Wednesday, October 13, 2010

31 Days of Halloween: Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man

 It's Werewolf Wednesday! Today, we're looking at one of the most unjustly maligned films of the 1940s, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man!
 When I was a little kid, these classic movies weren't so readily available, so anytime I got to view one of the classic Universal horrors, it was something of an event. There was a series of small hardcover books at the school library, each of which focused on a particular Universal horror film. Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man was mentioned in one of these books, and I immediately became obsessed with it. Surely this must be the greatest movie ever made! Several years passed before I was finally able to watch it. At that point, nothing could have met my expectations, so I was inevitably disappointed. However, the film is a good deal better than it is often deemed.

As a sequel to both The Wolf Man and The Ghost of Frankenstein, both of which starred Lon Chaney Jr. as the titular monsters, the original intent was to have Chaney play both roles in this film through the use of doubles and trick photography. When this was deemed either too complicated or prohibitively costly, Bela Lugosi wound up playing the role he had had turned down more than a decade ago(an action which hobbled his career from that point on): the Frankenstein Monster.

The film gets right down to business, finding a way to resurrect Larry Talbot in a delightfully creepy opening scene. Wishing only to die again, Talbot locates Maleva(Maria Ouspenskaya). The duo make their way to Vasaria, searching for the aid of the man who knew how to artificially create life, and presumably, end it as well: Dr. Frankenstein. Talbot is disheartened to learn of Frankenstein's death, but manages to enlist the aid of his daughter, Baroness Elsa Frankenstein(Ilona Massey). Talbot winds up discovering the Monster frozen in ice, and the three of them succeed in locating Dr. Frankenstein's notes. Dr. Mannering(Patric Knowles), who is pursuing Talbot, agrees to use the information contained in Frankenstein's notes to drain the life force from both Talbot and the Monster. Naturally, things don't go as planned, and the Monster winds up tangling with Talbot's hirsute alter-ego.
 Much had been said about Bela's portrayal of the Monster, and little of it has been kind. His performance does come off rather poorly in the film, but none of that is Bela's fault. At the end of the previous entry in the series, The Ghost of Frankenstein, the sinister Ygor (Lugosi) had successfully conned a scientist into transplanting his brain into the body of the Frankenstein Monster. The reign of terror that was surely coming was suddenly cut short when the Monster suddenly lost his eyesight due to incompatible blood types. 

Hence, in this film, the Monster is nearly blind, and Bela gives the Monster a stiff gait with his arms outstretched. (Oddly enough, the stiff walk with arms outstretched has become the default walk for the Monster in the public consciousness.) The Monster would speak in Ygor's voice, and there was dialogue to explain that the Monster was nearly blind, and was very weak from his ordeals.

Unfortunately, a test audience found the effect of Ygor's voice coming from the Monster's mouth comical, so Universal hastily cut all of the Monster's dialogue from the film. Several scenes remain in which the Monster has dialogue, but Universal simply removed the sound so that the Monster's lips move silently! Even worse, they didn't bother to have someone else in the film explain the Monster's near-blindness, so his stiff, groping walk has no context, and just comes off as odd. Bela's performance is not without its moments, however. the look he gives as feels his power return, a blood-curdling glare of pure malevolent intent, is quite possibly the highlight of the entire film. This is no longer the abused, sympathetic creature originated by Karloff, but a cunning, manipulative bastard who means to do serious harm just for the fun of it. Ygor has some serious axes to grind, and with the power of the Monster at his disposal, he is a fiend to make the world tremble.
 (For the original script, with all of the Monster's dialogue, check out this book. Yeah, it's out of print and dreadfully expensive. If you're interested in it, just keep a watch, as decently priced copies do show up from time to time.)

Chaney is in fine form as Larry Talbot and the Wolf Man, as always. Chaney takes a lot of flak that I feel isn't warranted; he was more talented and versatile than he is generally given credit for. Just about everyone can agree that he always did a great job as Talbot; it seems he was born to play that role.

The rest of the cast is perfectly adequate, and we even get brief appearances by Lionel Atwill (Inspector Krogh in Son of Frankenstein) and Dwight Frye(Renfield in Dracula). (Frye, sadly, would die far too young later that year.)

Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man was the beginning of the "monster rallies," in which two or more of the Universal monsters were tossed into the same film together. There is little of the artistry in these entries that preceding films had, but they are still often fun when taken on their own merits. In the final analysis, isn't that what really matters? Despite its flaws, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man remains one of the all-around most fun movies of its era.
(Blogger is acting weird today, and has inserted giant gaps between some of the following photos. I have no idea what the deal is, and have tried everything to get rid of 'em. Just keep scrolling down for more cool photos, and ignore the gaps.)

Stuntman Gil Perkins fills in for Bela.
Bela and son.


  1. This was one of my favorites when I was a kid. Chaney was great!

  2. Yeah, Chaney gets a bad rap much of the time. He may not have been as versatile as his father or Karloff, but he knew his limitations, and he worked within them very well.

  3. I thought Gil Perkins would have been a shoe in if Glenn ever was unavailable. Just look at the shots of him in Frankenstein meets the Wolfman. He was perfect, and remains mostly unknown. What a shame!

  4. Frankenstein Meets The Wolfman is one of my all time favourite horror movies. Boy, did these old Universal classic movies give me such pleasure when I used to watch them as a kid many years ago. Nobody could play a werewolf quite like Lon Chaney Jr.