Halloween Endurance Test: Frankenstein (1931)
Did you really think after watching most of Universal’s Dracula and Mummy franchises, I’d end the holiday without tackling the grand-champ, Frankenstein? Plans for a spiritual sequel to Dracula were in motion as soon as the box office receipts were in. Problems concerning the production arose just as quickly.
First, Bela Lugosi, already a star in Hungary, now a star in the States, immediately started throwing his weight around. The one aspect of Dracula that the Mexicans couldn’t improve upon, Bela refused to play the monster in Frankenstein. Going so far as to get a doctor’s note saying he couldn’t play the monster, as all that make-up would be bad for his health.
Amazingly, Bela’s real concern was a.) being typecast, which happened anyway, and b.) the monster’s lack of dialogue. Bela was an actor, and the groans and grunts the script provided just weren’t enough for him. Strange reasoning coming from a man still learning English at the time, having learned his Dracula lines phonetically.
Second, Dracula had been a risk for Universal to begin with. Carl Laemmle, founder of Universal, did not want his studio spearheading a horror genre. He was concerned with the censorship potential to such a film playing throughout the States. His son, Carl Laemmle, Jr., saw the potential in horrific films, making them the centerpiece of his time at the studio.
Frankenstein was a different beast altogether though. The church could take some issue with a undead prince, but God still reigned. A crucifix was all one needed for protection. Not so with Frankenstein’s monster, who was an affront to all religions the world over. A man, bypassing God, and creating life in his own piecemeal image! A concept so shocking director James Whale would include a disclaimer before the movie starts. Having Edgar Van Sloan (I believe, Dracula’s Von Helsing) come out from behind stage curtains to warn movie-goers of the shocks they were about to see.
Factor in a scene where a young girl drowns (quickly cut from the prints), and this film had controversy written all over it. Luckily for Laemmle, Jr., that writing included profits.
All in all, a better film than Dracula. James Whale wasn’t the drunk Todd Browning was, giving the story technical merits that its predecessor unfortunately lacked. This film established Universal’s reputation as a horror studio, a title it would carry for decades until it was dethroned by Hammer studios in the late ’50s.