Frankenstein

Sixty-eight years after its release, director James Whale’s “Frankenstein” still leaves an impact. Ahead of its time both cinematically and thematically, the horror film based on Mary Shelley’s acclaimed novel stands up to the test of time. It’s not only relevant, but remains topical. While scientists figure out how to clone human beings, Dr. Harry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) has been playing God for more than six decades. Considered shocking and daring when it was first released, the film went through some major revisions before reaching American’s hinterlands.


Frankenstein DVDReferences to Dr. Frankenstein comparing himself to God and a scene where the monster drowns a little girl never saw the light of day in certain cities, and when the film finally made its way to television, those scenes were gone forever. Well, they didn’t disappear in a black hole. They were locked away, and lucky for us, those scenes have been reinstated on the “restored version” available on DVD. On their own the scenes are legendary. In context with the rest of the film, they seem to be vital pieces of information that were unjustly trimmed to meet the standards of the time. What man, especially a scientist, wouldn’t feel like God after bringing a dead corpse back to life? I thought that was part of the ego trip that drives most surgeons. As far as the monster drowning the little girl, the actual act is necessary to show that the monster did it out of naivety rather than cruelty or malice.

Filled with memorable characters and performances, not to mention director James Whale’s rather unique European look he brought to the film, “Frankenstein” remains a true classic. Boris Karloff is simply brilliant as the mute monster who goes in search of himself, only to upset the local villagers. Mae Clark is radiant as Frankenstein’s fiancee, a woman who is in love with another man but remains faithful to the mad doctor. Colin Clive delivers the goods as Dr. Frankenstein, whose slow descent into madness provides the actor with several powerful passages.

Even though Garrett Fort and Francis Edwards Faragoh’s screenplay takes liberties with Shelley’s novel, their vision has become legendary. While “Frankenstein” has raised from the dead more times than Congress, nothing approached the original. Whale was an extraordinary talent whose art background made his films more exciting and interesting to look at. “Frankenstein” and “Bride of Frankenstein” are his crowning achievements.

COMPLETE CHECK-UP

VISION: 20/20
Better than expected 1.33:1 full-frame digital transfer. The black and white images look as good as they are going to get after 68 years. There are some age issues, and a little wear and tear, but for the most part the images are generally sharp. Blacks are impressive, and compression artifacts are minimal.

HEARING: Minor Hearing Loss
The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono soundtrack is effective, but the dialogue mix is extremely low. I had to crank up the sound system to appreciate the dialogue, but that made the ambient noise too loud. There are the usual assortment of sound issues from the era, but they are not extreme.

ORAL: Good
Closed captions in English for the hard of hearing, subtitles in French.

COORDINATION: Good
Incredible collection of extras for a general release, including the most amazing audio commentary. It seems as if the folks at Universal Studios Home Video have channeled the spirits of Boris Karloff and director James Whale from the dead to record a new audio track that is not only informative and engaging, but downright spooky….Okay, you got me. Just making sure that you’re still paying attention. However, the DVD does feature some exemplary additions, including a feature-length audio commentary courtesy of film historian Rudy Behlmer, who takes you step by step through the creation of the film. There’s also an extensive documentary on the making of the film called “The Frankenstein Files: How Hollywood Made a Monster”, but unfortunately Universal has made sure that the acorn doesn’t call too far from the tree. While the documentary addresses Universal’s contributions to the Frankenstein legend, they totally ignore all of the other efforts in the series. I understand their desire to keep it all in the family, but shunning “Young Frankenstein” and the Hammer Horror efforts is unconscionable. There’s also a short subject from Universal called “Boo,” which attempts to add some levity to a collection of horror clips. The short subject seems way too long. The main access menus is genuinely creepy, and the scene access menu is handsome. There is also the film’s 1951 re-release theatrical trailer, and cast & filmmaker’s bios and filmographies. I still wish Universal Studios Home Video would add a switch so you can alternate between audio tracks without having to go to the main menu. This is extremely frustrating.

PROGNOSIS: Excellent
An excellent addition to any DVD collection.

BIRTH DATE: 1931
HMO: Universal Studios Home Video
ATTENDING RESIDENT: John Larsen



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