Horror Film Countdown: Frankenstein (1931)

Frankenstein 1931
Frankenstein (1931), dir. James Whale, Universal Pictures

With Dracula earning record profits, Universal opted to cash in on the horror craze with another adaptation of a classic novel, this time going with Mary Shelly’s opus. We open with Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) and his hunchbacked assistant Fritz (Dwight Frye) watching funeral. Digging the corpse up, Frankenstein explains why he needs body as they try to steal another corpse hanging from a nearby gallows. It seems Frankenstein wants to create life and he needs raw material, most specifically a brain.

Fritz sneaks into the lab of Dr. Walderman (Edward Van Sloan) to steal the brain of a genius. Thanks to a mysterious gong ringing, however, Fritz is now one brain less, so he steals the one marked ‘abnormal’, a fact he fails to mention to Frankenstein.

Of course none of this exists in a vacuum. Henry’s fiancé Elizabeth (Mae Clarke) and his best friend Victor (John Boles) haven’t seen Henry in weeks. Henry’s father, the Baron Frankenstein (Fredrick Kerr) is convinced Henry is making time with a mistress in the ancient watchtower he’s residing in, but when the three confront Dr. Walderman and learn that Henry dropped out of school some time before. The now foursome heads off to the watchtower to see what Henry is really up to and why he needs to be working in the middle of a terrific thunderstorm…

What happens next has been referenced and parodied so much a review is almost pointless. The Monster (Boris Karloff) rises and makes use of the criminal brain given him, coupled with abandonment by Henry and the torture by Fritz, a showdown between man and maker in an old windmill again leaves us with an iconic image.

Frankenstein as a film still has some issues. The cast either overact or underact, sometimes within the same scene, plus the script is dependent on many character acting like total boobs (holding the idiot ball, to use some modern slang). The scene where the Monster breaks into Frankenstein’s house during the wedding is a prime example. Whale does a better job than Browning, borrowing heavily from German expressionists in use of set and visual design. The Monster’s iconic image and Karloff’s portrayal help raise the film’s weaker aspects.

Frankenstein 1931 by Alice-Bauer