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Psycho-Sexual, Homo-Erotic, And Unexpectedly Subversive For It's Era
Every film version of FRANKENSTEIN has taken tremendous liberties with Mary Shelly's celebrated 1818 novel, and although it retains the core idea of the book this one is no exception. Produced for television by Universal Studios in 1973, the film contains a host of characters and ideas that draw more from previous film versions than from the original novel. More interestingly, however, it introduces a number of distinctly original concepts as well.
Simply stated, the film has a highly disconcerting and surprisingly overt homo-erotic edge. Instead of the inevitable "mad doctor" typical of films, Victor Frankestein is a remarkably handsome young man in the form of actor Leonard Whiting, a performer best known as Romeo in the famous 1968 ROMEO AND JULIET. He is seduced into the experiment by the equally handsome but distinctly odd Henry Clerval (David McCallum)--and not only do the two actors play the relationship in a disquietingly touchy-feely way, Clerval takes exception to Victor's fiancée Elizabeth (Nicola Pagett) and she returns the favor, demanding that Victor choose between them.
Lest any one miss the implications, the creature is played by none other than Michael Sarrazin, and while many men may be described as handsome, Sarrazin is among the few who can be justly described as beautiful. He arises from the laboratory table barely decent in a few strategically placed bandages, and when his facial covering is pulled aside by the eager Dr. Frankenstein we are treated to a lingering image of glossy black hair, pale complexion, remarkably liquid eyes, and lips that would make Vogue model weep with envy. Dr. Frankenstein takes him to his own apartment, where he educates this child-like innocent and very generously allows the creature to sleep in his own bed.
But, as in all FRANKENSTEIN movies, the experiment goes awry, and when it does the same disconcerting homo-erotic overtones take yet another turn. Due to some unknown error in the creation process, the creature begins to deteriorate in appearance--and instead of continuing to treat him kindly, Frankenstein keeps the creature locked up, becomes verbally abusive to him, and no longer allows the creature to sleep in his bed, relegating him to a cramped mattress on the floor. At the same time, Frankenstein is approached by the mysterious Dr. Polidori (the legendary James Mason), an oily scientist with a flair for hypnosis who claims to know what went wrong.
Polidori insists that they abandon the creature and create a new one: a woman, and when this new creation emerges from an entirely different process she too is remarkably beautiful; indeed, she is none other than Jane Seymour. But whereas the original creature was a gentle creature who only learned violence from Frankenstein's hateful rejection, this new entity is strangely icy, almost snake-like from the very beginning--and the male creature, now both vicious and wildly jealous, will exact a horrific toll upon all concerned.
It is worth pointing out that the script for this version of FRANKENSTEIN was co-authored by Christopher Isherwood (1904-1986), one of the few openly gay writers of his era. Sexuality in general and homosexuality in particular forms a theme in many of Isherwood's works, so it would seem reasonable to assume that he was responsible for the homo-erotic elements of the film. Jack Smight's direction does not offer anything nearly so interesting as the script, but it is workman-like, and while the production values tend to be a shade too baroque for their own good one never lacks for something to look at on the screen.
The cast is also quite good. At the time, the film was looked upon as a "television event," and it drew a host of noted actors, including John Gielgud and Agnes Moorehead. No one would accuse Leonard Whiting of being a great screen talent, but he acquits himself very well; so too does David McCallum, Nicola Pagett, and the always memorable James Mason. But the real knock-out performances here are by Sarrazin and Seymour, who truly blow the lid off our ideas of what a FRANKENSTEIN movie should be--and when they square off the result is unsettling in a truly unexpected way. In terms of the DVD itself, the film quality is considerably better than the rare late-night showings I've occasionally seen on television, but I would not describe it as pristine, and I found I frequently had to bump up the volume on the soundtrack.
If you are looking for something with which to scare yourself silly, you might want to give this version FRANKENSTEIN a miss; although it has a few visceral moments, the jolts involved are largely psycho-sexual. But if you are open to the sexually subversive, which is particularly unexpected in a made-for-television film from 1973, you couldn't make a better choice. Recommended.
GFT, Amazon Reviewer
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