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Frankenstein

From the DVD case: Boris Karloff stars as the screen’s most memorable monster in what many consider to be the greatest horror film ever made. Dr. Frankenstein (Colin Clive) dares to tamper with life and death by creating a human monster (Karloff) out of lifeless body parts. It’s director James Whale’s adaptation of the Mary Shelley novel blended with Karloff’s compassionate portrayal of a creature groping for identity that makes Frankenstein a masterpiece not only of the genre, but for all time. (1931, b&w)

Mark says: This is it, the granddaddy of all monster films. I can’t remember the first time I saw Frankenstein, but I do know it left an indelible mark on me, as it has for countless others.

Director James Whale (Bride of Frankenstein, The Invisible Man) not only gave us a great monster flick, but he gave us a work of art, too. Each time I watch Frankenstein I’m in awe of the sets and the direction. That opening scene at the graveyard has to be one of my favorite opening shots of any horror film.

Colin Clive does a fantastic job as Dr. Henry Frankenstein, a scientist obsessed with his work, and mad with the idea of creating life. Dwight Frye (Dracula, The Vampire Bat) plays the lunatic hunchback, Fritz (I’ll forgive you if you call him Igor, though.) He hobbles around, shimmies up poles, mutters and gives us what has become the archetypal mad scientist’s assistant.

And let’s not forget Mae Clarke as Henry’s fiancée, Elizabeth. She’s graceful, devoted, prophetic, and everything else a man or monster could ask for. Edward Van Sloan plays Henry’s former professor, Dr. Waldman. He is not as powerful in this role as he was as Dr. Van Helsing in Dracula, but he works well as the voice of reason.

Two characters that I find slightly annoying are John Boles as Henry’s friend, Victor Moritz (some friend, he hits on Elizabeth every chance he gets) and Henry’s father, played by Frederick Kerr. Kerr’s character, huffing and growling, is especially abrasive, and obviously used for comedy relief. These two are only minor annoyances and do not significantly disrupt the film.

Of course, it is that big, beautiful monster played by Boris Karloff that makes this movie so wonderful. I was genuinely frightened of Frankenstein’s monster as a kid (I’m told that kids today are not fazed by Karloff’s portrayal), but what was more amazing, was that I felt empathy for this brute.

Here’s this poor creature, slapped together and dragged into the world of the living by no request of his own, tormented endlessly by a wretched little bully, hounded by mobs, and then rejected by his own creator. Maybe that wasn’t exactly my story, but it certainly felt like it at times.

The scene with Little Maria (Marilyn Harris) is particularly heart-wrenching. The monster finally finds an oasis in this hostile world, and then ends up killing her. Talk about King Midas in reverse.

Speaking of Marilyn Harris, she does an excellent job at playing dead. The scene where her father carries her to the burgomeister is decidedly macabre.

There’s nothing I’m going to say about this film that hasn’t been said a thousand times already. I just want it on the record that it means a lot to me, too.

I don’t think anyone will be surprised with my rating.

Scene to watch for: The manner in which Henry Frankenstein lands on that windmill blade doesn’t look too healthy.

Line to listen for: “The neck’s broken. The brain is useless. We must find another brain!”

Note: I recommend the Frankenstein Legacy Collection from Universal to those of you interested in this film.

Supplemental viewing: The 1998 film, Gods and Monsters starring Ian McKellen, explores the latter days of director James Whale.

Mark’s Rating: ! ! ! ! ! out of 5.

IMDB Link

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8 Comments

  1. This has to be one of the greatest monster films of all time. I think it was either Frank’s monster or Drac that was my first taste… and I’ve never looked back. The Universal monsters are just classic in every way.

  2. THE classic F. film, of course – but inferior in many people’s view (and mine too) to Bride of F. Still, essential viewing before you can call yourself a monster lover.

  3. For years the scene where the Monster throws Little Maria into the pond was censored. The version, which was shown on TV back in the 60s & 70s, went like this: The Monster and the little girl are playing together by throwing daisies into the water and watching them float. When the Monster discovers he has run out of flowers he reaches toward Maria and the scene abruptly cuts to the festival with lively music and dancing in the village street. We then see the father, walking through the crowd, in a state of shock, carrying the lifeless body of his little daughter.

    It wasn’t until the film was released to video (or possibly the second or third release) before the deleted scene was replaced. While I’m glad the film has been restored to it’s original form, I sometimes wonder if the absence of that “deleted” scene didn’t actually add to the shock of seeing the dead girl in her father’s arms. Since we didn’t actually see what the Monster did, it wasn’t until the father entered the village that we saw that he had murdered the little girl. On the other hand, the deleted scene does show the Monster’s horrified surprise as he realizes that what he did was a terrible thing, thus giving the audience a mixed feeling of sadness for both murderer and victim.

  4. Paul: I was glad the film was restored. I think it was important that people understood that the Monster did not intend to kill the little girl, and was deeply disturbed when he realized what he’d done. That scene is still hard for me to watch to this day, but very effective.

  5. this is for my homework.
    does any one know where the opening scene was set at?

  6. Hey Melody: I’m sure I’m replying far too late to help you with your homework. Here’s a cool idea, though: Get somebody to rent the movie for you and watch it! The opening scene is very spooky, and I think you’ll like it!

  7. The Lugosi “Dracula” is surprisingly creaky today (have you watched it lately?). The Karloff “Frankenstein” is simply a terrific monster movie. “Bride of Frankenstein” is an enduring work of art, greater even than the first. My beloved Film Forum, here in NYC, just had a James Whale fest a few months back and I sat in front of “BOF” for the umpteenth time and just marveled at it. Some of the visuals just cannot be believed, and the Monster is certainly more sympathetic the second time around. And don’t even get me started on the greatness of Ernest Thessiger….

  8. The Lugosi “Dracula” is surprisingly creaky today (have you watched it lately?). The Karloff “Frankenstein” is simply a terrific monster movie. “Bride of Frankenstein” is an enduring work of art, greater even than the first. My beloved Film Forum, here in NYC, just had a James Whale fest a few months back and I sat in front of “BOF” for the umpteenth time and just marveled at it. Some of the visuals just cannot be believed, and the Monster is certainly more sympathetic the second time around. And don’t even get me started on the greatness of Ernest Thessiger!


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