Tag Archives: Frankenstein

My Thoughts on: The Mummy (1932)

Having made my way through most of the Frankenstein films, I decided to take a detour into a film series I hitherto knew very little about: the Mummy! Oh sure, I’m very well acquainted with The Mummy (1999) and its sequel (I don’t acknowledge the existence of Tomb of the Dragon Emperor), but until this past month I’d never seen the film that started it all, the 1932 film starring Boris Karloff as the titular Mummy.

First I have to say that every assumption I had about this movie turned out to be wrong. This is NOT one of those movies that has the Mummy shambling through the countryside wreaking havoc as he goes (that’s all of the sequels), and really the film only bears the loosest of resemblances to the 1999 remake. But speaking of, I was surprised at how identical the core premises of each film are. In this film, as in the remake, Imhotep is a high priest cursed to be mummified alive for attempting to revive his love from the dead. Here it’s the Scroll of Thoth that gives the Mummy his power instead of the Book of the Dead (no Book of Amun-Ra in sight either), but otherwise it’s the same basic principle.

My initial disappointment at not seeing more of Karloff in his Mummy bandages was quickly melted away when I saw his performance for the bulk of the film as Ardeth Bey (bet that name sounds familiar if you’ve seen the 1999 film). Even if you weren’t paying attention at the beginning, the film leaves no doubt to the viewer that Ardeth Bey is the rejuvenated Mummy. His walk is unnaturally stiff, and he speaks very slowly and carefully, as if used to speaking a language very different form those found in the modern world. I’m beginning to understand why Karloff was so acclaimed. You’d never think that just a year before Karloff had played Frankenstein’s monster. He completely embodies the Mummy with no hint of that other role, and that’s not something all actors can do.

Now on to something I found really cool. Inevitably, the film flashed back to how the Mummy came to be. It only took a few minutes for me to realize that this entire flashback to Ancient Egypt is essentially a silent film, exaggerated acting and all, spliced into the middle of a sound film.This blew my mind until I considered that The Mummy was made in 1932, silent films had been made on a fairly regular basis until just a few years prior. It wouldn’t have been that hard to put together, and it was a fairly ingenious way to make it clear that we are in the past (by using a now-outdated filming style). And that flashback is the most consistent with the 1999 remake: Imhotep steals the Scroll of Thoth to resurrect Anck-su-namum but is caught before he can finish. That’s pretty much beat for beat how the prologue of the remake plays out (minus the Pharaoh being murdered, that doesn’t happen in this one).

I really like Zita Johann as Helen/Anck-su-namum. I was fascinated to learn that Zita was a firm believer in reincarnation, which I think really helped her performance as the ramifications of reincarnation are hinted at here. See, at one point it’s hinted that Helen and Anck-su-namun are both inhabiting the same body, and feeling very confused about it. You really feel for Helen’s suffering, as she clearly doesn’t understand what’s happening to her. You also, believe it or not, feel for Anck-su-namun once she awaken’s in Helen’s body. Here’s an ancient priestess briefly living in the 20th century, and handling it pretty well if I’m honest (though being surrounded by ancient Egyptian relics int he museum probably helped). I loved how ancient magic came into play at the climax of the film. The idea that these ancient spells can still work if only the right words are spoken fascinates me.

Also, I have to talk about how amazing the Mummy makeup is. I’m referring to the Mummy as he’s seen lying in his coffin at the start of the film. In black and white, it looks for all the world like a desiccated Mummy, perfectly preserved. But then…the magic words are spoken….and the Mummy’s eyes blink open! That’s the moment that sticks with me the most out of this whole film, seeing those living eyes open in the middle of an otherwise dead face. Now THAT is horror, something that sends a chill down your spine no matter how old the film is. Also, the moment at the end when Imhotep turns into dust is very well done. I’m a little sad that Imhotep didn’t get some final words, but I understand why they didn’t go that route. Since the Scroll of Thoth is all that was keeping him alive, I can see that its destruction would ensure his immediate demise.

One last thought: I’m glad The Mummy was made pre-Code because otherwise those scenes with Anck-su-namun in her quite revealing Egyptian outfit would never have happened (and I shudder to think what might’ve appeared in its place). It’s still wild to me that such things were considered improper, why Helen looks almost modern in that outfit (yes I know, it was a different time, I just can’t help commenting on it).

The Mummy (1932) has quickly become one of my favorite horror films, and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to experience a horror classic. Just for fun, follow up a watching of this film with the 1999 remake (it’s a fun experience I promise!)

Let me know what you think about The Mummy (1932) in the comments below and have a great day!

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My Thoughts on: Son of Frankenstein (1939)

Once I got my hands on the Universal Classic Monster 30 film collection (on blu-ray, it’s excellent and I highly recommend it), I was briefly stymied as to where I should start with so many classic horror films to choose from. And then it dawned on me: I’d already watched Frankenstein (1931) and Bride of Frankenstein (1935), it follows that I should continue the pattern with Son of Frankenstein (1939).

As the title implies, Son of Frankenstein follows the adventures of Henry Frankenstein’s eldest son Wolf (an almost neurotic Basil Rathbone), a plot development likely necessitated by the death of Colin Clive two years earlier in 1937. There is, however, a delightful homage to the actor in the form of a gorgeous oil painting that hangs in the main hall of Castle Frankenstein. In a way then, Clive literally looms over the story, though he is not physically present. I also like that the film reveals, in part, what happened to Henry after Bride of Frankenstein. Far from getting off scot-free in regards to creating these monsters, it seems that the truth came out and Henry spent the rest of his life shunned by the community and deep down never gave up his dreams of creating life. Unfortunately, one can only imagine what Clive would have brought to a third Frankenstein film, but these homages and references really are a nice touch.

In a further nod to continuity, Frankenstein’s laboratory is in ruins from the explosion that decimated it in the conclusion of Bride of Frankenstein (we’re meant to forget the fact that the building was completely demolished at the end of that film). Wolf Frankenstein has returned with his family in an attempt to make a new life there, but due to all the events with Frankenstein’s monster, the welcome is less than warm. Matters become unbelievably complicated when the hideous Ygor (Bela Lugosi in a brilliant performance) reveals to Wolf that the Monster is in fact alive, but injured. For the record, I believe these injuries are why the Monster can no longer speak (having learned to do so in Bride of Frankenstein).

This is the first Frankenstein film I saw that made it perfectly clear where Young Frankenstein (the Mel Brooks spoof) got a big chunk of its source material from (The Ghost of Frankenstein being the other). There’s something that makes it different from the two films that came before it, and I’m still struggling to put a finger on exactly what it is. Basil Rathbone, as I mentioned before, puts in a somewhat neurotic performance as Wolf Frankenstein, but it’s still an enjoyable performance, especially as you watch him get drawn into his father’s work bit by bit.

And speaking of Wolf….Son of Frankenstein has an unintentionally hilarious (at least I think it’s unintentional) moment where Wolf basically gives the Monster a complete physical in order to find out how he functions. There’s something surreal about watching the Monster’s blood pressure get taken, blood drawn, X-rays given, just like he’s a normal person (though one can argue the Monster is hardly normal). It’s also interesting, by the way, to watch Wolf and the Monster interact. When they first meet, I think it’s implied that the Monster mistakenly believes Wolf to be his father, hence his initial reaction to strangle Wolf. And then, most interesting, the Monster stops mid-action, as if it dawns on him that “this isn’t my creator, this is someone else.” It’s one of my favorite moments in the entire film.

I was also surprised to learn that THIS is the film where Ygor first appears. I grew up believing that Ygor was always a part of the Frankenstein story but that is simply not true. In the book, Frankenstein has no assistant at all, and in the first film his assistant is named Fritz. It’s well worth the wait though to finally see Ygor. Bela Lugosi is brilliant as the hunchbacked friend of the monster with a hideously disformed neck (they tried to hang him but it didn’t stick). I still haven’t figured out yet if I like Ygor or hate him, because Lugosi plays him so well, you’re not sure what to think about him.

One other detail I have to mention that is the presence of Wolf’s son Peter (Donnie Dunagan). First of all, cool trivia point: if Donnie’s voice sounds familiar that’s because he’s the voice of young Bambi in the 1942 film of the same name. He’s so adorable, and I love how any time he enters the scene, all the action briefly pivots to center on him (he was all of 4 at the time). Peter is also part of my second favorite scene in the film, when he innocently tells his father about the “friendly giant” that’s been visiting him in his bedroom (re: the Monster). The moment when little Peter imitates the Monster’s walk (making it crystal clear whose been visiting him), complete with a snipped of the Monster’s musical theme, is one of my favorite moments in the film, not least because of the complete panic in Wolf’s reaction to it.

Son of Frankenstein is, unfortunately, not quite up to the level of Frankenstein or Bride of Frankenstein, but it remains an enjoyable film, the last to feature Boris Karloff in the role of Frankenstein’s Monster. I would recommend watching this film once you make your way through the first two Frankenstein films.

Let me know what you think about Son of Frankenstein in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

My Thoughts on: Frankenstein (1931)

My Thoughts on: Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

My Thoughts on: The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942)

Film Reviews

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My Thoughts on: Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

Having watched Frankenstein (1931) already for this year’s Halloween celebrations, it goes without saying that I had to watch the equally famous follow up Bride of Frankenstein (1935) as well. This is the film you’ll always hear about when people mention sequels that are superior to the original film, and boy does Bride of Frankenstein fall into this category. It’s not that Frankenstein is a bad film (it isn’t), it’s just that Bride of Frankenstein improves on the original in so many areas that it makes the original film look primitive in comparison.

While a sequel to Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein is still based on plot concepts found in the Frankenstein novel. In fact, the entire concept of a “bride of Frankenstein” comes from the second half of the book when the Monster demands Victor Frankenstein build a mate for him, so that he can live the rest of his life apart from human society (which he has sworn off for rejecting him), but with the company of one of his own kind so he won’t be lonely. That attempt ends badly as Frankenstein rejects the idea, destroying the “bride” just as he’s about to give her life. In the film, of course, this doesn’t happen and we get to see the Bride of Frankenstei (Elsa Lanchester) n take her first steps on screen (though don’t expect too much, the Bride only gets about 3 minutes of screen time).

What makes the plot of Bride of Frankenstein really interesting is that Henry Frankenstein (played one last time by Colin Clive) isn’t the mad scientist villain of the story this time around. That dubious honor goes to Dr. Septimus Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger), one of Frankenstein’s old professors, who has dabbled with the power of life in his own twisted way and now wants to use Frankenstein’s talents to build a female equivalent to the Monster (why is never made quite clear). Frankenstein, for his part, wants nothing to do with it, but Pretorius coerces him into it and the plot proceeds from there.

Unlike Frankenstein, which is pure horror and drama straight through, Bride of Frankenstein has a touch of comedy about it, mostly in the scenes with Minnie (Una O’Connor). I’ve never quite known how to feel about this, as I feel that it doesn’t always fit. Take, for example, the scene at the beginning of the film when Minnie comes face to face with the not-dead-after-all Monster and runs away gibbering down the mountainside. It’s funny, but it’s a complete 180 from what we just saw (the Monster killing Maria’s parents). However, the dry humor of Dr. Pretorius is most welcome, as it helps to highlight just how evil he is, especially when you compare it to Frankenstein’s manic joy (and despair) when he created his own monster in the first film. Frankenstein feels the consequences of his actions, Dr. Pretorius does not. In fact, sometimes I get the feeling the mad doctor views all of this as a colossal joke.

This film does have one of the most beautiful (and heartbreaking) moments in the story of Frankenstein’s monster, and that’s when the Monster comes across the blind hermit. Every time I see this sequence I think “if only there had been a way to leave these two in peace together.” It’s not only touching to see the two become friends, with the Monster learning to more or less talk in simple sentences, it’s also further proof that, given the opportunity, the Monster would prefer to live in peace and not engage in wanton destruction. In other words, he has the capacity for good somewhere inside him, but almost no one can see it because they’re distracted by his appearance. Of course it wouldn’t be much of a horror film if it ended that way, so the Monster is conveniently forced away from the hermit so the story can continue.

I find it interesting that Boris Karloff didn’t want the Monster to speak. It seems the actor felt the performance of the Monster was far more effective when it was all pantomime (like in the first film). I enjoyed that performance, but I don’t agree with Karloff’s thoughts on the matter. It seems to me the logical next step in the Monster’s development would be for him to develop speech. After all, the book version of the Monster could speak quite well, why not the film version also? Besides, without the Monster learning to talk, we wouldn’t have gotten one of the best lines in horror film history:

The Monster (to Frankenstein & Elizabeth): Yes! Go! You live!

(To Pretorius & The Bride): You stay. We belong dead.

More on the ending in a little bit…..

Considering she’s on screen for less than five minutes, I find the Bride of Frankenstein to be utterly fascinating. Given that she’s Frankenstein’s second creation, it makes sense that she’d be far more glamorous and beautiful than the first Monster. After all, the second time you do something is usually easier and you can fix any mistakes you might’ve made the first time. Hence the reason the Bride has perfect proportions, and except for some scars around her chin and neck looks completely human. I love that after her reveal, the camera cuts around to different angles highlighting how beautiful the Bride is.

I’ve also long thought that the Bride’s reaction to the Monster isn’t what you think. Remember in the first film how the Monster reacted badly to the fire and he ended up chained up because of it? Well, I think the Bride is only reacting to Frankenstein in fear because she was a) just created a matter of moments ago and b) doesn’t know how to talk or express her feelings yet. If there had been more time, maybe the Bride could have been made to understand but the problem is that Pretorius clearly promised the Monster that the Bride would love him. Once the Monster feels he’s been rejected, that brings out the end of the story.

Now back to the ending that I referenced before. I love how, in just a few sentences, the Monster is able to sum up how Frankenstein deserves to live while the rest (including himself) deserve to die. Frankenstein deserves life because he has Elizabeth who needs him and, I’m pretty sure the Monster has observed that Frankenstein was only involved in the Bride’s creation because Pretorius forced him too. For that alone, the Monster is willing to let his creator go. Pretorius, on the other hand, has no excuse. He dragged the Monster into this, and the Monster has already admitted before now that he “hates living.”

I also need to stop and mention Franz Waxman’s gorgeous score for Bride of Frankenstein, the biggest difference between this film and the original Frankenstein. If you’ll remember, the 1931 film, apart from some opening and closing music, has no score at all. The music in Bride of Frankenstein is practically wall to wall and I love every minute of it. Each of the major characters has their own leitmotif, and it just helps to propel Bride of Frankenstein to even greater heights. Honestly, the music is so good it deserves a blog post of its own, so I’ll pause on the discussion of the music for now.

One interesting final detail I want to mention: if you watch the ending when the laboratory explodes very closely, you’ll notice that Frankenstein is still in there (he’s pressed against the wall on the left hand side of the room). This is because originally Frankenstein was supposed to die with the rest of them. But Universal insisted on a “happy ending” so the scene was hastily rewritten for Frankenstein to escape with Elizabeth just before the building exploded. But there was no money in the budget to reshoot the destruction scene, so the error remains.

Bride of Frankenstein is, in my opinion, the best Frankenstein film ever made, and one of the enduring highlights of Universal’s Classic Monsters era. 85 years later, they haven’t come close to topping this film (and I hope they never do).

Let me know what you think about Bride of Frankenstein in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

My Thoughts on: Frankenstein (1931)

My Thoughts on: Son of Frankenstein (1939)

My Thoughts on: The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942)

Film Reviews

Become a Patron of the blog at patreon.com/musicgamer460

Check out the YouTube channel (and consider hitting the subscribe button)

Don’t forget to like Film Music Central on Facebook

My Thoughts on: Frankenstein (1931)

When I decided that I was going to embrace the Halloween spirit and watch “Halloween-ish” movies during the month of October, I knew that Frankenstein (1931) had to be somewhere on that list. This film, to me, is essential viewing for the Halloween season, as I consider it to be the most iconic film ever made about Frankenstein and his Monster (here portrayed brilliantly by Boris Karloff).

As you might expect, Frankenstein sets out to tell the story of Henry Frankenstein (renamed from Victor for some reason and also played brilliantly by Colin Clive), and his quest to imbue a body of his own creation (Boris Karloff) with life. While the experiment works, things quickly go sideways and soon the Monster is terrorizing the countryside (though whether or not he’s aware that he’s doing so is something I’ll address later). At the same time, Frankenstein is also hoping to get married to his long-suffering sweetheart Elizabeth (Mae Clarke) to ease the mind of his equally long-suffering father (Frederick Kerr).

Truthfully, having read the original Frankenstein novel, I can tell you that this film only bears a superficial resemblance to Mary Shelley’s story about “the modern Prometheus.” Most of the book’s plot, in fact, is excised to allow the film to center around the Monster being given life and the chaos that follows. Possibly the biggest difference between book and film is that the loquacious Monster in the book is almost completely silent in the film, his speech being limited to grunts and cries of pain and anger. It’s somewhat disappointing, as Karloff had a beautiful voice and I believe would’ve done justice to the Monster’s lines in the book. However, I understand what director James Whale was going for in this film, and also support the notion of a Monster that cannot talk, at least at the beginning (this changes in the sequel film The Bride of Frankenstein).

However, despite all these differences from the source novel, Frankenstein is a wonderful film and remains an iconic take on the story of Frankenstein and his Monster. While bearing a different name, Colin Clive’s Henry Frankenstein remains for me the iconic take on the titular character. He’s filled with a nervous energy that becomes especially palpable during the scene of the Monster’s creation. I’ve yet to see anyone else play the role of Frankenstein and top this performance.

I think my favorite scene in the film is the Monster’s creation scene. This is what I always imagined the creation scene looked like in the Frankenstein story (and I was so disappointed to discover the book does NOT tell you how Frankenstein brought the Monster to life) and it’s spine-tingling to hear Frankenstein howling with joy “It’s alive….IT’S ALIVE!!!” Surrounded by the crackling electricity, it’s an exciting moment that’s just pure in its intentions.

The biggest element the film gets right is the doubt it sows throughout about the Monster’s intentions. While the Monster of the book is undoubtedly a cunning creature inclined to villainy once it experiences rejection on multiple levels, the Monster of this film is another matter entirely. While the story almost immediately sets up the idea that the Monster will be and MUST be evil because an abnormal brain was used in its creation, the Monster’s action throughout the film suggest something else. Think about it…what evil did the Monster do and in what context? Yes, he did kill Frankenstein’s assistant Fritz but only after the latter tormented him with fire (the thing he hates above all else) even after being told to stop. True, he also killed Dr. Waldman but to be fair the latter was about to euthanize him and the Monster, being a living being, naturally wanted to continue living. Waldman somewhat brought his fate on itself by not being open at any time to the idea that the Monster was anything but evil. And after that, the scene with little Maria, anyone can see that her death was a tragic accident. The Monster was clearly enjoying playing with the little girl, and only threw her into the pond because he’d run out of things to throw and thought she would float like the pretty flower boats. This version of the Monster, I believe, is not inherently evil at all, but is only acting the best way he knows how, and it’s only through a series of errors that the entire village is stirred up against him.

Speaking of getting stirred up, I find it so interesting that no one in the village ever finds out that the monster Frankenstein is helping to hunt down was created by Frankenstein himself. You’ll notice Frankenstein never publicly volunteers the information that he created this monster that he’s working to destroy. Sure, he feels guilty about what he’s done, but not enough to publicly confess. I’m not sure if that’s hypocritical or selfish on Frankenstein’s part (or maybe both), but it is interesting.

And I think the biggest clue of all that the Monster in this film is not evil is how he reacts when the mill is set on fire. Fearing fire above all else, the Monster is clearly afraid, in pain, and just wanting to be left alone. It’s heartrending to watch, and it makes me wonder how the story could’ve been so different if Frankenstein had taken more care with his creation instead of immediately chaining him up the instant he wasn’t 100% obedient to him.

One more interesting detail I wanted to point out is that there’s really no music in this film except for the opening and closing titles of the film. In some scenes (like the Monster’s creation), this could probably be argued as a creative decision. However, I also know that in 1931 many films didn’t have proper musical soundtracks as we understand them today. This is largely because, while the technology of making a “talking film” had largely been figured out, the technology of making a “talking film with music in the background” had not. Hence, except for the village celebration scenes (and the opening/closing titles), there is no background music in Frankenstein. You’ll note, however, that this issue was corrected by the time of The Bride of Frankenstein in 1935.

I know it’s an older film, but I highly recommend adding Frankenstein (1931) to your Halloween viewing list. It’s classic horror in every sense of the word and really you should watch it for Boris Karloff’s performance alone.

Let me know what you think about Frankenstein (1931) in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

My Thoughts on: Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

My Thoughts on: Son of Frankenstein (1939)

My Thoughts on: The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942)

Film Reviews

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