Monday, September 15, 2008

The Great Movies: "Bride of Frankenstein"

Bride of Frankenstein
James Whale, 1935.

For as much as people love to pick on the old B-movie horror flicks, they really aren't all that much worse than the old A-movie horror flicks. Bride of Frankenstein, clearly not on Ebert's Great Movies list for its intrinsic merits (it seems to have made the list because its director was the subject of a currently popular documentary), is a case in point. Despite a respectable cast, strong production values, and an obviously handsome budget, it is at its heart a pointless, poorly-structured slab of pure ham.

It's too bad, in a way. There are all sorts of interesting possibilities in a story about a new form of life created by human beings. Frankenstein's monster could have been a great foil against which to explore, or at least "say something" about, the species that created him. But Bride is having none of this. It can't even decide on a consistent personality for its monster, who lurches about like a fiendish killing machine at some moments and like a sentimental rube at others. The lurching is consistent, at least. He also likes eating, drinking, and smoking; he wishes he could get him a woman but finds that they are repulsed by him. He comes off less like an amazing new creature brought to life through human hubris than like that hard-luck uncle your family is so embarrassed about.

The opening scene is a campy, rrrrrr-rolling tableau of Byron and the Shelleys in their chateau, as Mary sets out to entertain the boys with a sequel to her Frankenstein story. The ending is... well, nonexistent. The movie just stops after the climax scene. In between, there are mad scientists, funny working-class British accents, lots of lurching, and pretty good special effects, all thrown in together in no particular order. It's a real snooze.

Plot: Movie studio having had a big hit, a sequel is made in which key characters turn out to have survived after all. They have some pointless episodic adventures.

Visuals: Quite good! The lab scenes in particular are handsome examples of the starkly lit mad scientist's lair. Various explosions and fires throughout are especially well rendered.

Dialog: Ham, ham, ham, ham, and more ham.

Prognosis: Recommended for anyone who is bored and is looking for a mindless entertainment. In the 1930s.

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