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Screen credits list "The Monster" as played by "?" in the opening cast list. The "?" is replaced by Boris Karloff's name in the end credits. Mary Shelley's name is given in the screen credits as Mrs. Percy B. Shelley. As the Shelley novel was in the public domain, Universal purchased the most recent in a century-long series of stage adaptations of Frankenstein. John L. Balderston's "composition" was a stage adaptation for an unrealized American production of Peggy Webling's British play, which was produced by the same company that presented the stage version of Dracula, another play Universal adapted.
Credits in European prints replaced Francis Edwards Faragoh's name with that of Robert Florey, who, contemporary sources indicate, was originally set to direct, and who wrote the initial outline and collaborated on the screenplay with Garrett Fort from 15 May-June 20, 1931. Later, James Whale took over the project, replacing prospective star Bela Lugosi and cameraman Karl Freund, who were transferred along with Florey to Murders in the Rue Morgue (see below). Studio records reveal the Florey-Fort script was then revised by John Russell in July 1931, who introduced the famous plot device of the juxtaposition of the criminal and normal brain. Russell was eventually replaced by Faragoh, who completed his script by August 12, 1931. Faragoh gave speech to Fritz, softened the monster's brutality, and added humor. Richard Schayer received a standard credit as head of the Universal scenario department; in this capacity he made suggestions or arbitrated disputes but was not an actual collaborator. Shooting exceeded both schedule and budget predictions with a final cost of $291,129.
Modern sources list the following additional credits: Spec elec prop Kenneth Strickfaden; Elec eff Raymond Lindsay; Electrial Frank Graves; Special Effects John Fulton; Technical Advisor Dr. Cecil Reynolds; Music Bernhard Kaun and Giuseppe Becce; Music Director David Broekman. Modern sources include in the cast Pauline Moore (Bridesmaid), Ted Billings (Villager), Inez Palange (Village lady), Paul Panzer (Mourner), Cecil Reynolds (Waldman's secretary), and note that Francis Ford also played a villager and medical school doctor. Some modern sources note that 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.
The file for the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library contains a letter, dated August 18, 1931, in which the Hays Office informed Universal that its only concerns about the film were "gruesome [scenes] that will certainly bring an audience reaction of horror." Specifically, the Hays Office urged the studio to use care in handling a scene showing the body of a hanged man, and another scene showing the dwarf hanging by a chain. The file also indicates that some regional censorship agencies made minor eliminations from the film before its release. Censors in Kansas cut a closeup shot of a hypodermic needle injection, and the scene in which Maria is carried in her father's arms. Censors in Quebec rejected the film in its entirety and petitioned Universal to either resubmit the film with a foreword or preface to indicate that the picture was a dream, or end the picture at the windmill scene and make a number of other cuts. The film was banned in Northern Ireland, Sweden and Italy in 1932, and in Czechoslovakia in 1935. Correspondence contained in the PCA file between Universal and the Hays Office in 1937 indicates that the studio, in order to make the picture acceptable for re-issue certification, agreed to eliminate dialogue in which the name of "God" is used, shorten the scene in which "Fritz" torments the monster with a lighted torch and eliminate the scene in which the monster tosses Maria into the water.
Frankenstein was on New York Times list of "10 best" films for 1931, and was one of the top box office films of 1932. In 1986, three reportedly lost segments that had been deleted from the final release print were discovered, including a shot of the monster drowning Maria, which had gained considerable notoriety. These scenes extended the length of the picture to 72 minutes and were released by Universal on video as the "restored" version.
Previous films based on Shelley's story were Frankenstein, produced by Edison Mfg. Corp. in 1910 and directed by J. Searle Dawley; and Life Without Soul, produced by Ocean Film Corp. in 1915 and directed by Joseph W. Smiley (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1911-20; F1.2472). An Italian version called Il Mostro di Frakestein [sic], directed by Eugenio Testa, was released in 1920. The first of numerous sequels to the 1931 Frankenstein were Universal's The Bride of Frankenstein, again directed by James Whale and starring Clive and Karloff; and Son of Frankenstein (see below), directed by Rowland V. Lee and starring Karloff, Bela Lugosi and Basil Rathbone. The 1931 Frankenstein was first re-released in 1937.
Other versions of Shelley's novel include The Curse of Frankenstein, produced in England in 1957 and directed by Terence Young; a 1973 made-for-television version, Frankenstein: The True Story, directed by Jack Smight; and Mel Brooks' 1974 spoof of the early Universal films, Young Frankenstein. The opening sequence of the 2004 Universal production Van Helsing, directed by Stephen Sommers and starring Hugh Jackman and Shuler Hensley as the monster, was a shot-by-shot replication of a sequence in the 1931 film of Frankenstein bringing his monster to life. The image of Frankenstein's monster has been repeated many times since the release of this film in comic books and humorous skethes. Karloff himself assumed the partial appearance of the monster in the Broadway play Arsenic and Old Lace, and Raymond Massey did the same in the film adaptation of that play.