Directed by James Whale [Other horror films: The Old Dark House (1932), The Invisible Man (1933), Bride of Frankenstein (1935)]
Perhaps one of the most beloved of the Universal classics, Frankenstein is undoubtedly a great film, and while it may not necessarily impress viewers of more modern-day movies, it really is a treat to see once again.
I can’t really fathom exactly how long it’s been since I’ve seen this one – I know it’s at least been seven years, but likely closer to ten. Regardless, this is one of the films that my parents owned on VHS when I was a kid, and as such, this probably went a long way into getting me into the genre to begin with (along with Dracula and The Wolf Man). I don’t doubt I have some strong nostalgia tied to this one, but if the overwhelming positive reaction to Frankenstein is to be believed, my kind opinions are not at all odd.
Of course, the story does deal a bit with a pet peeve of mine, being the same basic idea that Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde presupposed – that man shouldn’t attempt to unlock the secrets of God. Science should, of course, be done carefully and with consideration of proper protocol, but the idea that certain ideas are too dangerous to be delved into just strikes me as ludicrous. As Dr. Frankenstein, Colin Clive probably took it a bit far, but even so, under the proper conditions, his experiment might have had better consequences.
And on Clive, what a performance. He died young in 1937, having also been in Bride of Frankenstein and Mad Love, and this is clearly a strong performance. Just his emotion and dialogue alone during the famous “It’s alive!” scene are off-the-charts fun. “In the name of God, now I know what it feels like to be God!” Quality line – I use it twice a week at least.
Elsewise, everyone else puts in a great performance also. John Boles does sort of get lost in the crowd, but Edward Van Sloan (Van Helsing from Dracula, a fact I honestly didn’t know until today) was fantastic, and even after disavowing Frankenstein’s experiments, I deeply respected how he hung around and tried to help Frankenstein out. Frederick Kerr (just two years before his death in 1933) was great as Frankenstein’s father, and was a lot of fun whenever he was on-screen.
Lionel Belmore (The Vampire Bat) only had one scene of note, and Kerr sort of stole it, but regardless, he was still enjoyable. Mae Clarke was sort of trapped in the stereotypical role that women had in these movies, but with what little agency she had, I thought she was compelling. Dwight Frye (of both Dracula and The Vampire Bat) was great as Fritz, though we never do learn much about his character. As the Monster, Karloff is just amazing – he’s as much the victim as the antagonist (and actually, much more the victim), and his story here is just sad, especially as he never really had a chance to grow whatsoever.
The atmosphere of this one is quality, from the opening during the funeral service to the finale at the windmill – there’s just a lot here to look forward to. The famous “it’s alive!” scene is great, and so are many of the sequences here, such as Fritz breaking into the university to steal a brain, or the Creature’s tortuous shouts as it’s chained in Frankenstein’s cellar, or the Creature’s fateful meeting with Maria. Even the manhunt sequences at the end hold appeal, especially the mountain portions, as I couldn’t personally imagine trying to locate a murderer in such rocky and dangerous conditions.
As to the violence, honestly, for the time period, it’s not that bad. Just the idea of a body being made of bits and pieces of others, all stitched up, is gruesome enough, but you also have the tragic death of a young girl (and even better, the scene where her grief-stricken father is carrying her corpse through the village’s celebrations in silent shock) and a rather painful scene of a man hitting on of those windmill wind-thingys (predating the famous Titanic propeller blade scene by over 50 years).
I also love the beginning, which is warning from the movie-makers, telling us that it may thrill, shock, and horrify us, and indeed, subtly suggesting if someone can’t take the horrors in store, they may wish to leave the theater. It’s a wholly charming beginning, and I totes enjoy it brahs.
I grew up on this film, and that VHS tape that I mentioned earlier, I still have it. It’s a great movie, and while not my favorite of the time period, Frankenstein is definitely up there.