Frankenstein (1931)

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Frankenstein (1931) starts out with a friendly reminder to the audience. “This movie may thrill you, shock you, or horrify you…You’ve been warned.” Frankenstein, based on the best-selling novel by Mary Shelley, is a classic horror/sci-fi film from the 1930’s directed by James Whale. The movie is about Dr. Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive), a man obsessed with trying to give life to the dead. After many experiments he does succeed in giving life to the dead but the dead he resurrects turns out to be a terrible monster. His fiancée, Elizabeth (Mae Clark) and former instructor, Dr. Waldman (Edward Van Sloan) become worried about Frankenstein because of his abnormal dedication to his work. They go visit him and witness the monster for themselves.

This movie was an example of how primitive movies used to be many years ago.

In Frankenstein, there are many occasions where if you watch closely there are different things that show how the technology back in the 1930’s was basic compared to what technology in movies is today. An example of this is at the beginning of the movie when Fritz (Dwight Frye), Dr. Frankenstein’s assistant climbs the pole to cut down the hanged corpse, the light from his lantern hits and is seen across the so called “sky” behind them. You can then tell that the “sky” is a backdrop. In films today, it would be very hard to find an error like that because the use of backdrops in dark night scenes isn’t very common. This has to do with the scenery aspect of the film.

The scenery in the film fit with the time set of the period but I anticipated it to be set in the early 1800’s because that’s when the novel was set. The different sets used in the film were very realistic especially the watchtower that Dr. Frankenstein uses as his laboratory. Can you believe that everything was shot on a Universal Studios Lot? Many scenes looked as if they were actually filmed at a mansion or in a Bavarian village. This movie seemed very technologically advanced for its time period because of all the scenery and special effects that were used. There were flaws but every movie has flaws even today. Some flaws were a bit obvious like when the monster throws Dr. Frankenstein off the windmill you can tell that it’s a dummy and not a real person because of how the body just flies through the air like it’s weightless. Stuntmen weren’t too common at that point in time.

The person in charge of electrical effects for the creation scene in Frankenstein was Kenneth Strickfaden. He eventually became known as Mr. Electric because of the numerous movies he worked on. His work was praised so much that Universal Studios thought the equipment used was essential to every movie that featured the monster. It’s fascinating to me that the same equipment used in the laboratory in the 1931 version of Frankenstein was used in Young Frankenstein, one of many adaptations to the original film that was done over forty years after the original.

Frankenstein was a technological stepping stone for moviemaking today. The scenery and electrical elements made this film as spectacular as it is acclaimed to be. Beware of the man, the myth, and the monster!





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Dr.Jones This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Jan. 13, 2012 at 6:09 pm
I don't think technical standards of a period are really grounds for criticism. It'd be like criticizing a modern film for using CGI instead of practical effects. The dummy and the back-drops were just how things had to be done. Looking back it may seem silly, but you can't fault the movie for that.
 
peapod416 replied...
May 27, 2012 at 10:13 pm
It was a school assignment for my Design and Production class (Lighting, sets, costumes, etc.) so I had to critique it that way
 
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