The Dangers of Over-Editing...

Yesterday I was scrolling through YouTube and ran across something that really caught my eye.


Yes, I'm one of those people who when the Halloween season rolls around, I break out all kinds of horror movies, especially the black and white ones. And I freely admit that I've watched this classic gem many times. 

However, it wasn't the full movie that was being advertised. Instead, this was a 40-minute video about 'deleted' scenes from this movie, which immediately caught my attention. Pausing only to grab a cup of tea, I sat down for a good viewing and was not disappointed. Now, I'm not saying that they had actual footage that was left out of the final cut, but what they did have took me completely by surprise.

For those who are less familiar with the old universal black and white monster films, I'll give you a quick rundown here. This video covered the actors who played Frankenstein's monster. 


For the first 3 films it was Boris Karloff who had been handpicked by the director James Whale, even though Bela Lugosi was originally intended to play the role. However, Lugosi thought he'd be playing Dr. Frankenstein not the creature, so when they went with Karloff instead, he was not overly disappointed. Now the story arc between these 3 films was pretty well connected. The first movie involved the creature's creation and subsequently being villainized by villagers because of his appearance and an accidental drowning of a young girl (please keep in mind the creature had the mind of a child for the most part and didn't understand that tossing a little girl into the water who did not know how to swim was a mistake).  Then he was hunted by the villagers and his creator and left to die in a fire.

The second movie took right up where the first left off with the creature surviving and wandering the woods where he seeks companionship and after saving a young woman from drowning, he is again hunted by villagers. Eventually he makes friends with a blind hermit who teaches him to talk and be happy, only to have this taken away as well by frightened angry people. By the end of the film he and another mad doctor force Dr. Frankenstein to make him a mate, who rejects him. The creature then proceeds to try and destroy himself. saying he and his 'bride' belong dead, not among the living.

So you see a real continuity in the character throughout these films. Good editing really helps the stories feel cohesive. In the 3rd film the monster no longer speaks, but it is clear he suffered more damage from the explosion and has only one friend, Igor the hunchback who is a wicked creature himself and takes advantage of the monster being easily guided or misguided in this case. 


In the 4th movie Igor is still leading the monster (now played by Lon Chaney Jr as Karloff felt he was too old to handle the physical demands of playing the monster), continuing to rely on the creature's needy nature for a friend, to do bad things. Yet, at points, the creature shows kind and compassion side. At one point when he's wandered off on his own, he helps a little girl retrieve her balloon from a tall building. Later in the film, after locating one of the sons of the original Dr. Frankenstein, Igor convinces the man to correct his father's mistake by giving the creature a new brain. Young Dr. Frankenstein agrees and plans to use the brain of a recently killed colleague. Only Igor interferes by working with the doctor's assistance to have his own brain placed inside the monster's indestructible body. The result is the monster is now able to speak, in Igor's voice, and is cleverer and more dangerous than ever before. However, there is a problem, due to a mismatch in their chemistry, and the Igor/creature becomes blind and lashes out starting another fire that seemingly destroys all within the building.


So up to this point we have a good continuity with explanations throughout the series of films. However, the next movie "Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man" is where it all goes downhill as far as continuity is concerned. In this movie, the creature is not able to speak anymore for some reason. Also, the way Bela Lugosi (who finally got another chance to play the creature, as Lon Chaney was playing the Wolf Man of course in the film) moves about the sets one would think that maybe the monster may still be blind? Neither of these facts are explained in the movie and of course another scientist is introduced who goes ahead and tries to put the monster back to full strength, with the intention of then siphoning off the lifeforce of both the creature and the wolf man to put an end to each of them. Of course, angry villagers blow up a dam nearby while the two monsters are battling it out inside the lab thus apparently destroying both once again... until the 5th movie. 

Yet for years I asked myself, why the sudden change in continuity? What happened? Well yesterday, I got my answers, which brings me back to the deleted scenes video. Those answers, which I'm about to share has left me more than a little sad for what happened in the studio's editing room.

The host of the video explains that a copy of the original script, which was used in the film, has been on the internet for some time and held all the answers to my questions. In the original shooting of the movie, the monster (played by Bela Lugosi) DID speak! Also, he was still talking in the Igor voice. Furthermore, he was still blind as well, which explained by Bela moved the way he did (as if he couldn't see properly) throughout most of the movie.

There were also some great dialogues between the monster and Lawrence Talbot (the Wolf Man), sharing their thoughts and feelings, as well as each other's desires. The monster, wanted to be restored to full strength hoping he'd get his eyesight back, as well as planning to make others fear him and leave him alone, or allow him to take power over entire villages, cities, even countries. Again, we see the sinister intellect and drive of Igor's brain at work. And as I said before, they find a doctor who is supposed to help them both. Lying to the creature, he promises to bring him back to full strength while planning to actually the lifeforce out of both to destroy the creature and to allow Talbot to end his curse of lycanthropy.

Sounds like the original cut was great, right? So what happened? 

The test audiences loved the film, the story, the action... but they had one little problem. That problem was Lugosi's accent. Folks thought it was kind of weird to hear the Frankenstein monster talking in a Hungarian accent. So, the studio panicked and went back to re-edit the movie removing all of Bela's dialogue. Even in the scenes that remained we can see his lips moving as if he were talking, but instead of reshooting all his scenes they either cut or simply removed his part of the soundtrack.


This to me was a grave mistake. As I'd said earlier, growing up I felt a serious disconnect between the "Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man" and all the earlier films, so it was clearly apparent to others. Yet, because it was the first time in movie history two legendary creatures crossed paths in the same film, it did quite well at the box office, spawning 2 more films in the Frankenstein series, with the creature continuing to be mute and less sympathetic for the most part. 

Still that interruption in the continuity of the Frankenstein films, is very jarring, I have heard this many times especially coming from viewers in modern day who watch them all and left wondering what happened to the monster's personality and ability to speak.

And of course, the culprit was too much editing! A danger that every person who is writing a series must be careful of. Your readers want continuity, as well as unanswered questions and plot points from earlier books. The audience becomes invested in those characters and situations, so they want to see things get resolved at some point in the books and definitely before series is brought to an end. 

So, we must be extremely careful when it comes to those edits. Whether you're doing the editing or have hired someone else, remember to think long and hard about what's being suggested you cut or change. Yes, it may slow down the process of getting the book published, but your readers are counting on you to deliver a solid tale that fits in nicely with the rest of your series. Because believe me, if you don't, the same word of mouth that helps bring more readers to your work, can also drive new customers away. 

That's all for today. Take care and keep writing and recording my friends.

BONUS THOUGHTS:

For those who have never watched the original Universal Frankenstein Films here the titles in order:

    FRANKENSTEIN (1931)
    THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935)
    SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939)
    GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN (1942)
    FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN (1943)
    HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944)
    HOUSE OF DRACULA (1945) - in spite of the title, this is considered part of the franchise since it 
    directly follows the events of House of Frankenstein. It is also considered the final film in the series.

And for anyone who wishes to check out the YouTube Video with the 'Deleted Scenes' here is the link:


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