March 4, 2008

The Revenge of Frankenstein Wraps

We Dare You To See It! We Double-Dare You To Forget It!
Advertising slogan for The Revenge of Frankenstein.

Fifty years ago today, March 4, 1958, filming wrapped on Hammer Films’ The Revenge of Frankenstein.

In January, actor Peter Cushing, director Terence Fisher and crew had gone directly from making (Horror of) Dracula to the new Frankenstein film with barely three days off between shoots. The Revenge of Frankenstein, originally advertised in the trades as Blood of Frankenstein, was a direct sequel to the hugely successful Curse of Frankenstein, shot almost exactly a year earlier and still in distribution. The action picks up as Baron Frankenstein is led to the guillotine, delivering the first of several shocking twists that drive the grisly and literate script, probably writer Jimmy Sangster’s finest.

The film features impeccable period sets by Bernard Robinson, gorgeous photography by Jack Asher, and a superlative cast. Francis Matthews plays Frankenstein’s studious assistant, Eunice Gayson appears in standard issue Hammer Glamour décolletage, and Richard Wordsworth plays a conniving orderly. The always reliable Wordsworth had played the infected astronaut, Carroon, in The Quatermass Xperiment (1955) and would essay the doomed beggar in The Curse of the Werewolf (1961). In smaller parts, Hammer regular Michael Ripper teams up with Lionel Jeffries as a memorable pair of grave robbers.

Michael Gwynn is outstanding as the woebegone hunchback who submits to a brain transplant, swapping his broken body for Frankenstein’s handsome creation, only to transform into a violent and brutally twisted monster with cannibalistic appetites. Gwynn’s performance is heart wrenching. Scenes where he stuffs his old body in a fiery furnace, and his poignant confrontation with Frankenstein, interrupting a society evening, are highlights.

Topping the cast, Peter Cushing delivers a crowning performance, a career tour de force, adding layers of nuance to his reading of the energetic Baron, a part he would have the unique opportunity of developing further in four more films. In the Revenge’s ultimate switcheroo, the Baron is subject to his own experiments and Cushing gets to play both creator and created in the same film, a trick also used with Boris Karloff in Frankenstein 1970 (1958), and Ian Holm in television’s Mystery and Imagination: Frankenstein (1968).

In the summer of ’58, (Horror of) Dracula and The Revenge of Frankenstein would consolidate Hammer’s growing reputation. The posters for the Frankenstein film featured Gwynn’s leering pop-eyed face, and a hairy claw. The unique and unusual trailer has Peter Cushing talking directly to the audience, establishing Hammer’s Frankenstein era by placing his botched execution in the year 1860.

I, Baron Frankenstein… have escaped the guillotine” he says, “and I shall avenge the death of my creation!

The trailer is online, on YouTube.

Poster from the Belgian release courtesy of Jean-Claude Michel.


rob! said...

that poster would make me see that movie.

Anonymous said...

REVENGE is the only one of the Hammer Frankensteins to actually directly follow an earlier film. The rest are pretty much self-standing.

Tim Lucas said...

Interestingly enough, the hand of the monster in the REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN artwork closely resembles that of the monster seen in the fabulous opening scene of FRANKENSTEIN 1970. I suppose it was the need to stand clear of Universal's rights to the Jack Pierce makeup that led other studios to try innovating alternative images for the Creature, but I'm interested that these two concepts are so similar. They also remind me of another Frankenstein I discovered around the same time: the one featured in the original printing of the CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED comic book adaptation. Hey, there's a good blog subject for you!

Pierre Fournier said...

Anonymous: Indeed, the rest of the Hammer Frankensteins stand on their own. In Evil of Frankenstein, when the Baron resuscitates a previous experiment, they even provide their own flashback sequence, as if the film was a sequel to a movie that was never made.

That being said, the unifying element is, of course, Peter Cushing, whose interpretation of the role evolves. He grows old in the part. I think we can look at the series not so much as sequels building on each other, but rather as isolated events in the extraordinary life of Baron Frankenstein. The one film that stands totally apart is the non-Cushing Horror of Frankenstein, and even that one — if you’re generous — could be construed as a story from Frankenstein’s early years.

Pierre Fournier said...

Tim: I, too, have wondered about the coincidence of claw imagery used in advertising — the same year — for both Revenge of Frankenstein and Frankenstein 1970. You have inspired me to post about it, and it’ll be up shortly.

I have a post about the Classics Illustrated Frankenstein in the works. It’s a significant publication. For many of us, it was our initiation to the original version by Mary Shelley.