Thursday, October 29, 2015

BAB Review: Frankenstein Meets The Wolfman (1943)


Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman (1943)

Karen: Yes, your friendly co-editor has been on a bit of a Universal Monsters binge of late! A week after I watched The Wolfman, I put the disc with this gem in the player and sat back and enjoyed the first genre cross-over event! This really is monumental in a way; it's the first time the Universal creeps shared a film, and by doing so, it established something of a shared universe, even if the continuity of said universe was shaky at best. Was this the first shared universe in popular culture? I'm not sure, but it seems like it may have been.

Despite the Frankenstein Monster getting top billing, this is really a Wolfman picture, as poor Larry Talbot (played again by Lon Chaney Jr.) is unfortunately brought back to life when his tomb is disturbed by some grave robbers, in one of the most chilling scenes in a Universal monsters film. Transforming into his hairy self, he rampages and passes out, and is taken to a hospital. Realizing that he can't die, he decides to seek out the Gypsy woman Maleva (the wonderful Maria Ouspenskaya again) who agrees to help him. She has heard of a doctor who might be able to cure him, a miracle worker by the name of -Frankenstein! The two head of across Europe to the village of Visaria, only to discover Frankenstein's castle in ruins, the doctor dead, and his legacy held in loathing by the townspeople.However, Larry eventually discovers the Monster, frozen in the sunken ruins. 


The Monster this time around is portrayed by horror veteran Bela Lugosi. To this point, we had seen the Monster played by Karloff in three films (the original Frankenstein, Bride of, Son of), then Chaney Jr. stepped in for Ghost of Frankenstein, and next came Lugosi.  Honestly, while I thought Lugosi made a terrific Dracula, and I absolutely love him as Ygor in Son of and Ghost, he is a lousy Monster. Part of it is just his physical characteristics don't go well with the established Monster -his face is round and full, whereas the Monster we know from Karloff has a gaunt look. But what hurts him even more is that much of his performance was cut from the film, and what remains appears to be idiotic. To explain: this Monster had the brain of Ygor, the scheming murderer who had manipulated the Monster in the previous two Frankenstein films. But he was also blind as a result of incidents at the end of Ghost of Frankenstein. The script for this film had the blind Ygor-as-Monster talking to Larry Talbot, helping him look for Dr. Frankenstein's hidden notes so he could try to find release from life. But when executives saw scenes of the Monster speaking in Bela's thick Hungarian accent, they felt it was ludicrous, and had all his speaking scenes cut. So there's no explanation of why the Monster is stumbling and fumbling around as if he's had too much to drink, or why Larry seems to think he can be of help.

I'd be unhappy if my speaking scenes were cut too.

Some critics have pointed out that it is Lugosi's version of the Monster - arms outstretched, hesitant, jerky walk - that has actually become the accepted cultural version of Frankenstein! This was also how later actor Glenn Strange played the role, so I guess we can blame him too.

Despite this, much of the film still works. Chaney is still a compelling sympathetic figure in his quest for death, and this time he's got angry villagers after him, which is fun to watch. The usual suspects are here - Lionel Atwill shows up as the Mayor, and Patric Knowles is Chaney's doctor, who suddenly decides he wants to follow in Dr. Frankenstein's footsteps. Ilona Massey is the late doctor's daughter, who spends the last part of the film in a nightgown and must be partial inspiration for Madeline Kahn's character in Young Frankenstein.



The confrontation between the two monsters at the end is perhaps a bit of a letdown, in this day of flashy films. Even though Lugosi has clearly been replaced at points by a bigger stuntman (either Gil Perkins or Eddie Parker) as the Monster, the action is fairly mild, with the Wolfman and Monster doing some wrassling, the Wolfman jumping around a lot, and the Monster throwing lab equipment, before the dam above the castle explodes and washes them away. It's funny watching these films as an adult, because I certainly had built the action up in my head as a child. Still, it has its charms, and I wouldn't want to see some bloated CGI version of it (we shall never speak of Van Helsing at the BAB. Ever.)


I can't end this post without leaving you with the most memorable scene from FMTW -no, I'm not talking about the monsters, I'm talking about the Song of the New Wine! Listen at your own peril; it's like It's a Small World -once you get it in your head, you'll never get it out.


9 comments:

Edo Bosnar said...

Yep, it's been ages (seriously, sometime in the mid- to late-'70s) since I last saw this one on TV, but I still remember that fight scene pretty clearly. It must have really made an impression on me. I also remember the stumbling, zombie-like Frankenstein Monster (I used to think it was Karloff!) and, yes, that song.

Nice review, Karen. Also, your question about whether this is in fact the first shared universe is something to ponder, although I suspect you may be right.

Martinex1 said...

I am glad there has been this week of reviews around the Universal monsters. I missed the widescreen showing of Dracula that was discussed in previous days and I haven’t seen any of these films in years. But this week’s blogs have made me very curious to see these classics again. Unfortunately I think my view of these characters was drastically skewed at a young age by the Abbott and Costello movies, Monster cereals, Groovie Ghoulies, the Count on Sesame Street, the Munsters, the herky jerky arms extended Frankenstein that Karen mentioned, etc. I saw or experienced all of those things before actually seeing the original movies on a series of Sunday morning television features. So my take has always been that the monsters are humorous or benign like old comfortable friends. These reviews make me we want to look at them through fresh eyes and try to experience the films in a truer light. The Wolfman was always a favorite of mine, along with the Creature from the Black Lagoon. I have some nostalgia around those guys, and I particularly love the Wolfman transformation scenes.

And I love that movie poster that Karen has in the post for this movie.

pfgavigan said...

Hiya,

If the heads of Universal thought that Lugosi's voice coming out of the Monster's mouth was ridiculous then they should have realized it when it was (badly) dubbed for Lon Chaney Monster. That happened at the end of 'The Ghost of Frankenstein', a film that needed several rewrites, a different director and someone else as the Monster before it was filmed.

Yeah, it's my least favorite Universal Frankenstein, if even the term 'favorite' can be used.

Actually, of the two I prefer Lugosi to Chaney when it comes to the Monster, Bela actually tried to do something different and was, apparently, undercut by the producers while Lon seemed to sleep walk through his performance.

Despite what I may have implied about Chaney earlier, I do believe he was very effective within his range and this film is proof of it. Talbot tries so hard during this movie to convince others that he is sane, that he is dangerous, that he must be stopped and stopped permanently. It's the actions of those with whom he must contend that make him such a tragic character.

As for my feelings for Lawrence Talbot, the end of 'House of Dracula' made my throat tighten, in a good way, even though I knew it was only temporary.

Thanks for posting Karen. Thanks for retrieving good memories.

Seeya,

pfgavigan

Karen said...

Have we reached monster movie fatigue this week?? Thanks Edo, Martinex, and PF for taking the time to comment.

I've seen it said that the Universal Monsters constitute the first shared universe for a set of properties. They certainly predate most other shared universes I can think of. One could at least argue that the 'monster rally' films of Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman, House of Frankenstein, House of Dracula, and if you want to include it (and I do), Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein create a roadmap for what Lee and Kirby would do with their cadre of Marvel heroes in the 60s.

Martinex, I'm pleased you like that movie poster. I looked over a bunch but specifically chose that one because I thought it had a comic book cover feel.

PF, I would agree that Ghost of Frankenstein is a poor outing, even though I really love the Ygor character. I didn't care much for Chaney as the Monster either -I suppose I am mostly a Karloff fan. I think Glenn Strange had the right look, but his Monster was little more than a stumbling prop brought out in the final act of the films.

I wish someone would discover that excised footage from FMTW with Lugosi's talking Monster. It might not be great -it might even be cringe-inducing -but I'd like to see what was originally intended for the story. There were whole scenes with Larry and the Monster cut out. Poor Bela. Forced to wear all that make-up and heavy wardrobe at age 60 and then to have so much of his work cut out!

Glad you enjoyed the recaps, and I hope they have inspired some of you to seek out the old monster films again! Preferably at night, in a dark room, all alone....

Humanbelly said...

Oh, tough busy day today, or I probably would have been rattling along continuously with thoughts and observations.

I think I may have rented this movie from Erols Video, like, 25 years ago 'cause I'd never seen it-- and the poster image, where the Monster has the WolfMan by the throat with his left hand, while the right is cocked back like the hammer of blunderbuss, has ALWAYS been one of my favorites. Somewhere out there-- possibly in Marvel's Monsters Unleashed?-- there's a painted version of it that even improves on the original. You even forgive the fact a punch like that is almost physically unnatural to execute-- 'cause it looks so great! Wolfie ain't walkin' away, you think. And then. . . am I correct that we never actually see this moment anywhere in the film? This particular grapple doesn't occur? Ah me. . .

I'd read much of how this movie was chopped and re-configured and that the aspects of Lugosi's performance that made any sense were edited out-- and the result to me was that the movie was awfully weak. Especially w/ this interpretation of the Monster. Lugosi's realization doesn't project a towering, frightening rage, but rather an almost fussy crabbiness-- a monster yelling at those darned trick-or-treaters to get off his lawn. It does not play to his strengths whatsoever. And I never understood why the accent for this incarnation was a problem (given that they did seem to be striving for a through-line of continuity), since it was YGOR's brain in there, right? And YGOR had a flippin' accent-! Oh, producers---

HBGirl & I watched BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN a couple of weeks ago (did I mention that?)-- and I don't think anyone can or ever will touch the astonishing depth of character (both dark and light) that Karloff brought to the role in that film. It truly hit me this time around-- and I think there was some MUCH smarter directing going on than maybe people realized. Some really smart, effective juxtaposition of types of performances which were able, by contrast, to enhance our perception of the Monster as a. . . well, as a person.

We also watched Creature of the Black Lagoon last week. And I finally "got" why the Creature could be seen as a sympathetic entity in spite of the body count he builds up. (Neat to see Richard Denning in a non-radio role, too--)

HB

Humanbelly said...

Oo-- and just took a minute to watch your clips.

The fight scene really does come across as almost a parody of what we think of as the Frankenstein's Monster, doesn't it? I've forgotten, was he supposed to be blind originally, or was that sort of a post-production retcon? There's just no way he's blind, given the action here. Well, other than the lurching and the stiff outstretched arms.

Larry Talbot-- not a guy with a cool head under (imagined) pressure, eh? Chaney's good here, though-- if anything, he seems more at ease, more real.

Good stuff again Karen-- thank you so much.

HB

Redartz said...

Karen- thanks for the clips here. I thought I'd seen this film, but upon viewing said clips it's all new to me! Looks like another movie to locate and add to our planned Halloween night creature marathon...

Edo Bosnar said...

Oh, yeah, another thing about the New Wine song: that's going to be relevant here in about 2 weeks. The supposed transformation of must into wine is often celebrated (in a manner that is anything but solemn) in a lot of Central and Southern European countries. In Croatia and Slovenia, it's observed on the Feast of St. Martin (Nov. 11), with a lot of fake ceremonies to "baptize" the must so it becomes wine, and much drunken revelry afterward. The traffic cops actually put out roadside checkpoints and do random breathalyzer tests on drivers that night.

Anonymous said...

The first case of a "shared universe" in movies may have been Mr. Moto's Gamble (1938), which guest starred two characters from the Charlie Chan series, Lee Chan, aka #1 Son (Keye Luke), and Detective Lt. Briggs (Harold Huber). In one scene, Moto (Peter Lorre) says that he is an amateur compared to Charlie Chan.

Warner Oland died suddenly while filming "Charlie Chan At Ringside," and 20th-Century Fox decided to revise the script and make it as a Moto film, rather than delay or abandon production. Later, Sydney Toler was hired to replace Oland, and the Chan series continued.

The Monster was blinded at the end of Ghost of Frankenstein, and that idea was probably in the original script for FMTW. Which is why Lugosi shuffles around with his eyes shut and his arms outstretched. Apparently, references to the blindness were in Lugosi's dialog scenes, which were cut out.

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