Universal's Frankenstein 1931

The Film That Started It All

Frankenstein 1931 trailer


Colin Clive----------------------Dr. Henry Frankenstein
Mae Clarke ---------------------Elizabeth
John Boles----------------------Victor Moritz
Boris Karloff--------------------( '?' in opening credits )The Monster
Edward Van Sloan---------------Dr. Waldman
Dwight Frye---------------------Fritz, the Hunchback
Frederick Kerr ------------------Baron Frankenstein
Lionel Belmore------------------Herr Burgermeister Vogel
Michael Mark -------------------Ludwig, María's Father
Marilyn Harris ------------------Little Maria
Arletta Duncan -----------------Bridesmaid
Pauline Moore ------------------Bridesmaid
Francis Ford --------------------Wounded Villager
Cecilia Parker------------------ Maid


Director----------------------James Whale
Producer ---------------------Carl Laemmle Jr.
Screenwriter----------------------Garrett Fort
Editor---------------------Francis Edward Faragoh?
Art Design---------------Robert Florey
Make-up---------------------John L. Balderston
Cinematographer ------------------Maurice Pivar
Special Effects------------------Charles D. Hall
Stunts -------------------Jack Pierce
Music------------------Arthur Edeson
Arletta Duncan -----------------John P. Fulton
Pauline Moore ------------------Ted Robbins
Francis Ford --------------------David Broekman

Produced by E.M. Asher

Original Music by Bernhard Kaun (uncredited)

Non-Original Music by Giuseppe Becce (stock music) (uncredited)

Cinematography by Arthur Edeson
Paul Ivano (uncredited)

Film Editing by Clarence Kolster

Art Direction by Charles D. Hall

Makeup Department
Jack P. Pierce .... makeup artist (uncredited)
Jack P. Pierce .... makeup designer (uncredited)

Second Unit Director or Assistant Director
Joseph A. McDonough .... assistant director (uncredited)

Art Department
Ed Keyes .... property master (uncredited)
Herman Rosse .... set designer (uncredited)

Sound Department
C. Roy Hunter .... recording supervisor
William Hedgcock .... sound recordist (uncredited)

Special Effects by
John P. Fulton .... special effects (uncredited)
Ken Strickfaden .... electrical effects (uncredited)

Other crew

Maurice Pivar .... supervising editor
Richard Schayer .... scenario editor
David Broekman .... musical director (uncredited)
Frank Graves (II) .... electrical effects assistant (uncredited)
Raymond Lindsay .... electrical effects assistant (uncredited)
Cecil Reynolds .... medical consultant (uncredited)
Gerald L.G. Sampson .... technical advisor (uncredited)

film summary

Portions of the following summarry provided courtesy of A. Rohrmoser.

Filming began on 24 August 1931. The film begins with Henry Frankenstein and his hunchback assistant Fritz stealing a body from a grave and another from the gallows. Later Fritz is sent to a medical university where he is to steal a brain for Frankenstein's creature. He accidentally drops the glass jar with the brain and instead takes another, oblivious to the jar's label "abnormal brain".

Meanwhile Frankenstein's fiancée Elizabeth and his friend Victor plan to visit Frankenstein in his laboratory. After having received a strange letter from Henry Elizabeth is worried about him. Dr. Waldman's revelation, that her husband-to-be has left university and was involved in strange experiments only makes her more anxious.

The trio arrive just in time to attend Frankenstein's final experiment, the creation of an artificial human being, which Frankenstein animates by exhibiting it to electricity created by a thunderstorm. Unfortunately, the creature turns out to be an ugly and dumb brute unable to utter a single word. When the enraged creature becomes troublesome Frankenstein locks it away in the cellar. But the Monster, constantly tortured by Fritz with a whip and a torch, breaks free, kills Fritz and Dr. Waldmann and escapes. Meanwhile Frankenstein, believing his creature to be destroyed by Waldmann, prepares for his wedding with Elizabeth. But the joyful event is suddenly wasted when a peasant father arrives in the village carrying his murdered daughter Maria. Soon a lynch mob lead by burgomaster Vogel and Frankenstein leaves to kill the Monster. In the mountains Frankenstein and his creature finally meet. The Monster drags its creator into an old windmill and throws him down the walls. Frankenstein's fall is weakened by a blade of the mill and he survives. The enraged citizens set the building on fire and the Monster is supposedly burnt to death.

The film finally opened on 4 November 1931 at the Mayfair Theatre in New York's Time Square and caused an immediate sensation. It was voted one of the films of the year by the New York Times and earned Universal Pictures $12 million - the production cost only $262 000. This made it even more successful than Dracula.

Although the US federal censor demanded no cuts, several states only showed censored versions of Frankenstein. In Kansas City the State Board of Censors demanded 32 cuts and in Rhode Island newspapers refused to run advertisements for the movie. In Britain censors cut out the scene where Frankenstein discovers Fritz's hanged body, a scene of the Monster threatening Elizabeth and the murder of Dr. Waldmann. But when Frankenstein was re-released in the USA in 1937 Universal were forced to cut the scene in which the Monster kills the little girl Maria - undoubtedly one of the film's key scenes. Movie fans had to wait until 1985 to see a restored version of the film including all trimmed scenes.

The creation of Boris Karloff's mask, which has become the ultimate image of the Frankenstein Monster, is mainly the work of Universal's chief makeup artist Jack Pierce. Whale, who was also an artist, had drawn sketches of Karloff, which were closely followed by Pierce. Sketches provided by other make-up artists depicted the Monster as an alien, a wild man or a robot, but Pierce and Whale wanted him to have a "pitiful humanity". In 1939 Pierce revealed how he designed the mask:

"I did not depend on imagination. In 1931, before I did a bit of designing, I spent three months of research in anatomy, surgery, medicine, criminal history, criminology, ancient and modern burial customs, and electrodynamics. My anatomical studies taught me that there are six ways a surgeon can cut the skull in order to take out or put in a brain. I figured that Frankenstein, who was a scientist but no practising surgeon, would take the simplest surgical way. He would cut the top of the skull off straight across like a potlid, hinge it, pop the brain in , and then clamp it on tight. That is the reason I decided to make the Monster's head square and flat like a shoe box and dig that big scar across his forehead with the metal clamps holding it together."

Jack Pierce built an artificial square-shaped skull, like that of "a man whose brain had been taken from the head of another man'. He fixed wire clamps over Karloff's lips, painted his face blue-green, which photographed a corpse-like grey, and glued two electrodes to Karloff's neck. The wax on his eyelids was Karloff's idea. "We found the eyes were too bright, seemed too understanding, where dumb bewilderment was so essential. So I waxed my eyes to make them heavy, half-seeing", Karloff explained. He wore an undersized suit in order to make his limbs look longer and heavy boots weighing 13 pounds each in order to produce his lurching walk. The procedure of applying the make-up was a horrible experience for Karloff: "I spent three-and-a-half hours in the make-up chair getting ready for the day's work. The make-up itself was quite painful, particularly the putty on my eyes. There were days when I thought I would never be able to hold out until the end of the day."

Frankenstein is and will always be the ultimate horror film.