Frankenstein (1931)

Passed   |    |  Drama, Horror, Sci-Fi


Frankenstein (1931) Poster

An obsessed scientist assembles a living being from parts of exhumed corpses.

TIP
Add this title to your Watchlist
Save movies and shows to keep track of what you want to watch.

7.9/10
57,655

Videos


Photos

  • Boris Karloff in Frankenstein (1931)
  • Colin Clive in Frankenstein (1931)
  • Boris Karloff in Frankenstein (1931)
  • Dracula (1931)
  • Boris Karloff in Frankenstein (1931)
  • Frankenstein (1931)

See all photos

More of What You Love

Find what you're looking for even quicker with the IMDb app on your smartphone or tablet.

Get the IMDb app

Reviews & Commentary

Add a Review


User Reviews


31 January 2005 | BrandtSponseller
10
| Whale's First Masterpiece
After having been kicked out of school for his controversial work, Dr. Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) has been experimenting with the scientific forces behind the creation and perpetuation of life in his private laboratory. With the aid of his assistant, Fritz (Dwight Frye), Frankenstein finally tries his coup de grace--piecing together human parts to create a "new" life. When his experiments do not go exactly as planned, Frankenstein and his fellow villagers are endangered.

Like a few other classics, director James Whale's 1931 masterpiece, Frankenstein, is one of those films that deserves to have every frame analyzed. Unlike most, Frankenstein is one of those classics that actually has had almost every frame analyzed. Countless theses and dissertations have been written about the film and its subtexts, so I can't imagine that I'd add anything novel along those lines in the space provided here. Instead, I'll take a brief look at some of the more straightforward aspects of Frankenstein that, in my view, contribute to its masterpiece status.

The opening of the film has a very hefty dose of atmosphere, which continues more or less throughout its length. Although it was obviously filmed in a studio--the sky is a painted backdrop complete with wrinkles, this fact actually adds to the atmosphere of the film, even lending a slight surrealism. There is no score to speak of aside from the music playing during the titles, but the sounds that occur are just as effective, such as the ringing bell during the opening. There are also a lot of subtle visuals, and some merely subtly effective, such as the grim reaper at end of a long panning shot in the beginning of the film.

The seriousness and realism of the grave-digging scene, complete with Henry Frankenstein throwing dirt at the grim reaper, is beautiful foreshadowing. As in the rest of the film, there is nothing jokey about this situation. Watch how effectively the actors convey a sense of toiling and franticness, how they convey the "weight" of the coffin. This is a curious fact about the film overall. Although the material is relatively melodramatic, and occasionally extremely so (especially in the case of Henry Frankenstein), the performances always come across as serious and realistic rather than campy (with the possible exception of a single snarling "growl" from the monster when he encounters Elizabeth, Frankenstein's bride-to-be). Contrast this to how Tod Browning's Dracula plays in the present day. In that film, Lugosi--although I love his performance--does come across as occasionally campy, especially in the close-ups of his "hypnotically staring" eyes. Even the one character that is meant to give some light comic relief, that of Frankenstein's father, Baron Frankenstein (Frederick Kerr), is comic only in that the character is a bit sarcastic, with a dry sense of humor. As such, Kerr portrays the Baron seriously, also.

The production and set design, as in the sequel, Bride of Frankenstein (1935), adds volumes to the atmosphere and beauty of the film. The interior of the "watchtower", where Frankenstein's private laboratory is located, is reminiscent of German expressionist films such as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), and they both contrast and cohere wonderfully with the more symmetrical, right-angled lab equipment constructed by Kenneth Strickfaden.

Because there is no score, the actors have no help in amping up the emotions in their performances. Despite this, rarely has either Boris Karloff's monster or Colin Clive's mad doctor been matched. Whale helps with some ingenious shots and sequences, such as the "progressive close-ups" when we first see the monster. He also gives us a number of "stage-like" devices that work remarkably well, such as the pans through cutaways in the set that in the film's world do not really exist. Interestingly, Whale has still had the cutaways decorated as if they are extant in the film's world. Although they may seem dated now, Whale's technique of fading to black between scenes also amplifies the sense of "literary chapters" in the story, and gives an effective, ambiguous sense of time passage between the scenes.

Whale also achieves some wonderful, more understated scenes of horror in the film, often set up by contrasts. For example the severe contrast of the villager walking into the wedding party with his daughter, and the surreal bucolic adventure of the villagers working their way through the countryside to find the monster.

Many younger viewers might have a difficult time watching Frankenstein if they are not used to black & white, slower paced, understated films with a different approach to acting. These classics are an acquired taste for younger generations, but of course it's a taste worth acquiring.

Critic Reviews



More Like This

  • Bride of Frankenstein

    Bride of Frankenstein

  • Dracula

    Dracula

  • The Invisible Man

    The Invisible Man

  • The Wolf Man

    The Wolf Man

  • The Mummy

    The Mummy

  • Creature from the Black Lagoon

    Creature from the Black Lagoon

  • King Kong

    King Kong

  • Son of Frankenstein

    Son of Frankenstein

  • Nosferatu

    Nosferatu

  • The Phantom of the Opera

    The Phantom of the Opera

  • Freaks

    Freaks

  • Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man

    Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man

Did You Know?

Trivia

The leading character of Mary Shelley's book, Dr. Victor Frankenstein, was renamed Henry because it was decided Victor would sound too "severe" and "unfriendly" to American audiences at the time.


Quotes

Dr. Henry Frankenstein: Down! Down, you fool!


Goofs

When Fritz steals the brain from the medical laboratory, it is in a jar very clearly labeled ABNORMAL BRAIN. Dr. Frankenstein should not have been startled to learn from Dr. Waldman that the brain he used was abnormal.


Crazy Credits

The closing credits start with "A GOOD CAST IS WORTH REPEATING...". The first four actors' names are listed in all caps-sans serif font with the "S" in John Boles & Boris Karloff plus in CAST & IS tilted to the right 45 degrees. The remaining 5 cast members have their names listed in Serif font with both Caps & lower case letters.


Alternate Versions

SPOILERS: The picture was scripted and filmed with Dr. Frankenstein seeming to die in the mill with his creation, but was instead released with a hastily re-shot happy ending, wherein Henry survives to marry Elizabeth (see "Trivia"). However, the sequel, Bride of Frankenstein (1935) literally followed the first scenario, and consequently just before "Bride" opened this film was reissued with the original finale restored; "Frankenstein" was seen this way in all subsequent theatrical releases of the old Hollywood era, but when the entire package of classic Universal horror films was made available to television in the 1950s, the prints of "Frankenstein" carried the happy ending of the initial release, and the incompatibility with the opening scene of "Bride..." confused new viewers.


Soundtracks

Grand Appassionato
(uncredited)
Music by
Giuseppe Becce
[End title & end cast music]

Storyline

Plot Summary


Synopsis (WARNING: Spoilers)


Genres

Drama | Horror | Sci-Fi

'Vice' Isn't Adam McKay's First G.W. Bush Parody

We breakdown how Adam McKay's take on the George W. Bush and Dick Cheney presidency evolved from "Saturday Night Live," to the Broadway stage, to the Oscar nominated film Vice.

Watch now

Featured on IMDb

Check out our guide to the Academy Awards, our coverage of the 2019 awards season, and more.

Around The Web

 | 

Powered by ZergNet

More To Explore

Search on Amazon.com