it later (again, only for the second time) and decide, but this one is pretty hard to top.
I do know this much - James Whale made the right call to bring Colin Clive back, as he is simply phenomenal in the role; even though I had seen a couple other versions first, it's clear that this is the standard by which all other Frankenstein portrayals should be judged. He strikes a perfect balance between hero and villain; charismatic enough that you want him to succeed (and clearly would be a good husband to his fiance if he could stop fiddling with his science experiments), but with that sense of madness that the character requires. I was saddened to learn of Clive's fate - I knew he died young thanks to his alcoholism, but apparently he was sort of abandoned after - his ashes went unclaimed for forty years! Huge bummer.
The real villain of the movie is Dwight Frye as Fritz (not Igor! This was a trick question at Horror Trivia a couple months back), since he not only takes the wrong brain but is also a real piece of shit to the Monster. It's possible he would have turned out OK if not for Fritz terrorizing the poor bastard at every turn, and while the other deaths in the movie are bummers, I cheered when Karloff strangles him. And kudos to ol' Boris for his portrayal - this time around I looked at some trivia during my viewing and discovered that his shoes weighed 13 lbs each and the appliances hurt his back, so it couldn't have been fun for the 41 year old man. Hell, I only had to suit up once to play a monster (while wearing fairly light boots) and I was a whiny bitch all night. Then again I won't get to be on a postage stamp, so there's not as much motivation for me to suck it up.
The disc has a commentary track by film historian Rudy Behlmer, and while it's not as enjoyable as one of Tom Weaver's track (he really sets the bar for such things, in my opinion), it's jam-packed with trivia and background info on the production and pretty much every single person involved with its making. You can tell they actually had to edit his lines together to cram it all in (it's not often he directly mentions the scene that's playing), and he's clearly reading from prepared notes, but you can practically walk away an expert on the film after listening, and it's funny to hear about things that had to be censored back in the day (a line about feeling like God was excised for years - and some areas refused to show it with the words intact!). The transfer is good too; perhaps a bit TOO good in spots (dig the wrinkles on the "sky" behind them) but that's even more impressive when you consider how old the movie is - not a lot of films (particularly horror ones) from that period have been so lucky with regards to being preserved/restored properly.
Last year (or maybe the one before) Uni put out a Blu-ray set with the originals of all their monster movies (plus Bride, and I THINK the Spanish Dracula, don't quote me); I never picked it up because I had all of these, but if you haven't yet experienced these movies, it's probably where you should start - watch em all, then pick your favorite (mine is Wolf Man, for the record) and get that movie's Legacy Collection release. This is the first of my "October must-see" entries for HMAD, which means more reviews as it'll be a lot of stuff I saw pre-HMAD and thus never reviewed, and you really can't ask for a better movie to start the month off and get you in the holiday spirit. It might not be SCARY in a traditional way, but it hits every note so perfectly in all other areas, you won't even notice.
What say you?