Jump to: Spoilers (8)
A microphone was placed in the coffin used in the funeral scene to amplify the sound of the grave dirt hitting the lid.
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During production, there was some concern that seven-year-old Marilyn Harris, who played Maria, the little girl thrown into the lake by The Monster, would be overly frightened by the sight of Boris Karloff in costume and make-up when it came time to shoot the scene. When the cast was assembled to travel to the location, Harris ran from her car directly up to Karloff, who was in full make-up and costume, took his hand, and asked "May I drive with you?" Delighted, and in typical Karloff fashion, he responded, "Would you, darling?" She then rode to the location with "The Monster".
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The Monster's make-up design by Jack P. Pierce is under copyright to Universal through the year 2026 and licensed by Universal Studios Licensing, Inc.
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The Monster in this film does not physically resemble the character in Mary Shelley's novel. It was make-up artist Jack P. Pierce who came up with innovations such as the Monster's flat head, the bolts through the neck, the droopy eyelids, and the poorly-fitted suit. Any future Frankenstein film that features any of these physical abnormalities is taking its inspiration from Pierce's make-up work.
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While preparing to film the scene where the monster attacks Elizabeth, Mae Clarke admitted to Boris Karloff that she was worried that when she saw him in full makeup coming towards her, she might really be frightened. Karloff told her that throughout the scene he would wiggle his pinkie finger out of sight of the camera so that, despite the horrific makeup, she could always see her friend Boris waving at her and letting her know that she was safe.
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According to the TLC network program The Hunt for Amazing Treasures (1996), a unique six-sheet poster for this film, showing Boris Karloff as The Monster menacing Mae Clarke, is worth at least $600,000 (US) and is possibly the most valuable movie poster in the world. The only known (original) copy is owned by a private collector.
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After bringing The Monster to life, Dr. Frankenstein uttered the famous line, "Now I know what it's like to BE God!" The movie was originally released with this line of dialogue, but when it was re-released in the late 1930s, censors demanded it be removed on the grounds that it was blasphemy. A loud clap of thunder was substituted on the soundtrack. The dialogue was partially restored on the video release, but since no decent recording of the dialogue could be found, it still appears garbled and indistinct. The censored dialog was partially returned to the soundtrack in the initial "restored version" releases. Further restoration has now completely brought back this line of missing dialog. A clean recording of the missing dialog was reportedly found on a Vitaphone disc (similar to a large phonograph record). Modern audio technology was used to reinsert the dialog in the film without any detectable change in the audio quality. With the restoration, it is now known that he says, "Now I know what it feels like to be gods."
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A 20-minute test reel, starring Bela Lugosi as The Monster and directed by Robert Florey, was filmed on the Dracula (1931) sets. This footage has not been seen since 1931 and is considered lost. Only a poster, featuring the vague likeness of Lugosi as a 30-foot colossus, remains.
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The first film to use the famous Castle Thunder sound effect.
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The popular image of Frankenstein's monster as green-skinned was sourced in this film. Jack P. Pierce applied a grayish-green greasepaint for The Monster's skin that appeared as a deathly pale gray tone on black and white film. This contrasted with the gray values of the normal characters in the movie. The one exception was the use of a much darker color on The Monster's exposed arm - representing dead, black flesh - prior to its being brought to life.
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Boris Karloff's daughter Sara Karloff, who wasn't even born back then, alleges that her father was considered as such an anonymous actor by Universal that he was not invited to the December 6, 1931 premiere. It is most likely that Karloff was "indisposed" for health reasons, pertaining to James Whale's rough bareback mistreatment "play", what he had to submit to for stardom, rather than anything that happened during filming. (It has been said Karloff broke his back during production, which has long been debunked as one of his fibs, as his back has been filmed intact and sans scars in different films, after he claimed he had had several surgeries.)
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The most difficult aspect of casting was The Monster. James Whale happened to spot Boris Karloff in the Universal commissary and passed him a note offering a screen-test, which Karloff jumped at. Karloff later joked that he was offended by being viewed as such an ugly character, since on the day that Whale spotted him, he was wearing his most elegant suit and thought he was looking handsome.
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The movie's line "It's alive! It's alive!" was voted as the #49 movie quote by the American Film Institute (out of 100) in 2005.
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Seven year old actress Marilyn Harris had done several takes of Maria being thrown in the lake, none of which turned out quite right. (For example, on the first take, she actually floated as The Monster thought she would. A petticoat or two were removed to facilitate her going under water.) Although wet and tired, she agreed to do one last take of the scene, the one that appears in the finished film, after director James Whale promised her anything she wanted if she would do so. She asked for a dozen hard-boiled eggs, her favorite snack. Whale gave her two dozen. The DVD commentary for the film suggests that Harris wasn't actually a good swimmer, quoting her as saying that she had only a couple of swimming lessons before filming and had never dived under water before.
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Ken Strickfaden, who created all the electrical gadgets and effects for the movie, also doubled for Boris Karloff during the sequences that showed the million volt sparks playing over his body. Ken Strickfaden also stood in for Karloff in The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932) for the same reason. All of this electric lab equipment has appeared in other movies over the years. The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), Undersea Kingdom (1936), Blake of Scotland Yard to name a few. When all of these lab gadgets were no longer used for movies, Ken Strickfaden put them into storage in his garage. When Mel Brooks found out that the lab equipment still existed, the same machines were used in the comedy Young Frankenstein (1974), and director Mel Brooks gave Strickfaden the onscreen credit he had not received in this film and others. Rock Band KISS Used Ken Strickfaden's Lighting Machine Used In Frankenstein On Their Spirit Of 76 Tour, There Is One Known Photo Of The Machine The Lightning Machine Was Ultimately Dropped From Their Show As It Was Deemed Unpredictable And Dangerous...
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Boris Karloff is considered a late bloomer in Hollywood. Frankenstein (1931) premiered when he was 44 years old.
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Biographers have remarked that Bela Lugosi was right to turn down this movie, as the original script he was given portrayed The Monster as a grunting, killing machine and not the part eventually played by the British actor Boris Karloff. Neither original director Robert Florey nor Lugosi ever turned down this film as the end product, because they never once read the James Whale script. Indeed, it was this director (and Whale also scoffed at the original script and refused to do it) whose sensitivity overhauled the entire screenplay, as he rewrote it completely, turning the monster into a caring, sensitive and "lost soul". What was assigned to Florey and Lugosi was a monster with neither pathos nor heart, but a violent killing machine, a bit like what Karloff eventually portrayed (and would himself regret doing so) in Son of Frankenstein (1939).
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According to film historian Gregory W. Mank, director James Whale was jealous of the attention Boris Karloff's monster was getting during production and took revenge by making the actor carry Colin Clive up the mountain to the mill in take after take dozens of times. Clive felt badly for his co-star and suggested that a dummy be used. Whale refused, and Karloff continued to have to carry Clive's 6'0', 154-lb. body in succeeding takes.
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Edward Van Sloan (Dr. Waldman) also makes an uncredited appearance as himself in the film's prologue, warning audiences of what follows.
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The leading character of Mary Shelley's book, Dr. Victor Frankenstein, was renamed Henry because it was decided Victor would sound too "severe" and "unfriendly" to American audiences at the time.
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The thick-soled boots The Monster wears are known as "hot asphalt boots". They were used by men who had to work with hot asphalt on roads. The soles are specially designed to resist heat.
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Technically not conceived as a "horror" movie, since the term "horror" as a film genre was first used in 1934.
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Actor Edward Van Sloan (Dr. Waldman) appeared in the now-lost test reel with Bela Lugosi as The Monster. In an interview conducted shortly before his death, Van Sloan remembered that Lugosi's makeup resembled The Golem, with a large broad wig and "a polished clay-like skin".
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Mary Shelley was only 19 years old when she wrote the novel.
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Boris Karloff offered to remove his partial bridgework as part of the monster make-up process to create the sunken-cheek look.
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The method of animating the creature is never discussed in Mary Shelley's novel. In the book, Frankenstein, narrating, refuses to divulge how he did it so no one can recreate his actions, although there are some hints that it involves mixing chemicals. However, the use of lightning to resurrect the monster has become the accepted methodology and appears in almost every Frankenstein movie since. Two notable exceptions are Frankenstein: The True Story (1973), in which the Monster is animated by sunlight, and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1994), which uses electric eels instead of lightning as the source of electricity.
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Boris Karloff's make-up took four hours each day for Jack P. Pierce to apply, and his cumbersome costume weighed 48 pounds in the uncomfortable heat of summer.
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In a 1985 interview, Mae Clarke said, "Colin Clive was the dearest, kindest--in the real meaning of the word "kind"--man, who gave you importance. He was so wonderful, so clever. When he started acting in a scene, I wanted to stop and just watch . . . I'd think, 'Here I am, playing scenes with this marvelous actor!' Mr. Whale [director James Whale] would say, 'Colin's voice is like a pipe organ . . . I just pull out the stops, and he produces the music.' Colin was electric. I was mesmerized by him--so much so that I hoped it didn't show! When he looked at me, I'd flush. He had a wife back in England, and I had my young man (of the Waterloo Bridge (1931) premiere.) In fact, I was glad my fiancé was at the premiere that night--to be my good anchor against my stormy waves of fancy for Colin. He was the handsomest man I ever saw--and also the saddest. Colin's sadness was elusive; the sadness you see if you contemplate many of the master painters' and sculptors' conceptions of the face of Christ--the ultimate source in my view of all sadness."
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Bela Lugosi inadvertently paved the way for Boris Karloff's fame: if Lugosi hadn't turned down the role of the monster, Karloff might have forever remained relegated to obscure villain bit parts, as he had been confined to doing for the ten years since arriving in Hollywood.
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In the novel, Frankenstein builds and animates the Monster in what is essentially his dormitory room, and the method is never revealed. Universal decided on the castle laboratory with all the electrical equipment, and this is what the majority of the public now associate with the Monster's creation.
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In the opening credits, The Monster is credited as ?, and only in the closing credits is The Monster credited as Boris Karloff.
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Carl Laemmle Jr. offered James Whale a list of 30+ film adaptations he could direct, and Whale picked this one. Whale said he did so because he wanted to get away from the war pictures with which he had been associated. Whale is now, by far, best-remembered for his four horror films.
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The film was banned in Kansas upon its original release on the grounds that it exhibited "cruelty and tended to debase morals".
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Dr. Frankenstein's first name is Henry, while his best friend's name is Victor Moritz. In the novel, the doctor's name is Victor Frankenstein, while his best friend is Henry Clerval, and the unrelated housekeeper to the Frankenstein family is Justine Moritz.
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What are commonly called bolts on the neck of the monster are, in reality, electrodes.
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Boris Karloff often referred to the Frankenstein Monster as "the dear old boy".
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In 1991, Frankenstein (1931) was added to the National Film Registry by the United States Library of Congress.
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The set design of the windmill sequence was inspired by a building in Los Angeles that housed a local bakery, Van de Kamp, which displayed a large windmill as its corporate logo.
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James Whale came on board to replace Robert Florey as director of the movie only about 2 weeks before shooting was scheduled to begin. In the final film, there are one or two scenes that are actually Florey's work, the scene with the burning windmill being one of them.
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John Carradine turned down the part of The Monster because he considered himself too highly trained to be reduced to playing monsters.
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John Huston wrote an early version of the warning speech given at the start of the film.
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In a 1985 interview, Mae Clarke said, "I thought Boris Karloff was magnificent. That scene with the skylight! When he looked up and up and up and up and waved his hand at the light, it was a spiritual lesson--looking at God! It was like when we die, the Beatific Vision, which makes people understand the words: 'Eye was not seen, nor ear heard, the glories that God has prepared for those who love Him.'"
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The time period and setting of the film are never mentioned and have been the subject of continuous debate. The electronic devices in this film and its sequels suggest a time period of the late 1800s, but Mary Shelley actually wrote the book in the early 1800s. The names of characters and locations seem to be mainly of German origin, but the actors are mostly British and speak with British accents. Director James Whale said that it is meant to be like a fairy tale set in no particular year.
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Bela Lugosi was offered the role of the monster but famously turned it down. When Lugosi walked, so did director Robert Florey. The script was then given to director James Whale, who also refused to do it on grounds that "he thought it was a joke", according to his biographer, Jim Curtis. It has been erroneously reported that Lugosi refused to conceal his handsome face with heavy makeup; however, miscellaneous photos give evidence of his history of wearing heavy makeup for different parts, prior to this movie. In fact, Florey and Lugosi would go on to do Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932), where once again, Lugosi would sport grotesque makeup. Lugosi eventually played the role in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943). (The monster spoke in that film; however, all his talking scenes were unfathomably cut.)
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Those originally considered for the cast included Leslie Howard as Henry Frankenstein and Bette Davis as Elizabeth. Director James Whale insisted on Colin Clive for the role of Henry.
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The 1935 novelization of The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) by Michael Egremont, published at the time of the film's release, reveals the surname of "Little Maria" as Kramer.
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The Latin prayer heard in the first seconds of the film, immediately after the credit sequence, paraphrases the Requiem Æternam, "Requiem æternam dona ei, Domine / Et lux perpetua luceat ei / Amen". The phrase "Requiescat in pace." ("Rest in peace"), customarily part of this rite, is notably omitted, subtly foreshadowing the lack of rest or peace for this prayer's deceased beneficiary.
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Some of the sets had originally been constructed for Paul Leni's The Cat and the Canary (1927) which Universal had produced four years earlier.
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Many argue that the creature should be called "The Monster" and not "Frankenstein"; however, the second film's title, The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), apparently settles this debate. Within this series of films, the Monster is nicknamed by his creator's last name and is simply known as "Frankenstein", since "the bride" was created for him and not for his creator.
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(at around 24 mins) The Monster is first seen.
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Assuming its copyright has not lapsed already, this film and all others produced in 1931 enter the U.S. public domain in 2027.
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In the final credits, the Universal globe is tilted way over to the right. This is very different from the "upright" version seen in modern Universal releases.
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According to The People's Almanac, at one point the movie was to have included a line of dialogue giving The Monster the name Adam. The Almanac indicates that an early print of this film may indeed have been released with just such a scene, but that it was cut when audiences began referring to The Monster by the name Frankenstein. Many years later, the TV soap opera Dark Shadows would have a Frankenstein type monster experiment. Coincidentally, the creation was named Adam.
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Included (at #87) among the American Film Institute's 1998 list of the Top 100 Greatest American Movies. The movie did not appear in AFI's 2008 list.
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Universal Pictures owns the copyright to the make-up designed by Jack P. Pierce for Frankenstein's monster.
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In a moment of ghoulish humor, when Fritz is stealing the brain, he bumps into a human skeleton. This was a real human skeleton. Film producers found it faster and cheaper to purchase a real human skeleton from a biological supply house rather than creating an artificial one.
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The filming went five days over schedule.
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Included among the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die", edited by Steven Schneider.
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John Carradine, who later played Dracula in the Universal horror films, once claimed he was considered for the role of The Monster.
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Dwight Frye hadn't long played the character of Renfield in Dracula (1931) when he was cast as Fritz, the hunch-backed assistant.
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A hitherto unnoticed deleted scene is hinted at in a publicity still from the original 1931 release, depicting John Boles and Mae Clarke standing in a 1930s contemporary office talking to an unknown man seated at a desk, possibly the office of the president of the medical college; as they are wearing the same costumes as when they visit Dr. Waldman.
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Included (#56) among the American Film Institute's 2001 list of the top 100 Most Heart-Pounding American Movies.
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Part of the original Shock Theatre package of 52 Universal titles released to television in 1957, followed a year later with Son of Shock, which added 20 more features.
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Film debut (uncredited, as a bridesmaid) of Pauline Moore.
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Universal Pictures production number 310.
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The early experiments in galvanism that inspired Mary Shelley's story, and the lightning charges used to animate the monster in the film, are both components of some of the theories on the origin of life on earth.
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The Free Mason's "All Seeing Eye" spins around while the credits roll. It has been known as the Eye of Providence attributed to the Illuminati, of which the early Universal producers were said to already be a part of.
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On the wedding day, Baron Frankenstein toasts both "The House of Frankenstein" and "Young Frankenstein". Both would be titles of future films.
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Dr. Waldman tells Elizabeth that Henry had left the university before completing his studies, so the often used title "Dr." Frankenstein is incorrect. There wouldn't be a true Dr. Frankenstein until Basil Rathbone's character in "Son of Frankenstein" in 1939.
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When Shelley wrote her original novel in the early 1800s, electricity, then known as galvanism, was only in its earliest experimental stages. In the novel, Frankenstein uses only chemical means to instill life. The film suggests that the story takes place (loosely) in the late 1800s., when electrical science was reaching a state more resembling modern science. However there is no possibility, nor any explanation for, the immense amount of electrical power needed for Frankenstein to run his laboratory in an old abandoned castle on an isolated mountain top.
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The Baron is seen wearing a Middle Eastern headpiece known as a Tarboosh in the scene following the monster's animation.
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In pre code Hollywood, the hesitation that is given before Frankenstein's affianced says the wedding should happen soon might have indicated she was pregnant. Which, of course, she was.
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In one scene, The Monster walks through a forest and comes upon a little girl, Maria, who is throwing flowers into a pond. The monster joins her in the activity but soon runs out of flowers. At a loss for something to throw into the water, he looks at Maria and moves toward her. In all American prints of the movie, the scene ends here. As originally filmed,though, the action continues to show the monster grabbing Maria, hurling her into the lake, then departing in confusion when Maria fails to float as the flowers did. This bit was deleted because the censors objected to the violent end of the little girl. This scene is restored in 1986 and appears in the DVD reissue.
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The screenplay originally called for Henry Frankenstein to die from his fall from the burning mill. When Universal decided for a happy ending (see "Alternate versions"), Colin Clive was in England, so his stand-in was used for the far shot of him recuperating in his bed with his fiancée at his side. Tradition has long held that it was future cowboy star Robert Livingston filling in for him.
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At the climax, The Monster carries Dr. Frankenstein up the mountainside and through the mill. At the insistence of James Whale, Boris Karloff actually carried Colin Clive in these shots, which were filmed for hours over several days. The 44-year-old Karloff had physical difficulties due to moving in the padding, the back brace that was part of the costume, make-up, and 13 pound lifted boots. He badly injured his back during these scenes (and in his 2 subsequent times playing The Monster). Back problems continued to plague Karloff throughout the remainder of his life.
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In the 1980s, the following shots were restored to the film, after having been censored decades earlier: 1. Henry Frankenstein's line "Now I know how it feels to BE God." 2. A sequence with Fritz, Frankenstein, and The Monster wrestling for control before they knock him out. 3. The sequence with Maria being accidentally drowned. 4. Shots of Doctor Waldman injecting the monster with a hypodermic. 5. Several shots of Fritz tormenting the monster. 6. The sequence in which Fritz is killed.
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The dummy used for the hanged criminal at the beginning of the film is the same dummy used to depict Fritz strung up by The Monster. (This is evident from the squared-off, papier-mâché-like hands visible on both.) It may also be the same dummy which the monster throws from the windmill.
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While on location for the death of Maria, Boris Karloff and the crew lobbied James Whale not to have her drown, but the director was adamant that it be filmed as scripted.
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As the essential part of the "lake scene" was cut from the film in 1931, theater (and later TV) audiences were left to wonder how the girl who was found in the lake actually met her death. Upon restoration of the scene in the 1980s, on home video and later on Turner Classic Movies (TV), viewers can see what the angry townspeople didn't.
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Existing copies of the 1938 reissue trailer show The Monster rising from the operating table and stalking away after strangling Dr. Waldman. In the finished film, there is a dissolve from The Monster still on the table choking Waldman to The Monster descending the tower stairs.
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