Media Adaptations

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There have been so many plays, movies, and recordings of Frankenstein that it would be difficult to list all of the productions. Therefore, the list below represents the most popular, most controversial, and most influential recordings and dramatizations:

  • Recordings: Frankenstein phonodisc dramatization with sound effects and music, directed by Christopher Casson, Spoken Arts, 1970; Frankenstein, taken from a broadcast of the CBS program. Suspense, starring Herbert Marshall, American Forces Radio and Television Service, 1976; Frankenstein read by James Mason, Caedmon Records, 1977; Weird Circle, containing Edgar Allan Poe's The Tell-Tale Heart; and Shelley's Frankenstein, recorded from original radio broadcasts, Golden Age, 1978.
  • Films: Frankenstein starred Colin Clive and Boris Karloff; it was released by Universal in 1931. The Bride of Frankenstein, the sequel to the 1931 film, starred Boris Karloff and Elsa Lanchester; it was released in 1935 by Universal. Son of Frankenstein, also a sequel to the above mentioned productions, starred Basil Rathbone, Karloff, and Bela Lugosi and was released in 1939 by Universal. All three are available from MCA/Universal Home Video.
  • The Curse of Frankenstein, a 1957 horror film produced by Warner Brothers, included Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee as cast members; the first in a series of films inspired by Shelley's novel, it is available from Warner Home Video. Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed was released in 1969 by Warner Brothers, Peter Cushing and Veronica Carlson star as the central characters. Young Frankenstein was released in 1974 by Fox; available from CBS-Fox Video, this comedy-horror film received Academy Award nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Sound; cast includes Gene Wilder, Peter Boyle, and director-star Mel Brooks.
  • More recent films include 1985's The Bride, starring Sting and Jennifer Beals, available from CBS/Fox Video; famed horror director Roger Corman's 1990 work Frankenstein Unbound, which includes Mary Shelley as a character and stars John Hurt, Raul Julia, and Bridget Fonda, available from CBS/Fox Video; the 1993 cable production Frankenstein, starring Patrick Bergin and Randy Quaid, available from Turner Home Entertainment; and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, released in 1994 by American Zoetrope and available from Columbia Tristar Home Video, featuring Robert De Niro and director-star Kenneth Branagh.
  • Plays: Frankenstein: A Gothic Thriller by David Campton, published by Garnet Miller in 1973; Frankenstein by Tim Kelley, published by Samuel French in 1974.

For Further Reference

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Bloom, Harold. Modern Critical Views: Mary Shelley. New York: Chelsea House, 1985. This volume collects some of the best modern critical essays on Mary Shelley's fiction.

Harris, Jane. The Woman Who Created Frankenstein: A Portrait of Mary Shelley. New York: Harper and Row, 1979. This biography of Mary Shelley, especially written for young readers, also contains a plot summary of Frankenstein and film information.

Mellor, Anne K. Mary Shelley: Her Life, Her Fiction, Her Monsters. London: Metheun, 1988. Mellor, a noted feminist critic, argues that Shelley identified with the motherless creature and that the character of Dr. Frankenstein was a parody of her husband.

Spark, Muriel. Mary Shelley. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1987. This is a reworking of Spark's 1951 biography of Shelley, Child of Light: A Reassessment of Mary Shelley. It is divided into two parts, biographical and critical information.

St. Clair, William. The Godwins and the Shelleys: The Biography of a Family. New York: Norton, 1989. St. Clair explains the interplay of radical political beliefs, divergent moral standards, and literary achievement of four of the most influential thinkers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Sunstein, Emily. Mary Shelley: Romance and Reality. Boston: Little, Brown, 1989. Seen against the backdrop of her parents and husband, whose careers and reputations so overshadowed her own, Mary Shelley emerges in this biography as a truly remarkable human being.

Walling, William A. Mary Shelley. New York:...

(This entire section contains 242 words.)

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Twayne, 1972. This biography has an especially important section on the duality in Victor Frankenstein's character.


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Adaptations of Frankenstein may well number in the hundreds. The most significant motion picture adaptation is director James Whale's Frankenstein of 1931. A short motion picture (seventy-one minutes), it was probably meant to be a second feature. But Boris Karloff gives a remarkable performance as the monster, conveying a combination of menace and innocence which to this day captures the imaginations of viewers. His monster is much different from the one in Shelley's novel; without dialogue, Karloff must use gesture and facial expression to convey meaning and emotion. The basic events of the novel have been radically condensed and simplified, so that the motion picture is not an authentic rendering of the novel. The monster rampages through the countryside, eventually pursued by the now classic and clichéd horde of torch-carrying villagers. Karloff is well supported by Colin Clive, Mae Clarke, and John Boles.

James Whale also directed Bride of Frankenstein (1935), which again stars Karloff as the monster. This too is a short motion picture, only seventy-five minutes, but it is highly regarded by critics as the quintessential horror film. Colin Clive, as Henry Frankenstein, is compelled by Dr. Praetorius (Ernest Thesiger) to create a female monster. Bride of Frankenstein includes some of the most memorable scenes in cinema, such as the female monster's reaction to seeing her intended mate for the first time. Actors Valerie Hobson, Dwight Frye, and Ernest Thesiger ably support the main characters, and Else Lanchester gives a memorably eccentric performance.

Karloff returns as the monster in Son of Frankenstein, directed by Rowland V. Lee (1939). A feature-length (ninety-nine minutes) motion picture, it is an exceptionally well-made sequel to the 1931 Frankenstein. Basil Rathbone plays Wolf Frankenstein, son of the original monster-maker. With the help of Ygor, played by Bela Lugosi, Wolf Frankenstein revives his father's creation, with suitable scariness enhanced by fine lighting and camera work. Lugosi's Ygor is the model for countless spin-offs of the mad scientist tale; what mad scientist's laboratory is complete without a crazed assistant? Karloff, Rathbone, and Lugosi, are well supported by Josephine Hutchinson and Lionel Atwill.

Boris Karloff plays a mad scientist in the House of Frankenstein (1944), a brief second-feature directed by Erle C. Kenton. He and his crazed assistant, played by J. Carroll Naish, wreak insane revenge on the mad scientist's enemies. Glenn Strange plays the monster, John Carradine plays Dracula, and Lon Chaney plays the Wolfman in a better-than-average monster get-together.

The most unfortunate of the Frankenstein films featuring Karloff in one role or another is Frankenstein 1970 (released in 1958). It stars Karloff as the great-grandson of the original monster-maker and is directed by Howard W. Koch. It co-stars Tom Duggan, Jana Lund, and Don Barry. This is an appallingly stupid motion picture and is mentioned here only because Karloff is in it.

In Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943), Bela Lugosi is the monster; he is supported by Lon Chaney, Jr., Ilona Massey, Maria Ouspenskaya, and Patric Knowles. The picture was directed by Roy William Neill. Although one of a multitude of "This Monster Meets That Monster" motion pictures, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man is actually good, with Lugosi giving an over-the-top performance.

A good remaking of the Frankenstein story is director Terence Fisher's The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), from the famous Hammer Films horror-picture studio, with Peter Cushing as the scientist and Christopher Lee as the monster. Both give good, sensitive performances in a well-made motion picture. A good updating of the tale is Horror of Frankenstein, directed by Jimmy Sangster and starring Ralph Bates, Kate O'Mara, Veronica Carlson, and Dennis Price. In it, a medical student makes a monster; it is somewhat gory.

Better known, but not a good, is another 1957 motion picture, I Was a Teenage Frankenstein, directed by Herbert L. Strock. As the mad scientist, actor Whit Bissell pieces together a monster out of pieces of local American teenagers. The picture also stars Robert Burton, Phyllis Coates, and Gary Conway. A sequel to the also-not-particularly-good I Was a Teenage Werewolf, this film is only for those viewers with very high tolerance for rampant silliness.

In 1973, a new Frankenstein was presented as a television movie, directed by Glenn Jordan and starring Bo Svenson as the monster. A long (over two hours) version of Shelley's novel, it is somewhat more accurate than most. Even so, it is a tepid retelling. Another made-for-television version is 1984's Frankenstein. Directed by James Ormerod, it stars David Warner as the monster and Robert Powell as Dr. Frankenstein; the supporting cast includes John Gielgud, Carrie Fisher, Susan Wooldridge, and Terence Alexander. This is good for a television production, and is even better than most horror pictures. The monster's rampaging is quite satisfying.

A more recent recasting of Shelly's novel is Frankenstein Unbound (1990), directed by Roger Corman, one of the most celebrated makers of horror films. John Hurt, Raul Julia, Bridget Fonda, and Jason Patric star in a tale of time-traveling scientist from the year 2031 who ends up in the company not only of Mary Shelley, but of Dr. Frankenstein. This motion picture is gory, violent, and not one of Corman's best efforts. The film relies too much on gore and not enough on characterization.

Two good comedies have been made out of the Frankenstein corpus, both drawing both on Shelley's novel and the cinematic traditions that have evolved out of Shelley's original work, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein and Young Frankenstein. Released in 1948, and ably directed by Charles Barton, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein stars the comedy team of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello as two innocents caught up in a world of mystery, suspense, and frights. The motion picture was immensely successful and spawned a number of "Abbott and Costello Meet . . ." sequels. In it, Bela Lugosi reprises his most famous role, that of Count Dracula. The Count, for some weird reason or another, has come to America to reawaken the dormant Frankenstein's monster (Glenn Strange) and loose him upon an unsuspecting world. The wolfman (Lon Chaney, Jr.) turns out to be one of the good guys when not the wolf, although he is very nasty when the wolf. Abbott and Costello stage numerous pratfalls and other physical comedy and somehow manage to save the girl and themselves while Dracula tries to take Costello's brain and monsters run suitably amok. This is an hilarious comedy that has become a Halloween tradition in much of America.

In terms movie-making art, Young Frankenstein may exceed even the motion pictures it lampoons. One of director Mel Brooks's best efforts, the motion picture captures the essence of the Frankenstein mythos. Gene Wilder plays Victor Frankenstein's descendant (who pronounces his last name as Fronk-n-steen to differentiate it from the name of his embarrassing ancestor). Marty Feldman is the hunchbacked assistant (with a mobile hunch), and Peter Boyle plays a sensitive monster who is merely misunderstood. The cinematography, the music, and the acting, and the well-timed comedy make Young Frankenstein a classic.


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Bloom, Harold, ed. Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein.” New York: Chelsea House, 1987. Offers a wide variety of critical essays on the novel.

Gilbert, Sandra M., and Susan Gubar. The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1979. An important early study that emphasizes Shelley’s response, as a woman writer, to John Milton.

Grylls, R. Glynn. Mary Shelley: A Biography. London: Oxford University Press, 1938. Includes extensive discussion of events surrounding the writing of Frankenstein.

Homans, Margaret. Bearing the Word: Language and Female Experience in Nineteenth-Century Women’s Writing. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986. Discusses Frankenstein as a central feminine text in its century.

Levine, George, and U. C. Knoepflmacher, eds. The Endurance of Frankenstein: Essays on Mary Shelley’s Novel. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979. Collection of essays focusing more on the endurance of the story of Frankenstein rather than the novel, most notably “The Stage and Film Children of Frankenstein: A Survey,” by Albert J. LaValley.

Mellor, Anne K. Mary Shelley: Her Life, Her Fiction, Her Monsters. New York: Routledge, 1988. Combines critical analysis of the novel with biographical material from Shelley’s life.

Poovey, Mary. The Proper Lady and the Woman Writer:Ideology as Style in the Works of Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley, and Jane Austen. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984. Analyzes Shelley’s works in the context of the pressures experienced by women writers in the nineteenth century.

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. Edited by Johann Smith. Boston: St. Martin’s Press, 1992. This edition contains five essays exemplifying different approaches to the novel and a good bibliography.

Bibliography and Further Reading

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Baldick, Chris. In Frankenstein’s Shadow: Myth, Monstrosity, and Nineteenth-Century Writing. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1987.

Bloom, Harold, ed. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987.

Forry, Steven Earl. Hideous Progenies: Dramatizations of Frankenstein from the Nineteenth Century to the Present. University of Pennsylvania Press, 1990.

Kiely, Robert. The Romantic Novel in England. Cambridge, MA.: Harvard University Press, 1972.

Nichie, Elizabeth. Mary Shelley: Author of Frankenstein. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1953.

Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. Frankenstein or, The Modern Prometheus. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1984.

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein, introduction by Diane Johnson. Bantam Books, 1991.

Spark, Muriel. Mary Shelley. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1987.

Summers, Montague. The Gothic Quest. Russell & Russell, 1964.

Sunstein, Emily W. Mary Shelley: Romance and Reality. Boston: Little Brown & Company, 1989.

Ty, Eleanor. "Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley." In Concise Dictionary of British Literary Biography, Volume 3: Writers of the Romantic Period, 1789-1832. Gale, 1991, pp. 338-52.

Vasbinder, Samuel Holmes. Scientific Attitudes in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Research Press, 1984.

Walling, William A. Mary Shelley. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1972.

Further Reading

Baldick, Chris. In Frankenstein's Shadow: Myth, Monstrosity, and Nineteenth-Century Writing. Oxford University Press, 1987. Treats Frankenstein as a modern myth and examines the effects of the book on later nineteenth-and twentieth-century writers.

Gilbert, Sandra and Susan Gubar. The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination. Yale University Press, 1979. A feminist and psycho-biographical reading which emphasizes the place of books m the novel.

Goldberg, M. A. "Moral and Myth in Mrs. Shelley's Frankenstein. In Keats-Shelley Journal, Vol. 8, 1959, pp. 27-38. Provides the most conventional reading of Frankenstein's tale as a moral lesson to Walton.

Levine, George. "Frankenstein and the Tradition of Realism." In Novel, Vol. 7, Fall, 1973, pp. 14-30. Discusses the place of Frankenstein in the tradition of realism in the novel.

Levine, George and U. C. Knoepflmacher. The Endurance of Frankenstein. University of California Press, 1979. A wide-ranging collection of essays about the novel.

Mellor, Anne K. Mary Shelley: Her Life, Her Fiction, Her Monsters. Methuen, Inc., 1988. As one of the most well-known Shelley critics, Mellor draws from unpublished archival material, studying the relationships between Mary and the central personalities in her life. Her biography contains a powerful warning to parents who do not care for their children and to scientists who refuse to take responsibility for their discoveries.

Miyoshi, Masao. The Divided Self: A Perspective on the Literature of the Victorians. New York University Press, 1969, pp. 79-89. Discusses the Doppelganger, or double, in Frankenstein.

Moers, Ellen. Literary Women, Doubleday, 1976, pp. 91-99. Examines the pain of maternity in Frankenstein, relating the birth of the monster to Shelley's birth and her experiences as a mother.

Small, Christopher. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. University of Pittsburgh Press, 1973. A wide-ranging examination of Shelley, her father and husband, the novel, and her era.

Sunstein, Emily W. Mary Shelley: Romance and Reality. Little, Brown, and Co., 1989. A comprehensive biography which assigns Shelley her proper place among English Romantic writers. She dispels many of the myths and ill-founded prejudices against Shelley.

Tropp, Martin. Mary Shelley's Monster. Houghton Mifflin, 1976. A more popular treatment of the novel which emphasizes the "Mad Scientist" theme and treats film adaptations. Includes a filmography.

Veeder, William. Mary Shelley and Frankenstein: The Fate of Androgyny. University of Chicago Press, 1986. Includes in an appendix Percy Shelley's unpublished review of the novel.


Historical and Social Context