Continuing with the Universal Monsters, this month I delve into James Whale’s Frankenstein. Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) has secluded himself as he seeks to create new life out of exhumed human remains, assisted by his hunchback assistant Fritz (Dwight Frye). Frankenstein succeed in bring life to a creature (Boris Karloff), however quickly finds that this monster is not easy to control.
An argument can be made that Frankenstein is one of the most iconic of the Universal Monster films. Much of this is thank to the performance of Boris Karloff (credited as ?) as The Monster. It is hard to hear the name Frankenstein without visualizing Karloff with the green skin, flat top, and bolts sticking out of his necks. In fact, many tend to call the monster Frankenstein, which is fact the name of the made scientist who created him.
Like Dracula, which I discussed last month, Frankenstein is a filmed version of a stage adaptation of the original novel by Mary Shelley. While I’m not too familiar with the novel, it is apparently quite different than the film. Even the look of the monster is solely the work of the film’s make-up artist Jack P. Pierce. It is interesting seeing a few of the supporting actors from Dracula, such as Edward Van Sloan and Dwight Frye, also make appearances in this film. Dwight Frye’s performance as Fritz is particularly notable, since the hunchbacked character is likely the inspiration for assistant characters that would become a trope of mad scientist horror films (ironically, his name is not Igor).
Without a doubt, the most notable element of Frankenstein is the creature itself, with Karloff being quite great with his performance, despite the fact that only consists of moaning and lumbering around. There is also the iconic “It’s Alive!” line when Frankenstein grants life to his creation. However, despite the iconic moments of the film, Frankenstein is a bit lacking in the plot department. The film is practically half over by the time Karloff appears on screen and there seems to be a lot of filler, including scenes with Frankenstein’s fiance Elizabeth (Mae Clarke) and father (Frederick Kerr).
That all said, there is an infamous moment of Frankenstein, which still can be seen as shocking in today’s day and age. The would involve the creature encountering a little girl, which ends with (SPOILERS for an 84 year old film) the creature throwing the girl into the lake. With it being a bold move in today’s age to kill children, this definitely stands out as a dark moment in a relatively family-friendly film. Of course that moment leads to the iconic climax of a torch carrying mob chasing the creature to an abandoned windmill.
When it is all said on done, Frankenstein is still one of the most iconic monster movies, even though its plot is not its strongest point.