Every Halloween, I like to dress up with my kids when I go out with them. When my son told me that he wanted me to be Frankenstein, I pondered on who had played the creature on the silver screen. This post is a result of my curiosity.
The first to play the Frankenstein monster was Charles Ogle, in a sixteen minute brief made at Edison Studios in 1910. This monster was not created through the regular electrocution of a lifeless body, but rather through the mixture within a chemical vat.
Another short, created in 1915, was actually based on the dream of a character in the story. The dream had been the result of his reading the famous novel. Sadly the film is considered to be lost. In 1921, another Frankenstein film was made in Europe without much of a following.
It wasn't until ten years later that Frankenstein would find itself in another picture. The film was titled simply, Frankenstein (1931), and the man for the role was Boris Karloff. The studio had originally hoped for their new found star, Bela Lugosi, to play the lead. Apparently, Lugosi was not too fond on the idea of wearing heavy makeup with no dialogue, and turned them down for the part. Later in life, when Karloff was presented on the show, "This is Your Life", it was revealed that the makeup was thirty-five pounds and would take four hours to put on and nearly an hour to take off.
Through his performance, Karloff, became immortalized and gave audiences the Frankenstein they had always wanted. With his large build, narrow face and perfected acting skills, he was the perfect choice and gave new life to the creature.
One thing that I want to mention briefly, as an interesting fact, is the designing that went into the flattened head. As thought went into how the creature should look, one question kept coming up: "What would the crown of the head look like, if the top had been removed and then placed back on?" Finally a conclusion came, that the head would then look flat on top. What they did not realize is that the shape of the skull would not have changed, and in error they forever altered the look of the monster.
With the success of this film, a sequel was created titled, The Bride of Frankenstein (1935). This was also done by Karloff and has actually surpassed the original film in popularity. Karloff played Frankenstein one more time in Son of Frankenstein in 1939. In 1942, Lon Chaney Jr. was to be the next Frankenstein in The Ghost of Frankenstein. He would later fill in for Glenn Strange, on the set of Lou Costello Bud Abbott Meet Frankenstein (1948), when Strange hurt himself before the final scene.
In 1943, Universal made Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man with Bela Lugosi finally filling the role of the monster. The film also included Lon Chaney Jr. as the Wolf Man, but unfortunately the crowds had moved on and the monster films fell into the B-movie list.
Two more films were made within the next two years: House of Frankenstein (1944) & House of Dracula (1945). But these films had a new star playing the role, Glenn Strange. As close to Karloff as you can get, his height and distinct features gave him the perfect look. In 1948, a final tribute to the greatest monsters of Universal Studios was made, but this time they were paired with the studios most successful comedic duo, Bud Abbott & Lou Costello in Lou Costello Bud Abbott Meet Frankenstein. The film was a smash hit, but the era of these Universal monsters ended with it.
By this time, Karloff had moved onto other projects and rejected the studios request to have him play the monster one more time in this picture. He felt that comedy and horror would not look good in a film and gave Strange the chance to play the role once more. When Karloff saw that the film was a success, he joined the duo in one of their next films: Abbott & Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff (1949).
Frankenstein went onto be in many other films, in the States and overseas, as the years went by. It even hit a funny note with Mel Brook's satire, Young Frankenstein (1974). Though these later films may have been good, they fell short of the glory days at Universal Studios. Those original films have withstood the test of time and continue to help us better understand the "Mindless Monster" of Dr. Frankenstein.