Frankenstein ('31)

I realized the other day that I had yet to review 1931's Frankenstein. How can that be when I reviewed 1935's The Bride of Frankenstein at 18 years of age?  What's the fucking hold-up?  In truth, I don't get to bespeak every film I prize.  Life is stupid that way. By the by, be forgiving when perusing my Bride blurb.  Admittedly, it holds up well, but it still makes me quiver.  I shouldn't be talking about myself, though.  I have a cross-stitch of cadavers lying on my operating table, and it's motioning for my typing wand (yikes).

I don't see the point in contriving a ziggurat (word of the day; look it up, bitch) of words detailing the things that you already know.  To that end, all I can do is tell you why I love it dearly and why it's one of my favorite films of all time.  I don't remember when I saw it first, but that's a testament to Frankenstein's iconography.  At autumn's point of departure, you begin to see versions of Karloff's sunken visage everywhere.  Growing up, I saw "Frankies" in cartoons, storefronts, newspaper ads...not because this was the first adaptation of Mary Shelley's novel (it wasn't), but because it was definitive.  The tongue-in-cheek prelude warns us that the picture might shock us, but it's almost as if James Whale himself is crowing that this is what you'll think of when you hear the word "Frankenstein."

And hey, it's not bragging if it's true.  Over three quarters of a century later, it's still true.  The opening scene is an entrenched mood-setter. The good doctor quietly waits for a funeral to finish up while huddled behind a cenotaph (it may not have been a cenotaph; I don't know where the body was buried, baby).  He is shadowed by Fritz, his unstable assistant who indirectly inspired Igor (or Ygor) in dozens upon dozens of Gothic horror fables to follow.  Dwight Frye is Frankenstein's secret weapon as Fritz.  I dig his corybantic, wide-eyed performance, as it counters Colin Clive's comparatively mellow turn as Henry.

In my correct opinion, Fritz is the true villain here.  It's his fault that Henry is consigned to using an abnormal brain, it's his fault that the monster lashes out and it's his fault that my left nut is implausibly itchy.  The experiment - even with the abnormal brain - could have worked.  That's a fascinating item.  Our perceived antagonists (Dr. Frankenstein and his creation) are not antagonists at all.  Take the most hideous act in the film, for instance.  The monster tosses a little girl into a lake, drowning her.  Before that, they were tossing flower petals into the water and smiling as they floated.  He thought she would float, too.  You'll float, too.  YOU'LL FLOAT, TOO!

Oops!  I backtracked right into my review of It.  Anyway, once he realizes his grave mistake, he's visibly mortified and penitent.  To the villagers, he's just a child murderer.  The scene in which the little girl's father walks onto a revelry-soaked street carrying the limp remains of his daughter is profoundly sobering.  The look on his face. My God.  Whale had several tricks up his sleeve to ensure that Frankenstein would go down as timeless.  The tight editing, the roving camera, the expressionistic interiors of the watchtower...this is a cool flick.  I do prefer it to The Bride of Frankenstein.  In fact, I prefer it to Dracula, a classic in its own right.  Eh, I'm done here.

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