Monday, June 14, 2010

Frankenstein (1931)

Starring Colin Clive, Mae Clarke, Boris Karloff
Directed by James Whale

*Spoilers Ahead*

The film opens with the famed “warning scene” were a man steps out from behind a curtain onto a stage to warn the audience of how scary the film is. The film proper opens with a rather surreal credit sequence with a series odd images behind the credits including of circular rows of swirling eyeballs and a vague spectral head. The actual story begins in a graveyard at twilight. Already the atmosphere is gloomy with the painted sky, were the clouds are as black as oil and seem to blot out the sun. The macabre setting is only strengthened as we see Doctor Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) on his mad quest for cadavers.

The slow buildup of Doctor Frankenstein and his back story, while eerie, is nothing compared to the first appearance of the monster his has created (Boris Karloff). Walking through the doorway backwards with a slow revealing turn and gradual close up on his ghastly thin face and ghoulish black eyes, his massive figuring looming in the doorway reminiscent of Nosferatu. Karloff’s pantimine performance easily steals the show and makes him the most enduring character with his slow demeanor and innocent nature against the violent adversities around him. His character, unable to speak produces various hics and moans that will likely arouse laughter in an unappreciative audience.

Unfortunately, the ending is by far the weakest portion of the film. In another infamous scene, the monster accidentally kills a little girl. While he flees in terror of what he has done, a mob of angry villagers decides that the monster must be destroyed. The climax occurs on the roof of a windmill were Frankenstein and the monster have a clumsy fight in the dark making it difficult to tell what is happening. Frankenstein is through from the roof and presumably dies (?), while the monster supposedly perishes in the flaming wreck. I have to wonder who justice is done to by this resolution. Was Frankenstein punished for meddling in the unnatural? Was the creature destroyed because of its origins despite his innocence? It’s a rather clumsy way to end development that was just starting to go somewhere. Theres a coda at the end that involves the Baron making a toast to "A son to the house of Frankenstein". I have to wonder why it is there as it only serves to confuse as to whether or not Henry is dead or not. Personally it makes me wonder by the Baron isn't in the sequel. While it isn’t as frustrating a coda as the end of “The Fly”, but I still thinking the image of the burning windmill and a strong musical score to cap it off would have made a much better ending.

The setting creates the gloomy mood appropriate for such a scary story, Karloff's portrayl of the monster is simply unforgettable, but the film is limited by time and doesn't develop our leading characters their full potential and just seems to stop a little short.

Final Score:
Four out of Five. Great.

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