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Frankenstein 1931

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Frankenstein (1931) starring Boris Karloff
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Frankenstein (1931) starring Colin Clive, Boris Karloff
reviewed by: The masked reviewer

Dr. Frankenstein has been working in isolation for weeks, and his fiancee Elizabeth is worried about him. So she and her friend Victor go visit Dr. Waldman to ask for his help in getting Frankenstein out of his Laboratory. While they’re there Dr. Waldman tells them that Frankenstein is trying to create life. Meanwhile, Frankenstein, and his assistant Fritz are almost finished with the monster.

Boris Karloff as the creature, approaching Victor's bride in "Frankenstein"

All they need is a fresh brain, and Frankenstein knows where the perfect brain for his experiment is, his old school. Fritz steals the wrong brain, and keeps that information to himself so he can finish the job. Dr. Waldman is too late to stop his former pupil. Frankenstein has made his monster and is teaching him to walk, talk, and function as a normal human being. While Frankenstein is teaching his monster, Fritz is shown abusing the poor creature whenever the mad doctor isn’t around. One day the monster has had enough and escapes. I won’t say any more because you should see Boris Karloff’s portrayal of the monster for yourself.

Cast of characters

  • Doctor Frankenstein (Colin CliveBride of Frankenstein): A selfish, foolish man that decided to play God without even thinking once about the consequences. That could be a great character if it had the right actor, unfortunately, Colin Clive is drunk throughout the whole film. I am not kidding, there are scenes where you can see Fritz holding Frankenstein in place so he won’t keep wobbling.
  • Elizabeth Lavenza (Mae Clarke, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man): Dr. Frankenstein’s faithful fiancee.
  • Fritz (Dwight Frye, The Vampire Bat): The cruel, and sadistic hunched backed criminal who works for Dr. Frankenstein.
  • Baron Frankenstein (Frederick Kerr): A kind, foolish father who is oblivious to his son’s obsession.
  • Frankenstein’s Monster (Boris Karloff, The Black Room): Dr. Frankenstein’s creation. A simple, childlike, creature that is too strong for its own good. Everything he likes leaves him, everything he touches breaks, and almost everyone betrays him. That is a rough life for a creature only a few weeks old.
  • Dr. Waldman (Edward Van Sloan, Dracula’s Daughter): Dr. Frankenstein’s sane, and dependable teacher that tries to help save the mad doctor from himself.
  • Little Maria (Marilyn Harris): A sweet, loving child that is the first character to offer the monster friendship without a selfish motivation.
  • Ludwig, Little Maria’s Father (Michael Mark): The innocent farmer that is harmed by Frankenstein’s selfishness, and incompetence. He becomes the voice of the people.
  • Victor Moritz (John Boles): Elizabeth’s friend who wishes that she would leave Dr. Frankenstein for him.
  • Herr Vogel, the Burgomaster (Lionel Belmore): He leads the mob in hunting down the monster.

Technical aspects

Boris Karloff as the creature, strapped to a table, in Frankenstein 1931

The settings are amazing the town feels like a real small town setting up for a festival. Castle Frankenstein is medieval in design but has a relaxing atmosphere. The tower where the doctor works on his experiments is cold and feels like a prison. The lab where the monster is brought to life is exciting and electrically charged. The sets are beautiful and complex. A great mix of man-made, and nature.

The face of Boris Karloff under the makeup for Frankenstein's monster in Frankenstein 1931

The monster makeup is iconic for a reason. Its design is off-putting, yet tragic. Jack Pierce’s design shows the doctors madness, with rushed sloppy stitches, peculiar head shape, and skin discoloration. Dr. Frankenstein designed the perfect lab rat, the monster is slow, easily spotted, and easily disassembled.

Almost everyone knows the story of Baron Frankenstein. And James Whale’s film is one of the best adaptions of Mary Shelley’s masterpiece Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus. It isn’t the most faithful adaption of the book, but it has the spirit of the book.

Boris Karloff as Frankenstein's monster peering through the bushes

Frankenstein portrays Dr. Frankenstein as apologetic, heroic even, when he made the problem. It also portrays the monster as childlike, he doesn’t know what he’s doing is bad, but the film treats him like the villain. What makes this movie memorable is the creature himself, by the end of this film you side more with the monster than the madman. This is one of those rare movies where the sequel is better.

I rate Frankenstein (1931) 4/5 stars

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