Director: Jack Smight

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

When I saw the telefilm Frankenstein: The True Story while still at a tender age, I remember being very startled by the near-erotic "friendship" angle between Victor & the monster. I didn't know in those young years the script was by a arch fairy Christopher Isherwood.

FrankensteinJust like me, virtually every horror fan I know who is old enough to have remembered seeing this at its full length has deep, intense, emotional memories of an excellent story well played. Although revisionist, it in fact followed Mary Shelley's version more closely than any shambling-monster Frankenstein movie ever had, making "The True Story" very much of literary derivation.

Sadly only a severely truncated version of the two-night miniseries was ever available on VHS. As I pen this review, the full-length version is still not on DVD, & for many years rumors have been abroad that the full length version was not preserved so was forever lost. If that rumor had been true, what a great loss that would be. A full-length 16 mm copy is said to exist in the black market & has been illegally copied time & again as a pirated video, print quality very much to be doubted, & asking price could be $400. So the dream remains of putting together a definitive DVD of the entire televised version & a bit more (the half-length European cut included a few short bits too bloody for the television airing). To date, however, the longest version ever on the market was 177 minutes long, which is still missing as much as an hour & a half of content.

I was overawed at the time & thought about the events of this film for weeks or months after. But never having seen the uncut version as an adult, I've really no idea if it was as gosh-darned good as my memory has made of it. Apart from the "obvious" stuff to appeal to horror buffs (the lab sequence, the beheading of Prima, the doom of Polidori played by James Mason on the arctic-bound ship) there's an emotional sequence still in my memory from back then, which I hope I remember correctly. When Victor (Leonard Whiting) & his monster are sitting on a park bench having a lovely conversation, they are like any two happily married faggots, when suddenly Victor sees the first signs of decay behind his creation's ear -- & the idyll goes swiftly down hill from there.

If AIDS had existed back then it would've been just too obvious. I saw the short video version a few years ago & unless I totally misremember, that sequence was not retained, & the short version is in general gutted of emotion. If in most versions of the story the Creature's hatred for his creator is the same love-hate a son would feel for an exceptionally cruel father, in the Isherwood take the Creature is a jealous, betrayed lover.

The monster as played by Michael Sarazzin was most appealing, & I don't believe there was an earlier version that assumed the monster started out beautiful & sexy. The idea that Polidori made a creature too, Prima, portrayed by a beautiful young Jane Seymore, made it all rather like a fable of two monsters vying not for the soul, but for the sexuality of Victor.

I fell in love with Sarazzin over this film, & this was reinforced later by his performance in The Reincarnation of Peter Proud (1988). Though he was in a few things that might be regarded as significant films -- The Flim Flam Man (1967), They Shoot Horses Don't They (1969) -- it seems he never really broke out of the general mass of actors vying for work. And though he's still around & still occasionally to be seen in films, I to this day feel he never had the public recognition he deserved, & somehow too few opportunities for great roles.

This was to remain for many years my favorite movie about Frankenstein. Over time though there've been other psychologically impressive Frankenstein-monster performances to compete with Sarazzin's achievement, & I would really have to see the uncut version as an adult to know if it would still hold up so impressively.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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