Semi-Happy

Michael Wood

  • James Whale: A Biography by Mark Gatiss
    Cassell, 182 pp, £12.99, July 1995, ISBN 0 304 32861 8

Movies tend not to age gracefully. If they’re not still fresh, they look decrepit, or just dead. It’s hard to distinguish between the damage done to the old Frankenstein by Young Frankenstein, to say nothing of The Munsters, and the damage done by time and change on their own. Certainly when Dwight Frye, as Frankenstein’s crippled assistant Fritz, scuttles off down a hill, doubled over his very short walking-stick, it’s hard not to think of Marty Feldman and Gene Hackman and to murmur ‘Walk this way.’ The acting-style of the straight – that is, human – characters in Frankenstein as in other Thirties films seems to belong to some cobwebbed theatrical museum, all twitches and signals and period exclamations. The same goes for large chunks of movie humour in those days: if you were English, and just huffed and puffed like Bertie Wooster’s uncle, as Frederick Kerr does as Baron Frankenstein, you brought the house down, or at least the studio thought you did.

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