The story of “Frankenstein”, together with the various stories about Dracula, is by far the most known horror tale of all. And when popularity is concerned it is those two stories that also stand out in the classic Universal monsters catalog. But that is not only because they are the most widely popularized by their source materials, but also because they had the fortune to receive the best cinematic adaptations. If anything, these films further spread the popularity of these characters. That is surely the case with James Whale’s “Frankenstein”.
It is actually quite startling to what extent this classic adaptation has influenced the popular perception of the characters, the events and primarily the monster. For example, in the source novel it is never explained how Dr. Frankenstein brought his monster to life, while in the film it is shown that he did it by utilizing the energy of a lightning bolt. And every re-telling of the story since then has adapted the idea of reanimation through lightning.
Then there’s the case of the monster, the sunken eyes, the flat-top head, the lurching demeanor in an ill fit suit. It all originated here. The make-up work goes a long way to establishing this iconic look, but the most credit goes of course to Boris Karloff. And even though his performance is not as timelessly unsettling like that of Max Schreck in “Nosferatu”, he does bring a foreboding dose of menace in his portrayal of the unpredictable simpleton of a monster. But this simple nature gives the monster a somewhat sympathetic side as well, in that it is a creature which does not know any better.
And this is pretty much the moral crux of “Frankenstein”. It is obviously a cautionary tale about science gone awry. From a modern viewer’s perspective it is very easy to point out all the scientific errors and banalities in the film that are certainly a by-product from the time of its making. But doing so would undermine even the most basic pleasures that the film provides.
When one chooses to seriously view a film of this type, from this era, one must also be prepared to be able to look past such minor inaccuracies. If one is not prepared then why watch it in the first place, unless your sole goal is to point and laugh and act superior? For me personally that is a horrible waste of time and I cannot stand to watch an old film in a crowd that indulges in something so disrespectful, not only to the film but also to the other viewers that might actually be genuinely enjoying the film. But then again, in this specific case, that might prove a real challenge for fans of the great Mel Brooks parody "Young Frankenstein". I guess there's an exception to every rule, since no one will ever object to a quotation or reference from that magnificent film.
Still, for anyone that is willing and prepared to allow the film to work its magic, this is an easy film to recommend. Even though time has dulled its fangs, the brisk pace of the film and the atmosphere it builds are still quite effective and provide a thoroughly enjoyable ride. And when you add to that one of the most iconic on-screen performances of all time, you get a classic that is of its time as it is timeless.
? - The Monster
Colin Clive - Henry Frankenstein
Mae Clark - Elizabeth
John Boles - Victor Moritz
Frederick Kerr - Baron Frankenstein
Frankenstein on IMDb