Second Time Around

Frankenstein and His Bride
A marvelous tracking shot of a town in full carnival joy gives way to a similarly filmed shot of a monster rushing through the woods in one of the many cinematic epiphanies to be found in the handsome new print of Frankenstein, on display at the Castro for a week starting Friday. James Whale's 1931 shocker still has a powerful impact today: Even as the above-described sequence links the town's liberty with the monster's, so does the joy Dr. Frankenstein (Colin Clive) takes in playing God connect directly with his creation's many unplanned crimes.

Boris Karloff's creature has been rightly praised for years. What's been overlooked is Clive's excellent work as the tormented genius who gives a corpse life -- a wonderful portrait of a scientist's sick guilt that looks forward to the latter days of J. Robert Oppenheimer. While Whale's follow-up, The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), is today more highly regarded than its predecessor, to this viewer it's a notch down, as it suppresses Clive's agony in favor of Ernest Thesiger's preening as a mad doctor with no qualms whatsoever about playing God. (Call him the queer Edward Teller.) For all the camp, Bride contains some of Whale's best work, particularly a poignant interval with a blind man who senses the monster is a friend. Elsa Lanchester's bride is also a great creation, especially as Lanchester doubles as Frankenstein author Mary Shelley in a delightful prologue. The Frankenstein story still speaks to us today, but only if it can be taken seriously -- as seriously as life and death.

-- Gregg Rickman

Frankenstein screens Friday through Thursday, Oct. 9-15, at 2:15, 5:25, and 8:35 p.m. (with The Bride of Frankenstein at 3:50, 7, and 10:10 p.m.), at the Castro, 429 Castro (at Market), S.F. Admission is $6.50; call 621-6120.

 
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