Written by: Francis Edward Faragoh & Garrett Fort
Starring: Colin Clive, Mae Clarke, John Boles, Boris Karloff, Dwight Frye
With the many qualities humans possess in what we can create, there always seems to be a subset of the population willing to fly too close to the sun. Despite common sense leaning in one direction, they decide to go the other way because of their delusions of grandeur. Serving as its central thread, Frankenstein displays a man’s obsessive ambition in creating life and ends up getting much more than he asked for.
High upon their laboratory, ambitious scientist Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) and his assistant Fritz (Dwight Frye) have assembled a human body and just need a brain to complete the reanimation of life. After selecting a troubled brain and a successful reanimation, the created monster begins to wreak havoc on this town inadvertently.
One of the great tragedies and horror stories in all of literature, Frankenstein served as the introduction of this monster on the silver screen. The monster has captivated readers for many years and now gets displayed in a way where imagination no longer serves as a requirement. All in full force with the power potential and the fear this monster conjured from others do justice to Mary Shelley’s original novel.
Beginning with detailing Henry’s obsessive captivation with reanimating life, the film quickly demonstrates the fine line between pushing scientific boundaries and where one can cross an ethical line. The feat accomplished by Henry unquestionably stands as a landmark in innovation but never does he stop and think whether the means or the ends have any semblance of justification. Just because some things can be done does not necessarily mean they should be. By reanimating a human being put together by parts, Henry essentially tries to play the role of a god, and the creation he receives then becomes something beyond his control.
Leading up to the famous scene where he exalts “It’s alive,” the film works as a comedy in the way it sets up the monster not being the perfect creation Henry. Fritz enters a classroom where a professor examines two brains, one being labeled normal and the other not so much. Fritz does not notice the difference between the two brains and luckily chooses the normal brain but when he bumps into something, he then drops the glass case, thus ruining the normal brain. This only leaves the abnormal brain as one he can grab. This scene looks like something a character in a Marx brothers film would do and demonstrates that even in a tragic story like this one, there can be a few laughs to be had.
The immorality of Henry’s actions only gets exacerbated upon the arrival of the monster as it quickly gets labeled as something that should be chained up and destroyed if it cannot be controlled. It speaks more about the creator than the creation seeing as this monster has the appearance of a brute but the soul of a newborn. This becomes much clearer in the iconic scene the monster has with the young girl by the pond. A heartbreaking scene and one where you know the end result but it does not get any less difficult to watch how such an innocent act can result in a tragic moment. With the monster and the girl being most likely in the same place developmentally, the only difference lies in their physical size, which contributes to this monster’s fate.
Imposing in size and emotionally fragile, the way Boris Karloff portrays the monster has gone down in history as one of the most iconic characters ever put on screen. Karloff displays the sheer physicality required of this role to put the fear of God to anyone who comes across him. Without many lines of dialogue to operate with, it all comes down to the humanity Karloff could display using mere grunts and body movements. Even with this restriction, he manages to evoke so much of the confusion and pain this monster has due to him discovering how cruel this world can be.
A tale as old as time, Frankenstein, brings forth the classic story of this monster with the sharpness necessary. The introduction at the very beginning warning about the content of this feature sets it up wonderfully. I cannot imagine what it must have been for people of this era to watch this feature and it only gets more disturbing as time goes on seeing as with the advancement of technology, it would not be the biggest surprise for someone to try this. This story serves as a warning but that has not stopped humans from doing irresponsible things before.