Alongside Bela Lugosi’s Dracula (1931), James Whale’s Frankenstein is one of the milestones of the pre-Code, a brief era between the introduction of sound pictures in 1929 and the enforcement of the Motion Picture Production Code censorship guidelines.
Successful and quite faithful to the original novel, Frankenstein had a generally positive reception and, to these days, is considered among the best horror movies in cinema history.
Nevertheless, the film encountered many troubles straight after its release. 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.
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 – “It’s alive! It’s alive! In the name of God! Now I know what it feels like to be God!” – has been changed in many ways by censors.
Regardless, Frankenstein presents timeless themes and food for thought that survived censorships and controversy.
Alike Nosferatu (1922), the creature represents what’s different from the society and its values. It’s scary because unknown and incomprehensible.
Yet, the relationship between science and religion is a key elements, as well as the conflict between the inevitable death and the urge for immortality.
Filled with great performances – according to the standards of that time – Frankenstein still manages to be unsettling at points, more so for the angry outburst of the commoners than for the creature itself, which is presented as both culprit and victim.
Similarly, Henry Frankenstein (perfectly portrayed by Colin Clive) shows a contrasting nature, in precarious balance between haughtiness and scientific curiosity.
Overall, still to these days Frankenstein is a modern movie – in regards to its contents – and probably the best adaptation of the novel of the same name. Obviously, there are editing and sound design issues that most of contemporary movies don’t deal with.
Nevertheless, this is a monster movie that has more to offer than what some could think. Give it a watch, it’s definitely worth your time and attention. Cheers!