|Frankenstein: The True Story|
|Directed by||Jack Smight|
Hunt Stromberg Jr.
Mary Shelley (novel)
|Music by||Gil Melle|
|Editing by||Richard Marden|
|Original run||November 28 – 30, 1973|
|Running time||182 minutes|
Frankenstein: The True Story is a 1973 American made-for-television horror film loosely based on the book Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. It was directed by Jack Smight, and the screenplay was co-written by novelist Christopher Isherwood.
The film starred Leonard Whiting as Victor Frankenstein, Jane Seymour as Prima, David McCallum as Henry Clerval, James Mason as Dr Polidori and Michael Sarrazin as the Creature. James Mason's wife, Clarissa Kaye-Mason also appeared in the film.
The character of Dr Polidori, who did not appear in the original novel, was based on the real-life John Polidori, an acquaintance of author Mary Shelley who was part of the competition that produced her novel. Polidori's own contribution was the first modern vampire story The Vampyre (1819).
A notable feature of the production is that, instead of being ugly from the start, the Creature is portrayed as physically beautiful but increasingly hideous as the film progresses. The make-up was by Hammer horror veteran artist Roy Ashton.
It was originally broadcast in two 90-minute parts, but is often seen edited into a single film. Its DVD debut date was September 26, 2006. Included at the beginning is a short intro featuring James Mason wandering through St John's Wood churchyard, London. He suggests that this is where Mary Shelley is buried, which is incorrect (she is in actual fact buried in the family plot in Dorset), despite standing beside a gravestone bearing her name.
PART ONE Victor Frankenstein is an affluent young man training as a doctor, engaged to Elizabeth Fanshawe, daughter of a highly respected Lord and Lady. After Victor's younger brother, William, drowns in a tragic boat accident, Victor renounces his belief in God and declares that he would join forces with the Devil if he could learn how to restore his brother to life.
Shortly afterward, Victor leaves for London to train in anatomy. He immediately meets a socially odd but ambitious scientist named Henry Clerval, who Victor later learns has discovered how to preserve dead matter and restore it to life. As Victor becomes fascinated by Clerval's experiments (which at this point involve only insects and an amputated but still living human forearm), Clerval reveals his ultimate plan: creating a new race of invincible, physically perfect beings by using solar energy to animate "the Second Adam" constructed from parts of corpses. For some years Clerval has rented an isolated chateau where he's been building the huge laboratory apparatus to accomplish this feat. However, he is unable to complete it on his own due to a worsening heart condition. When Frankenstein eagerly volunteers himself as Clerval's associate, the work begins in earnest and the lab is completed. All they need now is to obtain the right body, before winter comes to block out the sun until Spring.
As luck would have it, word reaches the pair that several peasant lads have been killed in a mine collapse. After their burial the doctors quickly dig up the bodies and, choosing the best parts from each, stitch together a physically perfect human. The night before the creation event, however, Clerval discovers that the reanimated arm - ignored for weeks during the construction of the lab and of "Adam" - has become diseased, unsightly and deformed. The shock of this reversal kills Clerval just as he is recording the discovery in the journal.
The next morning, Victor finds Clerval's body and misreads the incomplete journal entry ("The process is r---") as saying "the process is ready to begin" rather than "reversing itself," which Clerval intended to write. Since neither of them wanted the perfect body to have the brain of a mere peasant, Victor transplants Clerval's brain into their creation. He is able to complete the experiment, and the result is a strikingly handsome, youthful and articulate creation, immensely strong and capable of quick learning. In awe of the creation, Victor educates him and introduces him into high-class London society, passing him off as a relative from a far-off country who speaks little English.
Victor's creation has won the admiration of London's elite class, but Victor soon discovers the still-living but now repulsive arm in Clerval's cupboard. He realizes some flaw in the process dooms it to reverse itself and destroys the deformed arm with acid, but is soon horrified to discover the beginnings of the Creature's deformity.
The adulation he has received has caused the Creature to grow very vain, so Victor destroys all mirrors in his rooms and laboratory while desperately searching for a way to correct the problem. He is unsuccessful, and the Creature's degeneration into a coarse, monstrous thing accelerates. This fact begins to change Victor's feelings towards his own creation and he finds himself beginning to reject the helpless Creature while the Creature is unable to understand Victor's change in attitude towards him.
When Victor's landlady, Mrs. Blair, enters Victor's room and sees the still friendly but grossly degenerated Creature, she dies of shock. Victor is forced to take the Creature back to the laboratory for safety. So at a loss for a remedy is he that Victor even contemplates destroying the sleeping creature with acid (as he did with the monstrous arm) but cannot bring himself to do it.
Detecting Victor's changing attitude towards him, the Creature notices the changing bone structures of his own hands and face. He searches for any reflective surface, and finally viewing its now horrible visage he screams and wakes Victor. The Creature weeps and pleads for help but Victor, exhausted and defeated, simply stares at him coldly. The rejection causes the Creature's mind to snap. Flinging Victor aside, he repeatedly stabs himself in the heart with a shard of broken glass. But the stabbing does no harm, so in frustrated rage the Creature flees the laboratory. He runs straight for the nearby White Cliffs of Dover, where he intends suicide by throwing himself into the sea below. Victor chases him to the cliff's edge and briefly gets the Creature to stop. However, realizing that it actually would be better for them both if he dies, Victor again finds he has nothing to say. The saddened Creature nods slowly and leaps from the cliff, landing with crushing impact in the sea far below.
The next scene shows the Creature's still form washed up on a beach. Slowly he stirs and rises; finding himself alive and unharmed, he slowly wanders away. This scene marks the end of the first half of the film.
PART TWO At the beginning of the second part we see the Creature wandering through the woods, where he befriends an elderly blind peasant. Presumably, some weeks pass; the blind man is eager to introduce his new friend to his grandchildren Felix and Agatha, the latter of whom the Creature falls in love with. The Creature hides from them every time they return home, afraid of letting anyone see his face, which the blind man attributes to pure shyness. Felix and Agatha choose to surprise their grandfather's friend by turning up unexpectedly, but upon seeing the Creature, Agatha flees into the woods in terror while Felix attacks. In self-defense, the Creature reflexively flings Felix away from him, his incredible strength smashing Felix's skull open against the wall. He then pursues Agatha into the woods, but as she runs from him in fright she stumbles into the passage of a horse-drawn carriage. Agatha is run over and instantly killed.
Grief-stricken, the Creature takes the body and carries it back to Frankenstein's laboratory, intent on asking his creator to restore her to life. He arrives to find that Victor has long since left and that the laboratory is now occupied by Dr. Polidori, the crippled former mentor of Clerval (Polidori's useless hands are later revealed to be horribly twisted and burned). Polidori has his own, unique approach to the creation of life. Having become aware of Victor's failed experiment and discovering through mesmerism that Henry Clerval's brain resides in the Creature's body (in a hypnotic state, Clerval's personality surfaces), Polidori agrees to help the Creature's beloved Agatha, but secretly he has other plans for the both of them.
Victor, having abandoned his experiments after the Creature's apparent suicide, has now returned to his country house to marry Elizabeth. But on the day of his wedding he is visited by Polidori, who uses the now-docile Creature to blackmail Victor into helping him create a female being. In exchange, Polidori promises that Victor will be forever free of them all once the experiment is complete. Victor reluctantly agrees, and much to Elizabeth's dismay leaves her alone on their wedding night to join Polidori in his laboratory.
That night, Polidori reveals that it was he who perfected the preservation and reanimation of dead flesh by use of obscure chemical compounds. He scoffs at the use of solar power and blames "the shocks" incurred during the procedure as the reason for the Creature's degeneration. During their prior association, Clerval apparently stole Polidori's preservation secrets and left the helpless Polidori without assistance. Desiring fame and racing against his own increasing weakness, however, Clerval came to believe the solar route would be a quicker and simpler way to accomplish the same goal. As a result, Clerval had dismissed Polidori's alchemical approach as being out of the Middle Ages and not worthy of serious attention.
Now Polidori intends to create a perfect female being using his own methods, and assures Victor it can be done. Keeping Victor's own increasingly temperamental creature locked away like an animal, the crippled Polidori employs Victor's hands in attaching Agatha's head to its new body. Together, they bring to life a beautiful female creature whom Polidori names Prima. The deal is done, Victor believes himself forever free of both his creature and Polidori and leaves for a several months-long honeymoon with Elizabeth.
In their absence and despite his earlier vow, Polidori insinuates his "ward" Prima and himself into the Fanshawe household for the purpose of Prima being educated and introduced into society. Enraged at seeing Polidori upon his return, Frankenstein reluctantly complies with his wishes and decides not to interfere with Polidori's plan. It becomes quickly obvious that Prima is soulless and evil, and Elizabeth becomes suspicious of her after she deliberately tries to strangle a kitten. Suspicious about the black neckband which Prima insists on wearing permanently around her neck, Elizabeth removes it as Prima sleeps, revealing the stitches by which her head has been sewn on. In horror, she begs Victor to dismiss her from the house.
At the laboratory Victor confronts Polidori, who smilingly tells him that he and Prima will be moving on shortly. However, there is one loose end to tie up: Victor's creation, which has been confined in the cellar. As a show of good faith that he now really means to set Victor free, Polidori hypnotizes the Creature and puts him to sleep at the edge of a vat of acid. The servants are about to push him to his destruction but, at the last moment, Victor cries out for the creature to wake up. He does so, hurling one of the servants into the acid as Polidori locks him in the basement. Polidori has his remaining servant set fire to the building with the Creature trapped inside and rightly chastises Victor for his hypocrisy, telling him that he loved his creature "so long as it was pretty, but when it lost its looks that was a different matter!" The volatile chemicals still stored in the building explode magnificently, leveling the chateau and presumably burning the Creature to death and burying his remains deep beneath the rubble.
Later on, a ball to present Prima to society is held at the Fanshawe mansion. Prima - an incredible mimic and who has seen a ballet only once - performs an amazing ballet dance routine which stuns all the guests. Beaming with pride, Polidori finally explains to a drunken Victor his true plan: Prima is his key to enter and gain control of the highest levels of society, and with it, international political power.
At that moment, Frankenstein's badly burned Creature bursts into the ballroom. Scattering the guests, he makes his way towards Prima. Killing attacking servants bare-handed and ignoring shotgun blasts fired point-blank into his torso, he rips away the now savage Prima's neckband, revealing her neck scar to the horrified crowd. Then, in revenge for what was done to his beloved Agatha, he slowly rips off Prima's head and drops it at Polidori's feet. As Polidori breaks down in tears over Prima's death, the Creature kneels beside Victor. Due to his limited vocabulary he cannot explain why he destroyed Prima beyond the single word "beautiful".
The next day a police investigation begins and Victor tries to tell the whole, unbelievable truth. Elizabeth intervenes, convincing the inspector in charge that Victor has been suffering from mental strain and that Polidori is responsible for everything. Elizabeth and Victor choose to leave England and voyage to America to begin life anew.
Victor and Elizabeth board the ship but soon find that Polidori is also on board. He insists that, now that they've all lost everything, Victor and he will continue their experiments in America and will not accept their refusal. Elizabeth goes to Polidori's cabin to confront him. As she does she glimpses the stowaway Creature hiding there. She locks Polidori in the cabin with the Creature and takes the key. When she tells Victor what she has done, his sense of morality urges him to set Polidori free. He does, but the now-vengeful Creature pursues Polidori onto the deck. The Creature ties a rope around Polidori and hoists him high into the lightning storm above. In an attempt to stop Polidori's murder, Victor is struck by a swinging plank and falls to the deck unconscious.
Polidori is struck by lightning and killed (the Creature is struck first, but he just laughs it off). The ship's crew see this and believe it to be the Devil himself; they abandon ship and flee in a lifeboat, leaving only Victor, Elizabeth and the Creature on board. Elizabeth cruelly taunts the Creature with the knowledge of her pregnancy (Victor's "true" creation of life out of life, rather than the Creature's aberrant, repulsive life from death). Enraged, the mind of Clerval surfaces, and the Creature strangles her to death. The Clerval part of the Creature carefully observes and treats Victor's condition, after having lashed the wheel of the ship on a due north heading, straight for the uncharted wilderness of the North Pole.
When Victor finally awakens, he finds the frozen body of Elizabeth on deck and the ship itself locked in ice. Victor sees the Creature's footprints leading away from the ship, making their way across the ice plain to what appears to be a cavern at the base of a large ice-locked berg. Here he confronts his creature one final time, asking if the Creature has punished him enough for giving him life. But Victor is overcome by remorse, realizing that this whole tragedy was caused by his rejection of the helpless, deteriorating creature, who - upon Victor's soon and certain death - will be utterly alone, cursed with an "iron body" that, even here, will keep him alive against his will. Victor begs the Creature's forgiveness; the sound of his shouts sets off an ice avalanche. As tons of ice begins to fall upon them both, the Creature (in Clerval's voice) forgives his creator, and they embrace as they are buried by the avalanche. The film ends.
The script for the film, by Don Bachardy and Christopher Isherwood, was published in paperback as a tie-in. The script contains a prologue in which Mary Shelley is telling her tale of horror to Percy Shelley and Lord Byron, as Dr. Polidori sulks nearby. As she reaches their parts in the tale, they rush to join the main action and the story proper begins. Some shots in the film indicate that at least part of this prologue may have been filmed. If this segment had been included, it would have featured Nichola Pagett as Mary, Leonard Whiting as Shelley, David McCallum as Byron, and James Mason as Polidori.
The script also contains an epilogue, following the avalanche: the season changes and the northern ice begins to break apart. The Creature's body, still entombed in the remainder of the berg, begins to float south into warmer waters. As the ice melts, one of his hands is exposed. Absorbing the rays of the sun, the hand responds, flower-like, and slowly begins to open.
Inspirations for the filmEdit
Despite the film's title (the "True Story") and the promotional campaign at the time which touted it as a faithful adaptation of Shelley's novel, it is really only a loose adaptation with elements from various Frankenstein films, most notably the Hammer series, grafted on.
Some, but not all, of the ideas taken from the Hammer films are:
- The younger doctor assisting the more seasoned scientist to learn the secrets of life and death (first Frankenstein/Clerval, then Frankenstein/Polidori) is a feature of most of the Hammer series.
- The brain of the creator (Clerval) being transplanted into the body of the creature is reminiscent of the Baron's brain being put into his perfect creation at the conclusion of The Revenge of Frankenstein.
- The Creature is beautiful at first, but then begins to degenerate, as in The Revenge of Frankenstein.
- The Creature throws itself off a cliff in front of Frankenstein, as in Frankenstein Created Woman.
- Polidori's use of hypnosis to control the Creature and also to reach its inner mind is similar to that in The Evil of Frankenstein.
- Polidori's hands are burnt and useless, causing him to need an assistant, as is the case for Baron Frankenstein in Frankenstein Created Woman and Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell.
- Polidori keeps the Creature under lock and key, as the Baron did in The Curse of Frankenstein and The Horror of Frankenstein.
- Polidori blackmails and controls Victor and Elizabeth in a similar fashion to the Baron's control of Karl and Anna in Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed.
- An attempt is made to destroy the Creature in an acid bath, a fate the creation had met in both The Curse of Frankenstein and The Horror of Frankenstein.
- The Creature disrupts the polite society function, as the Baron's creation did in The Revenge of Frankenstein.
- Frankenstein's attempt to tell the truth to the police about the Creature echoes the Baron's claims in The Curse of Frankenstein.
- Elizabeth's locking Polidori in his cabin with the Creature evokes the Baron locking his maid in with his creation in both The Curse of Frankenstein and The Horror of Frankenstein.
- The Creature carries Polidori to his death, as the resurrected Richter had done to the Baron in Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed.
- James Mason as Dr. Polidori
- Leonard Whiting as Dr. Victor Frankenstein
- David McCallum as Dr. Henry Clerval
- Jane Seymour as Agatha/Prima
- Nicola Pagett as Elizabeth Fanshawe
- Michael Sarrazin as The Creature
- Michael Wilding as Sir Richard Fanshawe
- Clarissa Kaye-Mason as Lady Fanshawe
- Agnes Moorehead as Mrs. Blair
- Margaret Leighton as Francoise DuVal
- Ralph Richardson as Mr. Lacey
- John Gielgud as Chief Constable (Police)
- Tom Baker as Sea Captain
- Dallas Adams as Felix
- Julian Barnes as Young Man
- Arnold Diamond as Passenger in Coach