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Frankenstein (1931)

In 1931 two movies were made by Universal Pictures that created the genre of horror movie. The first was Dracula. That one made a boat load of money, so of course the studio wanted to make more movies like it. As a result, they made Frankenstein. The original intent was to have the movie star Bela Lugosi, since he was now bankable as a movie monster. Lugosi didn't like the character, which in the original version of the script had been imagined as a savage killing machine and not the sympathetic creature that we ended up getting. He passed, and the original director was taken off because the studio had promised James Whale any property he wanted, and he wanted Frankenstein.

Whale reworked the script, and also found Boris Karloff. Thus while Bela Lugosi lost his chance to be the king of the monster movies, the world was gifted with the talent of Mr. Karloff. He went above and beyond for Frankenstein, enduring physical torment to play the creature. Whale also insisted on Colin Clive, whose Henry Frankenstein created every mad doctor trope we've had since. It's a short movie, and pretty bare bones really when one considers the impact it has had. I assume everyone is familiar with the story, but if somehow you are not it involves s doctor who wants to create life. He steals corpses tp create a man which he brings to life using electricity. The creature he animates goes wild, killing the doctor's assistant, his mentor, a little girl, and attacking the doctor's bride to be. The doctor leads the town on a hunt of the monster. The monster throws Frankenstein from a windmill (remember, Frankenstein is the doctor, not the monster) and the townsfolk burn down the windmill with the monster inside.

This movie is much better than Dracula in my opinion. It still has it's issues, but overall just holds up better than it's predecessor. The monster is not quite what you expect, being almost delicate in some ways. Dr. Frankenstein is unhinges in the best way.  The little girl Maria is adorable, and her death has a real impact. I do think the censored version of that scene had more impact, as cutting away with the monster moves toward her leaves so much to the imagination, while seeing the monster toss her in the lake somehow takes away some of the impact. Dwight Frye as Fritz is good, but not as good as he was in Dracula. That may be due to the character he plays though, as I was happy to see the monster get his revenge on the hunchback.
While the sets are obviously sets, they are so artistically done that they enhance the movie rather than detract. There is one backdrop that looks wrinkled and has very obvious paint brush strokes on it.  Fritz's dead body seemingly evaporates at one point.  But none of these things are enough to ruin the movie. Most of them actually manage to add to the charm. Also adding to the charm is the introduction in which the audience is given the chance to leave before they got too frightened. William Castle was obviously taking notes. Like Dracula the film has no score, which is odd for modern audiences. But overall the movie is still very enjoyable, and is one of the few movies to have a sequel better than itself. But that; will be a future post. In the meantime if you haven't seen Frankenstein it is well worth watching. If you have seen it, it's worth watching again.


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