Always Thinking He Knows Best – The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)

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The Curse of Frankenstein would mark the first of Hammer’s outings detailing the trials and travails of Victor Frankenstein.  The film would not be as eerie or moody as the first Universal picture starring Boris Karloff and Colin Clive, hardly at all as a matter of fact, but it was suspenseful and filled with tension despite the many differences the two pictures would sport.  This film, for instance, would be in colour, with the classic production values that Hammer was known for and thus, instead of using the black and white cinematography to its advantage as Frankenstein did back in 1931, the tone of the movie and its overall feeling would be delivered through the performances of the actors, the script and the music.  The film would also feature the expert directing of Terence Fisher, the long-time director associated with the studio and while he may not have been as innovative as James Whale with his shots, he would do a fantastic job of it nonetheless.

The Curse of Frankenstein6Unlike the Karloff starring vehicle, this film does not start out in a graveyard, but in a prison that sees Victor within one of its cells.  As he starts to relay his story to a priest, we see Victor as a young boy and his journey into adulthood, filled with learning as much as he can with his tutor and mentor, Paul.  We see the men work closely together through the years until the point when they finally succeed in bringing life to the dead.  It is then that Paul finally splits away from his pupil, realizing that what they are doing is obscene and that within Victor, there might just be a touch of madness.  With Victor’s success, things soon become untenable.

The Curse of Frankenstein11Starring as the good Baron would be Peter Cushing.  Like Boris Karloff, he would always be associated with the role of Frankenstein though it would not be the monster but the man.  Cushing is electric as Victor, the man who would be obsessed about returning life to the deceased.  He might be a little mad come the end of the film, but throughout the bulk of the picture, you would never think of him as such, merely one enthusiastic about his work, dedicated and of a one-track mind, perhaps a little too much so.  Victor comes alive in Cushing’s hands, as a man who knows what he wants and will do anything to get it, damn the consequences.  His attitude is one of entitlement, brought on by his wanting for nothing during his life, and should he want to reanimate a corpse, then that is exactly what he will do.  As the Baron goes about doing so, he must first procure the things he needs, namely a brain for one, and it is during these moments when Cushing lets the madness shine through, almost as if flicking a switch.  While Colin Clive was extremely animated in his performance, Cushing is a bit more subdued and he holds the madness within while Clive would just let it all out.

The Curse of Frankenstein25Picking up the reins as the monster would be the great Christopher Lee.  Whereas Karloff would be a little more subtle in the role having just come to life, though still angry, Lee’s monster is violent, almost like he knows that he should not be alive and that what has happened is a crime against nature.  Karloff’s performance would be haunting with the monster looking just that.  Lee does an adequate job for the minimal time he is on screen, but in this particular role, anybody could have really stood in as the creature.  While the monster from twenty-six years previous looked like something a little otherworldly, the creature in this film was not scary, just hideously ugly as if having emerged from a car wreck.  If there was one weak spot in the film, it was the creature effects, simply for the fact, there was nothing exceptional about them, though they did get the message across that the movie was trying to convey.

The Curse of Frankenstein28Robert Urquhart would do a fine job working across from Cushing as his tutor, Paul Krempe.  Paul would be the physical representation of Victor’s conscience for most of the film until that part of him lost all meaning.  After that, Paul would be seen as an adversary, even though Victor would still look up to him and seek his approval for the things he was doing.  Also in the film, to balance out the testosterone would be Valerie Gaunt as Justine the maid and Hazel Court as Victor’s bride-to-be, Elizabeth.  Both women would be eclipsed in the film, by both Cushing and Victor, not for lack of trying, but simply because their roles would not be as large, nor really, as pertinent except for the ending sequence of the film when the Baron would finally grow a conscience of his own.

Brought to vivid and colourful life, unlike its black and white predecessor, the film would lose much of what made the first one so successful.  Gone are the shadows and the darkness to be replaced by the bright of day and lavish production courtesy of Hammer.  The films are completely unlike each other in this respect and as such, they each feel completely different to the viewer.  James Whale made you feel the horror of the picture right from the very start to the very end, while Terence Fisher would build it slowly, scene by scene until he was ready to unleash the bulk of the fright during the creature’s reveal.  Aiding the picture would be a beautiful score by James Bernard with some great cinematography by Jack Asher and together with Fisher’s steady hand and Jimmy Sangster’s tight script; they would turn out a fantastic first effort in Hammer’s Frankenstein franchise.

4.5 out of 5

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