Tuesday, November 17, 2015
Thursday, October 15, 2015
Mistakes, Errors, and good old fashioned screw-ups
I recently had the opportunity to watch Frankenstein and The Bride Of Frankenstein back to back. And I found it puzzling that James Whale, with experience as an actor, a set designer, and a director, would allow such a muddled beginning to be in one of his films. The prologue is relatively safe from my poison pen with the exception of person who plays Lord Byron. At the start of the film we are introduced to three people. Yet only one had any real input to the story. My problem is with Lord Byron. Who in heavensname talks like this ? It’s like he’s giving a performance for the other two in
the room. I don’t know anything about the real Lord Byron but I found the fellow in the film to be uncomfortably familiar as he reminded me of a teacher I had in high school. He talked very much like this clown, and treated each day as a chance to give another performance. I found Lord Byron, as depicted in the film, to be full of himself, conceited, and a right prig. His actions cause Mary Shelley to stab herself with a sewing needle, but does the foppish twit apologise ? No. Words may have rolled off his silvery tongue, but he’s an ill mannered twit.
Mary Shelley, played by Elsa Lanchester, I found quite inoffensive, as I did Percy Shelley. At one point while Lord Byron is droning on he flirts with Mary, who is somewhat taken aback by the attention. Percy (David Niven tried out for the role but didn’t get it.) does nothing but scribble on at a blazing speed. Watch how fast the man writes. I’ve heard of speed reading, and speed dating, but not speed writing.
The ending of “Frankenstein” and the beginning of “The Bride Of Frankenstein” has got to be one of the most muddled piece of film I’ve ever seen. The rest of the film is excellent, but where the two overlap is simply a celluloid mess. The following screen captures are from the film “Frankenstein”.
After the filmed portion of the prologue is dealt with Mary recounts the ending of Frankenstein. We see the monster dragging an unconscious Henry into the windmill. The monster then drags Henry up two flights so he’s near the top of the windmill. The locals have traced the monster to the mill, and the monster drops Henry on the floor while he while he tries to get the villagers to go away by growling at them from a window. Henry regains consciousness and watches the monsters vain attempt at diplomacy.
(From the film “Frankenstein”)
While the monster tries growling at the locals Henry gets to his feet. The monster turns, finds Henry upright, and tries to grab him. Henry gets behind the gear mechanism with the monster directly opposite him making for a rather interesting shot.
After Henry and the monster play peek-a-boo the two fight on a porch at the top of the windmill. The monster gets the upper hand during their tussle, and tosses Henry from the top of the windmill. Henry lands on a blade of the windmill. The entire blade construction blade moves (either because of the impact of Henrys body or the blaze the villagers have set) and Henry crashes to the ground. The burgomaster ( not the same one in
“The Bride Of Frankenstein”) says they should take Henry home. Henry is taken home, put to bed, and is nursed back to health by a blond haired Elizabeth. Kindly take note of the length of her hair. Less than shoulder length. Henry and Elizabeth can be seen in the background of this screen capture of Henrys father leering at a bottle of wine.
Now in the film “The Bride Of Frankenstein” the ending of Frankenstein and the beginning of its sequel is slightly different. When Henry falls from the windmill, and crashes onto the ground it is presumed he is dead. And from now onward I’ll be using screen captures from “The Bride of Frankenstein”.
He’s taken home and is met at the door by his fiancée Elizabeth. Take note of her hair color, and its length. She doesn’t have blond hair, and its length is wrong. How things like this got past a perfectionist like James Whale is anybody's guess, but I’m willing to bet a lot of people who saw the film back in the thirties asked themselves “wasn’t she a blond in the last film ?”.
Aside from the things I’ve mentioned I can’t find a thing wrong with the film.
Stand outs, and soon to be stars
Colin Clive and Boris Karloff are stars that certainly stand out. Unfortunately this would be one of Colin’s last films, his alcoholism rapidly catching up with him.
Soon to be stars
I’m always on the lookout for people that will soon become stars. In this film I only found two. John Carradine is in his pre-Dracula days and Walter Brennan both give uncredited performances. John Carradine was a hunter who entered the hermits house asking for directions. Walter Brennan played a villager in one scene. He can be seen holding a hatchet the monster used to chop up a villager.
Thursday, October 08, 2015
“The Bride of Frankenstein” was the sequel to the hit “Frankenstein”. It’s very rare that a sequel is more successful than the film that spawned it. But in this particular case a successful sequel was only possible because of the right director, a good story, a cast that has just the right chemistry, along with people behind the camera who know what they’re doing. For this film Whale did what he could to guarantee a film that would be a smash. He even stopped production from February 19 to March 2 1935 so he could use the actor O.P. Heggie to film the hermit sequence. Heggie was unavailable when filming began due to to the fact he was at RKO studios finishing another film. Whale wanted to make this a memorable film. To that end he wanted Colin Clive and Boris Karloff to reprise the roles they created in “Frankenstein”. He knew Mae Clarke was unavailable due to illness, and knew he would have to re-cast the role of “Elizabeth”. But he also knew what hadn’t worked in the first film. Edward Van Sloan who played “Dr. Waldman”, Frederick Kerr who played the original “Baron Frankenstein”, and John Boles as “Victor Moritz” were not asked to reprise their roles. Instead Whale decided to inject a bit of humour. To that end he added Una O’Connor and E.E. Clive to liven things up. He had worked with both actors when he directed The Invisible Man in 1933, and thought they would provide the “hoot” he wanted to have. And after seeing Ernest Thesiger act he knew he wanted him in the sequel.
Until the thirties she appeared on stage in Ireland and England. She appeared in the Hitchcock film Murder in 1930. She followed that up with a stage version of Cavalcade. She was asked to reprise her role in 1933. It was then she moved to Hollywood. Her comedic performance made a favourite of James Whale. He cast her in the The Invisible Man (1934) where she played the wife of a pub owner, and as the housekeeper in The Bride Of Frankenstein. In both she roles she’s opinionated, nosy, and quick to scream. She also did what she called “straight” roles. A year after immortalizing herself to millions of film goers in The Bride of Frankenstein she portrayed the mother of a captured member of the Irish Republican Army in the film The Informer. She also played Bing Crosby’s housekeeper in The Bells Of St. Mary’s.
In the fifties she endeared herself to thousands of theater goers when she portrayed Janet McKenzie in the stage version of Witness For The Prosecution from 1954 to 1956. In 1957 she would reprise the role she created in the film of the same name. Though it was a rather serious drama she brought a wonderful comedic touch to the production. The film also reunited her with Elsa Lanchester. Sadly it would be her very last film. In her late seventies she decided it was time to retire from the entertainment world, and to live a more sedate life. She passed away less than two years later in 1959.
E. E. Clive portrayed the burgomaster of the town. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary a burgomaster is the chief magistrate of a town in some European countries in Germany, Austria, or Switzerland so we can assume the film takes place in one of these countries. Edward Erskholme Clive was born in 1879 in Monmouth England. He was an accomplished actor and director. He originally started out working towards a career in medicine. Having already completed four years of studies at St. Bartholomew's Hospital his ambitions changed direction at the age of 22, and he began acting. He moved to the states in 1912 and set up his own stock company in Boston. . In 1920s his repertory company was in Hollywood when one of his colleagues became Rosalind Russell. He worked in a number of Broadway plays.
His first role in films was in The Invisible Man (1934). He portrayed a simple English village policeman. James Whale was impressed with Clive, and kept him in mind for any future projects. When the time came to cast someone as the pompous incompetent burgomaster (mayor) of the town Whale knew just who to ask. It was a role that brought Clive a great many bit and character roles in the future. He frequently played butlers and lawyers. Clive passed away from a heart disorder in 1940, shortly after appearing in Pride and Prejudice with Sir Laurence Oliver and Greer Garson. According to the June 7th edition of The New York Times, published one day after his death Clive appeared in “1,159 Legitimate Plays Before Going Into Moving Pictures”.
Ernest Frederic Graham Thesiger was born in 1879. Initially he wanted to be an artist, but when that didn't work out as planned he switched to acting. He made his debut in Colonel Smith in 1909. He acted till the outbreak of World War I. He enlisted, but was wounded after seeing action overseas. He was sent home and discharged.
His first film role was in 1916 as one one of the witches in a spoof of Macbeth. Films were still regarded as a novelty, and he returned to the stage in a play that few, if any gave much of a chance. A Little Bit Of Fluff was more successful than anyone involved with the production, including Thesiger, could have dreamed. It ran for over 1,200 performances. Its success led to a film version in which Thesiger reprised his role. He became know for his comedy and his female impersonations. In 1919 he appeared in a seasonal production of The Merry Wives Of Windsor. Thesiger and Whale met during this play. Whale was riding high after directing Frankenstein,and requested Carl Laemmle to purchase the rights to J.B. Priestley’s worked called “Benighted”. The story brought together a strange collection of people together. Thesiger’s character was described as “A man so thin, with so little flesh...he was almost a skeleton”. Prior to doing the film, which was renamed The Old Dark House (1932), Thesiger had no reputation to speak of in Hollywood. But after his performance as Horace Femm in The Old Dark House his star was definitely on the rise. Boris Karloff and Thesiger did a film called The Ghoul (1933) in England cashing in on their popularity. Kathleen Harrison appeared in the film as well. Thesiger and Harrison would reunite twenty years later doing the film “Scrooge”, better known in North America as “A Christmas Carol” (1951).
The working title for the Frankenstein sequel was The Return Of Frankenstein. But James Whale had no intention of doing any film based on any of the scripts or script ideas he heard or read. Instead took the best parts from all the scripts and cobbled together a script that he liked. He wanted Thesiger in it, but the was no role suited to him. So Whale created Dr. Septimus Pretorius. Apparently Pretorius was based on a real life alchemist of the 16th century called Paracelsus, and a friend of Mary Shelley’s called John Polidori. In the film Pretorius was a former mentor of Henry Frankenstein, who, like Henry, was obsessed with the creation of life. He is a wee more obsessed as this tidbit of censored script demonstrates. He is explaining why he was “booted out”.
"Actually it was a very small matter, a question of taking a corpse out of the mortuary. You know how difficult it is to get cadavers for dissections...there was some trouble about it. It happened that the lady--oh, I forgot to tell you it was a lady--was in the habit of suffering from cataleptic fits. Her townspeople were quite aware of her malady, but on her first day here in our town of Frankenstein she was seized with a fit in the marketplace and, thinking her dead, they placed her in the mortuary!"
"But how terrible!" Henry exclaimed. "And she was not dead at all?"
"So they said. But how was I to know?'
"But there were signs, surely?'
Pretorius nodded nonchalantly. "To be sure--when one is looking for them. Curiously enough, I did think the body rather warm before I started dissecting."
Frankenstein was now thoroughly horrified at the recital. "And you paid no attention?"
"It never occurred to me to realize what had happened. And then, when she did recover, it was too late to do anything about it. You see, I had done quite a lot of dissecting before she screamed...Afterward, I did the only merciful thing."
Thesiger made a wonderfully creepy Dr. Pretorius. And the film shows it. But Thesiger longed for a return to the stage. The Bride Of Frankenstein was his last film produced in America.
In 1936 Thesiger was cast as the sculptor Theotocopolous for the film Things To Come which was based on the story The Shape Of Things To Come by H.G. Wells. However his performance was not appreciated by Wells and he was replaced by Cedric Hardwicke. But his services were retained by Wells for the film The Man Who Could Work Miracles. It was about this time Thesiger published a book on needlework, which was a life long hobby.
Most of his professional work centered of the stage, but he did appear in the occasional film. He appeared in The Man In The White Suit, Scrooge, The Robe, Meet Mr. Lucifer, and The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (1961). By then he was Ernest Thesiger OBE – Order Of The British Empire. But he didn’t much chance to use the title. He died in his sleep shortly after completing The Roman Spring Of Mrs. Stone.
Thursday, October 01, 2015
It’s that time of year again…
I’m sorry. I tried. I really tried.
I tried to look at this iconic picture as the horror picture it’s supposed to be. Maybe when it was first released in 1935 people looked at it as the classic horror film it is. Back then people were trying to live out a life during the great depression. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was president for the first time, and John Dillinger along with Bonnie & Clyde provided headlines for newspapers big and small. And when the sequel to Frankenstein finally came along in 1935 people really wanted to escape reality, and have their socks scared off. And maybe, just maybe, in some cases, it actually happened.
But now its eighty years later. And parodies of this film abound. References to the film and clips from the actual film can be found in Scooby-Doo, Hogan’s Heroes, Remington Steele, Casper, Bordello of Blood, Animaniacs, The Simpsons, The Sopranos, Star Trek: Enterprise, The Big Bang Theory, Grey’s Anatomy, Bride Of Chucky, and of course Abbott & Costello – and that’s just a very small sampling of the effect this film has had.
I found it to be a horror-comedy, plus a film that asks a lot of questions. I’ll ask the questions, and make my observations in the order they appear.
The Bride of Frankenstein almost didn’t get made. There were three major items against it, all of them creative. The director of Frankenstein, the primary actor (Boris Karloff), and the initial ideas for the sequel all said no. James Whale, did not want to do a sequel, believing that what could be done with the subject already had been done in the original Frankenstein film. Whale was presented with a number of ideas for the sequel, most of which were god awful, and after reading a prospective script he said “it stinks to heaven”. Whale was an actor, a director, and a set designer. And after fours years of badgering by Universal, specifically by Carl Laemmle Jr., and reading some truly awful scripts such as “The New Adventures Of Frankenstein – The Monster Lives !” Whale decided that he would do the film…but on his terms. Whale had a fair amount of input into the script, the lighting, even some of the props. He had seen some pretty terrible script ideas so he decided to make this film, and to make it a “hoot” that few, if any, will ever forget.
Boris Karloff wanted nothing to do with the film as he felt giving the monster dialog would take a great deal of the horror factor away from the second film, and detract from the horror of the film “Frankenstein”. But it took some herculean convincing on Whales’ part to bring Boris on board. Boris was still convinced the monster should not have the power of speech. When asked why he so opposed to giving the monster speech he said “My argument was that if the monster had any impact or charm, it was because he was inarticulate – this great, lumbering, inarticulate creature. The moment he spoke you might as well ... play it straight”. Whale understood Boris’s concerns, so they settled on forty-four words the monster would speak. Boris was satisfied with his part of the script but Whale found some elements extremely wanting. So he gathered up all the potential scripts, took the best parts from all of them, and came up with a script everybody could like. The month was November 1934.
Whale thought The Bride Of Frankenstein should have many of the people who were in “Frankenstein” as possible. It was obvious Colin Clive was still abusing alcohol, and to make matters worse he broke his leg shortly before filming, which is why when he was filmed he’s almost always sitting down. Mae Clarke was simply too ill so the role of Elizabeth was re-cast. Valerie Hobson won the role, but I have a question. Could Valerie Hobson have least worn a blond wig, so a least both “Elizabeth’s” could have been blond and the film would have better continuity ?. Her hair color difference was the first thing I noticed. Some say the role of Dr. Pretorius was written strictly for Ernest Thesiger, while other sources had Bela Lugosi and Claude Raines being considered for the role of Dr. Pretorius. Whale was accepting of Thesigers work, but he didn’t care for the person. He treated Whale poorly and was very snobbish. But Thesiger was related to aristocracy, and Whale liked that part about him.
Boris Karloff, also known as William Henry Pratt, began his film career relatively late, in 1919, but it wasn't until he was offered a role in “Frankenstein” at the age of 44 that he achieved stardom. He worked steadily until his death in 1969, and amassed a body of work of more than 150 films. People that he was a gentle, refined man, very much the opposite of the image he created on film. Valerie Hobson says he had a lisp, but I can’t find any documentation to back up her claim.