Frankenstein

Released:  1931

Cast:  Colin Clive, Mae Clarke, John Boles, Boris Karloff

SUMMARY:  Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) is the son of a local baron, who had previously been studying at medical school.  However, he has left the school, and has secluded himself in an old watch tower, where he works on his experiments with his assistant Fritz.  Frankenstein believes that he can use special electrical devices to create life:  to demonstrate this, he has created a humanoid body out of various source corpses, complete with a brain that was stolen by Fritz from the medical school.  Unbeknownst to Dr. Frankenstein, this brain belonged to an insane criminal, and is considered abnormal.  Back in town, Frankenstein’s fiancée, Elizabeth (Mae Clarke), is becoming increasingly worried about him.  She gets a friend, Victor Moritz (John Boles), to go with her to visit Frankenstein’s old professor at medical school.  Dr. Waldman is aware of Frankenstein’s obsession with recreating life, and agrees to join the pair in going to the watch tower to retrieve Frankenstein.  The group arrives at the tower during a storm, which Frankenstein intends to use as his electrical source.  Rather than turning the group away, Frankenstein invites them in, telling them to watch as life is breathed back into the corpse.  Frankenstein and Fritz use a lightning strike to reanimate the corpse:  in full view of the three visitors, the creature’s hand moves (causing Frankenstein to yell, “It’s alive!”).  After some time, the monster (Boris Karloff) is fully functional, and gets off the operating table.  Frankenstein is able to give the monster simple commands, which he willingly obeys.  However, when Fritz approaches it with a lit torch, the monster panics.  Frankenstein and Fritz believe that the monster is trying to attack them, and so imprison it in the dungeon.  While Frankenstein and Dr. Waldman ponder what to do with the monster, Fritz continues to goad it with a torch.  Finally, the monster reacts, and kills Fritz.  When the other two men investigate, the monster also tries to attack them.  This leads them to believe that the only thing to do is to kill the monster with a lethal injection.  Though the monster again tries to attack them, the two are able to give the monster the injection.

Frankenstein then leaves for his wedding, while Waldman guards and examines the monster.  Just as he is about to start an autopsy, the monster suddenly regains consciousness.  It strangles Waldman, then escapes from the tower.  The monster wanders through the countryside, eventually finding a young farm girl.   For a while, the girl and monster play peacefully together, throwing flowers into a lake.  However, when the flowers run out, the monster throws the girl in, and she drowns.  When he sees what he has done, the monster becomes agitated, and leaves the scene.  Meanwhile, at the wedding, news suddenly arrives that Dr. Waldman has been strangled.  Frankenstein realizes that the monster must be to blame; when he hears Elizabeth scream, he realizes that the monster has gotten inside the house.  A search party is formed and the quickly find Elizabeth.  She is unhurt, but the monster is gone.  At about the same time, the young girl’s father arrives in town, claiming that the monster has killed his daughter.  Most of the townspeople now join the search party, which splits into several groups.  Frankenstein’s group goes into the country to search.  Here, the monster finds Frankenstein, and knocks him unconscious.  He then carries the body to a mill, and climbs to the top.  The rest of the search party is able to track the monster down; they watch as the monster throws Frankenstein onto the ground.  Having cornered the monster, the search party now sets fire to the mill, and the monster is eventually killed.  Dr. Frankenstein survives the fall from the mill, and after recovering, marries Elizabeth.

MY TAKE:  Not that long ago, I watched Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein.  While the gimmick of the film is that Gene Wilder’s character is a descendant of the original Frankenstein, the plot of the movie is basically the same as this original.  This is one of the first, and most famous, horror movies, but I didn’t find it that scary.  Maybe this is because the movie was made in 1931, but then again, I never found the premise of the monster that scary.  To me, Frankenstein himself is probably scarier, because he’s so obviously nuts.  He digs up corpses, removes body parts, then pieces things together to create this grotesque monster, which he tries to bring to life.  He apparently thinks this is a good idea, which actually is scary.  Of course, his science is flawed, as we now know there’s no way to bring a dead brain back to life (especially when it’s been severed from the spinal cord and put in a jar of formaldehyde).  I have never thought the monster was that scary, for three main reasons:  he’s slow, he’s not very smart, and he’s afraid of fire.  Basically, anybody with half a grain of sense should be able to escape him.  Still, it’s the monster the people go after, not Frankenstein (though this attitude changes in Young Frankenstein).  Elizabeth is even dumb enough to marry the man, which could reasonably mean that she’s crazy, too.  When you think about it, the monster might be the sanest one of the bunch:  yes, he killed several people, but not without provocation (and the little girl was an accident which clearly upset him).  Still, the movie is a classic, and Frankenstein’s monster has become an icon of pop culture.

RATING:  Classic, but not very scary.

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