Monday, 26 October 2015

Assembly Line: Part Five - The Dread Baron

Remember that nice Mr Frankenstein from the previous film?
There is absolutely no trace of him here.

Cushing's piercing blue eyes are cold shards of ice, and everyone he meets in this film suffers from the encounter. The reality of the Baron being the true Frankenstein monster might have been implied in the past, but here it is explicit. Murder, blackmail even sexual violence seep from beneath his urbane and deceptively slight exterior and our sympathies quite naturally lie with almost everyone else in the film. 

Except, Frankenstein Must be Destroyed, again unlike the previous film, is unquestionably Cushing's show from start to finish. He gives full vent to  an utterly irredeemable and sociopathic characterisation, summed up by Thorley Walters bumbling Police Inspector (who never comes close to cornering his quarry) as  a "Mad and dangerous medical adventurer".

The sound effects do all the work in this scene...
The plot is so engaging and so well performed that we forget we're watching a Frankenstein film without a surgically created creature stumbling around - Freddie Jones' extremely sympathetic portrayal as brain transplant patient Dr Richter/Brandt hardly counts.

I have to come back again to the question of the Baron's hands, which he appears to have full use of again.  If I was to nerd logic this wildly inconsistent series into a continuous story I'd wonder about the two or three instances here where the Baron administers a slap and the poor recipient reacts as if they've been hit by a brick - at some point could he have surgically replaced his own hands, perhaps with constructions in part a little harder than flesh?

Carl and Anna are about to wish they'd never met 'Dr Victor'.
Veronica Carlson gives a well observed and tragic performance as Anna, and is really put through the wringer in this film. Being left to face the wrath of her lodgers when the Baron forces her to evict them, becoming his personal barista and then suffering like no Hammer heroine has before when a burst water main pipe in her garden exposes a corpse which she must then quickly conceal, all the while being showered in cold water and mud.
Teeth chattering so hard that she thought they might break, Carlson was rescued by Roger Moore of all people.  Filming The Saint in a neighbouring studio, he let her use his dressing room to recover: in a hot bath with a glass of brandy.

Less amusing is the scene between her and Cushing which Hammer Executive James Carreras, himself under pressure from American distributors,  insisted be included at the last minute. The Baron's assault on Anna is an entirely unnecessary excess out of character and step with the rest of the film - and as intensely reluctant as the actors were to perform the sequence they both imbue it with more conviction than it deserved. Carlson still recalls Cushing's extreme sensitivity through the whole ordeal, taking her out for a meal so they could broach how to best get through it.

Moving on from this brief scene, the film as a whole is held up as one of Hammer's best, a summation I would unhesitatingly agree with.  I think it is the best of the Frankenstein series so far, and despite being one of the later entries would recommend it as a good starting point for someone interested in dipping their toes into Hammer's pool of Kensington gore.

There are two more films to cover, (each very worthwhile in their own unique ways), but the Hammer Frankenstein cycle could have ended with distinction, and very satisfactorily, here - providing a fitting end for the wicked Baron. 
Or does it?

"...You must choose between the flames and the police, Frankenstein..."

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