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Friday, October 29, 2010

Frankenstein (1931) - Horror Monster

Frankenstein (1931) - Knowing that Rachel of Zombiegrrlz is doing this film as homework this month Soresport movies will play along and review some classic monster films. This classic directed by James Whale written by John L. Balderston from the Mary Shelley's 1818 book is really a cut down story from what Shelley wrote. I am of the opinion that no one can spoil a movie classic from 1931 so the plot will be fully discussed in this review. An actor introduces the film warning the audience that the film may be too disturbing for some viewers. Being 1931 and the beginning of the Universal Monster era it could be that this film was viewed as too shocking. In his excellent book The Monster Show: A Cultural History of Horror, David J. Skal writes about the many censorship issues the movie faced but surprisingly not because of the horror. Yes, the scene originally shot of the little girl's drowning was cut to exclude her body sinking below the water but the biggest complaint was about the idea of man as God. Writer John Balderston stresses Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) as a man wanting to create life, it is his driving force and he rants like a madman when the experiment is successful. This was offensive to many religious groups in the 1930's.
The film itself is a bit flawed, there is really no back story on how Henry gets from his engagement with Elizabeth (Mae Clarke) to obsessed scientist other than what is said by Dr. Waldman, that he was more radical than the medical school wanted in his experimentation. So for like four months he is off, not too far away since Victor (John Boles) ran into him in the woods, doing his experiments, but not checking in with his fiancee. Stealing bodies from the grave to build his being, creating a lab to bring it to life but not taking a break to go home? This of course includes his assistant Fritz (Dwight Frye) steal a brain from the medical school. He gets jumpy and drops the first brain so instead steals the criminal brain. All that ran through my mind was Marty Feldman talking about Abby's brain in Young Frankenstein.
In a scene where Victor and Elizabeth talk about Henry's behavior we get this half of this information. In a strange extra set up we have the idea that Victor has feelings for Elizabeth but this idea is presented but never explored. Then in a scene with Victor, Elizabeth and Dr. Waldman (Edward Van Sloan) when they decide to go to the lab and see Henry, we get the other half about how brilliant but crazy he is.
Like a Mom coming into a teens room while his is masturbating, they show up at the lab right before the climax of the experiment. The storm outside is perfect to create the electricity for the ray gun that will bring the sown together body parts to life. The machines are warmed up and then, Bang bang bang, they are at the door. When it is apparent that they won't go away Henry brings them in and quite forcefully insists they sit while he finishes, eeeewu! now that Mom line seems a bit weird. Anyway he and his assistant Fritz finish the experiment with Henry explaining his rays are beyond the Violet spectrum which is in the lower end of the light spectrum and would be like Blue light? Anyway it works and Henry gets all maniacal in his success.
The Monster played by Boris Karloff is done with such feeling it is very hard to see it as a Monster. When revealed you forget the conceit that it has the brain of a criminal and see it as a poor suffering creature turned loose into a world that will never understand it. Henry must have been bipolar because he turns on the monster very quickly. After the creature kills Fritz who for no reason continually torments the beast it is decided the Monster is to be destroyed. They manage to subdue it with a needle, and Henry leaves the castle lab, he is deflated as a man. Why does Dr. Waldman decide to autopsy the creature? It wakes and kills him and now the monster is on the loose.
There again is a real disconnect, Henry relaxes with his wife to be, the "I am God" thing has been done and is now out of his system. They idly wonder what has become of the good doctor as their wedding day fast approaches. On the big day and things are bound to go wrong, but first we should have some class defining statements by the old Baron. When they guests are toasting the bride and groom with some very old and expensive wine, the old man says "Give the servants champagne this stuff is wasted on them." Real nice guy. Again a bit later when the villages come to thank him for the party he says "It's amazing how happy you can make people on a couple bottles of beer."
With the monster wandering the country side we get the controversial (at the time) scene where the monster meets little Maria. The cute little girl sits with him and shows him how to toss flower tops to land in the lake and float. The monster shows such joy while doing this. When they are out of flowers poor Maria is tossed into the water and we have a kill that will anger everyone in the community. Even though the Monster is I believe Innocent in why he tossed he in the water the image of the father carrying him limp little dripping girl into the village would enrage anyone.
When the monster arrives at the town, amazingly without being seen. He creeps into the window of the Barons house behind our bride Elizabeth. There is no explanation to how it is he knows where he is, whose house or who Elizabeth is. Unlike the book the movie does not bother to have the monster being angry at Henry. Instead it is blind luck he ends up where he is and it does not work well. There is this ridiculous scene where he ruffles Elizabeth where the guys are running around the house trying to find the monster. We hear his grrrs but they go from attic to cellar before Elizabeth screams. When they get to her the monster is gone though.
We move to the climax where the villagers and Henry head out in groups to get the monster There is some wandering before they corner it in a windmill on the top of a mountain. Henry fights the creature in the windmill and eventually is throw to the ground gravely injured. The windmill is burned to the ground and the Monster perishes. Or so we think.
Throughout this film the Monster is really the sympathetic character. He was created and the fear people have of him seems more their issues than his. He is just not good at communicating and easily frustrated. When people scream he panics like Lennie Small in "Of Mice and Men", which only aggravates the situation. Henry is the main villain, a driven man who stops at nothing to get what he wants and then if it does not work perfectly is an ass about it. Lets kill the monster and get rid of this mess is his attitude. So the monster suffers for his creators actions and in the end I leave the movie just feeling sad for the Monster.
Rating (5.2) 5.0 and up are recommended, On the Zombiegrrlz system I would say rent it.

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