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Monster man and more

By STEVE VINEBERG  |  September 8, 2009

Possibly no one has ever surpassed the mix of horror and hilarity in BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (September 12, following Frankenstein), and perhaps only Spielberg in Jaws and De Palma in Carrie have matched it. It's a deliriously enjoyable movie, from the shot of a housemaid being led out of Percy and Mary Shelley's drawing room by their outsize mastiffs to the reappearance of Elsa Lanchester — who initially plays Mary — as the intended mate to the woebegone Monster, her eyes glinting crazily, electric streaks in her cotton-candy coiff. The scene in which Dr. Frankenstein (once again played by twitchy Colin Clive) and the sublimely cracked Dr. Pretorius (Thesiger) — whose earlier experiments with creating human life produced a series of miniatures he keeps imprisoned in glass bottles, where they gesticulate madly at one another — conjure up Lanchester is peerless. They float Art Deco kites through the laboratory skylight to be impregnated by lightning. And in case there's still any doubt that Karloff was a genuine actor, his performance as the Monster is an entirely different tone here: it's richly comic.

Scattered among these classics are some lesser-known pictures, though the earliest one, WATERLOO BRIDGE (September 14 at 7 pm), was a big enough hit in 1931 to spawn three remakes. It's a four-handkerchief sob story set during the First World War about a streetwalker (Mae Clarke) who encounters a young Canadian soldier (Douglass Montgomery, still known in those days as Kent Douglass) just before he goes to France. He falls for her, not realizing what she is, and she doesn't know how to tell him — or how to resist him. This drenched material is quite well done, and Montgomery is touching, though you may wonder at Whale's affection for Mae Clarke, whom he worked with repeatedly and who isn't up to the emotional demands of the role. (Vivien Leigh played it magnificently in the 1940 version under Mervyn LeRoy's direction, though by that time the Hays Code had done its work: when she first meets the soldier, our future prostitute is a novice ballerina.)

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SHOW BOAT: Some say Whale spent too much money on this one, and yet it’s the only great musical ever made at Universal.

Clarke comes off better in the first half of IMPATIENT MAIDEN (September 14, following Waterloo Bridge), where, as a secretary in a divorce lawyer's office who's understandably cynical about marriage, she's paired with the talented Lew Ayres as an intern who's sworn off women until he's opened his own practice. These two have an easy, conversational rapport, and they're a good fit for a hard-boiled comedy. Unfortunately, the movie slips into melodrama once the hero and heroine decide to throw away their predilections and get together. Based on a John Galsworthy novel, ONE MORE RIVER (September 21, following The Kiss Before the Mirror) is melodrama from the outset, the moldy tale of a respectable woman (the expert British technician Diana Wynyard) who runs away from her sadistic husband (Clive).

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Related: Voodoo economics, Review: Splice, The garden of Vittorio De Sica, More more >
  Topics: Features , Harvard University, Charles Laughton, James Whale,  More more >
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