Cinema Sunday: Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969)

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Title: Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed

Distributor: Hammer Films/Warner Bros.

Writer: Bert Batt

Director: Terence Fisher

Producer: Anthony Nelson Keys

Starring: Peter Cushing, Veronica Carlson, Freddie Jones, Simon Ward

Released: May 1969 (U.K.)

MPAA: PG-13

 

After focusing on a film starring Christopher Lee last week, I couldn’t help but gravitate towards a film starring his Hammer Films counterpart, Peter Cushing! I’ve just about exhausted all Hammer’s Vampire/Frankenstein’s Monster films, but this little gem remains! A controversial film to say the least, this is one that features not only Cushing, but also the gorgeous Veronica Carlson! She’s one of those few starlets that lights up the screen when she appears, and plays a great counterpart to evil Doctor Frankenstein!

Cushing only did one more Frankenstein film after this one (Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell), and I’ll eventually get to it down the road, but for now, let us traverse back in time, to the turn of the century. To a time when a villain like Dr. Frankenstein could get away with his ghastly experiments!

 

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The film begins with a doctor walking down a foggy street, heading for his office. He’s suddenly accosted by a man who’s carrying a basket and some bladed weapon. The man (not seen clearly) slices the doctor’s head clean off! Just then, we see a burglar (Harold Goodwin) trying to break into a home. He hears footsteps, and cannot complete his mission, so he tries the nearest doorknob, and successfully gains access to another house. He wanders around for a few seconds, and then sees a laboratory filled with unusual devices and even a frozen corpse! He gets startled, and crashes into a table. The noise alerts the man whose home he’s broken into (the same man that frightened him into the home in the first place). As the burglar waits, he hears footsteps drawing nearer. He’s then confronted by a horrifically scarred man, and the two then fight. As the two brawl, a basket gets kicked over that the scarred man was carrying. A head comes rolling out, and we now know that it was the head of the doctor who was murdered just minutes before. The burglar eventually gets away, and the other man removes a mask, and it’s revealed that it is Dr. Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) himself!

 

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The doctor realizes that the man will go to the police in all likelihood, so he opens a hatch in the floor, and dumps the body (and kicks the head down like a soccer ball), into a stream below. The burglar runs into a policeman, and then is taken to the station. After confessing, the police arrive and surmise that the man who beheaded the doctor earlier is probably the same man who had this secret laboratory. They then begin their investigation, and it’s headed up by Inspector Frisch (Thorley Walters), who’s an odd fellow to say the least. He doesn’t seem to have any ideas as far as who the killer may be, nor does he take advice from his fellow investigators.

 

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As Dr. Frankenstein leaves the house he was occupying, he then finds a room for rent on the other side of London. He knocks on the door and is greeted by Anna (Veronica Carlson), and with her mother currently elderly and ill, she is running the boarding house. We then switch to a local asylum, where a woman is screaming like a banshee. We are introduced to Dr. Karl Holst (Simon Ward), who is a very prominent young doctor employed there. He looks in on another patient, Dr. Frederick Brandt (George Pravda), who has had a traumatic brain injury, and cannot even speak. The other doctors at the asylum believe he cannot be cured. Back at the boarding house, the other four tenants are discussing Dr. Brandt, and then after Dr. Frankenstein enters the room (under an assumed name), and they involve his name in the conversation. He tells them it’s fools like them that have blocked progress for centuries. They get furious with him, but he leaves (like a boss).

 

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Later, Karl comes to take out his bride-to-be, Anna. He drops a box (of medicinal cocaine) on the doorstep, and then heads inside to see Anna. Dr. Frankenstein finds the box, and uses this leverage to blackmail them into service of his dastardly deeds. They’ve been using the stolen drugs to sell them to support Anna’s elderly mother. The next day, Anna tosses the other four tenants out on the street to make room for Dr. Frankenstein’s experiments. He then tells Karl that he means to repair the damaged brain of Dr. Brandt, a man whom he’d been corresponding with about brain surgery. Frankenstein and Holst rob a medical supply store, and Holst murders the night watchman in fear of being caught. Frankenstein then uses Karl’s place at the asylum to kidnap Dr. Brandt from the asylum, so he can remove his brain and put it in another body, and repair it during the process.

 

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Will Dr. Frankenstein succeed in his devilish plot or will Karl and Anna find a way to not only clear their names but also put an end to the devious deeds of Dr. Frankenstein?!?!

 

OK, here are my thoughts:

One scene aside, this is one of Hammer’s best films in the “Frankenstein’s Monster” franchise. It’s not the typical monster as was the first couple of films (and the Universal Studios film), in that the story revolves more around the doctor himself, and his machinations. Of course, when you have a lead like Peter Cushing this is possible. The supporting cast is great as well, and you get a wild actor like Thorley Walters, a solid job by a young Simon Ward, and the utter beauty and grace of Veronica Carlson (image below) to cap it all off.

At this point, Hammer was relying on film distribution companies in the U.S. to partially back their films, and of course, distribute them in America. So, in a roundabout way, they had some say in the content of the film itself. Hammer executive, James Carreras, demanded that director Terence Fisher (his first film back at Hammer after a few years break) add a rape scene to the film. This did not settle well with Cushing and Carlson (the two involved in the scene), but the did it, albeit begrudgingly. Quite honestly, the scene does seem a bit out-of-place, and for anyone that’s a Hammer aficionado, you’ll know that this isn’t something Dr. Frankenstein would’ve been interested in.

Definitely set aside some time to watch this one. It’s part of a great four film set by TCM Classics, and is one of my treasured compilations of Hammer Studios material!

 

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Click here for the trailer!

 

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