Magazine article American Cinematographer


Magazine article American Cinematographer


Article excerpt

Incidentally. . .

In the April issue of American Cinematographer, Brian Taves in his article "Universal's Horror Tradition" tells us that the preparation of the 1931 Frankenstein is "a tale which has never yet been fully or accurately told" and then proceeds to present in considerable detail the true story according to Robert Florey.

We are told about Florey's conception, Florey's plot, Florey's screenplay, etc. However, certain matters of record were not mentioned.

In 1977, while researching the evolution of Frankenstein for my book America's Favorite Movies: Behind the Scenes (1982), I found on microfilm in Universal's files a copy of the John Balderston adaptation of Peggy Weblmg's play, Frankenstein, which was purchased April 9, 1931. Next, an incomplete screenplay dated May 18, 1931, credited to Richard Schayer, then a draft credited to Garrett Fort (6/8/31), followed by a revision credited to Francis E. Faragoh (8/7/31), and a final script credited to Fort and Faragoh (8/12/31). In addition, there were some revised pages and new dialogue by John Russell (7/17/31). Nothing credited to Florey was there.

I presume, based on my correspondence with Florey at the time and on a microfilm reference, Florey worked on what are labeled the Schayer and Fort drafts.

Referring to sequences of the monster frightening the villagers, Garrett Fort wrote a memo to Richard Schayer on June 15, 1931, in which he stated that "until a director is definitely assigned, Florey has definite ideas about shooting this with considerable effectiveness." (Microfilm at Universal.)

All of the various drafts are more than slightly indebted to the Balderston version, which was re-written from Webling's adaptation as a play to be produced on Broadway (but was not). The names of the characters (not consistent with the novel), the character of Fritz (not in the novel) and certain scenes and dialogue in the scripts (not in the novel) are clearly based on the play adaptation, which is not even mentioned in Taves' article.

I have no wish to denigrate Florey and his long, productive film career. Based upon solid evidence, we know that he was involved in the early stages of Frankenstein's script evolution, directed a test, was hoping to direct the feature, did not, and went on instead to direct Murders in the Rue Morgue. Anything beyond that appears to be based on opinion and conjecture - neither of which contribute much to film history.

-Rudy Behlmer

Studio City, Calif.

Note: The editor has examined and read a 173-page Universal script of Frankenstein dated May 15th - June 20th, 1931. It is "an original story based on Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley's novel and adapted to the screen by Robert Florey. Continuity Garrett Fort and Robert Florey. "

Also. . .

Although Brian Taves' attention to the career of Robert Florey is admirable and represents a true contribution to film history, it is unfortunate his sledgehammer approach to the making of Frankenstein hampers the credibility of the case he makes.

Florey was doubtless involved in the early development of the screenplay, a fact that seems widely known and is fully acknowledged in my 1982 biography of James Whale. To characterize the script as Florey's, however, is stretching it considerably. …

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