Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Edison's 1910 Frankenstein -- a silent curio

By Doug Gibson

On Tuesday, Oct. 2, my co-blogger, Steve Stones and I headed to the main branch of the Weber County library in Ogden, Utah. It's Halloween and the library showed a brillaint Kino print of "Nosferatu." Like the old days, though, there was a short, and it was the interesting, 1910 curio, 14-plus minute silent film, from Thomas Alva Edison's film company, "Frankenstein," self-described as a "liberal adaptation."

Boy, were they right on that. Edison Studio's Frankenstein bears less resemblance to Mary Shelley's tale than the Whale/Karloff version did 21 years later, but it's quite interesting, with decent special effects. Unlike virtually every film made prior 1914 or so, there's more to the movie than just people hopping around. A young college student, Augustus Phillips as Dr. Frankenstein, eagerly, and very dramatically, sets about creating a human male from scratch. The scenes of a monster slowly being created out of fire are quite impressive for that primitive film era. Unfortunately, once he creates the man-made man, played by Charles Ogle, he's horrified by the monster and shrinks dramatically away in repulsion and terror.

Ogle's portrayal of the monster is quite effective. He's no Boris Karloff, of course, but he does convey a helpless creature, created through no fault of his own who desperately seeks companionship and approval from his creator. His horror, and self-disgust when he sees his grotesque self in a mirror is moving.

For a while, Frankenstein is a broken, emotional wreck, nursed back to health by his father, as well as his bride to be, played by Mary Fuller. However, the monster eventually finds him and wreaks some mild havoc on the trio before a silly climax abruptly ends the film. Director J. Searle Dawley forces into the film a silly theme that only Dr. Frankenstein's evil created the monster and hence the monster can be dispatched into nothingness if the love between Frankenstein and his fiance overpower the evil, or something like that.

As it is, Edison's Frankenstein is an important piece of cinema history, and it's fortunate we can watch it today on many sources, including YouTube (above). The film enjoyed little success. Audiences were reportedly repulsed by Ogle's creature, which I think actually has held up well the past 100 years. For a long time the film was considered lost, but a couple of copies eventually surfaced, the first in the early 1960s, and eventually the film received a DVD release. Except for the monster creation, most of the film is pretty static, and has the look of a film shot as a stage production. The acting is par for the time, very overdramatic, Below is a still shot of the monster, as played by Ogle.

1 comment:

Leon Baradat said...

I found this a year or two ago online. I'm glad it's still available--so many of those early silent films are lost forever, like First Men on the Moon. Frankenstein (1910) is, as you say, not much like Frankenstein the movie OR book, but it is interesting what Edison and his people did with the material.