Frankenstein (1931)

Above is a picture of me with the child-like Frankenstein Monster in Madame Tussauds Museum of Wax in New York City.

I truly considered "Frankenstein" to be an amazingly scary and heartbreaking film when I first viewed it on television as a child in the early 1970's. Today, I feel that it is a cinematic masterpiece that has never been surpassed by its countless sequels and remakes. Although the film may look a little primitive by today's standards, I consider it to be quite sophisticated. In comparison to many of the early talkies I have seen, "Frankenstein" is still very enjoyable to watch today for those who are not used to the films of that era. James Whale's direction is particularly impressive because of his great camera angles, close-ups of the monster, and creepy atmosphere at a time when most early talkies were rather stagey and the camera hardly moved at all. The film's eerie background and wonderful camerawork, however, is not its greatest strengths; the real power of "Frankenstein" is in its underlying themes or messages.

The black and white photography used in the film gives it a slight element of surrealism. It definitely sets the mood for its dark aspects. Blackened skies, thunder, lightning, and foggy graveyards appropriately gives it an uncomfortably cold ambience. The grainy texture of the film also adds to its gloominess.

Unlike the horror films of today, James Whale gives the monster a good deal of humanity. Frankenstein's monster is portrayed as a grotesque-looking, frightened creature who does not understand his surroundings. I love how Whale makes the viewer empathize for the monster who is forced into a new environment by his creator, Dr. Frankenstein, where he is rejected because of his appearance. I could not help but feel pity for the monster because he had to endure so much cruelty; he was not only abandoned by his creator, but also tortured by his assistant, Fritz. The monster is like an innocent child living in a world of hatred and fear. I felt sorry for the monster even when he killed the little girl because he did not understand the consequences of his action. It seems that the message Whale is trying to communicate to the viewer is that the real monster is not the creature but the fear and hatred society has for those who are different. In my opinion, the true monster in the film is Dr. Frankenstein because he brought the creature to life and then was unwilling to take the responsibilities that go with it. "Frankenstein" is a powerful and moving film even after seventy-eight years because all the modern computer generated images can never give the same effect as Boris Karloff's terrifying and sympathetic monster. His physical performance speaks more than words ever could.


  1. What a wonderful article! You are right on the nose about this movie and its atmospheric creepiness. The monster is a tragic figure, and Dr. Frankenstein is the true monster, as you say. I love this film, pull it out periodically to watch it. Thanks for a lovely review.

  2. I have never seen this movie, but you have certainly inspired me to want to watch it. Without the benefit of your insights, I would have passed it by as a "monster" movie, not my usual cup of tea.

    I am very interested to note that your choice and BombayBob's, The Old Dark House, were directed by James Whale. I believe that the posts on the Halloween page are pointing me in the direction of trying to learn more about James Whale.

    A wonderful review, thanks for broadening my horizons!

  3. Nice article. James Whale is an interesting director and if you've seen "Gods and Monsters" you get a whole new perspective on him.

    BTW, when I was a middle school teacher I always showed this the week of Halloween. Not all of the kiddies loved it, but I felt I was doing my duty to classic film by introducing it to a new generation.

  4. Silentfilmfanatic, i agree "Frankenstein" is a heartbreaking film. i remember watching this movie as a little girl.awesome review.

  5. hey silent,
    boris karloff is absolutely captivating in this role. i can't even imagine anyone else as the creature. it's interesting that you noted the grainy texture of the film adding to its gloominess. this film is like fine wine; it gets better with age. ... noiree, i hope you will post a blog on james whale. my curiosity about him is growing after seeing that he did "the old dark house" also.

  6. I have never seen this. I have always wanted to see were Frankenstein came from. The only place I have seen Frankenstein is in The Munsters TV series.