Director: James Whale

USA - 1931



For the benefit of those with a short attention span...

Even way back in 1931, those wacky mad scientists were tampering in God’s domain.

The Guilty Party

Colin Clive plays Henry Frankenstein: The brilliant, albeit misguided, scientist who believes he has unlocked the secret (dramatic pause) to life (and again) itself! Has an annoying girlfriend named Elizabeth, and somewhat of "Fritz! Fetch me a brain! Fritz! Cut down the corpse! Fritz! Grab me a Tab from the fridge! I'll tell you what, one day they're gonna "Fritz" me one time too many, and this hunchback is gonna SNAP, baby!"an unruly coiffure. Notice his name isn’t Victor. It might have took me a while, but I did notice that.

Mae Clark plays Elizabeth: Henry’s girlfriend, and token helpless female. Clark not only portrays the classic “damsel in distress” cliché, but she does so with incredible gusto (read: overacting). See! Elizabeth perpetually whine! See! Elizabeth faint at the mere sight of The Monster! Where’s Sigourney Weaver when you need her?

John Boles plays Victor Moritz: Henry’s “friend,” and Elizabeth’s “confidante.” A true sleaze, not only does he make a move on Henry’s fiancée, but he does so at the most opportune moment – while Frankenstein is at his most manic, and Elizabeth, in turn, is at her weakest. Sure, Victor’s innuendoes may be subtle - and all this might merely be my misinterpretation of the strenuous circumstances - nonetheless, it strikes me as rather low. I almost expected Victor to whisper in Elizabeth’s ear at some point, “Golly, Henry sure is off his rocker, huh? Wouldn’t it be great to be dating someone who isn’t a nut? You know, a guy who doesn’t sift through graves in hopes of raising the dead?” Yeah, we’ve all heard that on"This brain was soaking in the leading detergent, and this brain was soaking in Tide."e before.

Edward Van Sloan plays the rather crusty Dr. Waldman: Henry’s former colleague and mentor, sought out by Victor and Elizabeth to aid them in bringing Frankenstein back from the brink of insanity.

Dwight Frye plays Fritz: Frankenstein’s disfigured assistant. A sufficient kook, but not as good as, say, Frye’s Renfield in the original Dracula. Now that guy epitomized what it means to be truly nutty.

Boris Karloff plays The Monster: A man constructed of various bits and pieces (concoct your own “Parts is Parts” joke), all linked together by an (inadvertently inserted) abnormal brain. Even without speaking, Karloff shows why he’s one of the greats with a brilliant performance as a creature torn between the violence of a world thrust upon him, and the naïve curiosity of a young child.

My "thoughts" on the film. Thinking! Ha!

It has been quite a while since I’ve seen the classic Frankenstein, but even after all the years, the film, remarkably, holds uScience!p. Moody and introspective, Frankenstein is the tale of one man’s attempt to conquer nature’s most  well-kept secret. No, not the Colonel’s secret recipe - the creation (or re-creation) of life.

Said man, Henry Frankenstein, epitomizes the thin gray line that separates genius and insanity. Believing he has discovered the link to immortality, Frankenstein and his loyal accomplice, the hunchbacked Fritz (not Igor, mind you), steal a fresh corpse from the local cemetery - and along with a variety of body parts Frankenstein had painstakingly collected over a short period of time, he quite literally sews together a new man. Then, with the aid of flickering lights, smoking flasks, and the grandiose machinery which comprises movie sci"Blowsers! That Keith Allison plays some weird shit!"ence, Henry brings his creation to life with a carefully calculated burst of lightning.

So Frankenstein is a success, right? Silencing the naysayers; Making the seemingly impossible possible; Conquering death? Perhaps, but success, as it turns out, proves to be merely a fleeting moment - and it comes with a steep price. What was once thought to be merely a “creation” turns out to be a man - capable of independent thought, as well as independent action. The relationship between “monster” and “master” quickly becomes blurred, as the creature desperately searches for a sense of self; And thus begins a battle of wills that could not only destroy the lives of its participants, but perhaps everyone around them.  

Frankenstein is a classic not only for its age, but more importantly, for the fact that the film stands up to the test of time. A provocative storySome thought him mad, but after proving his theory to be correct, you really ought to "hand" it to him. (Shoot me now.) crafted with the genius of legendary film director James Whale, an extraordinary, pathos-ridden performance by Boris Karloff, as well as a frenzied Dr. Frankenstein portrayed by Colin Clive. Clive’s interpretation of the misguided scientist is, at times, almost over-the-top (“It’s A-LIVE!!”), but somehow remains, for the most part, grounded. Considering the character, Clive demonstrates some remarkable willpower by avoiding a performance which could have easily devoured the scenery. As a matter of fact, all the actors involved did a remarkable job, save Mae Clark, whose Elizabeth I found to be rather trite. The damsel in distress, constantly whining about how someone needs to talk some sense into her fiancée, and fainting at the mere sight of The Creature. Considering the period of the piece, however, I guess I shouldn’t harp on its misguided feminist message. The ‘30s were probably not a turning point for the feminist movement.

In short, what else can one say about Frankenstein? It would take a lot more than fingers and toes to tally up the number of sequels and imitations spawned by Whale’s landmark film. And if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then by golly, Frankenstein cannot possibly get any flatter.

Well, you know what I mean. 


These are the times of which to cherish...

- After successfully subduing The Creature, Dr. Waldman promises the ailing Frankenstein that he will, once and for all, destroy it. But what does Waldman do? Of course! He instead opts to examine The Monster, and ultimately, is killed because of it. And why, you ask? Two words (and please, feel free to sing along at home): for SCIENCE!

- The Creature’s dramatic entrance where he walks into the room backwards (?), turns around slowly, then the camera quickly zooms in on his creepy countenance. A bit contrived, if I may be so bold.

- The almost total lack of score. This might prove detrimental to a lesser film, but Frankenstein doesn’t seem affected.

- The nasty bump Dr. F takes from atop the windmill in the film’s finale. Like I said before, it’s been quite a while since I’ve seen this classic, but I surely don’t remember this. Did they even have chiropractors back then? 




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-- Copyright © 2001 by J. Bannerman




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Damn! This proves that we just can't have nice things!