Frankenstein (1931)

DVD Cover (Universal)
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Overall Rating 78%
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Ranked #1,966
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Connections: Frankenstein

Henry Frankenstein is a brilliant scientist who has been conducting experiments on the re-animation of lifeless bodies. He has conducted experiments on small animals and is now ready to create life in a man he has assembled from body parts he has been collecting from various sites such as graveyards or the gallows. His fiancée Elizabeth and friend Victor Moritz are worried about his health as he spends far too many hours in his laboratory on his experiments. He's successful and the creature he's made come to life is gentle but clearly afraid of fire. Henry's father, Baron Frankenstein, brings his son to his senses, and Henry agrees that the monster should be humanely destroyed. Before they can do so, however, the monster escapes, and in its innocence, it kills a little girl. The villagers rise up intent on destroying the murderous creature. --IMDb
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Review by Crispy
Added: September 22, 2015
Having just finished Mary Shelley's classic novel, Frankenstein, I've naturally been hunting down various movie adaptations released over the years. It'd be damned near criminal if I ran through a bunch of Frankie flicks and didn't touch on Universal's 1931 classic.

For the past few years, Dr. Henry Frankenstein has become a veritable ghost to his father and his fiance, Elizabeth. In desperation, she convinces her friend Victor to accompany her to the university he was attending to check on her betrothed. They meet with his head professor, Dr. Waldman, and learn that Henry has actually left the university some time ago and set up shop in an abandoned watch tower. Unbeknownst to them, he's spent his nights raiding graveyards with his hunchbacked assistant, Fritz, and assembled a massive body which he plans on bringing to life. Unfortunately for Henry, when he sent Fritz to steal a brain from Dr. Waldman, he inadvertently stole an abnormal brain that once belonged to a murderer. Oops. With this body stitched together, the duo prepare to begin their experiment but are interrupted by the arrival of Elizabeth, Victor and Waldman. While he initially wanted to be undisturbed, he's baited into sharing his secret with them when they question his sanity. While everything goes according to plan and the corpse rises from the table, but Frankenstein should have known better than to play God.

You know, I really wanted to read the novel before I watched this again, but it was almost a wasted gesture. Other than a scientist named Frankenstein bringing a body he created to life, this was basically its own animal. Think of the classic moments that have become synonymous with the film. Poor Maria and her flowers, that burning windmill, the hunchbacked assistant, the electrifying reanimation scene and Frankenstein's ecstatic cries of "It's alive!" None of that is in the book. While the purist in me is miffed, it's admittedly difficult for me to complain when those changes have become so memorable. In fact, those scenes are so iconic, you're not going to hear a single peep out of me about these discrepancies. In addition to these added elements, the monster itself was also given quite a revamp. In the book, the monster is a full-blown, sympathetic character. He speaks, he has motives, he has emotions. In the movie, the monster is, well, a monster. Sure, they added a touch of innocence and joy in a couple of scenes, but with that abnormal brain maneuver, our filmmakers made no bones that he wasn't on equal standing with the rest of humanity. Again, this creature has gone on to define the character, and I'm not knocking it, but it is quite the departure. With all that said, there were a few pointless changes that just irked me. Things like how the character in the book is named Victor Frankenstein and his best friend is named Henry Cavill, while in the film, his name is changed to Henry Frankenstein and his friend's name is Victor Moritz. Why in the world would they change something so trivial? It's needlessly confusing.

Never mind the difference between this and Shelley's novel, on its own feet, this movie is a horror classic. There's a reason so many people incorrectly think 'Frankenstein' is the name of the monster. Make-up artist Jack Pierce and actor Boris Karloff worked in perfect harmony to bring that creature to life, and he bore the majority of the weight of carrying this movie to the status it enjoys. Again, he's not fleshed out as well as he was in the the book, nor was I crazy about that abnormal brain thing, but this is not a mindless killing machine. You can't help but feel your heart warming as the creature happily reaches up to the sunlight shortly after his birth, and there's clearly no intended malice in the poignant scene with Maria's flower game. There's a lot of emotion and empathy inserted into a character that can't talk and barely move, but you still know he's a dangerous force to be reckoned with and Frankenstein can never get on with his life until it's been dealt with. Then you factor in how hideous it is. The first look we get of the wretch is a silent, staggered zoom into its face. Scars, dead eyes, sunken features; it's an absolutely breath-taking scene, and certainly one that stuck with me long after the credits.

Boris Karloff wasn't the only one pulling his weight in front of the camera. As the titular doctor, Colin Clive hit all the right notes. From maniacally driven by his work to exhausted despair when he realizes exactly what his efforts had wrought, he nailed it. Shame the movie only ran for seventy minutes because Clive and Karloff certainly had the chops to carry it another twenty minutes. In less consequential roles, Edward van Sloan and Mae Clarke garnered no complaints as Dr. Warden and Elizabeth, and Frederick Kerr brought a little levity to the film as the surly Baron Frankenstein. Then there's Dwight Frye as the hunchbacked Fritz. I absolutely loved him in Dracula, and he was just as good here. There's a reason his character has become such an integral part of the cliche this movie built even though he had no counterpart in Shelley's pages.

One hundred years after Shelley's book was perfected, this movie came along and truly defined the character. As much as I liked the book and would like to see a more straightforward adaptation, there's no denying that Universal nailed this one out of the park. 10/10.
George Snow #1: George Snow - added October 9, 2015 at 9:22pm
The Bride should be next. It's BETTER than Frankenstein (though not by much).

Mae Clarke went on to get a grapefruit to the face by Jimmy Cagney in The Public Enemy, released the same year 1931.

Colin Clive died in 37 from pneumonia because he was a raging alcoholic.

The little things...

All the classics are 10/10

If you haven't seen The Invisible Man, the special effects are WOW!
Crispy #2: Crispy - added October 10, 2015 at 7:39pm
Bride is already reviewed and in the pipeline, as is Son.
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