APES ON FILM: Frankenstein -vs- Jimmy Stewart!

by Anthony Taylor
Contributing Writer

 Welcome to Apes on Film! This column exists to scratch your retro-film-in-high-definition itch. We’ll be reviewing new releases of vintage cinema and television on disc of all genres, finding gems and letting you know the skinny on what to avoid. Here at Apes on Film, our aim is to uncover the best in retro film. As we dig for artifacts, we’ll do our best not to bury our reputation. What will we find out here? Our destiny.

 

 

 

THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (2 Disc SE)- 1957
4.5 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Peter Cushing , Hazel Court, Robert Urquhart , Christopher Lee
Director: Terence Fisher
Rated: Unrated
Studio: Warner Archive Collection
Region: A
BRD Release Date: December 15, 2020
Audio Formats: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono (48kHz, 24-bit)
Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Resolution: New 2020 1080p HD Restoration Masters from 4K Scans of Preservation Separation Elements
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1, 1.67:1, 1.85:1
Run Time: 83 minutes
CLICK HERE TO ORDER

It’s the holiday season, and a great time to make a gift of your current disc copy of Hammer FilmsTHE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN. Not to a friend, but to an interested acquaintance or an amiable stranger – share the gift of a wonderful classic film in an adequate digital presentation and give yourself (and a friend) a gift by ordering the new, restored version of the film from the Warner Archive Collection. After viewing this presentation of the film, you’ll never be able to go back to the current disc in your collection, whether DVD or Blu-ray. For a taste of what I mean, click the title link above to see a comparison video of the restored vs. unrestored version.

Warner Archive’s new two-disc special edition lovingly gives this film the attention it deserves, including not one, not TWO… but THREE different prints in varying aspect ratios as released in theaters. It also includes a great slate of supplemental features produced by Constantine Nasr, a man who knows his mid-century British horror movies. He’s assembled a set of in-depth featurettes that include context, history, and opinions from the likes of Dick Klemensen, publisher of Hammer-centric fanzine Little Shoppe of Horrors, Sir Christopher Frayling, who provides an excellent history of gothic literature and how Hammer’s films were affected by it as well as how they affected it, David J. Miller, who contextualizes fellow director of photography Jack Asher’s work on the film and his subsequent work at Hammer, and composer Christopher Drake on the film’s score and it’s composer, James Bernard. Nasr and historian Jack Haberman also provide a new audio commentary. The film’s original trailer has also been restored and is included.

As for the film itself, it looks and sounds better than it ever has. One of the cornerstones of Hammer’s success, THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN was very much a gamble when the company undertook it’s production. Horror movies were at a low ebb in the mid-1950s, and the company was under scrutiny not only by the British Board of Film Classification but by Universal Studios, who wanted to make sure they weren’t appropriating any copyrighted material or designs from the 1930s films. Writer Jimmy Sangster created a totally new take on the story, focusing on the evil Baron Frankenstein rather than the monster, and injected a bit of Jane Eyre to play up the gothic aspect. Add blood, cleavage, and one-strip Eastmancolor film stock and you have a perfect storm which kicked off a decade’s worth of profitable releases for Hammer and their competitors.

If you’ve never seen it and aren’t a big fan of this type of movie, you might want to hold off on buying this set – an acquaintance or amiable stranger may be giving you an earlier disc release of it in the near future. If you are a fan, order now – this is essential viewing, and should be in any horror fan’s library.

 

THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER – 1940
4 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Margaret Sullavan , James Stewart , Frank Morgan , Joseph Schildkraut
Directed By: Ernst Lubitsch
Studio: Warner Archive Collection
BRD Release Date: December 22, 2020
Region: A
Audio Formats: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono (48kHz, 24-bit)
Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Resolution: 1080p
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
Run Time: 99 minutes
CLICK HERE TO ORDER

What would the holidays be without an annual viewing of that timeless Jimmy Stewart classic? You may think I mean IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, but I’m talking about THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER, a deeper dive and totally worth adding to your Christmas movie viewing list. Remade in 1998 as YOU’VE GOT MAIL starring Tom Hanks  (well, who else could carry Stewart’s mantle?) and  Meg Ryan , with the original outshining the remake on all counts. The cast is perfect; Stewart, Sullavan, and Morgan essay their characters well, dodging and parrying each other with jabs and lunges of Runyun-esque dialog provided by writer Samson Raphaelson. Lubitsch’s direction brings it all in dramatically as well as comedically, making for a tender and frustrating love story between two headstrong people trying to define themselves through the eyes of others. We know in the end they’ll come together, but the journey is the satisfying part of this film, not the destination.

Warner Archive’s presentation seems sourced from a new 2K scan of the original interpositive materials and is a marked improvement from past releases. The picture is sharp and gray tones and blacks are well defined throughout. Audio is also improved, especially in regard to dialog, which is tossed about like hand grenades by the cast – fast, furious, and much more in evidence than musical cues. Supplemental materials include a vintage MGM promotional film, THE MIRACLE OF SOUND, a Screen Guild Theater radio broadcast (Sept. 29, 1940) with Margaret Sullavan, James Stewart and Frank Morgan, as well as the Lux Radio Theater broadcast (June 23, 1941) with Claudette Colbert and Don Ameche, and the remastered original theatrical trailer for the film.

Don’t look for a plot-heavy story here–this is all holiday fantasy, and the focus is on the characters. If that appeals to you, then make sure you get this disc and keep it handy every year around this time. It’s worth the watch.

 

Anthony Taylor is not only the Minister of Science, but also Defender of the Faith. His reviews and articles have appeared in magazines such as Screem, Fangoria, Famous Monsters of Filmland, SFX, Video*WatcHDog, and more.

 *Art Credit: Anthony Taylor as Dr. Zaius caricature by Richard Smith

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