200 Years of Frankenstein - 10/22 & 10/29
This year the world celebrates the birth--and reanimation--of the Frankenstein monster, created by English novelist Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (1797-1851) in her novel Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus.
First published in 1818, the book had been Shelley's contribution to a contest, which also included Percy Shelley (her future husband), Lord Byron and his physician Dr. Polidori (whose attendance led to the writing of Dracula), to see who could create the best horror story. Her tale focused on a young scientist, Victor Frankenstein, who conducts a bizarre experiment in which he is able to bring a corpse back to life.
Shelley's monster has since become one of most recognizable creatures of English lore - and of theater, movies and television. The first stage adaptation was performed in 1823, and the first Frankenstein film was produced in 1910 by Edison Studios. Boris Karloff put a lasting imprint on the character of the monster in films of the 1930s, released through Universal Pictures.
Among numerous well-known actors who have played one version or another of the Frankenstein monster on film are Lon Chaney Jr., Bela Lugosi, Glenn Strange, Christopher Lee, Peter Boyle, Randy Quaid and Robert De Niro.
In October, TCM will honor the terror that the monster has unleashed upon several generations, with the TCM premiere of a new documentary, The Strange Life of Dr. Frankenstein (2018), along with four classic movies inspired by Shelley's story. A second group of films will focus on a half-dozen other "mad scientist" stories from four decades. Here are the Frankenstein films in our tribute:
Son of Frankenstein (1939) was the third entry in Universal's Frankenstein series and the final one to star Boris Karloff as the monster. In this film, Basil Rathbone plays Baron Wolf von Frankenstein, the son of the original mad doctor. Rowland V. Lee directs a cast that also includes Bela Lugosi as Ygor and Lionel Atwill as Inspector Krogh. Fans of Mel Brooks' 1974 Young Frankenstein will recognize many influences from the older film, which was a tremendous hit in its day.
The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) was the first of the Frankenstein movies from Hammer Film Productions and the first of their horror films to be shot in color. Peter Cushing plays Victor Frankenstein to Christopher Lee's monster, under the direction of Terence Fisher. The success of this film established Hammer as a leading producer of horror movies and led to a number of sequels as well as to films from that studio featuring such other classic monsters like Dracula and the Mummy.
Frankenstein Created Woman (1967), the fourth entry in Hammer's Frankenstein series, has Cushing and Fisher returning as star and director, although this time the creature is female and played by Susan Denberg. She is a suicide victim resuscitated by Baron Frankenstein (Cushing) and invested with the soul of her lover (Robert Morris), an innocent and vengeful victim of the guillotine.
Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969) was the fifth of seven Hammer Films productions featuring the scientist and his creations. Once again Fisher directs Cushing as Baron, who now wants to transplant the brain of a medical associate who has gone insane (George Pravda) into a healthy body. Freddie Jones costars as the unlucky recipient, and Simon Ward and Veronica Carlson play a young couple embroiled in Frankenstein's scheme.
Our "mad scientist" films include two versions of Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: the 1931 film brought Fredric March a Best Actor Oscar for his dual role; and the 1941 treatment stars Spencer Tracy. Also screening: Island of Lost Souls (1932), starring Charles Laughton and Bela Lugosi; Mad Love (1935), starring Peter Lorre and Colin Clive; The Fly (1958), starring Al Hedison and Vincent Price; and The Frozen Dead (1966), starring Dana Andrews.