Frankenstein (1931)

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
German title Frankenstein
Original title Frankenstein
Country of production United States
original language English
Publishing year 1931
length 71 minutes
Age rating FSK 16
Director James Whale
script John L. Balderston ,
Francis Edward Faragoh ,
Peggy Webling (play),
Mary Shelley (novel)
production Carl Laemmle Jr.
music Bernhard Kaun
camera Arthur Edeson
cut Clarence Kolster

Frankenstein is the first Tonverfilmung the novel by Mary Shelley . The black and white film from 1931 uses only a few motifs and characters from Shelley's novel and is actually based on the play of the same name by Peggy Webling. James Whale created a classic horror film with Frankenstein , which was followed by numerous other films. Boris Karloff , who played the monster, made his breakthrough as an actor with Frankenstein .


Bavaria in the 19th century: the young scientist Dr. Henry Frankenstein tries beyond recognized science to create life out of dead matter. Due to a disagreement with his professor, he left the university . Professor Waldmann is very suspicious of the young Frankenstein's research into the origin of life.

Frankenstein is advancing his research in a remote old watchtower. The only person he allows near him is his assistant Fritz. After he succeeded in making a previously dead heart beat for three weeks, Frankenstein began to create a body from body parts with the help of his assistant . He gets these body parts from cemeteries or from criminals who have just been hanged at their places of execution. The moral aspects are completely irrelevant to him. He wants to breathe life into this body with the rays he has discovered but not specified. However, this is electricity, which at that time was still relatively unexplored, especially the effects on the human body. All he needs is a brain to complete his work and he instructs Fritz to steal one from the professor's collection of specimens . However, Fritz makes a serious mistake. Instead of the brain of a healthy person, he steals a murderer's preparation.

Frankenstein himself only maintains contact with his future wife by letter. In these letters he reports only very vaguely about his experiments to his bride Elisabeth. Elisabeth becomes increasingly concerned and asks her friends Victor and Professor Waldmann for help to bring Henry Frankenstein to his senses.

An approaching thunderstorm seems helpful to Frankenstein for the success of his experiment. While Frankenstein is making the final preparations, he is disturbed by Elisabeth and her two companions. He cannot turn them away and so they persuade them to take part in the experiment. With a lightning strike, Frankenstein actually succeeds in bringing the creature to life. For this purpose, he constructed a complicated apparatus on the roof of the watchtower in order to be able to “catch” the lightning bolts of the storm. When the monster really comes to life, Frankenstein is beside himself and feels "godlike".

Elisabeth and Victor are shaken and leave the tower, while Professor Waldmann is fascinated and supports Frankenstein in observing the creature. In the process, Waldmann learns that the creature's brain comes from his laboratory. Full of horror, he tells Frankenstein that this is the brain of a murderer. But Frankenstein is so enthusiastic about his creation that he ignores all of the professor's warnings. When his assistant Fritz, who tormented the monster with a torch, is found murdered (hung up) a little later, Frankenstein Waldmann agrees that the monster must be killed. But before that happens, Elisabeth appears again. This time she is accompanied by Dr. Frankenstein. He is also worried about his son and would like to dissuade him from his activities and bring him home. Dr. Frankenstein collapses after the efforts of the last time. His father then takes him home with him.

Professor Waldmann, on the other hand, was able to hide the creature from uninvited visitors. He remains in the tower with this one. On his wedding day with Elisabeth, Frankenstein learns that his creature killed Professor Waldmann and is now supposed to be up to mischief in the area around the tower. A little girl is accidentally killed by the monster while playing.

The monster suddenly appears at Elisabeth's house, but is able to flee before it is caught. The villagers in the area get angrier and go in search of the creature in order to kill it. Under the direction of Frankenstein, they set off towards the tower, but they are soon separated and suddenly Frankenstein is alone facing his creature. The monster knocks him down and takes him to a nearby windmill. There it holed up with Frankenstein. In the further course there is a fight between Frankenstein and the creature, with Frankenstein being thrown from the second floor of the mill. The scientist survived the fall seriously injured and was carried into the village.

The creature tries to follow Frankenstein, but the villagers who have rushed to set the mill on fire. The panicked creature tries to free itself from the burning mill, but is trapped under a falling beam. While the mill burns down, the nearby villagers hear the monster screaming.

History of origin

For Frankenstein, Robert Florey , who also adapted the script from Peggy Webling's play, was initially intended as director. Florey preferred Bela Lugosi in the role of the monster, but Lugosi declined the role because he feared that the make-up effects would make his facial features barely recognizable. Eventually the theater director James Whale took over the direction and the until then almost unknown actor Boris Karloff was given the role of the monster.

Since then, the term Frankenstein has not been associated with the creator of the monster, but with the monster itself. It did not last makeup artist Jack Pierce a large part, because he created the distinctive, angular appearance of the monster. Many film historians are of the opinion that Pierce stuck to the templates created by James Whale, who drew many sketches of the appearance of the monster and was based on Karloff's distinctive facial features. Karloff himself had to undergo a four-hour procedure every day of shooting in order to slip into the role of the monster. He also brought in his own ideas, on the one hand the drooping eyelids that were lengthened with wax and give the monster a sleepy expression. On the other hand, he took out a bridge from his teeth, which gives the face the typical corpse-like, hollow expression.

Edward van Sloan (Professor Waldman) and Dwight Frye (Fritz) had previously starred in a Dracula film adaptation, Sloan as Dr. Van Helsing and Frye as Renfield. Whale had worked with Colin Clive, who was considered difficult, on Journey's End . Whale managed to get Clive to play Henry Frankenstein and not Universal's intended Leslie Howard .

In the original version, Frankenstein dies when he falls from the mill. However, test screenings of the film showed that the audience did not agree with this ending, which is why the well-known ending with the seriously injured but still living Frankenstein was filmed.

The idea of ​​the "abnormal brain" that Fritz stole from the university after he dropped the glass with the "normal" brain and thus made it unusable, goes back to an idea by Florey, which explains the monster's murderous behavior wanted to create.

The camera work by Arthur Edesons is extraordinary. The film gets a large part of its dynamics through zooms, pans and camera movements from perspectives that were unusual for the time. Edeson, who was already in charge of the camera for In the West , and worked with Whale on the production of Waterloo Bridge , abandoned the static camera method used in American productions at the time and experimented with light and shadow to create the typically creepy-claustrophobic atmosphere to accomplish.


This film adaptation has shaped the image of Frankenstein's monster to this day, which is reflected, among other things, in countless imitations and parodies in various media. The depiction of the monster is quite different for the time of the filming. Although the monster kills people, the sympathies of today's viewers are on the monster's side. The monster is portrayed as a vulnerable, childlike, naive creature. However, the point of view of contemporaries was still different, as can be seen from the difference in reviews from then and now.

The scene with the little girl Maria, removed from the premiere, plays a decisive role. The monster plays with the little girl in childlike, naive and heartfelt joy. The girl throws flowers into the water, which are floating on the water. After the girl has given the monster some flowers, the monster throws them into the water and is happy about them. But when there are no more flowers, the monster throws the girl into the water, wrongly believing that it would float on the surface of the water just like the flowers. When the monster realizes its mistake, it finally runs away in despair.

This shortening of the original version changes the message of this scene: In the cut version you only see the monster running towards the girl and after a cut, how she runs away from the churned water. This creates a completely different image of the monster.


  • In 2003, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences affixed various special film-themed stamps to the voting papers for the 2003 Academy Awards . Among them was a postage stamp on the subject of “make-up”, which showed the image of Boris Karloff as Frankenstein's monster.
  • When it was first shown in cinemas, the film was censored in some countries and two scenes were missing. For one, there was a scene in which Colin Clive as Dr. Frankenstein compares himself to God when the monster is awakened, on the other hand the already mentioned scene of the girl with the flowers. Both scenes are reinserted into the film on the DVD . Before these scenes were removed from the film, Carl Laemmle , founder of Universal Pictures , insisted that a prologue with a “friendly warning” be added to the shocking and sometimes terrifying images. In this prologue, actor Edward van Sloan addressed the audience directly.
  • In the opening credits of the film only a question mark was given as the cast for the role of the monster ; Karloff's name was only found in the credits.
  • In the German dubbed version, Henry Frankenstein becomes Herbert Frankenstein . However, the name Henry can be heard twice in the last scene.
  • During the shooting of the Frankenstein film in 1931, the production team feared that seven-year-old Marilyn Harris, who was about to be thrown into a lake by the monster in the role of little Maria, would be too frightened by Karloff's creepy mask and costume To play scene. When the assembled crew was supposed to drive to the filming location together, Marilyn ran from the car she was supposed to drive straight over to the "monster" Karloff, took his hand and asked: "May I drive with you?" Very pleased and in typical Karloff - He replied in a manner: "It would be my pleasure, little one." And so she drove all the way to the location with the "Monster" in his limousine.
  • The film music by the German composer Bernhard Kaun , the youngest son of the composer Hugo Kaun , opened the great career of this film composer in Hollywood, who made history alongside Korngold and Max Steiner .
  • The world premiere of this film took place on November 21, 1931 in the United States.
  • The German premiere followed on May 18, 1932.
  • The production had a budget of $ 291,000.


Through this film and its numerous sequels, the name Frankenstein was from now on associated less with the questionable scientist than with his creation in popular culture . Although Boris Karloff only played the role of the monster three times, in Frankenstein, Frankenstein's bride and Frankenstein's son , his portrayal and above all the mask has become an icon of pop culture and a point of reference for countless imitations. However, Universal has the rights to their special interpretation of the classic horror novel. These provisions not only affect the appearance, i.e. the clothing and make-up of Dracula, Frankenstein's monster or the wolf man, certain gestures are also protected. The name "Frankenstein" has become a synonym for horror, so that many films that have only marginal or nothing to do with the topic have "Frankenstein" in the title.

Another archetype that occurs in Frankenstein, but also in Metropolis , is that of the mad scientist , the doggedly ambitious but solitary and misanthropic scientist whose research misses any measure. After a successful experiment, the latter feels like the gods, but then cannot get rid of the spirits that he created. His creations are beyond his control and become independent with tragic consequences. For his work he uses modern or even slightly futuristic sciences that must appear like magic to his contemporaries.

Frankenstein contains many motifs that became genre conventions in subsequent horror and scary films of that time : crumbling walls, severe storms, misshapen assistants, a scientist / researcher obsessed with his experiments, his father's advisor, a beautiful woman who cares about the Scientist provides, a good friend (usually also a “good” friend of the respective woman) and a monster, emerged from experiments beyond the prevailing ethical and moral concepts.


The German dubbed version was created in 1957 by Berliner Synchron GmbH under the direction of Volker Becker .

role actor German Dubbing voice
Dr. Henry Frankenstein Colin Clive Ottokar Runze
Elizabeth Mae Clarke Kriemhild Falke
Viktor John Boles Friedrich Joloff
Frankenstein's monster Boris Karloff Benno Hoffmann
Dr. Waldmann Edward Van Sloan Alfred Haase
Baron Frankenstein Frederick Kerr Robert Klupp
Fritz, Frankenstein's assistant Dwight Frye Walter Bluhm
Mayor Vogel Lionel Belmore Erich Poremski
Little Maria Marilyn Harris Hinzelmann rehab
Ludwig, Maria's father Michael Mark Heinz Giese


In 1935, director Whale made the sequel to Frankenstein's Bride, again with Boris Karloff in the role of the monster and Colin Clive as Frankenstein. If Frankenstein was already a success, most film critics consider the sequel to be the best horror film that Universal has ever produced. Frankenstein's Bride is one of the few sequels that surpasses the success and quality of its predecessor.

After a double showing of Dracula and Frankenstein was a great success in 1938, Universal produced a third Frankenstein film in 1939, Frankenstein's son, with Basil Rathbone as Frankenstein's son, Boris Karloff as the monster and Bela Lugosi as Igor, the devious assistant. Directed by Rowland V. Lee .

Further sequels emerged in the 1940s, in which Karloff however no longer appeared as the monster. In Frankenstein returns again from 1942, Lon Chaney junior played. the role of the monster. In 1943, Universal's first horror film, Frankenstein meets the Wolfmen , appeared in which monsters from different film series came together. Since Chaney played the werewolf Larry Talbot in this film (as in all other sequels) , Bela Lugosi took on the role of the monster, which he had turned down 12 years earlier. In 1944 and 1945, Dracula joined the other monsters in the films Frankenstein's House and Dracula's House . In these films, Glenn Strange played the monster. Despite the title of Frankenstein's House , no character named "Frankenstein" appeared for the first time. For this, Boris Karloff returned to the series in the role of a mad scientist. The 1948 parody Abbott & Costello meet Frankenstein with Bud Abbott and Lou Costello in the leading roles marks the end of Universal's classic horror film series . Glenn Strange played Frankenstein's monster again, and Bela Lugosi played Count Dracula for the first time since 1931 (in previous films this character was played by John Carradine ). It wasn't until 2004 that Universal's characters Frankenstein's Monster, Dracula and the Wolf Man were revived for the film Van Helsing .

Further adaptations

In the more than 100 film adaptations of the material for the cinema and television, there are some noteworthy implementations.

In 1957 the English Hammer Studios produced the first Frankenstein color film with Frankenstein's Curse . Directed by Terence Fisher , Peter Cushing took on the role of Dr. Frankenstein and Christopher Lee those of the monster.

In the film Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1994), directed by Kenneth Branagh , Robert De Niro played the monster.

Also worth mentioning is the 1974 film Flesh for Frankenstein (also known as Andy Warhol's Frankenstein ), in which Udo Kier played the role of Baron Frankenstein.

One of the most famous allusions to the Frankenstein films can be found in the film Rocky Horror Picture Show , in which a certain Dr. Frank'N'Furter (played by Tim Curry ) created a creature.

In Japan, the so-called Kaiju- Frankenstein trilogy was created in the 1960s, which includes the films Frankenstein - The Horror with the Monkey Face , Frankenstein - The Battle of the Giants and King Kong - Frankenstein's Son . It is about the fact that the heart of the monster is brought from Germany to Japan, where it mutates into the monster Frankenstein due to the atomic bombing in Hiroshima . In King Kong - Frankenstein's Son , the giant monkey King Kong is presented as the son of Frankenstein.

There is also an allusion to Frankenstein's monster in the television series The Munsters from the 1960s, because the head of the Munsters family, Herman Munster, has the distinctive facial features of the creature from the 1931 film. The same applies to the series The Addams Family , here resembles the butler Frankenstein's monster.

The 1973 blaxploitation horror film Blackenstein uses original props from the 1931 film for the laboratory.

In Mel Brooks ' parody Frankenstein Junior from 1974, which satirizes not only the three Frankenstein films with Boris Karloff from the 1930s, but also Dracula and King Kong , Kenneth used knitting thread , who was already responsible for the laboratory equipment of Whales Film , Parts of the scenery and devices of the original.


  • “It has been known since Wegener's ' Golem ' and many other works that touch on the same subject that the material itself is extremely grateful . Here, however, they turned it into a cheap fairground show booth affair, which was supposedly a huge success in America, but due to its simple-minded and unimaginative direction is not for a discerning audience. Actually there are hardly any tasks to solve. All just soundless figures except for the artificial person, in whose role a new man, Boris Karloff, presents himself, who emulates the dead Lon Chaney in mask arts . The audience left the theater annoyed and whistling. ”- Berliner Morgenpost in May 1932
  • “One of the earliest and most copied American horror films. Formally inspired by expressionist German cinema, he in turn influenced a flood of horror films. Even if hardly shocking today, 'Frankenstein' is an absolute classic of its genre and a solid piece of cinematic craftsmanship with amazing special effects. ”- Lexicon of international film
  • “Whales Frankenstein staging is a specifically baroque form of American Expressionism, which is based on its model, the fantastic German films such as Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari or The Golem , Can't Deny. ”- in David Pirie: A Heritage of Horror: The English Gothic Cinema . Tauris IB; Edition: New Ed, 2007, ISBN 978-1-84511-482-4 (English).
  • "One of the earliest and most cited American horror films [...] Today mainly as a piece of cinema history of a certain interest." - in: 6000 films. Critical notes from the cinema years 1945 to 1958 . Handbook V of the Catholic film criticism. 3. Edition. Altenberg House, Düsseldorf 1963, p. 121 .
  • “Milestone of the horror genre and its most beautiful, most imaginative, poetic, cruelest example [...]; Even after fifty years, Karloff is still a superstar who can be empathized; a classic in film history. ”(Rating: 3½ stars = exceptional) - in Adolf Heinzlmeier , Berndt Schulz (ed.): Lexicon“ Films on TV ” . Extended new edition. Rasch and Röhring, Hamburg 1990, ISBN 3-89136-392-3 , p. 244 .


The film was inducted into the National Film Registry in 1991. In 1998 he was on the list of "100 Movies" - the 100 best American films ever made the American Film Institute added.


  • Norbert Borrmann: Frankenstein and the future of artificial humans . Diederichs , 2001, ISBN 3-7205-2187-7 .
  • Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley: Frankenstein . Learning materials Easy readers ( English ). Klett , 2001, ISBN 3-12-537850-8 (other publishers: Copenhagen: Aschehoug, Oslo: Gyldendal Norsk Forl., Poznań: Wydawn, Helsinki: Tammi, Milan: Ed.Scolastiche Mondadori, Madrid: Santillana, Stockholm: Almqvist and Wiksell, Groningen: Wolters / Noordhoff, St. Paul, Minnesota, USA: EMC Corp., Carlton, Victoria, Australia: CIS Educational, Cheltenham, Glos.: Europ. Schoolbooks Publ.).
  • Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley: Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus . Insel , Frankfurt 2004, ISBN 3-458-34801-8 .
  • Hans Schmid: Frankenstein . A film guide. Belleville, Munich 2005, ISBN 3-923646-19-4 .
  • Thomas T. Tabbert: Frankenstein's Creation . Artificial people in Mary Shelley's novels . Artislife Press, Hamburg 2006, ISBN 3-938378-12-3 .
  • William K. Everson : Classics of Horror Movies . Goldmann, Munich 1982, ISBN 3-442-10205-7 (Original title: Classics of the Horror Film .).

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. World premieres according to IMDb
  2.,188987 budget according to
  3. Frankenstein. In: Lexicon of International Films . Film service , accessed March 2, 2017 .Template: LdiF / Maintenance / Access used