FRANKENSTEIN - Film (Movie) Plot and Review





USA, 1931


Director: James Whale

Production: Universal Pictures; black and white, 35mm; running time: 71 minutes. Released 1931. Filmed in Universal studios. Cost: $250,000.


Producer: Carl Laemmle Jr.; screenplay: Garrett Fort, Francis Faragoh, and John L. Balderston, uncredited first draft by Robert Florey, from John Balderston's adaptation of Mary Shelley's novel adapted from the play by Peggy Webling; photography: Arthur Edeson; editor: Clarence Kolster; sound recording supervisor: C. Roy Hunter; art director: Charles Hall; music: David Broekman; makeup: Jack Pierce; laboratory equipment: Ken Strickfadden.

Cast: Colin Clive ( Dr. Henry Frankenstein ); Boris Karloff ( The Monster ); Mae Clarke ( Elizabeth ); John Boles ( Victor ); Edward Van Sloan ( Dr. Waldman ); Dwight Frye ( Fritz ); Frederick Kerr.


Publications


Script:

Fort, Garrett, Francis Faragoh, and John L. Balderston, James Whale's Frankenstein , edited by Richard Anobile, New York, 1974.


Books:

Laclos, Michel, Le Fantastique au Cinéma , Paris, 1958.

Clarens, Carlos, An Illustrated History of the Horror Film , New York, 1968.

Gifford, Denis, Movie Monsters , New York, 1969.

Baxter, John, Science Fiction in the Cinema , New York, 1970.

Butler, Ivan, Horror in the Cinema , revised edition, New York, 1970.

Huss, Roy, and T. J. Ross, editors, Focus on the Horror Film , Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1972.

Underwood, Peter, Karloff: The Life of Boris Karloff , New York, 1972.

Gifford, Denis, Karloff: The Man, The Monster, The Movies , New York, 1973.

Glut, Donald, The Frankenstein Legend: A Tribute to Mary Shelley and Boris Karloff , Metuchen, New Jersey, 1973.

Bojarski, Richard, and Kenneth Beale, The Films of Boris Karloff , Secaucus, New Jersey, 1974.

Frankenstein
Frankenstein

Everson, William, Classics of the Horror Film , Secaucus, New Jersey, 1974.

Jensen, Paul, Boris Karloff and His Films , New York, 1974.

Barsacq, Leon, Caligari's Cabinet and Other Grand Illusions: A History of Film Design , revised and edited by Elliott Stein, Boston, 1976.

Tropp, Martin, Mary Shelley's Monster: The Story of Frankenstein , Boston, 1976.

Derry, Charles, Dark Dreams: A Psychological History of the Modern Horror Film , New York, 1977.

Ellis, Reed, Journey Into Darkness: The Art of James Whale's Horror Films , New York, 1980.

Klein, Michael, and Gillian Parker, editors, The English Novel and the Movies , New York, 1981.

Curtis, James, James Whale , Metuchen, New Jersey, 1982.


Articles:

New York Times , 5 December 1931.

Variety (New York), 8 December 1931.

New York Times , 20 December 1931.

Edwards, Roy, "Movie Gothic: A Tribute to James Whale," in Sight and Sound , Autumn 1957.

Karloff, Boris, "My Life as a Monster," in Films and Filming (London), November 1957.

Fink, Robert, and William Thomaier, "James Whale," in Films in Review (New York), May 1962.

"Memories of a Monster," in Saturday Evening Post (New York), 3 November 1962.

Bloom, Harold, in Partisan Review (New Brunswick, New Jersey), Fall 1965.

Roman, Robert C., "Boris Karloff," in Films in Review (New York), August-September 1969.

Gerard, Lillian, "Boris Karloff: The Man Behind the Myth," in Film Comment (New York), Spring 1970.

Hitchens, Gordon, "Some Historical Notes on Dr. Frankenstein and his Monster," in Film Comment (New York), Spring 1970.

Jensen, Paul, in Film Comment (New York), Fall 1970.

Jensen, Paul, "James Whale," in Film Comment (New York), Spring 1971.

Verstappen, H., "Schept vreugde met mij, horror freaks," in Skoop (Amsterdam), no. 2, 1972.

Dillard, R. H. W., "Drawing the Circle: A Devolution of Values in 3 Horror Films," in Film Journal (Hollins College, Virginia), January-March 1973.

Schepelern, P., in Kosmorama (Copenhagen), March 1973.

Evans, Walter, "Monster Movies: A Sexual Theory," in Journal of Popular Film (Washington, D.C.), Fall 1973.

Evans, Walter, "Monster Movies and Rites of Initiation," in Journal of Popular Film (Washington, D.C.), Spring 1975.

Huskins, D. Gail, in Magill's Survey of Cinema 1 , Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1980.

Starburst (London), no. 32, 1981.

Viviani, C., "Fauses pistes," in Positif (Paris), June 1983.

American Cinematographer (Los Angeles), April 1987.

Mank, G., "Robert Florey, James Whale, and Universal's Frankenstein ," in Midnight Marquee (Baltimore), Fall 1988.

Mank, Gregory, " Frankenstein Restored," in Films in Review (New York), vol. 40, no. 6–7, June-July 1989.

Mank, Gregory, "Little Maria Remembers," in Films in Review (New York), vol. 43, no. 9–10, September-October 1992.

Holt, Wesley G., in Filmfax (Evanston), no. 35, October-November 1992.

Thompson, David, "Really a Part of Me," in Film Comment (New York), vol. 31, no. 1, January-February 1995.

Senn, B., "The Monster, Bride, and Sonp" in Monsterscene (Lombard), no. 4, March 1995.

Pizzato, M., "The Real Edges of the Screen: Cinema's Theatrical and Communal Ghosts," in Spectator (Los Angeles), vol. 16, no. 2, 1996.

Sarver, Stephanie, "Homer Simpson Meets Frankenstein: Cinematic Influence in Nathanael West's The Day of the Locust ," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury), vol. 24, no. 2, April 1996.

Mitchell, C.P., "Marilyn and the Monster," in Films of the Golden Age (Muscatine), no. 11, Winter 1997–1998.

Mitchell, C.P., "The Unkindest Cut," in Films of the Golden Age (Muscatine), no. 11, Winter 1997–1998.


* * *


James Whale's 1931 version of Frankenstein remains a cinema miracle that defies time. Some 50 years since its premiere, its sensitive craftsmanship and relentlessly macabre tone still set horror movie standards, even after decades of noisome parodies and splatterfilm overkill.

Whale treats his protagonist's obsession with galvanizing life from sewn corpses as a stark and shadowy moral tale, more in keeping with the German Expressionist influence of Robert Wiene's Caligari than Mary Shelley's Gothic overtones. Though heavy on dialogue in the beginning, Frankenstein unfolds as an intensely visual nightmare, a sleepwalker's journey along hideous graveyards, gibbets, and gnarly corridors—leading up to the meticulous penultimate climax when Dr. Frankenstein's creation slowly turns his face towards the camera.

Ironically, Frankenstein profits from the very qualities other critics have claimed drag it down. Its leaden mood, stagey acting and lack of a musical score make it all the more somber and bleak. Whale's camera is quite active throughout these funereal settings and suffers very little from the manacles inherent in other early talkies. In fact, practically all of the cinematic innovations credited to Whale's sequel Bride of Frankenstein are already here: the tracking camera, the sudden jumps from long-shot to close-up, the extreme high and low angles during the creation sequence, and the lurid sets with their demented religious icons.

At the same time, Whale flaunts his theatrical origins with a reverence for the stage. The very first frames when Edward Van Sloan (who plays Frankenstein's mentor, Dr. Waldman) confronts the footlights for his teasing introduction, and the later tracking shots along the opulent rooms of Baron Frankenstein's castle, remind us that this is, after all, nothing but artifice, a world where scenery is a trompe l'oeil projection of Dr. Frankenstein's subconscious fears.

Frankenstein still scares viewers because it works as both a horror film and a psychological study. As Frankenstein, Colin Clive, with his harsh enunciations and jittery motions, is perfect in his portrayal of a man beleaguered by twisted dreams and ambiguous morals. Is this really, as Shelley claimed, a story about the perils of hubris, or is it more concerned with a man apprehensive about falling into a connubial quagmire? By suggesting more of the latter, Whale may have directly borrowed from Thomas Edison's long lost silent version, which reportedly ends with a dissolve between the mirrored faces of Dr. Frankenstein and his Monster just before Elizabeth is about to be murdered. Edison allowed the creature to die so that the doctor could face up to marital obligations, but Whale suggests that Frankenstein's darker passions surpass the tedium Elizabeth (an appropriately bland role for Mae Clarke) has to offer him. In this regard, the Monster is less a sub-human fiend and more like the third party in a lover's triangle or quadrangle when we consider that Frankenstein's friend Victor Moritz (John Boles) has eyes on the future bride.

Whale's delight in lampooning "normal" sexual mores (a penchant culminating in his 1938 film Wives under Suspicion ) is buttressed by Garrett Fort and Francis E. Farragoh's ambivalent script which questions how the characters really feel about one another. Elizabeth has countless anxieties about her nuptial partner and even seems coy when Victor vies for her affections. On the wedding day, when news hits that the Monster is loose, Whale inserts a curious close-up of Frankenstein's hands locking Elizabeth in her bridal chamber, suggesting perhaps that the doctor is unconsciously making her more vulnerable since the would-be killer will soon enter her room through the window. Off to reunite with his nemesis in a vigilante search, Frankenstein looks firmly into Victor's eyes while surrendering Elizabeth into his care. The scene ends with Victor creeping towards Elizabeth's room.

As a homewrecker, Frankenstein's Monster merits the humanity and dignity of Boris Karloff's performance, despite the grease paint, wire clamps, wax eyelids, and a 48-pound steel spine designed by Jack Pierce. Karloff's empathy is unfortunately diminished by the subplot in which Frankenstein's hunchback assistant Fritz (Dwight Frye as comic relief) unwittingly acquires a "criminal" brain from his boss, thereby ruining the notion that the Monster's brutality is a learned response.

Whale's film leaves us with the unsettling conclusion that the real monsters are the diurnal world's dim-witted denizens, a fact made more apparent when Baron Frankenstein (Frederick Kerr) predicts that the townspeople revelling over his son's wedding will soon be fighting again. Hours later, the news of little Maria's murder turns the jocular crowd into a bloodthirsty mob. The recently restored footage (missing since its screen debut) of the Monster throwing Maria (Marilyn Harris) into a lake transpires so quickly and nonchalantly that the pedophile scenarios left to our imaginations all these years are debunked. Now we have proof that the child murder was an innocent error. Not content simply to cast his Monster as a pariah, Whale promotes him to a Christ figure in the final scene when the creation throws his creator from the abandoned windmill into the vengeful crowd. An extreme long-shot of the burning mill resembles the cross on Calvary. Though he disapproved of the tacked-on happy ending when Frankenstein survives his fall, Whale still achieved that supreme inversion of "good" and "evil" that makes the best horror films survive.

—Joseph Lanza



Also read article about Frankenstein from Wikipedia

User Contributions:

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic:

CAPTCHA