Mary Shelley’s novel was popular in theatrical versions in the 19th century, and it was a stage version that led to the 1931 film. The success in 1927 of the play Frankenstein: an adventure in the Macabre, written by Peggy Webling, impressed the American film company Universal studios. However, Universal waited until 1931, when their film of Dracula was released – a huge hit- before going ahead with filming. In Frankenstein (1931; directed by James Whale), Doctor Henry Frankenstein’s ambition is to create human life. He plans to use electrical machines to animate body parts which, with the help of his incompetent servant Fritz, he steals from graveyards. But when Fritz is asked to steal a brain in a jar from the Medical College, he drops the one marked “Normal” and takes the one marked “Abnormal”.
Once he is alive, the creature is kept in the dungeon of the castle, where he is treated cruelly by Fritz. Provoked, the creature kills Fritz, but he is recaptured by Frankenstein and Dr Waldman, Henry’s old professor, whom Henry’s fiancée, Elizabeth, has begged to come and help Henry. Soon, however, the creature breaks free again, killing Dr. Waldman. He comes across Elizabeth, who faints from fear. He leaves her unharmed and escapes from the castle. Despite the brutal treatment from Fritz, the creature retains some child-like innocence. He meets a little girl called Maria and they play together, throwing flowers into a lake, until the creature, enjoying the game and the beauty of the floating flowers, throws Maria into the lake thinking she too will float.
The Bride of Frankenstein (1935; directed by James Whale) has a short prologue, a conversation between Mary Shelley, he husband and Byron. When the film begins, we learn that the creature survived the fire at the end of Frankenstein. He enjoys a brief moment of kindness with a blind old man in a cottage, but then some villagers arrive, recognize him and chase him. At the castle, Dr. Praetorious, a “mad scientist”, persuades Dr Frankenstein to mate for the angry creature. He does so, but the new female is horrified when she sees the creature and rejects him. The creature then burns down the castle, killing himself, the female and Dr Praetorious. A tone of black humour pervades the film, which many people think is even better than the 1931 film. The making of this film is itself the subject of a film, Gods and Monsters (1998).
Although the next film, Son of Frankenstein (1939), starred Karloff (for the last time) it started the decline into a series of cheap horror films where a powerful but awkward monster, called simply “the Monster”, terrorizes everyone around him. In Britain, from the late 1950's to the 1970's the British company Hammer Films made a series of horror films, some of them interesting, where the focus was on the scientist and the construction of the monster.
The story has sometimes used for comedy, and by far best is Mel Brook’s Young Frankenstein (1974), both a prody of and a homage to Whale’s films. A couple of films claims to follow Mary Shelley’s novel, Frankenstein: The Story (1973) and Kenneth Branagh’s Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994). The later is much more faithful but neither film can resist including the creation of the female.