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I read a review of the 1931 Frankenstein movie recently and in it the reviewer said that the movie was adapted from a play, which was significantly different from the original novel.

What are the main differences between the novel and the original movie?

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The differences are HUGE.

The Monster:

In the original novel, the Monster was designed to be beautiful and was alert, fast, strong, and downright eloquent in his speech. Upon animating, his beauty became a sick mockery of what the Doctor had intended, and the Monster was described as 'hideous'. This, and his strength, are all that remains of the monster from the novel, when transferred to the movie.

The Bookends:

The original novel is bookended with narration by a seaman in the arctic, Captain Walton. The ship has picked up a man who was on the ice, on a dogsled, nearly frozen. This man is Victor Frankenstein. The rest of the novel recounts Frankenstein's story, as told to the Captain.

The Plot:

The book had no hunchbacked assistant, and no abnormal brain. The Monster turned out just as Frankenstein intended...Science went Horribly Right (TV Tropes).

In the book, the Doctor betrayed his creation first by abandoning it immediately after granting it life, then by destroying a second monster, designed to be its bride. The Monster had intended to take his bride to distant lands, where none but they could live, and live with her in peace. The Doctor, just before giving the Bride life, chose instead to destroy it, tearing it asunder, so as to not create another abomination (as he supposed the Monster to be).

The novel also featured the Monster killing (or being responsible for the deaths of) most of the Frankenstein family: Victor's brother, wife, and best friend. Victor's father dies of illness after this. Thus, in the books, the Monster and Victor are mutually antagonistic, with the book culminating in Victor swearing to follow the Monster to the ends of the Earth, until one of them destroys the other.

The Ending:

Victor dies. The Monster realizes that the death of its creator brings it no peace, and vows to the Captain that it will build a funeral pyre, and immolate itself.

In short, the movie took the core elements of the novel - a man playing God, and the awful ramifications, and put them into a frame that could be easily shot. It based its work off of a play which had already done much of this: the play required a manageable number of sets, a small number of characters, etc. All of these made the play a good source for the movie, but they lost most of the specifics in the transition.

TL;DR:

The only real similarities between the novel and the original movie are character names, the moral, and the fact that the Monster kills people.

Wikipedia includes a bit more information.

  • It's worth noting that two of the things most people associate with Frankenstein's Monster in the movies, Ygor and the hands extended out in front, are in later movies. And the hands being out front was because the monster had been blinded. – FuzzyBoots May 16 '15 at 2:24
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According to Wikipedia, the film is more different than it is similar.

  • In the book, The Abomination taught himself to read, write and talk. Not so in the film

  • In Shelley's novel Frankenstein's Monster had got his head cut because of Frankenstein's need to put the brain in his creation, not by an axe. He also, unlike the movie, had long hair, a round head, rags for clothes, decaying skin, and no bolts on the sides of his throat.

  • In the book, the Creature acts savagely because of the way he was treated. In the film, it was assumed that Frankenstein made a mistake in the creation.

  • Igor wasn't in the novel as depicted in the movie. Frankenstein created the Monster by himself.

  • The process of creating the Creature is different in the two stories.

  • There is no mention in the movie of the monster asking for a female companion as it is in the novel.

  • In the novel, the doctor's name is Victor, not Henry. And he wasn't a doctor in the novel. He was a failed college student.

There are other differences, as well.

  • There was no hunchback named Igor in the 1931 Frankenstein movie. His name is Fritz, not Igor. Also, neither in the book nor in the movie is there any evidence that Frankenstein had gone past the medical student stage. He is not a doctor. The book does not say the monster had electrodes on his neck, but it doesn't say he doesn't either. The book says the monster has flowing hair. Karloff's hair flows down from the top of his head, so the look does not necessarily contradict the description in the novel. – user45642 May 15 '15 at 23:00

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