Frankenstein (1931), by Albert W. Vogt III

There are days when my paying job gets the better of me.  Because it provides the funds to keep me out of the poor house, I tend to prioritize it.  In this pursuit, I do not leave tasks unfinished.  Actually, this is kind of universal when it comes to everything I do.  My preference is to do one thing completely before moving on to the next.  This is my excuse for getting off the suggestions from you, my loyal readers, tonight.  My work pushed everything back in the evening.  When this happens, I have a ready list of under ninety minutes movies that I will watch.  As The Legionnaire is approaching 1,000 posts, I thought it might be fun to give you a sort of preview for what will be coming in celebration of that first thousand reviews by sticking with something classic.  As such, when I spied Frankenstein (1931) on one of the lists I have bookmarked, it was an easy solution.  Stay tuned for that 1,000th article.

Whenever we think of Frankenstein, in this movie or any other format, we tend to think of the burly, reanimated monster (Boris Karloff), comprised of pieces of different corpses.  It is actually Dr. Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) who is the title character.  We meet him first, too, along with his humpbacked assistant Fritz (Dwight Frye).  They are robbing graves and hangings in order to collect the necessary body parts to assemble the monster.  They have been at it for some time.  The only thing missing is a viable brain.  To obtain it, Fritz breaks into the nearby Golstadt Medical College.  In the classroom of Dr. Frankenstein’s former professor, Dr. Waldman (Edward Van Sloan), the inept Fritz drops the normal brain when startled.  Panicked, he grabs the brain of a criminal and flees.  Unfortunately, Dr. Frankenstein’s experiments have consumed him, and he is past caring about his people building materials.  Those who do care for him include his fiancée, Elizabeth Lavenza (Mae Clarke), and their friend Victor Moritz (John Boles).  Elizabeth’s concerns after being so long separated from her groom-to-be so that he can concentrate on his work are compounded by Victor.  He reports to Elizabeth a chance encounter with Dr. Frankenstein that made it clear that the scientist is bordering on mania.  Dr. Frankenstein’s father, Baron Frankenstein (Frederick Kell) is annoyed with his son, too, because he has prepared a wedding for Dr. Frankenstein and Elizabeth and one half these nuptials is preoccupied.  In order to bring Dr. Frankenstein to his senses, Elizabeth and Victor go to Dr. Waldman and convince the aging professor to come with them to Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory.  When they arrive, Dr. Frankenstein is on the verge of completing his final experiment to reanimate the body he has created with his own two hands.  At their insistence, he allows the others to enter the room and witness the monster begin to move as Dr. Frankenstein hysterically repeats, “It’s alive!  It’s alive!”  You know the line.  Being so close to his goal, he gets Elizabeth and the others to leave, stating that he will soon be with them.  Dr. Waldman stays, however, and the two men of science witness the monster live up to the title.  First, it kills Fritz when the assistant torments it with a torch.  This then leads to them coming up with a solution with which to inject the monster and render it unconscious.  These exertions lead to Dr. Frankenstein leaving his mountainous hideaway to convalesce, and Dr. Waldman agrees to stay and finish his work.  Unfortunately, Dr. Waldman becomes the monster’s next victim.  With no one left to guard it, the monster heads towards the village below.  The person he finds is a little girl named Maria (Marilyn Harris).  They seem to befriend one another for a moment before the monster picks her up and throws her in the lake to see if she floats.  The answer is no because not long thereafter, Maria’s father, Ludwig (Michael Mark), is seen carrying her lifeless form through the village of Goldstadt.  Aside from the usual shock such an act would bring, it elicits a little extra horror as the village’s denizens have turned out to celebrate the imminent wedding of Dr. Frankenstein and Elizabeth.  Nothing like walking a dead body through a celebration, right?  At any rate, it gets people’s attention.  Occupying Dr. Frankenstein at the moment is the fact that the monster is heard in his house.  A short wild goose chase later and a scream from Elizabeth brings Dr. Frankenstein and Victor back to her room.  They are able to scare the monster away, but Elizabeth is traumatized.  Distraught over seeing his bride-to-be in such a state, Dr. Frankenstein joins the crowd gathering outside of Herr Vogel’s (Lionel Belmore) home, the town leader.  Little time is wasted in forming what is essentially a posse, and they chase the monster into the mountains.  As would probably not come as a surprise, Dr. Frankenstein becomes separated from the others and ends up attempting to take the monster on by himself.  Though the rest of the villagers catch up, it is not until the monster drags Dr. Frankenstein into a windmill.  This might seem innocuous enough until you realize that the monster tosses Dr. Frankenstein out an upper story balcony.  Somehow Dr. Frankenstein survives bouncing off the mill and landing on the ground.  The monster is not so lucky.  The villagers gleefully burn down the mill with it still trapped inside.  We then close with Baron Frankenstein coming out of the room in which Dr. Frankenstein and Elizabeth are convalescing after their marriage.

One thing I left out at the beginning of my description of Frankenstein is the warning that is given to viewers as to the horrifying content contained within.  It speaks of a man, Dr. Frankenstein, who is playing god.  To our modern sensibilities, this would probably come across as being corny.  When the film came out, such a message carried more weight.  It is also an oft repeated theme throughout.  Dr. Frankenstein becomes obsessed with the idea that he can create life with his own hands.  In fact, after the monster has come alive, he states that he knows what it is like to be god.  You may notice from my description here that I am not capitalizing “god” because my beliefs are such that I reserve this distinction for my Lord and God.  And while Dr. Frankenstein does somewhat learn that handy Catholic lesson of “hubris,” it is still in keeping with his desire for control.  It starts with creation and becomes about control.  Ultimately, we have no say in these things.  We push the boundaries of human ingenuity as it says in the film, yet there are boundaries in this life.  Dr. Frankenstein discovers the dangers of going beyond those boundaries.  For us, it can lead to sins of pride, which also describes the title character.  His life is illustrative of how problematic of a sin is this one.  He cannot let it go until it is almost too late.  Luckily, with God there is no such thing as too late.

Frankenstein is an older movie, obviously, being made in 1931.  Still, it is pretty fun to see some of the old camera techniques they used.  If this truly does not interest you, and who could blame you, you can take solace in the fact that the film is only an hour and fifteen minutes long.  That is a solid nap, if nothing else.

One thought on “Frankenstein (1931), by Albert W. Vogt III

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s