-Written by Robert O’ Doherty
After watching The Invisible Man just a couple of days ago and loving it, I decided to check out Frankenstein to see if director James Whale could once again impress me. Most of us know the story of Frankenstein, but how many of us have actually watched the 1931 film? Before seeing this monster picture, I knew the general gist of this flick, even down to the famous quote, ”It’s alive, It’s alive”.
Frankenstein opens with Edward Van Skoan (a common face in Universal horror), who gives us a warning. He explains (not looking at the camera, but an audience) that what we’re about to watch could shock and horrify us. I bet back in that era it was really effective, especially when the credits don’t even list the actor who played the Monster.
When you hear the name, Frankenstein, you think of a large, slow, reanimated corpse with that dead-like stare. But, if you watch the movie, you’ll learn that Frankenstein is the scientist, not the monster. Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) is a young scientist who comes from a wealthy background and is engaged to Elizabeth (Mae Clarke), but none of that matters to Henry as his number of objective is to finish his ground-breaking experiment; collecting different parts of the dead and reforming them into a new living being.
Of course the people close to him question his insanity, but he proves his experiment works when the Monster (Boris Karloff) comes to life. The scene is a classic one. The fingers from the Monster start moving and Frankenstein gets absorbed into the achieving moment by shouting ”It’s alive, it’s alive”. Clive’s performance in the first half is absolutely brilliant, especially when you get a close-up of his face – there’s not much expression, but at the same time you can instantly read the character. Unfortunately, the highlight to this character gets swept under the rug once he decides to get rid of the Monster, which makes no sense as it only killed Henry’s assistant, Fritz (Dwight Frye), who was aggravating the newly awakened flesh by constantly waving fire at it for no reason than just to be an asshole. This sudden change in character is like flipping a switch and it doesn’t do Clive any favors.
Karloff, of course is perfectly fitted as the Monster. When we first lay eyes on him, you don’t expect it because Frankstein delivers some dialog that suggests we may have to wait another while before we see the hideous creature. Even the Monster’s entrance is a rememberable one, as he walks in backwards, slowly turning to reveal the outstanding make-up job. The newly born Monster is dumb as a brick, but seeks companionship. Later in the movie, when the creature escapes, it comes across a little girl playing by the lake with her cat. The Monster plays with her; the scene is wonderful, but ends when the big lug mistakenly drowns her. Later on, the father walks through the village in a gaze, with his deceased daughter in arms. It’s a heart-breaking moment and one that caused a lot of up roar during the time, as well as other scenes that were removed. Everything wasn’t restored back to the motion picture fully until 1999.
The rest of the film consists of Henry and Elizabeth trying to get their wedding together, but once the town folk lay eyes on the dead girl, the hunt for the Monster is on.
The final moments takes place at a mill, where creator has been capture by it’s creation. The Monster hurls Henry off the mill, hitting a vane on the way down (OUCH!) and finally hits the ground below. Originally, this was meant to be his death, but Universal wanted a happy ending, which was a stupid move. Henry created the Monster and should’ve died with it.
Frankenstein has inspired so many media outlets, it’s impossible to ignore this classic – sure it switches gears half-way through and some stuff is questionable in terms of character choices, but I’d give this one a watch, it short and you’ll be captivated with the stuff this flick tried to get away with in the 30’s.