“Would you destroy that which I, your father, dedicated his life to creating?”
I was rather harsh on The Mummy’s Hand (1940), this month’s first B-movie. Please don’t take that to mean I automatically hate films that were slated to the bottom half of a double bill back in the day. On the contrary, I love a good B-film, especially the ones that go the extra mile and do a lot with very little time and resources.
While I wouldn’t say The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942) is a great B-movie, it does impress in areas where its 1939 predecessor, Son of Frankenstein (an A-picture), disappointed.
Ygor (Bela Lugosi) and the Creature (played by Lon Chaney, Jr.) escape the Frankenstein mansion just as the angry villagers are blowing it up. The two travel to the village of Visaria, where Ygor hopes to find Ludwig (the heretofore unmentioned second son of Henry Frankenstein, played by Sir Cedric Hardwicke).
Ludwig has strove to put his heritage and the work of his father behind him and has been living a quiet life as a local doctor. Ygor threatens to reveal Ludwig’s ancestry to the village if Ludwig doesn’t agree to heal the still weak and ailing Creature.
Much to the disagreement of his assistant, Dr. Theodore Bohmer (Lionel Atwill), Ludwig refuses to help, saying he’d rather kill the Monster than go down the same path as his father and brother. But a visit from a ghost might just change Ludwig’s mind.
I was VERY skeptical going into this. I couldn’t think how anyone could come close to matching the performance of Boris Karloff in Frankenstein (1931) and Bride of Frankenstein (1935). Lon Chaney, Jr. isn’t up there with Karloff, but I feel like he could’ve been if he’d been given better material.
The writers, Scott Darling and Eric Taylor, are smart enough not to make the Monster a total side element in his own picture. He still needs more to do, but the Creature is given a human element again.
The Creature befriends a little village girl. She is unafraid and asks if he can rescue her kickball from a roof. He takes her in his arms and walks up some stairs to do just that. The villagers go into a frenzy, thinking the Creature will harm the girl. He has no intention of doing so and even gets her ball back. But he knocks down a villager while coming back down, and so he is chained up and put on trial.
It’s hard not to feel at least a little sad at the sight of the sad Creature bound to a chair while everyone stands in fear of or anger at him. This needed pathos was missing from Son of Frankenstein.
Chaney approaches the material appropriately, not going too over-the-top. He doesn’t have all the subtle nuances of Karloff, and his face is too rigid and scowly, but he makes the Monster tragic and touching again.
As I said, there are still problems with the character. They’re script issues, though, and not as much to do with the actor’s performance.
Despite the efforts of Darling and Taylor, the story they craft for the Monster isn’t as sophisticated as that of the first two films. However, they at least gave it an honest shot and came up with a somewhat original story.
The same cannot be said of the people who designed this darn movie. All of the wonderful Gothic touches are gone and replaced with Universal’s stock European village and other sets that have no life and individuality to them.
The disappointment continues as Lugosi hams it up waaay too much. In Son of Frankenstein, Ygor was a larger than life character. There’s no doubt about that. But Lugosi pulled back enough to keep Ygor big and eccentric but still retain some semblance of subtly.
Here…Well, Lugosi just lets it rip. Maybe that’s why the sets are such a letdown; Lugosi ate all the good parts of them.
Out of everything wrong with The Ghost of Frankenstein, what really bugs me is the continuation of this story. It’s running thin and getting old. If I have to see any more flaming torches, I think I’ll have to start a riot of my own. Hopefully some new ideas are brought into this expiring Frankenstein series.
Maybe that’ll happen in the big guy’s next appearance. Thankfully (or not), the next time we see the Creature, he won’t be alone. He’ll be meeting a furry fellow who likes to get in trouble when the moon is full and bright.