‘Frankenstein:The True Story’ (1973)

After 33 years in obscurity, an important adaptation is finally released on DVD.

Frankenstein: The True Story ‘ (1973) was Originally broadcast over 2 nights back in 1973. ‘ Frankenstein: TTS ‘ starred James Mason, Michael Sarrazin, David McCallum, Ralph Richardson, John Gielgud, Leonard Whiting, Jane Seymour and Agnes Moorehead, was directed by Jack Smight and written by Christopher Isherwood, the writer of ‘ Cabaret ‘ (1972). This filmisation is widely acknowledged to be the most faithful of adaptations, outshining even Kenneth Branagh’s 1994 ‘ Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein ‘. In fact, the Branagh version borrowed many themes from the 1973 Isherwood version without improving upon any of it.

Writer Isherwood, while being faithful to the source material was also comprehensive in his effort to do justice to the Frankenstein legacy by drawing heavily from not only the Shelley novel, but also elements of James Whale’s 1931 follow-up to ‘ Frankenstein ‘, ‘ The Bride of Frankenstein ‘ (1935). The film is daring in its presentation of Michael Sarrazin as the Creature, who evolves from a beautiful young man to an ugly homunculus as a result of his slow necrotization. Equally ambitious is Isherwood’s Pygmalion treatment of James Whale’s ‘ Bride of Frankenstein ‘, as Jane Seymour’s Prima evolves from a childlike tabula rasa to a full-blown debutante before her untimely demise.

Though the film was explicitly made for television, it does not betray any of the typical dumbed-down aspects of typical American DTV fare – by even 1973 standards, Universal recruited top-notch talent for all aspects of the production.

Sensitive to the needs of the story, Isherwood executed the whole story as a study in characters rather than the superficial horror-and-gore treatment that the material usually receives. As a feature executed in the early ’70′s, it remains ahead of its time, with regard to its exploration of both homosexual and feminist themes.

The last commercial edition of the film appeared in 1995 as a 120 minute VHS tape manufactured by Goodtimes Video, though the original feature ran more than 3 hours long. Sporadically, AMC (once ‘American Movie Classics’, now the ‘American Movie Channel’) played this film on Halloween throughout the late ’90’s and early ’00’s, but that tradition ended in 2002. For several years, the Goodtimes version of the movie was the only one available, and at that, the price was prohibitive as it was priced at $79.00 on Amazon since the dawn of the internet. But suddenly, improbably, the title came up on a random search I ran earlier today.

Sequences which varied from broadcast-to-broadcast on AMC were things like the Hand sequence, which paid explicit homage to ‘ The Crawling Hand ‘ (1963) and the final fate of the Creature’s bride, Prima, in a remarkable and grueling ballroom scene. But the truly remarkable thing about this movie is it’s effort to play as a naturalistic drama – there are parts of this movie that play like a Dickensian patronage drama and a Merchant and Ivory period piece with explicit Edisonian retcons. There is a very definite steam-punk kind of thing going on in this movie, but this is all more than 20 years before William Gibson et al…

This is an important film, that has been marred by its licensing history and cuts that were made to the film to make it more family-friendly, such that the full-length version was probably only available for the 1973 broadcast. Despite subsequent big-budget adaptations of Shelley’s novel, Coppola’s production of the aforementioned Branagh version iin 1994 and Franc Roddam’s ‘ The Bride ‘ (1985), Isherwood’s version remains the best. Now that it’s out, I encourage all Amphetameme readers to get a look .

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

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