Coming off the success of Dracula earlier in the year, Universal Studios decided to create a film adaptation of Mary Shelley's 1818 novel Frankenstein. Fresh off of Dracula, Bela Lugosi was asked to play the Monster, which would've cemented his place as the definitive horror icon of the age in the wake of Lon Chaney Sr's death. Lugosi, however, refused the role, citing the lack of dialogue and the amount of make-up he would have to wear to play the Monster. The man who would earn the role would become a horror icon in his own right and would seem to upstage Lugosi at every turn from that point forward.
For those of you that don't know, Frankenstein is about a man, Henry Frankenstein (played by Colin Clive), who tries to play God by conducting a series of obscure and orthodox experiments to bring dead tissue to life, essentially allowing him to discover immortality. What he would get, however, would be the Monster (played by the "Uncanny" Boris Karloff). Born from an abnormal brain, the Monster is, at times, a violent animal, but for the most part, is just a misunderstood creature thrown into a big world he's expected to understand right away.
|Karloff as Frankenstein's Monster|
Every scene is memorable in this movie, from the first scene to the last. Anyone who has seen this movie remembers the first scene with Henry Frankenstein and Fritz (played by Dwight Frye) at the graveyard digging up bodies after a funeral. Other memorable scenes include the science lab, when Frankenstein would utter the immortal phrase "It's alive," the scene where Frankenstein accidentally murders a young girl named Maria by throwing her in a lake, and the final scene where the Monster is trapped in a windmill, which is burned to the ground by an angry mob.
Although this movie is very tame by today's standards, it was quite a shocking concept in 1931. So much so, that at the beginning of the film, Edward Van Sloan, who plays Dr. Waldman, steps out from behind a curtain to give the awaiting theater audience a friendly warning before the film:
To hear the warning yourself, click the link:
"How do you do? Mr. Carl Laemmle feels it would be a little unkind to present this picture without just a word of friendly warning. We are about to unfold the story of Frankenstein, a man of science who sought to create a man after his own image without reckoning upon God. It is one of the strangest tales ever told. It deals with the two great mysteries of creation -- life and death. I think it will thrill you. It may shock you. It might even -- horrify you. So if any of you feel that you do not care to subject your nerves to such a strain, now's your chance to -- uh, well, we warned you."
One incredible fact about this movie was the amount of time that Boris Karloff spent in the make-up chair. All the make-up for this movie, and, in fact, most of the old Universal monster movies was done by Jack Pierce.
Pierce was known for his make-up techniques, which while the finished product would look amazing, the make-up itself would take an incredibly long time to apply. For this particular film, Karloff would have to sit in the make-up chair for 4 hours everyday to be transformed into the Monster.
This was the golden age of horror movies, and we're just getting started. So sit back and enjoy a Universal classic that has stood the test of time as the definitive adaptation of Mary Shelley's 1818 novel.