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Saturday, 1 March 2014

Frankenstein. The True Story (1973) - Second Sight Films

Release Date: 10 March 2014.            Cert: 12
 RRP: £15.99.                                       Running Time: 181 mins
  Cat.No: 2NDVD3256.                           Ratio: Original Ratio ; 4:3
   Region code: 2.                                   Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0

Director: Jack Smight / Screenplay: Christopher Isherwood, Don Bachardy 

Bonus feature: introduction by James Mason

A prelude (or, meaningless, self-indulgent waffle)

There could be a few deluded fools out there who might be mistaken by the title of this article from quite possibly the finest science fiction, fantasy and horror blog on the planet (that's this blog by the way, just in case you were sat there thinking which one you had missed out on reading). Yes, there are some that may have read the word 'Frankenstein' and wrongly assumed that I was about to write a review on the CGI infested abomination and bastardisation of a genre classic that was the risible piece of excremental tosh that recently infested the cinema - I, Frankenstein.

However, putting my distaste (I'm not sure if you noticed that) aside in regard to that pitiful excuse of a horror film for a moment, it could well be that there are some of you out there in internetland who for some unknown twisted reason actually enjoyed it. Of course, I'm not one to judge another persons taste or right to like what they want, everyone after all is entitled to their opinion, but if you did enjoy that heap of muscle-bound superficial codswallop them you are clinically insane. Take my word for it, I have a degree in Psychology and know all about weird and twisted behaviour.

So, I suppose some review of it could be in order then, after all, this blog is supposed to reflect my balanced thoughts on a wide range of material. So OK, I saw the movie a week or so ago and quite frankly it is 2 hours or so of my life that I wish I could get back. There you go.

No, this piece is definitely not anything at all to do with that reprehensible piece of lazy special effects rubbish. This review is of a far finer, intelligent and thought provoking interpretation of perhaps THE classic of Gothic horror literature than that piece of worthless junk.

A bit of history (or, more self indulgent historical waffle)

Many of us know the story behind the  story of Frankenstein, but I'll briefly mention it just in case there are any half-wits out there that think I, Frankenstein is where the it all actually started. The cultural phenomenon that is Frankenstein actually all began on the shores of Lake Geneva in the summer of 1816 when a group of literary friends, including a certain Lord Byron and Percy Shelley, in an effort to pass the time challenged each other to come up with a frightening ghost story. Shelley's future wife, 19 year old Mary, was part of the entourage, eventually came up with an idea based upon a recent dream that she had experienced and which soon after she would put to paper. The title of which was Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus.

It was a story that was to immediately tap into the the depths of our collective psyche with its themes of human loss, creation of life, motherhood and above all, the lengths a human being will go to scientifically manipulate and alter the laws of existence itself. 

A year later the novel was finished and initially published anonymously, for this was a time when a woman and writing (particularly Gothic Horror writing) rarely went together without some form of public ridicule. By the time the revised second edition was published in 1823, this time under Mary's name, the story had already accrued had a number of theatrical adaptations. This trend for constantly re-imagining the complex psychological and moral themes that are found in Shelley's original text continues to this day, albeit usually in far more simplistic terms (stand up I, Frankenstein - you know I'm talking about you!).

As far as I've been able to determine, since that date at the early part of the 19th century, there have been approximately 200 million billion trillion versions of Frankenstein in all its cinematic, literary, Graphic novel, television and radio forms. I've checked, it's a pretty accurate me.

So it's quite obvious that I'm not alone when I say that the story of the creation of life from the dead that originated nearly 200 years ago on the shores of Lake Geneva hasn't just been a personal favourite of mine. Indeed I have gone on record on a number of occasions in this very blog naming James Whale's near genius adaptation for a Universal Pictures' Frankenstein as being my 'first love' of horror. The Universal produced series of movies movies with Boris Karloff et al were, and still arguably are, the most synonymous association between cinema and the original story - though the Universal adaptations and Karloff's majestic monster are a million miles away from the what Mary Shelley first imagined. It's safe to say I'm a little obsessed with the story that Mary wrote and so it seems is mostly everyone else on the planet. Way to capture the public's imagination, Girl.

The review of Frankenstein:The True Story (1973). (Or, finally getting to the point and losing the waffle)

So when the marvellous people at Second Sight Films sent me the preview disc of the soon to be released gem of an adaptation, I was genuinely excited. Excited, because it was the chance to revisit a version that I first saw and loved many, many moons ago, and also excited because it was the chance to talk about a version of the man and his monster that actually didn't make me want to stick my head in a plugged in food blender (yes, I, Frankenstein, I'm talking about you again)

But what is so wonderful about this particular version, I hear you ask. Well according to the promotional material that came with the DVD it is claimed that it is  "One of the most acclaimed versions of Mary Shelley's classic Frankenstein: The True Story, featuring a stellar all-star cast makes its UK DVD debut thanks to Second Sight Films"

"Stellar all-star cast?" A bold claim indeed. We'll see, Second Sight Films, we'll see. Frankenstein: The True Story is an American 1973 made for TV two-part production, which back in the 1970's could often be a very hit or miss affair in terms of authentic production and lazy cliched casting by the studios. However, the blurb isn't wrong, for the cast list reads like a veritable who's who of British character actors....well, don't take my word for it, see for yourself.

               Frankenstein: The True story. 
               James Mason
               Leonard Whiting
               David McCallum
               Jane (delicious) Seymour
               Tom Baker. 
               Sir Ralph Richardson
               Sir John Gielgud

Not bad, not bad at all. So far so good. However I do have one small word of warning out there for all Mary Shelley aficionados and lovers of her sacred text, who are under the assumption from the title that this is a faithful line by line adaptation, because it's not. For despite the title, there are a more than a few major embellishments of the original storyline and narrative, but I assure you that the movie doesn't suffer at all for it, quite the contrary as it happens. Let me explain. 

Now then mate, you know where I can lay my 
hands on some spare body parts?

The storyline is set in 19th century England, where Dr Victor Frankenstein (Leonard Whiting) is rather bitter and devastated over his brother's death as a result of drowning and soon develops an obsession that he, and not god, should ultimately have the power over life and death. In essence, he is searching for the ability to bring life back from death itself.

Following a chance encounter with the bonkers Dr Henry Clerval (David McCallum), a surgeon who is experimenting with research in precisely this area. They soon begin to work together and Victor achieves what was previously thought impossible, the ability to create life from death. The result is the creation of a handsome, charismatic, highly intelligent young man - Adam (Michael Sarrazin), from rescued body parts (as you do). 

At first the experiment seems a total success, not only does Adam (Adam - get it?) become alive, but he becomes the centre of attention amongst the socialites of London society with his good looks and charisma. However, unforeseen problems in the experimental process see Adam begin to physically degenerate and soon the involvement of evil and mad as a box of Frogs scientist Dr Polidori (James Mason) who, after appearing on the scene, goes on to make the proceedings even worse. For you see, Dr Polidori has the intention to create a female version of the creature in the form of an even more attractive creation, the simply excruciatingly delicious Jane Seymour. You may think that creating Jane Seymour as a companion might make things pretty good (well they would for me). Well actually, this in turn simply leads to further shocking and unimaginable horror as the story proceeds to its ever inevitable explosive climax. 

Be honest - does my bum look big in this?
I said a few moments ago that the term 'True Story' might be somewhat of a misnomer - this movie does indeed deviate from Shelley's original text on number of major points. However, what I love about this adaptation is that it still retains much of the genuine Gothic nature, theme and tone of her work. This adaptation is actually a million miles closer to the complex and textured layers of the themes in the book than any of the (often still great) versions of the story have ever been. 

This attention to the complex themes is an an obvious strength of the production, though it could for some people be something of a weakness. I say that because the running time of 3 hours may seem like something of an over-exertion for some in these more modern days of instant gratification. There will be those who find the pacing and time spent on strange things like characterisation, dialogue containing actual intelligence and performances that provide added gravitas to the text, as something that gets in the way of enjoying any thrills and chills. I don't want to sound aloof and elitist when it comes to horror, but those are the very details of the genre that float my particular boat, however I know that there will be some for who regard such a production being flawed due to it's lack of blood soaked horror. 

Now this could get awkward.....
It is clear that a huge amount of money was spent on this truly sumptuous production, visually it is lovely with its richness of colour and texture combined with a truly remarkable attention to historical detail are at times breathtaking. The quality of the look of the film is also in part no small thanks to the restoration work that Second Sight Films have put into the movie prior to its release on the 10th March. Visually, it is a sublime treat.

Be assured, Frankenstein:The True Story is no US made faux-European monstrosity of a production with bad accents and flimsy sets, it has a genuine authentic heart and soul. This authenticity is applied in no small way to the inspired portrayal of the monster, Adam, who initially is the epitome of a beautiful creation with his brooding good looks and genuine charisma, but who slowly begins to disintegrate (literally) into a pathetic shambles of a creature. I, as many people, always felt more than a little sorry for the monster in this story, particularly Karloff's masterful portrayal. However, the performance of Michael Sarrazin here takes that sense of sympathy to an almost unbearable level as we the audience are moved to emotions of extreme pity at Adams plight and the treatment that he receives from those that previous feted him as the prefect creation.
For me, as a long time lover of Mary Shelley's slice of literary genius, this is quite possibly one of the finest adaptations of it ever made.

If anyone is still in some doubt about whether Frankenstein: The True Story is worth watching - I suggest you look at the picture to the right. I think it says it all..........

Frankenstein: The True Story is released on DVD by Second Sight Films on the 10th March 2014.

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