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Frankenstein (1931): Classic Monster Collection

Mary Shelly's Frankenstein is a monumental novel from the Gothic/Romantic period, but the 1931 Frankenstein has little to do with it and more to do with the many simplified stage plays that followed. Yet, with little more than a potboiler script and stock actors to go on, director James Whale made Frankenstein an important film by taking advantage of every moment. Given the opportunity to situate his camera somewhere, he consistently finds a better spot for it. Presented with a straightforward sequence, he finds a way to shoot it in a more unusual manner. From the opening shot (panning across the faces of mourners around an open grave and coming to rest on a statue of the Grim Reaper), to the introduction of the monster (who said that Godard invented the jump-cut?), to the final flight of the monster across the countryside and the burning of the windmill, Frankenstein is a bag of expressionist treats that easily makes up for whatever deficiencies are inherent in the production itself. Along with legendary makeup-artist Jack Pierce, Whale is also responsible for the iconic success of the monster, a figure as easily recognizable in 20th-century American pop-culture as Elvis Presley or Marilyn Monroe or a bottle of Coca-Cola. Boris Karloff, as the monster, delivers a sturdy performance, but much of the sympathy that the creature generates is a direct result of the heavy-lidded eyes and twisted, half-open mouth, which offer up an unexpected level of expression, asking the viewer to infer the near-human innocence within the monstrosity. Universal's DVD edition of Frankenstein, part of their "Classic Monster Collection," is a first-class item. The entire 71-minute version of the film is on board, and the print is very acceptable, with some damage and flecking, but also with very good low-contrast detail. The transfer is in the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio and is artifact free. Audio is likewise solid, in the original mono and with very little ambient noise. Voices are clear and easily understood. Universal deserves high praise for filling this disc with a great deal of value-added content, including the 45-minute documentary How Hollywood Made a Monster (which examines Mary Shelly's Frankenstein, several stage productions, and the Hollywood incarnation), a commentary track by film historian Rudy Behlmer, a series of on-set stills with audio clips from the film, the Universal comic short "Boo!" with footage from Frankenstein and Nosferatu, trailers from 1938 and 1951, production notes, and cast and crew bios and filmographies. Frankenstein is a collectable DVD that earns the title "collectable."
—JJB

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