FRANKENSTEIN (1931) Reviews and overview

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‘The man who made a monster’

Frankenstein is a 1931 American science fiction horror film directed by James Whale (The Invisible Man; The Old Dark House) and adapted from the play by Peggy Webling, which in turn is based on the novel of the same name by Mary Shelley.

The Univeral Pictures production stars Colin Clive, Mae Clarke, John Boles and Boris Karloff and features Dwight Frye and Edward Van Sloan.

The Webling play was adapted by John L. Balderston and the screenplay written by Francis Edward Faragoh and Garrett Fort with uncredited contributions from Robert Florey and John Russell. The iconic monster make-up artist was Jack P. Pierce.

Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive), an ardent young scientist, and his devoted assistant Fritz (Dwight Frye), a hunchback, piece together a human body, the parts of which have been secretly collected from various sources. Frankenstein’s consuming desire is to create human life through various electrical devices which he has perfected.

Elizabeth Lavenza (Mae Clarke), his fiancée, is worried to distraction over his peculiar actions. She cannot understand why he secludes himself in an abandoned watchtower, which he has equipped as a laboratory, refusing to see anyone. She and her friend, Victor Moritz (John Boles), go to Dr Waldman (Edward Van Sloan), his old medical professor, and ask Dr Waldman’s help in reclaiming the young scientist from his absorbing experiments. Waldman tells them that Frankenstein has been working on creating life.

Elizabeth, intent on rescuing Frankenstein, arrives just as Henry is making his final tests. He tells them to watch, claiming to have discovered the ray that brought life into the world. They all watch Frankenstein and the hunchback as they raise the dead creature on an operating table, high into the room, toward an opening at the top of the laboratory. Then a terrific crash of thunder, the crackling of Frankenstein’s electric machines, and the hand of Frankenstein’s monster (Boris Karloff) begins to move. This causes Frankenstein to exclaim ‘It’s alive!’…

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Reviews:

“…gruesome, chill-producing and exciting drama […] produced intelligently and lavishly and with a grade of photography that is superb.” Film Daily, 1931

“Too dreadfully brutal, no matter what the story calls for […] it carries gruesomeness and cruelty just a little beyond reason or necessity.” Motion Picture Herald, 1931

“Looks like a Dracula plus, touching a new peak in horror plays […]  the last word in ingenuity since much of the footage calls for dim or night effect and the manipulation of shadows to intensify the ghostly atmosphere.” Variety, 1931

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Poster for Realart 1951 US re-issue

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1931 “Lugosi as Frankenstein’s Monster” promo poster

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Trailer:

Cast and characters:
Colin Clive as Henry Frankenstein
Mae Clarke as Elizabeth Lavenza
John Boles as Victor Moritz
Boris Karloff as Frankenstein’s monster
Edward Van Sloan as Doctor Waldman
Frederick Kerr as Baron Frankenstein
Dwight Frye as Fritz
Lionel Belmore as Herr Vogel, the Burgomaster
Marilyn Harris as Little Maria
Michael Mark as Ludwig, Maria’s father

Budget:
$262,007

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