Frankenstein: The True Story is a two-part horror movie created for television by the National Broadcasting Company (NBC). It is a British and American co-production written by Don Bachardy and Christopher Isherwood and produced by Ian Lewis and Hunt Stromberg Jr. It was directed by Jack Smight and released in November of 1973.
The movie is prefaced by a speech of Dr. Polidori who introduces himself directly to the audience and shows his viewers Mary Shelley's grave. He tells the audience that she is the original author of the Frankenstein story and that she wrote it at the age of only 19. Traumatized by the death of his little brother, the young medical student Victor Frankenstein seeks a way to undo death. He meets the much older Dr. Henry Clerval who shares his obsession with creating life. With the power of intensified sunlight, which Clerval identified as the major source of life, Victor creates a man of magnificent beauty. Victor starts to teach “his new Adam” and develops an intimate friendship with it. After some time, however, the process of the experiment starts to reverse itself which results in accelerated aging and body deformities.
One focus of the movie clearly lies on the physical appearance of the two creatures. Victor is fascinated by his first creation because of its beauty and therefore enjoys his company. At the beginning, the creature’s mind is like a tabula rasa. It learns through imitation of others and Victor teaches it what pleases him. The creature’s first word is “beautiful” and Victor repeatedly tells it how handsome it is. During on opera visit he even says that society must think of it as a foreign prince from a distant country.
After the long-term consequences of the experiment start to show, Victor covers all mirrors, prohibits the creature to leave his apartment and rejects his company. In contrast to most of the other Frankenstein adaptation, just the appearance of the creature changes, but not its kind hearted and naïve character.
Nevertheless, the creature becomes responsible for a few deaths throughout the two movies. His first two “victims” simply die because they were frightened by its appearance and tried to run away, but the creature uses no violence. In the second part of the movie the creature destroys Prima and kills Polidori, but this can be seen as justified considering the fact that Polidori tried to kill the creature before. The only unjustified death the creature causes is the murder of Elizabeth but this happens at the very end of the movie.
The female creature is, from the beginning, controlled by Dr. Polidori. Dr. Polidori uses Prima as a tool to become a member of England’s nobility. He intends to marry Prima to an influential wealthy gentlemen, who will be controlled by Prima through her sexuality. Prima shows, in contrast to the male creature, no distinct character traits. She is highly sexualized and seems to have very little free willpower.
Science vs. Religion
The movie sets a sharp contrast between science and religion. At the funeral of his little brother, Victor runs out of church and vows to never come back. He is angry and disappointed in God and henceforth seeks his salvation in science. Henry Clerval makes a clearly cynic comment about religion as he says that the bible with which Elizabeth kills the reanimated butterfly is finally of some good use. Moreover, the fact that Elizabeth, who calls Victor’s work “unholy”, uses the bible to kill “the abomination of nature” is symbolic.
Furthermore, the movie contains some very strong biblical references. Victor explicitly calls his creature “the new Adam”. Even more meaningful might be the creature’s self-given name. While listening to the bible lessons at the DeLacy cottage, the creature overhears a passage of the New Testament. The creature memorizes this passage and henceforth when he is asked his name he replies, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” The choice of this bible quotation is rather ironic considering the fact that the creature was built of several different corpses. Moreover, it allegorically demonizes the creature by giving it the words of a demon as his name.
On the web page IMDb Frankenstein: The True Story received an average rating of 7.6/10 (945 users on 04-16-2015) and Rotten Tomatoes users rated the movie with an average of 3.6/5 (333 users on 04-16-2015).
Significance of Adaptation
Compared to the original book character, Elizabeth represents a far more dominant partner in her relationship with Victor. She is a strong, active, and demanding character that meets even with Dr. Polidori who permanently manipulates Victor at eye level. Elizabeth is the counter-pole to the weak and undecided Victor Frankenstein. In contrast to Victor, she has a strong moral compass and defends her viewpoints passionately. Victor seems to follow either her lead or Polidori’s, but he does not have a strong will of his own. At the beginning, she insists on knowing the truth about Victor´s experiments and after Victor tells her about his plans she utters her disapproval very self-confident and even leaves Victor’s side until he is willing to stop his work.
Like in several other Frankenstein adaptations that feature a female creature, Prima is highly sexualized. In contrast to the original novel and to previous adaptations like Bride of Frankenstein (1935), this female creature was never intended to become the creature’s companion. Although, at first the creature brings his beloved Agatha’s body to Frankenstein to reanimate her, Polidori is always the driving force behind the female creature’s creation. Polidori uses her as a honeytrap in order to gain influence in the upper ranks of England’s nobility.
Interestingly, Prima imposes a subliminal threat to Elizabeth. Dr. Polidori instructs Prima to watch Elizabeth’s behavior carefully and to imitate it in order to acquire all social skills necessary for a highborn Lady. So, Prima always observes Elizabeth and exactly imitates her. Combined with the fact that Polidori clearly roots for a sexual relationship between Victor and Prima, Prima lurks to fully replace Elizabeth.
Mary Shelley’s original novel takes place in Switzerland. The movie Frankenstein: The True Story, however, transfers its plot to England. A possible reason for that might be that the change of the setting is meant to give Mary Shelley, who was British, credit for her extraordinary story.
The character of Dr. Polidori does not appear in the original novel. It is based on the Frankenstein adaption Bride of Frankenstein (1935). In Bride of Frankenstein, an evil scientist called Dr. Pretarius forces Henry Frankenstein to create a companion for the creature. Both are very cunning, ambitious, and manipulative and fulfill the role of forcing a basically redeemed Henry/ Victor Frankenstein back into the laboratory. Dr. Pretarius and Dr. Polidori serve the purpose of justifying Frankenstein’s behavior and re-establish his character in the eye of the audience.
Another detail clearly based on a previous Frankenstein adaptation is the reanimated arm that develops a life of its own. In the movie The Revenge of Frankenstein (1959), Baron Victor Frankenstein shows his lab assistant a human arm that he reanimated. Furthermore, the creature of the 1959 adaptions is also very handsome and slowly degenerates to the actual monster. This is another parallel that indicates that Frankenstein:The True Story got partly inspired by the 1959 Frankenstein movie.
- Frankenstein: The True Story (1973)." Watch Movies Online Free. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Apr. 2015. <http://www.iwannawatch.to/2014/11/frankenstein-true-story-1973/>.
- Shelley, Mary. “Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus” Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein. Ed. Susan J. Wolfson. New York: Pearson-Longman, 2007. 1-179. Print.
- The English Standard Version Bible. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. Print. (Mk 5:9)
- "Frankenstein The True Story Tomatometer." Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster, Inc., n.d. Web. 16 Apr. 2015. http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/1166038-frankenstein_the_true_story/
- "Frankenstein: The True Story." IMDb. IMDb.com, n.d. Web. 16 Apr. 2015. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0070074/
- Frankenstein: The True Story." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 16 Apr. 2015. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frankenstein:_The_True_Story
- "Bride of Frankenstein (1935)." Mary Shelley Wiki. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Apr. 2015. <http://mary-shelley.wikia.com/wiki/Bride_of_Frankenstein_(1935)>.
- "The Revenge of Frankenstein (1959)." Mary Shelley Wiki. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Apr. 2015. <http://mary-shelley.wikia.com/wiki/Revenge_of_Frankenstein_(1959)>.