James Whale's classic version of Mary Shelley's ghost story made a star of Boris Karloff as the tragic monster. Scientist Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) has become alienated from his friends and bride-to-be through his obsessive determination to create life. Frankenstein has created a monster out of body parts acquired by his dwarfish assistant, Fritz (Dwight Frye), and succeeds in giving it life during an electrical storm. However, due to a mistake by Fritz, the creature possesses the brain of a killer, and after the dwarf torments it to breaking point Frankenstein's creation escapes and goes on the rampage, terrorising the local community. Followed by 'The Bride of Frankenstein'.
"It's alive! Alive!" shouts Colin Clive's triumphant Dr. Frankenstein as electricity buzzes over the hulking body of a revived corpse. "In the name of God now I know what it's like to be God!" For years unheard, this line has been restored, along with the legendary scene of the childlike monster tossing a little girl into a lake, in James Whale's Frankenstein
, one of the most famous and influential horror movies ever made. Coming off the tremendous success of Dracula
, Universal assigned sophomore director Whale to helm an adaptation of Mary Shelley's famous novel with Bela Lugosi as the monster. When Lugosi declined the role, Whale cast the largely unknown character actor Boris Karloff and together with makeup designer Jack Pierce they created the most memorable monster in movie history: a towering, lumbering creature with sunken eyes, a flat head, and a jagged scar running down his forehead. Whale and Karloff made this mute, misunderstood brute, who has the brain of a madman (the most obvious of the many liberties taken with Shelley's story), the most pitiable freak of nature to stumble across the screen. Clive's Dr. Frankenstein is intense and twitchy and Dwight Frye set the standard for mad-scientist sidekicks as the wild-eyed hunchback assistant. Whale's later films, notably the spooky spoof The Old Dark House and the deliriously stylised sequel The Bride of Frankenstein
, display a surer cinematic hand than seen here and add a subversive twist of black comedy, but given the restraints of early sound films, Whale breaks the film free from static stillness and adorns it with striking design and expressionist flourishes. --Sean Axmaker
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