"Oh, in the name of God! Now I know what it feels like to be God!"
Henry Frankenstein
Frankenstein (1931).jpg
Title: Frankenstein
Directed by: James Whale
Written by: Mrs. Percy B. Shelley [1]
Peggy Webling [2]
Garrett Fort
Francis Edward Faragoh
John L. Balderston [3]
Richard Schayer [4]
Produced by: Carl Laemmle, Jr.; E.M. Asher
Music by: Bernhard Kaun [5]
Cinematography: Arthur Edeson
Paul Ivano
Edited by: Clarence Kolster
Maurice Pivar [6]
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Released: November 21st, 1931
Rating: Unrated
Running time: 71 min.
Country: USA
Language: English
Budget: $291,000 (estimated)
Gross: $12,000,000 (USA)
Next: Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

Frankenstein is a 1931 horror film directed by James Whale. It is loosely based on the novel Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley, as well as the Frankenstein stage play written by Peggy Webling. The film featured Boris Karloff in the role of the Monster, and even though he is not credited in the beginning of the movie, it is the film that single-handedly turned Karloff into a horror movie icon.

Plot[edit | edit source]

Mysteries of Life and Death[edit | edit source]

"He's just resting... waiting for new life to come."
Henry Frankenstein

Fritz and Henry Frankenstein

Funeral serves are held for an unidentified individual. After the service concludes, a grave digger takes the time to fill in the dirt over the shallow grave. From behind a nearby tombstone, Henry Frankenstein and his hunchbacked assistant Fritz watch and wait until nightfall. After the grave digger leaves for the night, they immediately undo all of his work, unearthing the recently buried coffin. Henry Frankenstein is very and they quickly move on to the next site. They go to a square where a man has been hanged for a crime. Henry orders Fritz to climb the gallows and cut the man down. Fritz is reluctant to comply at first, but dutifully obeys his master. Henry examines the body and determines that the neck is broken, making the brain useless. He remarks that they need to find a more suitable brain.

That evening, at the Goldstadt Medical College, Doctor Waldman lectures his class. He teaches them the differences between a healthy, normal brain and that of a deranged criminal. He concludes his lecture and says that he will leave the two samples behind for student inspection. After everyone leaves the lecture hall, Fritz sneaks into the classroom through a window. He takes the healthy brain and begins to walk away, but a loud noise frightens him and he drops it. Without thinking, he then takes the abnormal brain and scurries off.

At Castle Frankenstein, the maid announces the arrival of Mister Victor Moritz, a friend to Elizabeth, Henry's fiancé. Elizabeth is concerned about Henry and reads Victor a disturbing letter from him. Henry's letter includes fanatical statements concerning his experiments; claims that he has solved the mystery between life and death. Victor tells her that he will go to Goldstadt and consult with Henry's old mentor, Professor Waldman. Elizabeth says that she wants to come along.

They visit Doctor Waldman's office. Waldman fears that Henry's ambition has driven him towards obsession. He recalls his work at the university, citing that Henry demanded human bodies for his experiments, and that he was not particular where the bodies came from. Elizabeth grows more concerned and asks Waldman to come with them to see Henry.

"It's alive!"

At the watchtower, Henry Frankenstein conducts his experiments. A raging lightning storm thunders overhead. Fritz follows Henry's instructions and makes adjustments on all of the equipment. As they work, they hear someone knocking on the door outside. Henry sends Fritz downstairs to send whoever it is away. He opens the window to the door and sees that it is Waldman, Elizabeth and Victor. He tells them to go away, but they refuse. Henry finally relents and lets them inside. Victor takes one look at Henry's wild, piercing gaze and determines that he is crazy. Henry scoffs at Victor's assessment and invites them all into his laboratory to prove to them that he is not crazy at all.

Henry Frankenstein tells his guests that he has discovered the "great ray" that brought all life into the world and tonight he will show them what he means. He gestures towards a body wrapped in linen on an operating table. He says that he created this body using parts that he acquired from cadavers. By focusing the divine ray upon it, he will bring life to that which has never lived. Henry and Fritz activate the machinery and they elevate the operating table through a skylight where it is greeted by the thunder and the lightning. The lightning channels into the equipment, which feeds it directly into Frankenstein's experiment. After a few moments, Henry lowers the table and observes the hand of his creation twitch and begin to rise. Henry falls into a fit of hysterical elation shouting, "It's alive!" over and over again. Waldman and Moritz are forced to restrain him.

The Monster awakens[edit | edit source]

The Frankenstein Monster.

Sometime later, Victor and Elizabeth return to Castle Frankenstein. They tell Henry's father, the Baron, that Henry has sealed himself up in the watchtower and refuses to come home. They neglect to mention the full details of Frankenstein's experiments. The Baron is less than pleased and suspects that Henry is seeing another woman. The maid enters the room and announces the arrival of Herr Vogel, the town Burgomaster. Herr Vogel informs the Baron that everyone in the village has been preparing for the pending wedding of Henry to Elizabeth. The snooty Baron has little patience for the Burgomaster and intimates that there might not even be a wedding in light of Henry's recent absence. Vogel protests the news, saying that everything has already been prepared. The Baron fires back, telling him to "unprepare it". The Burgomaster huffs, turns on his heel and leaves. The Baron decides to take matters into his own hands and address Henry permanently.

Back at the laboratory, Henry and Waldman wait for the creature to fully awaken. Waldman is disgusted by Henry's work and feels that no good can come from such an abomination. Henry is confidant in his work and reveals that he used the brain stolen from Waldman's laboratory. Waldman tells him that the brain stolen from his office was that of a diseased criminal.

Frankenstein's creation, a nameless, mute monster, slowly walks into the room. Henry beckons him forward and urges him to sit down in a chair. Frankenstein opens the skylight above them, letting sunlight filter down. The monster rises and stretches his arms, as if hoping he could grab a hold of one of the beams of sunlight. Fritz enters the room carrying a lit torch and the monster recoils from the flame. He instinctively knows that fire will hurt him. Henry tries to shoo Fritz away, but the hunchback keeps waving the torch at him. The creature begins to struggle and Henry and Waldman have to restrain him. Waldman stuns the monster from behind and Henry orders him to be taken to the cellar where they chain him up.

Fritz hates the monster and enjoys tormenting it. When Henry is upstairs, Fritz tortures the creature by whipping it and stabbing his torch at him. The monster eventually gets the upper hand however and kills Fritz by hanging him with his own whip. When Henry hears Fritz' death cries, Waldman and he race down into the cellar. They find Fritz' body with the monster standing before it. They decide to put the monster down. They let him out of the cellar and Waldman injects him with a sedative. The monster goes berserk and pushes Waldman to the floor. He then attacks Henry and tries to strangle him. Fortunately, the sedative knocks him out before he has the chance to murder his creator.

In the midst of all this ado, the Baron and Elizabeth decide to pay Henry a visit. Waldman and Victor Moritz let them in and Waldman presses the Baron to take Henry away from here immediately. When they get to the upstairs chamber, there is no sign of the creature, but they find Henry passed out on the floor from exhaustion. They pick him up and take him home. Waldman elects to stay behind to "finalize" Frankenstein's work.

One the loose[edit | edit source]

The Monster plays with little Maria.

Long after everyone has left, Professor Waldman keeps the monster heavily sedated. He straps him back down to the operating table and goes over his notes. The monster slowly regains consciousness and seems to realize the Professor's intentions towards him. As the doctor leans forward, the monster grabs him about the throat with both arms and strangles him to death. He then gets up from the operating table and leaves the watchtower.

Days pass and Henry convalesces at home. Elizabeth watches over him and Henry slowly returns to his old self. Plans for their wedding move forward and the Baron hosts a small gathering at his home in honor of the pending nuptials. He is in decidedly better spirits now and offers everyone, including the servants, a glass of champagne. Outside, all of the villagers have gathered around to celebrate the wedding. Revelers cheer and dance about as church bells ring in the distance.

Elsewhere in the village, a fisherman named Ludwig bids goodbye to his daughter Maria. He tells her that he is going to check on his traps and that soon they will be able to join the rest of the villagers for the celebration. After he leaves, Maria goes down to a pond to play. The monster emerges from some nearby bushes and Maria befriends him. She asks the monster to play with her and they begin throwing flower petals into the water. The monster is impressed by how the flower petals float on the water and mistakenly believes that Maria will float just as easily. Not meaning any harm, he picks her up in his arms and tosses her into the pond. Maria cannot swim and quickly drowns. Frightened, the monster runs off.

Back at the castle, Elizabeth grows concerned. She calls Henry into the parlor for a private conversation. She is trembling with fear, and is worried for Henry's safety. Henry consoles her and Elizabeth asks why Waldman is so late for the wedding. Moments later, Victor Moritz appears and tells Henry that Waldman's been murdered. They both know that the monster is responsible and Victor indicates that the monster has been seen terrorizing the countryside. They hear a noise resembling a growl emanating from somewhere inside the house and Henry and Victor go off to investigate it, leaving Elizabeth alone in her bedroom. The monster creeps into her room through the window and lumbers after her. Elizabeth lets out a scream. Everyone in the house races upstairs at the sound of her voice, but the monster is nowhere to be seen. Elizabeth is lying passed out on her bed.

Hunting the Monster[edit | edit source]

Henry vs. the Monster

Meanwhile, Maria's father recovers her body from the lake and carries her back through the packed village streets. Grief-stricken, he walks past the revelers to the Burgomaster's office. He tells Herr Vogel that Maria has been murdered. The townspeople gather around and soon grow into a mob. The Burgomaster puts together a search party and splits it up among three groups. Henry Frankenstein arrives and agrees to accompany the search parties for the monster. Led by bloodhounds and bearing torches, the villagers continue their search well into the evening.

They track the monster into the mountains, but he manages to injure a villager named Hans and climb further up the peaks. Henry follows him and confronts his creation once again. He tries to drive him over the cliff's edge with a torch, but the monster deals him a powerful blow and knocks Frankenstein out cold. He then carries his unconscious body to a nearby windmill. He drags him up the steps and Henry comes to. He tries to escape from the monster, but the creature grabs him and hurls him from the top of the windmill to his doom. Henry's body slams onto one of the windmill blades and then falls to the ground. The angry villagers set fire to the windmill and the monster is trapped. He tries to escape, but a timber falls down upon him, pinning him to the floor. The villagers howl as the entire building goes up in flames.

Henry Frankenstein miraculously survives his encounter with the monster and is taken back to the castle where he recuperates. The Baron checks in on him then decides to leave him be. Addressing his servants, he offers forth a toast, "To the House of Frankenstein".

Cast[edit | edit source]

Production[edit | edit source]

Filming for Frankenstein began on August 24th, 1931 and concluded on October 3rd. It opened theatrically in the United States on November 21st.

Notes & Trivia[edit | edit source]

  • Sound provided by Western Sound Electric System recording.
  • In the original Mary Shelley novel, Doctor Frankenstein's name is Victor, but in this film his name is Henry. Later films will also adress him as Heinrich.
  • Cinematographer Paul Ivano is not credited in this film.
  • The nature of Fritz' injury is undetermined. He is seen walking with a limp, but in the graveyard scene in the beginning of the film, he's holding his cane in his left hand. Later at the Watchtower, he is holding his cane in his right hand.
  • Henry Frankenstein's intonation, "It's alive!" was edited into the theme song from the 1985 comedy Weird Science.
  • Frankenstein's Monster is never provided a proper name. As such, fans over the years have taken to referring to the monster as Frankenstein, even though this is actually the name of his creator.
  • Henry and Elizabeth actually do get married shortly following the events from this film.
  • Actress Mae Bruce, who plays a screaming maid in this film, is also a wardrobe assistant on Frankenstein.

Taglines[edit | edit source]

  • "The Original Horror Show!"
  • "A Monster Science Created - But Could Not Destroy!"
  • "Warning! The monster is loose!"
  • "To have seen it is to wear a badge of courage!"
  • "The monster that terrorized the world."

Recommendations[edit | edit source]

Frankenstein films[edit source]

Universal Classics

Hammer Horror


See also[edit | edit source]

External Links[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Mary Shelley is the original author of the 1818 novel, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. She is credited in this film as Mrs. Percy B. Shelley.
  2. Peggy Webling wrote the stage play from which parts of this film was based. She had no direct involvement in the film itself.
  3. This film is based on a composition by John L. Balderston.
  4. Richard Schayer is credited as a scenario editor in this film.
  5. Composer Bernhard Kaun is uncredited for his contribution to this film.
  6. Maurice Pivar is a supervising film editor on Frankenstein. He is credited as Maurice E. Pivar in this film.
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