Thursday, December 29, 2022


It Was a Good Idea in Principle

A good idea to make a modern film version of "Frankenstein" that was much more true to the original Mary Shelley novel than were the horror films of our youth.  But the narrative would run so strongly against all expectations that the money people would get nervous.  Heavy hitters would have to be brought in to the production so that the money would be there and, one hoped, the audiences as well.  The celebrated would become more celebrated in the process.

Francis Ford Coppola would supply artistic cred, but only as producer, or co-producer.  For the great Shakespearean Kenneth Branagh, the project would, on the other hand, be a labor of love, with him playing the title role of Dr. Victor Frankenstein and also directing the film.  

Father Frankenstein would be played by Sir Ian Holm, another impeccable Shakespearean.  For a love interest, Kenneth would have Helena Bonham Carter, as Elizabeth Frankenstein elevated to a near normal height by a mountain of brown hair with the texture of steel wool.  (She and Victor were raised from a very young age as brother and sister, you see, but at puberty or just thereafter their passion for each other would explode, prove unquenchable, and so a possible sequel -- "The Bride of Frankenstein" -- had to be squandered, embedded rather in the original.)  

But a crucial decision was left.  Who would portray the Creature charged with driving the narrative along, like the cruelest of coachmen?  Danny DeVito was too short.  Jim Carrey would be unable to stow away his trademark grin for the duration.  John Cleese was willing, but he had already signed on to the film in the role of the professor of medicine who admonishes Victor, in the presence of his peers, "not to fool with Mother Nature."  (As a fallback admonition, he might have advised Victor to "make the sutures a little smaller.")

In the event, a player with immense star power lurched out of the snow, eager to further stretch his possible personae past, inter alia, Travis Bickle and Jake LaMotta and Rupert Pupkin.   Yes, Robert De Niro.

In a key scene, the Monster, who can speak and "think" and even read at a third-grade MCAS level, arranges for an icy tete a tete with his creator after having wreaked all kinds of havoc in the near neighborhood.  He explains to Dr. Frankenstein that there are two competing forces within him -- an overpowering love and an overpowering brutality.  For the latter to be tamed, he says, he must be given a bride upon whom he can lavish the love.  If Victor will fashion such a love sponge for him, then the couple will go up to the North Pole, on foot, keep themselves in protein by snatching one of Santa's elves from time to time, and leave everyone in the village henceforth the hell alone.  Victor tells his creation that he will take the request under advisement.

Victor takes some serious steps towards fashioning the lady friend, but when he seems to equivocate, the Monster takes things into his own hands in literal truth by ripping Elizabeth's heart out of her chest.  At that point, Victor in a panic uses the machinery in his attic to bring her back to life, for him not for the Monster.  But for a young woman so wrapped up in her own beauty, it is a hard and fleeting return to life.  Her hair is a mess, and she looks like she went through a dozen windshields in a series of terrible car crashes, or was fired by a circus cannon through one of those offshore wind turbines that have decimated our migrating bird populations.

In the end, everyone who matters is destroyed, but not before the Creature gets off a few more lines with just a hint of a New Jersey palooka accent in them.

Indeed, the film would have been improved if it took a tip from Peter Sellars in "Being There," if, that is, under the rolling credits, we were shown out-takes of De Niro in full costume reprising Travis and Jake and Rupert and unable to contain his own laughter.

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