Frankenstein (11/21/31) If some is good, more is better. This picture is pretty lavish for a horror movie. The 30s seems be the only decade where Horror movies were given the same consideration as A pictures, I don’t think we see that again until the 70s. It is easy to fall into the trap of watching Frankenstein ’31 and not really SEEING IT, relegating it to comfort food. I haven’t watched it in about a year. There are like SIX other people besides Whale who tinkered with Shelley’s original story. So instead of being a mess of a script, it seems to have been stripped down to bare essentials to make the MOVIE, not film the play or adapt the novel. I find it much less stagey as Dracula.
The first pan at the graveyard has always bothered me, it pans over all the weeping mourners, then the Grim Reaper and it should have continued ending at the faces of our ghouls, Fritz and Henry as the punchline, but it cuts away to a closeup of the two, we lose the elegance of a terrific Whalesian joke. There must have been something wrong with that take and he has to use another. (see the line of skulls at the university pan to Igor in Young Frankenstein) I can see why Whales insisted on this project, the film is just one long blasphemy. When our ghoulish protagonist Henry says ‘we must find another brain’ that’s pretty freaking funny since their life choices have brought them to grave robbing, they are basically doomed by their own hand. Fritz’s hunchback can’t even be called a fiend…he’s a cowardly parasite who would be just as happy robbing drunks in an alley, but we are going to give him something to torture that’s gonna bite him back.
Someone’s commentary on Bride points out the irony of two men trying to make life, that will always color my view of the entire Frankenstein oeuvre. Here’s a guy who wants to make life, and he just keeps putting off his wedding night, where he would have gotten the chance to do JUST THAT. I get the feeling the Doctor is a virgin and this whole story line could have easily been avoided. I had forgotten he had an audience in the tower when he animates The Monster, if you just watch the It’s Alive clip of the lightening storm you don’t see them, his audience is out of frame, they are seated on a raised platform, he is on stage below them putting on life making as performance art (yes, kids there IS a sex joke in there – Henry even gets to make his “O” face after he declares “it’s alive!”)…they are us, BUT they are locked in with this maniac and his monster, so if it all goes sideways they are pretty well toast. The Baron has half a clue…he knows it’s another woman that obsesses his son…he just does’t know the She’s a He.
The next time we see Henry he’s kicking back musing on his achievement, the most relaxed we have seen him, enjoying a post coital cigar. When we get to see Karloff’s patchwork ‘monster’ he seems stiff and placid, it just wants the sun on his face…but.what do Henry and Fritz do? They start pushing him back into the dark, back into the box…many parents wish they could do that with their children…it never works out. In the book, the monster goes off to live alone in the woods observing other people, contemplating existence, building up enmity towards his creator, vowing to confront him and find out why he was made and why he was made wrong…typical teenager stuff. In the movie, the monster kills one of his oppressors in self defense, finally escapes his other oppressors and goes off in search of more sunlight. His bad luck is he finds the ONE KID living next to a lake whose parents didn’t teach her how to swim…now THAT’s on THEM.
Logic tells us that there’s a bunch of script missing between the tower escape his appearance in her bedroom. Two hundred eighty page book to 71 minutes(pages) you are had to make choices…maybe he has a really good sense of smell, maybe the Doctors address is in the phone book.who cares? Henry’s past misdeeds literally threatening his future happiness, with good reason. You need to ramp up to the angry villagers with torches, sadly they are chasing the wrong monster. Unless the Monster is growling down the duct work, I swear he was just hearing the monster in his head when they go tearing around the house in search of him. They really should have dragged Henry off to a padded room. The villagers don’t know that the kindly doctor leading the chase actually MADE the monster they are chasing…..he’s trying to use them to erase his mistake. You really do need to clean up your own mess Henry, unless of course you have created an immortal monster who is REALLY hard to kill. Even immolating an entire windmill can’t do it…they should have used a chainsaw.
Seriously I would have liked it better if Henry had been killed by his monster, I am sure Whale would have liked it better too. From the moment he starts digging up bodies he dug his own grave, I find the ending very dissatisfying. I prefer to think of the Monster plodding away up in the arctic.