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Frankenstein: Penetrating the Secrets of Nature

The Celluloid Monster

Frankenstein Movie Poster, 1931. Courtesy of The Granger Collection, New York.
Frankenstein Movie Poster, 1931.
Courtesy of The Granger Collection, New York.

The reshaping of Mary Shelley's story began almost from the moment it first appeared. The 1931 Universal Studios production of Frankenstein, starring Boris Karloff as the monster, capped more than a century of variant tellings of the original story. Compared to Shelley's sensitive, articulate creature, Universal's was crude and unformed. But the sheer power of Hollywood image-making gave him an impact as great or greater than Shelley's, and made him into an icon of popular culture.

Just as Shelley's story was shaped by the science of the day, so was Hollywood's influenced by some of the scientific and pseudo-scientific preoccupations of its day, including eugenics, robots, and surgical transplants.