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Review by Brian Koller
3½ stars out of 4
"Frankenstein" is a highly entertaining, action-packed,
and suspenseful version of the Mary Shelley classic.
The sets, makeup, and cinematography are excellent,
and more than enough to compensate for the hammy
acting and sensational storyline.
Dr. Frankenstein (Colin Clive), a young man obsessed
with bringing the dead to life, and his loyal hunchbacked
assistant Fritz (Dwight Frye) troll the graveyards
for corpses. They have assembled a composite corpse
which is brought to life during an electrical storm.
Unfortunately, the former corpse (Boris Karloff) is a
violent monster with a criminal's brain. This being a
film, the monster escapes to terrorize the rural German
countryside, spoiling the wedding of Dr. Frankenstein
to blonde mother substitute Mae Clarke.
There is much to enjoy about "Frankenstein". The
sets, especially the laboratory, the mill, and the
German village, are excellent. The performances of
Clive, Frye and Karloff are so memorable that they
defined the stereotypes (respectively) of the mad scientist,
his hunchbacked assistant (more often named 'Igor'),
and Frankenstein's monster. Ironically, Karloff in
later years would be acknowledged for his perfect-diction
speaking voice (e.g. "The Grinch who Stole Christmas")
but here his character, in the role that made him famous,
only gets to grunt.
Although it was only James Whales' third film as a
director, he has the touch of a master. The close-ups
of Clive and (especially) Karloff are effective, and
the scene with the peasant (Michael Mark) carrying his
lifeless daughter (Marilyn Harris) through the astonished
village may be the best in the film. Comic relief is
provided by Frederick Kerr as Dr. Frankenstein's
Universal Studios felt the need to soften the impact
of this early horror film. Edward Van Sloan, who has
a small role as Frankenstein's precise university
professor, begins "Frankenstein" with an introduction
warning the faint of heart to exit the theatre. To
Whale's distress, the scene with Karloff tossing Harris
into the lake was cut (although it has since been restored).
The ending was also modified, with Dr. Frankenstein
surviving to see a happy ending with Clarke.
Copyright © 1998 Brian Koller