Few things are as daunting as trying to find something new to say about the 1931 Frankenstine. Something insightful or different that changes the way you see the movie. So . . . I won't. Just show you a few things I enjoyed.
I don’t know why a balding man with eye-beams and vampire hands is used, but perhaps they didn’t want to give away the sight of the monster too early. Aside from all the posters, that is..
The fellow who played the Monster would later to go on to front the Mysterians, of course. Hard to believe the movie was made almost 80 years ago, and even more impressive to consider how stagey and stilted so many movies were in the early morning hours of the 30s. Credit James Whale, the director who gave us all the basics of the genre, fully-formed. From the beginning it’s full of dread and death:
The film’s so well-known I won’t bother you with a blow-by-blow, because we all know the tale. The Mad Scientist, who lives in a world that’s simultaneously medieval and modern enough to have sparking electrical props, brings a creature to life, and learns about the concept of unintended consequences. Right. We know that. We know the creation scene is masterfully shot:
And we know Karloff was a very scary monster, none better. He has one of the greatest reveals in movies up to that time, and for decades afterwards: he walks backwards into the room, turns halfway in the shadows -
As wary of us as we are of him, perhaps. Then two close-ups, this being the last:
It’s held just a few beats. People hadn’t seen anything like it. The sets are wild, too – the German Expressionism would be ramped up to surreal levels soon enough, but this mad hellhole of a jail looks like it’s from a nightmare. Or the work of very bad masons:
The obligatory hunchbacked assistant, or OHA, is whipping the tar out of the Monster, one of the early moments that builds your sympathy for the creature. Karloff evokes pity through mime, and even though he does some killin’ here and there, they’re not intentional. Those big mitts of his! His incomplete knowledge of buoyancy! He’s not bad, he just as faulty software.
Of course, the villagers convene with the usual pitchfork-and-torches gala parade:
They’ll get a lot of practice at that in the next 37 films. The monster perishes in a windmill bonfire – and yes, Windmill Bonfire would make a good progressive rock group band name – and we get this stark long-shot. Model? Long shot? No one was thinking that at the time. Even now you don't care.
Love the end card:
Yes, nothing says “universal” like a specific, isolated planetary body. We’re still a few years away from the glittering 30s intro with the plane, but we’ll see it soon – in the installment of Five Days of Frankenstein!
Yes, I know, it’s not much to start with, but had to get it out of the way.