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Can’t Be Too Cheesy

Spoiler Alert! I’m not going to give away the whole plot, but I might ruin a surprise or two.

TCM has not shown any Whistler movies lately, but they have obliged with a few Hammer Films.

I made a note of “It’s a Hammer Film” in the TV Journal when we watched The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958) last Sunday. Last night I found I was correct to do so. Ben Mankiewicz, in pre-movie commentary to another Frankenstein movie, informed us that Hammer Films became known for the horror genre.

Revenge of Frankenstein stars Peter Cushing as the mad doctor. I first became aware of Cushing many years ago, when he had a part in the first Star Wars movie (that’s the first MOVIE, not the first “episode,” of which I know very little). Cushing, as I understood it, was one of a couple of older, highly respected actor’s actors brought in to class up the operation. Now it’s a name which, when I see it in a movie, I say, “Can’t be too cheesy.” Still, any horror movie from the ’50s or ’60s is going to have a certain kitsch factor, especially one about Frankenstein. Hello! Sewing together dead people to bring them back to life! Even Kenneth Branaugh could bring only so much weight to that.

The movie opens with Dr. Frankenstein facing the guillotine for his crimes. Apparently this is not the first Frankenstein movie in the series (“Revenge of” kind of clued me into that already). But there is no problem following the plot from where they start, no need for lengthy flashbacks. Actually, in a Frankenstein movie, flashbacks look a little silly. I mean, we all KNOW the story or at least enough that we can follow along (I, of course, know the whole story; I read the book) (sorry, didn’t mean to sound smug).

I was a little disappointed that Dr. F didn’t get beheaded and sew his own head back on, but that would have been a whole other movie, I suppose. Instead, the scene changes before the blade clangs down and I don’t think anybody is too much surprised to learn that our “hero” escaped execution with the help of a confederate (that’s all we’re told about how it was done. I personally would have liked a flashback showing the trick) (after all, you never know when you might need to know these things).

The next thing we know, a certain Dr. Stein (subtle!) is practicing medicine in, oh, I forget where. Presumably a country with no extradition policy or no guillotines. The local medical association is a little miffed he hasn’t tried to join or otherwise seek their permission before stealing all their patients.

It seems the ladies love Dr. Stein. Hmmm. I guess the young Peter Cushing had a sort of charm. Maybe it’s that crisp, businesslike aloofness. That unattainability that drives some women nuts.

At any rate, Dr. Stein’s waiting room for his upper crust patients who pay through the nose is always full. He uses this income to subsidize his free clinic for the poor, which is another thing that the ladies love about him. So unselfish! So dedicated! They don’t realize he is using that clinic as a source for body parts (but you knew right away, didn’t you?).

I do hope he washes the parts before he uses them, because a lot is made of how the poor people don’t wash. One fellow in particular — I think he is employed at the clinic in some menial capacity — brags his head off about how that’s why he’s so healthy. Um, he does not literally brag is head off, although I guess that would have been appropriate in a Frankenstein movie that opens with a guillotine.

Dr. Stein has a crippled assistant named Carl, and he acquires a young doctor protege. The young doctor recognizes who Dr. Stein is, but does not think he is evil. He thinks he is brilliant and wants to work with him and learn. There is a also a beautiful, young, upper crust girl who volunteers at the clinic, and the stage is set.

And that is about as far as I want to go, because, spoiler alert aside, I really don’t want to give any more away. There are some unexpected twists and turns. You may see the ending coming, but it’s still pretty satisfying. I didn’t see it coming a mile away, but pretty much guessed it just before it happened. I felt pretty pleased with myself that I guessed right.

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