May 25, 2007

FRANKENSTEIN - THE TRUE STORY (1973) the longest, the dullest

Frankenstein - the True Story
(1973, US television)

NTSC US region 1 DVD (Universal)

A very poor telling of the novel. Not recommended at all!

This was a highly publicised American TV adaption, spread over two movie-length parts.

A great cast, but with dull direction, music, special effects and a very poor script. In its defence, the editing appears very choppy, making nonsense of much of the dialogue and story. Perhaps it was even longer and was carved down to three hours to try and pep it up? Clues to this scenario include Frankenstein's beard suddenly appearing for one scene, then disappearing the next, back-references to events that we haven't seen, major actors popping up for single, brief scenes... Was this an early mini-series that was edited down to as short as possible?

The irreplaceable James Mason as Dr Polidori

The three-hour running time is still too long, with some leaden performances (including the Baron himself - played by Leonard Whiting) mixed with a few good ones. James Mason and Agnes Moorhead (Endora in Bewitched) are the best of a big bunch.

There's Michael Sarrazin (Eye of the Cat), David McCallum (The Man from UNCLE), Jane Seymour (Live and Let Die), Nicola Pagett, Ralph Richardson (Tales from the Crypt), John Gielgud, Tom Baker (very briefly) and even Julian Barnes (a lead in The Haunted House of Horror), but this is very hard going indeed. Not helped by the lousy, ill-fitting music.

The busy narrative simply trots through the scenes from the book, without elaborating on the subtext, character motivations or Mary Shelley's ideas.

Worse still, the horror elements of a classic horror tale are pared down to the minimum. A tale of bloody murder and cadavers being carved up to make new life is all skirted round to appease TV censor's. There's off-screen violence and so little blood, that key scenes are nothing but confusing. There's screaming but you might not know why! Looking at the more explicitly bloody publicity stills that circulated at the time, my hopes were raised that it would be worth watching.

At the time, I was hoping that The True Story would be gorier than even the Hammer films, but I'd have to wait until I saw Flesh for Frankenstein (also 1973) before that happened. The True Story was the last chance in a long time for the Baron to be taken seriously, with Young Frankenstein and The Rocky Horror Picture Show about to famously lampoon him.

Not recommended – try any Frankenstein with Peter Cushing, for all your serious, gothic, Frankenstein needs.

If you must try out this recent DVD release, beware the 5 minute intro at the start of the first part - it's completely full of spoilers! And unlike the original TV showing (yes, I remember it at the time), there's no break between parts 1 and 2 (when you really need a breather).

Do you (really) want to know more?

DVD Beaver (click here) has some great frame grabs that make this look more enticing than it actually is.

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  1. I agree that there is a lot to criticize in FRANKENSTEIN: THE TRUE STORY (which is far from the true story, if you consider Mary Shelley's novel the original truth). But there is a fascinating wisdom to Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy's renovation of the relationship between creature and creator -- a narcissistic love affair in which the love object (the creature) is beautiful so long as he is loved, then turns ugly when his maker scorns him. Isherwood didn't really approve of what the TV producers did with his script -- and didn't write the title. Read about this and more in my forthcoming book, Frankenstein: A Cultural History, from Norton this fall. Meanwhile visit my blog: for occasional comments on the monster we all love to fear.
    -- Susan Tyler Hitchcock

  2. I haven't seen this, but was just wondering what you make of Flesh for Frankenstein?

    Personally, I love it.

  3. Yes I have seen FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN, in 3D even! I love it! Outrageous, gory and funny, though obviously not trying to be a telling of the original story.

  4. Susan! I look forward to reading your book. I'm a great connaisseur of the original novel and I'm endlesslly frustrated by the film adaptations. Film after film claims to be true to the text, but none comes close. The novel is much tougher and much less sensational than any film versions. I guess Hollywood can't abide an ambiguous monster and a "hero" of poor character. Further, the social commentary still seems to make people nervous all these years later!

  5. I just finished the first 1/2 of this. I thought it was excellent. The first segment or 'film' is great in itself. I didn't find it boring.
    I'd say one of my favorite Frankenstein movies. Just one guy's opinion I guess. I thought his creation was unique in the canon of Frankenstein films. I would recommend to Frankenstein fans, especially if the aesthetic of early 70s film generally appeals to you.

  6. I thought this was a brilliantly intense movie, but then I was doing acid when I watched it.