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.