On the 60th anniversary of Hammer’s seminal The Curse Of Frankenstein, RICHARD PHILLIPS-JONES heads back to 1957 and looks at the film’s initial reaction from the critics…

In the 60 years since Hammer unleashed The Curse Of Frankenstein on an unsuspecting public, the promotional machine behind film distribution has changed beyond all recognition. We now live in an age where reviews are routinely quoted on advertising material, to the extent that distributors have, on occasion been accused of chopping and twisting quotes from negative reviews to put a positive spin on them.

It’s intriguing to ponder how Hammer might have handled contemporary reviews if advertising in the 1950’s had drawn from critical comments in the same way. Let’s put ourselves in the position of a film ad executive circa 1957, and see if the BFI’s Monthly Film Bulletin has anything to offer in terms of fertile promo material…

The immense possibilities of the Frankenstein story have here been sacrificed by an ill-made script, poor direction and performance and, above all, a preoccupation with disgusting – not horrific – charnelry.


READ: You’ve got to be Choking!


Perhaps not then, although they do add this positive addendum:

On the credit side must be mentioned the excellent art direction and colour and some nicely horrific music.

Okay, there’s something we could work with. Let’s try sister publication Sight and Sound, and reviewer Derek Hill…

Immediately reminiscent of concentration camp atrocities…

It’s fair to say Derek’s not a fan. Perhaps C.A. Lejeune at the more liberal Observer might have a useful quote?

Among the half-dozen most repulsive films I have encountered in the course of some 10,000 miles of film reviewing.

Er… Dilys Powell of The Sunday Times, maybe?

[Leaves me] unable to defend the cinema against the charge it debases…

I see a pattern emerging here. I wonder if Derek Granger at The Financial Times takes a different view?

Only the saddest of simpletons… could ever get a really satisfying frisson… possibly a useful means of escape for a housewife harrowed by the shopping.

At least Mr. Granger doesn’t appear to have taken offence. Maybe the American distributor might have more luck finding good quotes for their campaign? Let’s try Bosley Crowther at The New York Times.

[A] routine horror picture, which makes no particular attempt to do anything more important than scare you with corpses and blood… This one should be cold-cuts for old-timers who remember Boris Karloff as the get of Frankenstein, but it may titilate the blissful youngsters.

The problem on the other side of the pond seems to be general indifference rather than shock and offence. At least Hollywood’s main trade publication Variety, in a brief review has praise for the leading man…

Peter Cushing gets every inch of drama from the leading role, making almost believable the ambitious urge and diabolical accomplishment.

Of course, as history tells us, The Curse Of Frankenstein did just fine without much in the way of critical approval, as did Hammer Films for the next fifteen years or so. This does raise one question, however. Why is it that a critical drubbing can kill some films stone dead, whilst others (The Curse Of Frankenstein being a good example) seemingly thrive on it? Regardless, this was likely not a question which would have troubled Hammer’s executives with any sleepless nights, at least not during the company’s golden period which was now well and truly underway.

Richard Phillips-Jones
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