November 29, 2012
Boris Karloff breaks for a photo session during the filming of Frankenstein. It's late summer or fall of 1931.
In full makeup, sometimes grimacing but mostly deadpan, with raccoon eyes and sunken cheeks, impossibly gaunt, Karloff posed face front and profile, hands up to his face or straight down, fingers splayed and dead man stiff. He appears in closeup or full figure leaning precariously forward, anchored by his heavy boots. The photographer, most likely Universal’s Roman Freulich, lights The Monster with a low, eerie light or a strong spotlight for a stark effect.
The studio’s Publicity Department would send these stills out to papers and magazines, and studio artists would use them as reference for poster paintings or line art for newspaper ads. Case in point, this unusual pose, Karloff leaning forward off a stool covered with a sheer black veil, was repurposed for a very effective small ad. With the title swooshing dynamically across the image, The Monster — “The World’s First ‘Man-Made’ Man” — lurches menacingly at a generic cowering victim.
Back in January 1932, The Beacon’s patrons got a double dose of Frederick Kerr, the bumbling old Baron Frankenstein who also appeared opposite Warren Williams in the companion feature, Honor of the Family, an elaborate costumer based on a story by Honoré de Balzac. That film is lost. Only the Vitaphone sound disks have survived along with a handful of lobby cards.