Sunday, February 12, 2017

Frankenstein: The True Story (1973)

Well, not really.

True, I mean. If you assume "true" refers to things happening the way they do in Shelley's original novel. And granted, the film never comes right out and says it's going to be especially faithful to the novel, even if one of it's main characters weirdly breaks the fourth wall a few minutes into the film, takes you to Mary Shelley's supposed (modern day, with cars and buses zipping by) grave site and implies what you're about to see is Shelley's original vision. Nobody comes right out and says it. So I guess the "true story" here is more like "hey, not even Shelley told you the true story, but we're about to, so hold on to your hats!"

And with that in mind, this little film mostly does alright for itself. Little as far as budget and screen size go--it was a 1970s TV movie after all--it's not small in terms of running time, clocking in at a hefty 3 hours and 5 minutes. It was originally broadcast as one of those two-night TV "miniseries" that were particularly popular in the 70s.

(I've personally always maintained that "two parts does not a miniseries make"--you gotta get at least three or four broadcasts in to call it a miniseries. But that's just me.)

So anyway, I really did watch this last night (subtitle on the site's banner is literal this time 'round), and as I started writing/image-hunting this morning, I was totally compelled to use that VHS cover above as a lead-in for the post, 'cause it's so not what the movie is. At all. I seriously laughed out loud when I came across it. Rest assured, at no point in the film does Jane Seymour, dressed in an ornamental Japanese vest and flashing side-boob, seductively eye the camera with a "come hither" expression on her face.

The movie really takes itself pretty seriously as a dramatic-with-horror-overtones period piece, but I guess the whole point of VHS and paperback cover art is to (mis)represent, with as much titillation as possible, what's actually contained inside the associated video cassette/book, and based on that this cover does it's job well. If you ever bought or rented the movie based on it, though, you'd be sorely disappointed. Granted, it is Seymour in the vest there, and at one point in the film her character is (more completely) dressed in similar Asian attire, so I'm guessing they used a publicity still or some other non-film thing to make that VHS cover.

This DVD cover is much more representative. Anyway. Let's see if I can give you the gist of this movie.

Here's a list of the main cast and who's playing who:

James Mason as Dr. Polidori
Leonard Whiting as Dr. Victor Frankenstein
David McCallum as Dr. Henry Clerval
Jane Seymour as Agatha/Prima
Nicola Pagett as Elizabeth Fanshawe
Michael Sarrazin as The Creature

Story-wise, Frankenstein is not the brains of this outfit. He's a doctor, who's partial to the idea of restoring life (his brother having recently drowned), but he's got no idea how to go about doing that, and isn't even looking to find out how, when he meets up with fellow doc Henry Clerval. Clerval is the one who's experimenting with the creation of life from death, but even he didn't come up with the idea on his own--he stole it from yet another doc by the name of Polidori. Neither Clerval or Polidori are very nice fellows, by the way, and Polidori is downright sociopathic.

So Clerval kind of pushes Frankenstein into helping him with his work (Clerval has a bad ticker and can't maintain the pace he needs to by himself), and the two of them end up with a stitched together corpse they're all set to bring to life come the next morning. After lamenting to each other about having to make due with only a peasant's brain for their creature, Frankenstein heads home, but Clerval sticks around the lab long enough to figure out his process still has some major flaws and anything they create will most likely start coming apart at the seams before too much time passes.

Well, this is important news, but before Clerval can let Frankenstein know about it, he keels over dead from a heart attack. After Frankenstein shows up the next morning and grieves (for a minute), he wastes no time pulling Clerval's brain out of his head and sticking it into the creature's (always a silver lining, right? last night's peasant brain dilemma: solved). So, when the creature comes to life, he's handsome, intelligent and good-natured to boot, and all seems right in the world.

UNTIL said creature does start deteriorating, causing both Frankenstein and creature much pain and suffering, culminating with the creature throwing itself into the sea, at which point Frankenstein (naturally) assumes it's dead and gone.

Time for Frankenstein to move on and marry Elizabeth, who's been impatiently waiting in the wings for just that to happen since the movie's very first scene. But this being a Frankenstein tale, we know what they do not: the creature's NOT dead. It's washed ashore, and has been hanging out for the last while with the story's requisite blind peasant fellow, mostly having a nice time, which niceness goes to hell when blind peasant fellow's daughter and son-in-law end up dead due to freaking out over the creature's (supposed) horrifying disfigurement.

Let's see, this is taking too long. How can I make this long story short(er)?

Okay: Dr. Polidori, who's been keeping Frankenstein's creature locked in a cell ever since it brought blind peasant fellow's dead daughter to him, uses the fact that it's still alive to blackmail Frankenstein into helping him resurrect blind peasant fellow's daughter as a she-creature. Polidori plans to turn her into ( ! ) a high-class prostitute and use her to gain international influence, what with all the state secrets she'll weasel out of her rich and powerful clients. (Okay, things are starting to go a little off-rail, plotwise, here.)

Well, during she-creature's big-introduction-to-london-society-ball, he-creature busts in and tears off her head, along with murdering a bunch of other people (he being pissed, and rightfully so, since Polidori had just tried to burn him alive a few hours prior). Next morning, Frankenstein and Elizabeth are wondering what would be a good next step. They're several months married at this point, she's got a baby on the way, and they really just want to get on with life by pretending none of this craziness ever happened.

So, they decide to hop a ship to America and start a new life there (extreme solution, but okay). Surprise! Both Polidori and the creature are also on board! (Will this nightmare never end?) Again, this being a Frankenstein tale, we know it won't. And sure enough, Elizabeth eventually ends up dead, strangled by the creature, who now has (wait for it) Henry Clerval's personality and speaks in his voice. (Because after all, that's his brain in it's head. Only a matter of time, right?)

Let's see... to hurry things up even a little more, I'll just say that Polidori ends up dead, too, and we wind up in the same arctic wilderness the novel used for it's final scene (hey, this really is the true story!). So Frankenstein and his creature end up standing face-to-face in an ice cave, Frankenstein begging forgiveness for all the evils he's visited on the creature and the creature forgiving him, just as the cave roof collapses on top of them both and so they're dead.

The End

Unless you go off the scripted-but-unfilmed epilogue, which reportedly involves an ice floe-encapsulated creature drifting into warmer melt-y waters and showing signs of life just before the credits roll.

Wow. That movie definitely started off stronger than it finished. But you know? I gotta say I liked it, in spite of all that last-act weirdness. Far from being a faithful adaptation of Shelley's novel, it's as much a mashup of previous efforts as anything else. Let's see.... Hammer did the handsome creature who deteriorates physically/mentally in 1958, and Polidori was an obvious take on Dr. Pretorius from 1935s Bride of Frankenstein. (Oh wait, maybe it's supposed to be a fictionalized version of this guy....) The ideas of Frankenstein not being the tragedy-instigating one, and being swept up in the obsessions of others are pretty unique, though.

So overall, I'd say the film's worth a few hours of your time, especially if you're a Frankenstein's Monster fan in general. And as usual I spoiled quite a few surprises here in the post, but I also left out plenty of details and even a subplot or two, so you'll have plenty to raise your eyebrows at if you decide to give the movie a go.

One thing that bugged me (besides that plot falling apart towards the end) was the movie's lack of creature-scariness. It just wasn't horrific looking, to the point I kept wondering what all those characters were carrying on about whenever they'd lay eyes on him and then start screaming or trying to kill him.

Here. I'll show you what I mean. Here's a creature pic from early on, one mid-show and one from the movie's finale (the idea was that the creature was supposed to be getting more and more hideous as things went along):

Handsome Monster

Mild Brow-Jutting and Messy-Haired Monster

Burned in a Fire Monster

See? Granted, that mid-plot pic has the creature looking a little nutty and dangerous (mostly due to expression rather than features), but horrifying to the point of running, fainting or trying to kill it just for it's looks? Nope. Even end-of-movie creature seems more pitiable than horrifying. Which would have been fine if they hadn't kept playing him as horrifying every single person he met to the point of them losing their senses. If you want to see a horrifying rendition of the creature, look no further than the square of Plainpalais in Geneva:

See? I would totally buy people losing their senses if that thing was popping out at them, but not the mild looking fellow we had in this movie. So anyway, that's my thoughts on that.

Brain count? I believe I'm gonna have to go with...


Oh yeah, and this would be the first official half-brain count on deadmans. You might've noticed half-brain language has been creeping in for awhile, now: "this one's a a three, but a higher three versus a lower" or "it's a two, but kind of a two-minus" and so on. So I finally decided to just go ahead and go with half-brains, to give me a little more maneuvering room and avoid 75% of my brain counts ending up as threes. (Maybe now it'll just be 65%.)

Probably I'll make some half-brain icons to go along with the current set at some point, but I'm not sure I want to mess with figuring out half-brain song lyrics for that brain count side bar. We'll see, though.

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