Movie of the Week: ‘Frankenstein’

“Frankenstein” (1931) – Even 90 years after its initial release, this monster movie classic holds up.

Although not particularly frightening, director James Whale’s picture hits an 11 on the disturbing scale and is essential for anyone who has never seen it (or hasn’t seen it in a long time).

Sure, we’ve all been dumbed down by experiencing Frankenstein’s Monster in seemingly hundreds of incarnations and, especially, spoofs (“The Munsters”, “Young Frankenstein” and even “Weird Science” immediately come to mind), but after viewing “Frankenstein”, you’ll be easily reminded why the story remains timeless.

Like many horror films, a graveyard is the setting.  With slicked-back hair and a determined look, Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive), along with his hunched-back assistant, Fritz (Dwight Frye), focus their attention on an ordinary funeral.

After the mourners leave and the body is buried, that’s when Frankenstein and Fritz strike: they dig up the coffin, place it in a cart, and haul it away.

Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) and Fritz (Dwight Frye)

You see, Frankenstein is a scientist who specializes in electrical biology, but he wishes to play God.  He doesn’t want to bring a dead body back to life, but rather piece together a being with various body parts from several corpses and then…create life.   In his creepy laboratory filled with Tesla-like electrical coils and strange equipment, he (**spoiler alert**) achieves his goal with mixed results.

Frankenstein cries out repeatedly, “It’s alive! It’s alive!”, but what sort of life has he created?

The look of Frankenstein’s Monster (Boris Karloff) is what you’d – pretty much – expect, however, you could be surprised about the sympathy that you may feel.  Fritz teases and tortures The Monster with torches and whips, and Karloff’s truly tragic character spends his days locked up in chains.

The Monster (Boris Karloff) and Elizabeth (Mae Clarke)

Whale gives The Monster ample reasons to be quite agitated, but you won’t be upset with Whale’s pacing.  With only a 71-minute runtime, his movie flashes by with a no-nonsense march and is complete with Henry Frankenstein’s love interest, a dark castle, an angry mob carrying an endless supply of torches, and The Monster himself….in his nightmarish glory.

Yes, it’s true: 90 years later, “Frankenstein” still holds up and is more than a worthy parent to an endless barrage of film and television proteges.

 ⭐⭐⭐⭐ out of  ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Directed by: James Whale

Written by: John L. Balderston, based on Mary Shelley’s novel

Starring: Boris Karloff, Colin Clive, Mae Clarke, and Dwight Frye

Runtime: 71 minutes

Rated: No rating

Image credits: Universal Pictures

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