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March 05, 2010

Frankenstein (Classic Film Pick)

Frankenstein Mary Shelley wrote her legendary gothic novel "Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus" to make good on a wager she made with the poet Lord Byron, while spending the summer of 1816 at his Swiss villa with her husband. Informed by the industrial revolution and scientific experiments of her day, Shelley drew upon the myth of Prometheus and various literary sources to create a shocking horror story that later became the template for the "mad scientist" genre. In 1931 director James Whale made his universally admired film version, which differed considerably from Shelley's novel in that it dealt specifically with the life-infusing process that his considerably more deranged Dr. Frankenstein (brilliantly played by Colin Clive) implemented to bring the monster to life. Whale set a heavy dramatic tone of stark menace with an iconic laboratory set design filled with alluring mechanical devices. Colin Clive's blood curdling reading of the line, "It's alive, it's alive," set against a musically bare soundtrack, instilled in audiences a new type of cinematic fear. Boris Karloff was a 44-year-old stage and film actor who had successfully made the transition from silent movies to the talkies when he was chosen to play the assemblage of corpses made human. "Frankenstein" afforded Karloff a breakout performance, thanks to the humane sensitivity he brought to the oversized character despite Jack Pierce's gruesome make-up design. The film also incorporated an open-ended tableau to allow for one of the first horror franchises in history. Absolutely essential.


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