Whale. James Whale’s strength is he was a major auteur in the 1930’s. His output includes four films that land in the top 100 of that decade. His filmography ranks him out at #122 overall but it’s difficult to find auteurs at this point that both A) have a personal visual stamp (which he does with his gothic visuals and mise-en-scene) and B) have, again, four films that landed in their respective decades’ top 100. His weakness is the lack of depth here with only 5 total archiveable films and only one film in the top 500 of all-time but Frankenstein is close to being on that list- just misses.

Best film:  Bride of Frankenstein

  • The sequel (4 years after original apparently because Whale would only agree to do it if he had complete artistic control) lacks some of the narrative genius (this is far removed from mary shelley’s book) and originality of the 1931 original but we have a much heavier influence of gothic set design, the cabinets of dr. caligari german expressionism and I think that makes this the superior film and a borderline masterpiece
  • There’s a very interesting homosexual reading of the film which came to light decades after the film—the monster and his bride to not hit it off and we have him and the hermit getting along so well
  • The hermit sequence is pure narrative tenderness but is a pretty quiet period stylistically
  • Very detailed sewer, lab, cemetery and prison—the visuals here are superior—we have gorgeous gothic interiors at the castle as well- almost every scene is laid out with ornate woodworking, great work in shadows with the lighting, candle work both add to the lighting and the detailed and busy mise-en-scene
  • Elsa Lanchester dual role here with her playing the bride and the shelley character in the very good opening prologue author introduction and recap
  • Harshness again- two fatalities in the first two minutes
  • Many love the intentional campiness and humor here in the second film—mainly here from Una O’Connor’s crooning and tongue-in-cheek wit.
  • Many of the shots are taken from expressionistic odd angles—changing the floor or baseline or even blocking part of the mise-en-scene intentionally a la von Sternberg
  • MS/MP border

total archiveable films: 5

top 100 films:  0

top 500 films:  1 (Bride of Frankenstein)

top 100 films of the decade: 4 (Bride of Frankenstein, Frankenstein, Show Boat, The Invisible Man)

most overrated:  Nothing for Whale. The TSPDT consensus only has two films from Whale in the top 1000 and that’s Bride at #328 (I’m at #226) and Frankenstein at #512 and I’d be really close to that.

most underrated:   Show Boat should be in top 1000 and it doesn’t currently land a stop on the TSPDT list.

gem I want to spotlight:    The Invisible Man

  • The Invisible man is an overlooked Whale film simply because it isn’t a Frankenstein 
  • It’s his best edited film
  • Claude rains is very good in a memorable first archiveable role- all vocal (and well done at that) until the final scene where he’s just lying there for 20 seconds
  • The film eagerly moves—just like the camera. Love the tracking shot through the tavern in the opening and how the film tracks away from rains saddened fiancée
  • Again, like in bride of Frankenstein in 1935 we have a mooning una o’connor for laughs
  • Like Frankenstein this is a scientist driven mad by ego and scientific experiments
  • The special effects are superb—that’s true—but whale adds to them—there are many tracking shots to simulate the movement of the invisible man. it makes the entire film concept, which should be really difficult, seem effortless
  • Brisk entertaining 71 minutes
  • R/HR border- leaning HR

stylistic innovations/traits: The creation of the monster as earned Hollywood and horror iconography is an accomplishment. There are commonalities in the narratives like the mad scientist driven to that insanity by ambition (both Frankenstein films and Invisible Man). Whale’s films often featured gothic décor and his best work are triumphs of production designed influenced by the early Germans (Caligari, Murnau). Again in his best work (mainly Bride of Frankenstein) have many gorgeous shots are taken from expressionistic odd angles with set pieces and obstructions in the frame like von Sternberg. Years later it’s clear there’s a homosexual reading in much of Whale’s films that give the work complexity. They are often funny as well and are crispy edited that still hold the power to easily entertain and impress nearly a century after their release.

top 10

  1. Bride of Frankenstein
  2. Frankenstein
  3. Show Boat
  4. The Invisible Man
  5. The Old Dark House

By year and grades

1931- Frankenstein MS
1932- The Old Dark House R
1933- The Invisible Man R/HR
1935-Bride of Frankenstein MS/MP
1936- Show Boat HR

*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film

MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film

HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film

R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives