FRANKENSTEIN (1931) B/W 71m dir: James Whale
w/Colin Clive, Mae Clarke, John Boles, Boris Karloff, Edward Van Sloan, Dwight Frye, Frederick Kerr, Lionel Belmore, Michael Mark, Marilyn Harris
Universal's perennial monster was launched with this superlative horror classic. Adapted from Mary Shelley's novel (although not entirely faithful to it), this is the story of Henry Frankenstein (Clive), a frustrated scientist who creates a living man from the bits and pieces he's assembled. ("It's alive! It's alive!") Whale also directed an outrageous sequel, THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN.
From The Movie Guide: "Six decades since its premiere, this early sound chiller is still a great film of its genre. Immeasurably superior to Tod Browning's DRACULA, which preceded it by a mere ten months, it shows how quickly Hollywood mastered the art of sound. FRANKENSTEIN also illustrates why James Whale is still --- [current horror director David] Cronenberg notwithstanding --- the greatest director of horror films. ...
"Still new to films, Whale displays astonishing technical mastery of the medium, as well as the imagination to break rules where appropriate. His innate theatricality makes a memorable moment of the monster's introduction. Karloff backs in from a doorway as our curiosity peaks. He slowly turns and Whale brilliantly cuts along an unchanging axis to increasingly tight close ups of Karloff's face. Jack Pierce's marvelous make-up perfectly suits the film's blend of fantasy and science, and still manages to highlight Karloff's beautifully expressive face. This role made the gentle British character actor a star and a legend almost immediately. At once terrifying and pathetic, his monster is a moving study of alienation and primitive anger.
"The film lacks the campy humor of later Whale; except for the delightful doddering of Kerr as Frankenstein's father, the wit is subdued in favor of a stark, dank tone. The result is a touching, cathartic sobriety seen at its best in the monster's encounter with an eight-year-old girl (Harris) who sees no reason to be afraid of the scarred creature before her. Universal backed down from including Clive's line, 'Now I know what it feels like to be God,' and they added a rather quaint disclaimer (featuring Van Sloane) warning viewers of the terror to follow, but nothing can detract from the power of the most influential monster movie ever made."
For more information about Whale, consult GODS AND MONSTERS and THE CELLULOID CLOSET.