Directed by J. Searle Dawley, this early silent film was produced by Thomas Edison’s Edison Studios and clocks in at around 12-16 minutes, depending on playback speed. Such things weren’t yet an exact science in those days.
The film sees young Dr. Frankenstein head off to college, and two years later he writes to his sweetheart and declares that he has found the secret of life of death. He will return home to marry her as soon as he’s created his perfect human being.
While we credit Thomas Edison as a scientist, it’s interesting and somewhat bizarre to note that this film removes the science from the story, which is based on the very first science fiction novel ever written. Instead of the classic version of the creature cobbled together from corpses and given life, we’re shown the doctor at work creating some kind of chemical stew in a giant tub in a sequence that immediately conjures images of a witch and her cauldron. The creature comes to life in a mix of stop-motion and puppetry, almost as if the flames surrounding it are helping to “unburn” it into existence.
Once finished, Dr. Frankenstein returns home and marries, as promised. The creature turns up, sees himself in the mirror, and is said to be jealous of the young couple. In what can only be called a convenient ending, the monster disappears from the real world, with only his reflection remaining. Frankenstein sees the reflection and watches that disappear as well, celebrating with his new bride that they are rid of it.
It’s difficult to look at a film like this subjectively, at least, it is for me. In my head, this film is almost the halfway point between Mary Shelley’s original novel and our modern world in terms of the timeline of monster projects. As one of the early experiments with film, the subject matter had more to say about the medium itself than the story or Shelley’s concerns regarding the path of science. For its time, it’s a spectacle that the public would have found to be charming and surprising. The special effects absolutely do not hold up to modern eyes, but that they were achieved at all says quite a bit. I found them to be rather inventive for the time. In these days, a film like this would not have been taken seriously by the general public, nor by the art houses of the day. Edison was hoping to change all that by advancing the medium, more in the name of the almighty dollar than in the name of science.
There would not have been a soundtrack on it. The version I saw uses a digital piano to recreate solo and orchestral works of the Romantic age. Nothing special in that regard, and not distracting either, save for the fact that it was too “clean” compared to the film itself. You could tell it was a digital instrument.
Interested in seeing this one for yourself? You can find it on YouTube right here.