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Greatest Golden Age Sci-Fi Movies -1931: Frankenstein

Updated on April 30, 2009

 Every moviegoer today is well acquainted with the famous story of Baron Frankenstein and the monster he created, In this first historically important film about the most notorious monster in the history of cinema, Baron Frankenstein (Colin Clive) is engaged in working with an assistant to build a machine capable of creating life using the power of lightning. To discount any doubts about its ability, instead of trying to revive a corpse, the Baron "assembles" a body from scratch amidst morgue pickings, and in a dark and stormy night succeeds in his plan. Worried about his absence, his girlfriend and a couple of his friends seek to dissuade him. But the Baron is withdrawn in the mountains, in an isolated house, to work in peace), and eventually manages to convince them, even if reluctantly, to help him in his scientific quest.

Unfortunately the creature to which the Baron has given birth (Boris Karloff), has been given a brain due to a clerical error which is that of a mentally handicapped person, and not that of a genius which the Baron had intended. The creature is incapable of rational thought and ultimately escapes from the cellar where he is locked. Pursued by the inhabitants of the nearby village the creature kills a child without realizing it, and in the end becomes trapped in an old mill which is burned to the ground by the rampaging mob.

It is useless to deny that, seen from a distance of many years after its production, Frankenstein inspires fear only to a certain point. It has become such a cinematic cliche that it no longer truly functions as a science fiction or fantasy or horror film, but simply as an icon. The story is too well known to surprise a modern audience, and moreover it is clear that, at the time, the Hollywood filmmakers did not have much experience of horror, science fiction or fantasy motion pictures, unlike their Europeans colleagues of the day. Frankenstein has the rhythm of a silent film, the sets are clearly made out of paper mache, and a fairly naive plot is full of holes and empty passages (the character of the assistant, for example, is more ridiculous than sinister). Yet, even if the fear has now vanished the charm remains and the suggestive impetus of certain scenes, such as the tormented close-ups of the great Boris Karloff, is still very powerful. It is not enough for a true cinematic masterpiece, but certainly enough for a legend.

1931: Frankenstein

Directed by
James Whale
Screenwriting by
Mary Shelley (for the novel) (as Mrs. Percy B. Shelley)
Peggy Webling (for the stage play)
John L. Balderston (adaptation)
Francis Edward Faragoh (as a writer) &
Garrett Fort (as a writer)
Robert Florey (not shown in the credits) &
John Russell (not shown in the credits)

 Dr. Henry Frankenstein - Colin Clive
 Elizabeth - Mae Clarke
 Victor Moritz - John Boles
 The Monster (as unnamed thing) - Boris Karloff
 Dr. Waldman - Edward Van Sloan
 Baron Frankenstein - Frederick Kerr
 Fritz - Dwight Frye
 Herr Vogel - Lionel Belmore
 Little Maria - Marilyn Harris


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    • Hal Licino profile image

      Hal Licino 8 years ago from Toronto

      Well, I'm old but 1931 is even before my time. :) And yes, the golden oldies had a certain charm and appeal that modern movies can never match!

    • Lisa HW profile image

      Lisa HW 8 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hal, to me, those old sci-fi movies (long before my time, I'm careful to point out :) ) were the best.