Right from the start, there were two things that bugged me about this movie. First, in the credits they called the author Mrs. Percy B. Shelley instead of Mary Shelley. Yes, she was married to Percy Shelley, but seriously! Second, they changed the name of the lead character! Instead of Victor Frankenstein, we have Henry Frankenstein. They gave the name Victor to his friend.
I’m going to be generous here and pretend I haven’t read, and enjoyed, Mary Shelley’s classic tale of a man slowly driven mad by obsession. The only thing her book and this movie have in common is the fact that it’s about a man named Frankenstein, and he brought a dead man back to life.
The movie starts old style, with a narrator in a tux, on a stage, introducing the story. This fades into a funeral at a cemetery with one of the cheesiest back drops I’ve ever seen. Creepy looking Fritz (not Igor) and Frankenstein are lurking behind a wrought iron fence (like the bars would really keep them hidden).
If you’re the least bit observant, you’ll see that the portly grave digger throws his hat and coat on the ground before filling in the grave (after the funeral goers have left), but when he’s done they’re hanging off the handle of a shovel that’s stuck in the ground. Same thing happens when Fritz and Frankenstein dig the coffin up again.
As they’re on their way home with the coffin in a hand cart, they pass a cross with a body tied to it and Frankenstein makes Fritz cut it down - mmm, fresh meat! - only to reject the body because the man’s neck is broken. Apparently a broken neck means the brain’s no good.
Now we see a doctor giving a lecture on the difference between a normal brain and an abnormal one. Fritz is peering in through a window, and after everyone leaves sneaks in to steal the normal brain. A noise startles him and he drops the beaker it’s in, so he takes the abnormal one instead (anyone else hear Marty Feldman’s voice saying, “Abby Normal?”).
Next we visit Frankenstein’s fiancée, Elizabeth, who’s reading a letter from him telling her all about how his experiments are so important they come even before her. Frankenstein’s friend, Victor, commiserates with her and promises to help. They go to the doctor and convince him to come with them to visit Frankenstein.
It’s a dark and stormy night. Frankenstein and Fritz are in the ultimate mad scientist’s lab high up in the falling down castle. They’re preparing for a great experiment - a lot of electrical arcing going on as they test the equipment.
Suddenly there came a rapping, as of someone gently tapping, tapping at the castle door. Frankenstein sends Fritz to send whoever it is away, but they’re not budging and start yelling for Frankenstein. He yells down at them to go away but they won’t, so he reluctantly lets them in.
Frankenstein tells them that he’s discovered a ray beyond ultra-violet on the spectrum and that this ray is the source of life. He allows the doctor to confirm the body he has on the table is dead. The storm continues to rage as Frankenstein turns on the equipment and uncovers the body. He raises the table up through a hole in the ceiling and begins counting. Lots of thunder, lots of lightning, lots of static. Slowly he lowers the table again - the body’s hand moves!
Apparently Frankenstein has a bit of a God complex and goes into near hysterics at his success.
Leaving the castle behind for the moment, we next find Elizabeth and Victor visiting with Frankenstein’s father, the baron, who’s complaining quite vociferously about his son’s continued absence. Thinking his son is holed up with another woman, the baron decides to go in person to bring him home.
Back in the lab, the doctor advises Frankenstein to lock the creature up because it’s dangerous - the stolen brain was that of a criminal, not a normal brain. The creature wanders in and appears somewhat harmless until Fritz rushes in and starts waving a torch at it. The creature’s frightened and reacts accordingly - Frankenstein and the doctor manage to subdue it and chain it up in another room.
We aren’t told what Fritz’s problem with the creature is, but he seems to enjoy tormenting it with a whip, and when Frankenstein takes that away from him, he uses a torch again. Frankenstein and the doctor are in the lab when they hear a scream and they rush into the creature’s cell to find Fritz hanging from the ceiling. Serves the nasty little worm right.
Frankenstein manages to give the creature a shot of something that knocks him out. At this point Victor arrives to warn them that the baron is on the way, and helps them hide the creature’s body. The baron is kind of pompous, demanding entry, and then he and Elizabeth go up to the lab. Frankenstein opens the door and promptly faints. They revive him and the baron tells him he’s taking him home.
Despite the fact the doctor promised Frankenstein he’d dispose of the creature humanely, he spends the next few days performing his own experiments on the creature, having to use increasingly larger doses of drugs to keep him unconscious. Unfortunately for him, he misjudges the dosages and the monster wakes up and kills him, then escapes the castle.
Meanwhile, Frankenstein is recuperating with Elizabeth at his side and they’re making wedding plans. Fast forward to their wedding day - the whole town is celebrating.
Out in the woods, the creature is wandering around and stumbles across a little girl playing by a lake. She invites him to play with her and they have fun floating the heads of daisies in the water. The creature gets a little too enthusiastic with the game and tosses her in too.
Back to the wedding. There’s celebrating in the streets, but Elizabeth has a really bad feeling and talks to Frankenstein. He brushes it off as wedding jitters. Victor interrupts them to tell him the professor’s been murdered and the creature’s on the loose. Frankenstein locks the door to Elizabeth’s bedroom as he leaves.
Suspecting the creature might be in the house, the men search upstairs. And while they do so, the creature climbs into Elizabeth’s room through the window. By the time the men get the door to the bedroom open, the monster is gone again and Elizabeth’s in a swoon on the bed.
The father of the little girl walks into town carrying her body, putting a damper on the festivities. The crowd follows him to the baron’s house and he promises that justice will be done. Elizabeth’s still in shock, so Frankenstein leaves her in Victor’s care so he can help search. The Burgomaster separates the large, angry mob into three smaller angry mobs to search for the creature.
The backdrop for the searchers is even worse than the one at the cemetery. You can practically see the brush strokes on it. Frankenstein gets separated from his group and the creature knocks him out and drags him off. The mob sees them and chases the creature to an old windmill. Still carrying Frankenstein, the creature climbs to the top where he growls at the mob below from a balcony.
Frankenstein regains consciousness and he and the creature struggle - the creature tosses him off the windmill. He must have had a soft landing because he’s still alive and some men carry him off. The rest of the mob set fire to the windmill and watch it burn. The monster is screaming as the entire thing is engulfed in flames.
They really could have ended the movie right there. But instead the tacked on a scene with a group of giggling maids with a bottle of wine on a tray. They knock on a set of double doors - the baron opens up and we can see Frankenstein in a bed with Elizabeth at his side. The maids suggest the happy couple might want the wine to celebrate but the baron decides not to disturb them, he’ll drink it himself.
I actually did find a copy of this on YouTube, although it’s only 49 minutes instead of 71. The beginning has been chopped off - it starts after the grave digger is about to leave the cemetery. I haven’t watched this one, so I have no idea what else may be missing.
My advice? Skip the movie. Read the book.