ICFIFC: Frankenstein - 1970 (1958)

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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

ICFIFC: Frankenstein - 1970 (1958)

If there was one thing the 50s gave us, besides paranoia about communists in the woodpile, misinformation on what to do in the event of a nuclear detonation and overly optimistic sitcoms, it was wildly imaginative predictions of the future.  Tonight we explore one such vision set in the far flung future of 1970, a whole new technological world set all of eighteen years forward of the release date of this movie.

Frankenstein - 1970 (1958)

  • Original Title:
    • Frankenstein 1960  
    • Frankenstein 1975
  • Genre: Horror – Sci-Fi
  • Directed: Howard W. Koch
  • Produced:
    • Aubrey Schenck 
    • Leon Spielberg
  • Written:
    • Mary Shelley (Inspiration) 
    • Richard H. Landau 
    • Charles A. Moses 
    • Aubrey Schenck 
    • George Worthing Yates
  • Starring: Boris Karloff, Tom Duggan, Jana Lund, Don 'Red' Barry, Charlotte Austin, Irwin Berke, Rudolph Anders, Norbert Schiller, John Dennis, Mike Lane
  • Music: Paul Dunlap
  • Cinematography: Carl E. Guthrie
  • Editing: John A. Bushelman
  • Studio: Aubrey Schenck Productions
  • Distributed:
    • Allied Artists Pictures  
    • International Film Distributors  
    • Warner Home Video
  • Rated:
  • Release Date: 20 July 1958 (USA)
  • Running Time: 83 minutes
  • Country: USA
  • Language: English

Frankenstein 1970 is a 1958 science fiction horror film, shot in black and white CinemaScope1.  This independent film was directed by Howard W. Koch; its alternative titles during pre-production included Frankenstein's Castle, Frankenstein 1960 (changed because it seemed to far fetched for an independent researcher to have access to a nuclear reactor a mere two years in the future), and Frankenstein 1975.  Shot in a mere eight days on a modest budget, the film was finally titled Frankenstein 1970 for an appropriately futuristic touch.  The film was released through Allied Artists.

For several years, only a pan and scan2 VHS tape of the film was available.  In October 2009, Warner Brothers released the DVD "Karloff & Lugosi Horror Classics," which includes Frankenstein 1970 as one of the four films, and features an audio commentary by one the film's co-star, Charlotte Austin, and fan historians Tom Weaver and Bob Burns.

Boris Karloff plays the role of Baron Victor von Frankenstein, who suffered at the hands of the Nazis as punishment for not cooperating with them during World War II.  Horribly disfigured, he nevertheless continues his work as a scientist.  Needing funds to support his experiments, the Baron allows a television crew to shoot a made-for-television horror film about his monster-making family at his castle in Germany.

This arrangement gives the Baron enough money to buy an atomic reactor, which he uses to create a living being, modeled after his own likeness before he had been tortured by the Nazis.  When the Baron runs out of body parts for his work, however, he proceeds to kill off members of the crew, and even his faithful butler, for more spare parts.  Finally, however, the monster turns on the Baron, and they are both killed in a blast of radioactive steam from the reactor.  After the reactor is shut down and the radiation falls to safe levels, the monster's bandages are removed, revealing the Baron's own face prior to his being disfigured by the Nazis, and an audio tape is played back, in which the Baron reveals that he had intended for the monster to be a perpetuation of himself, as he was the last of the Frankenstein family line.

This project was proposed because of the success of the "Shock Theatre" package of Universal horror films released to television.  The other contributing factors were the recent successes of the British-made The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and the low-budget American International release I Was a Teenage Frankenstein (1957).  This would be Boris Karloff's fifth Frankenstein movie, and the first time he actually played a member of the Frankenstein family - in Frankenstein (1931), The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and Son of Frankenstein (1939) he had played the Monster, and in House of Frankenstein (1944) he was mad scientist Dr. Gustav Niemann.

The interiors were part of a set on Warners Stage Three, which had been constructed for the Errol Flynn-Dorothy Malone film Too Much, Too Soon (1958).  In addition, the budget-conscious Schenck used cinematographer Carl Guthrie from the earlier film because his experience with the set allowed him to light the scenes quickly.  The black statuette from The Maltese Falcon (1941) was used by the Warners prop department to dress the set.  The Breen Office ordered a number of changes in the script and the original cut of the film. One change ordered was the sound of the device Dr. Frankenstein uses to dispose of body parts. The original grinding sound was considered too horrific. It was replaced with the sound of a toilet flush which resulted in unintended laughter in audiences. This was believed to be the first time a toilet flush was heard in a motion picture.

 

Notes:

1.  CinemaScope is an anamorphic lens series used for shooting wide screen movies from 1953 to 1967.  The anamorphic lenses theoretically allowed the process to create an image of up to a 2.66:1 aspect ratio, almost twice as wide as the previously common Academy format's 1.37:1 ratio.  Although the CinemaScope lens system was made obsolete by new technological developments, primarily advanced by Panavision, the CinemaScope anamorphic format has continued to this day.

2.  Pan and scan is a method of adjusting widescreen film images so that they can be shown within the proportions of a standard definition 4:3 aspect ratio television screen, often cropping off the sides of the original widescreen image to focus on the composition's most important aspects.  Some film directors and film enthusiasts disapprove of pan and scan cropping, because it can remove up to 45% of the original image on 2.35:1 films or up to 53% on earlier 2.55:1 presentations, changing the director or cinematographer's original vision and intentions.  The worst examples remove up to 75% of the original picture on such aspect ratios as 2.75:1 or even 3:1 in epics such as Ben-Hur, King of Kings or Lawrence of Arabia.  The vertical equivalent is known as "tilt and scan" or "reverse pan and scan".  The method was most common in the days of VHS, before widescreen home media such as DVD and Blu-ray.

 

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