|Directed by||James Whale|
|Produced by||Carl Laemmle, Jr.|
John L. Balderston
Francis Edward Faragoh
|Music by||Bernhard Kaun|
|Editing by||Clarence Kolster
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
|Release date(s)||November 21, 1931|
|Running time||71 minutes|
|Budget||$291,000 US (est.)|
|Followed by||Bride of Frankenstein (1935)|
Frankenstein is a 1931 American horror film from Universal Pictures directed by James Whale and adapted from the play by Peggy Webling which in turn is based on the novel of the same name by Mary Shelley. The film 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 make-up artist was Jack 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 (Mae Clarke), his fiancée, is worried to distraction over his peculiar actions. She cannot understand why he secludes himself in an abandoned watch tower, which he has equipped as a laboratory, and refuses 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. Elizabeth, intent on rescuing Frankenstein, arrives just as Henry is making his final tests. 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.
Through Fritz's error, a criminal brain was secured for Frankenstein's experiments which results in the monster knowing only hate, horror and murder. The manufactured monster despite its grotesque form, initially appears not to be a malevolent beast, but a simple, innocent creation. Frankenstein welcomes it into his laboratory, and asks his creation to sit, which it does. Fritz, however, enters with a flaming torch which frightens the monster. Its fright is mistaken by Frankenstein and Dr. Waldman as an attempt to attack them, and so it is taken to the dungeon where it is chained. Thinking that it is not fit for society, and will wreak havoc at any chance, they leave the monster locked up where Fritz antagonizes it with a torch. As Henry and Dr. Waldman consider the fate of the monster they hear a shriek from the dungeon. Frankenstein and Dr. Waldman rush in to find the monster has strangled Fritz. The monster makes a lunge at the two but they escape the dungeon, locking the monster inside. Realizing that the creature must be destroyed Henry prepares an injection of a powerful drug and the two conspire to release the monster and inject it as it attacks. When the door is unlocked the creature emerges and lunges at Frankenstein as Dr. Waldman injects the drug into the creature's back. The monster knocks Dr. Waldman to the floor and has nearly killed Henry when the drug takes effect and he falls to the floor unconscious.
Henry leaves to prepare for his wedding while Dr. Waldman conducts an examination of the unconscious creature. As he is preparing to begin dissecting it the creature awakens and strangles him. It escapes from the tower and wanders through the landscape. It then has a short encounter with a farmer's young daughter, Maria, who asks him to play a game with her in which they playfully toss flowers into a lake and watch them float. The monster enjoys the game, but when they run out of flowers, tragedy occurs. Because of his defective brain, the monster thinks the little girl will float, so he picks her up and throws her into the lake, and the girl drowns. Realizing he has made a terrible mistake, the monster walks away feeling troubled and remorseful. This drowning scene is one of the most controversial in the film, with a long history of censorship.
With preparations for the wedding completed, Frankenstein is once again himself and serenely happy with Elizabeth. They are to marry as soon as Dr. Waldman arrives. Victor rushes in, saying that the Doctor has been found strangled in his operating room. Frankenstein suspects the monster. A chilling scream convinces him that the monster is in the house. When the searchers arrive, they find Elizabeth unconscious on the bed. The monster has escaped. He is only intent upon destroying Frankenstein.
Leading an enraged band of peasants, Frankenstein searches the surrounding country for the monster. He becomes separated from the band and is discovered by the monster who, after the two stare each other down for a curious moment, attacks him. After a struggle, in which Frankenstein's torch fails to save him, the monster knocks Frankenstein unconscious and carries him off to the old mill. The peasants hear his cries and follow. Finally reaching the mill, they find the monster has climbed to the very top, dragging Frankenstein with him. In a burst of rage, he hurls the young scientist to the ground. His fall is broken by the vanes of the windmill, saving him from instant death. Some of the villagers hurry him to his home while the others remain to burn the mill and destroy the entrapped monster.
Later, back at Castle Frankenstein, Frankenstein's father, Baron Frankenstein (Frederick Kerr) celebrates the wedding of his recovered son with a toast to a future grandchild.
There are more differences between the movie and book than there are similarities. This is because the movie is largely based on the 1920s play accredited to Peggy Webling rather than the original Shelley text.
A notable difference between the book and film is the articulation of the monster's speech. In Shelley's book, the creature taught himself to read with books of classic literature such as Milton's Paradise Lost. The creature learns to speak clearly in what appears in the novel as Early Modern English, because of the texts he has found to learn from while in hiding. In the 1931 film, the creature is completely mute except for grunts and growls. (In the 1935 Bride of Frankenstein, the original creature learns some basic speech but is very limited in his dialog, speaking with rough grammar and still preferring at times to express himself gutturally. By the third film, Son of Frankenstein, the creature is again rendered inarticulate).
In Mary Shelley's original novel, the creature's savage behavior is his conscious decision against his maltreatment and neglect because of his inhuman appearance, whereas in the 1931 film adaptation states that his condition is largely due to the effect made by Frankenstein's assistant Fritz,, who has provided a defective brain to be used for the creature.
The deformed (hunchbacked) assistants of the first two films are not characters derived from the novel. In the original text, Frankenstein creates his monster in solitude without servants.
In the novel, how Frankenstein builds the creature is only obscurely described, references being made to a long slow process born from a combination of new scientific principles and ancient alchemical lore. Whereas the movies precisely depict the methodology by which their version of the monster is created, showing Frankenstein robbing graves of the recently dead and using the organs and body parts to reconstruct a new human body. This process culminates with the harnessing of a lightning bolt to awaken the creature, a scene famously depicted with great spectacle in the 1931 film. Despite their at best limited presence in the original novel, the idea of the patchwork body of dead flesh and massive discharges of electricity being key to the genesis of the monster have become commonly associated with the Frankenstein story.
Another part of the book that is entirely unmentioned in the movie is the Monster's request that Frankenstein make a female companion for him. The Monster threatens Frankenstein, and Frankenstein submits and begins to create another creature. Halfway through the procedure, Frankenstein is overcome with guilt and destroys his work, saying that he would not form another being as hideous and demonic as the first one. This enrages the Monster and causes him to vow that he will be with Frankenstein on his wedding night.
In the novel, Frankenstein's name is Victor, not Henry (Henry Clerval was the name of Victor's best friend) and he is not a doctor, but rather a college student. Elizabeth is murdered by the Monster on her wedding night. The Monster also murders Henry Clerval and Victor's young brother William. Victor's father dies heartbroken after Elizabeth's murder and Victor begins his pursuit of the monster, which eventually leads to his death from an illness aboard a boat en route to the North Pole. The Monster, finding Victor dead, vows to travel to the Pole and commit suicide, although it is not revealed if he does so.
The film begins with Edward Van Sloan stepping from behind a curtain and delivering a "friendly warning" before the opening credits:
We are about to unfold the story of Frankenstein, a man of science who sought to create a man after his own image without reckoning upon God. It is one of the strangest tales ever told. It deals with the two great mysteries of creation – life and death. I think it will thrill you. It may shock you. It might even – horrify you. So if any of you feel that you do not care to subject your nerves to such a strain, now's your chance to – uh, well, we warned you.
In the opening credits, Karloff is unbilled, with only a question mark being used in place of his name. This is a nod to a tradition of theatrical adaptations billing the monster without a name. Universal had not revealed in advance who was playing the monster, and had not released any pictures of the monster in order to conceal his appearance. Karloff's name is revealed in the closing credits, which otherwise duplicate the credits from the opening under the principle that "A Good Cast Is Worth Repeating".
There was controversy around this point originally, as some part of the management of Universal built up the suspense of who was playing the creature to gather interest in the film as Bela Lugosi was still largely thought to be performing the role of the creature up until the time of the film's release. Some papers were erroneously still listing Lugosi as the performer. Some were coming to see if Lugosi had changed his mind and recanted to star in the film despite some published statements to the contrary, most notably the still famous "electric beam eyes" poster which still credited Lugosi as the monster and showed the creature without the now famous flat head, neck-bolt makeup (created by Universal Studios make-up artist Jack Pierce. Pierce also created Lon Chaney's Wolf Man make-up and Karloff's Mummy make-up as well). Others state it was because the film would cause the ruin of the performer in the role and wanted to minimize said actor's liability, for the original film went against the censor boards of the day.
Bela Lugosi was originally set to star as the monster. After several disastrous make-up tests, the Dracula star left the project. Although this is often regarded as one of the worst decisions of Lugosi's career, in actuality the part that Lugosi was offered was not the same character that Karloff eventually played. The character in the Florey script was simply a killing machine without a touch of human interest or pathos, reportedly causing Lugosi to complain "I was a star in my country and I will not be a scarecrow over here!" However, the decision may not have been Lugosi's in any case, since recent evidence suggests that he was kicked off the project, along with director Robert Florey. Ironically, Lugosi would later go on to play the monster in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man a decade later, when his career was in decline and only after Lon Chaney, Jr. complained bitterly about the possibility of him doing double work through trick photography to appear as both the Wolfman and the Monster in the film for about the same pay rate. Chaney had already appeared as the Monster in the previous Frankenstein film Ghost of Frankenstein, directly succeeding Boris Karloff in the role.
As was the custom at the time, only the main cast and crew were listed in the credits. Additionally, however, a number of other actors who worked on the project were or became familiar to fans of the Universal horror films. These included Frederick Kerr as the old Baron Frankenstein, Henry's father; Lionel Belmore as Herr Vogel, the Burgomeister; Marilyn Harris as Little Maria, the girl the monster accidentally kills; and Michael Mark as Ludwig, Maria's father.
Jack Pierce was the makeup artist who designed the now-iconic "flat head" look for Karloff's monster, although Whale's contribution in the form of sketches remains a controversy, and who was actually responsible for the idea of the look will probably always be a mystery.
Kenneth Strickfaden designed the electrical effects used in the "creation scene." So successful were they that such effects came to be considered an essential part of every subsequent Universal film involving the Frankenstein Monster. Accordingly, the equipment used to produce them has come to be referred to in fan circles as "Strickfadens." It appears that Strickfaden managed to secure the use of at least one Tesla Coil built by the then-aged Nikola Tesla himself. According to this same source, Strickfaden also doubled for Karloff in the electrical "birth" scene as Karloff was deathly afraid of being electrocuted from the live voltage on the stage.
There is no musical soundtrack in the film, except for the opening and closing credits.
The scene in which the monster throws the little girl into the lake and accidentally drowns her has long been controversial. Upon its original 1931 release, the second part of this scene was cut by state censorship boards in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and New York. Those states also objected to a line they considered blasphemous, one that occurred during Frankenstein's exuberance when he first learns that his creature is alive. The original line was: "It's alive! It's alive! In the name of God! Now I know what it's like to be God!" Local censor boards cut or obliterated "Now I know ..."
Originally, Kansas refused to pass the film without dozens of cuts. Universal Pictures sent censor representative Joseph I. Breen there to urge them to reconsider. Eventually, a compromise was reached, and Frankenstein was shown in that state.
As with many Pre-Code films that were reissued after strict enforcement of the Production Code in 1934, Universal made cuts from the master negative, and the deleted sequences were unseen for years. For a 1937 reissue of the film, these cuts included:
These censored scenes were not shown for decades; in 1986, MCA-Universal restored the shots of Fritz tormenting the Monster, close up of needle injection and Maria being thrown in the water while the full "Now I know what it feels like to be God!" line wouldn't be fully restored until 1999.
In 1991, this film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as being deemed "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant".
American Film Institute recognition
The next sequel, 1939's Son of Frankenstein, was made, like all those that followed, without Whale or Clive (who had died in 1937). This film also featured Karloff's last full film performance as the Monster. The Son of Frankenstein featured Basil Rathbone as Baron Wolf von Frankenstein, and Lionel Atwill as Inspector Krogh.
The Ghost of Frankenstein was released in 1942. The movie features Lon Chaney, Jr. as the Monster, taking over from Boris Karloff, who played the role in the first three films of the series, and Bela Lugosi in his second appearance as the demented Ygor.
Many of the subsequent films which featured Frankenstein's monster demote the creature to a robotic henchman in someone else's plots, such as in its final Universal film appearance in the deliberately farcical Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948).
Karloff would return to the wearing of the makeup and to the role of the Monster one last time in the TV show Route 66 in the early 1960s.
The popular 1960s TV show, The Munsters, depicts the family's father Herman as Frankenstein's monster, who married Count Dracula's daughter. The make-up for Herman is based on the make-up of Boris Karloff.
Universal film company's 2004 film Van Helsing also featured the Frankenstein creature.
A short film, Frankenthumb, is a comedy spoof created using only thumbs.
Although Frankenstein's hunchbacked assistant is often referred to as "Igor" in descriptions of the films, this is incorrect. In both Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein, Frankenstein has an assistant who is played both times by Dwight Frye who is crippled. In the original 1931 film the character is named "Fritz" who is hunchbacked and walks with the aid of a small cane. In Bride of Frankenstein, Frye plays "Karl" a murderer who stands upright but has a lumbering metal brace on both legs that can be heard clicking loudly with every step. Both characters would be killed by Karloff's monster in their respective films. It was not until Son of Frankenstein that a character called "Ygor" first appears (here played by Bela Lugosi and revived by Lugosi in the Ghost of Frankenstein after his apparent murder in Son of Frankenstein). This character — a deranged blacksmith whose neck and back are broken and twisted due to a botched hanging — befriends the monster and later helps Dr. Wolf Frankenstein, leading to the "hunchbacked assistant" called "Igor" commonly associated with Frankenstein in pop culture.