Theatrical re-release poster
Directed by James Whale
Produced by Carl Laemmle, Jr.
Written by Play:
Peggy Webling
John L. Balderston
Francis Edward Faragoh
Garrett Fort
Robert Florey
John Russell
Based on Frankenstein by
Mary Shelley
Starring Colin Clive
Mae Clarke
John Boles
Boris Karloff
Music by Bernhard Kaun
Cinematography Arthur Edeson
Editing by Clarence Kolster
Maurice Pivar
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release date(s) November 21, 1931 (1931-11-21)
Running time 71 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $262,007[1]
Box office $12,000,000[2]

Frankenstein is a 1931 horror monster film from Universal Pictures directed by James Whale and adapted from the play by Peggy Webling, which in turn is based on the novel of the same name by Mary Shelley. The film stars Colin Clive, Mae Clarke, John Boles and Boris Karloff and features Dwight Frye and Edward van Sloan. The Webling play was adapted by John L. Balderston and the screenplay written by Francis Edward Faragoh and Garrett Fort with uncredited contributions from Robert Florey and John Russell. The make-up artist was Jack Pierce. A huge hit with both audiences and critics, the film was followed by multiple sequels and became one of the most iconic horror films in movie history.


Heinrich "Henry" Frankenstein (Colin Clive), an ardent young scientist, and his devoted assistant Fritz (Dwight Frye), a hunchback, piece together a human body, the parts of which have been secretly collected from various sources. Frankenstein's consuming desire is to create human life through various electrical devices which he has perfected.

Elizabeth (Mae Clarke), his fiancée, is worried to distraction over his peculiar actions. She cannot understand why he secludes himself in an abandoned watch tower, which he has equipped as a laboratory, refusing to see anyone. She and her friend, Victor Moritz (John Boles), go to Dr. Waldman (Edward Van Sloan), his old medical professor, and ask Dr. Waldman's help in reclaiming the young scientist from his absorbing experiments. Waldman tells them that Frankenstein has been working on creating life. Elizabeth, intent on rescuing Frankenstein, arrives just as Henry is making his final tests. He tells them to watch, claiming to have discovered the ray that brought life into the world. They all watch Frankenstein and the hunchback as they raise the dead creature on an operating table, high into the room, toward an opening at the top of the laboratory. Then a terrific crash of thunder, the crackling of Frankenstein's electric machines, and the hand of Frankenstein's monster (Boris Karloff) begins to move. This causes Frankenstein to shout 'It's alive!'

Through the incompetence of Fritz, a criminal brain was secured for Frankenstein's experiments instead of the desired normal one. The manufactured monster, despite its grotesque form, initially appears not to be a malevolent beast but a simple, innocent creation. Frankenstein welcomes it into his laboratory and asks his creation to sit, which it does. He then opens up the roof, causing the monster to reach out towards the sunlight. Fritz, however, enters with a flaming torch, which frightens the monster. Its fright is mistaken by Frankenstein and Dr. Waldman as an attempt to attack them, and so it is taken to the dungeon where it is chained. Thinking that it is not fit for society and will wreak havoc at any chance, they leave the monster locked up, where Fritz antagonizes it with a torch. As Henry and Dr. Waldman consider the fate of the monster, they hear a shriek from the dungeon. Frankenstein and Dr. Waldman rush in to find the monster has strangled Fritz. The monster makes a lunge at the two but they escape the dungeon, locking the monster inside. Realizing that the creature must be destroyed, Henry prepares an injection of a powerful drug and the two conspire to release the monster and inject it as it attacks. When the door is unlocked the creature emerges and lunges at Frankenstein as Dr. Waldman injects the drug into the creature's back. The monster knocks Dr. Waldman to the floor and has nearly killed Henry when the drug takes effect, and he falls to the floor unconscious.

Henry leaves to prepare for his wedding while Dr. Waldman conducts an examination of the unconscious creature. As he is preparing to begin dissecting it, the creature awakens and strangles him. It escapes from the tower and wanders through the landscape. It then has a short encounter with a farmer's young daughter, Maria (Marilyn Harris), who asks him to play a game with her in which they playfully toss flowers into a lake and watch them float. The monster enjoys the game, but when they run out of flowers, tragedy occurs. Due to his defective brain, the monster thinks Maria (unable to swim) will float as well as the flowers, so he picks her up and throws her into the lake, and the girl drowns. Realizing he has made a terrible mistake, the monster walks away feeling troubled and remorseful. This drowning scene is one of the most controversial in the film, with a long history of censorship.

With preparations for the wedding completed, Frankenstein is once again himself and serenely happy with Elizabeth. They are to marry as soon as Dr. Waldman arrives. Victor rushes in, saying that the Doctor has been found strangled in his operating room. Frankenstein suspects the monster. A chilling scream convinces him that the monster is in the house. When the searchers arrive, they find Elizabeth unconscious on the bed. The monster has escaped. He is intent only upon destroying Frankenstein.

Meanwhile, Maria's father arrives, carrying the body of his daughter. He says she was murdered, and an enraged band of peasants search the surrounding country for the monster. They are split into three groups, Frankenstein leading one into the mountains. He becomes separated from the band and is discovered by the monster who, after the two stare each other down for a curious moment, attacks him. After a struggle, in which Frankenstein's torch fails to save him, the monster knocks Frankenstein unconscious and carries him off to the old mill. The peasants hear his cries and follow. Upon reaching the mill, they find the monster has climbed to the very top, dragging Frankenstein with him. In a burst of rage, he hurls the young scientist to the ground. His fall is broken by the vanes of the windmill, saving him from instant death. Some of the villagers hurry him to his home while the others remain to burn the mill and destroy the entrapped monster.

Later, back at Castle Frankenstein, Frankenstein's father, Baron Frankenstein (Frederick Kerr) celebrates the wedding of his recovered son with a toast to a future grandchild.



Frankenstein's monster (Boris Karloff)

Boris Karloff as Frankenstein's Monster in Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

The film begins with Edward Van Sloan stepping from behind a curtain and delivering a brief caution before the opening credits:

Hello. Mr. Carl Lammele has asked me to give you just a friendly word of warning: We are about to unfold the story of Frankenstein, a man of science who sought to create a man after his own image without reckoning upon God. It is one of the strangest tales ever told. It deals with the two great mysteries of creation; life and death. I think it will thrill you. It may shock you. It might even horrify you. So, if any of you feel that you do not care to subject your nerves to such a strain, now's your chance to uh, well, ––we warned you!!

In the opening credits, Karloff is unbilled, with only a question mark being used in place of his name. This is a nod to a tradition of theatrical adaptations billing the monster without a name. Karloff's name is revealed in the closing credits, which otherwise duplicate the credits from the opening under the motto that "A Good Cast Is Worth Repeating." There was controversy around this point, as some of the Universal management wanted to build suspense over who was playing the creature to gather interest in the film. Others state it was because the film would cause the ruin of the performer in the role and wanted to minimize said actor's liability,[citation needed] as the original script went against the conventions of the day. For instance, Flory's drafts included a scene with the Monster graphically assaulting Frankenstein's finacee Elizabeth.

Bela Lugosi was largely thought to be performing the role of the creature up until the time of the film's release, despite published statements to the contrary. Some papers were still erroneously listing Lugosi as the performer, and it was hoped theater-goers were coming to see if Lugosi had changed his mind about starring in the film. Thus the somewhat fraudulent circulation of coming attraction posters for the film, most notably the still-famous "electric beam eyes" poster, which credited Lugosi as the Monster and showed the creature without the now-famous flat head, neck bolt makeup created by Universal Studios makeup artist Jack Pierce.

Immediately following his success in Dracula, Bela Lugosi had been the first choice to play Dr. Frankenstein in Universal's original film concept, but the actor proved to be unsuitable for that role. He was then "downgraded" to play the Monster (a common move for a contract player in a film studio at the time) to keep his famous name on the bill.[3] After several disastrous make-up tests (said to resemble that of Paul Wegener in The Golem), the Dracula star left the project. Although this is often regarded as one of the worst decisions of Lugosi's career, in actuality, the part that Lugosi was offered was not the same character that Karloff eventually played. The character in the Florey script was simply a killing machine without a touch of human interest or pathos, reportedly causing Lugosi to complain, "I was a star in my country[4] and I will not be a scarecrow over here!"[5] Florey later wrote that "the Hungarian actor didn't show himself very enthusiastic for the role and didn't want to play it." However, the decision may not have been Lugosi's in any case, since recent evidence suggests that he was kicked off the project, along with director Robert Florey when the newly-arrived James Whale asked for the property. Whale had been imported from England by the Laemmeles and given a free hand as to his choice of projects at Universal. He was immediately attracted to Frankenstein and greatly revised the script and conceptualiztion of the project, which had troubled the management. Florey and Lugosi were given the Murders in the Rue Morgue film, as a consolation. Lugosi would later go on to play the monster in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man a decade later, when his career was in decline and only after Lon Chaney, Jr. refused to play both the Wolfman and the Monster in the film for the same pay rate. Chaney had previously appeared as the Monster in the previous Frankenstein film Ghost of Frankenstein.

1931 lugosi frankenstein

The 1931 "Lugosi as Frankenstein's Monster" promo poster, without the now famous flat head makeup

Actors who worked on the project were, or became familiar to, fans of the Universal horror films. These included Frederick Kerr as the old Baron Frankenstein, Henry's father; Lionel Belmore as Herr Vogel, the Bürgermeister; Marilyn Harris as Little Maria, the girl the monster accidentally kills; Dwight Frye as Frankenstein's hunchbacked assistant; and Michael Mark as Ludwig, Maria's father. Although Kerr died a year and a half later, Belmore and Mark appeared in other Universal films and Frankenstein sequels, such as Son of Frankenstein. (Oddly, Michael Mark did not reprise his role in the early portion of Bride of Frankenstein when his Ludwig character is killed by the Monster under the wreckage of the burning mill.)

Jack Pierce was the makeup artist who largely designed the iconic "flat head" look for Karloff's monster, although Whale's contribution in the form of sketches remains controversial; the question of who was actually contributed what to the makeup design will likely never have a satisfactory answer.

Kenneth Strickfaden designed the electrical effects used in the "creation scene." So successful were they that such effects came to be considered an essential part of every subsequent Universal film involving the Frankenstein Monster. Accordingly, the equipment used to produce them has come to be referred to in fan circles as "Strickfadens." It appears that Strickfaden managed to secure the use of at least one Tesla Coil built by the inventor Nikola Tesla himself.[6] According to this same source, Strickfaden also doubled for Karloff during the creation scene, as Karloff was afraid of being burned by sparks being thown off the arcing electrical equipment simulating lightning. Although he was partially covered by a surgical drape, Karloff's abdomen was otherwise exposed during the scene and the high-voltage arc "scissors" threw white-hot bits of metal when they were used to create flashes.

There is no musical soundtrack in the film, except for the opening and closing credits.

The film opened in New York City at the Mayfair Theatre on December 4, 1931, and grossed $53,000 in one week.[5]

Censorship historyEdit

The scene in which the monster throws the little girl into the lake and accidentally drowns her has long been controversial. Upon its original 1931 release, the second part of this scene was cut by state censorship boards in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and New York.[5] Those states also objected to a line they considered blasphemous, one that occurred during Frankenstein's exuberance when he first learns that his creature is alive. The original line was: "It's alive! It's alive! In the name of God! Now I know what it feels like to be God!"[5] Kansas requested the cutting of 32 scenes, which, if removed, would have halved the length of the film.[7] Jason Joy of the Studio Relations Committee sent censor representative Joseph Breen to urge them to reconsider. Eventually, an edited version was released in Kansas.[5]

As with many Pre-Code films that were reissued after strict enforcement of the Production Code in 1934, Universal made cuts from the master negative.[8]

  • Frankenstein's line, "Now I know what it feels like to be God!", was cut.[citation needed]
  • Some footage of Frankenstein's assistant Fritz taking sadistic glee in scaring the monster by waving a lit torch near him while the monster is shackled in chains.[citation needed]
  • Close up of needle injection was removed.[citation needed]
  • In the scene of the monster and the little girl tossing flowers into the lake, the second part of the scene was cut, beginning at the moment he extends his hands to pick her up.[citation needed]

These censored scenes were not shown for decades; in 1986, MCA-Universal restored the shots of Fritz tormenting the Monster, the close up of the needle injection and Maria being thrown in the water, while the full "Now I know what it feels like to be God!" line would not be fully restored until 1999.[citation needed]


Mordaunt Hall gave Frankenstein a very positive review and said that the film "aroused so much excitement at the Mayfair yesterday that many in the audience laughed to cover their true feelings." "[T]here is no denying that it is far and away the most effective thing of its kind. Beside it "Dracula" is tame and, incidentally, "Dracula" was produced by the same firm [...]"[9]

Frankenstein has received acclaim from critics and is widely regarded as one of the best films of 1931,[10][11][12][13] as well as one of the greatest movies of all time.[14][15] It holds a 100% "Fresh" rating on the review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes.[16] In 1991, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as being deemed "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant".[17][18] In 2004, The New York Times placed the film on its Best 1000 Movies Ever list.[19]

Frankenstein also received recognition from the American Film Institute. It was named the 87th greatest movie of all time on 100 Years... 100 Movies.[14] The line "It's alive! It's alive!" was ranked as the 49th greatest movie quote in American cinema.[20] The film was on the ballot for several of AFI's 100 series lists, including AFI's 10 Top 10 for the sci-fi category,[21] 100 Years... 100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition),[22] and twice on 100 Years... 100 Heroes and Villains for both Dr. Henry Frankenstein and the Monster in the villains category.[23]

The film was ranked number 56 on AFI's 100 Years... 100 Thrills, a list of America's most heart-pounding movies.[24] It was also ranked number 27 on Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments.[25] Additionally, the Chicago Film Critics Association named it the 14th scariest film ever made.[26]

Sequels and parodiesEdit

Frankenstein was followed by a string of sequels, beginning with Bride of Frankenstein (1935), in which Elsa Lanchester plays the Monster's bride.

The next sequel, 1939's Son of Frankenstein, was made, like all those that followed, without Whale or Clive (who had died in 1937). This film also featured Karloff's last full film performance as the Monster. Son of Frankenstein featured Basil Rathbone as Baron Wolf von Frankenstein, and Lionel Atwill as Inspector Krogh.

The Ghost of Frankenstein was released in 1942. The movie features Lon Chaney, Jr. as the Monster, taking over from Boris Karloff, who played the role in the first three films of the series, and Bela Lugosi in his second appearance as the demented Ygor.

The fifth installment, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man was released in 1943, directed by Roy William Neill, and starring Bela Lugosi as Frankenstein's monster. This is also the sequel to The Wolf Man, with Lon Chaney, Jr. as the Wolf Man. Karloff returned to the series, but not the role, in the 1944 followup, House of Frankenstein, which also featured Chaney, and adds Dracula and a Hunchback for good measure. 1945's House of Dracula continued the theme of combining Universal's three most popular monsters.

Many of the subsequent films which featured Frankenstein's monster demote the creature to a robotic henchman in someone else's plots, such as in its final Universal film appearance in the deliberately farcical Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948).

Karloff would return to the wearing of the makeup and to the role of the Monster one last time in an episode of the TV show Route 66 in the early 1960s.

The popular 1960s TV show, The Munsters, depicts the family's father Herman as Frankenstein's monster, who married Count Dracula's daughter. The make-up for Herman is based on the make-up of Boris Karloff.

Mel Brooks's comedy Young Frankenstein parodied elements of the first three Universal Frankenstein movies. Brooks also recreated the movie into a musical of the same name.

Universal film company's 2004 film Van Helsing also featured the Frankenstein creature.

A short film, Frankenthumb, is a comedy spoof created using only thumbs.

An animated parody film, Frankenweenie, depicting Victor Frankenstein as a modern American boy and his deceased pet dog as the monster, was made by Tim Burton in 1984. Burton remade it as a full-length animated film in 2012.

Several characters in the film The Nightmare Before Christmas are modeled after the characters from Frankenstein, namely Dr. Finklestein and Sally.

Frankenstein's assistantEdit

Although Frankenstein's hunchbacked assistant is often referred to as "Igor" in descriptions of the films, this is incorrect. In both Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein, Frankenstein has an assistant who is played both times by Dwight Frye who is crippled. In the original 1931 film the character is named "Fritz" who is hunchbacked and walks with the aid of a small cane. In Bride of Frankenstein, Frye plays "Karl" a murderer who stands upright but has a lumbering metal brace on both legs that can be heard clicking loudly with every step. Both characters would be killed by Karloff's monster in their respective films. It was not until Son of Frankenstein that a character called "Ygor" first appears (here played by Bela Lugosi and revived by Lugosi in the Ghost of Frankenstein after his apparent murder in Son of Frankenstein). This character — a deranged blacksmith whose neck and back are broken and twisted due to a botched hanging — befriends the monster and later helps Dr. Wolf Frankenstein, leading to the "hunchbacked assistant" called "Igor" commonly associated with Frankenstein in pop culture. Frye appears in later films in the series, such as in Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman: "He said we was going to blow up the dam..." and others.

See alsoEdit


  1. Michael Brunas, John Brunas & Tom Weaver, Universal Horrors: The Studios Classic Films, 1931-46, McFarland, 1990 p24
  2. Box Office Information for Frankenstein. The Numbers. Retrieved April 13, 2012.
  3. ""Frankenstein" Cast Chosen.". New York Times. August 30, 1931, Sunday. "The Universal production of Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" is taking shape under the knowing guidance of James Whale. Boris Karloff and not Bela Lugosi is the final choice to play the monster." 
  4. Bela Lugosi was born outside the western border of Transylvania in Austria–Hungary (now Lugoj, Romania)
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 Vieira. pgs. 42–3
  6. Golman, Harry (November 11, 2005). Kenneth Strickfaden, Dr. Frankenstein's Electrician. McFarland & Company. ISBN 0-7864-2064-2. 
  7. Doherty. pg. 297
  8. Vieira. pg. 48
  9. Review by Mordaunt Hall, The New York Times
  10. "The Greatest Films of 1931". AMC Retrieved July 2, 2010. 
  11. "The Best Movies of 1931 by Rank". Retrieved July 2, 2010. 
  12. "The Best Films of 1931". Retrieved July 2, 2010. 
  13. "Most Popular Feature Films Released in 1931". Retrieved July 2, 2010. 
  14. 14.0 14.1 "AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies". Retrieved July 2, 2010. 
  15. "5-Star Movies by Rank". Retrieved July 2, 2010. 
  16. "Frankenstein Movie Reviews, Pictures". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved July 2, 2010. 
  17. "Films Selected to the National Film Registry, Library of Congress 1989 to 2009". Retrieved July 2, 2010. 
  18. "Frankenstein: Award Wins and Nominations". Retrieved July 2, 2010. 
  19. "The Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made". The New York Times. April 29, 2003. Retrieved July 2, 2010. 
  20. "AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movie Quotes". Retrieved July 2, 2010. 
  21. "AFI's 10 Top 10 Official Ballot". Retrieved July 2, 2010. 
  22. "AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) Official Ballot". Retrieved July 2, 2010. 
  23. "AFI's 100 Years... 100 Heroes and Villains: The 400 Nominated Characters". Retrieved July 2, 2010. 
  24. "AFI's 100 Years... 100 Thrills". Retrieved July 2, 2010. 
  25. "Bravo's The 100 Scariest Movie Moments". Archived from the original on October 30, 2007. Retrieved May 21, 2010. 
  26. "Chicago Critics’ Scariest Films". Retrieved July 2, 2010. 


  • Doherty, Thomas Patrick. Pre-Code Hollywood: Sex, Immorality, and Insurrection in American Cinema 1930-1934. New York: Columbia University Press 1999. ISBN 0-231-11094-4
  • Vieira, Mark A., Sin in Soft Focus. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. 2003. ISBN 0-8109-8228-5

External linksEdit


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