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In the (damn near) two centuries since its publication, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein has been adapted more times than you can shake an Ygor at! I suppose that this is where I'm supposed to say "but never like THIS!", but I can scarcely do that. Since the first filmed adaptation, in 1910, there have been dramas, science fiction tales, deeply horrific films, documentaries, cartoons, amalgamated works, spoofs, comedies and even a few pieces of erotica. So, to call 1971's Lady Frankenstein a terribly unique film, even with its more feminine angles and... well, copious (and appreciated) nudity, would be quite the misnomer, I'd say!
That's not to say that Lady Frankenstein is a bad film, which is a rather bizarre thing to say. Certainly this sounds like an exploitative sleaze and trash fest... After all, the basic NEW plot that was added by the no less than SIX writers, revolves around Doctor Frankenstein's oft-naked grown daughter making a second, much sexier monster with a beautiful mind that she intends to have great sex with. However, there is a hell of a lot that this film does right. It's strangely well acted (even with the English Language dub of the Italian actors), the directing by Mel Welles and Aureliano Luppi does not particularly suck and the adapted screenplay by Luppi and Welles along with Dick Randall, Egidio Gelso, Edward Di Lorenzo and Umberto Borsato is played as very serious, never as a comedy spoof or a twisted sex fest.
Seriously, what was in the water back in 1971? Between Morgane Et Ses Nymphes, Vampyros Lesbos, the following year's La Novia ensangrentada and this flick, it seems like every Erotic Horror flick somehow managed to be pretty good. Damn!
It is interesting that Lady Frankenstein is not comical, partially because the first half of the film bears more than a little resemblance to Brooks' Young Frankenstein! You've got your mad scientist, Baron Frankenstein (Joseph Cotten) and his lab assistant Charles Marshall (Paul Müller) collecting corpses to create life from dead material. But all hell breaks loose when they discover that the brain they have placed in their Creature (Paul Whiteman) is actually "Abnormal" and now it is determined to go on a rampage for revenge. The similarities even extend to certain pieces of dialogue and blocking. Trust me, they are there.
Perhaps Brooks and Company had enough spoof material from this one and moved on to the next, because what follows is not quite the same thing. Enter the Baron's daughter Tania Frankenstein (played by the beautiful Rosalba Neri, credited as Sara Bay)! She's not just a lovely lady, but also a brilliant surgeon who recently graduated from her father's Alma Mater. With the Creature on the Loose, Tania sets out to carry on her father's life's work, creating (with Marshall's help) a second creature to act as an "Executioner" for the first. But to do this, they may need to lie to the cops, like Captain Harris (Mickey Hargitay), bamboozle the grave robbers, led by Tom Lynch (Herbert Fux) and use the innocent, like the attractive, yet dim-witted hired hand Thomas (Marino Masé). Of course, due to the very nature of their business it may come to pass that Tania and Charles may have to Kill to realize her father's dream of eternal life!
Again, this would be easy to dismiss as merely a trashy Italian Horror flick with Grindhouse B-Movie leanings. That would be fair, as well, considering the amount of gratuitous nudity (though it's not exactly "excessive") and the sleazy-seeming subplot. However, there are some surprises here, starting with the feminist take on the "Mad Scientist" motif and the dramatic and romantic storytelling (as opposed to the farce this could have become). The sets look good (possibly because they're authentic). The costume design by Maurice Nichols is fitting (no pun intended) and the score by Alessandro Alessandroni is interesting, if somewhat dated.
On the other hand, Lady Frankenstein is what it is. There is a good amount of gratuitous violence, some against said naked women, which is a dick move in any era. In addition there are some major plot holes and the occasionally none-too-well-thought-out moment! As I understand it, the European print (released several months after Lady Frankenstein's US Debut) actually contains fifteen more minutes of footage (more nudity, maybe?). I'm not sure if the US cut is pared down or if the European cut was bulked up, but I can say that, with very few exceptions, the film editing by Cleofe Conversi is often terrible and does the cinematography by Riccardo Pallottini no favors whatsoever.
So, yeah, it's a mixed bag, but like a lot of Grab bags out there it depends on your expectations. You might reach in and find something you like... and not just the acting, seduction and naked feminine wiles of Rosalba Neri (though, there is that). Further, it might depend just a bit on the experiences of the viewer. Sure this is a flawed film, but it also evokes some fond comparisons to a few movies in the Hammer Horror film Lexicon... and that could be worse.
Three Stars out of Five the sexy and pretty well-done Lady Frankenstein! It's got those gratuities DOWN, along with some mid-range makeup effects (even for the time), but it's also got some lovely production design (courtesy of Francis Mellon), a good tone and seriousness, good acting and some genuine scares and tense moments. Last, but most certainly not least, this film features what just might be the first ever MSILF! A Mad Scientist I'd Like to... um... I'd like to see in the next reel!
Can you face the Horror of Frankenstein alone?
Well, if she looks like Tania, then sure!
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I know a Nurse that is cuter than this film's Doctor!
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