Quick Hit – The mother of all mad scientist classics sustains itself with mood, sets, and timely acting moments.
We’re almost to the end of our Classic Monsters segment – soon we’ll move on to the new iterations and interpretations of them! Today we’re covering 1931’s Frankenstein. It’s a classic that pretty much has been redone a thousand times, not always featuring Frankenstein or his monster – sometimes it’s just a mad scientist whose lab looks uncannily like the one featured here. Frankenstein will forever be the scientist that all in film are compared to.
It’s not hard to see why – Colin Clive (for some reason with the first name Henry) is really hypnotizing as Frankenstein. There are moments where his mood shifts abruptly from angry to calm, and up to manic, all within instants. Frankenstein is a really tough character to play, because he has to be sympathetic, but you also want him to be a little on the wild side. Clive nails this balance. There are a few other side characters, like his fiancée and his friend (whose a terrible friend), but honestly they’re kind of boring. The only other interesting characters, outside of the Monster itself, are the Professor and Fritz.
Fritz is not in the book, nor does he appear in future Frankenstein movies. But the idea behind Fritz, ie, that of the hunchbacked assistant, is what morphed into Ygor in the movies. Fritz is played by Dwight Frye (yes, Renfield from Dracula – these movies are a bit incestuous in the way they share actors) and again he does things that are at times the most entertaining thing in the movie. There are some times he overacts a bit, but he’s really solid, even if his character’s behavior is unexplainable. The Professor (Edward Van Sloan), who to this point, appeared in Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, is pretty much playing the same character he always plays. However, it’s solid, and he allows the audience a moral point in the madness of the rest of the film.
Boris Karloff (The Mummy in The Mummy), plays the monster here. He doesn’t get much to do, certainly not nearly as much as he does in Mummy. But he is a menacing presence, capable of actually getting scares despite largely staggering around. In one of the scenes that was deleted by the censors, he shares an extremely touching moment with a little girl as he learns that things float (we all float done here! #IT).
I think the largest issue I have, and the reason it’s ranked lower than some of the other classic monster movies for me, is the fact that things happen that just don’t make sense. Fritz has an unexplained hostility to the monster. People are largely forgotten and misplaced in the plot. I feel like there may have been a lot more on the cutting floor that may have made all these things make more sense.
Overall, the film is a solid movie, just not my favorite. But it will forever be the iconic image of Frankenstein, and the laboratory will gadgets galore (hint, labs don’t usually look like that) that will stick in people’s heads. I’m giving Frankenstein a “B”.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"