Tag Archives: Elsa Lanchester

The Bride of Frankenstein (1935, James Whale)

For The Bride of Frankenstein, director Whale takes a contradictory approach. It's either more is more, or less is less. More music, all the time. Franz Waxman's frequently playful music rarely fits its scenes, unless Whale is going for a melodramatic farce, which he really doesn't seem to be doing. I kept hoping he would be, because it might make the film more compelling.

More Monster–Boris Karloff is nonsensically running around the countryside, finding someone to accidentally kill or not. William Hurlbut's screenplay contrives connections between loose, if memorable, scenes and never pauses to explain why the Monster kills another little girl. Maybe he really liked doing it from the first one.

Of course, the Monster could explain since Karloff now has lines to deliver. But all of his lines are lame.

Poor Colin Clive has almost nothing to do. None of the characters in Bride have arcs running the whole film–not even the Monster–but Clive pops in at the beginning and then at the end. In one of Hurlbut's weaker moments, Clive goes from pro-mad scientist to anti-mad scientist at the snap of the fingers. It's ludicrous.

Ernest Thesiger's good as the villain. Valerie Hobson not as Clive's wife.

Whale doesn't have enough coverage so Ted J. Kent's editing is usually bad. Except the finale, which is wondrous and is so tightly edited, one has to wonder why the rest of the film is so loose. Probably because there has to be a story.

It's a trying seventy-five minutes.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by James Whale; screenplay by William Hurlbut, based on an adaptation by Hurlbut and John L. Balderston and a novel by Mary Shelley; director of photography, John J. Mescall; edited by Ted J. Kent; music by Franz Waxman; produced by Carl Laemmle Jr.; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Boris Karloff (The Monster), Colin Clive (Henry Frankenstein), Valerie Hobson (Elizabeth), Ernest Thesiger (Dr. Pretorius), O.P. Heggie (Hermit), Una O’Connor (Minnie), and Elsa Lanchester (Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley).


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The Spiral Staircase (1945, Robert Siodmak)

The Spiral Staircase opens with this lovely homage to silent cinema. Director Siodmak takes great care with the setting in time–Nicholas Musuraca’s sumptuous cinematography helps–and then Spiral becomes a waiting game. Certainly if Siodmak took such great care with one sequence, he’ll return to that level of care again….

However, he does not. The rest of Spiral is exposition and contrivance. It takes place in the evening of the same day, with mute maid Dorothy McGuire vaguely convinced her life is in danger (she was at the pictures, but for no narrative reason). Siodmak and screenwriter Mel Dinelli don’t know what to do with a mute protagonist so they basically shove McGuire aside for the vocal supporting cast members. They do give her a love interest, a tepid Kent Smith, and one inexplicable daydream sequence.

The rest of the supporting cast is fantastic–George Brent, Elsa Lanchester, Sara Allgood and Gordon Oliver. Ethel Barrymore, as McGuire’s employer and friend, is okay. The material isn’t there for her. Dinelli doesn’t know how to structure his script, though he and Siodmak do pass time well. Until the final third, Spiral sails by. Maybe because, as I initially mentioned, one assumes Siodmak is going to do something sublime again.

The Roy Webb music is good, the editing from Harry W. Gerstad and Harry Marker is not. Once Siodmak gets inside the house where eighty percent of the story takes place, he’s infrequently exceptional. His inserts are awful.

Spiral is extremely disappointing.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Siodmak; screenplay by Mel Dinelli, based on a novel by Ethel Lina White; director of photography, Nicholas Musuraca; edited by Harry W. Gerstad and Harry Marker; music by Roy Webb; produced by Dore Schary; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Dorothy McGuire (Helen Capel), George Brent (Professor Albert Warren), Ethel Barrymore (Mrs. Warren), Kent Smith (Dr. Brian Parry), Rhonda Fleming (Blanche), Gordon Oliver (Steve Warren), Elsa Lanchester (Mrs. Oates), Sara Allgood (Nurse Barker), Rhys Williams (Mr. Oates), James Bell (The Constable) and Erville Alderson (Dr. Harvey).


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The Razor's Edge (1946, Edmund Goulding)

While home video did wonders for increasing film appreciation, I have to wonder if MGM’s embracing of the format for their old catalogue didn’t greatly hinder young people in the 1980s from learning about film. As a child, I had seen MGM, I had seen RKO, I had seen Warner Bros. But I never saw any Columbia (that I remember) and I’m pretty sure I never saw any 20th Century Fox films, because when I did start seeing them in the mid-1990s (on AMC), I was surprised. I had no idea they’d been around and done so much. It’s a laziness, I suppose, but film interest tends to start as a hobby. I guess it got better with cable (my AMC experience) and today, with DVD, it’s probably about even… Fox does have a good classics series, though their box set is rather crappy and doesn’t inspire much interest (just like their VHS box art). Fox didn’t originally release their VHS titles–they licensed them through Key Video–so each title was doubly selected for profitability.

The Razor’s Edge fell through the cracks. It won Anne Baxter an Academy Award (she’s great, but certainly not the best performance in the film, which has five excellent performances), and lost to The Best Years of Our Lives, which is fine. But, it was a big hit. It was Fox’s biggest hit… and it disappeared. I’d never heard of it when I first saw it in 1997 or 1998–and I had worked at a video store with a significant classics section. Watching it today, I’m upset the film doesn’t have the level of respect it deserves. It’s an amazing film; it runs 145 minutes and never feels like it, compressing 9 years into the first hour, then exploring the effects of those nine years in the second. There’s another bit of compression in there too, but the characters manage to grow beautifully over this time. The make-up crew “de-aged” the cast (particularly Clifton Webb), then gradually caught them up and beyond. The make-up and the handling of the timeline work beautifully. I can’t think of a better handling of such a long stretch than in this film.

It’d be easy credit the book the whole way, but Lamar Trotti does an incredible job adapting it, focusing it–The Razor’s Edge features its author, W. Somerset Maugham, in an instrumental role. I can’t believe Herbert Marshall didn’t get nominated for it (I’m looking at Edge’s Oscar competition right now at IMDb), but neither did Trotti so I guess I should. Not even Edmund Goulding got a nomination for directing and he’s fantastic. He’s got these long sweeps of the camera, beautiful movement, but my favorite is his lack of reaction shots. Someone will talk, as familiar viewers, we expect a reaction–we get none. Instead, we get the actor continuing, not breaking. It adds an particular realism–in this hugely produced film–a kind not many films have. It involves the viewer in the situation, which spans ten years and three or four continents.

Obviously (I already said it), all the acting is great. Tyrone Power is great in this incredibly difficult role–the film is somewhat from Maugham’s perspective, but also from Maugham’s reader’s perspective–so Power is the protagonist, but also the subject and it never separates that duality. For the first twenty minutes, it’s Gene Tierney’s movie, it’s not Power’s. It appear it ever will be Power’s movie. It’s an odd situation–there are other examples (Barry Lyndon, I suppose), but no one else has ever done such a good job I don’t think. As for Tierney, someone else who is overlooked for her acting ability… Tierney turns an amazing performance. I was going to say exactly what’s so amazing about it, but that description would spoil the film if one didn’t know the story. She’s fantastic. I already mentioned how good Baxter is in the film (Tierney’s better–Baxter has a few scenes, Tierney has ninety-five minutes) and Marshall, but Clifton Webb is great too. The film has incredibly complicated characters–so incredibly complicated it’s impossible to judge any of them, even at the end. Maugham–the writer, not the character–was quite good at delaying the readers judgement and I assume, in The Razor’s Edge, it’s just faithful adaptation, because studio films with big stars were never about reserving judgement.

Not since… well, last week, I watch a lot of movies, you know… This film’s level of excellence is rare. Even more, the lack of recognition for this film’s excellence is an unbelievable blemish to film history.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Edmund Goulding; screenplay by Lamar Trotti, based on the novel by W. Somerset Maugham; director of photography, Arthur C. Miller; edited by J. Watson Webb Jr.; music by Alfred Newman; produced by Darryl F. Zanuck; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Tyrone Power (Larry Darrell), Gene Tierney (Isabel Bradley), John Payne (Gray Maturin), Anne Baxter (Sophie Nelson Macdonald), Clifton Webb (Elliott Templeton), Herbert Marshall (W. Somerset Maugham), Lucile Watson (Louisa Bradley), Frank Latimore (Bob Macdonald), Elsa Lanchester (Miss Keith), Fritz Kortner (Kosti), John Wengraf (Joseph), Cecil Humphreys (Holy Man) and Cobina Wright Sr. (Princess Novemali).


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