Throughout history, the film industry has shown a tendency to take a basic idea and literally do it to death. Take the classic novel “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley, for instance. The idea of the baronial Doctor Frankenstein taking dead tissue and turning it into a living, breathing monster has been the stuff of countless movies. The vast majority of these movies have been little more than either straight retellings of the same story or goofy variations on the same theme. All too often, these movies have the same exact cliches such as the hunchbacked assistant.
However, there are some rare exceptions to this trend. One such example is the 1971 movie Lady Frankenstein that comes off as one of the most creative if not the best retellings of the done-to-death Frankenstein theme committed to film thus far. It also stars one of the best actors who ever played the role of Baron Dr. Frankenstein, Joseph Cotten.
The Lady Frankenstein in this movie is the daughter of Baron Dr. Frankeinstein, Tania (Rosalba Neri). She comes home after graduating from medical school with her head filled with all sorts of “radical ideas.” Among other things, she had engaged in unauthorized experiments involving human tissue and transplants. She is determined to assist her father in his experiments.
However, her father rebuffs her and ably assisted by his non-hunchbacked assistant, Dr. Charles Marshall (Paul Muller), he creates his monster. Frankenstein’s plans go awry as the unexpected side effects of the electric shock aspect of his creative process results in a homicidal monster. The monster turns on its creator and kills him and then escapes the castle and spreads fear, havoc and ultimately, death in the surrounding countryside. Compounding matters, Police Captain Harris (Mickey Hargitay) is energetically pursuing any and all leads into the investigation of Frankenstein’s death. This includes the possiblity that the monster that has been systematically killing folks off is linked to the late mad scientist Frankenstein in some way.
This situation presents a challenge for Frankenstein’s young daughter. She proves herself to be worthy of the Frankenstein name by concocting an insane scheme to right the situation. Her idea is to take the brain of the laboratory assistant, who is deeply in love with her, and transplant it into the body of the handsome but mentally retarded servant. This new creation would then go forth into the wild and kill the monster and afterwards provide Tania with a suitable mate. The lab assistant is surprisingly agreeable to the bizarre scheme and after a surprisingly easy laboratory operation, the deed is done. The sharp mind of the lab assistant and the muscular body of the retarded servant are now one and the same.
The most striking aspect of this film is the atmosphere which makes you feel as though you were living in that very village and castle, among those people many of whom has something to hide. This movie features very good acting, in particular Paul Muller as the lab assistant, Rosalba Neri in the title role and, of course, Joseph Cotten as the Baron Doctor Frankenstein.
Lady Frankenstein is as much a tale about obsession, the insane things you will do for love, the risks you will take for money, the games people play with authorities and a complex morality play as a traditional Frankenstein picture, this movie deserves to be recognized. As such, Lady Frankenstein is a movie that is very much worth your time.