Frankenstein: The True Story isn’t what I remembered

Frankenstein The True Story Michael Sarrazin rev

There’s a lot that went in the right direction with this “modern Prometheus” adaptation. But along the way much of it got unintentionally caught up in 70s kitsch. Welcome to Throwback Thursday once again, folks.


It’s July.

We’re in the second half of the year and smack dab in the middle of summer. (*yeesh* Where did the first half go … ?!?) And, with the weather running in the triple digits, what better time to think about — you guessed it — Halloween. Or at the very least what better time for a Throwback Thursday Frankenstein film? (If you know me, connect all the dots in this paragraph and you’ll realize every bit of it makes sense.)

Fond Halloween memories — and my desire over the years to pay a revisit to this film I haven’t seen in ages — led me to 1973’s Frankenstein: The True Story. But I came to the conclusion while watching it there’s a big difference between a film as a “fond memory” from decades past and it being presented in the flesh. Translation: Time hasn’t been kind.

The down and dirty of the film? Its good stuff was equally countered by its bad.

First off: Who was the Brainiac that decided to bill this adaptation as “Frankenstein: The True Story” … ??? Because it veers pretty far from Mary Shelley’s book. You could make a solid case of taking all the liberties used in the film, rolling them in a big ball and using it to discount the presupposed “true story” aspect and no one would fault you for it. But not all the liberties taken were bad ones; in fact, they served to keep the film engaging and also kept it grounded so that it didn’t take off and become a derailed mess.

Some Good

  • First and foremost, putting Frankenstein’s creature in a fair light as a beautiful creation was a nice beginning touch. A brand new race of humans, after all, with beatific features and snow-white innocence can only enhance the evil that lives hidden beneath, an evil which will inevitably surface.
  • The make up effects? Nifty stuff. The gradual transformation of the creature is interesting to behold. By tale’s end not only does it appear the sores and welts and deterioration are raw and painful, but they symbolize the physical manifestations of the rot and failure of man when he meddles in places he shouldn’t go.
  • Digging up the graves of the newly dead, Frankenstein is heard stating “You know … I find I enjoy being a criminal,” something that comes back to haunt him several times over — not only in the form of Polidori but in his eventual rejection of his creation when he sees it begin to turn.
  • David McCallum as the surly, withdrawn Dr. Henri Clerval: I loved every minute of him. From “consoling” villagers who had just lost loved ones right on down to giving the cold shoulder to Frankenstein’s fiancé Elizabeth when she came to call, he was a most terrific ass!
  • One of the things I remembered about the film from all those years ago and hadn’t changed in the least was the score for the film. It was still the driving, ominous, rhythmic thud I recalled on first seeing it in two parts on television.
  • Elizabeth? Her role in this adaptation was badass. There was nothing meek or fragile about her. Compare this Elizabeth to the one in the 1931 version and it’s a complete 180° turn around.
While the make up effects are pretty impressive, the props are atrocious.

Some Bad

  • The editing of the film is flawed. The are just as many scenes which yank you out of a chapter unceremoniously as there are awkward, prolonged fadeouts that leave you wondering if you should hold tight or head to the kitchen for a snack.
  • That Brainiac who decided the non-sensical title of the film? I’d bet dollars to donuts he was the same yahoo responsible for James Mason’s right eyebrow sticking up comically throughout the film. Unless I’m completely off base, that wasn’t a fashion statement back in merry old England at the time.
  • The creature — with its mind shifting back and forth between child-like naivete to a Clervalish lucidity — is often seen struggling to comprehend the events around him. Understandable as he hasn’t a clue what’s going on within his relatively new body. But the comedic kicker comes at the end of the film as he tends to Frankenstein: There’s a scene where the creature looks Frankenstein over and, satisfied he’s on the path to recovery, pats his hand several times in acknowledgment. I nominate that as one of the dopiest scenes in the film.
  • While the make up effects are pretty impressive, the props are atrocious. The hand and arm Clerval was experimenting with … Agatha’s/Prima’s disembodied head … the creature falling from the cliff in a suicide attempt … the female body in the bath solution awaiting reception of its new head. These props were cheesecake and laughable. And that goes double for some of the lab equipment the doctors were mucking about with.Frankenstein-The-True-Story-35524_000
  • The opening in the glacier at the very end of the show? I don’t think that thing was the same shape in any two scenes. Not only that, it bounced around as if it was positioned by a matte painter who had been up for 24 hours straight and had just finished his second pot of coffee.
  • Do I need to go into the psychedelic-colored water globules in the bath solution used to create Prima? No, I do not. They just have to be experienced for themselves.

The down and dirty of the film? Its good stuff was equally countered by its bad. Overall, the film offers nice twists on themes we all know by heart. Add to that the fact this is a more thought provoking Frankenstein film (precisely what the producers were aiming for) and in many cases, despite some cheese factor, it worked rather well.

Is Frankenstein: The True Story worth the viewing if you’ve never seen it? Absolutely. But it didn’t hold water as it did the time I first saw it as a kid, all wide-eyed and champing at the bit for more.

Photo Credit: Universal Studios

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