Release Date: November 21, 1931
Director: James Whale
Production Company: Universal Pictures
I’d never watched Frankenstein before, but it’s so full of iconic moments that it feels like I have. Think of the scenes and ideas that have permeated culture for the past 90 years:
- a hunchback assistant (named Fritz, not Igor)
- brains in jars, one brilliant, one criminal (and all the pop psychology that goes along with that)
- a stormy night, a laboratory in a creepy castle, and a pulley system to raise a gurney
- “It’s alive!”
- the monster and a little girl (Marilyn Harris) throwing flowers in a lake
- an angry mob bearing torches and pitchforks (this may be the first time I’ve seen this done non-ironically). I did wonder if the mill owner was upset that the mob just burned his mill down
The odd part is the non-iconic scenes that link this all together. Despite the prologue where the audience is given a trigger warning for the horror to come, the movie today is a bit slow and the acting is melodramatic and wooden (especially Mae Clarke as Dr. Frankenstein’s fiancée Elizabeth). Colin Clive is suitably manic as Dr. Henry Frankenstein. But the acting star of the film is Boris Karloff as the creature. He brings real emotion and nuance to his grunts and movements, especially in the scene when he is exposed to the sun for the first time and the scene with the girl by the lake.
One summer when I was a teenager I read Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (who is rather offensively credited as “Mrs. Percy Bysshe Shelley” in this movie). I stayed up late to finish the book and then had to wait in the dark alone until sunrise because I was too spooked to go to sleep. The movie didn’t have that affect on me, but I can appreciate it for the incredible influence it’s had on film and the great acting of Karloff.