4 pumpkins out of 5
The 1931 movie Frankenstein, directed by James Whale, is a timeless movie with a familiar storyline. A man who is obsessed with his work in crazy experiments builds a monster with his own hands and the monster then wreaks havoc on everything in its path. This story then branched off into seven different sequels in the years following the original release. The warnings at the beginning of the movie forewarn viewers that the movie before them will thrill, shock and horrify them, and while this film managed to do all three upon viewing, there were several elements that did not quite fit into the overall picture.
The movie begins with Dr. Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) and his assistant, Fritz (Dwight Frye) on a quest to find a viable brain for their latest project. Their journey steers them to a college lecture given by Dr. Waldman (Edward Van Sloan) where he is showcasing two brains, a normal brain and an abnormal brain. After the class, Fritz is sent to retrieve the normal brain, but when the jar shatters into pieces during transportation, compromising the brain and the whole experiment, he decides to take the abnormal brain back to Frankenstein instead. Once the doctor is about to put the finishing touches on the creature, his fiancée Elizabeth (Mae Clarke) and her entourage arrive to bring Henry home. To prove that his experiments have some validity and prove his sanity to the audience before him, he decides to activate his experiment with a strike of lightning from an approaching storm. As the group sits before the doctor stunned, the creature (Boris Karloff) stumbles awake. While Frankenstein believes that he has proved his point, the Baron (Frederick Kerr) plans to forcibly bring his son home so he and Elizabeth can finally be married. At this point in the movie, the monster begins its march of terror, starting out with one of his own creators. Dr. Waldman is adamant that Frankenstein kill his experiment, but he is reluctant to do so. However, after passing out in front of his family, Henry finally agrees to return home. Dr. Waldman then volunteers to stay behind and terminate the experiment. Once Henry is back at home and the wedding is set to start, the monster is shown to have escaped the tower after awakening during experimental tests that Waldman was performing. He then marches away from the tower and continues his march toward town, where no one is safe from the wrath of the creature.
The movie has sections that are fantastic. The direction by James Whale and the editing by Clarence Kolster, despite the technology available in 1931, were executed very well. The diverse cast of character do a fairly decent job with their roles. Boris Karloff is a very convincing monster, and the portrayal of Mae Clarke as the loving and worried fiancée tugs at the heartstrings of viewers. Another positive point of the movie was the cinematography and art direction, done by Arthur Edeson and Charles D. Hall respectively. Based on the way that the film transitioned smoothly from moment to moment, it is clear that the two worked together closely to ensure the best possible version of the film was made.
Although the film is based on Mary Shelley’s iconic novel, there are several notable changes that screenwriters Francis Edward Faragoh and Garrett Fort made in their onscreen adaptation. Among the most notable are the switching of Henry Frankenstein and Victor Moritz’s names and the intellect of the monster in the film compared to the intellect of the monster in the novel. The ending of the movie felt very abrupt and disappointing. There could have been a better resolution with a more complete ending. In my opinion, it left more questions unanswered than it answered.
Edward Van Sloan’s warnings in the beginning of the movie did not go unfulfilled. The storyline and the events that unfolded throughout the movie caused me to feel thrilled, shocked, and horrified. However, the fact that the ending did not fully resolve the story caused a bit of concern for me, which is why I gave Frankenstein four pumpkins out of five. This movie is a great family flick, but if you are looking for an incredibly scary movie for this fall, this is not your movie.