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November 4, 2010

56. Frankenstein
Directed by James Whale
USA, 1931
IMDB | allmovie

Reviewed by Ally
First viewing


Scientist Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) uses stolen corpses to build a human body, which he brings to life with electricity. Frankenstein’s assistant Fritz (Dwight Frye) enjoys tormenting the monster (Boris Karloff), which lashes out and kills him. Frankenstein decides the monster must be destroyed, but it escapes and continues to kill.

Essential Scene:

Having escaped, the monster walks through the woods until he sees a little girl playing on her own by a lake. He steps out of the bushes. The little girl sees him and approaches, not scared or revolted by him.

Maria: Who are you? I’m Maria. Will you play with me?

Maria takes the monster’s hand and they walk to the edge of the lake. She offers him a daisy. He takes the flower, lifts it to his face and smells it. He smiles. The girl gives the monster more daisies, then shows him a game.

Maria: I can make a boat.

She throws a daisy into the lake and it floats on the water. The monster’s smile widens in delight. He throws his daisies into the water too, then looks down at his empty hands.

Looking for something else to throw, he turns to Maria. Still smiling, the monster picks her up and, despite her protestation, tosses her into the lake. The girl sinks. The monster runs away, dismayed and confused.


Having also enjoyed Universal’s The Wolf Man recently, I had a feeling I would enjoy Frankenstein. I was not disappointed. Boris Karloff’s portrayal of the monster is just wonderful; a physically imposing, grotesque creature for whom I felt enormous sympathy. He is doomed to be a killer, whether defending himself from the cruelty of Fritz or mistakenly causing harm to a kind little girl.

I was amused by the opening credits, for which Boris Karloff’s name is cheekily replaced with a question mark, and the introductory warning from Edward Van Sloan, which was recently replicated in the rather interesting BBC documentary A History of Horror with Mark Gatiss.

While Frankenstein is not necessarily shocking to modern audiences, it has lost none of its gothic atmosphere, and the monster is still compellingly tragic. Next stop: Bride of Frankenstein

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