Lady Frankenstein

A Modern Treatment of Frankenstein

Lady Frankenstein Poster
I think that most people miss just how disturbing Lady Frankenstein is. Some of it is reminiscent of Flesh for Frankenstein (Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein), but that film came out three years later. And there is a tendency for films Warhol is involved in to be provocative for that purpose alone. Lady Frankenstein does not suffer from this. It is creepy in its believability.

As is entirely typical of exploitation films of the early 1970s, this one is big on showing off bare women’s breasts. Only one of them can really be said to be important to the plot. But if bare breasts appeal to you, you won’t be disappointed.

The film is fairly light on violence. This is due largely to the fact that the monster inevitably grabs the victim and crushes them in a bear-hug. For those inclined to laugh at such films, the victims all act in the same stupid way. The monster isn’t that fast. So if they just ran away from him, they would be fine. But instead, they try to run past him — always really close so that he can grab and swash them.

But as horror films go, that’s really not bad. And there is so much to love in this movie that it is easily forgiven. This is especially true because the monster really isn’t the core of this film. Instead, it is all the intrigue between Dr Frankenstein, his assistant, daughter, and the mentally challenged animal worker Thomas.

Lady Frankenstein - Dr Baron Frankenstein

The Many Versions of Lady Frankenstein

Depending upon where you originally saw this film, you saw a film that ranged in length from 85 to 99 minutes. At this point, we really only have two versions. The standard (US) version that runs roughly 84 minutes, and the European version that is about 96 minutes. Interestingly, if you run over to Amazon and get Lady Frankenstein, you will likely get the short version (but not necessarily).

This is why you should get Roger Corman Cult Classics: All-Night Marathon.

None of these films really had much to do with Corman. But it includes 4 excellent films: Lady Frankenstein, The Velvet Vampire, Time Walker, and Grotesque. Lady Frankenstein is the highlight becauise it includes both the short and long versions of the film. Most of the removed material has to do with the disappearance of Thomas and his sister’s search for him. It doesn’t hurt the film much to lose it.

The reason you will mostly find the short version is that many of the cut scenes are in very bad shape. It’s always clear when you move to a cut scene. Still it’s nice to have.

Comparison of Lady Frankenstein Versions

So here are the scenes that are missing from the short cut:

Time Stamp (Short) Time Stamp (Long) Description
6:10 6:10 Father won’t tell daughter anything.
7:27 7:31 Charles explains Thomas’ problems.
10:44 11:00 Daughter learns from Thomas that Father doesn’t use anmimals. Thomas says graverobber is a “badman.”
16:17 18:24 Various intercuts. Cop asks about LF.
17:49 20:05 F tells graverobber he may have no more work for him.
24:24 27:20 Lightning starts, F runs back to lab.
39:32 42:22 LF asks Charles, “Didn’t you love my father?”
40:25 43:38 Cop comes to investigates.
41:57 45:33 Charles heard footsteps.
46:48 50:38 Cop talks about villagers.
52:06 58:18 Graverobber comes to visit.
1:06:03 1:12:13 Thomas’s sister with police, Charles explains procedure (very bad quality).
1:06:43 1:16:14 Townspeople try to kill it (really bad).
1:09:13 1:19:31 Cop asks about Thomas.
1:09:17 1:20:05 LF thinks about how to do it without lightning.
1:17:14 1:28:30 LF does not see the cop out.
1:21:04 1:32:28 Thomas’s sister is brought to castle.

Lady Frankenstein Summary

In the mid-18th century, Dr Baron Frankenstein (Joseph Cotten) and his assistant Dr Charles Marshall (Paul Muller — still alive at the age of 95 as of June 2018) are working on creating life. At one time, it seems they worked on animals, but now they have advanced to humans. They take the heart and brain of one corpse, combine it with another, apply lightning and — Wallah! — we have life. But they have not yet succeeded. It is clear that Charles isn’t terribly happy with the project. But he sticks around for a reason that becomes apparent in the next scene.

Lady Frankenstein Arrives

In the morning, Dr Frankenstein’s daughter, Tania (listed as Sara Bay, but who is actually Rosalba Neri) returns home from medical school. It is clear that Charles is in love with her. The Baron clearly knows this, but it isn’t clear that Tania does. Tania announces the good news that she has graduated first in her class and is now a certified surgeon. Charles tells her that she will make a fine surgeon, but Tania has other ideas. She wants to work with her father. She further explains that she has been doing some of her own research and her interest is in the transplanting of human tissue. She still thinks her father is working on animals.

Soon, however, she learns from Thomas (Marino Masé), the beautiful, but mentally retarded farmhand, that Baron Frankenstein is not using the animals. He is instead getting human corpses via the graverobber Tom Lynch (Herbert Fux). What’s more, his experiments are far more advanced than his daughter’s. The Baron wants his daughter to have nothing to do with his experiments should she become legally culpable in his crimes.

The Baron Succeeds

But the Baron succeeds in creating life out of dead bodies. Unfortunately, the electricity causes its face to catch on fire. The Baron puts the fire out, but the creature’s face is badly scarred and looks more like a monster than a human. When the creature begins to respond, the Baron sends Charles to fetch Tania so that she can share in his ultimate triumph. But before they can get to the laboratory, the creature has kills the Baron and flees the laboratory, roaming the castle. Charles and Tania hide until the creature has left. They rush to the laboratory where they find Baron Frankenstein’s dead body.

Tania, concerned about her father’s reputation, convinces Charles to go along with a false narrative about her father’s death. They fetch a police officer, in the form of Captain Harris (Mickey Hargitay), who maintains something of an amused demeanor throughout the film as he seemingly knows that everyone is lying to him. Tania and Charles tell him the Baron was killed by a very large burglar. This doesn’t really satisfy him — he seems to smell a rat. At first, he seems to suspect Thomas who in addition to being very handsome is a large man.

Lady Frankenstein - Creature

Lady Frankenstein Decides to Kill the Creature

Tania comes up with a solution, although I must admit to being mystified by it, as it seems to cause more problems than it solves. She says that she knows that Charles is in love with her. If Charles will kill Thomas, she will put Charles’ brain in Thomas’ body and make him into the ultimate man that she could love. (Good looking and smart too!) The process with the electricity makes the person who goes through it extremely powerful. The creature has been going through the countryside killing random people, but especially people who were involved in making him. So the newly created Thomas/Charles could kill the creature. Problem solved?

Thomas and Charles Are Combined

Thomas’ sister shows up looking for him, and decides that Tania has killed him. This becomes a subplot. But Thomas/Charles maintains his identity because he has the voice of Charles. The monster comes to kill Charles, but Tania says it isn’t necessary because “Charles” is now dead. Thomas/Charles says no, he must kill it. Tania agrees a bit too quickly and Thomas/Charles decides that Tania doesn’t really love him. She is just interested in showing the world what a genius her father was. Regardless of who wins in the fight, she will still win.

Lady Frankenstein Strangled by Thomas/Charles

Thomas/Charles Kills Lady Frankenstein

Meanwhile, Captain Harris has figured everything out and has the castle surrounded. And the townspeople storm the castle with torches and pitchforks. Thomas/Charles and the creature fight. The townspeople set the castle on fire. Eventually, Thomas/Charles kill the creature. While the castle burns, Thomas/Charles and Tania make love. Captain Harris and Thomas’ sister come into to see them, and Thomas/Charles, no longer in love with Tania, strangles her to death.

Analysis of Lady Frankenstein

One could see this film as misogynistic. But I think that’s an error. It is really the story the faithful daughter. Indeed, there are even hints of incestuous intentions. It’s hard to believe Tania would have required her father’s brain in another body before she could be sexually interested. But one doesn’t need to read it that way. It’s just that it adds so much to the creepiness factor, that it’s hard to completely resist.

I’m particularly interested in the subplot of the creature killing all its makers. It reminds me of the start of the song by American Music Club, “I’ve Been a Mess”:

Lazarus wasn’t grateful for his second wind
For another chance
To watch his chances
Fade like the dawn and leave

It’s kind of a high-brow thought for a monster movie. Just the same, what would you think if you had been dead, only to wake up inside the body of a monster? With a damaged brain at that?

The simplest reading of the film is just what she says: a daughter doing everything she can to save her father’s reputation. And let’s face it, by the end the creature has killed 8 people, 4 for no reason. In the the book and original movie, he killed because people treated him badly. This guy does not. The only sign of humanity is when he doesn’t kill the boy.

Watch Now!

Archive.org has the short version of Lady Frankenstein. So you really have no excuse for not watching it!

Technical Information for Lady Frankenstein

Information about the movie itself:

  • Release date: 22 October 1971 (Italy), 22 October 1971 (US)
  • Length: 95:43 (Europe), 83:37 minutes (US)
  • MPAA Rating: R
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Film: Spherical 35 mm Color

The most important people involved in the film (horribly incomplete)

  • Production Company: New World Pictures, Inc
  • Director: Mel Welles
  • Producer: Mel Welles
  • Screenwriter: Edward Di Lorenzo (story by Edward Di Lorenzo, Dick Randall, Mary Shelley)
  • Cinematographers: Riccardo Pallottini
  • Cameraman: Sergio Martino
  • Editor: Ronald Sinclair
  • Composer: Alessandro Alessandroni
  • Actors: Rosalba Neri (as Sara Bay), Joseph Cotten, Paul Muller, Herbert Fux, Mickey Hargitay, and Peter Whiteman.

–Frank Moraes (2012)

If you want to see Lady Frankenstein, you should definitely get it in the Roger Corman Cult Classics: All-Night Marathon. Not only will you get both the short and long versions of the film, you will get three other excellent films: The Velvet Vampire, Time Walker, and Grotesque. So even though this is a bit more expensive (roughly $15), it is the DVD (it’s actually two) that you should buy.

Roger Corman Cult Classics: All-Night Marathon

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