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Roy Ward Baker
In prison and awaiting execution, Dr. Victor Frankenstein recounts to a priest what led him to his current circumstance. He inherited his family's wealth after the death of his mother when he was still only a young man. He hired Paul Krempe as his tutor and he immediately developed an interest in medical science. After several years, he and Krempe became equals and he developed an interest in the origins and nature of life. After successfully re-animating a dead dog, Victor sets about constructing a man using body parts he acquires for the purpose including the hands of a pianist and the brain of a renowned scholar. As Frankenstein's excesses continue to grow, Krempe is not only repulsed by what his friend has done but is concerned for the safety of the beautiful Elizabeth, Victor's cousin and fiancée who has come to live with them. His experiments lead to tragedy and his eventual demise. Written by
Opening credits prologue: More than a hundred years ago, in a mountain village in Switzerland, lived a man whose strange experiments with the dead have since become legend. The legend is still told with horror the world over... It is the legend of... See more »
Curse viewed through the lens of tens of other Frankenstein films
It's very difficult for me to judge if my opinion on The Curse of Frankenstein would be higher if I were to watch it coming from a different background/history. This latest viewing I believe is only the second time that I've seen Curse, with the first many, many years ago--so long ago that I could barely remember it. In the meantime, I've watched at least a few times, with relatively recent viewings, everything from Universal's 1931 Frankenstein (as well as their 1935 Bride of Frankenstein and other films in that series) to Flesh for Frankenstein (1973), Young Frankenstein (1974), Mary Shelly's Frankenstein (1994), Frankenhooker (1990)--even Der Golem, wie er in die Welt kam (1920)--and many other Frankenstein or related films. A few of those I've seen at least 10 times over the years.
So I'm coming back to Curse almost as if I'm seeing it for the first time, while already having those films mentioned above as favorites for different aspects of the Frankenstein story, such as atmosphere, visceralness, humor, grandiosity, campiness, and so on. In fact, a number of those films are favorites of all time, period. For me, then, Curse had tough competition on this viewing, and without doing something significantly different with the story, it might fall short.
What Curse probably does better than all of the other Frankenstein films that I've seen is relationship dynamics. At the moment, I'd call Curse the "soap opera" version of the story, which is not really meant as a knock. Here, Victor Frankenstein has lost his father at a very young age--he became Baron at the age of five. The film begins by showing the power and control this young man has over others. He contracts to have a tutor come teach him about science, and together, they begin exploring the scientific basis of life--the "life force" more specifically, which leads to the usual Frankenstein plot elements.
At the same time, however, the focus remains on relationships. We have a complex tutor/student, master/employee, genius/follower relationship between Victor (Peter Cushing) and Paul Krempe (Robert Urquhart), his teacher. Victor is engaged to be married--it's an arranged marriage--to Elizabeth (Hazel Court), his cousin, yet he's in at least a lustful relationship with a housekeeper, Justine (Valerie Gaunt). At the same time, Paul seems to have fallen in love with Elizabeth, and it's ambiguous to what extent she may feel the same towards him. The actual "curse" here seems to be one of difficult/dysfunctional relationships, where everyone is involved in complex power struggles with almost everyone else, and no one quite comes out victorious (ironically enough). All of this stuff is pretty good, if appropriately staid for the Victorian setting (hmmmm . . . lots of occurrences of "victor--"). On the down side, some of the cinematography/lighting veers towards a soap opera look, which doesn't do much for me.
A lot of the usual Frankenstein themes are here, too, but sometimes they almost feel like an afterthought. Christopher Lee, who plays the Frankenstein monster, is severely underused. He remains more in the background throughout the film.
Still, lots of the usual Frankenstein film stuff is done well, if a bit subtly. Keeping the monster's body half immersed in fluid was a good idea--there's a creepiness just to the way it looks and it is also unsettling because you wonder why it's only half-submerged. It seems if it needs to be submerged, the whole body should be, so from the beginning of the experiments, it feels more strongly like something is off about Victor. The more visceral body part scenes (like acquiring the hands and eyes) work very well, especially in context, and Lee's make-up was well done, including the fact that he more strongly suggests both a mummy (because of the bandages) and a zombie--the Frankenstein monster should rightly suggest both. Also, the acting is very good throughout--particularly Cushing's performance.
But for me, as good as Curse is, it pales in comparison to its Frankenstein brethren. It's good, but other films do the various aspects better, except maybe for the relationship stuff, but for me, that's not enough to elevate Curse to the same echelon as many of those other films.
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