Frankenstein (1931)

In this 1931 sound production from director James Whale, Dr. Frankenstein (Colin Clive) challenges life itself when he constructs a human monster from the pieces of corpses.

Plot

This adaptation of Mary Shelley’s novel is perfectly complemented by Boris Karloff’s passionate depiction of a being on the desperate quest for his identity, and his destiny. Boris Karloff is probably the most memorable of all screen monsters in this film, and Frankenstein is regarded by many as the greatest horror film of all time.

Frankenstein is a young medical student. He is interested in what life is doing, what brings the fruit to the trees, why a son of a mother is an honest and sincere man, another a criminal, perhaps a murderer. His experiments carry him along until he is obsessed with the unholy desire to create life in his own image. But he does not reckon with God.

From graves, the scaffold, he comes from the university laboratory body – parts of what was once man. From an auditorium he steals the brain of a criminal. Then, one night, when the elements rage in an electric storm, he puts his theories – and the body that he brought together – to the highest test. He believes that the great ray, which for the first time gave the life of a miming mud mass in a rainwater supply, lies in the lightning pouring out of the sky.

The thing that has never lived, the terrible monstrosity of a man – the monster of his creation – takes a robot form of life. He has given everything – except compassion, humanity, love. Dr. Frankenstein dared to experiment with life and death and created a human monster from dead bodies. But the dreams of the doctor are destroyed by the violent outbursts of his creature that awakens in a world in which he is not welcome.

Background

Director James Whale’s adaptation of Mary Shelley’s novel mixes decay and corruption with creepy lyricism. Boris Karloff, with whom he is associated forever, offers the compassionate portrait of a creature on the desperate quest for identity. After his tremendous success with Dracula, Universal directed Whale to direct the adaptation of Mary Shelley’s famous novel with Bela Lugosi as a monster. When Lugosi rejected the role, Whale hired the relatively unknown character actor Boris Karloff and together with the make-up artist Jack Pierce they created the most memorable monster of the movie world: a huge pounding creature with sunken eyes, a flat head and a jagged scar on the forehead. Whale and Karloff made the dumb, misunderstood monster with the implanted brain of a madman (the most liberal of the freedoms taken in the adaptation of Shelley’s novel), the most pitiful abnormality of nature ever stumbling across the screen.