: Ramble on about your favorite Universal monster.
For sheer power an emotional resonance, nothing beats the Frankenstein Monster as played by Boris Karloff in the 1931 film Frankenstein
(and to a lesser extent in Bride of Frankenstein
and a much lesser extent in Son of Frankenstein
). Anyone arguing that monster acting is somehow less than "regular" acting should immediately review the scene where we meet the Monster for the first time. Karloff, under heavy makeup, uses awkward, stilted-but-not-stiff movements to evoke the otherness of this hapless being. Then, in one of my favorite movie moments, Doctor Frankenstein opens a slat in the roof and lets the sunlight pour in. The Monster, who in his brief time on Earth has only known the darkness of the lab and its dungeon, reaches up, stretching for the light, his eyes full of confusion and wonder. And just as soon as he finds something hopeful in his life, the doctor closes the slat, his experiment moving on. And Karloff's hands go out in this helpless, pleading gesture and I. just. fucking. break.
Karloff's performance throughout really captures the soul of the Monster, an Other born into a world that didn't want him and that he didn't ask for. It's a 75-minute commitment that I suggest you make. Now. I'll wait.
While I do love Bride of Frankenstein
, I think it loses some of the Monster's pathos for a number of reasons. The movie is played much more strongly for comedy, for one thing. The Monster also spends a good chunk of the film playing henchman for Dr. Pretorious, which becomes his go-to role for the next several films, serving one human master after another, until he becomes a pawn to be left off the play board until the end of the movie by the time House of Frankenstein
rolls around in 1944. Of course, Karloff exited the role after 1939's Son of Frankenstein
, an excellent film that, unfortunately, reduces the Monster's role to boogeyman at the beck and call of Bela Lugosi's Ygor. Don't get me wrong, I love their dynamic and Lugosi kills it in that movie, but it's clear that they've burned through all of their interesting ideas for the characterization and development of the Monster.
If I had to pick a Universal monster that absolutely did it for me in all of the films in which it appeared, it would have to be The Wolf Man/Larry Talbot. But that's an essay for another day.