Frankenstein (1910, J. Searle Dawley)

In its opening title card, Frankenstein warns it will be a liberal adaptation of the Mary Shelley novel. It’s only going to be sixteen minutes after all.

But Frankenstein hits most of the big events–it opens with Frankenstein (Augustus Phillips) leaving for university, where he becomes obsessed with the insane idea of creating life. And so he does. Charles Ogle is the Monster. One of the film’s adaptation choices is to make the Monster as evil from the start. Sure Phillips is horrified by his deed and locks himself in his room to cry about it, but Ogle’s immediate reaction is to try to kill him.

Eventually Ogle tracks Phillips back home, where Phillips is finally ready to tie the knot with Mary Fuller. He’s gotten the create-life-by-throwing-a-couple-different-powders-in-a-cauldron bug out of his system–wild oats seeded–and he’s ready to settle down. But Ogle’s not letting him get away with it.

Frankenstein has no moving shots. No panning, no scanning. Director Dawley has his one shot and all the action plays out in it. He gets very creative–Ogle getting into the house at the end is particularly effective. Ogle is where Frankenstein comes to life; Phillips is a bit too histrionic. Not if he isn’t supposed to be the hero. If Frankenstein were just a little less forgiving of Phillips and let him get some comeuppance–or just acknowledge he deserves some–Phillips’s histrionics would be fine.

But he gets a pass and so they aren’t.

Ogle’s not the whole show–Searle does good work–but when Ogle arrives, there’s nothing else to Frankenstein. Everything is waiting for the next Monster sighting. Ogle’s demonic looking, with fur and exaggerated extremities. He does come out of a cauldron, after all, in a truly glorious reverse motion effect. Frankenstein has some great editing. Dawley knows how to create tension, both with effects shots and just Ogle shots.

Frankenstein is quite good. Dawley and Ogle create something particular, especially with the slightly weird, slightly technically ambitious finale. It’s one of Dawley’s most liberal adaptation moves but also perfect for the medium.

3/3Highly Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by J. Searle Dawley; screenplay by Dawley, based on the novel by Mary Shelley; produced by Thomas A. Edison; released by Edison Manufacturing Company.

Starring Augustus Phillips (Frankenstein), Mary Fuller (Elizabeth), and Charles Ogle (The Monster).


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