The Golem (1920) & Frankenstein (1931)

Last night’s fare featured slightly similar themed films, man creating life, playing god as it were.

The first film up was from 1920, and one of the last silent films recommended in 101 Horror Movies, the German film The Golem.

The second film up came from Hollywood, and the year 1931, and featured Boris Karloff as The Monster in Frankenstein.

The Golem, is based on an old Jewish myth about a creature carved from Clay and given life by a magical word, that is contained in a talisman on its chest.

That part I’m well and good with, but their portrayal of the Jewish community was pretty odd, and would’ve been slightly offensive if it wasn’t so amusing.

The head Rabbi in the film apparently learns of trouble coming for the community, because he’s also an astrologer.

Alright, I can let you have that one, I guess, but then I found it very odd that almost all the Jewish men, while they were out and about in the village were wearing wizard’s hats like they were extras in a 1920 version of Harry Potter.

When the emperor sends word that the Jews are to be routed from their community, he sends the very effeminate knight Florian to deliver the message. The knight upon his arrival falls in love with the Rabbi’s daughter Miriam who returns his affection, much to the chagrin of the Rabbi’s assistant.

The Rabbi then goes through a long process of creating a Golem (as played by the director himself), performing a dark ritual with his assistant to get the life-giving word from a troubling looking demon.

With the word, the Rabbi now has a new servant and a protector for the community.

He goes to visit the emperor with his servant to plea with him to let the Jews stay, (a situation that Miriam and Florian take advantage of) and after the Golem saves the emperor and his court from a disaster they brought on themselves, the emperor allows them to stay.

On arriving home the Rabbi learns that the Golem must be destroyed before a shifting in the stars or the demon who guarded the world will be able to turn it against its makers.

This moment is missed, and of course havoc caused by jealousy ensues, until innocence finally stops the creature. The creature much like the Monster in Frankenstein is innocent of any real wrong-doing, in both cases its used and abused by its creators, and only knows how to act by what its been shown.

Which brings us to Frankenstein, which first off, can’t seem to really decide what country it’s taking place in. The peasants seem very German, so much so that in the wedding sequence the whole village has turned out in lederhosen, Baron Frankenstein sounds very English, and his son, friends and fiancée all sound American.

The names also made me laugh, Frankenstein the scientist, is named Henry. Henry Frankenstein… Henry Frankenstein… Really.

Then of course, there’s his assistant, a familiar looking hunchback, who goes by the name of… Fritz.


The story however works. We see Henry’s obsession to create life, to fulfill his experiments before he goes off to marry his fiancée. She however, feels he’s wasting his time and needs to come home right away so that they can get on with their lives together.

The experiment progresses and the Monster comes to life, Henry seems quite happy with its progress over the first few days, but then, we learn Fritz is scaring the Monster, threatening him with fire, and the Monster learns from how it’s treated.

Henry goes off to marry the girl, leaving a fellow scientist to dissect the creature and put it out of its misery. The Monster escapes, killing the scientist and makes for the village.

Unfortunately along the way, he encounters Marie, a little village girl and her flowers. The two share a very tender scene, which ends badly for both and adds another murder to the Monster’s charges, who continues stumbling on his way to town, because he apparently knows where Frankenstein lives, and didn’t even have to ask for directions.

The clichés abound, but one has to remember that this was done long before they were clichés, and Karloff’s performance of the Monster is layered by his movements, his expressions, and his eyes. What could be a one-note performance has more to it if you actually watch it.

Both films are fun, though in different ways, there’s a happier ending to The Golem, and the Monster doesn’t deserve the fate he’s left to at the end of his film, though we know he’ll be back, and shortly, because he’s in another title that I’ll be watching in the near future…

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