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Frankenstein: The True Story

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Title: Frankenstein: The True Story  
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Frankenstein: The True Story

Frankenstein: The True Story
DVD cover
Based on Frankenstein 
by Mary Shelley
Written by Don Bachardy
Christopher Isherwood
Mary Shelley (novel)
Directed by Jack Smight
Starring Leonard Whiting
Jane Seymour
David McCallum
James Mason
Michael Sarrazin
Clarissa Kaye
Theme music composer Gil Melle
Country of origin United Kingdom
United States
Original language(s) English
Producer(s) Ian Lewis
Hunt Stromberg Jr.
Editor(s) Richard Marden
Cinematography Arthur Ibbetson
Running time 182 minutes
Distributor NBC
Original release November 28 – 30, 1973

Frankenstein: The True Story is a 1973 British and American made-for-television horror film loosely based on the novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. It was directed by Jack Smight, and the screenplay was written by novelist Christopher Isherwood and his longtime partner Don Bachardy.

The film starred Leonard Whiting as Victor Frankenstein, Jane Seymour as Prima, David McCallum as Henry Clerval, James Mason as Dr Polidori and Michael Sarrazin as the Creature. James Mason's wife, Clarissa Kaye-Mason also appeared in the film.

The character of Dr Polidori, who did not appear in the original novel, was based on the character of Dr. Pretorius from Universal Pictures Bride of Frankenstein, but named after the real-life John Polidori, an acquaintance of author Mary Shelley who was part of the competition that produced her novel. Polidori's own contribution was the first modern vampire story The Vampyre (1819).

A notable feature of the production is that, instead of being ugly from the start, the Creature is portrayed as physically beautiful but increasingly hideous as the film progresses, similar to the plotline in Hammer Studios' The Revenge of Frankenstein. The make-up was by Hammer horror veteran artist Roy Ashton.

It was originally broadcast on NBC-TV in late 1973 in two 90-minute parts, but is often seen edited into a single film. Its DVD debut date was September 26, 2006. Included at the beginning is a short intro featuring James Mason wandering through St John's Wood churchyard, London. He suggests that this is where Mary Shelley is buried, which is incorrect (she is in fact buried in the family plot in Dorset), despite standing beside a gravestone bearing her name.


Victor Frankenstein is a man training as a doctor, engaged to Elizabeth Fanshawe. After Victor's younger brother, William, drowns, Victor renounces his belief in God and declares that he would join forces with the Devil if he could learn how to restore his brother to life.

Shortly afterward, Victor leaves for London to train in anatomy. He immediately meets a scientist named Henry Clerval, who Victor later learns has discovered how to preserve dead matter and restore it to life. As Victor becomes fascinated by Clerval's experiments, Clerval reveals his ultimate plan: to create a new race of invincible, physically perfect beings by using solar energy to animate "the Second Adam" constructed from parts of corpses. Clerval is unable to complete it on his own due to a worsening heart condition. Frankenstein volunteers to help and the lab is completed.

Word reaches the pair that several peasant lads have been killed in a mine collapse. After their burial the doctors quickly dig up the bodies and stitch together a physically perfect human. The night before the creation, Clerval discovers in a most disturbing way that a reanimated arm set aside weeks earlier has become diseased, unsightly and deformed. Shocked and overcome, Clerval suffers a heart attack and, unable to get his medication in time, dies in the middle of recording his horrible discovery in the journal.

The next morning, Victor finds Clerval's body and misreads the incomplete journal entry ("The process is r--") as meaning "the process is ready to begin" rather than the intended meaning of "the process is reversing itself". Since neither of them wanted the perfect body to have the brain of a peasant, Victor transplants Clerval's brain into their creation and he is able to complete the experiment. Victor introduces his creation into high-class London society, passing him off as a friend from a far-off country with little grasp of English.

Victor's sweet and guileless creation wins the admiration of London's elite class. Shortly thereafter, Victor discovers the still-living but now repulsive arm in Clerval's cupboard and realizes that a flaw in the system has caused the reanimation process to reverse itself. He destroys the deformed arm, but soon finds that the same reversal process is beginning to break down the Creature's tissues.

Victor desperately searches for a way to correct the problem, but is unsuccessful. The Creature, unaware of his degenerating appearance, does not understand Victor's increasing coldness towards him. After Victor's landlady, Mrs. Blair, dies from shock after seeing the Creature, Victor is forced to take him back to the laboratory. He contemplates destroying the sleeping Creature but cannot bring himself to do it.

At the laboratory, the Creature becomes distraught after discovering his deformed appearance. He attempts to commit suicide by stabbing himself in the chest with a shard of broken glass, but is unharmed. He flees the laboratory and jumps into the sea from the White Cliffs of Dover. Victor assumes the Creature is dead and realizes that perhaps it is for the best.

The Creature has washed up on the beach, alive and unharmed. He wanders into the countryside, where he befriends an elderly blind peasant. The blind man is eager to introduce his new friend to his granddaughter Agatha and her boyfriend Felix, but the Creature resists. He observes the family from afar and falls in love with Agatha. When Agatha and Felix return home unexpectedly the following day, they encounter the Creature and react in horror. Felix is killed and Agatha, fleeing in terror, is struck by a carriage and is also killed.

The Creature takes Agatha's body back to the laboratory, intent on asking his creator to restore her to life. He arrives to find that Victor has long since left and that the laboratory is now occupied by Dr. Polidori, the crippled former mentor of Clerval. Polidori is aware of the Creature's origins and agrees to help. In the meantime, Victor has abandoned his experiments and is celebrating his marriage to Elizabeth. He is confronted by Polidori, who blackmails him into returning to the laboratory to assist him in creating a female being.

Polidori reveals that it was he who perfected the preservation and reanimation of dead flesh, only to have his secrets stolen by Clerval. He rejects Clerval's use of solar power in favor of his own chemical reanimation process. Victor attaches Agatha's head to a new body and they bring to life a beautiful creature whom Polidori names Prima. Victor, believing that his association with Polidori and the Creature is over, leaves for his honeymoon with Elizabeth.

Several months later, Polidori returns and persuades Victor to take Prima in as a houseguest. It becomes evident that Prima is evil, and Elizabeth begs Victor to dismiss her. At the laboratory, Victor confronts Polidori, who agrees to take Prima away. Before they leave the laboratory, Polidori attempts to kill the Creature by pushing him into a vat of acid, but Victor stops him. Polidori traps the Creature in the laboratory and sets the building on fire.

A few weeks later, a lavish ball is held at the Fanshawe mansion to present Prima to society. Prima delights the guests, and a beaming Polidori reveals his ultimate plan to use her as a courtesan to gain international political influence. Suddenly, the badly burned Creature bursts into the ballroom and attacks Prima. He rips off her neckband, revealing the scar where her head was attached to her body. In the chaos that follows, the Creature rips her head off and drops it at Polidori's feet. To avoid scandal and an impending police investigation, Victor and Elizabeth decide to leave England and travel to America to begin a new life.

After setting sail, Victor and Elizabeth are dismayed to discover that Polidori is also on board the ship. Elizabeth sees the Creature hiding in Polidori's cabin and locks the two men in the room together. Clerval's mind has resurfaced in the Creature, and he is determined to have his revenge on Polidori. Victor unlocks the door and the conflict moves to the deck, where Polidori is killed and Victor is knocked unconscious. The crew flees in a lifeboat and the Creature takes Victor below deck to care for him.

The Creature lashes the wheel of the ship on a heading straight for the James Mason as Dr. Polidori

  • Leonard Whiting as Dr. Victor Frankenstein
  • David McCallum as Dr. Henry Clerval
  • Jane Seymour as Agatha/Prima
  • Nicola Pagett as Elizabeth Fanshawe
  • Michael Sarrazin as The Creature
  • Michael Wilding as Sir Richard Fanshawe
  • Clarissa Kaye-Mason as Lady Fanshawe
  • Agnes Moorehead as Mrs. Blair
  • Margaret Leighton as Francoise DuVal
  • Ralph Richardson as Mr. Lacey
  • John Gielgud as Chief Constable (Police)
  • Tom Baker as Sea Captain
  • Julian Barnes as Young Man
  • Arnold Diamond as Passenger in Coach
  • Yootha Joyce as Hospital Matron
  • Peter Sallis as Priest
  • Dallas Adams as Felix
  • Paperback tie-in

    The script for the film, by Don Bachardy and Christopher Isherwood, was published in paperback as a tie-in. The script contains a prologue in which Mary Shelley is telling her tale of horror to Percy Shelley and Lord Byron, as Dr. Polidori sulks nearby. As she reaches their parts in the tale, they rush to join the main action and the story

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