Director of Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, and Showboat whose life was fictionalized in the movie Gods and Monsters.
Frankenstein (1931) -- Not really related to the Mary Shelley novel other than the bringing life to dead body business, this is the one that gave the monster a flat-top, bolt-neck, and hunkered-over zombie walk. Some of the movie is pointless or just doesn't make any sense. For example, they made a big deal about the monster's brain being that of a murderer's, but then you can't really tell if the monster is even evil or not. Does he toss the little girl in the water because of a misunderstanding or because he wants to kill her? He seems to kill everyone he encounters, but often in self-defense. Any movie that devolves into villagers with torches isn't perfect, and it's not going to scary anyone today (though the intro of the monster is pretty creepy), but it's really fun to watch and goes by quick enough (it's just over an hour) and after this movie, nothing was quite the same. (See below for the sequel, Bride of Frankenstein.)
The Old Dark House (1932) -- After apparently paying his dues with the more or less formulaic Frankenstein, the director made his first real James Whale movie. It's barely a horror movie, but it's not quite a comedy either. There's all kinds of stuff going on, though none of it is incredibly explicit. Over half of the movie seems to be made of subtext, covering sexuality, post-war disillusionment, the problems of religion, alcoholism, and of course repression. But since none of these things are too apparent, the movie is really fun and has lots of great dialogue. Lots of the movie is just the characters talking, in fact, and sometimes the best lines are things like "Have a potato" at the dinner table. Though The Invisible Man and Bride of Frankenstein are better movies, The Old Dark House allows viewers a more "pure" James Whale vision without being distracted by the trappings of the horror heroes.
The Invisible Man (1933) -- Let's start with the effects. We all know the principles behind blue screen these days (actually a black screen in those days), but in 1933 audiences didn't, so I imagine that seeing a man unwrapping his gauzed head to reveal absolutely nothing must have been mind-blowing. Even today, the effects are pretty impressive. Sure, you can see the string sometimes during some of the moving objects effects, but those scenes are played for so much fun anyway that it doesn't matter. And this is a fun movie. James Whale has what we in the business like to call a "wicked" sense of humor. The idea that the Invisible Man has to be nude to be completely invisible is played for lots of laughs too, such as having him wearing only a shirt, chasing men in a circle around the room. Or a pair of pants legs hopping down the street singing, "Here we go gathering nuts." The character of the Invisible Man himself is great as played by a gleeful Claude Rains (his voice, at least), a nice blend of menace, insanity, and hilarity. He was undoubtedly the blueprint for the funny version of Freddy Krueger. Throw in some funny secondary characters from James Whale's stockpile and you've got a nicely-rounded "horror" movie that's more or less flawless for what it is. (See Joe May for the sequel, The Invisible Man Returns.)
Bride of Frankenstein (1935) -- Four years and nine movies after Frankenstein, James Whale was allowed to make pretty much whatever movie he wanted, and this sequel is superior as a result. Although it may not be scarier, it's funnier, smarter, more gleeful, has better effects, a better story, and pretty much a blast throughout. The movie begins with Mary Shelley, Percy Shelley, and Lord Byron talking about Frankenstein, and -- even though this setup isn't entirely necessary -- it shows that the movie is going to go in a lot of different directions and you won't know what to expect. I wasn't exactly expecting to see the new mad scientist bring in miniature humans in bottles dressed as kings and queens, but there they were. I'm sure no one was expecting the hairstyle of the bride. Besides the more outrageous moments, this one is also much more moving than the first since it's clear that we're meant to sympathize with the monster and that he just wants a friend, and in this way it's much closer to the original Mary Shelley book. When the bride rejects the monster, he says "She hate me," making that phrase famous decades before Spike Lee. If you've never seen the movie, set yourself up with a double-feature one night. (See above for the predecessor, Frankenstein. See Rowland V. Lee for the sequel, Son of Frankenstein.)
Copyright (c) Jan 2006 - Nov 2006 by Rusty Likes Movies