March 20, 2012
Revealed: “The Creation” in Life Without Soul. Directed by Joseph W. Smiley for the Ocean Film Corporation in 1915, it was the second Frankenstein film and, at 70 minutes, the first feature-length Frankenstein. This rare photograph of actor Percy Standing on a Florida Beach was used, as a drawing, as the central figure on the only known poster/herald advertising the film.
The film is lost to the ages, but a contemporary review by Thomas C. Kennedy published on December 4 in the film magazine Motography reveals a story that hews fairly close to Mary Shelley’s novel. Certainly, Life Without Soul made a bold attempt at capturing the world-spanning sweep of the tale, filming in St. Augustine and Jacksonville, Florida, and Dahlonega, Georgia, with additional scenes shot on a steamer sailing from Savannah to New York.
Scripter Jesse J. Goldburg, VP and general manager of Ocean Film, provided a framing device wherein a physician named Victor Frawley (William A. Cohill) discovers a “life-giving fluid”. Knocking off work, he dozes off while reading a copy of Mary Shelley’s novel.
The action picks up in Europe, with Frawley, his fiancée and friends transformed into corresponding characters from the book. As Frankenstein, Frawley uses his elixir to bring a clay statue to life. Shunned by all, the mountainous Monster demands a mate. When Frankenstein reneges on his promise to comply, The Creation embarks on a murderous rampage, killing Frankenstein’s young sister, his friend Henry Clerval and, on their wedding night, Frankenstein’s bride, Elizabeth. More mayhem ensues aboard a sea-going ship, with Standing’s brute throwing the entire crew overboard. In a climactic confrontation, Georgia cliffs standing in for the Grand Canyon, Frawley/Frankenstein traps The Creation in a cave and blows it up with dynamite, leaving the indestructible Monster trapped underground forever. Frankenstein dies from exhaustion, whereupon Frawley wakes up and promptly destroys his invention.
The Motography review called the film “good screen material” providing “many unusual developments and melodramatic situations. The action, which carries the spectator from the dissecting room through mountainous country, desert land and on the high seas, does so with unflagging interest.” The film’s Monster, as should be expected, is the key element: “The superman, a creature of superb physique who, without conscience, makes no attempt to restrain the cravings of his healthy body, is an exceptionally suspenseful figure for the photoplay.” A minor quibble, “In places the action is confusing, but it is not a fault to the scenario or the director, and the addition of a few properly placed subtitles probably would overcome this.”
Acting throughout is pronounced as “splendid… convincing”, with Percy Darrell Standing’s interpretation singled out as “excellent… He acts with consistency and his performance is one that is certain to meet with general approval.”
After its initial run, a color-tinted version of Life Without Soul toured in 1916, and the film resurfaced again — problematically, as we shall see later this week — in 1931.
Next up on SILENT FRANKENSTEIN WEEK: The Ocean Film Corporation story, promotional materials, and we’ll meet the cast and crew of Life Without Soul.
With many thanks to Joe Thompson for his stellar research.