Frankenstein, the modern Prometheus, creator of the ‘monster’, and inspiration for all those mad scientists, has been portrayed in countless movies since the original 1910 adaptation of the Mary Shelley story.
Usually he’s Dr Victor Frankenstein (as in the book), but sometimes Henry, or Baron von Frankenstein, or one of his many descendants (check this Dark Corners Frankenstein family tree video).
I’ve selected five Frankensteins, which I like for various reasons. In chronological order, they are:
1. Colin Clive in Frankensetein (1931)
The first talkie version introduces Boris Karloff as the monster, but Clive as Henry Frankenstein refuses to be overshadowed. It’s a dramatic performance, which looks laughably over-the-top to modern eyes; but certainly makes an impact. He came back for more in James Whale’s even better sequel Bride of Frankenstein (1935), as Victor Frankenstein; but this time he really was overshadowed by the incredible Ernest Thesiger as Dr Pretorius.
2. Peter Cushing in The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)
My favourite of favourites, Cushing is faultless as Baron Victor Frankenstein, bringing newcomer Christopher Lee to life in a gory colour version from Terence Fisher for Hammer Films, which spawned a series of sequels through the 1960s and into the ’70s. Cushing often reprised the role: he was Frankenstein, just as Lee was Dracula.
3. Gene Wilder in Young Frankenstein (1975)
The only (deliberately) comic Frankenstein to make the list: Gene Wilder plays Frederick Frankenstein, Victor’s grandson, who takes up where granddad left off. Director Mel Brooks captures the look and feel of the Universal Studios productions of 40 years before, and Wilder is as wild as Clive or Thesiger. A terrific comedy in its own right, it’s even better if you’ve seen the originals.
4. Karel Roden in Frankenstein’s Army (2013)
In a recent addition to the catalogue of spin-offs, Roden plays Viktor Frankenstein, a descendant of the original Vic/ktor, creating an army of monsters for the Nazis in the dying months of World War 2. The film follows a squad of Soviet soldiers who find themselves lured into Viktor’s nightmarish laboratory. It’s a lot of fun, if you have the stomach for it; and Roden is suitably frightening as a 20th century Viktor.
5. Harry Treadaway in Penny Dreadful (2014-)
A rare TV incarnation comes in the shape of Treadaway in the imaginative high quality Showtime/Sky series, involving characters from 19th century fiction. This Dr Victor Frankenstein is a young English medic in Victorian London, pursuing the family trade of stitching bits of dead people together to make a creature (or two). He’s a sometimes sympathetic figure, plagued by his own demons – of all kinds.
These are just a few of the movie (and TV) Frankensteins to have graced the screen over the past century. There are many more, especially if you include the various creations (‘monsters’ or ‘creatures’) as ‘Frankenstein’ too – they’re often named such, and sometimes appear without the creator who gave them life (and a name).