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.

long fingernails

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.

frankenstein costume



Filed under Film History Series, Whitney

5 responses to “1910

  1. brian

    i often say that frankenstein is my favorite book. which is kind of true. but my favorite thing about the book is that there are one million movie versions of it. so my question to you, whitney, is how does it stand up against all the other frankenstein movies (nosferatu, the silent one, being the best with movies like jesse james meets frankensteins grandaughter being a distant second and frankenstein meets the wolfman being in the middle along with that corman movie where someone time travels back to mary shelleys time and then prints her out a copy of the book she has yet to write because his car which also ended up back in time is still able to connect to some future version of the internet and i dont know what counts as the worst of the frankenstein movies).

  2. Wait, some guy travels back in time and gives Shelley a copy of the book? Which means that he wrote it? Or are they saying that she still wrote it? Because that’s confusing, and also kind of annoying since people doubted the fact that a woman could write that book in the first place.

    I haven’t seen many Frankenstein movies. I like the James Whale movie and The Bride of Frankenstein that he made right after that one. I don’t really like the Coppola version, but it’s the closest to the book….I don’t know…I think I’ll have to see more.

  3. brian

    i think i’ve seen 100 frankenstein movies. the corman movie is called frankenstein unbound. it’s about a scientist who makes this weapon that’s destroying the entire earth and also, somehow, send the scientist back in time (with his car) where he meets mary shelley. the end up having sex because mary shelley can’t find any interesting guys back then. they just dont have her scientific understanding. then, he shows her the a copy of the book she is currently writing. i think the movie is saying that mary shelley wrote frankenstein, but that she didn’t make it up because it actually happened. that’s a pretty good frankenstein movie. i like that one frankenstein with peter cushing in it. as previously mentioned, abbot and costello meet frankenstein is totally awesome. also, i’d count reanimator as a frankenstein movie and that movie is incredible. coppola’s version is ok but not funny. but nosferatu is the best

  4. brian

    and, my favorite frankenstein song is called “frankenstein conquers the world” by daniel johnston and jad fair. it’s really cool and smart. it’s all about the destructiveness of unchecked scientific knowledge.
    that daniel johnston and jad fair record is so great and references a lot of movies.

  5. My fingernails are short because I’m too grossed out by that guy. Nasty. Also, I know we were planning on being Legends of the Hidden Temple contestants, but “Sexy Frankenstein” will be the perfect Halloween costume for me this year.

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