I think because I have never been a big horror movie person I have a ton of blind spots in that genre including the Universal monster movies. This is why I really wanted to include Frankenstein 1931 in my blind spot this year. Strangely I have seen Young Frankenstein which is a parody of this film but not seen the original. I have also read the book several times and seen the Kenneth Branagh version from 1994 (and I’ve seen Frankenweenie!). Now I have seen the1931 film and I loved it! It’s an extremely well made film with several scenes that really got to me.
Frankenstein 1931 is directed by James Whale and stars Colin Clive as Henry Frankenstein and Boris Karloff as Frankenstein’s monster. It’s a simple story and at 71 minutes it doesn’t waste much time. Dr Frankenstein creates a monster and that monster is misunderstood and mayhem results.
The film starts off with the iconic image of lightning bringing the monster to life. We of course get the doctor calling out ‘It’s alive! It’s alive’. I love the black and white in these scenes and the way director Whale uses light and shadow to create mood. They are scenes so often parodied they lose some of their impact but if you think about what it must have been like to see for the first time it is very exciting.
Karloff is great as the monster. He plays it almost like a zombie unaware of what he is doing but with just enough alertness to be cognizant of his actions. The most tragic scene is when he is playing with a girl named Maria and in the game he drowns the girl. That scene combined with the farmer bringing his dead little girl into the town is so sad. Devastating.
Like I said, Frankenstein 1931 is not a long movie so its elements are simple. However, I found it effective and very well made. It’s violent, tragic and exciting all at the same time and it has something to say about playing God and how we treat things we don’t understand. Is it a monster just because we are unfamiliar with it? Maybe? Maybe not?
I did think the film ended rather abruptly and I wanted a little bit more. I suppose I will need to watch the sequels one of these days.
8 out of 10