The Normal Brain and the Abnormal Brain in Frankenstein (1931) (film still from Frankenstein)

Frankenstein (1931)

Near the beginning of James Whale’s 1931 version of Frankenstein, the hunchbacked assistant breaks into a university in order to steal a brain. First he rather wisely takes a jar marked “normal brain”, but he’s startled by a loud noise and drops it, forcing him to instead take the other brain on offer, this one bearing the less promising label “abnormal brain”.

According to Rudy Behlmer, who supplies a commentary for the Universal DVD of the film, this detail was apparently a last-minute addition. It would seem to contrast with the film’s presentation of the creature as an innocent, and Behlmer suggests that perhaps the intention was to provide a shorthand explanation for the creature’s violence early in the film.

Still, the brain substitution is a bit silly, and doesn’t quite fit with the rest of the story. It was deservedly parodied in Mel Brooks’s Young Frankenstein (1974), in which the hunchback is under the impression that he’s picked up the brain of one “Abby Normal”.

The Normal Brain

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