Just as Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein are the most complex and impressive of all the classic Universal monster movies, Frankenstein The Legacy Collection is the most impressive of the three Legacy Collection DVD sets. Not only do you get five classic Frankenstein's monster films, you also are treated to more numerous and significant extra features here than in the Dracula and Wolf Man Legacy Collection releases.
It is difficult to compare and contrast the different Universal monsters; my personal predilection draws me to Dracula, but I daresay Frankenstein's monster is the most successful, memorable, and influential of the Dracula - Frankenstein's monster -Wolf Man triad. The first two Frankenstein films are nothing short of brilliant (although I still regret that they did not truly recreate the monster of Mary Shelley's imaginative vision), with the sequel, Bride of Frankenstein, actually going one better than the original. When you think of Universal's Dracula, you think of Bela Lugosi; when you think of The Wolf Man, you think of Lon Chaney, Jr. When you think of Frankenstein, however, you think of Boris Karloff as the monster, Colin Clive as Dr. Frankenstein, Elsa Lanchester as the Bride of Frankenstein, James Whale as the ingenious director, Jack Pierce as the legendary horror make-up artist, etc. Virtually every last detail of the first two Frankenstein films is perfect, unforgettable, and remarkably complex - the vision, the style of presentation, the iconic performances, the make-up, the special effects, everything. Not even Dracula is as memorable in half as many ways as both Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein are.
Little more need be said of the first two Frankenstein films; they are the best of the Universal classics, and their complexity and appeal make them more amazing and impressive with each day that passes. But what of the other three films included here? Well, Frankenstein isn't what he used to be under Whale's direction. A lot of people seem to like Son of Frankenstein, but I see this is as the beginning of the big, dumb Frankenstein's monster stereotype that has stripped the monster of popular culture of the innocence and great human pathos that defined him early on. The film is most significant for being Karloff's last performance in the role he made his own, as the great horror actor wisely wished to have no part in the now-inevitable dumbing-down of the monster. Featuring Basil Rathbone as Baron Wolf von Frankenstein, Bela Lugosi as Ygor, the broken-necked madman who befriends and to some degree controls the monster, and Lionel Atwill as the show-stealing Inspector Krogh, Son of Frankenstein robs the creature of his ability to speak and thus denies him the moving vestige of humanity bestowed upon him in the unsurpassed Bride of Frankenstein.
The Ghost of Frankenstein continues the story begun in Son of Frankenstein, this time introducing yet another Frankenstein son in the form of Dr. Ludwig Frankenstein (played most engagingly by Sir Cedric Hardwick). Incredibly, both Ygor (Lugosi) and the monster (now played by Lon Chaney, Jr.) survived the end of the previous film, and the pair set out to find yet another son of Frankenstein in hopes of restoring the monster's strength (long baths in boiling sulphur followed by radical ice therapy can get a monster down). Not surprisingly, the monster stirs up a little trouble in town, and Ludwig's attempt to undo his father's crucial mistake by replacing the monster's brain with a solid, non-criminal brain ultimately goes awry, thanks to Ygor and Ludwig's traitorous assistant Dr. Bohmer (Lionel Atwill). I actually found Ghost of Frankenstein to be a major improvement on the Son of Frankenstein storyline, although most fans seem to prefer Son of Frankenstein over this film.
House of Frankenstein boasts all three of the Universal monster heavyweights: Frankenstein's monster (now played by Glenn Strange), the Wolf Man (Lon Chaney, Jr.), and Count Dracula (played by John Carradine - the world's worst Dracula). It also features Boris Karloff in the role of the mad scientist who causes all sorts of trouble. A sequel of sorts to Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, House of Frankenstein is a major disappointment in my eyes; only the Wolf Man character gets a decent treatment in this fun but rather insignificant film.
The extras in this collection are wonderful. For starters, you get theatrical trailers for all the films except Son of Frankenstein, poster and photo galleries for Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein, and a discussion by Van Helsing director Stephen Sommers of the pervading influence of Universal's Frankenstein's monster in the horror movie industry. Frankenstein comes with a commentary by film historian Rudy Behlmer, while Bride of Frankenstein features commentary by film historian Scott MacQueen (one of the best commentaries I've heard). Then there are two significant feature documentaries: The Frankenstein Files: How Hollywood Made a Monster looks back through the history of the Universal Frankenstein movies, while She's Alive! Creating the Bride of Frankenstein examines the making of Bride of Frankenstein. Both of these features include wonderful interviews with the daughter of Boris Karloff and the son of Dwight Frye. Finally, there is a short film called Boo! I was clueless as to what this could be, and I am still unsure of its origins, but it is basically a slightly comical little film featuring footage from Nosferatu, Frankenstein, and at least one other film.
This collection is not perfect (beware in particular a dangerous little bump in the casing beneath each DVD, as each one is just dying for the chance to scratch a disc). Still, considering how much material is included here, the Frankenstein Legacy Collection DVD set is a bargain that all Frankenstein fans would do well to snatch up. Of course, if you are interested in Dracula and the Wolf Man as well as Frankenstein's monster, look into getting the all-inclusive Monster Legacy Collection.