The Monster doesn't say a word in FRANKENSTEIN, but Karloff's performance still speaks volumes.

The Monster doesn’t say a word in FRANKENSTEIN (1931), but Karloff’s performance still speaks volumes.



Michael Arruda

Welcome to another edition of MEMORABLE MOVIE QUOTES, that column where we look at memorable quotes from the movies, especially horror movies.  Today we look at the ultimate monster movie, the original FRANKENSTEIN (1931) starring Boris Karloff as the Monster and Colin Clive as Doctor Henry Frankenstein.

While the screenplay by Garrett Fort and Francis Edward Faragoh includes lots of memorable lines, none of them are spoken by the most famous character from the movie, the Frankenstein Monster, since the creature was mute in this film.

Speaking of the screenplay, FRANKENSTEIN had quite the cast of writers involved in the writing of its script.  Ready?  While Fort and Faragoh were credited for writing the screenplay, it was based upon the “composition” by John L. Balderston, which was adapted from the play by Peggy Webling, and included uncredited contributions from Robert Florey and John Russell, as well as work from scenario editor Richard Schayer.  And of course, all of it was based on the novel by Mary Shelley.

Okay, let’s move on to the quotes.

The most famous line from the movie comes from Henry Frankenstein in the creation scene.  It’s one of the most recognizable scenes in horror film history.  With the monster’s hand slowly rising from the lab table, exhibiting its first signs of life, Henry Frankenstein goes ballistic.

HENRY FRANKENSTEIN:  Look! It’s moving. It’s alive. It’s alive… It’s alive, it’s moving, it’s alive, it’s alive, it’s alive, it’s alive, IT’S ALIVE!

Before the movie starts, actor Edward Van Sloan who plays Dr. Waldman in FRANKENSTEIN, comes out from behind a stage curtain and gives a word of warning to the audience.

EDWARD VAN SLOAN:  How do you do? Mr. Carl Laemmle feels it would be a little unkind to present this picture without just a word of friendly warning. We’re about to unfold the story of Frankenstein, a man of science who sought to create a man after his own image without reckoning upon God. It is one of the strangest tales ever told. It deals with the two great mysteries of creation: life and death. I think it will thrill you. It may shock you. It might even horrify you. So if any of you feel that you do not care to subject your nerves to such a strain, now is your chance to, uh… Well, we’ve warned you.

Supposedly, this pre-credit sequence was supposed to match a similar scene from the end of DRACULA (1931) with Bela Lugosi.  At the end of DRACULA, there was a clip of Edward Van Sloan, who played Dr. Van Helsing in DRACULA, coming out from behind a curtain to argue the existence of vampires.  Since FRANKENSTEIN was to be playing as a second feature following DRACULA, the two Edward Van Sloan sequences were supposed to link the two films together.

As far as I know, the Van Sloan sequence from the end of DRACULA no longer exists.  I’ve never seen it, nor have I seen a still from it.

Just before he brings his Monster to life, Henry Frankenstein pauses to reflect on what he’s about to do. He looks at his unborn creation and turns to his assistant, Fritz (Dwight Frye.)

HENRY FRANKENSTEIN:  The brain you stole, Fritz. Think of it. The brain of a dead man waiting to live again in a body I made with my own hands!  With my own hands.

Right after the “It’s Alive!” line, Henry nearly collapses from all the emotion, and Dr. Waldman and Henry’s friend Victor Moritz (John Boles) rush to his aid.  This scene includes a line of dialogue by Henry Frankenstein that was cut from the original print because it was deemed too controversial.  It was only recently restored.  The scene itself was restored in video prints from the 1980s, but curiously, the line was not, as it was drowned out by a thunder clap.  It was fully restored in DVD prints in the 2000s, and so finally we can hear Henry’s line which was considered blasphemous, I guess.  Here it is:

VICTOR MORITZ:  Henry, in the name of God!

HENRY FRANKENSTEIN:  Oh, in the name of God!  Now I know what it feels like to be God!

Colin Clive’s best scene comes shortly after he has created the Monster, in a scene of dialogue between Clive’s Henry Frankenstein and Dr. Waldman.  As they converse in the lab, Waldman tries to warn his former student about the dangers posed by the Monster.

Let’s listen:

HENRY:  Oh, come and sit down, doctor.  You must be patient.  Do you expect perfection at once?

DR. WALDMAN:  This creature of yours should be kept under guard!  Mark my words:  he will prove dangerous.

HENRY:  Dangerous?  Poor old Waldman.  Have you never wanted to do anything that was dangerous? Where should we be if nobody tried to find out what lies beyond? Have you never wanted to look beyond the clouds and the stars, or to know what causes the trees to bud? And what changes the darkness into light? But if you talk like that, people call you crazy. Well, if I could discover just one of these things, what eternity is, for example, I wouldn’t care if they did think I was crazy.

WALDMAN:  You’re young, my friend.  Your success has intoxicated you.  Wake up!  And look facts in the face!  Here we have a fiend whose brain—.

HENRY:  Whose brain must be given time to develop.  It’s a perfectly good brain, doctor.  Well, you ought to know.  It came from your own laboratory.

WALDMAN: The brain that was stolen from my laboratory was a criminal brain.

HENRY (caught off guard, and looking surprised.):  Oh well.  After all, it’s only a piece of dead tissue.

WALDMAN:  Only evil can come of it.  Your health will be ruined if you persist in this madness.

HENRY:  I’m astonishingly sane, doctor.

WALDMAN:  You have created a monster, and it will destroy you!

HENRY:  Patience, patience.  I believe in this monster, as you call it. And if you don’t, well you must leave me alone.

WALDMAN:  But think of Elizabeth, and your father.

HENRY:  Elizabeth believes in me.  My father?  He never believes in anyone.  I’ve got to experiment further.  He’s only a few days old, remember.  So far he’s been kept in complete darkness.  Wait till I bring him into the light.

I’ve always really enjoyed this scene.  There’s something about Clive’s performance here which is somehow more personal and more alive than in his other scenes, especially in that sequence where he speaks about being called crazy if you care to dream, and how he wouldn’t mind being called crazy if he could accomplish just one of these things.  I suspect Clive brought something personal with him when he played this scene.  It’s his best in the film.

As I said, the Monster doesn’t speak in this movie, but this doesn’t take away from Karloff’s brilliant performance.  In fact, in the film’s scariest scene, the death of little Maria, the Monster doesn’t have to utter one word.

Little Maria is outside playing, when the Monster emerges from the woods and approaches her.

MARIA:  Who are you?  I’m Maria.

MONSTER (Silence)

MARIA:  Will you play with me?

(Takes monster’s hand and leads him to the water.)

MARIA:  Would you like one of my flowers?

(Gives the MONSTER a flower. He sniffs it and smiles, making a happy grunt.  They sit by the water’s edge. Maria picks more flowers.

MARIA:  You have those, and I’ll have these.  (Gives the MONSTER more flowers.)  I can make a boat.  (She throws a flower into the water, and it floats.)  See how mine floats?

(The MONSTER throws a flower into the water and it floats too.  He smiles.  He throws the rest of his flowers into the water and makes happy grunting sounds.  He looks at his empty hands, smiles, nods his head, and reaches for Maria.  He picks her up.

MARIA:  No!  You’re hurting me!  No!!

(The MONSTER throws her into the water.  She screams, and the MONSTER reaches into the water, and she drowns.  The MONSTER then flees, terrified and afraid.)

This is such a bold scene, so bold in fact I seriously doubt it would be filmed today.  I’m amazed they got away with this in 1931.  Of course, it was cut from the TV print, supposedly at the request of Karloff, who thought it portrayed the Monster as too dark.  I disagree.  You clearly see in this scene that the Monster’s intentions are innocent.  He just has no understanding of life and death.  Again, it’s a brilliant performance by Karloff.  He really plays the Monster as a being newly born, with little understanding of life, a baby in a hulk’s body.  This scene was restored in the 1980s as well.

There you have it.  Some fun quotes from FRANKENSTEIN.

Thanks for joining me today, and I look forward to seeing you next time on another edition of MEMORABLE MOVIE QUOTES.

Thanks for reading!


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