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DVD Review

DVD cover

The True Story (1973)


Starring: Leonard Whiting, Jane Seymour, David McCallum, James Mason, Michael Sarrazin and Clarissa Kaye
Distributor: Second Sight Films
RRP: £15.99
Certificate: PG
Release Date: 10 March 2014

Set in the 19th century, this is the story of Dr Victor Frankenstein who, after the sudden death of his younger brother, rails at God and reasons that man should be able to conquer death. He leaves his fiancé to study medicine. Whilst doing so, he meets and studies with the outcast and unorthodox Dr Henry Clerval, who is attempting to create new life from recently deceased body parts. They are close to success when Clerval dies. Frankenstein wastes no time in using his mentor’s brain. On the brink of disaster (harnessing the sun for power), Frankenstein brings the patchwork body to life. Handsome and charming enough to be introduced into society, the doctor tells people he is a foreign relative. But when the body begins to atrophy, the creator is distasteful of the creation. He is shunned whenever he comes into human contact, and slowly becomes the monster everyone has made him out to be. But when Dr Polidori threatens Frankenstein into making a beautiful female creature, his original creature is resentful. But even Frankenstein and his pregnant wife’s attempt at escape to a new life is thwarted, when they are hounded by Polidori and the creature...

I’ve only recently reviewed a two-part Frankenstein adaptation, so I’ve purposely left this as the last item in my current review batch, so I can enjoy it more objectively. This one dates back to 1973, and features more stars than you can shake a stick at. James Mason, John Gielgud, Ralph Richardson, David McCallum, Peter Sallis, Leonard Whiting, Jane Seymour and Tom Baker – to name but a few. Wow, what more could you ask for? Quite often, history has shown us that throwing names at a film doesn’t necessarily make it a classic; in fact, the majority of the time it has the opposite effect. I wouldn’t call this two-part mini-series film a classic, but it is memorable, and in this case it does seem to help having very strong performances. By far the strongest is David McCallum’s Dr Henry Clerval, which is quite simply captivating. You are compelled to watch his every movement. It’s extremely disappointing when he dies. Frankenstein proves to be a poor substitute, and I lost a lot of my initial interest at this point.

Although it might be argued that Dr Victor Frankenstein is the monster for actually defying God and creating an abomination of man – a soulless thing, he is not the villain of the piece. Neither is the new creation, aside from his natural reaction at being shunned the moment his physical features begin to deteriorate. Here, the real evil comes from James Mason’s Dr Polidori, who manipulates Frankenstein into creating a beautiful female, with which he intends to infiltrate royalty and politics to his own ends. He keeps popping up like a bad penny, and it’s difficult to know why nobody just bops him over the head or, in the case of the final scenes, throws him overboard. Frankenstein even intervenes when the creature physically confronts Polidori.

Jane Seymour is the female creature, who would seem to be perfect but for the covered thin scar around her neck. All of the men ply for her attention, but she is somewhat creepy, too, as she mimics all of the actions of Frankenstein’s pregnant wife. One eccentric actor who is woefully underutilised in this film is Tom Baker. He plays the ship’s captain, but is rather side-lined by the heavy storm and the creature’s antics in the rigging. This would have been only a year or so before he went on to become a household name in Doctor Who. I wouldn’t say this version has many faults, except perhaps that, again, it is too long. It’s a long time since I first saw this, but it holds up very well over time. I think I prefer this one to the aforementioned other adaptation.


Ty Power

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