AFI Catalog of Feature Films
Movie Detail
Name Occurs Before Title Offscreen Credit Print Viewed By AFI
Frankenstein
Director: James Whale (Dir)
Release Date:   21 Nov 1931
Production Date:   24 Aug--3 Oct 1931
Duration (in mins):   70
Duration (in reels):   8
Print this page
Display Movie Summary


Cast:   Colin Clive (Henry Frankenstein)  
    Mae Clarke (Elizabeth)  
    John Boles (Victor Moritz)  
    Boris Karloff (The Monster)  
    Edward Van Sloan (Doctor Waldman/[Prologue announcer])  
    Frederick Kerr (Baron Frankenstein)  
    Dwight Frye (Fritz)  
    Lionel Belmore (The Burgomaster [Herr Vogel])  
    Marilyn Harris (Little Maria)  
    Arletta Duncan (Bridesmaid)  
    Francis Ford (Second male mourner)  
    Cecilia Parker (Maid)  
    Michael Mark (Ludwig)  

Summary: In a prologue, an announcer steps from behind a curtain to warn the audience of the horrifying nature of the film they are about to see. In the main story, at a funeral, Fritz, a dwarf, and young scientist Henry Frankenstein dig up a freshly buried body, claiming that the corpse is waiting for a new life. They also remove a man hanging from a gibbet, but his broken neck requires that a new brain be found. After Doctor Waldman's lecture at Goldstadt Medical College, Fritz sneaks in and, after dropping a bottle containing a normal brain, leaves with one containing the brain of a criminal. Meanwhile, in Henry's hometown, Victor Moritz visits Elizabeth, whom he loves. She has received a strange note from Henry her fiancĂ©, who writes that his experiments preclude her from joining him. Concerned, Victor and Elizabeth visit Waldman, Henry's former professor, who explains that Henry had left the college to pursue a mad dream of recreating human life. Together the three go to Henry's laboratory, a watchtower in the mountains. There, Henry and Fritz are preparing to use the power of lightning to charge their electrical mechanisms and give life to a body they have pieced together. Henry agrees to let his friends observe and explains his scientific theories as his creation comes to life. Later Victor and Elizabeth attempt to pacify Henry's doubting father, Baron Frankenstein, who is only interested in promoting the date of his son's wedding. At the laboratory, while Waldman tells Henry of the monster's criminal brain, Fritz torments the monster and the monster kills him. After a fight, Henry and Waldman sedate the monster just as the baron approaches the lab. The exhausted Henry is taken home after Waldman promises to destroy the monster, but instead Waldman is killed by the escaping monster. As the wedding of Elizabeth and Henry is celebrated, the monster drowns Little Maria, a village child who plays with him, then menaces Elizabeth. Ludwig, Maria's father, carries his daughter's body into town, and an angry search party is formed. They go through the mountains by torchlight until Henry finds the monster, and the two engage in a struggle that continues in an abandoned mill, where the monster has fled. The mob sets the mill ablaze, and the monster hurls Henry to the ground before being engulfed by flames. Later, the baron celebrates the wedding of his recovered son with a toast to a future grandchild. 

Production Company: Universal Pictures Corp.  
Distribution Company: Universal Pictures Corp.  
Director: James Whale (Dir)
  Joseph A. McDonough (Asst dir)
Producer: Carl Laemmle (Pres)
  Carl Laemmle Jr. (Prod)
  E. M. Asher (Assoc prod)
Writer: Garrett Fort (Scr)
  Francis Edwards Faragoh (Scr)
  Richard Schayer (Scen ed)
  Robert Florey (Contr to trmt)
  John Russell (Contr to scr const)
Photography: Arthur Edeson (Cine)
Art Direction: Charles D. Hall (Art dir)
Film Editor: Clarence Kolster (Film ed)
  Maurice Pivar (Supv film ed)
Set Decoration: Herman Rosse (Set des)
Sound: C. Roy Hunter (Rec supv)
  William Hedgcock (Sd rec)
Make Up: Jack P. Pierce (Makeup)
Production Misc: Gerald L. G. Sampson (Tech adv)
  Kenneth Strickfaden (Spec elec prop, Frankenstein laboratory)
Country: United States
Series: Frankenstein's Monster

Music:
Songs:
Source Text: Based on the novel Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (London, 1818), and the composition of John L. Balderston from the play Frankenstein by Peggy Webling (England, 1927).
Authors: Peggy Webling
  John L. Balderston
  Mary Shelley

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Universal Pictures Corp. 16/11/1931 dd/mm/yyyy LP2631

Physical Properties: b&w:
  Sd: Western Electric Sound System

 
Genre: Horror
  Science fiction
  Science fiction
 
Subjects (Major): Corpses
  Grave robbers
  Laboratories
  Mad scientists
  Medicine
  Monsters
  Weddings
 
Subjects (Minor): Brains (Human)
  Children
  Drowning
  Dwarfs
  Engagements
  Fathers and sons
  Fires
  Lectures
  Lightning
  Medical colleges
  Mobs
  Mountains
  Nobility
  Towers
  Windmills

Note: Screen credits list "The Monster" as played by "?" in the opening cast list. The "?" is replaced by Boris Karloff's name in the end credits. Mary Shelley's name is given in the screen credits as Mrs. Percy B. Shelley. As the Shelley novel was in the public domain, Universal purchased the most recent in a century-long series of stage adaptations of Frankenstein . John L. Balderston's "composition" was a stage adaptation for an unrealized American production of Peggy Webling's British play, which was produced by the same company that presented the stage version of Dracula , another play Universal adapted.
       Credits in European prints replaced Francis Edwards Faragoh's name with that of Robert Florey, who, contemporary sources indicate, was originally set to direct, and who wrote the initial outline and collaborated on the screenplay with Garrett Fort from 15 May--20 Jun 1931. Later, James Whale took over the project, replacing prospective star Bela Lugosi and cameraman Karl Freund, who were transferred along with Florey to Murders in the Rue Morgue (see below). Studio records reveal the Florey-Fort script was then revised by John Russell in Jul 1931, who introduced the famous plot device of the juxtaposition of the criminal and normal brain. Russell was eventually replaced by Faragoh, who completed his script by 12 Aug 1931. Faragoh gave speech to Fritz, softened the monster's brutality, and added humor. Richard Schayer received a standard credit as head of the Universal scenario department; in this capacity he made suggestions or arbitrated disputes but was not an actual collaborator. Shooting exceeded both schedule and budget predictions with a final cost of $291,129.
       Modern sources list the following additional credits: Elec eff Raymond Lindsay; Elec Frank Graves; Spec eff John Fulton; Tech adv Dr. Cecil Reynolds; Mus Bernhard Kaun and Giuseppe Becce; Mus dir David Broekman. Modern sources include in the cast Pauline Moore ( Bridesmaid ), Ted Billings ( Villager ), Inez Palange ( Village lady ), Paul Panzer ( Mourner ), Cecil Reynolds ( Waldman's secretary ), and note that Francis Ford also played a villager and medical school doctor. Some modern sources note that the set design of the windmill sequence was inspired by a building in Los Angeles that housed a local bakery, Van de Kamp, which displayed a large windmill as its corporate logo.
       The file for the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library contains a letter, dated 18 Aug 1931, in which the Hays Office informed Universal that its only concerns about the film were "gruesome [scenes] that will certainly bring an audience reaction of horror." Specifically, the Hays Office urged the studio to use care in handling a scene showing the body of a hanged man, and another scene showing the dwarf hanging by a chain. The file also indicates that some regional censorship agencies made minor eliminations from the film before its release. Censors in Kansas cut a closeup shot of a hypodermic needle injection, and the scene in which Maria is carried in her father's arms. Censors in Quebec rejected the film in its entirety and petitioned Universal to either resubmit the film with a foreword or preface to indicate that the picture was a dream, or end the picture at the windmill scene and make a number of other cuts. The film was banned in Northern Ireland, Sweden and Italy in 1932, and in Czechoslovakia in 1935. Correspondence contained in the PCA file between Universal and the Hays Office in 1937 indicates that the studio, in order to make the picture acceptable for re-issue certification, agreed to eliminate dialogue in which the name of "God" is used, shorten the scene in which "Fritz" torments the monster with a lighted torch and eliminate the scene in which the monster tosses Maria into the water.
       Frankenstein was on NYT list of "10 best" films for 1931, and was one of the top box office films of 1932. In 1986, three reportedly lost segments that had been deleted from the final release print were discovered, including a shot of the monster drowning Maria, which had gained considerable notoriety. These scenes extended the length of the picture to 72 minutes and were released by Universal on video as the "restored" version.
       Previous films based on Shelley's story were Frankenstein , produced by Edison Mfg. Corp. in 1910 and directed by J. Searle Dawley; and Life Without Soul , produced by Ocean Film Corp. in 1915 and directed by Joseph W. Smiley (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1911-20 ; F1.2472). An Italian version called Il Mostro di Frakestein [sic], directed by Eugenio Testa, was released in 1920. The first of numerous sequels to the 1931 Frankenstein were Universal's The Bride of Frankenstein (see above), again directed by James Whale and starring Clive and Karloff; and Son of Frankenstein (see below), directed by Rowland V. Lee and starring Karloff, Bela Lugosi and Basil Rathbone. The 1931 Frankenstein was first re-released in 1937.
       Other versions of Shelley's novel include The Curse of Frankenstein , produced in England in 1957 and directed by Terence Young; a 1973 made-for-television version, Frankenstein: The True Story , directed by Jack Smight; and Mel Brooks' 1974 spoof of the early Universal films, Young Frankenstein . The opening sequence of the 2004 Universal production Van Helsing , directed by Stephen Sommers and starring Hugh Jackman and Shuler Hensley as the monster, was a shot-by-shot replication of a sequence in the 1931 film of Frankenstein bringing his monster to life. The image of Frankenstein's monster has been repeated many times since the release of this film in comic books and humorous skethes. Karloff himself assumed the partial appearance of the monster in the Broadway play Arsenic and Old Lace , and Raymond Massey did the same in the film adaptation of that play. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Film Daily   10 Aug 31   p. 8.
Film Daily   11 Nov 31   p. 10.
Film Daily   6 Dec 31   p. 10.
HF   9 May 31   p. 24.
HF   22 Aug 31   p. 20.
Hollywood Reporter   31 Aug 31   p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter   3 Nov 31   p. 3.
Motion Picture Herald   14 Nov 31   p. 40, 42
New York Times   5 Dec 31   p. 21.
Time   14 Dec 31   p. 25.
Variety   8 Dec 31   p. 14.

Display Movie Summary
The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
 
Advanced Search
Join us for the DWW Open House
Support our efforts to preserve hisotory of film

© 2014 American Film Institute.
All rights reserved.
Terms of use.