Life Without Soul
Written by Jesse J. Goldberg and directed by Joseph W. Smiley, and starring Percy Standing, William A. Cohill, Lucy Cotton, Pauline Curley, and Jack Hopkins, Life Without Soul was only the second filmed version of the Mary Shelley novel, beating out the James Whale version by sixteen years! Its only celluloid predecessor was Thomas Edison's 1910 short film.
The year is 1915. The place is Manhattan, New York. The man is Victor Frawley (Cohill), a renowned medical doctor who spends his spare time conducting experiments in order to discover "the chemistry of life". His sister Claudia (Curley), his best friend Henry (Hopkins), and his fiancee Elizabeth (Cotton) all urge him to cease his mad experiments, but he refuses, locking himself in his lab to redouble his efforts. During a break, he falls asleep reading Mary Shelley's Frankenstein....or so one internet user would have you believe. His review at the Internet Movie Database is so astute and informative that it's almost as if he's actually seen the film. And yet, any number of other sources (Wikipedia, All Movie Guide, Silent Era, Scream of Reason by David J. Skal, etc.) states that this movie is lost. They all inform us that very little is known about this film at all, other than the cast and crew, the surviving lobby card, and the fact that it was based on Shelley's novel. Everything else, all other intricacies of the plot, are likely speculation or mere flights of fancy.
Frawley dreams that he is now Victor Frankenstein, and his loved ones are their literary equivalents from the novel. Residing in Europe, he sculpts a man out of clay (much like the Jewish golem), and imbues it with life.
But it is a life without a soul.
Victor's creation is a lonely man, and he insists that the doctor creates for him a mate. He does so, but quickly destroys her out of fear. The creation strikes back at Victor by attacking and murdering his loved ones: Claudia and Henry. And on their wedding night, Victor discovers that Elizabeth has been murdered as well.
The creation boards a ship and crosses the Atlantic ocean, murdering the entire crew of sailors with Victor in pursuit. He finally catches up to the creation at the Grand Canyon, and lures him into a booby trapped cavern. Victor escapes, but the creature is caught in the ensuing dynamite explosion, very much alive but destined to remain the prisoner of rubble forever.
Or at least until the sequel.
Victor Frawley awakens back in Manhattan, and vows to never again tamper with God's work.
So what's the real story here? Is the film truly lost and the reviewer merely putting on airs, as a number of others have suggested? I have to admit that I initially believed this to be the case, but after a bit of (albeit limited) communication with him, as well as a little research into the man himself, my mind has been changed. A well-spoken--and more-than-slightly eccentric--author of science fiction (and other genres) by name of F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre, I truly believe that he is legit.
I e-mailed him in attempt to verify his claims, and he responded back thusly:
I have indeed viewed a print of this film, slightly more than ten years ago. It was a nitrate print, partly decomposed; apparently a second-generation copy of a release print. The print is -- or was, at the time -- in the collection of a private collector who does not often grant access to his collection. I was permitted to view this film through a hand-held Steenbeck viewer in order to inspect the footage for decomposition, and to advise him on the feasibility of preserving the frame images. I have recommended that he have the nitrate print converted to acetate stock, and I have offered to put him in touch with some technicians who have done similar work for other collectors. I have only very limited contact with this collector, through his lawyer as an intermediary.--J/Metro
The individual who possesses this film print -- or at least did so ten years ago -- does not wish to be publicly identified as a film collector. He gave me very limited access to his private collection solely for the purpose of inspecting some nitrate prints for signs of decomposition. I respect his privacy, and his desire to remain anonymous.