Frankenstein: True Story (1973)


Our rating: 2 out of 5

Rated: PG13

reviewed by: Charity Bishop

I have been curious about this film for quite some time since it contains one of Jane Seymour's earliest performances. It was recently released on DVD in a much-debated "unedited" version. I am told Europe has the actual full-length release, while Americans must settle for a slightly more sanitized version. Which leads me to wonder, if this is sanitized... what must the original be like?


The ambitious and moralistic Dr. Frankenstein (Leonard Whiting) hopes to do no more in the medical profession than to assist in saving people's lives, but upon his first night in the institution he makes the acquaintance of the obsessive Dr. Clerval (David McCallum). After making off with a severed limb from an amputee victim, Clerval reveals to Frankenstein that he is fascinated with the concept of manufacturing life. He has built a miniscule machine capable of bringing various dead creatures to life, and intends to magnify it ten thousand fold in order to make a human .... a human of such glorious perfection that everyone will be in awe of his beauty, intellect, and charm. Frankenstein unwittingly becomes lured into this fascination, which leads him to neglect his family and friends back home, most particularly the lovely Elizabeth (Nicola Pagett).


When a terrible accident accumulates in Dr. Clerval's untimely death, Frankenstein uses his brain to breathe his creation to life. The Creature (Michael Sarrazin) is polished and affectionate, eager to learn and forms a magnificent impression in society. He is fawned over and loved wherever he goes, believed to be an exotic count from a foreign land. All is well for a good long time until the experiment begins to go array. It appears that the beauty of the creature can only last for so long before the body begins to decompose, transforming him into a tormented and hideous monster whose desire to be loved leads him to do dark and terrible things. Frankenstein is haunted by what he has done, but is even more distraught when his assistance is required by another scientist (James Mason) to create a female creature who will not decompose. Prima (Jane Seymour) is one of the most ravishing women on the face of the earth, but also one of the most cold. 


As you can see, the storyline does not represent the original novel in any form. It's gem is Seymour, who is at her most young and consequently, her most beautiful. There's a striking appeal in her astounding beauty when you contrast it with the diabolical nature of her character, who is evil to her very core. Whether it's mocking the lady of the house or teasing a cat, she's one of the scariest females I have ever seen on screen. The other acting involved is excellent as well, but the biggest shout out is deserved by Mason (his torment in one of his final scenes is gripping) and Sarrazin. When he discovers what he looks like in a broken mirror fragment, the audience's heart breaks along with him. All things considered, it is a strong film because it does have a decent plot, but it seems to lag a bit and might have been altogether better with more of a focus on Prima than Frankenstein. In fact, I found the first hour or so excruciatingly dull -- severed arms and all.


Much has been made of how gruesome this adaptation is, and for a television drama from the 1970's, it is pretty gross at times. There is a good deal of blood and numerous severed body parts -- either crawling across the floor or floating around in colored liquid (including a head or two). The most gruesome scene is one in which it's implied a head is torn off. (Apparently, in the European version we get a glimpse of this, but in the American release we only hear the screams and see the head rolling away on the floor.) What bothered me more was the naked female body floating in a tank of water in the background of a significant amount of scenes. Scenes involving this nude corpse seem to go on forever. Beside that, there's little sexual content. Prima and Frankenstein do kiss passionately after he's married, but are interrupted before anything more can happen. Prima squeezes a cat by the throat when he displeases her, but the pet escapes unharmed.


The production design is very good for such an early miniseries, and it does leave the audience numerous things to ponder, among them the worth of the human soul, and what prompts evil among men, but it seemed to fall a bit flat for me. In truth, I have never found a Frankenstein that I liked. Maybe because at some point, all of the films fail to be both fascinating and true to the book.

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