This week I watched the Edison film Frankenstein (J. Searle Dowley, 1910). This print that someone has uploaded is not in great shape, but I doubt something this obscure is available in any other format.
The film admits to being a “liberal adaptation” of Mary Shelley’s original work from the very beginning. Most of the changes that occur seem to be based on the limits of the technology at the time. For example, there is a conspicuous absence of lightning from the creation of The Monster. Instead, Frankenstein mixes together a few potions and stirs himself up a Monster. Kind of like how the effeminate wizard in Lord of the Rings mixes up a batch of Orcs. Then Frankenstein chills in his seriously awesome office while the Monster grows bones, muscle, and, finally, an obscene amount of hair. The Monster looks like a mix between Beast (as in Beauty’s) and Dracula. He’s covered in mane-like hair, and moves his long nailed fingers in twirly ways. It makes sense to me, though, because don’t your hair and nails keep growing after you die? And The Monster was supposed to be composed of bits and pieces of corpses.
So anyway, the Monster is born (I think they achieved this effect by melting someone with acid and then playing it backwards), and then proceeds to follow Frankenstein around, waving and twirling his fingernails until he somehow ends up falling through a mirror into another dimension.
Despite some of its adolescent problems, I find this version of Frankenstein to be pretty entertaining. The tinting of the film (dramatic shifts from orange to blue when the candle leaves the frame) is beautiful, and I find the idea that Frankenstein has an evil mind – seemingly controlled by his subconscious Id – which enables the Monster’s creation to be interesting. Plus, this Dowley guy doesn’t fuck around. This is no Ang Lee’s Hulk. The Monster shows up in the first couple of minutes and then it’s non-stop action from there…well…sort of. Mostly it’s just a lot of waving and finger twirling.