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Tuesday, 20 July 2010

An oldie, but a goodie.

From the beginning of time, many men have sought the unknown, delving into dark regions where live lie those truths which are destined to destroy.

Of all the eerie adventurers in the darkness, none was more driven by insatiable curiosity, nor went further into the unknown, than the unforgettable Baron Frankenstein.

So infamous were his exploits that his name stands forever as a symbol of all that is shocking, unspeakable, forbidden. Thus, in our day, any story that chills the soul and freezes the blood is truly a Tale of Frankenstein.

Now join us in the mystery, the excitement and the stimulation that comes when we tell a story so weird, so dark, so harrowing, that it deserves to be called one of the many TALES OF FRANKENSTEIN.

So says a floating disembodied head in a jar in the title sequence to this Hammer produced, 1958 pilot episode for a proposed Frankenstein TV series. Sadly, while the Baron would go on to notch up many appearances in Hammer movies and elsewhere, he wouldn't here. The show was not picked up, nor indeed was the pilot even aired at the time, although it has surfaced since in various graveyard slots.

I'll confess, I'd never actually heard of this show until I read a wonderful tome called 'The Hammer Story' by Alan Barnes and Marcus Hearne, which chronicles the Hammer studios somewhat bumpy history. It seems I'm the only person who hadn't though, because for half an hour of un-aired TV that's over half a century old it's doing pretty bloody well for itself in terms of recognition on the web, as I discovered when doing a little picture sourcing for this post. It seems that not only has everyone heard of it, they've seen it. Sadly, they don't seem to have much in the way of love for it.Which is something of a shame because to my untrained eye it was, if not an instant classic, then certainly a solid enough piece of horror fiction that kept me entertained for the duration.

It is, of course, nothing spectacularly original, but if we're honest, what else were they going to do in a Frankenstein pilot than some variation of the classic Frankenstein story? And that is indeed what we get here. Baron Frankenstein, played here by Anton Diffring - who's no Peter Cushing, but then who is? - dismayed to find that his creature is violent, blames the killers brain he used. He decides that he needs the brain of a good man to give the creation a conscience. Enter the Halperts, Paul and Christina, who need the Barons help to cure Paul of a never fully explained illness that threatens to kill him. Long story short, Paul (Richard Bull) dies and the Baron digs him up to steal his brain. Christina (Helen Westcott) confronting the Baron, is menaced by the creature who - because he's now 'powered' by her husbands brain - eventually recognises her and becomes gentler. She does get knocked unconscious though. There is a huge fight/chase sequence between the Baron and the Creature, which culminates in the graveyard and after Christina, now awake and seemingly none the worse for having been knocked unconscious minutes earlier, arrives on the scene the Creature ends up in Pauls open grave.

The episode ends with the Baron in police custody and Christina pleading his case, apparently believing that he did what he did out of compassion for her husband and guilt over not saving him, rather than a selfish desire to bring his experiments to fruition. Who knows, perhaps she was half right. Nevertheless, he is to be imprisoned. Have no fear though because as the Baron says "Time is of no matter.You see, there is always tomorrow".

That's quite a lot to fit into 27mins but they still find time for some of the old classics, like the carriage ride on a dark and stormy night, or the arrival of the Halperts at the local inn, prompting everything to go deathly quiet as the locals give them the evil eye, complete with many a lingering close-up on a raggedy looking yokel. These cliches aside though, it's a solidly staged production, deserving, in my humble opinion, of far more praise than it seems to receive.

The cast all acquit themselves well. In the thankless role of the Creature, Don Megowan doesn't really have a lot to work with but he manages to engender a fair degree of sympathy towards the end, when playing 'Paul'. The script, by Catherine and Henry Kuttner, from a story by Curt Siodmak, who also directed, is by necessity a pacy, fast moving affair but never skimps on the necessary character moments, giving Westcott and Bull ample opportunity, in a relatively short time, to craft a married couple who really feel like such, with genuine affection. Westcott particularly, although this may just be my much documented love of the pretty ladies coming out again, pretty much steals the show in what could have been a pretty shrewish role in lesser hands.

All in all, an entertaining slice of "might have been" that more than deserved a series. Especially when you get a look at some of the potential episodes they were planning. Could have been a classic. Never mind.

I am left with one question though, that I am far to lazy to look up the answer to. Why the Hell do the credits show Richard Bull playing someone by the name of MAX Halpert?

Next : Final thoughts on Lost (finally) or possibly first thoughts on The Net. Or maybe, just maybe, a list of things that are wrong with Tennant Who and why Matt Smith is so much better. Or something else entirely, I'm making it up as I go along.

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