Release year: 1931
Director: James Whale
Screenwriter: John L. Balderston, Mary Shelley (based her novel Frankenstein; Or, The Modern Prometheus), Garrett Fort, Francis Edward Faragoh
Starring: Colin Clive, Mae Clarke, Boris Karloff, John Boles, EdwardVan Sloan, Frederick Kerr, Dwight Frye, Lionel Belmore, Marilyn Harris
Moviegeek Sunday Classic #120, week 39 2016
Obsessed by his experiments Dr. Frankenstein (Colin Clive) abandons everything else, including friends and a worried fiancé (Mae Clarke). Concerned for his welfare, his family show up at the distant facilty he uses to talk him into slowing down and focus on other aspects in his life, only for them to witness his experiment come to life!
James Whale’s (The Invisible Man, 1933) Frankenstein is one of the Universal Horrors/Universal Monsters that began with The Hunchback of Notre Dame in 1923 and The Phantom of the Opera in 1925 and made a star of the British William Henry Pratt, better known by his stage name Boris Karloff. The movie is one of the very first in the genre sci-fi horror and determined aspects of Shelley’s horror, like the flat-headed look of the monster and electricity of lightening used to bring life to the creature (the method used by Frankenstein was never mentoined in the novel). It says a lot of a movie, that it managed to make an as enduring impact as Frankenstein clearly has, but watching (or re-watching) the movie today lets you see why. It would be a lie to say it hasn’t aged, but also a lie to say it doesn’t still thrill and keep you gripped throughout with its chilling tale of man attempting to be God. The sympathy lies more with the monster in the original literary source, which truly plays with the idea of who the real monster is, but here it is shifted to Dr. Frankenstein, making the creature as fearsome and terrifying as possible. The mostly unknown Karloff (The Mummy, 1932) truly deserved his fame. As the camera moves in on the dead look in his eyes and follow the movements of the towering creature over the screen, it is hard not to bite your nails and fear for the lives of the characters he moves in on. There are still some of the humanity Shelley gave her monster left, mainly seen in the scene with the little girl, and the grey zone it creates suits the movie. Leading man Clive (Jane Eyre, 1934) is perfect as the mad doctor, yelling out his undying ‘It’s alive’ line and Clarke (Waterloo Bridge, 1931) adds what layers she can to the usual flat female horror character making her more than just an average scream queen. With excuisite scenery and brilliant camera work making the most of shadows and light, Frankesntein looks stunning as it moves from one sceneric scene (the experiment) to another (the windmill) and still makes an impact when watched today. A true horror classic.
The innovative make-up of the monster was the idea of make-up artist Jack P. Pierce and is under copyright to Universal until 2026.
The ending of the scene with the monster and the girl had it’s ending scene censored away for years but was restored in the DVD release.
Boris Karloff’s shoes weighed 13 pounds each.
Picture copyright: UIP