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Frankenstein is classic cinema, but it's definitely not the novel

Updated on October 13, 2011

First a brief rant

Okay, I'll admit it. There are plenty of times when merely saying the name "Frankenstein" gets my English-major hackles up. There are so many misconceptions here that, on their own, aren't that big a deal but together just make me cringe:

  • Frankenstein is the name of the scientist, not his creation. His creation is simply called "the monster".
  • Those are electrodes in his neck, not bolts to hold his head on.
  • Where does this green color come from? The original movie was in black-and-white but the makeup used on Karloff gave him yellow skin on the set. (This is actually one of the few consistencies with Mary Shelley's original novel.)

And that's another thing entirely. The movie differs from the novel in so many ways:

  • In the book, Frankenstein isn't the noble scientist, defending his creation until he has no choice. He abandons his creation almost the very moment it comes to life.
  • The monster's acts of violence are a deliberate reaction against the mistreatment he receives, not innocently misguided acts of a creature who simply doesn't know better.
  • Frankenstein doesn't have any assistant in the book.
  • And very notably, in the book, the monster teaches himself to speak early modern English by reading the classics, like Paradise Lost. He's not this grunting hulk. (You're probably thinking about the actual Hulk, who, by the way, wasn't green to begin with either. I know. Mind-blowing.)

(I know I've spoken before about mediating your expectations when evaluating text to film adaptations, but sometimes it still does get to me. Mostly I wish people wouldn't rely on movies for their knowledge of the classics. Read people.)

Check out these Frankenstein products

And now, your regularly scheduled movie review

Okay, so, now that I've gotten that out of my system, I will say that, taken on its own merit, the 1931 version of Frankenstein with Boris Karloff is actually pretty good. It's on the short side, running only 70 minutes, but it doesn't necessarily need to be any longer.

The movie follows a genius scientist named Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) who with the help of his assistant, Fritz (not Igor, sorry) (Dwight Frye), creates a being by combining the parts of various corpses and an Abbie Normal, criminal brain (in a mixup custom made for Young Frankenstein). The creature gets loose and terrorizes the nearby German town until they decide to have a neighborhood monster roast.

I don't know why they decided to give Karloff a flat-top, but thus is born one of the most iconic images in monster movies.

The story-telling is a bit rudimentary by today's standards, but it's still a classic in the genre. And considering how short it is, people should definitely see this one to help preserve this classic piece of modern cinema in our public consciousness.

It may suffer a bit from the fact that it was made for a different era entirely, but for me, on the classic scale alone, it still earns a solid 7 / 10.

Frankenstein isn't rated but there are a few sequences of violence (mild for today).


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