Sunday, April 22, 2018

Frankenstein (J. Searle Dawley, 1910)

Victor Frankenstein (Augustus Phillips) leaves his fiancee Elizabeth (Mary Fuller, star of the first film serial, What Happened to Mary) to attend college, where he experiments in bringing the dead back to life. Unfortunately, the product of his research proves to be a gruesome monster (Charles Ogle), who he rejects. On Victor and Elizabeth's wedding night, the monster makes his untimely return, seeking revenge...

This will probably be the shortest review I've done to date, partly because it's the first that's of a short film. Produced by Edison Studios, this was the first of hundreds of adaptations of Mary Shelley's iconic novel, but it's not a very faithful adaptation. Victor creates his monster through what looks like alchemy rather than true science, and flesh seems to just appear on the skeleton of the soon-to-be monster (who doesn't look nearly as cool as the image above seems to imply). Whereas the Monster of Shelley's novel murders everybody Victor loves (his younger brother, his father, and his best friend), culminating with the death of Elizabeth on their wedding night, and Victor then pursues his creation around the globe, dying the process, here Frankenstein chases the monster away before he can kill Elizabeth. The Monster then just...looks into a mirror and disappears, though his reflection lingers a bit longer, and Victor and Elizabeth get to live happily ever after. Considering how the book makes such a point of Victor being the true monster for rejecting his creation and denying it any kind of compassion whatsoever, this will probably piss off fans of the original tale. It did me. The Monster itself has none of the pathos of Shelley's (or rather Victor's creation), so amazingly captured by Rory Kinnear in the late lamented television series Penny Dreadful.

This film was considered lost for several decades, but a fan bought a copy in the '70s, and released it on DVD in the early 2000s. A restored version came out in 2010. I don't know if the restored version is the one I watched on Amazon Prime, but if so, holy shit they didn't do a very good job. Having seen the restored Metropolis on the big screen at the Gene Siskel Film Center, which added to my existing love for that film a thousandfold, the picture quality on this print is just pitiful. I've seen plenty of Frankenstein movies. I love James Whale's, of course, even though it's even less faithful to the novel than this is. Young Frankenstein is without a doubt Mel Brooks' masterpiece. And I've also seen a lot of trashy or weird takes on the legend, such as William A. Levey's Blackenstein, Paul Morrissey's Flesh for Frankenstein, Dick Randall's Frankenstein's Castle of Freaks, and Jerry Warren's Frankenstein Island. This film is nowhere near the excellency of the former two films, nor the curiosity value of the latter four. It just kinda is, and I wanted more from the first film version of one of the most adapted books of all time. On the other hand, at least Edison didn't rip off Nikola Tesla or electrocute an elephant in the course of making it, so credit where it's due.

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