THE REVEREND’S REVIEW
FT’s resident man of the cloth REVEREND PETER LAWS dons his dog collar and faces the flicks that Church forgot!
Universal and NBC joined forces in 1973 to make “the most faithful adaption of Mary Shelley’s famous novel”, but calling it Frankenstein: The True Story (1973) was a bit misleading: this bears little resemblance to the book.
Compared to previous incarnations, the film feels a tad ‘true-er’. Gone is the shambling, loveable dunce portrayed by Boris Karloff. This jigsaw zombie is a handsome and cultured gentleman, albeit barefoot. Yet having excellent hair, nice teeth and a love for opera is still a far cry from the erudite and philosophical New Adam Shelly imagined. This creature is still a child, and his saying words like ‘Figaro’ and ‘Beautiful’ every two minutes isn’t much of a step-up from Karloff’s grunts. But then the teeth go, the warts start, and we’re back in monster land.
The film distracts you by ramming its epic running time with crazy new characters played by every celebrity alive at the time. Like Jayne Seymour, who had only wrapped Live and Let Die two days before she started on Frankenstein.
Rather than take their cue from Shelley, the studios acted more like Frankenstein himself, knitting disparate body parts together to make a whole new creature. They sew the grotesque pulp of EC Comics onto period melodrama, tagging on swivel-eyed comedy and bolting it all down with genuine gothic sophistication. It might be a hodge-podge, but what an entertaining creation it is!
The wild and shocking set pieces have an insane energy. Take the dazzling scene on a storm-battered boat where a fellow hangs from the rigging and gets zapped into a full-on skeleton, Hanna Barbera style. Or a notorious movie moment at a ball that ends with a weeping James Mason cradling a severed head while people scream and faint around him. Oh, it’s fab.
It’s nice to see this version retain the subtext in the story. It’s no surprise to learn how some in the gay community felt this film spoke to them at the time. It still does. Especially when the creature is shunned and abandoned, condemned to live alone in an ice world because of a difference he has no control over.
The handsome production is served well by a frankly gorgeous Blu-Ray, and the commentary track shares fun little nuggets: like how the producers asked Queen Elizabeth if she’d film an introduction to the movie. They assumed she’d be eager to promote a story and author so quintessentially English. She declined – and saved her promo career for pushing Bond at the 2012 Olympics. Instead, they used a man who sounded even more English than the Queen – cast member James Mason. His delightfully clipped and snooty introduction is an extra. Hearing him berate the American audience – “I dare say most of you will assume that Frankenstein was a Hollywood creation. Let me educate you American chumps” – is a hoot.
So who cares if this isn’t really ‘the true story’ when it offers such outrageous charms?
It might be a hodgepodge, but what an entertaining creation it is!