Red Planet Mars

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(1/10) In a nutshell: Jesus lives on Mars and solves all the Earth’s problems by reading aloud from the bible. That is the notion that this 1952 trainwreck of a film is trying to turn into a pathos-filled and solemn fable about politics, science and the human condition. Fairly well designed, filmed and acted for a low-budget effort, but boy, you can’t polish a turd. (1/10)

Red Planet Mars (1952). Directed by Harry Horner. Written by John L. Balderston & Anthony Veiller. Based on the play Red Planet by John L. Balderston and John Hoare. Starring: Peter Graves, Andrea King, Herbert Berghof, Walter Sande, Marvin Miller, Morris Ankrum. Produced by Donald Hyde and Anthony Veiller for Melaby Pictures Corp. IMDb score: 4.9

Walter Sande, Andrea King and Peter Graves in Red Planet Mars.

Walter Sande, Andrea King and Peter Graves in Red Planet Mars.

Red Planet Mars is – just like another film I recently reviewed, Invasion U.S.A. from the same year – a perfect time capsule of the hysterical atmosphere of the cold war. It has all the trappings of the most obnoxious, xenophobic, conservative, bible-thumping propaganda movies at the time – and then turns it up to eleven. It’s difficult to know where to start with this one, so I’ll begin with the plot. Continue reading

The Man Who Changed His Mind

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(7/10) In a nutshell: This rare British sci-fi horror film from 1936 is a tad formulaic, as it rides on Boris Karloff’s mad scientist fame, but it is certainly better written, acted and directed than the abysmal Columbia films he would get stuck in later. Great actors and a very witty dialogue help Karloff do one of his best film appearances.

The Man Who Changed His Mind. 1936, UK. Directed by Robert Stevenson. Written by John L. Balderston, Sidney Gilliat, L. du Garde Peach. Starring: Boris Karloff, Anna Lee, John Loder, Frank Cellier, Donald Calthrop, Cecil Parker. Produced by Michael Balconfor Gainsborough Pictures. IMDb score: 6.7

Anna Lee and Boris Karloff are outstanding in the 1936 mad scientist film The Man Who Changed His Mind.

Anna Lee and Boris Karloff are outstanding in the 1936 mad scientist film The Man Who Changed His Mind.

As the American mad scientist films slowly waned in quality, and Universal shut down their horror film production for at few years, the Brits came to the rescue with The Man Who Changed His Mind (released as The Man Who Lived Again in the US). The filming saw Boris Karloff back home in Britain for the first time after his tremendous success with Frankenstein (1931, review), and the change of scenery seems to have done him good, as he delivers one of his best performances, surrounded by a superb co-cast and working from a fast-paced, funny and witty script. Continue reading

The Bride of Frankenstein

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(9/10) In a nutshell: With Bride of Frankenstein James Whale created the greatest of all Universal horror films. Superb acting, great casting, a script that balances between drama, horror and campy humour, all rounded up with fluid, expressionistic filmmaking and Soviet-styled montage editing. All this, plus the marvellous Elsa Lanchester as the Bride, Boris Karloff in high form, and a chilly, funny, scary Ernest Thesiger. Greatness abounds, but thematically the film is a bit sloppy. 

The Bride of Frankenstein. 1935, USA. Directed by James Whale. Written by John L. Balderston, Edmund Pearson, William Hurlbut. Based on the novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Starring: Boris Karloff, Colin Clive, Ernest Thesiger, Valerie Hobson, Elsa Lanchester, O.P. Heggie, Una O’Connor, Dwight Frye, John Carradine.  Produced by Carl Laemmle Jr. for Universal. Tomatometer: 100 %. IMDb score: 7.9

The superb Elsa Lanchester in her most iconic role as the Bride of Frankenstein.

The superb Elsa Lanchester in her most iconic role as the Bride of Frankenstein.

The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) is one of those films that has been analysed into shreds, so that the legacy of the film somehow overshadows the film itself, very much like 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). It is one of those rare horror films that even reviewers not generally infatuated with genre films like to promote to the same status as groundbreaking works like Battleship Potemkin (1925) or Citizen Kane (1941) – or at least that is the sense that one sometimes gets from people who are adamant that Bride is one of the most important films in American cinematic history (an interesting notion as most of the key personnel were British). Although it is true that along with Paramount’s Island of Lost Souls (1933, review) this Universal classic is the finest of the American horror films of the thirties, some of its reputation stems from the fact that people like to read topics between the lines that simply aren’t there. Continue reading

Frankenstein

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(8/10) In a nutshell: James Whale’s seminal Frankenstein (1931) is a far cry from Mary Shelley’s novel, and it is marred by some stiff acting and a low budget. But it is still a visual work of art, and a film that in many ways became the benchmark for American horror sfi-fi pictures for years to come, and the duo of Colin Clive and Boris Karloff as the mad scientist and his monster is part of our cultural legacy.

Frankenstein. 1931, USA. Directed by James Whale. Written by Francis Edward Farragoh, Garrett Fort, Robert Florey (uncredited), John Russell (uncredited), based on the play by Peggy Webling, John L. Balderston, in turn based on the play Presumption by Richard Brinsley Peake (uncredited), based on the novel by Mary Shelley. Starring: Colin Clive, Boris Karloff, Mae Clarke, John Boles, Edward van Sloan, Dwight Frye. Cinematography: Arthur Edeson. Make-up: Jack Pierce. Produced by Carl Laemmle Jr. for Universal. Tomatometer: 100 %. IMDb score: 8.0

The great Boris Karloff (William Henry Pratt) in chains as The Monster in Frankenstein from 1931.

The great Boris Karloff (William Henry Pratt) in chains as The Monster in Frankenstein from 1931.

Tod Browning’s Dracula, featuring a Bela Lugosi that would forever be ingrained in our minds as the dark count of the undead, was Universal’s first horror picture in sound. It was also the film that started the golden age of the studio’s horror franchise. But the ultimate film that would define the genre was Frankenstein. Both films were released in 1931, and gave birth to a torrent of horror – and science fiction – films, that has never fully ran dry. Frankenstein was the film that cemented the dark, expressionist gothic style of future American horror films, it was the film that defined the mad scientist, and of course introduced film history’s most recognizable monster in the form of the heavily made-up Boris Karloff. Today it is often overshadowed by director James Whale’s 1935 sequel Bride of Frankenstien (review), that is in many ways a superior film, and a true American classic. It is certainly true that Frankenstein is somewhat hampered by some wooden acting, an illogical and seemingly jumbled script and a fairly tight budget. But the beautiful, suspenseful and innovative visual style of Whale, and the multi-layered and ultimately sympathetic portrait that Whale and Karloff create for the Creature make up for the film’s shortcomings, and it is certainly well deserved of its place among the immortal pieces of art that make up the backbone of much of our cultural heritage. Continue reading