Through American Eyes: Stoker and Shelley in US Cinema
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‘It’s alive! It’s alive!’ gasps the English actor Colin Clive, working himself into a paroxysm over the twitching, scarred body of the patchwork corpse he has reanimated in Frankenstein (1931). It’s a seismic moment in several senses, freezing the derisory laugher it might prompt in an age of more subtle performances. An analysis of the English influence on the first important wave of adaptations of Gothic literature in Hollywood in the 1930s is obliged to concentrate on the achievements of the massively influential James Whale, director of Frankenstein and several key movies of the genre (sometimes informed by his irreverent gay sensibility). Later British-made adaptations (e.g. from the Hammer studios) were both reactions to and departures from the earlier films, with certain elements (including copious bloodletting) moved from the periphery to centre stage, but Whale (and his cadre of the British talent) set the gold standard for other treatments of English Gothic in US and world cinema in general, establishing templates for the form which have remained influential to this day. The exodus of British writing, directing and acting talent to the USA created a specifically English vision in American cinema, along with the foregrounding of the literary aspects in these adaptations (e.g. English actress Elsa Lanchester playing Mary Shelley).
KeywordsSeismic Moment Swan Lake American Cinema Horror Film Opening Scene
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