Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Frankenstein turns 80 (sort of)

According to website Frankensteinia (who I would think would know), today the movie Frankenstein turned 80 in that August 24th, 1931 marked the start of filming.

You kids today and your "Final Destinations".  In my day our monsters grunted and  wore sport coats, like gentlemen!
I don't know exactly when I finally watched Frankenstein.  It certainly was never on TV while I was growing up (black and white movies did poorly back then, thus the horrendous Turner colorization effort circa 1991), and I recall it just wasn't really around much of VHS that I ever saw at Blockbuster or wherever else I was renting movies.  Mostly I remember books around the house about monster movies, but who knows when I saw this at long last?  I do know I saw the Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein movie first when I was at a birthday party when I was very little (it was on 8mm.  Pre VHS, people).

Suffice it to say, once I saw the movie, I was hooked.  I've likely seen it more than a dozen times since, including at the Paramount.  The first two Frankenstein pictures are my favorite Universal Monster flicks, hands down, with the sequel being one of my favorite movies in general.

The makeup in the film has, of course, become legendary.  Designed by monster-movie geek icon Jack Pierce, Karloff had to endure hours each day in the chair as Pierce built up the head.  Pretty rough going, one can imagine.  The look is now the commonly conceived vision of the monster, adorning pretty much every Halloween decoration you're likely to find, and not yet finding a replacement despite other filmic adaptations' attempts to take Shelley's descriptions more literally.*

Karloff himself plays the creature as a mute (an odd departure from the book), but its a heartfelt and sympathetic performance.  A creature he may be, but he's a bewildered thing, not a monster, and not ready for the cruelty the story dishes out upon him.

You have to like Colin Clive as Henry Frankenstein.  The dude more or less created the screen presence for SCIENCE MADNESS.

And he's a lot more likable than the "heroes" in Dracula or even Lon Chaney's mopey Wolfman or the fops in Phantom of the Opera. Colin Clive has madness, booze and science fueling him, and the combination is a bit startling on screen.

As a companion piece,  I recommend the movie Gods and Monsters, with your friend and mine, Ian McKellan, as director James Whale.

Happy birthday, Frankenstein movie!  Lord knows I'll likely be watching you again in October, eating a big bowl of Frankenberry cereal.

*in this, I still think the Bernie Wrightson depictions of the monster are most successful.
I do think Karloff is a great monster, even if its not really all that much like the book.

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