Sunday, July 25, 2010

March 18, 2010: 100 Years of ‘Edison’s Frankenstein’!

100 years ago today, the first ever adaptation of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s monster-masterpiece Frankenstein terrified audiences and established a cinematic tradition. The 12 minute 30 second film usually referred to as “Edison’s Frankenstein and credited to inventor/credit-thief Thomas Edison was actually written ad directed by J. Searle Dawley, whose massive resume includes silent adaptations of Hansel and Gretel, Bluebeard, The House of the Seven Gables, and The Three Musketeers. In 1910 alone he made 14 films, the most famous being his Frankenstein.



For a long time the film’s widest exposure came via still photographs of Charles Ogle’s weird, snake-fingered monster in various books about horror cinema. The film was thought to be lost. In the ‘70s, a film collector named Alois F. Dettlaff realized he’d purchased a copy of the short some twenty years earlier and had a preservation print made by the George Eastman House museum of photography. Now widely viewable, the 1910 Frankenstein reveals itself to be a very loose adaptation of Shelley’s book, although Dawley did pick up on the central theme of an ambitious scientist bent on creating life, then rejecting his creation when confronted with its grotesqueness. There is also the indication that black magic played as significant a role as science in the creature’s creation, which brings to mind the evocatively vague creation scene in Shelley’s novel. Primitive for sure, the film is still worth watching for Ogle’s bizarre, Kabuki-like performance and some impressive special-effects shots.







Most important of all, Dawley’s Frankenstein opened the doors for future adaptations that would include two of cinema’s finest films: James Whale’s Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein, which will be celebrating its 75th birthday next month...
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