Still regarded as the definitive film version of Mary Shelley's classic tale of tragedy and horror, Frankenstein made unknown character actor Boris Karloff a star and created a new icon of terror. Along with the highly successful Dracula, released earlier the same year, it launched Universal Studio's golden age of 1930s horror movies. The film's greatness stems less from its script than from the stark but moody atmosphere created by director James Whale; Herman Rosse's memorable set designs, particularly the fantastic watchtower laboratory, featuring electrical equipment designed by Kenneth Strickfaden; the creature's trademark look from makeup artist Jack Pierce, who required Karloff to don pounds of makeup and heavy asphalt shoes to create the monster's unique lurching gait; and Karloff's nuanced performance as the tormented and bewildered creature. Frankenstein was greeted with screams, moans, and fainting spells upon its initial release, obliging Universal to add a disclaimer in which Edward Van Sloan advises the faint of heart to leave the theater immediately. If they don't: "Well...we've warned you." Director James Whale was memorably embodied by Ian McKellen in the Oscar-winning 1998 biopic Gods and Monsters.
by Hal Erickson synopsis