By Judy Berman
Rain seemed to be a constant companion, confining friends for days at a time in Switzerland. Lord Byron challenged them to write a ghost story.
Mary Shelley, wife of Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, accepted the challenge. She was the only one in the group who actually finished her tale, a macabre story about a gruesome fiend. When Shelley breathed life into Frankenstein’s monster, it’s doubtful that she could foresee that her creation would spawn so many spin-offs of the wretched form she first conceived when she was 18.
In her novel, first published in 1818, there is no hunchback assistant, no criminal brain, no electrical equipment, and no angry villagers with torches who chase the monster. Those were added by director James Whale in the 1931 classic movie Frankenstein, and those were the parts that were spoofed in director Mel Brooks’ comedy, Young Frankenstein, in 1974.
Where did Shelley’s repugnant creature spring from? She listened as her friends talked about the most recent bizarre medical experiments and their speculation on whether a corpse could be reanimated.
“My imagination, unbidden, possessed and guided me,” the author said. When she awoke, Shelley opened her eyes in terror.
“I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life and stir with an uneasy, half-vital motion. Frightful must it be, for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavour to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world.”
Her “daemon” – monster – was hideous to look at, became uglier because of society’s rejection of him, traveled with great speed, and he never shut up. The monster would go on and on about what he had endured and explained his evil acts as retribution for being an outcast. With actor Boris Karloff’s monster, there is silence in Whale’s first movie. In Young Frankenstein, actor Peter Boyle’s monster learns the gift of gab and much more with hilarious results.
Dr. Frankenstein worked in isolation when he created the “daemon” in Shelley’s novel. By the time the monster hit the silver screen, however, the doctor had an assistant. But in Whale’s film, and in Brooks’, the assistants – both hunchbacks – bring back an “abnormal brain.” The difference? In Brooks’ film, Igor, played by Marty Feldman, is unaware that he has a hump on his back. Or, that the hump switches from side to side.
Brooks’ monster also gets to show his gentler side. Gene Wilder (as Dr. Frankenstein) tries to reassure the villagers that his creation is a “cultured, sophisticated man about town.” Out comes the monster and Wilder, in tux and tails, as they do a song and dance routine to “Sitting on the Ritz.” All goes well until a fuse blows and scares the monster. Then, an angry mob puts him in chains.
Boyle escapes. Dr. Frankenstein (Wilder) feels responsibility for his creation and wants to save him. He decides to have a transference operation. Before it is complete, the mob breaks in. The monster, now able to speak eloquently, tells them why he has behaved badly. The mob is properly chastised and apologizes.
There are unintended consequences for your character when you hit Hollywood. In a way, all three versions – Shelley’s novel, Whale’s film, and Brooks’ spoof – send us the same message: science has a social responsibility. It’s just that Hollywood’s versions played out better for Dr. Frankenstein, Elizabeth – and in Brooks’ movie – his creation.
Let’s just hope that society gets the intended message of the cosmic theme of man’s limits and the dangerous risks that arise when man tries to emulate God.
COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-15. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
Photo: Frankenstein – Promotional photo of Boris Karloff as Frankenstein’s monster from “The Bride of Frankenstein,” 1935. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Frankenstein%27s_monster_(Boris_Karloff).jpg
Photo: Frankenstein’s Castle – The castle, built in the 10th century, is in the town of Darmstadt, half an hour away from Frankfurt in Hesse region of Germany. Photo: by Yamy, Sept. 23, 2011 http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/3/32/Castelul_Frankenstein.jpg/640px-Castelul_Frankenstein.jpg
Video – movie trailer “Young Franenstein” directed by Mel Brooks