Frankenstein (1931) -- Spoilers, I guess

The other day I happened to catch the 1931 film version of Frankenstein on TCM, the one with the iconic Boris Karloff portrayal of the monster.

I assumed I’d seen it before (I know I’ve seen bits of it anyway), but either I never watched the whole thing, or I was a kid and I’d forgotten most of it.

Several things surprised me, mostly surrounding the character of Henry Frankenstein. For starters, he was much less maniacal than I expected. True, he went a bit off the deep end for a while there, but he came back to his senses rather quickly when he realized he’d made a mistake. It was the other doctor, who did not follow through on his promise to destroy the monster, that allowed him to escape.

Later, my expectation was that the townspeople would rise up in anger against Dr. Frankenstein for having created this monster. Not so. Henry is actually one of the leaders of the posse going after the monster, and nobody seems to hold it against him. In fact, they save his life in the end. I expected a more tragic end for him.

Other observations: The climactic scene of the burning windmill looked magnificent. But the preceding scenes on the mountain – with the obviously fake muslin sky backdrop and everybody walking past the same rock over and over – were jarringly cheesy.
The film is only 70 minutes long! No screwing around here, we get right to the point. It’s a crisply told, fast-paced story that kept me fascinated start to finish.

Anyway, that’s about it. I have no really profound insights here, just wanted to share the fact that this 80-year-old classic was still able to entertain and surprise me, and to open up the floor for any further discussion.

MODERATOR INTERJECTS NOTE: This thread was started in April 2011, and is revived in March 2014 in Post #20. – CKDH

This bothers me every time I see it. You can’t blame it on the period – a backdrop is Old Technology for 1931, yet they let that backdrop hang obviously wavy and not taut. It could have been improved in five minutes with a couple of sandbags and some ropes. I can’t believe Whale left it that way.

the film was thought to be incredibly scary and daring i its day. the comments in Arsenic and Old Lace were right on target. But i greww up watching this film on TV. Watching it as a grownup, I’ amazed at how much they pared it down, even after the film was in the can – they cut out the “girl thrown into the water” scene, used thunder to cover up Frankenstein’s line “Now I know What it Feels Like to be God!” Then they changed it so that Henry, who was obviously intended to be killed falling from the windmill, survived, and tacked on a scene with his father drinking at the end and talking about the wedding.

Pop Culture at the time wouldn’t allow a more faithful translation of the novel to the screen. If you want to see a more faithful version, see the indy film Terror of Frankenstein (probably the most faithful version of all), or the Kenneth Branaugh one.

A couple of interesting tidbits I found on IMDb:

The version I saw had both scenes intact.

The Bride Of Frankenstein is also very good. Some consider it the better of the two.

Bride is slightly better because of the additional humor, the character of Dr. Pretorious, and the religious themes (the monster is specifically compared to Christ at least once). The production values are also better. But the original is still a powerful movie.

One amusing contrast was that in the original, the credits listed the actor playing the monster as ??? to create suspense. On the sequel, though the credits list KARLOFF in big letters. Made him a star.

Branagh’s version is also excellent, but the critics didn’t understand it. One wondered why the movie started out in the Arctic. :rolleyes: People were used to the movies, and going back to the book only confused them.

Well…the other Doctor, Waldman, played by Edward Van Sloan, is killed by the Monster because he wasn’t sedated enough (which Waldman realizes and is about to fix when he is killed). There are some sequels, such as “Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman” (1943) where the Doctor (Mannering, played by Patric Knowles), deliberately decides to break his promise to kill the Monster and instead restores him to full power.

From what “Baby Peggy” Montgomery (aka Diana Serra Cary), Universal was an especially cheap studio. I’m sure they scrimped what they could (it was the Great Depression after all) about "cheap entertainment, never dreaming that 80 years later people would look critically at their sets on DVDs on TVs.
How many townspeople knew that Frankenstein had created a monster in his laboratory? Very few probably did. Maybe the servants spread rumours but it was probably more “he’s got a girl up there”. Later movies have the Frankenstein family despised.

This thread needs a shout out to Dwight Frye, who played Fritz (and Carl…oh, and let’s not forget his star turn as Renfield!)

If you asked your average horror movie fan the name of Frankenstein’s assistant (in the original 1931), probably 90% would say “Igor”. Fritz?

eta: just to be clear, I’m one of the 10%.

Yeah, that hunchback was a dick. I didn’t expect that, the first time I saw the film. If the good doctor had better sense in choosing his lackys, the whole debacle might have been avoided.

Heads up: TCM is showing Frankenstein again tonight at 2200 EDT.

It wasn’t easy to get good minions back then, either. Today, forget about it. Unless you are an Eeevil Corporation of course.

So do they have the complete restored original?

My contribution to this thread is that my father saw this at the then 5-year-old Canton Palace Theatre when it first came out. He was 12. He went to a matinee and was so impressed he sat through the movie several times and when he came out it was dark. :eek: And he ran all the way home like a bat out of hell.

Didn’t the credits at the start of the movie list the monster as ??? then they showed them again at the end with the ??? replaced by Karloff’s proper credit?

I know at least that’s how it was done on a version I saw, but I have no idea if that’s how it was always done or something changed.

Nothing much to add except that I watched the first three Karloff Frankensteins a couple of months ago, pretty much for the first time, and I was amazed at how well they held up.

Frankenstein was amazingly strong - really a lot more “raw” than I expected for the period.

Bride’s addition of Doctor Pretorius was great, even though it completely derailed the seriousness of the first movie.

In Son, I think Lugosi steals the movie.

Yes, I also just saw this on TCM.

Exactly. Unlike Fritz Lang films of the era which were usually 17 hours long, this was incredibly lean. The girl in the water scene was very effective. It could have used more scenes with the monster on the loose before the big hunt started.

Karloff’s performance and makeup were iconic. In later movies, the monster’s appearance was always faithful to Karloff’s portrayal. In the 1910 version, the monster looked completely different.

The story apparently takes place in medieval Germany with lots of Herr Frankensteins sprinkled into the dialogue but oddly most actors have American accents.

The book is a worthwhile read – surprisingly sophisticated and literary compared to the movie.

I think both have serious flaws and I wouldn’t call either very sophisticated (though I think the imagery is very strong in both, and the language in the book is pretty good).

In the book, Frankenstein is made too stupid to interpret the creature’s threats. Now that I think about it, the creature actually comes across as much more sophisticated than its creator. But I think that’s more a consequence of the plot than the intent of the writer. In the crucial plot points, I find it hard to keep from shouting at Victor to stop being so bloody stupid.

I think the movie actually does a better job of portraying a genius breaking down in persuit of his ultimate goal - even if it’s really contracted. The movie gets that that is actually the focus of the story. But on the flip side, in the movie, the creature’s development is too fragmented and too short (a lot shorter than the book, and even the book could probably have expanded on that a lot more).

Ygor was the name of the evil hunchback assistant in the third movie, “Ghost of Frankenstein”. If I recall correctly, he was played by Lugosi, and his brain was transplanted into the Monster’s head.

Lugosi did Ygor in Son of Frankenstein - which was the 3rd Frankenstein movie with Karloff as the creature. No transplantation of Ygor’s brain took place in that movie as far as I remember. Haven’t seen Ghost of Frankenstein; IMDB tells me that that also had Ygor played by Lugosi, with Lon Chaney Jr. as the monster. I should probably watch that.

Ygor’s brain was transplanted into the body in that one, finally giving Lugosui a chance to play the Monster. He’d been the first choice to play the creature back when Robert Florey was trying to get the film off the ground. Lugoi turned it down. Today people look at that and say "What an idiot. No wonder Karloff went on to a successful career, and he hended up working with Ed Wood. But it’s all a lot more complex than that. To begin with, Floey’s notion of the monster wasn’t as crystallized as James Whale’s later vision. The makeup, from all accounts, was awful – not the squared-off Jack Peirce version that came later, but a hairy monstrosity. And it was more of a shambling brute. If it had gone ahead like that, Lugosi or no, I don’t think it’d be the memorable film we have today.

So this was Lugosi’s big chance to play the Mnster 9he really did get in makeup and costume), and his style is very different from Karloff’s, or Glenn Strange’s later interpretation. More growling and gestures.
Aside from that, the film isn’t all that worth watching. Cedric Hardwicke plays yet another Son of Frankenstein, who is impelled to work on the Monster by a brief vision of the titular ghost. Yawn.

Has anyone noticed the odd revised continuity between the Whale duo and the later sequence of movies starting with Son of Frankenstein. In Son, the earlier Frankenstein’s tomb bears the legend, ‘Heinrich von Frankenstein’ (instead of plain Henry Frankenstein) and the detonated laboratory bears no resemblance to the set and exterior miniatures in ‘Bride’ and of course the monster is suddenly mute again. It’s as if Universal’s new owners (the Laemmles had moved on) had decided to make a sequel to people’s memories of the earlier films rather than the actual films themselves: increasing the Germanic quality of the settings (a sinister enough concept in the late thirties) and the violence of the monster’s assaults has been extended to actual mutilations. Interestingly the continuity in the increasingly B series became extremely faithful at this point (in the Abbot & Costello spoof, the Lugosi Dracula uses the same pseudonym, Latos, as John Carradine in the last two straight ‘House’ entries) but essentially all the later films refer back to Son as a starting point.