Thursday, July 30, 2015

Sherlock Holmes: My Personal Favorites

Seeing Ian McKellen in MR. HOLMES has inspired me to write a post on my favorite portrayals of Arthur Conan Doyle's famous detective. I have limited myself to five choices, and I have included portrayals from television.


Without a doubt Basil Rathbone is THE Sherlock Holmes. Especially in the first two films he made in the role--THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES (1939) and THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES. Both of those movies were set in the proper Victorian period, and faithful to Doyle's conception of the character. Rathbone and his Watson, Nigel Bruce, would go on to make 12 other movies, but these were set in the contemporary 1940s. The "Universal 12", as they are called, really qualify more as "B" type films instead of prestige productions. Nevertheless, most of them are still entertaining. Rathbone's Sherlock movies were shown constantly on TV when I was a kid, and I'm sure their constant repetition is one reason why so many people even today believe Rathbone was the perfect Holmes. The fact is, Rathbone was perfect--in looks and demeanor. If you have seen any of the original Sidney Paget drawings of Sherlock Holmes for Strand magazine, you may have noticed how many of them uncannily resemble Rathbone. The actor eventually would tire of Holmes, and become disappointed that many only saw him as the great detective and nothing else--but let's face it, Rathbone is to Holmes as Bela Lugosi is to Dracula or Charles Laughton is to Henry VIII.


Of course I'm going to have Peter Cushing on this list. I've mentioned on this blog before that Cushing's portrayal of Holmes in Hammer's 1959 THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES is one of his greatest performances. Jeremy Brett usually gets credit for being the first "modern" Holmes--but I think Cushing beat him to that by about 25 years. Cushing meticulously studied Sherlock Holmes, and the actor himself was something of an expert on the character. Cushing would later play Holmes for BBC TV in the late 60s, and one more time in a British 1984 TV movie, THE MASKS OF DEATH.


When Britain's Granada Television began producing adaptations of Conan Doyle's Holmes stories in the mid-1980s, the actor who played the detective, Jeremy Brett, caused a sensation. Brett's Holmes was like nothing seen up to that time--he was doggedly faithful to the Doyle writings, yet at the same time his take on the role had different unexpected twists and shadings to it. The first couple seasons of the Granada TV series are as authentic as anything ever filmed based on Conan Doyle, but soon the series starting changing the stories as much as possible, and Brett's Holmes became more and more bizarre. Brett's behavior was mostly the result of the actor's physical (and mental) debilities, but that was no excuse for the program to veer so far off the format. All things considered, Jeremy Brett, at his best, was a magnificent Holmes, and he brought the character to the attention of a new audience.


Is it too soon to put him on this list--especially since he has played Holmes only once? Well, this is my personal list, and I loved his elderly Holmes. I kind of wish that MR. HOLMES had been released in the fall--it is not a summer type of movie, and it may go without the notice it--and McKellen--deserves.


This pick may surprise a lot of folks. British actor Robert Stephens played Holmes in Billy Wilder's THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES. That film has a cult following built around it, mostly due to the now-legendary status of the film's original three-hour cut. If you have never seen THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES, it's almost impossible for me to describe it to you. Is it satire? Light comedy? A Billy Wilder pet project run amuck? No matter how you describe it, THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES is one of the most unique movies ever made. It wasn't a hit with viewers or critics when it came out in 1970, and because of that Robert Stephens' performance hasn't gotten a lot of respect. I think he is very good in Wilder's interpretation of Holmes. Stephens gives a Holmes a caustic demeanor that hides a lonely, fragile man underneath. Stephens (and Wilder) show a Holmes who is a human being, not a unfeeling thinking machine. If you haven't seen THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES you really should--the movie has magnificent art direction & production design, sumptuous photography, and a hauntingly beautiful music score by Miklos Rozsa. (And I have to mention Christopher Lee's knockout performance as Mycroft Holmes, who in this film really is Sherlock Holmes' smarter brother. Lee would cross paths with the world of Sherlock Holmes many times during his career.)

Honorable Mention: John Neville, Arthur Wontner, John Barrymore

If you are wondering why Benedict Cumberbatch is not on this list...well, that's because I've never seen his TV Sherlock. I'm sorry, but I just can't wrap my head around a 21st Century Holmes, no matter how hip and trendy he may be. Besides, anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that I am the least hippest and trendiest person in the world.

Are there any Sherlocks that I should have mentioned? Feel free to leave your personal favorite Sherlocks list in the comments section.

Peter Cushing as Sherlock Holmes

Monday, July 27, 2015


The star and director of GODS AND MONSTERS, Ian McKellen and Bill Condon, re-unite for a look at an elderly Sherlock Holmes in MR. HOLMES.

This movie, based on a novel by Mitch Cullin, is set in 1947 England, where a 93-year old Sherlock Holmes keeps bees on a farm in Sussex. The great detective has just come back from a trip to Japan, and he is determined to finish writing an account of his last case. His determination is based on the fact that his memory is failing, and also that the case had such serious repercussions on Holmes that he wound up retiring from solving any more mysteries.

If you are looking for a Robert Downey Jr. or Benedict Cumberbatch Holmes, you're not going to find them here. You also will not find any Jeremy Brett-style histrionics. MR. HOLMES is a stately character study, with Ian McKellen playing a aging genius who has become aware that not only is his health failing, but his entire life may have been without meaning. McKellen gives a magnificent, moving performance, helped by some excellent old-age makeup.

In support of McKellen are Laura Linney as Holmes' housekeeper, a WWII widow, and Milo Parker as her young son. Holmes forms a bond with the young boy, much to his housekeeper's jealousy and consternation.

Throughout the movie Holmes has various flashbacks to his last case, set during the late 1910s. McKellen looks perfect in period costume and one wishes the actor had been given a chance to play Holmes in his younger days.

It's rather strange that MR. HOLMES was given a summer release--this movie has more of an "autumn" feel to it, and I mean that in a film business sense (the English locations are splendidly green). I assume the producers were hoping that some Magneto and Gandalf fans might be induced in seeing it.

If you are looking for an antidote to comic book heroes and Frozen Minions, MR. HOLMES will be just what you need. Even if you are not particularly interested in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's famous creation, I suggest you see this film for the express purpose of experiencing one of the greatest actors of our times engaging in his craft.

NOTE: Do you remember YOUNG SHERLOCK HOLMES? Well, the young man who played Holmes in that film, Nicholas Rowe, has a cameo in MR. HOLMES....I won't tell you what it is, but I think you'll be able to figure it out.

Saturday, July 25, 2015


I've always been a fan of the X-Men movie series. I believe that out of all the movies based on comic books, the X-Men films are by far the best in terms of overall consistency and quality (and yes, I'm rating them over all the movies based on the various Avengers characters).

When one thinks about it, the first film in the series, X-MEN (2000), is one of the most influential pictures of the last twenty years. It was influential due to the fact that it proved a comic book film not featuring Superman or Batman could be made and be successful among critics and audiences. If X-MEN had turned out badly, it's highly doubtful that the Spider-Man or Iron Man franchises would have been attempted.

X-MEN grounded its many characters in a realistic world, and made these characters accessible to both regular moviegoers and comic geeks (not an easy thing to do). It helped that director Bryan Singer was able to assemble an amazing cast....and of course one member of that cast became a breakout star in his own right playing the Wolverine--Hugh Jackman. (Perhaps the only other actor who has done as well as Jackman has playing a comic book hero in multiple films is Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark.)

Many consider X-2: X-MEN UNITED to be even better than the first, and it at least has to be considered one of the best sequels ever made. X-MEN: THE LAST STAND gets a lot of grief from fans, but I think that is because the movie just doesn't live up to the first two films--THE LAST STAND isn't really that bad (at least I don't think it is).

X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE also gets some grief....but for the purposes of this blog post I'm not going to count that and THE WOLVERINE as true X-MEN movies. So that lets me jump over to X-MEN: FIRST CLASS, a kind of "re-boot" that took the bold step of going into the past and recasting many of the characters, yet at the same time still using all the X-Men movie history that had been laid down before. I was a bit skeptical about FIRST CLASS, but I would up loving it.

So now we finally get to X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST, which was released in theaters last year. Now we get a special Blu-ray edition of that film with a different version than the theatrical cut.

This "Rogue Cut" of DAYS OF FUTURE PAST is about 17 minutes longer than the original version. As soon as DAYS OF FUTURE PAST was released to theaters there were internet rumors about a sub-plot featuring Anna Paquin as Rogue being cut out of the film. That sub-plot has been restored, along with more scenes with Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique and a few odds and ends.

Is this "Rogue Cut" must-see material? Well, for me, personally, DAYS OF FUTURE PAST was fine exactly the way it was. Original X-Men director Bryan Singer scored a major coup in pulling off a multi-generational X-Men (and Women) team-up. In my opinion it is one of the best comic book movies ever made. Having the Wolverine act as the "bridge" between the two generations of X-Men is a great concept, especially since the Wolverine is usually portrayed as a lost, loner type. In this film the Wolverine has to be the "leader", so to speak. It is to Hugh Jackman's credit that his playing of the Wolverine has never seemed boring or one-note--he is still able to make the character fresh and appealing, even after doing it for 15 years.

What really made X-Men movie fans happy was that the ending of DAYS OF FUTURE PAST cleared the decks and righted the ship, story wise. (I do have to point out that the next film in the series, X-MEN: APOCALYPSE, is supposed to be set in the early 1980s, which means the series continuity will probably get all screwed up again.)

The Rogue Cut is an interesting variation on DAYS OF FUTURE PAST, but I honestly don't think it improves the film very much. The much-ballyhooed sequence with Anna Paquin's Rogue appears tacked on, even though it is explained in the Blu-ray's extras that the sequence was supposed to be in the film in the first place. Cynics will say that the whole point of the Rogue sequence was for Fox to come out with another version of the film for people to buy (and this guy bought it).

This Blu-ray has a 52-minute featurette on the making of the film, with input from just about all of the important members of the cast and crew. It's informative, but it does veer a bit into the "This is the greatest project I've ever worked on!" publicity-fluff territory. There's a photo gallery and commentaries, but the best thing about the Blu-ray is that you get the theatrical cut of DAYS OF FUTURE PAST as well.

If you do not own DAYS OF FUTURE PAST on home video and you want to get it, this is the version to buy. If you had already bought the movie when it first came out on Blu-ray, you might be ticked off that this new version has been released. If you are a huge fan of the X-Men movie franchise I would say yes, you should buy this Blu-ray. Besides, there's nothing wrong with seeing more of a naked blue Jennifer Lawrence.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

ENGLISH GOTHIC (The Revised New Edition)

I'm often asked, "How do you know so much about old horror movies?" Well, I've watched just about every single one of them, and I've read just about every single book about them. I actually started reading about old horror movies before I saw most of them, back in the 1980s when I was a kid.

At that time there was very little information on classic horror films--this was way before the internet. Whatever books on classic monster movies happened to be at any of my local public libraries, I checked out over and over again. When I became a teenager and then got a job, I was able to buy genre magazines such as Cinefantastique, Filmfax, and later Scarlet Street, Monsters From the Vault, and Video Watchdog.

While there was plenty of information on the Universal horrors of the 1930s and 1940s, there was little to none on Hammer and other British horror features. In the 1980s those films were still looked on by many as gory trash. What books and articles I could find about Hammer at that time were very patronizing toward the company, and it was very obvious that most of the writers who did discuss the films had not actually seen them.

Things improved a bit in the 1990s--that's when I started reading Richard Klemensen's seminal Little Shoppe of Horrors--but the ultimate book on the great British Gothic horror film period had yet to be written.

When I bought a copy of Jonathan Rigby's ENGLISH GOTHIC in 2000, it was a revelation. Here, finally, was the book I and many other classic horror movie fans had been waiting for. A revised new edition of it has just been released by Signum Books.

What sets ENGLISH GOTHIC apart is the fact that the author is a fan, and a frequent viewer, of the films discussed. (It would seem obvious that if you were going to write about certain movies, you would make a point of seeing them...but trust me, as someone who has read hundreds of movie books, I can assure you that is not always the case.) Jonathan Rigby has a love and appreciation for the genre, yet he is able to write articulately about these films without coming off as a reactionary fanboy. Rigby lays out a foundation for English Gothic existing long before the heyday of Hammer Films. The course of the English horror film is charted here in chronological order--this may seem like a small detail, but it allows Rigby to discuss certain films in the context of when they were made and in comparison to other horror films made at the same time. This is much better--and much more interesting--than the usual grouping of films by company or subject that most books feature.

This chronological tour of British horror also enables Rigby to touch upon the status of the British film industry in general, and the sociological history of Britain in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

The best part of the book is of course the chapters covering the "glory years" of British horror, from 1954-1975. In these chapters the author takes a special look at 100 films, including most of the famed Hammer product and even some little-known efforts that some readers may not be aware of.

I must point out that this is not just a book on Hammer Films. Many of the films featured in the book are not from that company. Rigby deals with films from Amicus, Tigon, Anglo-Amalgamated, etc. When one reads ENGLISH GOTHIC one gets an appreciation for how huge--and how eclectic--the British horror film boom really was.

Rigby covers the fall of the English Gothic film in the late 20th Century, and in a brand new chapter reviews what could be called a mini-boom of the genre in the first decade of the 21st Century. (The author does ruefully admit that few of the numerous 21st Century titles have received any type of major release, and even fewer of them have made any impact with the average moviegoer.)

There is also a appendix on English Gothic television, and some of these programs sound more interesting than the more famous films.

The book is filled with magnificent black & white stills, and there are two color sections in the book. It retains the same design as the other editions of ENGLISH GOTHIC.

I would assume that those who are interested in this subject already have an earlier copy of ENGLISH GOTHIC. Is this new edition worth buying? I would unhesitatingly say yes. This edition is in hardcover, with a stunning cover photo of Christopher Lee as Dracula (see image above). The book goes all the way up to 2015 with the recent release THE WOMAN IN BLACK: ANGEL OF DEATH included. Rigby knows the subject backwards and forwards, and his writing style is entertaining and informative. ENGLISH GOTHIC is the book on the British Gothic horror film.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Book Review: FANTASTIC FILMS OF THE DECADES--Volume 1: The Silent Era

Peveril Publishing is committed to producing high-end collectible books that focus on the film genres of horror and science-fiction. I have two books from the company--THE PETER CUSHING SCRAPBOOK, which I wrote a blog post on in June 2013, and HAMMER FILMS ON LOCATION, a must-have for any true fan of that British company.

Now Peveril and author/film expert Wayne Kinsey have started a new series on the history of fantastic films in the 20th Century. The first book in the series is FANTASTIC FILMS OF THE DECADES--Volume 1: The Silent Era.

Wayne Kinsey explains in the introduction that although just about all the information in this book can be found on the internet, there's just something special about holding a great book in your hands--and he's right. Volume 1 of FANTASTIC FILMS starts out at the very beginning of cinema and ends at the dawn of the sound era. Several films are covered in depth, such as the usual suspects like METROPOLIS and PHANTOM OF THE OPERA and the not so famous such as GO AND GET IT and THE HEAD OF JANUS.

Kinsey reveals numerous factoids about each feature, and also gives his own opinion on various films. This book is chock full of great stills and poster reproductions, some of them in color.

This volume is also filled with sidebars concerning prominent actors, directors, and other personnel who were important during this era of fantastic film.

As usual with Peveril product, the book has a clean, sharp, easy-to-read design.

I believe that this first volume to FANTASTIC FILMS would be a great gift for a young adult who may have some interest in classic film. Just about all the information you need on horror and science-fiction films of this period is contained in this book. But even if you already have an encyclopedic knowledge of silent fantastic cinema, you would appreciate this being part of your collection.

This book is limited to only 500 copies and is available only through Peveril Publishing (

Sunday, July 12, 2015


Okay. Say you've got a horror movie--and it is co-produced by two companies well versed in cinematic exploitation, Tigon and American-International. And say that this horror movie stars Boris Karloff, Christopher Lee, Barbara Steele, and Michael Gough. This has got to be one of the best horror movies ever made, right??


The American title of this film is THE CRIMSON CULT, and the British title is CURSE OF THE CRIMSON ALTAR. For some reason, Kino Lorber's new Blu-ray of the film has THE CRIMSON CULT title on the disc cover, despite the fact that the actual movie on the disc has the British title. No matter what you call it, this picture is somewhat of a disappointment.

The movie's plot revolves around one of the oldest horror movie cliches--a leading character trying to find out what has happened to a relative/friend/significant other who has mysteriously disappeared. Here the leading character is Robert Manning (Mark Eden), who is searching for his brother. Robert's quest takes him to a small British village called Greymarsh, and a spooky old house called Craxted Lodge. The affable squire of the Lodge, Morley (Christopher Lee), tells Robert he has no idea where his brother may be, but he does allow Robert to stay at the house while he conducts his search. There Robert joins up with Morley's attractive niece Eve (Virginia Wetherell), and the duo learn that there may be more to the local legend of executed witch Lavinia Morley than just fable.

The Gothic Icon Barbara Steele plays Lavinia, and even though she looks morbidly splendid in her green makeup and outlandish costume (see picture below), she has very little screen time. The scenes in which Steele does appear are all somewhat removed from the main story, and we don't even get to see her interact with Christopher Lee or Boris Karloff whatsoever.

As for Karloff, he plays local Professor Marsh, an expert on witchcraft. Karloff's character is really just set up to be a red herring, but it's always a treat to see him, even though in this case the circumstances concerning his health were not good. This movie was filmed in early 1968, and Karloff unfortunately had to film a number of scenes outside on cold, wet nights (when one watches this Blu-ray it is easy to see the actors' breath while they are outdoors). Karloff actually did become sick during this production, and he passed away a year later. It's sad that the great man would jeopardize himself on such a lesser film, but he still gives it his all, despite for the most part being confined to a wheelchair.

Christopher Lee is rather understated as Morley, but without trying to give away the ending to this movie, there's a reason why he seems so low-key. Michael Gough plays Morley's dim-witted servant, and taking an actor like Gough, who had such a ripe way of delivering dialogue, and making him almost mute is one of the many mistakes committed by this film.

Mark Eden, who basically plays the "David Manners" role (ironically enough, his character's last name is Manning), has more screen time than the four horror legends put together. That alone should tell you what is wrong with this movie. He's not bad....but when you watch THE CRIMSON ALTAR, you don't want to spend most of your time looking at Mark Eden walking around (which he does a lot of). Virginia Wetherell doesn't have much to do--her best contribution to the story is spending most of her time wearing a mini-skirt. Wetherell would later appear in a few Hammer features and she even wound up marrying one-time Hammer leading man Ralph Bates.

The story of this picture is supposedly based on H. P Lovecraft's Dreams in the Witch House, but any resemblance between Lovecraft's work and this movie is purely coincidental. Director Vernon Sewell made other 1960s genre films, such as THE BLOOD BEAST TERROR, and his typical old-fashioned style doesn't do much to improve the final product. There's some supposed "naughty stuff" interjected in the film, such as a bizarre Witch's Coven and a drunken rave, but these scenes just stick out like a sore thumb.

What really makes this Blu-ray relevant are the extras features. There's a 47-minute program called "British Legends of Stage and Screen--Sir Christopher Lee", which is a 2012 look at Lee's career. The show has a extensive interview with Lee, and it is all the more poignant considering that Lee only passed away a couple weeks ago. I've watched (or read) many interviews with Lee, and on some of them he has come off as a bit austere, but here he's warm and reflective. This extra is a must-see for any hardcore Christopher Lee fan.

The Blu-ray contains an audio commentary with film historian David Del Valle and Barbara Steele. This is a great showcase for Steele, as she gets a chance to be articulate and perceptive about not just this film, but her career and movies in general. One wishes she had even more to say during the commentary.

One thing about this Blu-ray is that it does NOT feature the original music score for the film by Peter Knight. The score here is one by Kendall Schmidt. The reason for this is explained in a 13 minute interview with Schmidt. During the mid 1980s, Orion Pictures acquired the rights to the American-International film library, but they were not able to get the music rights for many of the films. Orion hired Schmidt to compose totally new scores for several famous horror, science-fiction, and exploitation films. For many years on home video releases, Schmidt's scores were still being used. You have to give credit to Kino for not trying to sweep this under the rug, and coming out and admitting that this release has a alternate music score. Some on the internet have expressed disapproval at Kino for releasing the Blu-ray without the original score, but in all honesty you could have Ennio Morricone do new music for THE CRIMSON CULT and it wouldn't make the movie any better.

THE CRIMSON CULT is another example of a horror-film team up that doesn't live up to expectations. This happened all the time in the 1960s and 1970s--check out titles like SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN, THE OBLONG BOX, and MADHOUSE. Apparently producers felt all you had to do was put the names on the posters and the movie would work. But if you don't give those names something to do, and you don't give those names a chance to successfully interact with one get a movie like THE CRIMSON CULT, where what the movie could have been is more interesting than what it is.

Hardcore classic horror fans will certainly pick this title up, especially for the extras. Kino does a fine job on making these mediocre films a worthy buy. It's sad, however, that the only movie co-starring Karloff, Lee, Steele, and Gough isn't more worthy.

Barbara Steele, looking morbidly splendid as Lavinia

Saturday, July 11, 2015

The BATMAN V. SUPERMAN Comic-Con Trailer

So here I am, writing another blog on a movie that won't even be released in almost a year. And this is....what, the third or fourth time I've written something about this movie already? And we all know, once it finally does come out, I'll just spend a bunch of time whining and moaning about it. So what does this make me? A true movie geek, and a pathetic fanboy.

Anyway....the 2015 San Diego Comic Con is being held as I write this, and the big revelation today was a brand new trailer for BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE. The first teaser trailer didn't really impress me, and this one--well, I just don't know. But it does give us more of a taste of what this movie is going to be like.

Once again, we are shown in this trailer that many consider Superman nothing more than an illegal alien--we see protests against him, and we even see Superman having to go to Washington to testify before Congress. This strays way too far toward X-Men territory....and hey, didn't Iron Man have to testify before Congress a couple movies ago?

Remember how several people on the internet (including me) complained about Superman basically destroying Metropolis at the end of MAN OF STEEL? Well, it looks like Zach Snyder is using that backlash as a subplot in this movie. The trailer apparently shows a Wayne Enterprises skyscraper being toppled during the MAN OF STEEL melee...and it looks as if Bruce Wayne himself is there witnessing it falling (in a scene very reminiscent of 9/11 news footage). This apparently (I keep saying "apparently" because you never can take anything for sure from a trailer) is the reason why Bruce Wayne/Batman has such rage for Superman in this story.

The relationship between Batman and Superman is one of the most interesting and intriguing in all of comic book history. Taking that relationship and having it based on just one incident is a very short-handed way of dealing with these characters, in my opinion. Yes, I know this is a movie, and you can't deal with 75 years of comic book history in a small amount of time, but.....a "Let's give Bats a reason to hate Superman" sub-plot is a very high concept, and very predictable, thing to do.

One thing that you do see in this trailer that kind of gives me hope is a quick glance at what looks like a shrine to Robin in the Batcave.....just like the one the "real" Batman has in the comics. If this trailer had shown a giant penny or a replica dinosaur in the Batcave, I probably would have fainted.

The trailer also gives us a glimpse of Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor, and he's pretty underwhelming....he kind of looks like a Millenial computer geek. And we also see a couple shots of Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, and she still looks to me more like Xena, Warrior Princess.

We also get to see the "Superman-fighting Batsuit" that Ben Affleck wears, and it certainly is inspired by Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns.

Is it silly to write a blog post on a trailer? Well, that's what people like me do nowadays. If you didn't like MAN OF STEEL (and a lot of people didn't), you are going to have to accept that BATMAN V. SUPERMAN is very much a sequel to it. For better or worse, this movie is going to be the springboard for a supposed "DC Comics Movie Universe". There's a lot riding on this movie--there's maybe even more riding on it than the next STAR WARS film. Can it in any way possibly make all those crazy geeks like me happy?

Here's a hint: crazy movie geeks like me are never happy.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The 80th Anniversary Of BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN

This year marks the 80th anniversary of the original theatrical release of BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN. A couple weeks ago at Monster Bash, I was privileged to listen to esteemed classic film historian Gregory Mank give a talk on the making of the film.

BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN is one of my top ten favorite movies of all time. It is considered by many to be the greatest classic horror film of all time. Personally I think that calling BRIDE just a classic horror film doesn't do it enough justice. To me it is more than just a horror is a baroque fairy tale, and director James Whale's masterpiece.

Only James Whale would be audacious enough to open the movie with a scene featuring the woman who actually wrote Frankenstein, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley herself, along with Percy Shelley and Lord Byron. The irony of having Elsa Lanchester play both Mary Shelley and the Bride of Frankenstein is fairly obvious, but in this picture it makes perfect sense. (By the way, Gavin Gordon as Byron all but steals the film.) Lord Byron convinces Mary Shelley to continue the tale of Frankenstein and his Monster, and so the "real" story begins.

The tale picks up right where the 1931 FRANKENSTEIN left off, and soon the Monster (Boris Karloff) is back in action. The next time you watch BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, notice how Jack Pierce slightly changed the Monster's makeup to reflect his being burned in the windmill--one of the many little touches that makes this film so great.

Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) is also recovering from his bout at the windmill--but he's soon persuaded to go back to monster-making again by his old mentor Dr. Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger). The character of Pretorius is one of the most legendary supporting roles in Hollywood history, and Thesiger is simply astounding (if they had given Best Supporting Actor Academy Awards at the time, he certainly should have won one).

While Pretorius schemes to have Henry join him in an unholy alliance, the Monster winds up at the hut of an old hermit (O. P. Heggie). The Monster learns from the hermit how to talk, drink, and smoke....and he is even brought to tears by the hermit's friendship. Of course, the Monster's idyll is shattered by pesky villagers (one of them played by none other than a very young John Carradine). The Monster makes his way to the local cemetery, where he encounters Dr. Pretorius robbing graves. Pretorius tells the Monster that he wishes to create a mate for him. The ghoulish duo convince Henry Frankenstein to help by kidnapping Henry's wife Elizabeth (played in this film by Valerie Hobson). What follows is one of the great climaxes in movie history, and the introduction of one of the great images in movie history, the Bride herself.

I apologize for my rather simple story synopsis, but no written recitation of the plot can give the proper impression of BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN. Everything in the entire movie is heightened to another level, from the florid performances to the quotable dialogue (which I know just about every line of). There are no "ordinary" characters in BRIDE, or "ordinary" line readings. Some consider BRIDE to be "camp", and the movie's detractors (and there are some) use that term as a criticism. I don't look at BRIDE as being camp so much as it being a movie which deserves its own genre--maybe it should be called "Whalesian"??

Even when I first saw BRIDE as a kid I knew there was something different about it, something that made it stand out. It is unlike any other film. There really isn't nothing to compare it to--even all the other Universal Frankenstein films. It is totally unique and that may be the real reason why I love it so much.

I've already mentioned actors Gavin Gordon and Ernest Thesiger, but BRIDE is filled with plenty of other standout performances, including Una O'Connor as the rather emotional Minnie (she has plenty of detractors as well, but I'm not one of them), E. E. Clive as the pompous Burgomaster, O. P. Heggie's moving and kindly hermit, and the one and only Dwight Frye, who this time around plays a really nasty looking murderous grave robber named Karl.

And oh yes, there's Boris Karloff as the Monster. What more can you say about Karloff in this role? No matter how many times I see this film, I can't helped but be moved by him. Greg Mank has written many times on how Karloff disagreed with the Monster learning to speak (let alone drink and smoke), but here it seems like a natural progression. You may laugh with the Monster during his time of "learning" with the hermit, but you certainly don't laugh at him. Karloff as the Monster has far more emotional range than any big time movie star in a "normal" role.

Let's not forget the Bride. It's amazing how much impact Elsa Lanchester had in the role, considering that the Bride doesn't really become "alive" until almost the very end of the film. A lot of that impact has to do with the look of the Bride (once again the genius of Jack Pierce needs to be mentioned), but Lanchester's unnerving body language, and that horrible screech, makes the Bride iconic.

For such a legendary film, BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN has a rather short running time--75 minutes. According to Greg Mank, nearly 17 minutes of scenes were edited out before general release. Among the cuts was an entire subplot featuring Dwight Frye's Karl causing havoc on his own and blaming it on the Monster. At Monster Bash I took the opportunity to spend a couple minutes with Mr. Mank and ask him a question that I have long been pondering--If BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN had not been edited down, would it still be considered the classic that it is today? We both agreed that BRIDE is fine just the way it is. Classic monster movie fans dream of seeing these edited scenes--and I would love to see them too--but I think that they would have been a distraction to the main story at hand. Let's face it--for a 75 minute movie, BRIDE has plenty of highlights in it already.

I could go on and on and on about BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN. There's so many things about the movie I haven't even touched on yet--Franz Waxman's superb score (which Universal reused over and over again), the scene where Pretorius shows off his little "creations", the photography by John Mescall, the art direction by Charles D. Hall...but I think the best way to wrap up this blog is to discuss the scene that for me makes the biggest impact.

It is the scene where the newly re-born Bride is introduced to the Monster...and she lets out that horrible screech.

The Monster sadly--and angrily--responds, "She hate me--like others!!"

Any person who has a heart cannot help but be cut to the quick by the Monster's statement. It proves that in a film filled with eccentrics, the Monster is the only character that is truly human. We have all been rejected, we have all been hurt, and we have all felt alone. We are all the Monster in some way. Underneath all the outlandish goings on, James Whale fashioned a tale about a lost soul trying to find acceptance. That is why BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN lives truly is alive.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Political Correctness And Classic Film

The inspiration for this post is the recent movement to eliminate the Confederate Battle Flag in response to the horrible murders in Charleston, South Carolina. This movement has spread into the world of popular entertainment, with the cable channel TV Land deciding to no longer air reruns of THE DUKES OF HAZZARD.

For those few of you who do not have any knowledge of The Dukes, the show's main characters, Bo & Luke Duke, drive around in a car named the "General Lee" (after the Confederate Army General Robert E. Lee), which has a Confederate Battle Flag painted on its roof. Apparently the flag is so offensive the entire series can no longer be shown. I watched the Dukes regularly when I was a kid, and I certainly wasn't the most sophisticated kid in the world, but I fail to remember any incident in any episode that struck me as racist.

The Confederate Flag controversy has even moved some to suggest that the venerable GONE WITH THE WIND should at the least be "re-examined". I find this to be somewhat ironic, considering that GWTW has been in the spotlight ever since it was in pre-production. I don't know what else you can re-examine when it comes to that film.

I'm not exactly the most liberal guy in the world, but I am definitely no fan of censorship. There's plenty of TV shows, movies, books, and songs that annoy me....but I don't feel the need to demand that they be banned, simply because I don't watch or partake in things I don't like. It would really be nice if I never heard the names "Kardashian" or "Jenner" used in any type of context whatsoever--but I should not have the right to force other people not to watch them. And by that same token, someone else should not try to demand what I should or should not watch.

I know that some will say that because the Confederate Flag is a racial matter, it goes beyond just simple freedom of choice. And I also know that some will say that a White Guy cannot even have an informed opinion on this matter. Nevertheless, I don't believe that banning certain TV shows or movies is going to stop racism.

If you really want to get rid of any filmed entertainment that offends you in some way, you'd better get ready to do some work. Even if you put aside the racial element for just a moment, just about every movie ever made in the 20th Century (and most of the ones made in the 21st Century) can be considered politically incorrect.

For example....are you part of the LGBT community? If you are, you probably wouldn't enjoy any movie that features Edward Everett Horton and his "prissy" act. Do you hate the tobacco industry? Well, you certainly wouldn't like all those old movie actors puffing away like factory chimneys. Do you consider yourself an anti-gun person? You might want to avoid watching TCM, since it appears that everyone in old movies packs heat. Are you a feminist? You can't be too happy with all those stay-at-home wives & mothers, and all those single women making fools of themselves while trying to snag a man. Are you offended by body shaming? Then you certainly won't like the hundreds and hundreds of Golden Age Hollywood cuties who have perfect faces and figures, or the numerous classic comedies that make fun of overweight individuals.

I could go on and on and on. Every movie has the capacity to offend someone in some way.

Many old movie buffs have wrestled with the problem of how to express their love for classic cinema without seeming to endorse some of the less-than-appealing sentiments that show up in certain films. I don't think anyone has to apologize for loving older films. I have to admit that I have had several cringe-inducing moments while viewing older films and TV shows. You have to put those moments into context. I fully realize that to some, those "moments" are totally unacceptable.

But to say that because of those moments, a film or a TV show must be suppressed...well, I just can't agree with that. If anything, censorship makes the product being censored even more appealing (according to social media maven Will McKinley, who broke the TV Land-Dukes story, the home video collections of the Dukes show are now selling like crazy). Remember the whole bugaboo about THE INTERVIEW? I'm still convinced it was all a ploy to get a lousy movie some attention.

I feel that cinema, particularly classic cinema, is an art form. I would hate for that art form to be wiped out, or even marginalized, simply because of political correctness. If social media has done anything, it has given millions of people a voice...but it has also allowed those people a platform to whine, moan, and complain about everything under the sun. It amazes me the inordinate amount of time people on the left & right spend disparaging the other side on the internet. What the average person is really offended about is the fact that there are people out there who do not have the same views as they do. If a certain movie or TV show offends you in some way, might I humbly suggest that you...just don't watch it?