Henry Frankenstein is a doctor who is trying to discover a way to make the dead walk. He succeeds and creates a monster that has to deal with living again.
Billy: The Universal horror films are so quintessential for a film nerd that I almost felt like I’d know this one before taking the time to revisit. I know this movie. I know these scenes. And yet, the last time I think I actually sat down to watch Frankenstein was probably back in high school. Suffice it to say, this viewing was a bit of a revelation. It’s probably something other people had seen before, but give me this, because I’m seeing it now, and I’m excited. From the first time we see our main characters I was blown away by an absolutely astounding fact: Henry Frankenstein is one charming motherfucker.
I was enthralled by how much this one fact affected how I viewed everything Henry Frankenstein did and dealt with throughout the film. The fact that Frankenstein is privileged, charming, and young means he’s used to getting everything he wants. He isn’t a scientist, so wrapped up in his work that he’s become a selfless slave to the wonders of the secrets of the universe. He’s a fuckboy! He’s so entitled, so used to getting by on personality alone, that of course he thinks he can overcome death! And the scariest thing about this movie is that Henry Frankenstein gets what he wants with no long-term consequences at all.
Amelia: I love the Frankenstein mythos but have actually seen very little of it. The 1931 version (i.e. this that we’re talking about) is the only version I’ve ever seen, and this only my second viewing of it. I watched it once with my mom when I was a kid. Some station was playing it back to back with The Mummy and we stuck around after our Egypt based bae had shuffled off to watch Frankenstein also shuffle around. A lot of shuffling from classic monsters now that I’m thinking about it. I remembered very little about Frankenstein going in for my second viewing aside from that.
Billy: So on one hand you have Frankenstein, and on the other, you have the Creature. His first moments are spent in longing, and he’s greeted with indifference. You can see him reaching his arms out to hug Henry, desperate for his approval. Henry doesn’t notice this gesture, so wrapped up in the success of his act of creation that he doesn’t care about the a living, breathing creature who isn’t going away. In fact, the more he sees the Creature, the more he comes to terms with this as a consequence of his actions, the more we see him come apart. He’s throwing a tantrum, a hissy fit that he doesn’t want to deal with the responsibility. For the first time in his life, he isn’t getting what he wants.
Amelia: Anyone else’s pants charmed right off by Doctor Frankenstein? Because mine sure were! He’s got the type of laid-back asshole charm that I’m ashamed to say is really very appealing to me in fictional characters. I’d punch out anyone in real life that came at me with the cocky swagger Colin Clive has in this movie, but since it is just a movie? I’d be amiss to say I wasn’t enraptured with Frankenstein’s “fuck you world I’m God now” attitude.
Billy: In the end, the monster’s plight is all but forgotten, with the father toasting a drink to the house of Frankenstein and hoping his son Henry will continue in his happy marriage begatting sons. No one learned anything, and that’s so cruel. There’s no moment of grief for the aristocratic Frankenstein family. They keep everything.
It’s especially moving in contrast to how other characters have to deal with the events of the film. That earlier scene with the young girl is heartbreaking, and very viscerally followed up by the scene of the father carrying his dead daughter’s corpse through the street. He’s so expressionless, so broken by the grief. He’s a man who’s lost everything begging for help from men who want for nothing. Frankenstein shows us that people like this exist, but it doesn’t care about them. This is a very willing, intentional aspect of a film about entitlement and privilege. The oppressed and desperate are swept away under the rug. Best not to think about them.
Amelia: Boris Karloff is a gem. Now that I’m thinking about it, the station where Mom and I watched The Mummy and Frankenstein back-to-back was probably running a full day Boris Karloff marathon and I regret now asking my mother to change the channel because I wanted to watch ReBoot on YTV. Karloff is a true horror icon and watching him stalk around in full body makeup is a delight.
The only thing I want changed about how Karloff played the monster is making him more like Mary Shelley’s original monster. Why give him the brain of a criminal? Why not just have the story be about the monster trying to live his life but getting shunned because humans are the worst? I wanted to empathize with the monster more, not watch him half-heartedly throw little girls into ponds.
Billy: Six and a half It’s alive!s out of ten
The only place Frankenstein fails to deliver is staying anywhere near faithful to the text. For such an early adaptation, it’s a remarkable departure from Mary Shelley’s version in that I think Universal’s Frankenstein cares more about perception than the innards. The heart of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the visceral, bleeding interior is gone. However, I can’t complain about what replaces it. I expected Frankenstein to wash over me as a classic horror film, but it was different than I remembered it in childhood. It’s a story of male entitlement writ large, showing how the privileged can avoid all consequences no matter what the cost to others. Hail, to the house of Frankenstein!
Amelia: Six It’s alive!s out of ten
Boris Karloff and Colin Clive are why I would go back to watch Frankenstein 1931 again, but overall, I’m not a fan of this movie’s pacing. Or the fact that Victor Frankenstein is renamed Henry Frankenstein. Why? It’s a small change, but it irks me. Anyways, it’s alive and all that.