*Warning: This review contains spoilers.*
I’ve only recently started watching some of the classic Universal monster flicks, and I’ve still got a few to see before I can say that I’ve seen all the originals, but, after seeing Frankenstein, I can safely say that The Wolf Man is still my favorite.
Frankenstein does do some things well. Boris Karloff is excellent as “The Monster” (I’m trying to figure out how Bride of Frankenstein works when the bride is actually the monster’s wife, not the doctor’s, whose name is Dr. Frankenstein, but that is neither here nor there). I can clearly see where Gunnar Hansen got the inspiration for his character choices while playing Leatherface (the whining and flailing, specifically). Karloff is menacing, and engaging, but he is not sympathetic, which is one of the major flaws of the writing.
Since Frankenstein is such a classic in the genre, it has been impossible for me to avoid reading or hearing different opinions on the film before I watched it, and virtually everything I’ve heard talked about how sympathetic Frankenstein’s monster was, and how the film brilliantly portrayed the dangers of mob mentality. I can’t agree with that. The monster is first introduced as a menacing force of nature, and he initiates an attack on his creator and the doctor. He then proceeds to murder not only the doctor’s assistant, but also a harmless young girl by tossing her in the water. The act wasn’t intentional; the monster saw the flowers floating in the water and thought the girl would do the same thing. The fact that he is simple and unaware of his actions doesn’t lessen his threat, and thus, he should be apprehended, or, if that is not possible, destroyed (the police chief says something along the lines of “capture him alive if you can, but capture him”, meaning if they need to kill him to stop him, so be it). The monster’s actions make him a criminal, not a “misunderstood creature” like I’ve heard tossed around in the past.
The other problem with Frankenstein is that the dots are rarely connected, at least on screen. The major instance of this – the one that cripples the story – is the moment when the man walks through the village with his dead daughter in his hands. He was nowhere near the incident when it occurred, and seemingly has no way of knowing about the monster’s existence. Instead of believing that the girl accidently drowned, he magically knows that she was not only murdered, but who the murderer is. There is nothing in the film that justifies this moment, and because it sets up the entire third act, weakens the film. A simple additional scene could’ve connected these dots, or even a few lines of dialogue, but instead, the movie is left feeling unfinished.
There’s no doubt that there are moments in Frankenstein that make it worthy of the Universal label, and virtually all of these moments have Karloff on screen. It’s hard to believe, though, that Frankenstein is in the same league as Dracula or The Wolf Man.