From the DVD case:
Boris Karloff stars as the screen’s most memorable monster in what many consider to be the greatest horror film ever made. Dr. Frankenstein (Colin Clive) dares to tamper with life and death by creating a human monster (Karloff) out of lifeless body parts. It’s director James Whale’s adaptation of the Mary Shelley novel blended with Karloff’s compassionate portrayal of a creature groping for identity that makes Frankenstein a masterpiece not only of the genre, but for all time. (1931, b&w)
This is it, the granddaddy of all monster films. I can’t remember the first time I saw Frankenstein, but I do know it left an indelible mark on me, as it has for countless others.
Director James Whale (Bride of Frankenstein, The Invisible Man) not only gave us a great monster flick, but he gave us a work of art, too. Each time I watch Frankenstein I’m in awe of the sets and the direction. That opening scene at the graveyard has to be one of my favorite opening shots of any horror film.
Colin Clive does a fantastic job as Dr. Henry Frankenstein, a scientist obsessed with his work, and mad with the idea of creating life. Dwight Frye (Dracula, The Vampire Bat) plays the lunatic hunchback, Fritz. I’ll forgive you if you call him Igor, though. He hobbles around, shimmies up poles, mutters and gives us what has become the archetypal mad scientist’s assistant.
And let’s not forget Mae Clarke as Henry’s fiancée, Elizabeth. She’s graceful, devoted, prophetic, and everything else a man or monster could ask for. Edward Van Sloan plays Henry’s former professor, Dr. Waldman. He is not as powerful in this role as he was as Dr. Van Helsing in Dracula, but he works well as the voice of reason.
Two characters that I find slightly annoying are John Boles as Henry’s friend, Victor Moritz (some friend, he hits on Elizabeth every chance he gets) and Henry’s father, played by Frederick Kerr. Kerr’s character, huffing and growling, is especially abrasive, and obviously used for comedy relief. These two are only minor annoyances and do not significantly disrupt the film.
Of course, it is that big, beautiful monster played by Boris Karloff that makes this movie so wonderful. I was genuinely frightened of Frankenstein’s monster as a kid (I’m told that kids today are not fazed by Karloff’s portrayal), but what was more amazing, was that I felt empathy for this brute.
Here’s this poor creature, slapped together and dragged into the world of the living by no request of his own, tormented endlessly by a wretched little bully, hounded by mobs, and then rejected by his own creator. Maybe that wasn’t exactly my story, but it certainly felt like it at times.
The scene with Little Maria (Marilyn Harris) is particularly heart-wrenching. The monster finally finds an oasis in this hostile world, and then ends up killing her. Talk about King Midas in reverse.
Speaking of Marilyn Harris, she does an excellent job at playing dead. The scene where her father carries her to the burgomeister is decidedly macabre.
There’s nothing I’m going to say about this film that hasn’t been said a thousand times already. I just want it on the record that it means a lot to me, too.
I don’t think anyone will be surprised with my rating.
Scene to watch for: The manner in which Henry Frankenstein lands on that windmill blade doesn’t look too healthy.
Line to listen for: “The neck’s broken. The brain is useless. We must find another brain!”
Supplemental viewing: The 1998 film, Gods and Monsters starring Ian McKellen, explores the latter days of director James Whale.
Mark’s Rating: ! ! ! ! ! out of 5.