Sister Celluloid

Where old movies go to live

December 1931: Frankenstein Takes Manhattan!

Eighty-three years ago this week, on a stormy December night in 1931, James Whale’s Frankenstein came ali-i-i-ve at the Mayfair Theatre in New York City—pulling in a record-breaking 76,360 fans in the first week alone. According to the NY Times‘ rave review, “the stirring grand giugnol type of picture aroused so much excitement that many in the audience laughed to cover their true feelings.” The film opened to wider release a few days later, with equally eye-popping numbers at the box office.

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The good doctor himself, Colin Clive, had already sailed back to England by then, but not before giving the Times an interview in which he praised the movie for remaining faithful to the book by killing off his character at the end. He found it refreshing that the producers didn’t opt to have the leading man and his ladylove “clasped in each other’s arms” at the fade-out…

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Little did he know that, after preview audiences hated the ending in which Dr. Frankenstein was killed by his creation, the studio re-shot it—over Whale’s violent objections—with stand-ins for both Clive and Mae Clarke clasping each other quite nicely, thank you. (Robert Livingston, who went on to be a semi-successful Western actor, reportedly subbed for Clive.)

Much to Whale’s frustration, the same thing happened with The Bride of Frankenstein: Clive was supposed to be blown up by the monster at the end, but preview audiences rebelled, and Universal gave him yet another reprieve. By then, however, the disgusted director had moved on to his next project, and the studio never bothered to re-shoot the final few frames. So in my screencaps below, you can clearly see Clive still pinned to the left wall of the tower even after he is seen escaping into the arms of Elizabeth (Valerie Hobson):

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Such was the fate of Dr. Frankenstein when played by the fabulous Colin Clive. Sure, he created a monster that terrorized a town and killed a few folks, but lordy, those eyes, those cheekbones! And he and Elizabeth—they’re so darn cute together! What are a few bodies in the face of true romance?

1 Comment

  1. frankenstein was the first 16mm feature i purchased in 1995

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