Saturday, 2 March 2013

Frankenstein (1931)

Having enjoyed Mary Shelly's novel, and having seen and loved both versions of Danny Boyle's stage production, I was really looking forward to what I think is regarded as the definitive film version.  I'm afraid to say that I was quite disappointed.  I'm really not sure why the story had to be so much of a departure from the book.  One of the key aspects of the story is that the monster is a victim, he didn't ask to be created, and we should feel sympathy towards it; something wonderfully conveyed by both Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller on stage.  This is mostly missing from Boris Karloff's performance; but I think this is mostly due to a wayward script.  There is a moment when the monster encounters a young girl playing by a lakeside, and her reaction is not one of revulsion, rather she sees him as a person; but that's really the only moment of empathy I had with it.  Dr Frankenstein should also be a victim, but of his own ambition as he regrets ever going down the road to his reanimation experiments.  There is some regret in Henry's character but it is by no means explored fully.

I also couldn't understand why the main character (Dr Victor Frankenstein) was renamed Henry, and his friend was renamed Victor!  At least Elizabeth retained her name.  I also couldn't understand why "Henry's" father Baron Frankenstein, kept referring to his son as Frankenstein!  Not Henry, or son.  There is also a moment when a father finds his murdered daughter (of course killed by the monster, but he doesn't know that), yet he turns up at the Frankenstein residence demanding justice, and a hunt is organised for the monster.  We don't see anyone find out about the monster, but magically everyone instantly knows that it killed the girl.  I feel this is just sloppy script writing.

What I did like was the way that James Whale used light to create shadows throughout the film.  When we first see the monster walk into a room towards Frankenstein, there is a huge shadow cast by a hidden light, in such a way that the ominous shape towers over Henry.  There are many other instances of this (such as steep staircases disappearing into shadows) , giving the film a very striking visual style.

Unfortunately I think that for all this style there is too little substance.  All of these Universal classic horror films are about 70 minutes long, and while The Wolfman managed to tell a great story I can't help but feel that if Frankenstein had been longer then a better approximation of the source material could have been reached.  This would have made a far greater impact and made a much better film in my opinion.