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movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Frankenstein

Starring: Boris Karloff, Colin Clive
Director: James Whale
Rated: NR
RunTime: 70 Minutes
Release Date: November 1931
Genres: Horror, Classic

*Also starring: Mae Clarke, Lionel Belmore, John Boles, Frederick Kerr, Edward Van Sloan, Dwight Frye

Review by Jerry Saravia
No Rating Supplied

Although Boris Karloff's makeup and performance have entered the pop culture realm, this "Frankenstein" version from 1931 is not the best or the most faithful of Mary Shelley's novel. Still, compared to most other film versions (there have been over 100), it is one of the most effective and perhaps, one of the most atmospheric.

James Whale's "Frankenstein" stars the harsh presence of Colin Clive as the mad Dr. Frankenstein, slaving away at creating life from a corpse inside a remote watchtower. He gets assistance from Fritz (Dwight Frye), a hunchback who inadvertently steals a criminal brain from the local medical school. Once the creation, now with a criminal brain, is brought to life with the use of electrical devices and a brewing storm, it begins to wreck havoc, escaping his prison and tormenting the local villagers. Eventually, Frankenstein leaves the castle for more modest surroundings, and is ready to marry his adoring Elizabeth (Mae Clarke) until terror strikes again in the face of the wandering Monster.

There are far too many inconsistencies in the film to warrant the heaps of praise it has received since it was initially released. Number one: how does the Monster know about Frankenstein's bride-to-be and why does he attack her? Number two: how is it that a villager knows his drowned daughter was murdered by the Monster? Could she not have just drowned? Number three: where does the film take place? Germany? Scotland? And what is with all the German and Slavic names when everyone speaks with an English accent?

Such inconsistencies aside, "Frankenstein" certainly has a lot to recommend it. Karloff is menacing, tender, sympathetic, cruel, and pathetic as the Monster - his first appearance where he walks slowly facing Frankenstein and stares inertly still sends chills to my spine. I admire Colin Clive's hard-edged performance as the scientist - he shows the doctor's mental breakdown and exhaustion perfectly. Mae Clarke does not have a lot of screen time but she is sweetly innocent - her scenes with John Boles as Victor, Henry and Elizabeth's mutual friend, suggests that Victor has mutual affection for her. Edward Van Sloan (who appeared the same year as Professor Van Helsing in "Dracula") is the most watchable presence on screen as an old professor who has a keen interest in this creation, though he is nonplussed by it at the beginning. He also presents the film in a prologue, which had not been in all existing prints, where he warns the audience that it may shock them, perhaps terrify them.

"Frankenstein" had some major trims in its original release thanks to the Production Code. One was the deletion of Maria's drowning, as she is thrown in the lake by the Monster who expects her to float like the daisies. Originally, it had just shown the Monster smiling and reaching out its hands to the girl. This minor trim makes the preceding scene of her father carrying her lifeless body far more violent than intended.

The other deletion was a line of dialogue said by Dr. Frankenstein after the first signs of life in the Monster. The deleted line - "In the name of God, now I know what it feels like to be God" - was certainly essential and in keeping with Mary Shelley's theme of man's attempt to emulate God.

"Frankenstein" is not a perfect film and not nearly as unifying as a whole as the superior "Bride of Frankenstein," the latter in my estimation is the best damn version ever. If nothing else, Karloff still makes one shudder and that is enough to consider the film a horror classic - he makes the film his own.

Copyright 1998 Jerry Saravia

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