way back in 1931, those wacky mad scientists were tampering in God’s
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 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 one
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
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.
It has been
quite a while since I’ve seen the classic Frankenstein,
but even after all the years, the film, remarkably, holds up. Moody and
introspective, Frankenstein is
the tale of one man’s attempt to conquer nature’s most
No, not the Colonel’s secret recipe - the creation (or re-creation) of
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 science, Henry
brings his creation to life with a carefully calculated
burst of lightning.
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 story crafted with the genius of legendary film
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
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.
you know what I mean.
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?
-- Copyright © 2001 by J. Bannerman