13 January 2017 | oldblackandwhite
The Gone With The Wind Of Frankenstein Movies
I must add my own two-cents worth to those others who regard Frankenstein: The True Story as the most satisfying film version of of Mary Shelly's 1818 classic. Though it is not a literal translation of the story, it captures the philosophical nature, melancholy mood and epic scope of Mrs. Shelly's novel better than any other celluloid rendition. While keeping the bare bones (no pun intended) of the novel's plot, it dances all around the original story, pulling off plot elements here and there, then sticking them back on elsewhere. For instance, Henri, in the original merely Victor Frankenstein's concerned best friend, is transformed into a mad doctor who gives Victor the monster-making knowledge. In the book Elizabeth was the ward of Victor's father, but Vic is the ward of Liz's dad in True Story. The Dr. Polidori character, played by James Mason oozing evil from every pore, was a brilliant touch, but no such character appears in the novel. Yet, there was a real-life Polidori in Mary Shelly's orbit. He was Shelly friend Lord Byron's personal physician, confidant, and dope supplier. A brilliant young man, who had already published several medical books, he tragically took his own life at age 21 -- according to some, because of his unrequited love for Mary Shelly!
True Story owes little to previous movie versions, neither the mossy old 1930's and 'forties Universal Frankenstein series or Hammer's 1950's/'60's revivals, but is a completely fresh approach. The brilliant script by Isherwood and Bachardy is almost as literary as Mrs. Shelly novel, yet even more exciting and stimulating. True Story is a splendid production, probably one of the most handsomely turned out made-for-TV numbers of all time. Period (1797 and following) sets and costumes are exquisite. The cinematography is beautiful, belying its TV origins every step of the way. Unlike most TV movies of the time and practically all current theatrical movies, it disdains the shot-a-second montage method in favor of the mise-en-scene approach -- every scene starts with a precisely composed long shot, which gradually pans in to close-up. This classic style of cinematography complements the beautiful sets, enhances the melancholy mood, and displays the humanity of the characters better than montage. Here it is used brilliantly by director of photography Arthur Ibbetson and director Jack Smight.
Frankenstein: The True Story is expertly acted by Mason, Leonard Whiting (Victor), Nicole Padget (Elizabeth), Michael Sarrizan (Creature), Jane Seymour (female creature) and the rest of a fine cast. It is dramatically engaging, thoroughly engrossing for its entire three hours, intellectually stimulating, and gorgeously filmed. A delight from beginning to end. Even Old Hollywood would have been proud to have turned out such a complete motion picture.
P.S. -- Those who are interested in learning more about that early 19th century femme fa-tale and the origin of her famous monster story would do well to read Miranda Seymour's superbly researched, highly readable biography of Mary Shelly (Grove Press, NY, 2000).