Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

Image Source: MovieGoods

Synopsis: On a dark and stormy night, Lord Byron and Percy Shelley beg Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (Elsa Lanchester) to continue her story of Dr. Frankenstein (Colin Clive) and his Monster (Boris Karloff). Picking up where she left off, Shelley reveals that neither the doctor nor his abominable creation died at the hands of angry villagers, but in fact both survived the windmill blaze that was intended to signal their doom. Frankenstein is brought back to his bride Elizabeth (Valerie Hobson) and vows to cease all efforts to create life, except within the more traditional bounds of marriage. However, he is quickly tempted back into his old diabolical ways by the charismatic Dr. Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger), who proposes an even deadlier plan: to create a female version of the Monster, with the hopes that their two unnatural offspring will procreate, spawning “a new world of gods and monsters.”

James Whale‘s sequel to 1931’s Frankenstein is oft noted for its camp sensibility and homosexual undertones, although it is fervently denied by many who personally knew the openly-gay director that these motifs were intentional. It doesn’t matter whether Whale intended his film to act as a sly commentary on sexual mores or not; films are living, breathing beings, which are open to an infinite number of interpretations depending on when and where the movie is seen as well as the lived experiences of those seeing it. Like the Monster itself, Bride of Frankenstein is its own entity which was out of Whale’s control as soon as the chains were off. The entire field of film theory would be obsolete if each movie had one correct reading and one only. I say, if it makes the film more entertaining for you to construe queer undertones, go for it. As for me, it always does.

It’s alive, and it’s faaaaaabulous!

That being said, there are some truly delicious moments of camp here. Although the prologue is very brief, Gavin Gordon as Lord Byron clearly had a lot of fun in his role. But it’s Dr. Pretorius who really pulls out all the stops and is the character that has most grabbed history’s attention. Thesiger truly relishes his diabolical role, and it’s obvious. Whether he’s dining with skulls in a crypt or begging Dr. Frankenstein to “reconsider” his plans to marry Elizabeth, Pretorius is a joy to watch from beginning to end. The moments of over-the-top creepy silliness (and even outright humor) are tempered by stretches of action and even some of extreme poignancy, most notably the famous sequence in which the Monster meets and befriends a blind hermit. All throughout, the cinematography is truly eye-catching and beautiful, a testament to Whale’s ability to grab the viewer’s attention and never let go.

However, I expected to like this film a lot more than I actually did. When Whale resorted to standard horror fare, I just found myself bored and wondering when the Bride would be revealed. Then again, this film really set the standard for that horror fare, so maybe it isn’t quite just to criticize it for being cliché. After all, it’s not the movie’s fault if every other horror film afterward copied from it. Still, I have to consider the film in the context of my own experiences, and I can’t deny that I was disappointed. A beautiful movie, for sure, and worth watching without a doubt. It’s just a shame that Bride of Frankenstein was spoiled for me by all the copycats that came after.


Bride of Frankenstein (1935) – 3.5/5 stars

For the Love of Film: The Farmer’s Wife (1928)


Image Source: Moovida DB

Synopsis: Following the death of his wife, Farmer Sweetland (Jameson Thomas) is convinced by his loyal housemaid Minta (Lillian Hall-Davis) that he ought to remarry. Making a list of all the eligible bachelorettes in town, Sweetland sets out to invite them one by one to be his bride; unfortunately, the women are not as flattered as he’d imagined they’d be. Will Sweetland ever be able to find a woman suitable enough — and agreeable enough! — to take the mistress’ place?

This is an official entry in the prestigious For the Love of Film preservation blogathon benefiting the National Film Preservation Foundation. Jointly hosted by Ferdy on Films, the Self-Styled Siren, and This Island Rod, this year’s goal is to raise enough money to provide a glorious new score and FREE online streaming for 1923’s The White Shadow, the first film Alfred Hitchcock had a major role in creating. To learn more, click the banner at left, and to donate to this worthy cause, kindly CLICK HERE or on the donation button below.

I very much enjoyed participating in last year’s For the Love of Film blogathon, so no matter the chosen topic, I knew I’d want to do it again this year. However, my discovery that the beneficiary of the proceeds from our fundraiser would be a silent film on which Alfred Hitchcock served as assistant director could not have come at a more convenient time. It just so happened that I had just purchased one of those cheapo four-disc, twenty-movie box sets that featured some of Hitchcock’s early works.

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The Youngest Profession (1943)


Image Source: Greenman 2008

Synopsis: Plucky Joan Lyons (Virginia Weidler) is the president of the Guiding Stars Limited, her high school’s official Hollywood fan club. The girls of the GSL spend their extracurricular hours penning letters of admiration to stars like Lana Turner and Robert Taylor, yearning for recognition and an autograph in return. But fantasy turns to reality when Joan hears that Greer Garson is coming to town. Through her perseverance and cunning, Joan soon finds herself in the presence of Ms. Garson, along with Walter Pidgeon! However, Joan’s bliss is short-lived when she learns from her meddling housekeeper (Agnes Moorehead) that her parents’ marriage may be on the rocks. Can Joan’s club and her new Hollywood friends scheme a way to keep the family together?

I love seeing stars play themselves on screen, so I’m a real sucker for pictures that don’t pretend to be anything else but an excuse for cute cameos. I’m also slightly obsessed with teenage “fan culture” of the 1940s and ’50s, so naturally the premise of this film was enticing to me. Unfortunately, The Youngest Profession (directed by Edward Buzzell for MGM in 1943) makes the fatal mistake of trying to shoehorn a plot in between the genuinely-fun star appearances, and it’s this slapdash last-minute effort to create a credible story that sinks the whole ship. Virginia Weidler, who is known for her delightful appearances as the precocious kid in such memorable titles as The Philadelphia Story and The Women, is really just not convincing as a starstruck, movie-obsessed fangirl. All I kept thinking was, “You’ve worked with Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, Katharine Hepburn, Joan Crawford, Norma Shearer, Rosalind Russell – and you’re this excited over Walter Pidgeon?” Virginia herself doesn’t seem to want to be there, and all the “cutesy” little affectations she puts on that are supposed to make her character likeable and endearing fall extremely flat. All the other characters are nondescript time-wasters; not even Agnes Moorehead can fix this trainwreck. I wish I could say it’s worth it for the cameos, but it’s really not. Lana Turner, Greer Garson, Walter Pidgeon, and William Powell (who only shows up in lengthy clips from Crossroads and at the very end) can all be seen in much better films (understatement of the century). Unless you’re a completist, I would say don’t bother with The Youngest Profession.


The Youngest Profession (1943) – 1.5/5 stars

Gaslight (1944)


Image Source: Listal

Synopsis: Following in the footsteps of her murdered aunt, Paula Alquist (Ingrid Bergman) sets off to become a great opera singer — but falls in love with her accompanist along the way. Gregory Anton (Charles Boyer) promises to whisk Paula away from her troubled past and show her true love and happiness. But right away, Paula’s nerves are tested when the couple moves into her aunt’s house and scene of her murder. Losing and misplacing things without remembering ever touching them, hearing strange noises in the house at night, and feeling seething resentment from their maid Nancy (Angela Lansbury), Paula’s life becomes dismal, and Gregory insists that her health is at stake. But is Paula really going crazy — or is that just what Gregory wants her to believe? Soon, a curious stranger (Joseph Cotten) pays Paula a visit and reveals that all may not be what it seems.

Well, it’s sure taken me long enough to get around to watching this one, especially given the fact that I own it. Directed by George Cukor for MGM in 1944, Gaslight is a remake of a British film of the same name released only four years prior, which itself is an adaptation of “Angel Street,” a 1938 play by Patrick Hamilton. It was nominated in seven categories at that year’s Academy Awards, winning Ingrid Bergman her first Best Actress Oscar as well as taking home the award for Best Art Direction (Black and White). The term “gaslighting,” which means to abusively manipulate a victim into doubting her or his own sense of reality using emotional and physical tactics, originated with what Charles Boyer’s character does to his wife Bergman in this film. It has become a part of culture and a major part of feminist theory.

While I knew from feminist theory that this was an important film with an all-too-relevant story to tell, I have to admit that I started off disappointed. There isn’t much mystery here, unlike in 1955’s Diabolique which uses superficially-similar themes, as to what Gregory is doing to Paula. We get the sense very early on in their relationship that he is slimy, untrustworthy, manipulative and abusive. We can see it, so why can’t Paula? Albeit, she is young and recovering from major emotional trauma, looking to her new husband to distract her and spirit her away from her turbulent past; but one doesn’t want to see a “weak” female lead character when dissecting a film for its feminist leanings. At some point it just becomes a waiting game for when Joseph Cotten’s character will nonchalantly decide to probe deeper into what’s going on and save Paula from the terrifying prison her husband has created for her.

YEAH DO IT, INGY! CUT OFF HIS EARS!

Paula’s lack of agency and role as a pawn for the two men in her life, while distressing, is wholeheartedly redeemed in the film’s climactic confrontation between Paula and Gregory in the attic. While the viewer is relieved that Brian Cameron has finally swooped in to rescue the damsel in distress, it is just such a wonderful breath of fresh air to see her shove him aside and confront her abuser head-on. I was definitely cheering! Indeed, in running away from her intended career to be with the man she loves, in agreeing to move into her aunt’s house despite it holding so many haunting memories for her, we see that Paula has been a strong-willed, heroic character all along – it is simply her slimeball of a husband who has broken her into this weak, scared little thing incapable of speaking up for herself. Sure, it takes another man to point it out to her, but Paula gets her comeuppance in the end, on her terms.

There are other female characters I found interesting in this film. Angela Lansbury as the petulant maid Nancy is smokin’ an interesting one to examine. Much like Bette Davis’ Mildred Rogers in Of Human Bondage, Nancy has no use for other women and only speaks to men in order to further her own prospects. It is implied from her introduction that she is in collusion with Gregory, if not actively participating in the process of gaslighting Paula. She doesn’t need to show sympathy for Paula out of any sort of “sisterly” connection, because she is only interested in getting what she wants and playing by her rules. Wouldn’t you feel the same if you’d grown up a poor working-class Cockney girl, likely having watched both your parents work themselves to the bone making the lives of rich people more comfortable? (Or am I reading way too much into this minor character?) I was also intrigued by the “comic relief” neighborhood busybody played by Dame May Whitty. I wonder about her place as an oblivious, murder-obsessed matron in an otherwise serious dramatic thriller. Is she perhaps intended as a stand-in for the audience? For, in sitting here for nearly two hours seeking to be “entertained” by watching this poor woman be tortured and imprisoned in her own home, aren’t we sort of “Bloodthirsty Bessies” ourselves?

“My husband’s going to methodically convince me that my sense of reality is incorrect when he finds out about this!”

Overall what sells this film is Cukor’s magnificent directing. The sets, the lighting, the music are all pitch-perfect and help the film to achieve the necessary Gothic, noir-ish atmosphere it needs to triumph. The scene I found most chilling is the part where Gregory and Paula go on a cheery little date to the Tower of London, and in the torture chamber (who chose this frighteningly-romantic location, anyway?!?), with the shadows of the devices intended to inflict pain and death swooping in around her, Paula discovers that the brooch Gregory has entrusted her with has gone missing. I found it a very foreboding hint of what Paula believes might happen to her when Gregory finds out about the brooch. And of course, when he does find out, he plays it off like he doesn’t care, for the sake of her feelings, because he’s just such a sweet and sympathetic guy. (Slimeball!)

Gaslight is a magnificent film by a magnificent director with a magnificent cast. You shouldn’t need me to recommend it, but I wholeheartedly do. A film with many layers and textures of meaning and symbolism, this one has major replay value and definitely lives up to its well-deserved hype.


Gaslight (1944) – 4.5/5 stars

Three Smart Girls (1936)


Image Source: Amazon

Synopsis: When they see their divorced mother in tears over the impending nuptials of their wealthy father (Charles Winninger), three teenaged sisters – Joan (Nan Grey), Kay (Barbara Read), and precocious Penny (Deanna Durbin) – make it their duty to stop the wedding from happening. But with blonde bombshell Donna Lyons (Binnie Barnes) twirling dear old Dad around her little finger, and her conniving mother (Alice Brady) helping her do it, the girls worry that their father will never see the error of his ways. With handsome millionaire Lord Michael Stuart (Ray Milland) trying to woo Miss Lyons away and Dad’s accountant Bill Evans (John King) pulling the strings behind the scheme, can the girls prove to their father that Donna’s only in it for the money?

Directed by Henry Koster for Universal in 1936, this precursor to 1961’s The Parent Trap marks the feature film debut of songstress and sweetheart Deanna Durbin. Though billed last, she is touted in the opening credits as “Universal’s New Discovery” and gets plenty of opportunities in the movie to show off her dramatic singing voice, skilled comedic timing, and plucky personality. In fact, it is really Durbin who is the star of this picture, which is kind of sad for Nan Grey and Barbara Read. They give it their all, bless their souls, but it’s Durbin’s character Penny who gets all the best lines, to the point where the film drags a little whenever she’s off-screen. Unfortunately, much of this time is devoted to romantic subplots surrounding the two older girls, but the fact that these sections of the film are lackluster isn’t their fault. This is a star vehicle, and it’s simply the nature of the beast that the co-stars get the B-scenes.

That being said, Durbin lives up to her hype and definitely makes this a film worth watching. Penny is petulant, bossy, spirited, and altogether irresistibly charming. She is helped immensely by a snappy script penned by Adele Comandini, who either was a bratty teenage tomboy or always wanted to be one. I made sure to note down some of my absolute favorite “Pennyisms” to share with the class:

  • “I’m not pig-headed, I’m strong-minded!”
  • “Muffins and milk? That’s no food for fighters!”
  • [when she is caught by her father making a racket upstairs] FATHER: “Do you realize that I have guests downstairs, that Miss Lyons is trying to sing? I thought the ceiling would come down!” PENNY: [innocently] “Oh! Why didn’t you stop her?”
  • “If this is what love does to people, I’m glad I’m an old maid!”

Durbin was of course known for her effortless soprano singing voice, and while Three Smart Girls isn’t a musical, she does manage to sneak three songs in. Only the last of these, “Il Bacio (The Kiss),” which she performs before a police sergeant trying to convince him that she’s actually a budding French opera star on her way to perform at the Met, feels forced and out of place. As for myself, I’m really not fond of opera, so I don’t get the appeal of a cute little girl with an enormous, overpowering voice, but I’ll reserve further comment as it’s really not my area of expertise. Fact is, if you like musicals, you’re probably already familiar with Deanna Durbin’s singing talents, so you don’t need my uninformed opinion cluttering things up.

As for the rest of the film, it’s got some beautiful 1930s Art Deco sets and fashions that I simply adored. Binnie Barnes and Alice Brady as the fierce and deadly Lyons are an old trope, but they skillfully do their part to make you dislike them. Sometimes I had trouble telling the difference between Ray Milland and John King, simply because their characters were not very interesting and were just added to give an extra romantic twist for the younger set. They’re okay, if you like that sort of thing.

Kay, Penny, and Joan — Three Smartly-Dressed Girls!

The plot as a whole is fairly ridiculous in some places, but what else would you expect from a 1936 family-friendly comedy of errors about three teenage girls trying to patch up their parents’ divorce? I usually try to avoid spoilers, but I can’t help but say a bit about the film’s predictable-but-enjoyable ending. After all their schemes have failed to produce any results, Penny, in an uncharacteristic turn, actually tries being honest with her father as to why she and her sisters don’t want him to marry Donna, and this proves to be the most effective tactic yet. Unfortunately the next morning she disappears, which, whether she intends it to be or not, is a tremendously selfish and manipulative way of getting her father to do what she wants. Teenagers – what are you gonna do! In the end the girls’ parents are reunited at last, and we see them gaze into each other’s eyes with nostalgic affection; but the film ends there, leaving it ambiguous as to whether their love is rekindled or not. After all, the movie’s not so preposterous as to suggest that merely seeing each other again would cure whatever conflict caused the parents to get divorced in the first place. I imagine they saved the real “happily ever after” for the sequel, 1939’s Three Smart Girls Grow Up.

A wonderfully watchable little movie that pops both visually and textually, Three Smart Girls is a smart debut for Deanna Durbin and a contagiously cute family film. It’s a great pick-me-up movie and cuts the sweetness with just enough sass to hopefully avoid any cavities.


Three Smart Girls (1936) – 4/5 stars