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FRANKENSTEIN
USA 1931
Director: James Whale

Produced by Universal Pictures Corporation, New York
Austrian Distributor: Universal
Czech Distributor: Universal Film, Praha
German Distributor: Deutsche Universal-Film AG, Berlin

Overview of the censorship case FRANKENSTEIN

Austria Czechoslovakia Germany

5.4.1932: 8528
permitted?
banned for young people?
2031 m, 8 reels

24.6.1935: 781/35 Fc
banned
1800 m; 7 reels

25.7.1935
(repeated censorship
foraltered film)
banned
1820 m; 7 reels

07.03.1932: B.31171
banned
1927 m

06.04.1932: B.31327
banned
1829 m

22.04.1932: B.31440
banned for young people
1803m
(after cuts: 1775,4m)

02.05.1932: B.21322
(advertising photos)
banned

02.06.1932: O.4827
(advertising photos)
permitted

20.12.1932: O.5819
banned for young people
1803m
(after cuts: 1794,8m)

Even before FRANKENSTEIN was released in the USA the film suffered from self-censorship. Producer Carl Laemmle sen. ordered to soften the blasphemy and horror elements in the film. Therefore changes were made: Clive’s climactic hysteria as the Monster comes to life as well as the lake episode were shortened. In addition, a prologue, showing Edward Van Sloan’s coy warning to the audience, was added. A new ending was also created in which jolly Frederick Kerr toasts his son’s recovery and marriage (Mank 1981: 35).

In Germany and Czechoslovakia FRANKENSTEIN is the most complicated case included in this study. In 1932 the film was presented to the Film-Prüfstelle Berlin (Censorship Office Berlin) five times as well as two more times to the Film-Oberprüfstelle Berlin (Censorship Headquarters). The first official decision about the film was enacted on 7th March 1932 when the film was banned by the Censorship Office in Berlin.

Thereupon the distribution company made some changes (e.g. it was not mentioned at any point of the film that the monster was a human being put together by pieces of corpses) and shortened the film from 1927 to 1829 metres. The following scenes were cut out:
· the whole churchyard-scene (the funeral, the grave’s fill up, two men open the grave and steal the coffin)
· the gallows-scene (the hanged is cut off)
· Dr. Waldmann stating that the material of the dissecting room was not sufficient for the creation Frankenstein
· the monster being whipped by the servant, their fight and
· the strangling of the doctor.

Despite that the Censorship Office Berlin banned the film again on 6th April 1932.

At the end of April the Censorship Office Berlin rated FRANKENSTEIN for adults 18 years of age or older [registration card]. However, the censors imposed additional cuts:

  • reel V: the Monster lying on the stretcher opens its eyes, grabs the doctor’s neck, and raises in order to strangle him (5,20 metres)
  • reel VI: the girl gives a flower to the monster. The monster sits down, grabs it and looks at her hand. He throws flowers into the water (19,40 metres)
  • reel VIII: during the fight in the mill the monster shows its teeth (0,60 metres)
  • reel VIII: the monster wrestles with Frankenstein at the mill’s railing (two close-ups). This scene was allowed to be shown once in medium shot (2,40 metres)

The provincial government of Baden submitted an application for the rescinding of verdict, and so the film was examined once again by the Censorship Headquarters Berlin. In the subsequent hearing dated 20th December 1932 [censorship decision] , the main issue was (again) whether the film may cause damage to the average viewer’s mental health. At the beginning the censors stated explicitly that a distinction between normal people and those having a pathological predisposition was hard to judge, and the limits defining “normal people” were expanded.

According to the representative of the Reich Health Office FRANKENSTEIN’s content and depiction are too fantastic to be taken seriously. Only the prologue was alarming, because it might have dangerously inflamed the imagination of the audience. There was a general agreement on that after the imposition of cuts the film would not pose a threat even towards the non-urban population [cf. Local versus central film assessment in Austria, Czechoslovakia and Germany]. Therefore further close-ups and parts of the prologue that passed the censors in April were now forbidden

  • The prologue had to be cut: “…you need nerves of steal. There is still time to leave the theatre. But ladies and gentlemen, you are all enlightened humans and will show understanding for a fantasy tale. In any case – I have warned you.”
  • in reel III following title 24: close-up of a hand of the homunculus (1,25 metres)
  • in reel IV following titles 18 and 20: close-up of the head of the homunculus (3,80 metres)
  • in reel V following title 16: close-up of the head of the homunculus on the stretcher (0,95 metres)
  • in reel VI following title 17: close-up of the head of the homunculus (1,75 metres)
  • in reel VII following title 9: close-up of the head of the punched down Frankenstein shedding blood out of his mouth (0,40 metres)

Magazines followed the argumentation of the Censorship Headquarters Berlin arguing that FRANKENSTEIN did not really shock, because it could not be taken seriously. The “Berliner Morgenpost” [press article], for example, rated the film as trivial and boring and reported that the audience left the première with a barrage of catcalls. Press articles always pointed out that a lot of scenes were cut in Germany. Some of the newspapers maintained that the cuts would reduced the horror effect [press article] while others stated that the film would nevertheless still be creepy [press article]. Anyway, the warnings of the film beforehand (signs warned that FRANKENSTEIN would not be a film for sensitive people and registered nurses were stationed in theatre lobbies in case viewers should need their services) were actually only a witty and sustained publicity campaign. FRANKENSTEIN confirmed the expectations and became a commercial success starting a cycle of horror films [press article].

The case FRANKENSTEIN is of special interest in Germany because two of the censorship rulings dealt with advertising material. The Censorship Office Berlin decided on 2nd May 1932 to prohibit three advertising photographs (showing the dead body of Monster lying in front of Dr. Frankenstein) because they would overstrain the nerves of young spectators. One month later, the Censorship Headquarters decided that this would not be the case [censorship decision]. The censors stated that the concerned pictures had to be judged without considering the content of the film - this was supposed to be unknown to the young people due to the fact that the film had been banned. The body shown on the picture would not be dead and ready to be dissected (as stated in the first decision) but the man would be still alive and the doctor would feel his pulse. The photos are now allowed to be used in the inventive (and doubtless effective) publicity campaign.

Not until four years after the US release, FRANKENSTEIN was censored in the Czechoslovak Republic for the first time.

Even before applying for censoring the Czech distributor asked the supplier in London for providing a shortened duplicate negative without potentially "unhealthy" scenes. The first Czech version of FRANKENSTEIN was 1800 m long - about 400 m shorter than the US premiere version. However, the self-censorship strategy did not produce any satisfactory result and the first application for censorship permission was rejected. In June 1935 the Censor Advisory Board suggested unanimously to ban FRANKENSTEIN: "The film tries to emphasize its ‘sixpenny magnetism’ and to overexcite the imagination of spectators by presenting an enormous number of brutal and disgusting scenes: the creation of a monster out of parts from a cadaver, the drowning of a little girl, the depiction of violence. The public screening of the film would conflict with decency and moral."

The film distributing company applied again for approval and tried to enforce the positive result by different methods. On the one hand the distributor argued with high expenses for the production of a film print with the superimposed Czech titles and with the non problematic release of the film in 14 countries (censored without shortages). On the other hand the distributor decided to cut out further “undesirable” scenes. The Czech and German cuts of FRANKENSTEIN correlated partially. Most of the rough scenes were deleted:

  • reel I: Scenes on the cemetery (50m)
  • reel 2: Scenes on the tower (25 m)
  • reel 4: Fight with Monster (18 m), the death of Fritz (25 m), the defeat of Monster (20 m), death of dr. Waldmann (15m)
  • reel 6: Drowning of the little girl (20 m), A man bringing the drowned girl (30 m)
  • reel 7: Frankenstein invaded by Monster in the mountains (25 m)
  • reel 8: Monster in flames (15 m).

After the screening of the cut version of FRANKENSTEIN the members of Extended Censor Advisory Board changed the verdict a little. However, they qualified the deletion as “not corresponding to the designation of the film distributing company and not sufficient for the global conception of the film.” According to their statement “the unhealthy scenes were shortened only slightly and the global unhealthy character of the film was not eliminated”. Therefore they again suggested it’s complete interdiction. FRANKENSTEIN was banned outright for the second time. After this verdict, no further applications for approval of FRANKENSTEIN were registered.

FRANKENSTEIN was censored by the Magistrate Vienna (Magistrat Wien im selbständigen Wirkungsbereiche des Landes) according to registration card no. 8528 from the 5th April 1932. There was no kind of restriction noted, but according to PFL from the 15th April 1932 the film was without permission for young people.

by Laura Bezerra, Karin Moser and Tomáš Lachman

 
       

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