Frankenstein (1910) is the first known film version of Mary Shelley’s novel. The film was produced by Thomas Edison’s company and directed by J. Searle Dawley. Very soon after its release, the film was deemed sacrilegious for its macabre content — tame by today’s standards, shocking in 1910. Consequently, the film was not shown in many theaters and fewer prints than usual were struck for sale.
As was the challenge for all filmmakers in 1910 who were adapting novels to single-reel films, the story races through the familiar storyline, touching only briefly on salient moments. Director Dawley presents us with Frankenstein’s departure to college; two years later he discovers the process of the regeneration of life; mulling over ethics; the creation of the monster; Frankenstein repulsed and terrified by the monster; Frankenstein’s return home to family and fiancée, followed by the monster; the monster haunts Frankenstein and sees himself for the first time; the wedding of Frankenstein; the threat of the monster to Frankenstein and Elizabeth; and the disappearance of the monster into the mirror.
Strangely, for those of us familiar with the Universal Frankenstein (1931), Frankenstein’s monster is constituted through chemicals in a large cauldron in a sequence that employs puppetry of a skeleton, is limber of movement, and speaks fluently to his creator.
The performance of Augustus Phillips (Frankenstein) is deeply couched in Victorian stage traditions, all posing and sweeping gestures. Charles Ogle, however, does a good job of bringing the monster to life in a fright wig, extended fingers, and slapstick shoes.
For many years, Frankenstein was considered a lost film until it was learned that one solitary 35mm print had survived in a private collection. — Carl Bennett
A.D. Ventures International
2003 DVD edition
Movies’ First Monsters Back to Back (1910-1922), black & white and color-tinted and color-toned black & white, 97 minutes total, not rated,
including Frankenstein(1910), black & white and color-tinted and color-toned black & white, 13 minutes, not rated.
A.D. Ventures International, no catalog number, no UPC number.
One single-sided, single-layered, Region 0NTSC DVD disc, 1.33:1 aspect ratio image in windowboxed 4:3 (720 x 480 pixels) interlaced scan MPEG-2 format, 4 Mbps average video bit rate, 768 kbps audio bit rate, PCM 2.0 mono sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, 10 chapter stops; standard DVD keepcase, $24.50 (reduced to $15.00).
Release date: 2003.
Country of origin: USA
In the 1950s, film collector Alois F. Dettlaff purchased a 35mm nitrate print of Edison’s Frankenstein. Over the years world film archives reported the motion picture as presumed lost, and in 1980 Dettlaff learned that he possessed the sole known surviving print. The print was then offered for sale, but at an outrageous price. Dettlaff retained ownership of the print, and had planned a DVD release of the film since the late 1990s. The film was coupled with Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922) and the DVD was finally released in 2003.
Given the opportunities to produce a fine home edition from the only known copy of the film, this disc falls short of expectations. The video transfer is not as detailed as industry-standard 35mm print transfers for DVD, with the result that the film approaches the appearance in picture quality of being mastered from a reduction print. All of the titles have been recomposed in authentic-looking video intertitles. Annoying are the three video logos superimposed on the picture (two Edison logos in the upper left and the lower right, and a video company logo in the lower left) — security overkill for the odd Mr. Dettlaff.
The 35mm print itself shows signs of beginning decomposition in the first moments of the reel, but the flaws settle down to the usual moderate speckling and dust with a few sprocket markings that momentarily intrude into the frame. There are a number of splices, and there is some light shrinkage of the print and sprocket damage that causes some mild movement of the picture image at moments in the film.
The film is accompanied by a very-good music score performed on synthesizers by an anonymous musician.
Hey, the disc could have been worse, but is also could have been better without the superimposed logos and with a sharper video transfer. Ultimately, the film has survived and has finally been released for the enjoyment of the general public. With a few caveats, we recommend this edition of Frankenstein. However, with the death of Mr. Dettlaff, an authorized source for this disc became unclear. Graveyard Records and Movie Maniacs claims to be the authorized distributor of the DVD for the Dettlaff estate.
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