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.|
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.