Monday, September 14, 2015

Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man (1943)

Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man
Director:  Roy William Neill
Starring:  Lon Chaney Jr., Ilona Massey, Lionel Atwill, Maria Ouspenskaya, Bela Lugosi
Rating: "Approved"

I only want to die. That's why I'm here. If I ever find peace I'll find it here.

                              ~Lawrence Talbot
Looking to once again refresh and boost interest/dollars into their Monster movies, Universal decided to pair up their two current active/most popular ones for a movie.  Before it was mainly putting two of the big named actors together in these movies, but never had the actual characters themselves been tossed into the celluloid ring together.  This test ultimately took the Frankenstein monster and the newly minted classic The Wolf Man and weaved both their continuities and series together into one movie.  Essentially, the film would serve as both The Wolf Man 2 and Frankenstein 5.  Though, if you've seen the film, its sort of plays more like The Wolf Man 2 with special guest Frankenstein's monster.  Since this the Frankenstein retrospective, this piece is going to look more into the Frankenstein's monster perspective on the film.
Frankenstein's monster sort of got the short stick with the film, and that's mainly because of some behind the scenes dilemmas and post production studio tinkering that led to less of the monster's presence.  You'll recall in the previous film that Ygor (Played by Bela Lugosi) had tricked his way into having his brain implanted in the monster.  At the end the monster speaks Ygor's voice, but soon becomes blind as they don't have the same blood type.  Having Lugosi play the monster in the film was a perfect then (Originally Lon Chaney wanted to play both the monster and Wolf Man).  However, early studio execs and test audiences did not respond well to the Hungarian speaking monster, mostly loudly laughing at it.  The studio panicked and had all of Lugosi's dialogue, which included him referring to his blindness cut from the film. 
With all the dialogue cut, a lot of audiences probably didn't remember the character was blind.  So they had no idea what was going on.  Lugosi's performance featured the monster stumbling around with his arms stiffly outstretched to show the blindness.  Hilariously THIS is one of the things that had the biggest legacy and impact on the creature.  It probably started with people joking about it, then it became a staple.  Growing up, if I did an impression of the monster (And I believe I went as him one time in my single digit years) it would be some growling and walking like Lugosi did.  I'm sure to this day, it still happens.
The monster also doesn't show up until halfway through the film.  The first half plays pretty much like a direct sequel to The Wolf Man with a plot and characters all its own that don't happen to effect too much of the 2nd half.  Its almost like the The Wolf Man 2 and The Wolf Man 3 packaged together into one film.  Its when Larry Talbot goes on his journey to meet Dr. Frankenstein (The one from Ghost) that we get the connection.  And we dig deeper into that familiar territory with the daughter of Ludwig, who was in the previous film but now played by a different actress.  If you're keeping score that would be the daughter of the second son who's brother also he shares the father that is Henry Frankenstein.  So, it could be The Granddaughter of Frankenstein.  But I believe they got the title right with this one.  
The monster and the Wolf Man don't do battle until the very end, but Larry Talbot and he do get to spend some quality time together.  And I just wonder how much better it would have been had we been able to see them both converse.  As it stands though, the fight at the end is pretty rad, and they're smart by not having a clear winner.  The fight results in a draw as an angry villager blows up a damn that wipes away the castle both monsters are fighting in, washing them both away until another feature calls their name.
Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man brings some excitement with that title, its poster and its promise.  It delivers on the promise and has left itself quite the legacy.  In addition the stiff arms, the lore of a werewolf transformation coming with that of a full moon began with this film as well.  But, I'm not sure if its really that great of a movie.  The first half, basically rehashing Wolf Man stuff, is quite a bit slow and boring at the same time.  The second half of the film kicks it into a much better gear, but travels down too similar path of the previous Frankenstein effort.  Its another short one, so that's better, but watching it now feels like one of the more weaker efforts.  This is especially true if you hold it up to The Wolf Man film that preceded it.  Still, conjoining characters and worlds like this is an important moment in film history and the film has left quite a mark.

NEXT TIME:  It was a graveyard smash

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