Lady Frankenstein, or La Figlia di Frankenstein, is an Italian film take on the classic Frankenstein narrative by Mary Shelley. The film premiered in Italy in 1971 and in the United States in 1973. Mel Welles directed the film with the help of Aureliano Luppi, who went uncredited. The script was written by Edward di Lorenzo and is considered to be his greatest artistic achievement.
Lady Frankenstein begins with grave robbers, under the direction of a man named Lynch, delivering bodies to Baron Frankenstein and his assistant, Dr. Marshall, for reanimation purposes. The next day, Tania Frankenstein comes to visit her father. We learn that she has recently become a licensed surgeon and is aware of her father’s experiments. Tania explains that she hopes to assist her father with his latest work and eventually do similar work of her own, although Baron Frankenstein protests.
Feminism and Sexuality
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein has often been discussed as a work of feminism. In her novel, the women are nearly obsolete, and the women that do appear are extremely passive. Some critics say that this disqualifies it as a feminist work, while others point out that the absence of women is detrimental. However, Lady Frankenstein makes no secret of its feminist views and openly supports feminine sexuality. Tania Frankenstein is a new character - almost no other Frankenstein adaptation depicts Victor Frankenstein as having a daughter. Giving him one, and making her such a central character, changes the dynamic of the narrative completely. In addition to being a primary character, Tania is also an active one. She speaks her ideas on reanimation freely and has a medical degree, saying that she graduated “first in [her] class” (Lady Frankenstein). When she is speaking about her time in medical school, she mentions the hardships she experienced as a woman in the field. Her father asks if it was hard being his daughter and she says, “Sometimes. Mostly it was my being a woman. The professors have a lot of ideas about a woman’s place” (Lady Frankenstein). After this conversation, her father promises to speak to her “doctor to doctor,” and not as father to daughter. Tania also is a very free character sexually. She is salacious and flaunts her sexuality whenever it can be of use to her, such as when she goads Marshall into giving her his brain for transplant, and when she distracts Thomas with sex while Marshall smothers him with a pillow. Tania represents feminism and sexuality in a much more blatant way than the women in Shelley’s Frankenstein.
Dangerous Knowledge and Ambition
Knowledge as fatal is a theme in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein that usually transcends into adaptations of the novel, and Lady Frankenstein is no exception. In the original text, Victor Frankenstein’s insatiable thirst for scientific knowledge, coupled with his driving ambition, is what prompts him to explore creation and ultimately bring his murderous creature to life. In this adaptation of Frankenstein, however, Baron Frankenstein’s knowledge and ambition is briefly touched upon when he says to Marshall, “Here on earth, man is God” (Lady Frankenstein). Instead, we see this theme manifested in his daughter Tania, who longs to learn more about medicine, transplants, and creation. In this way, the theme of knowledge and ambition goes hand in hand with the feminism theme. Tania expresses her desire to learn to her father and Dr. Marshall when she tells them about her time at the University, saying, “Except for my studies it was rather boring. But I didn’t go there to socialize” (Lady Frankenstein). She goes on to explain her wish to work alongside her father in the lab, “Since I was a youngster, I was always interested in your experiments…I was always curious. I still am” (Lady Frankenstein). Then, Tania appears quite sinister when she warns her father, “My ideas are quite radical, even more so than yours” (Lady Frankenstein). Her father notices the perverse quality of her words and seems apprehensive of her ideas of human transplants. Throughout the movie, Tania represents malevolent knowledge and dangerous ambition. She uses the people who love her to advance herself scientifically, even if it means death.
Lady Frankenstein experienced relative success in Europe, but struggled in the United States. Frankenstein fans and casual movie goers alike compared this film to the renowned Hammer Studios Series from the 1950s, which hurt Lady Frankenstein’s chances for success. Lady Frankenstein could boast more sexual promiscuity than her predecessors, but it was not enough to make a difference in the box office. The film also did poorly in the awards arena, with no wins or nominations. [2
While Lady Frankenstein echoes several of the same themes as other adaptations, the film’s general plot line and cast of characters are significantly different. The most notable differences in Lady Frankenstein are that Baron Frankenstein dies and that he has a daughter, and both of these differences play off of each other. Giving Frankenstein a daughter echoes the theme of Nature versus Nurture in the original novel. Tania carries on her father’s legacy of science, but in a more sinister way; she fills the “mad scientist” role almost more than her father before her by transplanting Marshall’s brain into Thomas’ body for her personal gain and desires. In the original Frankenstein and in earlier adaptations, Victor Frankenstein does not have a reason for creating the monster other than to satisfy his own curiosity and ambition. Tania uses science to satisfy her carnal needs. Another character difference is Lynch, the grave robber, who Baron Frankenstein hires to bring him bodies. In other adaptations and in Mary Shelley’s novel, Frankenstein gathers the bodies himself and, in the Hammer films, even results to murder to get the parts that he wants for his creatures. In Lady Frankenstein, the Baron is removed from the gritty work of dealing with corpses and focuses completely on his time in the lab. The character of Lynch takes a good deal of responsibility off of the Baron, making him seem even more innocent next to his daughter.
One reason for the Hammer films’ and the Universal films’ success was that the writers amplified the science aspect of the monster’s creation. Both production companies show Frankenstein having an intricate laboratory and focus tremendously on the creature’s brain. Lady Frankenstein does this as well, and brings a new aspect to the table: medicine. Throughout the film, much is made of Tania’s medical degree and her skills as a surgeon, and the Baron’s lab assistant, Marshall, is also a licensed doctor. This could be attributed to the increasing social importance placed on science and medicine as both fields advanced further.
References and Suggestions for Further Reading
"Academy Awards, USA (1973)." Internet Movie Database. Amazon, 1990. Web. 5 Mar. 2015. 
Lady Frankenstein. Dir. Mel Welles. Perf. Joseph Cotton, Rosalba Neri, Paul Muller, and Peter Whiteman. Film. 1971.
"Lady Frankenstein." Internet Movie Database. Amazon, 1990. Web. 5 Mar. 2015. [1
Spadoni, Robert. Uncanny Bodies: The Coming of Sound Film and the Origins of the Horror Genre. N.p.: University of California Press, 2007. University of Arkansas. JSTOR. Web. 5 Mar. 2015.
Also, check out the full Mary Shelley Wikia page, complete with analyses of her original novel and the numerous adaptations here.
Contributor: Rachel Haynes