• Title: Frankenstein
  • Director: James Whale
  • Date: 1931
  • Studio: Universal
  • Genre: Horror
  • Cast: Colin Clive, Boris Karloff, Mae Clarke, Edward Van Sloan
  • Format: Standard, Black and White
  • Format: R1, NTSC

“It’s alive! It’s alive! It’s alive” — Henry Frankenstein 

“Have you never wanted to do anything that was dangerous? Where should we be if nobody tried to find out what lies beyond? You never wanted to look beyond the clouds and the stars?”  — Henry Frankenstein

I liked this “monster movie” better than Dracula because the story flowed better. However, there are several parts in the film where it is considerably difficult to keep a straight face, simply because I have seen Mel Brooks’ wonderful Young Frankenstein many, many, many times.

However, getting to the movie, it is of course based on the novel of the same title by Mary W. Shelley, though for the film she is credited as “Mrs. Percy B. Shelley” (isn’t that ridiculous? I could see Mary Shelley or Mrs. Mary Shelley. But Mrs. Percy Shelley? Why not take all her individuality away.) But anyway.

Henry Frankenstein is an experimental scientist who’s engaged to be married to the local Baron’s daughter in a Bavarian village. But for the last three weeks, he’s been shut-up in an abandoned watch tower working on experiments. His fiancee, a friend, and his instructor from university find him there on the quintessential “dark and stormy night” — it’s rainy buckets with thunder and lighting to match.  However, that’s perfect for Henry’s experiments. He and his assistant, Fritz, use the electricity of the storm to bring the Creature to life. But unknown to Henry – rather than the normal brain he requested that he pick up at the local medical college, Fritz was startled, dropped the normal one, and brought an abnormal, criminal brain instead.

The creature cannot speak and has a horrible fear of fire. Fritz uses this fear to torture the creature, who escapes Frankenstein’s care. The Creature explores the world, including throwing a little girl into a lake, while the Baron presses for his daughter’s wedding to Henry. The villager brings his drowned daughter to town; and at the same time, the Creature attacks Henry’s fiancee. It the end, the mayor, the Baron, and Henry form a mob of villagers and track the creature down. Henry’s captured by the Creature and both end up in a windmill. Henry then escapes, but the mob burns the windmill. 

Frankenstein is a frustrating film – at times the visuals are stunning, especially for the early 30s. For example, Henry’s experimental lab is amazing; and the scene of the burning windmill at the end of the film is also stunning. But at other times the film looks amazingly cheap (when the villagers are running around in the “forest” the sky looks like a painted backdrop). The film is only 69 minutes long, which is quite short. Henry’s fiancee is strong enough to insist she go with her friend and his teacher to talk sense into him about abandoning his experiments, yet on her wedding day, she allows Henry to lock her in the parlour, making her a perfect target for the Creature.

Colin Clive, an actor I’ve frankly never even heard of, gives an excellent performance as Henry Frankenstein. And Boris Karloff steals the show as the Creature.

Recommendation:  See it, at least once.
Rating:  3
Next Film:  The Full Monty