Scary Movie Review: Frankenstein (1931)


Title: Frankenstein
Release Date: November 21, 1931
Director: James Whale
Production Company: Universal Pictures
Summary/Review:

I’d never watched Frankenstein before, but it’s so full of iconic moments that it feels like I have. Think of the scenes and ideas that have permeated culture for the past 90 years:

  • a hunchback assistant (named Fritz, not Igor)
  • brains in jars, one brilliant, one criminal (and all the pop psychology that goes along with that)
  • a stormy night, a laboratory in a creepy castle, and a pulley system to raise a gurney
  • “It’s alive!”
  • the monster and a little girl (Marilyn Harris) throwing flowers in a lake
  • an angry mob bearing torches and pitchforks (this may be the first time I’ve seen this done non-ironically). I did wonder if the mill owner was upset that the mob just burned his mill down

The odd part is the non-iconic scenes that link this all together. Despite the prologue where the audience is given a trigger warning for the horror to come, the movie today is a bit slow and the acting is melodramatic and wooden (especially Mae Clarke as Dr. Frankenstein’s fiancée Elizabeth). Colin Clive is suitably manic as Dr. Henry Frankenstein. But the acting star of the film is Boris Karloff as the creature. He brings real emotion and nuance to his grunts and movements, especially in the scene when he is exposed to the sun for the first time and the scene with the girl by the lake.

One summer when I was a teenager I read Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (who is rather offensively credited as “Mrs. Percy Bysshe Shelley” in this movie). I stayed up late to finish the book and then had to wait in the dark alone until sunrise because I was too spooked to go to sleep. The movie didn’t have that affect on me, but I can appreciate it for the incredible influence it’s had on film and the great acting of Karloff.


Rating: ***1/2

Movie Review: Son of Kong (1933) BONUS #AtoZChallenge


Here is special BONUS A to Z Challenge movie review to tie in with King Kong.

I’m participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge by watching and reviewing some of my favorite movies of all time that I haven’t watched in a long time. This post contains SPOILERS!

Title: Son of Kong
Release Date: December 22, 1933 (
Director: Ernest B. Schoedsack
Production Company: RKO Radio Pictures
Synopsis:

A month after King Kong ran rampant in New York, Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) is hiding from reporters and process servers in a guest house.  With word of an indictment coming down, Denham reunites with Captain Englehorn (Frank Reicher) and they sail of to the East Indies hoping to pick up some cargo trade.

They stop in Dakang, where they watch a mediocre show of performing monkeys followed by a song by Hilda Peterson (Helen Mack). That night, Hilda’s father is drinking with Nils Helstrom (John Harstrom), and the two men get into an argument.  Helstrom kills Hilda’s father with a blow to the head and sets fire to their tent.  Hilda rescues the monkeys from the fire and drags out her father’s body.

Helstrom meets Denham and Englehorn, and it’s revealed that he was the captain who gave Denham the map to Kong’s island.  Seeking to escape justice for murdering Hilda’s father, Helstrom makes up a story of treasure on the island and the trio set off to recover it.  Hilda also asks to go with Denham, and when he turns her down she stows away on the ship.

Helstrom stirs up mutiny in the crew and they put of Denham, Englehorn, Hilda, and the cook Charlie (Victor Wong) on a boat to Skull Island.  When Helstrom tries to appoint himself new captain, the mutineers throw him overboard as well.  Helstrom, Englehorn, and Charlie are separated by a dinosaur attack, and now 2/3 of the way into the movie, Hilda and Denham meet and befriend a smaller and younger giant ape.  Denham also discovers that there really is a treasure.

The film ends with a sudden earthquake causing the island to sink. Helstrom is eaten by a sea creature while trying to escape.  Baby Kong saves Denham by holding him above the water until Englehorn, Hilda, and Charlie can get him in the boat, sacrificing himself in the process.

When Did I First See This Movie?:

This movie was also the second installment for WWOR’s trilogy of great ape movies on Thanksgiving afternoon.

What Did I Remember?:

I remember Hilda tearing off part of her slip to make a bandage for Baby Kong, and I remember Baby Kong holding up Denham as the island sinks.

What Did I Forget?:

I forgot most of the film, including the fact that only about a third of it involves the titular character.

What Makes This Movie Great?:

This is a good movie for Armstrong as Denham as it shows some character development with him feeling regret for bringing Kong to New York.  Hilda is a great character who has a lot more agency and adventure than Fay Wray’s Ann Darrow.

What Doesn’t Hold Up?:

The movie introduces numerous subplots that have potential (such as Denham’s legal struggles in New York, the tension between Hilda and the man who murdered her father, Denham’s redemption arc with Baby Kong, et al), but fails to follow up on any of them.  Script writer Ruth Rose said about the rushed sequel “If you can’t make it bigger, make it funnier,” but there are really only a handful of moments of good comedy.  The brevity of the movie (69 minutes) works to its advantage since you don’t have to invest too much time on it, but if they’d made a longer movie they could have developed the plots and characters better.

Is It a Classic?:

No, this is a mildly-entertaining cash grab.

Rating: **

Movie Review: King Kong (1933) #atozchallenge


I’m participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge by watching and reviewing some of my favorite movies of all time that I haven’t watched in a long time. This post contains SPOILERS!

Title: King Kong
Release Date: April 7, 1933
Director: Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack
Production Company: Radio Pictures
Synopsis:

Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) is a Hollywood filmmaker who films on location in remote wilderness settings. He’s been told by his producers he needs to cast a woman in his next picture but no casting agent will allow any of their actresses to go on a long, possibly dangerous journey.  The night before setting sail, Denham finds the down-on-her-luck Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) and decides she will be perfect for the film.  On their ship journey halfway around the world, Ann develops a romance with the first mate, Jack Driscoll (Bruce Cabot).

Denham leads the ship to a unchartered island near Sumatra he’d heard of from a Norwegian captain. On the island they interrupt the indigenous people carrying out a ceremonial sacrifice of a young woman as “bride of Kong.” The chief is intrigued by Ann but she and the crew return to the ship.  Later the native people abduct Ann and sacrifice her to Kong, a giant gorilla.

Denham, Driscoll, and many sailors follow in pursuit. Kong kills off most of the men while also defending Ann from various dinosaurs and a pterodactyl.  Eventually Driscoll is able to bring Ann to safety while Denham subdues Kong with gas bombs.  Denham decides to bring Kong to display in New York, promising everyone they will be millionaires.

A few months later, Kong debuts on Broadway, and pretty much immediately escapes into the city.  He once again takes Ann and fights off various people who try to stop him (and perhaps his only real jerk-move is derailing an elevated train for no apparent reason).  He climbs to the top of the Empire State Building for safety, but there he is shot down by army biplanes and falls to his death.

When Did I First See This Movie?:

Kong and I go way back.  One day when I was a toddler, I wanted to go shopping with my mother and grandmother, but they made me stay home with my father.  I fell asleep mid-tantrum.  Meanwhile, my mother felt guilty and decided to bring home a gift – a foot high, plastic, King Kong piggy bank.  She placed it right near my head so I would see it when I woke up, expecting delight, but instead hearing my terrified screams!

Nevertheless, that King Kong would be one of my favorite toys for years to come.  Whenever I built New York City’s skyscrapers with my wooden blocks, I placed King Kong on the Empire State Building.  I also remember a giant, inflatable King Kong on the real Empire State Building in 1983 for the movie’s 50th anniversary. I can’t remember the first time I watched the original King Kong, but I know I saw the 1976 remake first, on tv sometime in the early 80s.

WOR in New York had a tradition of showing King Kong, Son of Kong, and Mighty Joe Young on Thanksgiving afternoon and we watched them all for several years running.  In 2005, I enjoyed a two-theater, two-city double feature where I watched the original King Kong (1933) at the Brattle Theater in Cambridge and then hopped on my bike and rode to the Somerville Theater in Davis Square and saw Peter Jackson’s new remake of King Kong .

What Did I Remember?:

This movie has the simplest of plots so it’s hard to forget much.

What Did I Forget?:

Nevertheless, I forgot how much of the movie is on Skull Island.  Only the last 20 minutes take place in New York.  I think the remakes have conditioned me to have a greater balance of the locations.

What Makes This Movie Great?:

This movie was a technical marvel when it was released, and even if the special effects look “unrealistic” by today’s standards, you have to admire the imagination and artistry that went into them. The final scene where Kong bats at biplanes from his perch at the top of the Empire State Building is still breathtaking.  And it is heartbreaking when Kong is shot and falls to his death.

I have always hated the final line, “It was beauty who killed the beast!” No, Denham, you jerk, it was you who took this animal from its home, chained him up and put it on display, and then called on airplanes to shoot it down when he got away.

What Doesn’t Hold Up?:

Where do we start?  The movie is full of racial stereotypes from the Chinese ship cook to the “natives” on Skull Island.  And why is an island in the Southeast Asia or Oceania region populated with people who look African?  The depiction of gender isn’t any better.  Sure you can say that the patriarchal behavior of the men in the film is an accurate depiction of men of the time, but the scriptwriter also decided that most of Fay Wray’s dialogue would be “Aaah!” Finally, there’s a lot of cruelty to (imaginary) animals in this film.  It’s no wonder that King Kong remakes have made Kong more sympathetic and the women stronger characters.

Is It a Classic?:

As a pure adventure/horror film with iconic moments, it is clearly a classic, but be ready for all the baggage that comes with it.

Rating: ****

I don’t have any other K movies to recommend unless you want to watch King Kong (1976) and King Kong (2005). Get your guesses in for my movie starting with L in the comments. (Hint: it is based on a romantic debut novel that became a huge bestseller).