Released in 1931 by Universal, Frankenstein is a classic of the horror genre. Staring Boris Karloff in what many consider to be his defining role, the film takes many liberties with its source material changing a number of things. First, therefore most important in my opinion is that the creature isn’t malicious, quite the opposite in fact. While Frankenstein is very important as far as film history goes and has aged… decently, much of the film feels very slow and boring as its been so heavily parodied or retold it feels like you’ve seen the film before.
The film opens with Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) and his assistant Fritz (Dwight Frye) stealing a freshly buried corpse along with that of a hanged man and taking them back to his reclusive laboratory. The brain of the hanged man being useless Frankenstein sends Fritz to acquire another brain. Fritz steals the brain from the class of Dr. Waldman (Edward Van Sloan), but accidentally destroys the normal brain causing him to steal the abnormal one instead. On the night of his experiment Frankenstein’s fiancee Elizabeth (Mae Clarke) along with her friend Victor Moritz (John Boles) and Dr. Waldman, who bear witness to Frankenstein bring his creature to life. Later the Monster (Boris Karloff) kills Fritz, who was tormenting him and at the suggestion of Dr. Walman Frankenstein agrees that killing his creature is for the best. He leaves the destruction of the monster to Waldman and leaves. But Waldman is killed by the creature before he can do so. The monster escapes and encounters a young girl Maria, whom he accidentally kills by tossing her in the lake to see if she will float. Frankenstein and Elizabeth learn of Waldman’s death at their wedding from Victor and Elizabeth encounters the monster in her room and faints. Maria’s father carries his daughter into town, sparking the townsfolk to take up arms against the monster. Henry leads a group of the villagers to find the monster, which leads to the film’s fiery conclusion.
Like I said compared to other films of this era Frankenstein doesn’t hold up as well. This is due more to the film being so wildly influential that you get the sense you have seen the film already. But there are plenty of reasons to still take the time to see the film. It has some very memorable scenes, such as the one where Maria is carried through the town and just about every scene with Karloff.
The film lacks a sound track being a Pre-Code film with the only music being during the opening and closing credits. This would normally be an issue, but like many films of the Pre-Code era it doesn’t really need it. The absence of the music makes the film feel more real and adds a sense of otherworldly eerieness at the same time.
Final thoughts, while deserving it’s status a classic, it feels lacking. Karloff is amazing as is Colin Clive. I heavily enjoyed the sympathetic monster and the films strides to not make him a straight monster, but add a real sense of humanity to him. I would recommend this film only to those who have the yearning to see the classic, but wouldn’t recommend it over its sequel The Bride of Frankenstein. My main issue is that the final scene of the film feels very tacked on just so the film could have a happy ending. So Frankenstein gets a 8.5/10 because I’m a fan of the monster.