Frankenstein (1910) is the first known film version of Mary Shelley’s novel. The film was produced by Thomas Edison’s company and directed by J. Searle Dawley. Very soon after its release, the film was deemed sacrilegious for its macabre content — tame by today’s standards, shocking in 1910. Consequently, the film was not shown in many theaters and fewer prints than usual were struck for sale.
As was the challenge for all filmmakers in 1910 who were adapting novels to single-reel films, the story races through the familiar storyline, touching only briefly on salient moments. Director Dawley presents us with Frankenstein’s departure to college; two years later he discovers the process of the regeneration of life; mulling over ethics; the creation of the monster; Frankenstein repulsed and terrified by the monster; Frankenstein’s return home to family and fiancée, followed by the monster; the monster haunts Frankenstein and sees himself for the first time; the wedding of Frankenstein; the threat of the monster to Frankenstein and Elizabeth; and the disappearance of the monster into the mirror.
Strangely, for those of us familiar with the Universal Frankenstein (1931), Frankenstein’s monster is constituted through chemicals in a large cauldron in a sequence that employs puppetry of a skeleton, is limber of movement, and speaks fluently to his creator.
The performance of Augustus Phillips (Frankenstein) is deeply couched in Victorian stage traditions, all posing and sweeping gestures. Charles Ogle, however, does a good job of bringing the monster to life in a fright wig, extended fingers, and slapstick shoes.
For many years, Frankenstein was considered a lost film until it was learned that one solitary 35mm print had survived in a private collection.