James Whale – Frankenstein (1931)


A Man-Made Monster in Grand Guignol Film Story
Out of John L. Balderston’s stage conception of the Mary Shelley classic, “Frankenstein,” James Whale, producer of “Journey’s End” as a play and as a film, has wrought a stirring grand-guignol type of picture, one that aroused so much excitement at the Mayfair yesterday that many in the audience laughed to cover their true feelings.

It is an artistically conceived work in which Colin Clive, the Captain Stanhope of the London stage production of the R. C. Sherriff play, was brought from England to act the rôle of Frankenstein, the man who fashions a monster that walks and thinks. It is naturally a morbid, gruesome affair, but it is something to keep the spectator awake, for during its most spine-chilling periods it exacts attention. It was Carl Laemmle, head of Universal, the firm responsible for this current picture, who presented Lon Chaney in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” and while, as everybody knows, Quasimodo was a repellent sight, he was a creature for sympathy compared to the hideous monster in this “Frankenstein.” Boris Karloff undertakes the Frankenstein creature and his make-up can be said to suit anybody’s demands. He does not portray a robot but a monster made out of human bodies, and the reason given here for his murderous onslaughts is that Frankenstein’s Man Friday stole an abnormal brain after he had broken the glass bowl containing the normal one. This Frankenstein does not know.

No matter what one may say about the melodramatic ideas here, there is no denying that it is far and away the most effective thing of its kind. Beside it “Dracula” is tame and, incidentally, “Dracula” was produced by the same firm, which is also to issue in film form Poe’s “Murders in the Rue Morgue.”

There are scenes in Frankenstein’s laboratory in an old windmill, somewhere in Germany, where, during a severe electric storm, the young scientist finally perceives life showing in the object on an operating table. It is not long after that the monster walks, uttering a sound like the mooing of a cow. And then ensues the idea that while Frankenstein is proud of the creature he has made and boasts loudly about his achievement, he soon has reason to fear the brute, and in course of time it attacks Frankenstein’s faithful servant, a bowed and bent little man, and kills him.

The scenes swing here and there to the Baron, Frankenstein’s father, efficiently acted by Frederick Kerr, to those of a friend named Victor, played by John Boles, and to Elizabeth, Frankenstein’s fiancée, portrayed by Mae Clarke. This is a relief, but they are all anxious about what Frankenstein is doing. They learn at the psychological moment, and have then still greater anxiety for Frankenstein.

Imagine the monster, with black eyes, heavy eyelids, a square head, huge feet that are covered with matting, long arms protruding from the sleeves of a coat, walking like an automaton, and then think of the fear in a village, and especially of the scientist, when it is learned that the monster has escaped from the windmill. It is beheld parading through the woods, sitting down playing with a little girl, and finally being pursued by a mob with flaming torches, for apparently fire is the only thing that causes the monster to hesitate.

The sounds of the cries of the pursuers and the strange noises made by the monster add to the disturbing nature of the scenes, and in a penultimate episode there is the struggle between the monster and Frankenstein. As a concession to the motion picture audience, Frankenstein is not killed, but he is badly injured. Two endings were made for this production, and at the eleventh hour it was decided to put in the one in which Frankenstein lives, because it was explained that sympathy is elicited for the young scientist and that the spectators would leave disappointed if the author’s last chapter was adhered to.

As for the monster, he is burned when the villagers set fire to the windmill. From the screen comes the sound of the crackling of the blazing woodwork, the hue and cry of the frightened populace and the queer sounds of the dying monster.

Mr. Clive adds another fine performance to his list. He succeeds in impressing upon one the earnestness and also the sanity of the scientist, in spite of Frankenstein’s gruesome exploits. Lionel Belmore gives an easy performance as the town burgomaster. Miss Clarke, Edward Van Sloan and Dwight Frye also serve well.
Morduant Hall, NY Times, December 5, 1931


Language(s):English + Commentary
Subtitles:English, Arabic, Greek, Turkish, Czech, Hungarian, Romanian

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