Word has it that Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein as the result of a dare from a friend. The friend was poet, Lord Byron and he challenged her to write a ghost story. Drawing from state of the art medical experimentation at the time, Mary, born Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, wrote one of the most influential books in the history of popular literature, a book that has transcended time and space.
“Beware; for I am fearless, and therefore powerful.” – Frankenstein, 1818
I’ve read Frankenstein twice. The first time while a junior in high school many moons ago. I remember being deeply affected by the book. The heartfelt story of deep isolation, alienation and loneliness really affected me. By that time I was very familiar with Universal‘s versions of the Frankenstein story and the creature was practically part of my family. Universal’s Frankenstein monster was worthy of pity and Karloff’s performance brings that to the screen beautifully beyond the horror make-up. But it wasn’t until after reading the book that I appreciated him so much more. Or at least on a level where I was always conscious of the depth of his sorrow from then on.
“I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine and rage the likes of which you would not believe. If I cannot satisfy the one, I will indulge the other.” – Frankenstein, 1818
The other shot I adore is the one on the mountain where Doctor Frankenstein encounters the Monster. Hidden behind a rock, the creature waits until his maker is close, alone, separated from the villagers who are out en force searching for him. At that moment the Monsterreveals himself to his maker. Up from behind the rock he stands, ever so slowly against the back-drop of clouds – doom now faces the mad genius as he stands very UN-god-like and small against his monstrous creation. Another WOW moment for me.
“Listen to me, Frankenstein. You accuse me of murder; and yet you would, with a satisfied conscience, destroy your own creature. Oh, praise the eternal justice of man!” – Frankenstein, 1818
The Monster has a nice introduction in Bride of Frankenstein as well but nowhere near as impactful as the original, which stands to reason. I will say I find Karloff’s look scarier in Bride than in Frankenstein overall, but I’m guessing it’s like that for most people.
One thing that surprised me about the special screening – Bride of Frankenstein had always been my favorite of the two films. Until this week. I went into the theater in a horror mood so preferred the darker, original film. Although I’ve always recognized the humor in Bride of Frankenstein, it didn’t occur to me it was as funny as the audience found it that evening. I laughed too, don’t get me wrong, but many barely stopped. The difference in the reaction to the two films was very interesting.
I must mention the great, Una O’Connor who got the biggest ovation during either film when she first appears on-screen as Minnie, Elizabeth’s maid. She’s hilarious in the film and much of the laughter is due to her screeching performance. Also worth noting is the fact that the second loudest ovation went to Ernest Thesiger‘s, Dr. Pretorius, the madder of the two mad doctors (and the more enjoyable to watch). “To a new world of gods and monsters!” That’s one of my favorite lines in all of film.
While we all laughed at Una’s hysterics in Bride, appropriately, there was also a lot of laughter during scenes not intended to be funny, which is what made audience reaction so interesting. I have to attribute some of that to Mel Brooks. Several of us mentioned how it was impossible not to think of his 1974 film, Young Frankenstein during several of the key scenes in both of these films – scenes that were formerly recognized as horror. The comedic genius of Brooks may well have spoiled the horror in these forever – to some degree.
I want to give one last mention to Elsa Lanchester as the Bride. It seems to me that she gets the least attention of all the Universal Monsters. She’s really on-screen for a very short period of time and she also doesn’t do monstrous things – I mean, she doesn’t kill anyone. Actually, she never leaves the one room. But her performance, the way her head moves in that jerky motion (yes, that’s a professional term), the way she throws her head back to hiss and of course, those odd angles and close-ups are all quite memorable – chilling, even. If one is going to have only a few moments to make an impact Lanchester shows how that’s done.
As far as the “look” of the films as presented in the theater, I can only opine as a non-expert and say that I really didn’t notice any new and improved “look” compared to the previously released DVD special editions. However, for me, perfect or not it was still a thrill to watch the images as originally intended – on the big screen. Seeing these classic films in a theater is still a very new experience for me. For thoughtful and compelling commentary on the restoration and presentation of these films, I strongly suggest you read Will McKinley’s (@WillMcKinley) post on his Cinematically Insane blog. While I am fascinated by the topic of film restoration I know very little about it. Will is certain to enlighten you.
This double feature was a great experience for everyone in attendance at the Paramus theater – I could tell from the buzz as the crowd left the theater that evening. And here is yet one more reason why I am so thankful for TCM – our home of the classics.
― Mary Shelley, Frankenstein; Or, the Modern Prometheus