Frankenstein: The True Story (1973)

  • Year: 1973
  • Released: 05 Aug 1976
  • Country: United Kingdom
  • Adwords: 1 nomination
  • IMDb:
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  • Metacritics:
  • Available in: 720p, 1080p,
  • Language: English, Latin, French, Chinese
  • MPA Rating: Not Rated
  • Genre: Drama, Horror, Sci-Fi
  • Runtime: 185 min
  • Writer: Christopher Isherwood, Don Bachardy, Mary Shelley
  • Director: Jack Smight
  • Cast: James Mason, Leonard Whiting, David McCallum
  • Keywords: based on novel or book, monster, hermit, murder, reanimation, doctor,

Frankenstein: The True Story Storyline

In 1830’s England, young medical student Victor Frankenstein (Leonard Whiting), following the drowning death of his beloved brother, bitterly renounces God and vows to find the secret to creating life himself. He crosses paths with the eccentric Dr. Henry Clerval (David McCallum) who shares his quest and takes the younger Victor under his wing. When experiments in reanimating insects and a severed human arm succeed, the two prepare to bring to life a man whom they have assembled from body parts of victims of a mining accident. On the eve of their attempt, Henry discovers that the process will reverse itself and dies from heart failure before he can sufficiently warn Victor. Committed to carrying on his late friend’s work, Victor forges ahead and brings to life a creature of incredible beauty and innocence (Michael Sarrazin). The two develop a close, affectionate relationship and Victor looks forward to presenting his creation to society as “the new Adam.” Inevitably, the flaw in Clerval’s procedure results in the grotesque distortion of the Creature’s appearance, causing Victor to callously reject him. The Creature attempts suicide but to his dismay finds he can’t be killed. He leaps from the White Cliffs of Dover, and Victor assumes he’s seen the last of his bungled handiwork.The Creature, still very much alive, wanders the countryside and befriends an old blind man (Sir Ralph Richardson). He also develops an infatuation with his daughter Agatha (Jane Seymour) whom he observes in secret. In a tragic accident Agatha is killed, and the Creature brings her to his birthplace, seeking Victor’s aid. Instead, he finds the lab has been taken over by Dr. Polidori (James Mason), a former colleague of Henry’s.Victor meanwhile has moved on, returning his attention to his fiancee Elizabeth (Nicola Pagett) and attempting to live a normal life. His plan is thwarted by Polidori, who uses the Creature to forcibly enlist Victor’s help in bringing yet another body to life, this time female. The result is Prima (also Jane Seymour), a stunning beauty with an evil, cold heart. Finding no further use for Victor’s creature, Polidori locks him in his laboratory and sets it ablaze, while Victor stands by helplessly.Polidori grooms Prima and schemes to use her to gain entree into the cream of society and seats of political power. Prima’s coming-out party is memorably cut short by the arrival of the uninvited Creature. Events come to a head when she viciously attacks him, inciting his jealousy and murderous rage.Their life in a shambles, Victor and Elizabeth charter a boat to escape to America, unknowingly accompanied by both Polidori and the Creature. After a storm and much violence only Victor and his Creature are left on the ship. Wishing to escape humanity, the Creature steers the ship toward the North Pole. Victor and the Creature confront each other for a final time in the Arctic wasteland.

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Frankenstein: The True Story Movie Reviews

Frankenstein: The True Story (1973) ***

A two part television movie which claimed to tell, for the first time anywhere, the genuinely faithful tale of the man who made a creature, exactly as its writer, teenaged Mary Shelley, first concocted it. Well, it may be helpful going in to be forewarned that this isn’t really the “true story,” but it comes close and what matters most is that it’s a good film, albeit one that’s three hours long.

In this version, young Victor Frankenstein (Leonard Whiting) is a medical student thirsting for knowledge, which he gets from the wildly eccentric Dr. Henry Clerval (David McCallum). Clerval has devised a method of restoring dead insects back to life, and his greatest achievement comes when he reanimates a man’s severed arm. Frankenstein teams up with Clerval and they are just about to proceed with the ultimate experiment of assembling a complete man from dead bodies and making it live, when Henry dies and Victor is forced to work alone (I’ll bet you never knew it wasn’t all Frankenstein’s idea). The final product is a perfectly attractive male creation (Michael Sarrazin) who has been given Clerval’s brain and instantly bonds with Victor, his creator. Frankenstein begins to neglect his fiancé Elizabeth (Nicola Pagett) while taking the time to refine his new Adam. Unbeknownst to Victor, before Clerval died he tried to warn Frankenstein that the animation process performed on the first severed arm was actually reversing itself and the flesh was deteriorating. In a short period of time, the once-handsome creature begins to show signs of his skin rotting and upon witnessing this, Frankenstein suddenly loses all interest in his creation and abandons him. The rest of the film carries on with the scorned monster’s journey to punish his master. He meets up with a nasty and cunning former associate of Clerval, the elder Dr. Polidori (James Mason), who blackmails Frankenstein into constructing a female named Prima (played by Jane Seymour).

This is a lush and well-crafted Victorian period piece, and the story of unrequited love between the creature and his creator is at the core of it. For those who up till now have only been familiar with the classic Boris Karloff image of the flat-headed monster with big boots and bolts in his neck, this is something else entirely. It’s touching but also horrifying at times, with a good cast. In addition to Michael Sarrazin’s sympathetic work as the creature, David McCallum’s obsessive Clerval and James Mason’s unscrupulous Polidori (presumably the Ernest Thesiger character in this one) are the best performances. *** out of ****

Psycho-Sexual, Homo-Erotic, And Unexpectedly Subversive For It’s Era

Every film version of FRANKENSTEIN has taken tremendous liberties with Mary Shelly’s celebrated 1818 novel, and although it retains the core idea of the book this one is no exception. Produced for television by Universal Studios in 1973, the film contains a host of characters and ideas that draw more from previous film versions than from the original novel. More interestingly, however, it introduces a number of distinctly original concepts as well.

Simply stated, the film has a highly disconcerting and surprisingly overt homo-erotic edge. Instead of the inevitable “mad doctor” typical of films, Victor Frankestein is a remarkably handsome young man in the form of actor Leonard Whiting, a performer best known as Romeo in the famous 1968 ROMEO AND JULIET. He is seduced into the experiment by the equally handsome but distinctly odd Henry Clerval (David McCallum)–and not only do the two actors play the relationship in a disquietingly touchy-feely way, Clerval takes exception to Victor’s fiancée Elizabeth (Nicola Pagett) and she returns the favor, demanding that Victor choose between them.

Lest any one miss the implications, the creature is played by none other than Michael Sarrazin, and while many men may be described as handsome, Sarrazin is among the few who can be justly described as beautiful. He arises from the laboratory table barely decent in a few strategically placed bandages, and when his facial covering is pulled aside by the eager Dr. Frankenstein we are treated to a lingering image of glossy black hair, pale complexion, remarkably liquid eyes, and lips that would make Vogue model weep with envy. Dr. Frankenstein takes him to his own apartment, where he educates this child-like innocent and very generously allows the creature to sleep in his own bed.

But, as in all FRANKENSTEIN movies, the experiment goes awry, and when it does the same disconcerting homo-erotic overtones take yet another turn. Due to some unknown error in the creation process, the creature begins to deteriorate in appearance–and instead of continuing to treat him kindly, Frankenstein keeps the creature locked up, becomes verbally abusive to him, and no longer allows the creature to sleep in his bed, relegating him to a cramped mattress on the floor. At the same time, Frankenstein is approached by the mysterious Dr. Polidori (the legendary James Mason), an oily scientist with a flair for hypnosis who claims to know what went wrong.

Polidori insists that they abandon the creature and create a new one: a woman, and when this new creation emerges from an entirely different process she too is remarkably beautiful; indeed, she is none other than Jane Seymour. But whereas the original creature was a gentle creature who only learned violence from Frankenstein’s hateful rejection, this new entity is strangely icy, almost snake-like from the very beginning–and the male creature, now both vicious and wildly jealous, will exact a horrific toll upon all concerned.

It is worth pointing out that the script for this version of FRANKENSTEIN was co-authored by Christopher Isherwood (1904-1986), one of the few openly gay writers of his era. Sexuality in general and homosexuality in particular forms a theme in many of Isherwood’s works, so it would seem reasonable to assume that he was responsible for the homo-erotic elements of the film. Jack Smight’s direction does not offer anything nearly so interesting as the script, but it is workman-like, and while the production values tend to be a shade too baroque for their own good one never lacks for something to look at on the screen.

The cast is also quite good. At the time, the film was looked upon as a “television event,” and it drew a host of noted actors, including John Gielgud and Agnes Moorehead. No one would accuse Leonard Whiting of being a great screen talent, but he acquits himself very well; so too does David McCallum, Nicola Pagett, and the always memorable James Mason. But the real knock-out performances here are by Sarrazin and Seymour, who truly blow the lid off our ideas of what a FRANKENSTEIN movie should be–and when they square off the result is unsettling in a truly unexpected way. In terms of the DVD itself, the film quality is considerably better than the rare late-night showings I’ve occasionally seen on television, but I would not describe it as pristine, and I found I frequently had to bump up the volume on the soundtrack.

If you are looking for something with which to scare yourself silly, you might want to give this version FRANKENSTEIN a miss; although it has a few visceral moments, the jolts involved are largely psycho-sexual. But if you are open to the sexually subversive, which is particularly unexpected in a made-for-television film from 1973, you couldn’t make a better choice. Recommended.

GFT, Amazon Reviewer

Very good…but still not exactly Mary Shelley’s vision.

This version of Frankenstein was shown on television in two parts back in 1973. The film starts with a prologue by James Mason that was, for the most part, completely unnecessary. In addition, it shows various clips of the movie that tend to ruin the film to a degree. My advice is skip this and go right to the film.

As for the title, it implies that this is closer to Mary Shelley’s original story and in most ways it is closer than other versions—in particular, the famous 1931 version. However, while much closer, a lot of additional material was added and by the two hour mark, it really deviates into a strange direction indeed. I really wish someone would make a version EXACTLY like the book, but so far I have no knowledge of anyone who has done this. The biggest difference the original tale and films have is that the films always spend a lot of time on how the Doctor created his monster–whereas in the book, there’s very little about this. Instead, the book emphasizes the lack of responsibility the creator plays towards his creation–the true purpose of the novel. And, fortunately, this movie does focus on this quite a bit…as well as the creation of the monster.

As for the “monster”, an interesting choice was made for this film. Instead of the usual hideous man covered in stitches, the producers decided to hire handsome leading man Michael Sarrazin for the role. Initially, he is a very handsome creation–receiving the admiration of others. However, in a very interesting twist, the creation begins to decompose and morph slowly–and then becomes the hideous creature. I liked this approach–as it was very novel and offered something different.

As the man begins to decompose and lose his prettiness, at the same time you slowly see the Doctor become more and more distant from his creation–losing his temper and treating him shabbily. Frankenstein’s acting like a jerk is excellent–and more in keeping with the novel–something often forgotten in other versions of the story. In other words, the creation becoming a monster was the result of his being rejected by his creator–not just because he was ugly–though the rejection was not as complete here as in the book.

On his own, the monster is befriended by a blind guy (Ralph Richardson) and this ends in the tragic deaths of his family. For some odd reason, the monster wants the now dead daughter of Richardson (Jan Seymour) to be brought back to life. But, for an even odder reason, instead of taking him to Frankenstein, he brings him to Mason who has been wanting to make his own undead freak. This portion of the film is as far removed from the original story as you can get and the film only gets back to the original story after the whole “Dr. Polidori” segment is complete.

It turns out that Mason was an evil mad scientist (unlike Frankenstein who was just a misguided and irresponsible mad scientist), as he decided to use Sarrazin for his own end–to force Frankenstein to help him make another, and hopefully better, creation using the body of Seymour (among others). After the newest creation comes to life, there is an extended portion of the film involving Seymour–who is a bit of a conniving nympho and nutter! It’s as if Seymour is doing a warm-up for her later role in the TV mini-series “East of Eden”! Now, following an attempt by Polidori and Frankenstein to murder the creature, it’s no wonder that Sarrazin’s character goes insane and starts to do bad things!! How this ends comes as a rather nasty surprise, that’s for sure! But, as I said before, none of this bears any resemblance to the original novel and it all seems a bit histrionic.

Now, after two and a half hours, the film finally returns to the book’s plot–consisting of a drawn-out portion where the creation goes about destroying the life of his creator. Ultimately, it takes the film to the Arctic for a final showdown–something few movies ever bothered to do, but which was an important part of Shelley’s story.

Overall, it was a very enjoyable and lavish film. Unfortunately, it also was NOT the “true story” it purported itself to be, as at times it bore little semblance to Shelley’s novel.

Interestingly, 1973 was a banner year for made for TV Frankenstein films (in addition to the freaky Andy Warhol version). In addition to this film, “Wide World Mystery” (ABC) also made their own version that lacked the budget and cast this film had, but which had a much more interesting and sympathetic monster–and, in my opinion, was a better film. I say that you should see them both, though, as they are both very well made in their own way.

By the way, there were a few goofy moments in the film despite it being a pretty good movie. First, watching human limbs retain ‘memories’ and have the ability to crawl about independently was pretty stupid. It may have looked neat, but just made me groan. Second, the hypnosis scene with James Mason and Agnes Moorehead was also pretty silly–no one can hypnotize anyone like this! Third, while Michael Sarrazin’s creature was not too pretty later in the film, he was not THAT ugly and people’s reactions to him seemed pretty absurd. I especially laughed when Agnes Moorehead saw him and had a fit and died!!! Talk about silly! And the lightning bolt turning Polidori into an instant skeleton! Ha!