Archive for The Bride of Frankenstein

The Bride

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on May 26, 2009 by dcairns

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My crappy photo doesn’t do justice to Guy Budziak’s lustrous print of Elsa Lanchester as the Bride of Frankenstein, but I wanted to show it off: Guy made a present of it when we met in New York recently. Check out his Film Noir Woodcuts here.

Elsa is modeling a hairstyle copied from Queen Nefertiti, and for variety make-up designer Jack Pearce and director James Whale decided to give her throat-scars rather than forehead scars — in his initial research, Whale had reportedly discovered that there were two ways to get at the brain. I don’t quite follow the anatomical reasoning, nor see why Boris Karloff’s head would necessarily be flat, but it’s cool that there was research. The audience gets that there’s a reason for something happening, even if they don’t understand what it is.

Bluebottle Rocket

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on April 25, 2009 by dcairns
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Ivor Montagu, who helped shape THE LODGER into Hitchcock’s first triumph, was reunited with the portly auteur when Hitch joined Michael Balcon at British Gaumont, and immediately became his collaborator on the scenario of THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH, which is a good enough excuse to link to Montagu’s stylish, Hitchcockian silent comedy, BLUEBOTTLES, which stars Elsa Lanchester and is an utter delight. Lanchester is a superb visual comedian, it turns out. There’s also Montagu’s intriguing and titillating decision to introduce her in ECU kissing her girlfriend goodbye in front of a cinema showing an Ivor Novello movie. 

Couldn’t embed this one, but I urge you to follow the link and watch it — maybe it’s a little overlong, but it has style, innocence and the electrifying Elsa, a truly unique talent — as great as she was as a character actor, I deeply regret that she didn’t play more leading roles, particularly in comedy.

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With her stick figure body, twitching from place to place as if operated by a puppeteer bothered by wasps, her beautiful but oddly-assembled face (not easy to take being cast as the monster’s bride as a compliment, but she was entitled to) and her eccentric, childlike approach to any situation, Elsa was an unnatural natural, a machine for generating surprises, an instinctive oddball with a keen analytical mind, sneaking up on a script crab-fashion then pouncing like a thin baby from a wardrobe. Her way with line readings is equally doo-lally: remember BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN again, where she imbues the line, “It will be published — I (!) think (!)!” with an excess of invisible punctuation I can only hint at here. When she turns up as a mad medium in THE GHOST GOES WEST, I want to hurl the entire movie, charming though it is, over my shoulder and simply follow her character into a kind of alternative GHOSTBUSTERS world of supernatural intrigue, possibly featuring Alistair Sim as Alastair Crowley.

The other underrated genius here is Montagu, who shows serious chops, both as a Hitchcockian/Langian expressionist and as a comic filmmaker. Either of those courses would have seemed suitable for him, but he seems to have been content to settle as the studios’ resident intellectual, helping out on a range of films and then becoming a contributor to books on cinema in the ’50s. He was good at it, but there was more to him than that. He put in a lot of time to helping Eisenstein get a foothold in the west, which came to very little.

It’s also possible that Montagu’s arduous duties as a Russian spy kept him from advancing his filmmaking career as much as he should, but this has never been proved. If true, it puts an interesting new perspective on his contribution to Hitchcock’s espionage thrillers…

Film Directors With Their Shirts Off #6

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 6, 2009 by dcairns

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Benjamin Christensen in HAXAN gives himself the ultimate directorial walk-on, knocking Hitchcock into a cocked hat. (Was this another Paul suggestion? Somebody suggested it. Thanks, somebody!)

Well, I can now say I’ve sort ofseen Benjamin Christensen’s SEVEN FOOTPRINTS TO SATAN, thus taking me one footprint closer to having seen all the films depicted in Denis Gifford’s big green horror movie book. I say “sort of” because the version I watched, seemingly the only one available for love or money, had Italian intertitles, which were so badly cropped that even if I’d paused it and sprinted to Babelfish every time one appeared, I’d have been struggling to make sense of things.

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BUT! I’m not sure I want to make sense of things. Essentially a Scooby-Doo fake haunted house movie with more than a little in common with Max Linder and Abel Gance’s AU SECOURS!, Christensen’s 7F2S, as I’m now going to call it as if it were a damned summer blockbuster, is much more interesting for its weird-ass imagery than for the narrative underpinning it. As Creighton Hale and Thelma Todd make their panicky way through a mansion full of grotesques, gargoyles and gorillas, with friend indistinguishable from foe, things take on the ambiance of a David Lynch jaunt through the Black Lodge.

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As with Paul Leni’s THE CAT AND THE CANARY, the camera style and production design far outstrip the story in sophistication, which is why I felt I was possibly getting an enhanced experience by not having a clue what it was all about most of the time. The ending was fairly clear, though, and confirmed the essential corniness of the concept.

The music on the disc was perfectly OK, but on a whim I muted it and put on my old vinyl Franz Waxman compilation. As is normal with these makeshift film scores, the tunes sometimes sunk up with the action perfectly, and sometimes were gloriously awry, as with a tender love theme playing along with an ape rampage sequence, but that all helped the discombobulated feeling the film seemed to aspire to. And when Waxman’s BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN suite came on, things really kicked in.

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Waxman is the best.