FRANKENSTEIN: THE TRUE STORY (1973) Reviews and overview

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Scream Factory is releasing Frankenstein: The True Story on Blu-ray on March 24th 2020. As usual, the sleeve sports a choice of artwork, with a new design by Mark Maddox and the original on the reverse. Extras will be announced nearer the release date.

Meanwhile, here’s our previous coverage of the movie:

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

The movie stars Leonard Whiting, Jane Seymour, David McCallum, James Mason and Michael Sarrazin.

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The character of Doctor Polidori, who did not appear in the original novel, was based on the character of Doctor 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 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).



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 afterwards, 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: creating 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.

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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, however, Clerval discovers in a most disturbing way that a reanimated arm set aside for weeks during the construction of the lab and of “Adam”, has become diseased, unsightly and deformed. Shocked and overcome, Clerval suffers what appears a heart attack, and unable to get his medication on 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“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, but Victor soon discovers the still-living but now repulsive arm in Clerval’s cupboard. He realises some flaw in the process causes it to reverse itself…


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“For a while it comes on like bad Hammer, until the arrival of the monster – a handsome lad, but the process is reverting – perks things up considerably. Particularly memorable is a scene where the monster’s demurely virginal Bride sings ‘I Love Little Pussy, Her Coat Is So Warm’, before gleefully attempting to strangle a sleepy Persian and lasciviously licking a drop of mauve blood from her scratched arm…” Time Out

“Michael Sarazin’s monster is the most believable I’ve yet seen, Leonard Whitting hits just the right combination of drive and naivety as Frankenstein himself, Ralph Richardson invests Lacey with a humble species of dignity that only British actors seem to be able to pull off, and even daffy old Agnes Moorehead does a good job as daffy old Mrs Blair.” 1000 Misspent Hours and Counting


“Overlong, handsomely mounted reworking of the Shelley story that takes too long to get going and then goes nowhere.” Alan Frank, The Horror Film Handbook, Batsford, 1982

The True Story is best enjoyed not as a straight adaptation, but as a different take on the same idea. It is not without flaws. The dialogue is occasionally stilted, no effort is made to make the animation of the two creatures look like anything but cheap science fiction…” The Terror Trap

” … if you’re not put off by the lengthy running time and can appreciate 1970s made-for-TV production values it can be quite engrossing, and, despite not having the gore of the Hammer films or the quirky charm of the original Universal films, it hits the right beats and doesn’t do the story any harm at all.” One Metal

Cast and characters:

  • James Mason … Doctor John Polidori
  • Leonard Whiting … Doctor Victor Frankenstein
  • David McCallum … Doctor Henri Clerval
  • Jane Seymour … Agatha / Prima
  • Nicola Pagett … Elizabeth Fanschawe
  • Michael Sarrazin … The Creature
  • Michael Wilding … Sir Richard Fanshawe
  • Clarissa Kaye-Mason … Lady Fanschawe (as Clarissa Kaye)
  • Agnes Moorehead … Mrs. Blair
  • Margaret Leighton … Francoise DuVal
  • Ralph Richardson Ralph Richardson … Mr. Lacey
  • John Gielgud … Chief Constable
  • Tom Baker … Sea Captain
  • Julian Barnes … Young Man
  • Arnold Diamond … Passenger in Coach
  • Yootha Joyce … Hospital Matron
  • Peter Sallis … Priest
  • Dallas Adams … Felix
  • Derek Deadman … 1st Seaman (uncredited)
  • Paddy Joyce … 1st Helper (uncredited)
  • Norman Rossington … Seaman (uncredited)
  • Elizabeth Spender … Ballroom Guest (uncredited)
  • Jeremy Young … 2nd Helper (uncredited)

Frankenstein The True Story Falcon Video VHS cover

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