Everything and everyone eventually gets old. There’s no escaping that simple reality. You can stay young at heart of course and try to stay in touch with your inner child, but the laws of physics dictate that time flows along in one direction and there’s bugger all we can do about it. However, just because something is old doesn’t have to mean that it’s rubbish, nor does it necessarily have to mean that it’s any good either.
Frankenstein (1931) introduces a quite frankly mental version of the good doctor who along with his assistant Fritz (not Igor) likes to dabble in a little bit of body snatching after dark, and happily digs up fresh corpses from their graves even going as far as to cut down a dead man from the gallows. Dr. Henry Frankenstein is collecting body parts for a set of unholy experiments concerning reanimation.
Henry’s devotion to his idea of science has led to him cutting off all ties with his friends and family including his fiancée Elizabeth, who’s worried sick about him. She contacts her friend Victor and confides in him about her concerns and together they travel to see Henry’s professor Dr. Waldman to find out what Henry’s been up to and to get a little help refocusing the young man on less intensive matters than his work.
Dr. Waldman is less than helpful really, pointing out that poor old Henry’s gone round the bend on the subject of creating life. Waldman, Victor, and Elizabeth go to visit Henry in the old watchtower he’s converted into a laboratory. As they arrive a storm is in full swing and Henry’s not happy to see them, only reluctantly letting them in to get out of the wind and rain.
Once inside they get a look around the lab and through that a look into the twisted mind of young Frankenstein. Henry plans to use the lightning from the storm to blast life into the body he’s cobbled together from spare bits and at the right moment lightning strikes.
Revelling in his triumph, Dr. Frankenstein finally gets rid of the last of the marbles that were rattling around in his head just as the poor creature he built stumbles about the place much like a monstrous child unaware of his own strength… and escapes.
The ’31 Frankenstein is a strange film to say the least. The oddest thing is how out of time the movie is with some of the settings and costumes suited to a film set in the nineteenth century with then other things that, I guess, were contemporary in 1931. These anachronisms serve to set the viewer on edge early in the film which helps to gloss over some of the other strange things, like “Henry” Frankenstein? What the hell’s up with that? And just who or what is Fritz the hunchbacked assistant?
More seriously, there are times in Frankenstein where it seems like the film was being made with more then just a nod to the original story by Mary Shelly (though in the credits for Frankenstein she’s credited as “Mrs. Percy Shelly”). There are scenes where Henry’s experiments are looked at as stepping on God’s toes and the scene where the monster comes to life was subject to censorship when it came out due to Henry screaming “Now I know what it feels like to be God!”.
Apart from the religious subtext, there are some very disturbing moments in Frankenstein, with the most well known and definitely most awful scene being the one where the creature accidentally kills a little girl by drowning her. This single thirty seconds of footage turns Frankenstein from a quaint and quirky little retelling of the well known story to a flat out horror film, and from that point on it stays firmly in the horror genre, making the last ten to fifteen minutes (with angry villagers with flaming torches and everything) really excellent.
The last bit aside though, the majority of Frankenstein feels too disjointed, too all over the place, and when the final act is played out and you see how coherent it could have been, then all those odd out of place things in the rest of the film serve to make it feel cheap and stupid. Perversely, if the end of the film wasn’t as good as it is, then the whole film would feel better. The good bits really show up the bad.
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