Welcome fiends, to another review of classic horror monster movies! This time, I wanted to talk about the legendary Frankenstein 1931 movie starring Boris Karloff!
…From the immortalised classic by Mary Shelley…
Starring: Colin Clive, Mae Clarke, Boris Karloff,
Directed by: James Whale
Ratings: Internet Movie Data Base; 8/10 …Rotten Tomatoes; 100%
Our Rating; 7.5/10
Frankenstein (1931). As the saying goes, the scene is indeed set when actor Edward Van Sloan appears onstage to tell the audience of the strange tale which will soon follow. One which will thrill, shock, even horrify!
He goes on to offer a warning for members that if their nerves are not up to such strain…”Well”, he says, “We’ve warned you”.
The opening scene proper is nothing short of chilling! We’re at a funeral with the sound of sobs and shudders…a priest’s sermon and funeral bell as a coffin is lowered into the ground.
The camera moves slowly over the shapes and faces of the small gathering of mourners, past Gothic headstones, statues and grey morbid sky’s, down onto two mysterious faces lying hidden behind the gravestones…waiting for their chance to appear.
An incredibly dramatic and graphic scene. One can imagine how it must have transfixed audiences when first shown.
The entire sequence of Victor Frankenstein and his assistant Fritz rifling the freshly filled grave then cutting a body down from the gallows is so iconic, so eerie as to mark firmly the advent and power of the horror movie.
The movie then cuts to Victor Frankenstein’s concerned fiancé. She’s distressed over his latest letter and obsession with his recent ‘experiments’.
With the help of a friend and suitor, she endeavors to go see Victor’s old university professor with the hope that he be able to persuade his former student to give up this melancholy pursuit that’s keeping him from focusing on their wedding plans.
The three venture to the abandoned old watchtower which has become the laboratory of the increasingly mad scientist. Grudgingly, they’re allowed to enter and then become witness to the extraordinary culmination of Frankenstein’s work; the animation by lightning of this body built from the parts of dead human beings!
The scene is breathtaking. A masterful sequence of suspense. It’s here we hear Dr Frankenstein yell those immortal lines;
It Comes To Life!
The Monster’s first appearance is spellbinding. He approaches with slow, heavy footsteps as the professor is telling Frankenstein that the brain he and Fritz stole to use in the experiment was in fact the abnormal brain of a murderous criminal.
Then it makes it’s appearance…
We’re given the creature’s size and shape as he turns slowly in the doorway.
Then close up’s of the face and make-up which has left a permanent mark on the psyche of generations to come.
Karloff actually looks like a living, walking corpse as he stares at you with heavy, drooping eyes, leans forward and moves so slowly, heavily, frighteningly…
He is the essence of horrifying!
Like Dracula before it, these iconic scenes are played out without need for music as the viewer is mesmerised.
Sadly, I feel that much of the potency of the film does not continue in comparison with this initial build up. It’s a pity the same approach to play The Monster does not continue.
Karloff begins to move all too quickly during poorly choreographed struggles, growling, screaming and murmuring like a frightened child. Not at all like a giant ‘thing’ with the brain of a murderer.
For me, It just doesn’t fit with the monster’s initial suggestion of style and appearance.
Director James Whale’s attempt to elicit sympathy for The Monster is of coarse the aim here. In my opinion though, this inadvertently takes away from the potential menacing power inherent within Karloff’s character.
After escaping by murdering professor Waldman, The Monster accidentally drowns a little girl in a controversial scene which was partly edited out (but has since been restored). Somehow, he then makes his way to the house of his creator and terrifies Frankenstein’s bride-to-be, Elizabeth.
After this and the discovery of the little girl, the hunt is on by the angry townsfolk to locate the fiend responsible and put an end to his reign of terror.
Beautiful scenes are filmed atop the rocky mountainside and within an old windmill as picturesque grey sky’s play backdrop to Dr. Frankenstein and his creation, once again coming face to face.
As stated elsewhere, I think a musical score would have aided some of the more ‘hollow’ sounding scenes. Although, like Dracula, there are times where it is definitely not needed.
Great, solid performances by Colin Clive (Henry Frankenstein), Mae Clarke (Elizabeth), Dwight Frye (Fritz), Edward Van Sloan (Dr Waldman) and Frederick Kerr who’s brilliantly funny as the cranky old eccentric dad, Baron Frankenstein.
Karloff’s performance is of coarse, eternally memorable even though it seems as if he/the studio were not quite able to or were not allowed to put forward a more dreadful interpretation of The Monster in some specific scenes.
Thanks for checking out my take on the Frankenstein 1931 movie. Please let me know what you think in the space below. ∼ Jamie.