The New York Times' review of Frankenstein

05/12/1931View on timeline

Although Waldman anticipates the consequences of having given him a “criminal brain,” the creature actually becomes aggressive only in reaction to human violence. Yet most commentators have followed Waldman and found in the brain the obvious cause for the creature’s alleged killing urges. In 1931, a New York Times critic correctly noted that the brain was the reason given in the film for the creature’s “murderous onslaughts."

Vidal, Fernando and Ortega, Francisco. Being Brains: Making the Cerebral Subject (Forms of Living)....

Miniature of the NYT review

The Screen: A Man-Made Monster in Grand Guignol Film Story

Out of John L. Balderston's stage conception of the Mary Shelley classic, "Frankenstein," James Whale, producer of "Journey's End" as a play and as a film, has wrought a stirring grand-guignol type of picture, one that aroused so much excitement at the Mayfair yesterday that many in the audience laughed to cover their true feelings. It is an artistically conceived work in which Colin Clive, the Captain Stanhope of the London stage production of the R. C. Sherriff play, was brought from England to act the rôle of Frankenstein, the man who fashions a monster that walks and thinks. It is naturally a morbid, gruesome affair, but it is something to keep the spectator awake, for during its most spine-chilling periods it exacts attention.

It was Carl Laemmle, head of Universal, the firm responsible for this current picture, who presented Lon Chaney in "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," and while, as everybody knows, Quasimodo was a repellent sight, he was a creature for sympathy compared to the hideous monster in this "Frankenstein." Boris Karloff undertakes the Frankenstein creature and his make-up can be said to suit anybody's demands. He does not portray a robot but a monster made out of human bodies, and the reason given here for his murderous onslaughts is that Frankenstein's Man Friday stole an abnormal brain after he had broken the glass bowl containing the normal one. This Frankenstein does not know. No matter what one may say about the melodramatic ideas here, there 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, which is also to issue in film form Poe's "Murders in the Rue Morgue."

There are scenes in Frankenstein's laboratory in an old windmill, somewhere in Germany, where, during a severe electric storm, the young scientist finally perceives life showing in the object on an operating table. It is not long after that the monster walks, uttering a sound like the mooing of a cow. And then ensues the idea that while Frankenstein is proud of the creature he has made and boasts loudly about his achievement, he soon has reason to fear the brute, and in course of time it attacks Frankenstein's faithful servant, a bowed and bent little man, and kills him. The scenes swing here and there to the Baron, Frankenstein's father, efficiently acted by Frederick Kerr, to those of a friend named Victor, played by John Boles, and to Elizabeth, Frankenstein's fiancée, portrayed by Mae Clarke. This is a relief, but they are all anxious about what Frankenstein is doing. They learn at the psychological moment, and have then still greater anxiety for Frankenstein. Imagine the monster, with black eyes, heavy eyelids, a square head, huge feet that are covered with matting, long arms protruding from the sleeves of a coat, walking like an automaton, and then think of the fear in a village, and especially of the scientist, when it is learned that the monster has escaped from the windmill. It is beheld parading through the woods, sitting down playing with a little girl, and finally being pursued by a mob with flaming torches, for apparently fire is the only thing that causes the monster to hesitate. The sounds of the cries of the pursuers and the strange noises made by the monster add to the disturbing nature of the scenes, and in a penultimate episode there is the struggle between the monster and Frankenstein. As a concession to the motion picture audience, Frankenstein is not killed, but he is badly injured.

Two endings were made for this production, and at the eleventh hour it was decided to put in the one in which Frankenstein lives, because it was explained that sympathy is elicited for the young scientist and that the spectators would leave disappointed if the author's last chapter was adhered to.As for the monster, he is burned when the villagers set fire to the windmill. From the screen comes the sound of the crackling of the blazing woodwork, the hue and cry of the frightened populace and the queer sounds of the dying monster. Mr. Clive adds another fine performance to his list. He succeeds in impressing upon one the earnestness and also the sanity of the scientist, in spite of Frankenstein's gruesome exploits. Lionel Belmore gives an easy performance as the town burgomaster. Miss Clarke, Edward Van Sloan and Dwight Frye also serve well.

FRANKENSTEIN, based on Mary Wollstonecroft Shelley's book and adapted from John L. Balderston's play; directed by James Whale; a Universal production. At the Mayfair. Frankenstein . . . . . Colin Clive
Elizabeth . . . . . Mae Clarke
Victor . . . . . John Boles
The Monster . . . . . Boris Karloff
Dr. Waldman . . . . . Edward Van Sloan
The Dwarf . . . . . Dwight Frye
The Baron . . . . . Frederick Kerr
The Burgomaster . . . . . Lionel Belmore
Peasant Father . . . . . Michael Mark
Mary the Child . . . . . Marilyn Harris

Find the digitalized page of the newspaper on the link below:

The New York Times Archive, December 5 1931



No comments avaliable.



Published in 7/03/2019

Updated in 19/02/2021

All events in the topic Chap. 4: Brains on Screen:

Invalid DateFrankensteinFrankenstein
Invalid DateThe New York Times' review of FrankensteinThe New York Times' review of Frankenstein
Invalid DateBride of FrankensteinBride of Frankenstein
Invalid DateGhost of FrankensteinGhost of Frankenstein
Invalid DateYoung FrankensteinYoung Frankenstein
Invalid DateFrankenstein Must Be DestroyedFrankenstein Must Be Destroyed
Invalid DateHeart ConditionHeart Condition
Invalid DateHeartHeart
Invalid DateLa Horripilante Bestia HumanaLa Horripilante Bestia Humana
Invalid DateMovie adaptations of Orlac's HandsMovie adaptations of Orlac's Hands
Invalid DateThe Addams FamilyThe Addams Family
Invalid DateThe Beast with Five FingersThe Beast with Five Fingers
Invalid DateDr. Terror’s House of HorrorsDr. Terror’s House of Horrors
Invalid DateThe HandThe Hand
Invalid DateBody PartsBody Parts
Invalid DateThe Brain That Wouldn't DieThe Brain That Wouldn't Die
Invalid DateProfessor Dowell's TestamentProfessor Dowell's Testament
Invalid DateCold LazarusCold Lazarus
Invalid DateEctobrains in B-moviesEctobrains in B-movies
Invalid DateThe Man Who Changed His MindThe Man Who Changed His Mind
Invalid DateChange of MindChange of Mind
Invalid DateL'homme au cerveau grefféL'homme au cerveau greffé
Invalid DateMemory moviesMemory movies
Invalid DateThe Manchurian CandidateThe Manchurian Candidate
Invalid DateTotal RecallTotal Recall
Invalid DateMagdalena's BrainMagdalena's Brain
Invalid DateDark CityDark City
Invalid DateBlade RunnerBlade Runner
Invalid DateJohnny MnemonicJohnny Mnemonic
Invalid DateStrange DaysStrange Days
Invalid DateRemembering, by Frederic BartlettRemembering, by Frederic Bartlett
Invalid DateEternal Sunshine of the Spotless MindEternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Invalid DatePaycheckPaycheck
Invalid DateFlashbulb Memories, by Brown and KulikFlashbulb Memories, by Brown and Kulik
Invalid DateSpeak, Memory by Oliver SacksSpeak, Memory by Oliver Sacks