Tuesday, April 26, 2016
So, this was a movie I hadn't seen, though I've read the book multiple times (I specialized in science fiction - it goes with the territory). And man, the movie is different than the book. Heck, the movie is different than people think it is. The movie has become so iconic without people actually seeing it that everyone has the idea of a Boris Karloff/Fred Gwynne/Peter Boyle hulk that they are usually surprised when they read the book, and the Creature isn't like that at all. He's a big creature, because that made it easier for Victor Frankenstein to work on him, but he's really an egghead type that speaks at least two languages and really likes discussing 'Paradise Lost'. Also, weirdly, they swapped the names of Frankenstein and his best friend - in the book, they're Victor Frankenstein and Henry Clerval. In the movie, it's Henry Frankenstein and Victor is just some dude who pops up from time to time. There's also no Igor in the book or in this movie. Here, the hunchbacked cringing assistant is a fellow named Fritz. He doesn't even have a particularly weird accent. According to a bit of searching, Igor pops up in the third Frankenstein film, Son of Frankenstein, where he's played by Bela Lugosi. So how did the little cringing, spitting, hunchback with a severe speech impediment become Igor in pop culture? I have no idea - your guess is as good as mine. Fritz does get murdered by the Creature, but he really did have it coming. He torments the Creature for no apparent reason, even after being told to be careful.
Though one thing that did translate well was the jaunty emcee in the beginning, warning us all that we may die of fright when we see the shocking film. It's delightfully cheesy, and one of the most memorable parts of the film. Colin Clive does a memorable spin on the character of Dr. Frankenstein, going between serious and well-spoken and having a fierce case of crazy eyes. He can go between a person who seems to reasonably understand that it's a bit nutty to steal dead bodies and sew them together in an attempt to bring them back to life, and well, the kind of person who views that as somewhere between a harmless hobby and a life's vocation. He is deliriously creepy because of his ability to swing between those two sides of Frankenstein. Boris Karloff is, of course, the trope codifier for Reanimated Monster, even if he was supposed to look more like the Armored Titan. He does this with some masterful grunting and throwing himself around... which, no wonder he was tired of it and ready to take on a comedic role in Arsenic and Old Lace. We're told in this movie that the reason the Creature kills things is that he accidentally received a criminal brain, instead of a healthy one. So he just kind of cheerfully causes mayhem. The book had the opposite moral - that nurture is the defining characteristic of how someone will turn out. So I guess whoever wrote the script didn't take any classes in literary analysis. We also have Elizabeth, the Scream Queen for the film. They do try to give her more stuff to do, like warning Frankenstein that his ideas are nuts, but she's mostly there to be menaced. There is a lot of screaming in this movie. The special effects are still fairly impressive, not just for their time period, but in general. There are a lot of interesting flips and switches and Tesla coils zapping. The backgrounds suffer, since they're very clearly painted canvas, but hey, the outdoor scenes look nice otherwise.
Overall, I'd suggest watching this movie, and not just because the Film Registry is apparently obsessed with the character (there are four Frankenstein movies on the List). It's a pretty interesting study of early horror film making, and a delightful stew of anachronism, since the dress suggests the movie is taking place in the 1930's, but the Bavarian peasantry is still going out hunting demons with torches and pitchforks. It's a fun watch.